Essay update

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Would just like to say I have five – FIVE – pages of notes – NOTES! – ready for summarising and editing for an actual essay. It’s on mothers in horror, and I hope people will like it. I’ll be leaving the notes for a while, but hope to get the essay online by the end of the week.

Black Christmas (1974)

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51pPDkCDumL._SS500_I was pretty excited to receive this in the mail after seeing the sub-par remake, but was unsure if it would be the blueprint of the remake (like the original and remake of Psycho, both the same, shot-for-shot), or whether this would be more in the vein of John Carpenter’s Halloween – I truly didn’t know what to expect. Thankfully, that’s probably the best attitude.

A sorority house over Christmas is experiencing obscene phone calls, and what few inhabitants of Pi Kappa Sig are left over the holiday break are experiencing troubling events after one of the sisters disappears without a trace.

I’m pretty sure this is my first Bob Clark film. I’ve never seen A Christmas Story, and just having a glance at his IMDb page, I’ve only seen Porky’s and Baby Geniuses (in my youth, I swear). A truly diverse director ranging from horror to comedy to children’s films, that’s a sign of true talent (even if the children’s film sucks). Four years before Michael Myers escaped Smith’s Grove, Billy terrorised Pi Kappa Sig on one fateful Christmas holiday.

From the get-go, I was hooked. I love any movie that is overtly old, and this was extremely 70s (check out Gene Shallit look-a-like just about 5-10 minutes in), and simple fact everything was handled in such a seventies manner (of course) made it so much more enjoyable to me.

The thing that stood out about Black Christmas was two things – it’s not filled with scares every five seconds. It’s scares are drawn out and are more creepier than full-on “scary”. This is the smartest form of horror convention, letting fear seep itself under your skin instead of giving you an outright jump every five minutes, which we all know: gets very old, very fast. The second thing that stood out to me was, while the film is set around Christmas, and Christmas stuff is in the background of every shot, the film is not horrendously Christmassy, unlike its remake, rampant with Christmas lights everywhere and warm, glowing colours despite the remake’s ugly nature.

The thing that also stands out about this film is all the characters are individualistic, there are no cookie-cut characters we’ve come to expect in horror films, even as far back as the early 80s, when Jason’s mum was getting her teen murder on. The sorority house mother is an alcoholic, hiding bottles everywhere, sometimes comically, but nearly every time we see her, she is looking for or has a bottle of alcohol in her hand pushed against her lips. All the sisters are very individual and different from each other, giving a fresh quality to the interplay between the characters, helping it feel real.

Props must be given to Olivia Hussey. She’s a fantastic “final girl” and portrays her character, Jess Bradford, in an extremely likeable way. She’s a headstrong and confident young woman and more ambitious and realistic (in terms of dealing with situations) than her boyfriend, Peter Smythe (played by Keir Dullea). She brings such bravado to the character, and I actually found her character fantastic to watch. This is the seventies, and beginnings of the second wave of feminism, and having this character, who had brains, beauty, and courage, must have been such a step out of the norm for a film, and for a horror film as well, where, more often than not, the hero would be a man and the woman would be the damsel-in-distress. When you have such a likeable character on which the film centres, you’ve got your audience hooked.

The ending is ambiguous and but I certainly have my theory about it (and it’s not about who the killer is). The phone ringing throughout the credits gives me a horrible idea that Jess Bradford, sleeping, with no-one attending at her side, gave me the idea about the actual fate of the final girl. However, you’d have to make up your own mind when you see it.

The Blu-Ray presentation is fair, but nothing extraordinary. The picture, as you may know by now, is the kind of picture I love looking at. Grainy, while being very clear representation of the film, as well as film artefact-a-plenty, made me a very happy bloke. The film was just fantastic to look at. The soundtrack was cool (I heard something, I can’t quite remember, in a speaker right near my ear, that freaked me out something chronic), but wasn’t a thorough workout for the speakers.

The effects are simple, and most you can tell were produced on a small budget, and almost amateur. There are two scenes presented with different soundtracks that were never before released, and both were a bit pointless. Subtle differences in muffled soundtrack does not an interesting Blu-Ray extra make. The 12 Days of Black Christmas is a non-linear documentary providing some insight into the production of the film, and is very by-the-books, but still worth a watch for those who want to get into the story behind the story. Three twenty-minute interviews with Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder and Art Hindle are presented, and are essentially extended, uncut versions of the snippets used in The 12 Days of Black Christmas, but still worth a watch to hear the questions coming from three very different people’s mouths and hearing their opinion on everything involving the film. Midnight Q&A is provided, twenty minutes, roughly, of Bob Clark, John Saxon and Carl Zittrer (the film’s composer) answering questions after a screening. Very amateur but worth a watch, though it would have been better to actually be sitting in the audience more than watching a recording of it. Two trailers are presented: English and French, and watch-worthy if you want to observe how trailers were done back in the good ol’ days.

