Saturday, July 23, 2011

Movie Reviews-Insidious, The Devil's Rejects, Big Trouble In Little China

Many modern horror films go for the gross out. Usually this involves buckets of blood and/or torture. I don't often like those sorts of films. So it was surprising that the creators of Saw could also make a throwback horror film like Insidious, which is full of such cliched but still effective moves like jump cuts, wide shots from above, creepy sounds in the dark and being alone in a dark house and thinking you saw something move. Really one of the most frightening things is to be alone or to lose control. When you go to sleep at night what are the noises that you hear? Is it just the house settling? If you dream is that just as real as what's going on during your waking hours? Insidious uses these fears quite well for the first 2/3rds of the film. It also gives a nod to classic horror themes explored in HP Lovecraft's "The DreamQuest of Unknown Kaddath"

The story is quite simple. A writer/musician and her school teacher husband move into a really nice and older appearing home. They have three kids, two boys and a girl. They are still in the process of unpacking but the wife notices that some things are lost but appear to be moved from where she put them. She gradually comes to have more of a sense of unease with this house. Her husband ignores her feelings but he's having strange blackouts of his own. And their oldest son seems to be the most changed by the house. After a few paranormal events which even her husband can't ignore the family flees the house. But evidently it might not have been the house that was the problem.

Good stuff. It's a lost art of making you jump or look over your shoulder in horror films and this film shows that some people still have it. The last third of the film ups the ante quite a bit.

The Devil's Rejects
Sometimes watching film it is easy to get caught up in the acting or the special effects and forget how critical the writing and especially the directing is to making a good film. A strong director can literally sell you a s*** sandwich and make you think it tastes good. Not that the The Devil's Rejects is a s*** sandwich but it IS a remarkable work from Rob Zombie for being only his second film. It was a sequel to his first film (House of 1000 Corpses) and is so superior in EVERY way (writing, acting, cinematography, sound, directing, etc) that it almost was like Zombie traveled through time, learned from great directors past and future, and came back just two years after his first (really bad) movie filled with the secrets of the past and those yet to be revealed.

The Devil's Rejects is a love letter to those seventies drive-in horror films as well as other obvious influences like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Although the number of people killed in this movie is not very high, this is an intensely violent film. The most controversial aspect is that there aren't any good protagonists in the film. This may bother some people. YMMV.

The movie picks up shortly after the events of the first film but you shouldn't watch the first film. It's not necessary. The violent and sexually depraved Firefly family which consists of Mother Firefly (Leslie Easterbrook), Otis (Bill Mosely), Rufus (Tyler Mane), Tiny(Matthew McGrory) and Baby (Sherri Moon Zombie-Rob's wife and muse) are holed up at home when the Texas Rangers, led by Sherriff Wydell (William Forsythe) , brother of the police office killed in the first movie, show up looking for revenge. After an incredible shootout only Otis and Baby escape. Their mother is captured while their brothers are either killed or left for dead.

Otis and Baby decide to meet up with Baby's father and Otis' stepfather, Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig) and their uncle Charlie Altamont (Ken Foree). But along the way they're gonna have some fun. And "fun" to these two involves murder and torture. But Sherriff Wydell is still on their trail and is willing to do anything in order to bring them to justice. And by this time his idea of justice doesn't involve an arrest and trial.

Anyway by some standards this movie is sick, deviant and down right disgusting but Rob Zombie also deftly places scenes of real humor in the movie. One of my favorite cuts is when Otis is driving Spaulding and Baby to a rendezvous with Charlie, and his sister suddenly decides she wants some ice cream. This reminded me of teasing and squabbling in my own family (without all the profanity and murder that is)

Last thing. The soundtrack is pretty good and includes all sorts of time-appropriate classic rock, blues and country music. It has a use of Freebird which has to be seen to be believed.

Big Trouble in Little China
This is both a satire/spoof of action/kung-fu movies (especially Indiana Jones) and not a bad little action movie in its own right. It was directed by John Carpenter. Trucker Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) is going to pick up his friend Wang Chi's (Dennis Dun) fiancee at the airport when the girl (Suzee Pai) is kidnapped and Jack's truck is stolen. The tough talking Jack Burton isn't the sort of man to take that lying down and he hooks up with Wang and friends to recover the lady and (most importantly to Jack) his truck.

During this endeavor Jack discovers that magic definitely exists and there is a secret otherworld that happens to lie just underneath Chinatown. I give Russell some credit for this film because although his Burton is seemingly the hero in actuality Burton is famously, magnificently and incredibly incompetent (although his heart is in the right place). It's a deconstruction of the Great White Hero. Russell plays Burton as something of a John Wayne spoof. In the occasional instance where he gets something right it's usually by accident or sheer luck. Despite this Burton's confidence never wanes though just about all of the actual fighting is done by his buddy Wang, who is a kung-fu expert.
This movie had some pretty good kung-fu scenes and was ahead of its time for American based action flicks.
It is also, as mentioned quite funny and can be enjoyed purely on a humorous level. Kim Cattrall also stars.
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