“Jennifer’s Body” by Rick Spears

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Just to make it clear: I have not yet seen Jennifer’s Body. I was super-psyched to see it until it “bombed” at the box office, and like usual, if it bombs in the States, it’s not worth releasing anywhere else; i.e. Australia. Here I am patiently waiting until late February when Amazon.co.uk has Jennifer’s Body on Blu-Ray so I can finally see the film I was expecting to see last December (the US Blu-Ray is region-locked to Region A, I’m Region B).

This graphic novel (not comic book) delves deeper into the world revolving around Jennifer’s Body, a film written by Diablo Cody of Juno-fame, starring Megan Fox and directed by Karyn Kasuma (Aeon Flux) but the book probably works better if you’ve actually seen the film on which it’s based. Now, I will admit I’ve read the script. Don’t ask me where I got it; I can’t remember. It was hella funny. It was twisted and clever writing, but hardly scary. If anything has changed from this draft (dated 2007; prior to Juno‘s release), it’s that they’ve added more of the horror element, judging from the trailers. However, compared to the original script, this, too, has a more horrific element.

This book is split into four chapters detailing one boy’s journey to being digested in Jennifer’s body, as well as a prologue and an epilogue. I’ll review each chapter.

Chapter one focuses on Jennifer’s first victim, a jock named Jonas who’s having a few problems on the football team, mainly, his balls are shrinking from steroid use. Add to that his girlfriend is bumping uglies with his best friend, Craig. In a fit of rage, he fights Craig, then goes home, depressed. Next day, he finds out Craig has died in a bar fire. Bereaved, Jonas seems distant, even his walnut-sized brain can comprehend emotion and sadness and loss. Enter Jennifer Check, who seemed like she was going to comfort him, only to find a nasty surprise.

Chapter one’s style is not one you’d see in a graphic novel. Perhaps in a children’s comic book you can buy at your local newsagency, but not one you’d see in a – somewhat – sophisticated graphic novel. It’s all harsh edges and vivid, sometimes garish, colours, with some interesting composition. It suits the character of Jonas, implying simplicity in Jonas’ life, since he’s a dumb football jock, but there is something brewing under the surface – SHOCK! – jocks have feelings! I enjoyed this chapter, because Jonas’ priorities are amazingly out of whack, plus it was just fun to look at.

Chapter two focuses on Colin, seen in the trailers for the film, a so-far-in-touch-with-his-emotions-they-take-contol-of-him guy that goes all goth after his favourite record store closes, who has a secret crush on the hottest girl in school, Jennifer Check. He never took the chance at that one summer camp to talk to her, but after he hears her in chemistry, they’re lab partners, you see, she’s listening to Colin’s favourite band, the Dwarves. It is here they hit it off as friends, finding more and more in common with each other. When he asks her out to see The Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Bijou Theatre on a date (with Jennifer thinking he’s talking about Rocky, claiming she “doesn’t like boxing movies”), she gives him a second chance and invites him to watch a film he’s never heard of called Aquamarine at Jennifer’s house, to which Colin agrees. However, he’s not meeting her at her house. And there’s no mermaid chick-under-twelve-flick to be seen…

This chapter was a bit odd. Rick Spears, who wrote all the chapters, prologue and epilogue as well, really got in touch with Colin’s emotions, helping him become even more realistic, however, he looks nothing like he does in the actual film, even after he goes all goth. The ending is abrupt and too short for my liking, and differs from the clip released prior to the film’s release. I enjoyed the backstory of how he dug Jennifer Check at a younger age and never had the guts to talk to her (can anyone say, “Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt!”? I know I can…), but it just seemed, I don’t know. It wasn’t the one I felt was the best visually, either. It was sort of mediocre, it didn’t stand out above the crowd.