While the slasher was at its infancy four years before Halloween, and my absolute love for John Carpenter’s film still reigning supreme, Black Christmas is an older and more slow and more creepy film than most slashers. The characters are well thought out and the way they’re dealing with situations was handled very realistically, much to my surprise. I would choose this when I’m in the mood for a slasher over one of the Friday the 13th films, and maybe over Halloween, and I will definitely get this out every Christmas before Santa comes. A new holiday tradition begins this year! Just make sure when you look under your tree, there isn’t a present that reads “FROM: Me, Billy”. Four skulls (purely for the film).

4

Saw V (2008)

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804373With a poorly-executed fourth chapter, one would expect the departure of series director Darren Lynn Bousman as a spanner in the works with production designer David Hackl standing up to the challenge of directing the fourth sequel in the splatter franchise. Thank your lucky stars that this film is better than IV.

After “escaping” the Gideon Meat Factory and “saving” the little girl from Saw III, Detective Mark Hoffman is credited as the cop who brought a demise to Jigsaw and his devastating grip on the community with his seemingly never-ending list of victims and traps. Agent Strahm, however, has a different idea. He knows that there is, in fact, a protégé to Jigsaw’s legacy working a new trap, but can he find this protégé and save the victims of the trap in time?

Straight off the bat, Saw V is much more easily understandable than it’s immediate predecessor (with the producers even admitting that ten minutes into their audio commentary – what courage they have!), but it’s not as groundbreaking as Saw III. It is still filled with back story that may confuse people new to the franchise, but will help long-term fans realise certain aspects of John Kramer’s plan – but the not the entire plan (thank god for sequels, eh?!)

There are pretty much three films in one, three storylines in this film, and I’ll cover each.

The main story (pretty much) is the one that focuses on Agent Strahm (Scott Patterson) and his hunt for John Kramer’s protégé. Patterson gives a good performance and helps us want to help him find the next Jigsaw, despite us knowing who it actually is from the ending in Saw IV. One thing I didn’t understand was a lot of stuff that interweaved with backstory of Hoffman and Kramer setting up traps (such as the razor wire cage and  house trap from the first two films) and simply by looking through a hole or looking at a certain part of the environment, Strahm immediately came up with the flashback we are shown simply by observing one aspect of the environment – that’s not good writing, folks.

The second story, or the one that is less important than the main story, is the traps and victims. It’s four concurrent rooms and all five victims play their parts, especially dealing with the traps, quite well. However, I can never get over Julie Benz’s wig – it’s horribly half-arsed. The traps are gruesome and crazy, especially the last trap, but the significance of these certain five is never explained in basic detail in regards to the current plot besides the fact they are connected by real estate and a fire. While small details that are explained in a sequel that aren’t important to the current plot I can let go, something as big as this needs to be explained, and it’s something IV and V have done to a T (unlike II and III) and it, while it may bring fans back to the cinema each year, is not smart for a singular film, and takes away enjoyment of it.

The third story is involving, more often than not, backstory of how and why Hoffman became a protégé of John Kramer. While the reasoning is interesting, and one specific scene where between Hoffman and Kramer is excellent, of course, with every scene involving Tobin Bell’s John Kramer being excellent, it isn’t a strong story on its own, and is made to link into Strahm’s story.

A fourth, more miniature, story is provided involving Jill Tuck and Kramer’s will and last wishes which is not fleshed out in this film, and that’s something that I don’t mind, that I mentioned earlier. Tuck receives a box from her now-dead ex-husband, John Kramer. We, the audience, don’t see what’s in the box, but Tuck does. It’s not important to Saw V‘s plot, at least as far as I can see, and will be important to Saw VI‘s plot (I hope), but it’s something that’s not explained in V that is to be explained in VI. Seeing as it doesn’t have a significant impact on Saw V‘s plot (as of yet), I can let it go, unlike the significance of the five victims in the Four Rooms Traps which should have been explained, I think, because it leaves you empty, unfulfilled.

These movies are meant to be watched over and over again for Saw fans and are meant to build upon the story of John Kramer, but if you are a fan of these films, and watch just one (say, one night, you feel like watching a Saw film, and choose V) you will lose track of information you’re being presented with, especially after having not seen it in a while. I can only hope that the Chronological Cut comes out of all six films instead of further sequels. If they’re so intent of releasing films filling in gaps between the films, why not do it in a way that won’t confuse people and will stop the making of unnecessary sequels?

