Hatchet II (movie review)

 

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The film picks up moments after the first one ends. Mary Beth, faced with Victor Crowley, escapes by poking him in the eye Three Stooges style and runs away. She teams up with Reverend Zombie, her uncle Bob, Shawn’s twin brother Justin, and a group of hunters and fishermen to return to Honey Island Swamp and get revenge on Crowley. In typical slasher movie fashion they split up and wander the woods like dumbasses until they get picked off. Can they kill an unkillable ghost?

I read on IMDB that most of the crew from the first movie returns for the sequel, which is awesome. Much of the cast returns as well, like Kane Hodder (who is also the stunt coordinator) as Crowley, Tony Todd as Zombie, Parry Shen as the twin brother of the character he played in the original, Mercedes McNab as Misty and Joleigh Fioravanti as Jenna (in footage form), and even John Carl Buechler as Jack Cracker (AKA the guy who drinks pee). Of course there is a new Mary Beth, but seasoned scream queen Danielle Harris is more than able to fill Tamara Feldman’s shoes. Also added to the cast is horror great Tom Holland as Uncle Bob (but his “acting” takes some getting used to).

Since it’s a sequel, of course the gore ante is upped. This time there is a ton more fake blood, and the killings are gooier than ever. For example, there is a man strangled with his own intestines, a jawbone ripped out, a face removed by boat propeller, a chainsaw to the groin, a belt sander to the back of the head, and a torso ripped out of its skin. However, the movie is a bit slow-paced (but not boring), and the murders don’t begin in earnest until over halfway into the movie.

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One of the milder death scenes

As with the original, the violence is offset with humor. I was amused by some of the reactions to Crowley; Bob puts up his fists like they’re going to box, and Zombie tries to choke him.

As per usual for a sequel, the monster is given more of a back-story. It turns out that Crowley’s father had an affair with his dying wife’s nurse. The wife cursed the resulting pregnancy, causing Crowley’s deformities. What makes this really worth noting is that Crowley’s mother was African American, making him the first biracial slasher movie villain. As for the other characters, some are likable or at least interesting, such as Mary Beth and the enigmatic Zombie, but the group of victims-in-waiting are quite unremarkable. There’s Cleatus the redneck, John the guy who never says anything, Trent the biker-looking guy, Chad the camouflage guy, former-couple-getting-back-together-in-the-scenic-wonderland-of-the-swamp Layton and Avery, and Vernon the seriously obnoxious guy.

The first time I watched the movie, I was unimpressed. But this time around, I enjoyed it much more—it grew on me. (Insert swamp vegetation joke here.) Check it out if you’re in the mood for bloody slasher movie action.

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Hatchet (movie review)

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Ben and his buddy Marcus head up to the bayou for Mardi Gras. Ben talks Marcus into taking a haunted swamp tour. They and their companions: tour guide Shawn (Parry Shen), married couple Jim and Shannon (Richard Riehle and Patrika Darbo), porno director Doug (Joel Murray) and his subjects Jenna and Misty, and sullen loner Mary Beth set out to explore the lair of Victor Crowley, the ghost of a disfigured man-child who was accidentally killed by his father while trying to save him from a fire caused by cruel teenagers. Crowley is still hungry for revenge, and begins to pick off the tourists one by one. Does the mysterious Mary Beth have the key to their survival?

I first heard of Hatchet when my husband Andrew told me he wanted to see it because it is, as the tag-line states, “Old School American Horror.” It’s a throwback to ‘70s and early ‘80s horror movies like Eaten Alive, Halloween, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Friday the 13th. A loving tribute, it features cameos from horror gods Robert Englund and Tony Todd, with Kane Hodder playing both Crowley and his father. The special effects are down-to-earth and practical, as they were in the ’70s before CGI.

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Mmmmm Tony Todd

Since the films previously mentioned were the “New Horror,” (as they used to be considered) then I suppose Hatchet is the New New Horror. The gore is amped up tremendously, with deaths like a belt sander to the face or a head ripped in half. The gore is liberally sprinkled with dark humor, as the violence is so outlandish it crosses the border into near slapstick.

A refreshing aspect of the film is that it does away with the tired paradigm of naughty teenagers equals slaughter. Ben ironically runs into trouble fleeing the excess of Mardi Gras, asking Marcus, “Haven’t you seen enough boobs?” Unfortunately, the aspect of naughtiness is retained in the form of Jenna and Misty. Misty is particularly stupid, spouting lines like, “Your nipples are dumb” and “You’re syphilis.” Overall the women are weepy and whiny, though Mary Beth is somewhat of an exception. Check it out if you’re in the mood for a modern slasher with a boatload of gore.

Hard Candy (movie review)

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Jeff (Patrick Wilson) is a thirty-two-year-old photographer, and when he’s not taking pictures of underage girls for a living, he’s picking them up through the internet. His newest online prey is fourteen-year-old Hayley (Ellen Page), who agrees to go back to his house and pose for him. Unfortunately for Jeff, Hayley is not as sweet and innocent as she seems; she’s out for blood—and other parts of his anatomy.