Chapter three focuses on Ahmet from India, a character I found hilarious in the script. It chronicles his journey from India to the hole that is Devil’s Kettle for a student-exchange program, where, after a lonely two months, he joins the baseball team after a killer pitch. After the game, however, his team-mates check out his johnson, and from then on, he was called stuff like “Squid”, with his classmates saying “We want a pitcher to throw the ball, not a tentacle”, stupid stuff like that kids actually say. Sad, Ahmet from India decides to go to a local club to listen to a band named Low Shoulder. Their music ignites a passion in him, reminding him of Bollywood, so much so he gets up and dances, with everyone joining in, until something catches light in the club, and the bar goes up in flames. Luckily escaping, Ahmet from India wanders around the streets of Devil’s Kettle, until he sees another survivor, the gorgeous Jennifer Check. “Come with me. We’ll find help.” she claims. “We’ll sort this out.”

This one was interesting, giving a different viewpoint of America through the eyes of a foreigner, going so far as to say “America is horrible.” This is the most depressing chapter in the book, because it seems Ahmet from India is so out-of-place, and so lonely, and homesick, it’s almost alienating just reading it, let alone looking at the images. It does hit a high-point, however, when it goes all Bollywood on us, but when Jennifer actually sets down and begins chowing Ahmet from India up, he takes it, putting his energy into reincarnation. Not resisting, not even surprised that this is happening to him. It’s quite sad, when you think about it.

The last chapter deals with Chip, the boyfriend of Needy (who is the best friend of Jennifer). This chapter chronicles Chip’s depressing existence as boyfriend of the beautiful Needy, but getting caught jerking off by his mum, and then, the next day, caught evacuating the seamen from the Red October during class. Chip is then dumped by Needy, for his own protection, until the night of the school dance, where he bumps into Jennifer, who proclaims her love for him and tells him Needy’s been bumping uglies with Colin, a goth at school, up until he died. Then it goes into an abridged version of events depicted in the film.

This chapter was pretty good, humourous. The artwork was soft, and easy on the eyes. This chapter, like Colin’s chapter, had a too-abrupt-ending for my tastes. The ending leads into the epilogue, which shows Jennifer storming off, supposedly going home to where she’ll meet up with Needy in her shocker of an opening to the movie.

The prologue and epilogue are two, three pages, and are just book-ends for the four chapters.

All in all, I did enjoy this read, but it wasn’t anything groundbreaking. My favourite art was in the first chapter, depicting the simple world of Jonas the football jock, and in each chapter, there was at least one one-page-one-panel piece of art that was pretty cool, be it Jennifer bearing her gnashers, Ahmet from India leading the Low Shoulder Bollywood dance, or something like Needy and Jennifer in a hot fantasy shower, all naked and whatnot. I assume for those that dug the film, this would be a welcome addition to their Jennifer’s Body experience, but those that either have not seen the film (and intend to) or didn’t like the film, you probably shouldn’t bother with this. It has some cool art, some humourous writing and some good nods to the film (or at least, the script) that it should make fans of the film happy. I didn’t dig it as much as I thought I would, but I might dig it more after I finally see the movie. Three-and-a-half skulls.

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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.

4

The Exorcist (1973)

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exorcistBefore last night, any version of The Exorcist was the version I’ve never seen. I remember being somewhat obsessed with this when they re-released the film in 2000, continually asking my father what it was like.

And, as fate would have it, my brother and I were on a binge of rented horror movies from our local video store not ten minutes away (a lot of those we watched I’ll review – refer to “Upcoming Reviews”).

You know the score: girl is possessed, pea soup, crucifix-dildo. The whole shebang.

What this wasn’t, however, was what Scary Movie 2 had led me to believe: a girl is posessed and it’s scary and an old man attempts an exorcism.

I’m still sort of in schock at how much more it was than that and how amazed I am over the film.

It’s quite a long one, and though as we get older, long movies tend to be watched less and less, I’m definitely going to watch this when it comes out on Blu-Ray many times over.

The simple fact about this film, apart from its age (70s and 80s horror movies immediately earn my respect, at the very least interest in watching it) is, unlike a lot of horror movies, at least nowadays, the horror is built up around character. It’s not “This is scary, so be scared.” It’s the film-makers locking a connection to the audience before little Regan is possessed and the sheer emotion that makes this scary, not the actual event. It’s the reactions to the event that make this scary.