The Blu-Ray presentation is quite good. The image clarity is near perfection, despite the leaving out of my favourite aspect – “glossy grit” – but still looks freakin’ good for a Blu-Ray disc. I noticed no digital artefacting and no film artefacts (I assume, by now, they are shooting these on high definition cameras).  The sound is crisp and clear and does its job well.

In the features, two commentaries are presented. The first is with production designer-turned-director David Hackl, who I believe did quite a good job with his first film (apparently, he’ll be directing Saw VII), as much good you can do with a franchise horror movie, at least, and hearing him talk about the film was refreshing instead of Darren Lynn Bousman. I love Bousman and his movies (well, most of them, save for IV), but having a new director with a different perspective helped my enjoyment of Saw V on Blu-Ray as a whole. Hackl is accompanied by First Assistant Director Steve Webb, who seems to be the funnier one of the two. It’s an enjoyable commentary with some nice anecdotes on production but is still pretty light but I would choose it over the second commentary, which is hosted by The Big Four producers (Oren Koules, Mark Burg, Peter Block and Jason Constantine) also seem to have learned from their problems on their Saw IV commentary as there was less self-congratulating and more teasing of things such as Jill’s box and the significance of the five victims which made it slightly more interesting to listen to. More often than not I couldn’t tell who was speaking or whether two of them were talking and the other two were just sitting and making sure they didn’t slip up any revealing details. There are five (how surprising) featurettes provided: Slicing The Cube: Editing The Cube Trap, The Cube Trap, The Fatal Five, The Pendulum Trap, The Coffin Trap. All are lightweight, but again two stand out. Slicing the Cube is interesting to seeing how they could take morsels of Scott Patterson’s performance (seeing as his head couldn’t just be under water forever) and make a frenetic and actually quite scary scene. The Fatal Five is the longest, I believe, of the trap featurettes and provides insight into all the traps in the Four Rooms and is interesting to see what practical effects they used in certain scenes that makes it interesting (watch Meagan Good gets freaked out at a moving headless corpse!)

The film, like IV, leaves you feeling a bit empty, but fills you up more and more each time you watch it. Interpret that however you wish, positively or negatively, but is certainly an improvement over IV, despite it being and average film, when you think about it. I look forward to Saw VI, especially having watched all five films beforehand like this, but with the announcement that a seventh film is on the way doesn’t fill me with hope. Saw V is not a necessary addition to your horror collection, but if you are a diehard fan, go for it, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. I appreciate the fact that they’re trying to fill in gaps from the movies but the way they’re going about it is leaving gaps in the explanation of gaps left in previous films, leaving you going – “What?”. Three skulls.

3

Saw IV (2007)

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51M4ExTLrYL._SS500_Near incomprehension rules with the fourth installment in the lucrative Saw saga.

Commander Rigg, after having been with Detective Mathews (Donnie Wahlberg) in Saw II and being with Detective Kerry (Dina Meyer) before her untimely death at the hands of Jigsaw in Saw III, is thrust into a game by Jigsaw and is told not to act on his impulses to save the ones encased in traps. Meanwhile, another team of cops are trying to get down to the bottom of who Jigsaw has as an apprentice after ruling out Amanda Young – but who is it?

When I first saw this sequel, I hated it, to be quite honest. It was confusing, incomprehensible (save for the John Kramer/Jill Tuck stuff, especially towards the end) but the whole idea that this was running concurrently with Saw III made my head spin and made my blood boil as this, even if you get every iota of information put forward through Saw IV, is no way better than Saw III, which I’m sure I mentioned is my favourite Saw film.

I had excessive disdain for newcomers Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton, who, unfortunately, wrote the amazingly good Feast, because I felt, at first, they had completely shat all over a character and series I held quite dear to my heart. Now that I know more of the backstory behind the film, for example, the producers mention in the Saw III commentary that Saw IV, V, and VI have been laid out, similar to shows like Lost or Heroes. That’s all well and good, but either there was too much pressure to get information across from the producers to the writers to the audience, or the writers didn’t know how to properly and cohesively work the information into a story.

There is tonnes of information being put forward in Saw IV, and more often than not, to a fault. It makes the film definitely incomprehensible to those uninitiated to the franchise, and pretty much nothing but damn confusing to those who are. Would a little chronology and sense of time and separation between events been too much to ask for?

To the franchise’s credit, I applaud them for wanting to tell the story more than showing the traps. I definitely felt in this that the traps were very backseat in the story telling (except for maybe the “hair trap” and the “ice block” trap, sure all traps are there, but all the information seemed more important than the traps themselves), and I liked it that way, there were no leaving the story to show senseless gore for the sake of it, but it was just too much to take in, it’s one of those movies you need to watch quite a few times to understand what’s going on entirely. And that doesn’t help with the look of the film.