One of the aspects of the film that’s done well is its unpredictability; the two main characters are untrustworthy—the viewer is unsure of Hayley and Jeff’s identities from one moment to the next. Is Jeff a pedophile? Is Hayley a sociopath? Worth noting are the excellent performances, particularly by Page. Hayley is brilliant yet insane, at times vulnerable but always with a cheeky comeback to Jeff’s arguments. The film is dialogue-driven like a play but full of interesting quotes.

Also interesting is the exploration of gender and control. Hayley has very short hair and at one point tries on Jeff’s glasses and jacket. She, despite her small stature (according to the heights reported by IMDB, Page is a full foot shorter than Wilson) and her sex, is completely in control of the situation, something Jeff is not used to—he’s  used to manipulating young women. He is totally at Hayley’s mercy; as she tells him, “I’m gonna do what I want, Jeff.” In one scene he flies into a rage and tellingly stabs a picture of a woman in the crotch.  Also explored is the question of what age a female matures—what separates a girl from a woman? As Hayley says:

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I’ve seen this movie with a lot of guys, and they tend to side with Jeff eventually—why is best left unsaid for purposes of not revealing too much. I recommend it to any woman, but it’s not for the squeamish gentleman.

Hannibal (movie review)

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Hannibal picks up a few years after The Silence of the Lambs left off. Clarice Starling is in trouble with the FBI over a drug bust gone wrong. Her career has basically been a disappointment, since she never managed to get ahead; she’s still being held back because she’s a woman, particularly by agent Paul Krendler  (Ray Liotta). Meanwhile, Hannibal Lecter, who has been holing up in Italy, comes back to the States to see Clarice again. Further meanwhile, Mason, the only survivor of Lecter’s attacks, has been plotting an elaborate revenge scheme that involves feeding Lecter to pigs. The three narratives come together when Clarice saves Lecter from Mason and Lecter saves Clarice from Paul. Clarice, being the super cop she is, doesn’t want to let Lecter escape again, but he of course has plans of his own.

I can’t help but think of the book by Thomas Harris when I watch the movie; it’s one of the rare cases when the adaptation improves upon the material. In the movie, Clarice is honorable, always trying to catch Lecter, no matter how she feels about him. In the book, she falls in love with him, and they run off together. Which I’ve always hated. First of all, Hannibal Lecter is just not boyfriend material. I’ve dated a few weirdos, but none of them have ever killed and eaten anyone. Nor have they dug up the skeleton of a close family member to help with unresolved anger issues. Harris mentions repeatedly, in his disturbingly fawning way, how not quite human Lecter is, how he’s on a completely different plane than everyone else. Even Clarice is prey to him, a fact that’s highlighted in a scene when he watches her jog. The language of the novel equates her with the deer in the park: “Hannibal Lecter closed his eyes to see again the deer bounding ahead of Starling, to see her come bounding down the path…”

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This pretty much symbolizes the movie

I much prefer movie Clarice, who is far less compliant and drugged out when Lecter holds her captive. While there are characters in the book that I miss in the movie (like Mason’s wacky sister Margot and Ardelia Mapp), also deleted from the book are a dozen irritating details, such as the foul-mouthed mother who meets undercover Lecter; the phrase “She poked it with her diaper finger” will forever haunt me. But overall, the most significant changes concern the ending; most plot points and even most of the dialogue in the movie comes straight from the book.

Of course my biggest gripe about the movie is that Jodie Foster didn’t return to play Starling, but I also like Julianne Moore, and she does an admirable job. And Hopkins came back, along with Frankie Faison as Barney. The other performances are terrific; I particularly enjoy Gary Oldman, the man of a thousand faces and voices. It’s a tense and intense movie. There are a lot of disturbing but creative aspects, like a high Mason being induced by Lecter to cut off his own face. I saw Hannibal when it was new, and I remember leaving the theatre in a daze. While it’s my least favorite of the series, it holds a special (but itchy) place in my heart, like an annoying person who’s really nice. Check it out if you want an action movie with a whole lot of imaginative gore.

The Guardian (movie review)

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Camilla is the world’s best nanny. She’s sweet, knowledgeable, and works weekends. Too bad she’s also a Druid priestess who tends to sacrifice her young charges to a baby-eating tree. Up-and-coming couple Phil and Kate hire her, feeling blessed that all she asks in return for her hard work is Tuesday nights off. Meanwhile she’s getting baby Jake ready to make like a tree and leaf. Phil and Kate figure out the situation, and they have to stop Camilla from going out on a limb.