If this movie was not released in the early seventies and was recently released as is, there would be people (mostly ignorant teenagers) that would laugh at quite a few of the things in this. While I found some effects in some scenes to have been executed primitively, this film was made almost forty years ago. That’s to be expected.

The thing I got out of this film as well, and I’m not sure whether or not this was my interpretation or what, but there is a substantial amount of subject matter orbiting around mental illness and psychiatry. While, in the seventies, this would have purely been about a girl that is possessed, I found more meaning in the simple fact that Regan is taken over by a demon and people she loves, and people she’s never met as well, want to help her. That is something I have experienced when I had depression and it was at is worst, so I related to that aspect of the film – whether that was intentional or purely interprative on my part is to be determined…

As a film on its own, however, there’s hardly anything wrong with it, I believe, maybe except for old-school effects (which is one of the reasons I love older horror movies). The acting is fantastic, especially on Ellen Burstyn and Jason Miller’s parts, as well as the sheer chutzpah on Linda Blair’s part. As the credits started rolling, I felt compelled to write a letter that consisted only of the sentence “Thank you, Linda, for bringing Regan to life.”

The film, for me, is so personal and so outstanding that once you watch this it is easy to understand why so many horror films suck (the majority of them, at least). I can’t say anything other than how much I loved it. I loved it. This is truly deserving of the five-star (ahem, skull) rating.

5

Drag Me To Hell (2009)

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dragposterSpoilers herein.

Christine Brown has everything. A great job, a great boyfriend, and she’s finally got her life on track. But after refusing an extension for an old lady’s mortgage she is cursed by the woman and the next three days are literally hell on earth for her as she attempts to stop the lamia, the demon tormenting her, from dragging her to hell.

I love what I’ve seen of Sam Raimi’s work as he always has a tongue-in-cheek attitude towards everything he does. The exception to that is the first Evil Dead which, I think, was badly written and completely uneventful, I don’t see what people like in that film personally, but this is a billion times better than The Evil Dead.

I am a self-proclaimed seasoned horror film veteran and this is certainly my cup of tea, as I love anything self-deprecating and tongue-in-cheek, and this has so much tongue in so much cheek, and so corny and so cheesy that it could surely rival any food you may eat.

I like Alison Lohman but she plays a character that isn’t necessarily a likeable character, which was one of the kinks of the script that could have been smoothed out a bit more, but maybe she wasn’t exactly supposed to be likeable?

Justin Long is good but is truly a bit-player in this and is decent as always. Lorna Raver is great as Mrs. Ganush, a horror villain surely to dominate the minds of horror film fans for years to come, likened to that of Freddy Krueger among other horror icons. I surely hope we get to see more Mrs. Ganush in some form or another in the future.

The thing I like about horror is that more often than not, they are always fun. I find slashers more accessible than “magic” horror movies, but “magic” horror movies are the better quality horror movies and this film falls into the latter.

The humour in this is truly splendidly wrong and crazy that it’s hard to ignore (look out for a certain goat at a seance…) that makes this film so much fun, but I can’t help but think that the film will lose some aspects in transference to home video such as amazing sound actually used to emphasise the torture of the lamia and the atmosphere in the cinema. The cinema I was in was almost packed with a laughing audience and a great energy that helped make the film more enjoyable.

One thing that stood out was the score by Christopher Young, Sam Raimi’s composer of Spider-Man 3 and The Gift. I remember liking the score to Spider-Man 3 and wanting to buy the soundtrack, yet they didn’t release it – I truly hope the same fate doesn’t befalls the soundtrack to Drag Me To Hell, as it’s a fantastic score full of stinging themes and creepy notes. It is available on Amazon MP3, but I prefer physical CDs, so I hope Lakeshore Records release the soundtrack soon.

One thing I truly love was the introduction using the old 80s Universal logo that really made this film a drive-in/grindhouse type of movie and really set the tone from the get-go. Three-and-a-half stars, I heartily look forward to the Blu-Ray release.

3.5