Unlike it’s fantastic predecessor, what in-camera transitions they had in this film weren’t as awesome. There was one involving mirror and a police station, which rocked my socks to be sure, and the colour palette, with the exception of some flashback scenes and scenes towards the end, the majority of the film was very bland greys and blues, and I didn’t like it, it makes for an exceptionally boring film to look at.

All I can say without ruining the film is that the stuff nearer the end is more understandable than the rest of the film, and it all involved John Kramer and Jill Tuck. Those scenes were very cool and helped show the beginnings of the Jigsaw Killer. It’s unfortunate that twenty, maybe thirty, minutes of back story can’t make up for a near-incomprehensible full story. What you may understand, you may not understand in entirety, and what you understand in entirety, won’t make sense within the film because there are things you don’t understand, and simply trying to understand why this film is hard to understand is a chore within itself.

The Blu-Ray presentation is good – the picture is clear and crisp, hardly any film grain like in parts one, two, three, which I missed horribly while watching this as that added to the “gritty gloss” the films had as apart of its charms. The sound is clear, loud and brash, and gets the job done well.

There are two commentaries provided. The first is involving the “big four”, two producers from both Lionsgate and Twisted Pictures, Oren Koules, Mark Burg and Peter Block and Jason Constantine. While this commentary has some nice nuggets of information and a bit of joking around, all four seem to end a lot of subjects they talk about with congratulating themselves on a film they think is better than it actually is. Commentary two is hosted by director Darren Lynn Bousman and actor Lyriq Bent, who portrays Rigg in Saw II, II, and IV, and is arguably more enjoyable, but more often than not Bousman resorts to explaining stuff behind certain scenes to Bent who makes it clear at the beginning that this commentary recording is the first time he’s seen the film, which puts a big thorn into my side.

Darren’s Video Diary is half-an-hour of Bousman directing scenes and talking to the camera, more often than not about problems during the shoot, which was refreshing to see it not sugar-coated and see how hard it actually is to make a film, especially with producers breathing down your neck on a franchise movie like this. Too bad all the effort was spent on a sub-par film, but this feature was pretty much the best on the disc. The Traps of Saw IV provides a quarter of an hour of minor explanations of all the traps and you never get any depth from it at all, very cookie cutter featurette material. The Props of Saw IV, whilst as short as Traps, is arguably more interesting, revolving around stuff like the full body cast of Tobin Bell for the autopsy scene which had actual (not real) organs and worked like a real body could which was pretty freakin’ cool – the practical effects company who works on the Saw films are truly giving KNB FX, the company that makes effects for Rodriguez and Tarantino fare, a sure run for their money, as the Kramer full body prop is amazing, eerie and looks incredibly real. A deleted scene entitled “Police Station” is 45 seconds of pure unnecessary. A music video, performed by a band I’ve never heard of, but is obviously big in their home country which is in their name, X Japan, performs “IV” which I actually liked, it still has heavy metal sounds you’ve come to hear over Saw credits but has a more angelic sound that made it different and pretty cool, but the video looks like a recording of a concert and not an actual music video, if you know what I mean. A theatrical trailer is provided (for some reason) as well as something I don’t understand nor will get into called “MoLog”. Don’t ask. I wouldn’t be able to tell you.

All in all, this is just for diehard Saw fans that live and breathe Kramer. While I am more than happy to call myself a Saw fan, I am nowhere near this “diehard” status as three was a fine ending. I hear they’re going up to Saw X but don’t quote me on that, so Armageddon is certainly near if this is the staple for all Saw films to come. It’s too filled with information for its own good and too alienating for the general audience. If you’ve seen the first three, I’d stop there. Two-and-a-half skulls.

2.5

Saw III (2006)

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86919-largeThe critically reviled derivative horror sequel returns – and doesn’t match the usual derivative horror sequel form, despite being critically reviled.

After gliding blindly through life, marriage, and motherhood, Dr Lynn Denlon wakes up in a foreign environment tied to a wheelchair. Next thing she knows, she’s being told to look after John Kramer, the infamous Jigsaw Killer, but there’s a catch – she’s trapped by a collar around her neck that is loaded with shotgun shells that is rigged to explode should John die or should she move more than thirty feet out of this foreign environment. Concurrently, a man named Jeff is wandering around the same building being faced with three tests to see if he can get over his son’s death and come to forgive those who played a part in his depression and anger for not getting proper justice.

I’ll say it straight off the bat – this became and has remained my favourite Saw film, and it all boils down to the simple fact that everyone involved decided to take the film, at least a significant part of the film if not the entire film, in a direction focusing on Amanda and John Kramer’s relationship, and the various pros and cons that come with that relationship.