It’s directed by William Friedkin, who did The Exorcist, but it’s nowhere near as scary; it’s not even creepy, for the most part. However, what it lacks in scares, it tries to make up for in literary allusions that give it a little depth, making it tolerable even with dialogue like “Get your hands off my baby” and the cheesy premise. It begins with a reference to “Hansel and Gretel.” Young Scott Sheridan, Camilla’s last client before Jake, is reading his baby sister the pop-up book version of the story, which includes a big spooky tree—nice foreshadowing, both with the tree and the evil woman initially trusted by the children, who turns out to be murderous. It’s the only really eerie scene. Later, there’s a nod to Roman mythology. Camilla (also known as Diana to the Sheridans) is bathing in the woods. Phil’s (creepy) friend Ned, who’s infatuated with her, has been following her and catches a glimpse of her naked. She sends coyotes to chase and eat him. This is a neat retelling of the story of the goddess Diana, who when seen taking a bath by a hunter, turns him into a deer so his own dogs kill him.

Such moments are undermined by less great scenes, for example when Camilla is chased by three muggers/would-be rapists. They’re walking clichés, from their leather jackets and switchblades to their utterances like “Cut the bitch.”guardian2 I was eagerly waiting for Camilla to smite them with her womyn powers, but instead she just runs to her tree and lets it do her work for her. But there is a nifty shot of her lounging serenely on a branch while the baddies are getting chomped and pummeled. Speaking of shots, my favorites are done with a fish-eye lens, representing the baby’s point of view—babyvision!

I came away from the film ambivalent; I can’t decide whether its good points outweigh the bad. I watched it a time or two with childhood horror movie buddy Hope, so it has the nostalgia factor for me. Watching the film as a new parent, I expected to be horrified, especially when the Sheridan baby gets it. Instead, I mainly felt indignant, thinking how I would never let a stranger come into my house and handle my baby. I worked myself up into a pretty good lather close to the end of the movie, when Jake has to go to the hospital. Camilla, having been fired, shows up anyway and begins unhooking Jake from his medical equipment so she can take him. Phil is momentarily away, and Kate is just standing there saying, “Camilla, stop it!” Hells no. Were that my baby there would be one less nanny in the world. Anyway, check it out if you’re looking for a movie you can chuckle at but isn’t entirely awful. It’s worth at least a passing glance.

Gothika (movie review)

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Halle Berry is Dr. Miranda, a prison psychiatrist. Among her many tasks is counseling Chloe (Penelope Cruz), who’s convinced the devil is raping her. Miranda’s smug sureness of who’s crazy and who’s not is challenged when after an encounter with a ghostly girl, she wakes up in a cell at her work, suspected of murdering her husband (Charles S. Dutton). She gets firsthand experience of what it’s like to be insane, as she keeps having visions of the girl. Miranda has to figure out what the ghost wants (does it have anything to do with Chloe’s rapist?) and who really killed her husband.

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The horror! No, not really.

I read a negative review of this movie on Campblood.org, and though its editor Buzz is my hero (soooo much funnier than me), I disagree with him in regards to how terrible he says it is. It has its good points. It has fine acting, a plot that makes sense, and a decent score by John Ottman. While it’s not scary, it is creepy in that Miranda’s well-ordered world is falling apart around her and she begins acting like her patients.

My own complaints about the movie stem from disbelieving that Miranda would be incarcerated in her own workplace and that her colleague Pete (Robert Downey Jr.) would be her doctor. I remember from my former psych major days that it’s unethical to receive treatment from someone you know. It ruined the movie for me the first time I saw it, but I like it a little better every time I see it. I also think it’s brave of Berry to spend most of the movie looking like a mess.

If you’re in the mood for a slick high-budget ghost story with actors you’ve heard of, give this one a try.

Gods and Monsters (movie review)

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Fictionalized version of the last days of James Whale, director of Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein. It’s the 1950s, and Jimmy (Ian McKellen) is an old man now, having long been booted out of Hollywood for being openly gay. His mind is starting to go, leaving him with two options: not take medication, be overcome by memories and occasionally pass out, or take the medication and have trouble thinking coherently. His troubles are lessened by a friendship with his hunky gardener Clay (Brendan Fraser), but the past keeps coming back to haunt him.

The film is nowhere near classifiable as horror, but given that it’s about James Whale, that monsters are a continuous image system, and that Clive Barker is an executive producer, I feel good about including it. Fans of Universal monster movies will enjoy a scene when a pesky acquaintance of Jimmy’s reunites him with Boris Karloff and Elsa Lanchester—the actors playing them look close to the real thing.

 

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Jimmy is often equated with Frankenstein’s monster in the movie (for example a dream sequence when he’s the monster and Clay is the mad scientist), possibly symbolizing his status as an outcast and his loneliness. He has a sort of boyfriend, but David is very closeted and tends to scold Jimmy for not playing the game of acting heterosexual for the masses. Clay has a bond with him, but Clay’s grossed out and skittish about Jimmy’s sexuality. Which leaves his kooky live-in maid Hannah (Lynn Redgrave), who loves him, but thinks he’s going to hell.

It’s a sad movie, but there’s still quite a bit of humor, keeping it from being too depressing. Which is appropriate, since Jimmy (at least movie Jimmy) always meant his horror movies to be kinda funny. Check it out if you’re in the mood for monsters but not gore.