After having been introduced as a slightly immoveable human in Saw II, John Kramer is bed ridden, but he is moving the pieces of the game more energetically than anyone standing on two legs. Amanda is taken aback by the pure weight on her shoulders should John die for she needs to carry on his work. The dynamic that Shawnee Smith, who plays Amanda, and Tobin Bell, who plays John Kramer, is fantastic. Of course, Tobin doesn’t have as much range emotionally or physically as he did in Saw II (I loved his creepiness in Saw II which is lost in Saw III), but he plays off Smith’s amazing portrayal of Amanda so well that it doesn’t matter. Shawnee Smith is one of the series’ best assets, and the first Saw trilogy ends with a giant explosion that will have you gasping for breath.

The traps are more elaborate, and more vicious (please refer to a disgusting pig blending and pig juice trap for more information), and although they complement Jeff’s story well with facing these tests as a way of getting over vengeance and his son’s death, they isn’t anything as shocking or as frightening as something like the needle pit trap in Saw II, or the reverse bear trap in the first Saw, which is referenced quite a few times within Saw III. The most vicious and memorable aspect of the film does occur after the pig juice trap, yet it isn’t a game or trap. It’s Dr. Denlon performing a makeshift operation on John’s skull to alleviate the pressure being caused to his brain for a tumour growing due to his cancer (I believe, I’m not too intimate with the details of cancer’s effects on the brain, to be quite honest). It is a scene that makes you squirm and the simple sound effects make it gruesome. But unlike something like the needle pit trap in Saw II, where it was quite difficult to watch due to Shawnee Smith’s performance as Amanda, this, too, is somewhat difficult to watch, because, like a car crash, you can’t take your eyes off it.

The thing that separated this film from the first two films and the subsequent sequels is the absolute reality brought forward into this film. It uses the relationship of John and Amanda, almost like father and daughter, to amazing effect, and the most shocking thing is something that happens every day (albeit in hospitals, away from public eyes). I remember cringing and continually shouting “No, no, no!” during the makeshift operation scene and my heart beating a million kilometres an hour, it is a well executed and well done scene from all parts – editing, writing, performance, music – all aspects. It works on such a visceral level that really makes you cringe (in a good way).

While the film wouldn’t work without Jeff’s storyline, the most interesting part of Saw III is every scene showing John and Amanda’s relationship and every scene revolving around Amanda. As you may be able to tell, I am a huge fan of Amanda and Shawnee Smith, and her character is so damaged, and its thanks to Shawnee Smith and Leigh Whannell and everyone involved in the writing and execution of the character on screen that makes her character such a relish to savour. Without the whole John/Amanda aspect, the film would fall into the “on par with the original” category of sequelitis, but it’s thanks to some very smart ideas to focus on character and inner turmoil that makes Saw III stand out above all Saw films to date.

Lionsgate have provided an improvement over their Saw II release on Blu-Ray, with a consistent image quality, and crisp and clear audio tracks. I didn’t notice any digital artefacts, but I did notice film artefacts (mostly grain, whereas in Saw II there were lots of small white blips constantly on the screen at once), but, of course, the grain is apart of the overall look of the film, so that’s nothing to worry about.

In the features department, there are three audio commentaries. The first is with director Darren Lynn Bousman, writer Leigh Whannell, and Lionsgate producers Jason Constantine and Peter Block. It’s pretty fine as commentaries go, providing some interesting notes more than the “really likeable frat boy” commentary on Saw II, but don’t worry, the “really likeable frat boy” dynamic is still in play here. The second commentary is with Twisted Pictures producers Oren Koules and Mark Burg. While the information is more interesting than in the first commentary, it’s a bit boring with quite a few quiet spots in the track with the producers seemingly not knowing what to talk about, exactly. The third commentary is the most energetic, hosted by Bousman, editor Kevin Greutert, and Director of Photography David A. Armstrong, but is light on information, focusing more on that now-famous “really likeable frat boy” dynamic that we all, um, love.

Next is two deleted scenes, both of which are interesting, but luckily deleted as they wouldn’t have added much to the story, but I loved the very short (and very sweet) little scene between Shawnee Smith and Leigh Whannell’s character Adam, it was well written and played, but obviously there wasn’t a good enough part in the film for it to fit snugly in without looking like a giant sore thumb. Next are some pretty short (but not very sweet) featurettes. The Traps of Saw 3, The Details of Death: The Props of Saw III, Darren’s Diary: Anatomy of a Director are all pretty much by-the-books featurettes showing that small amount of information but keeping it short (for some reason). You never get into full details regarding traps or props which leaves you  a bit unsatisified, still craving some kind of behind-the-scenes information. The two I found more interesting despite them being pretty by the books as well were The Writing of Saw III and Amanda: Evolution of a Killer, purely because I love writing and am interested in writing, and as I said, Amanda is my favourite character, and it’s quite a contrast between how Shawnee Smith plays Amanda and what Shawnee is like in reality, being a bit quiet but very confident and understanding of her character, so I savoured these for all they were worth despite them being quite short. Trailers are provided, theatrical and teaser. The only cool thing about them is in the teaser, with three spinning blades catching light to form a “III”, but, honestly, all the trailers for Saw films are so lacklustre it’s amazing that people go see the film if you’re basing butts in seats purely on trailers.

My favourite in the series with a pretty damn good high definition presentation makes this a definite for Saw fans and anyone who, despite some plot points that you wouldn’t understand if you haven’t seen the first two films, wants to get into Saw. It’s the one I like the most visually and character-wise, with so many in-camera transitions and the saturated look makes this film quite cool looking on Blu-Ray. It’s unfortunate Whannell left after III, but he sure went out with a bang. Four stars.

4

Saw II (2005)

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51+vk2l6qwL._SS500_When a sequel is announced, one of two things will happen: you will either have a feeling of dread at the prospect of the original film being shat on, or you’ll be excited to see it.

With Darren Lynn Bousman coming in to take over directorial duties from James Wan on Saw, Saw II shows a different perspective on the ideas presented in the first, in much more “glossy grit” than pure grit in the first film.

After he doesn’t hear from his son, Detective Mathews accompanies a SWAT team and other cops and detectives to detain The Jigsaw Killer, John Kramer. John is willing to co-operate with the cops, if they co-operate with him by playing his game. Detective Mathews’ son is trapped in a house with eight seemingly random people. The problem? In two hours, they’ll all die unless Detective Mathews plays John’s game.

The sequel is a good debut from Darren Lynn Bousman, who has gone onto direct Saw III and IV as well as Repo! The Genetic Opera and is currently working on a remake of the slasher film Mother’s Day. One thing that stands out visually from this sequel is the look, the plain look which was carried over into Saw III, and only shows up sporadically in Saw IV. The saturated green and yellow scenes looked very cool and were beautiful to look at in high-definition.

One thing that is quite good is that there is hardly a bad performance. Sure, no one in this film will win any Oscars, but none of them are horrible and all hit the notes they are supposed to hit. Of course, the thing that works exceptionally well is the actual introduction of John Kramer. Tobin Bell plays Kramer with such eerie control and has such power behind so many of his lines of dialogue that makes you have a double-take and make sure when you wake up in the middle of the night that John Kramer is not standing at the end of your bed staring at you…

The traps – I guess there are three stand-out traps, although I’m sure there are at least two, three more. Of course, first is the Peephole Gun Door trap which was well conceived and very cool, second is the Needle Pit trap which is exceptionally hard to get through on your first viewing (with that pretty much boiling down to Shawnee Smith’s fantastic performance as Amanda) and a Hand Cut Box trap which is handled so well by actor Emmanuelle Vaugier, which, like Smith’s Amanda, makes it quite hard to watch purely because of the pain she projects through the scene. There is also the Furnace Bed Trap which I don’t quite relish in, but maybe that’s just me. I don’t find it very imaginative or frightening and as such am not quite blown away by the scene.

It’s on par with the original film, and in no way outshines it in terms of its content. It’s certainly a much better film to look at and more interesting to look at, but its content is pretty much the same content with the first film.

Visually the Blu-Ray disc is one of the worst I’ve seen, and it isn’t a consistent “worse”, it’s the worst because of how infrequent the poor presentation shows up, but shows up enough to remind you it’s a poor presentation. There were a few times in the film where the image was blurry, and then five seconds later the image is clear and perfect – whether it’s something to do with the disc or the master copy of the film, I don’t know, but it’s not the best visual film I’ve seen. The audio is fine, and that’s pretty much all I can say, it does its job. It’s clear, crisp and easily understandable.

Lionsgate has provided a feature-filled (but not packed) Blu-Ray presentation. First is an audio commentary hosted by director Darren Lynn Bousman and production designer (and the eventual director of Saw V) David Hackl and series editor (and eventual director of Saw VI) Kevin Greutert which is pretty light in content and is like watching some reasonably likeable frat boys talk about a movie they’re quite into. It’s not outstanding nor horrible. A second audio commentary is provided with Leigh Whannel and James Wan, the original film’s writer and director was well as working on the first sequel as well. It, too, is lightweight, but moreso than the first, with Leigh frequently stooping down to audio commentary no-no by describing what is happening on screen. While I enjoyed listening to them, I’ll probably never watch this audio commentary again, it’s not worth it (neither commentary is, really, to be quite honest). There is a feature called The Scott Tibbs Documentary that I found mildly amusing and is done sort of like a Blair Witch style documentary but seemed to be more a waste of time than an actual documentary. It’s filming style is too clean and too sterile for a documentary and Zach Starr, who played Scott Tibbs, was exceptionally over the top and really unlikeable and the whole thing just made me wonder “Why am I watching this?” There is a cool featurette called The Story Behind The Story with Whannell and Wan explaining what inspired the original film and talking about a man who went into children’s rooms and tickled their feet and his calling card was a jigsaw piece, or something to that extent. They claim this is a story that made news here in Australia, but I’ve never heard of this guy, so whether or not they’re making it up is up to you, but it’s still creepy nonetheless. Greg Hoffman: In Memoriam is a tribute to Saw producer Greg Hoffman and it’s six minutes of glowing memories of the late producer and it’s clear everyone involved in the making of the films were very friendly and very enthusiastic towards Greg and how much of an impact he had on the series as well as people’s lives. There is also a trailer for other Lionsgate Blu-Ray releases.

All in all, this is a package that fans of Saw can appreciate, seeing as it’s the unrated director’s cut, but it isn’t the best in the series, but if you want to start with the series, and as much of a stupid idea this may sound, do start with Saw, II, then III as the simple look of the three and the vibe to the films makes them stand out from, and make them more enoyable than IV and V. I wouldn’t recommend it to die-hard Blu-Ray buffs as this is a lacklustre presentation and would only infuriate them. It’s fine when you’re sitting back ten feet watching the film but in my current arrangement I can see things that shouldn’t be seen (and shouldn’t be there in the first place). If you can get this for cheap, and are dying to add it to your collection, go for it, but this isn’t the best Blu-Ray you’ll ever get. Three skulls.

3

Hellraiser (1987)

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3519_frontIf you have been following this blog, you might know I thoroughly dig Clive Barker and his work. Purely based on my enjoyment of The Midnight Meat Train, I decided to purchase Hellraiser as it was recently released on Blu-Ray. I had never seen the film, or any of its subsequent sequels, but I can tell you right now, ever since I was able to remember my first trips to the video shop, big bulky videos with Pinhead snarling have permeated my memory, and it is an image I associate early 90s horror cover art.

After an unsuccessful life, a family moves into a new house, but old memories makes themselves shown to the stepmother, Julia. Her husband’s brother, Frank, also her lover, has been resurrected but needs her help to fully restore himself before the Cenobites find out that he’s escaped their clutches. What follows is a horrific descent into commitment and family values.

I didn’t do the film justice with that very sub-par summary, but that’s pretty much it. Its roots live in Greek tragedy with family values at the forefront and the demonic and violent elements only apart of the background of the family drama.

As I said, the image to your left (of Pinhead’s face, at least) has lived in my memory since I was young. It didn’t help when talking to my brother about this film that he called it one of the few horror films that actually scared him. Sure, this was quite a while ago, when he was scared, but even so, that’s quite a reputation. But seeing as my heart was beating at a rate of knots during The Midnight Meat Train, so I thought I had my courage work laid out for me. Unfortunately, the film isn’t particularly scary if you’re used to horror films, like I am, and it may not help for making new fans as the film, and I say it positively, is of its time, but I know for a fact there are many Generation Xers that will shun an old movie because of its old school look. There are so many films that wouldn’t be as good if they were made today due to their age: the environment and the issues of the time the specific film was made make it more enjoyable. Personally, I love watching this as a film from the late 80s, and while, yes, a lot of the effects could be snazzied up nowadays, I doubt it would benefit the movie in any way.

The thing I said to my brother after the film ended, was the simple fact that you have to give props to Clive Barker for being original. Especially in this day and age where there are so many “brand name” films, and horror is not an exception with films like Friday the 13th and Halloween, even Hellraiser, with its seven sequels, is no exception to the “brand name” film grouping. It is the simple fact, however, that Barker breaks out of the mould (or at least did when this was originally released), if there ever was a mould in the first place, and sets out to do something different and original and imaginative that deserves one of the biggest rounds of applause imaginable. Barker’s horror is the horror you need to savour and let integrate itself into your subconscious and manifest into twisted images and nightmares. This isn’t 80s scare-moment horror. This is true horror.

Yes, I mention that it isn’t a frightening film, but the concepts offered in the film are, in fact, the frightening aspects. The sexuality, the indifference of the Cenobites (the demons whose summoning call is the puzzle box that shows itself on the cover), and the simple question of morality on the stepmother’s part for going to the effort to murder people to get the brother she truly loves back for a good round of hanky-panky.

I don’t want to sound like this is the best film in the world, but nor is it the worst, and it isn’t mediocre, but it’s not great. The word to describe it is noteworthy. This is, by many accounts, a film horror fans need to see, if they truly care about the genre in any shape or form. While the story is (somewhat) classic with the idea of family issues and forbidden love, it’s what Barker does with these ideas by intertwining them with twisted images from his horror mind that makes the film noteworthy. And if that doesn’t tickle your fancy, just give it a rent if you like old school horror, at least. It’s very eighties and very cool for being very eighties.

The effects are practical, and old-school practical, and in this day and age is very refreshing to the eye. The film is very low budget (I hesitated for a second by wondering whether I should put “amateurish” in that sentence instead of “low budget”, but this film could hardly be called amateurish, as Barker knows what he’s doing story-wise. If you know that, you’re golden. You have a whole crew to help you sort out the technical aspects of it), and I love the look of the low budget 80s film, plus it helps if you have an interesting, if not gripping, story to go with those visuals, because like the gloss and sheen of most CGI action extravaganzas these days, without a story, those visuals mean nothing.

The film looks pretty damn good on Blu-Ray. There was lots of grain, but that is obviously from the master copy of the film, and like its age, it helps with the enjoyment of the film. There were a few moments of digital artefacts I noticed towards the end, but they were on hardly noticeable surfaces unless you’re specifically looking for digital artefacts. The sound was good, and it did the job, but I wouldn’t call this an amazing speaker workout. It certainly helped when that music-box type music (written and composed by Christopher Young who also did the music to Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell) almost always played in a left or right speaker, front or back, rather than in the centre speaker, it added to the creepiness of the music.

There are a reasonable amount of extras provided on the disc. There are three fantastic interviews with Andrew Robinson (who played the father, Larry), Ashley Laurence (who played Kirsty) and Christopher Young (the composer). All are very frank interviews and feel as if you are the interviewer, there’s minimal editing out of potentially offensive words or comments and it just makes it a much more real and more worthy of your time for this simple reason, and I got a true kick out of all three interviews. Another featurette then dips into monotony; Hellraiser: Resurrection is a compilation of clips of interviews, and that’s pretty much it. There’s no coherence to the piece, there’s no narrator providing back story connections between interviewees, thus making a difficult watching experience. Under the Skin: Doug Bradley on Hellraiser provides an interesting insight into the man behind the nails, providing some anecdotes from behind the scenes, and is much more in the vein of the three interviews that I got a kick out of prior to the Resurrection featurette. An audio commentary is provided with Barker and star Ashley Laurence and “moderated” by screenwriter Peter Atkins (who was involved with a lot of the Hellraiser sequels). To be quite honest, I didn’t understand the need for a moderator, as all three provide interesting and entertaining company and are sometimes quite frank with some comments (as much as you can be on commentaries, at least) and just makes an enjoyable experience to watch the film, the memories and nostalgia they provide are entertaining and provide some great insight into the making of the little film that could. A “fast film facts” factoid track is provided, but watching it at the same time as the commentary brought to light a sad fact that whoever produced the little factoids, as cool as they were designed and as good as they looked, were just reiteration of what is said in the commentary, at least up until I turned them off ten minutes in. Every factoid was mentioned two to three seconds beforehand in the commentary, almost like it was a live summary of the commentary for the deaf or hard of hearing watching the film. While that’s fine, all well and good and whatnot, it illuminates the idea of laziness on the DVD production group to not bring a diverse and differing selection of extras to the plate. There’s almost 10 minutes of pretty much the same trailer in the “Trailers & TV Spots” section, as well as poor-looking galleries (despite being overlaid with Christopher Young’s very cool score, the galleries are blurry and seem to have been pulled from a website or something with low resolution). On the back of the cover, it says two DVD-ROM features are provided: First and Final Drafts of the screenplay. Either this is a printing error, or I need a BD-ROM drive on my computer as I inserted the disc and it just ejected without doing a thing. There is also BD Live option on the disc, but each time I went onto it I never got anything, nothing showed up after I got into the Anchor Bay BD Live screen. It may be that I live in Australia and this is an American disc that nothing showed up to download, but who knows?

All-in-all, this is a fine package for horror fans (at just under $20 Australian, you can’t go wrong) and I’m quite proud of purchasing it. It’s nice to finally put an experience to that image of Pinhead snarling that has, for so long, pierced my young, fertile mind, and, thankfully, the experience was extremely pleasant (even if the subject matter is the antithesis of pleasant!) I highly recommend this to all horror fans that are not yet acquainted with the First Cenobite, and to those people who want a different horror film to spice up their lives that is original and creative and purely creepy as well as being more clever than it may have any right to be. The Blu-Ray is a fine presentation with a mere two useless extras (Hellraiser: Resurrection and the factoid track, if you leave BD-Live out) and would be a fine addition to any well-to-do horror fan’s high-definition library. Four skulls.

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