Directed by Robert Rodriguez and co-director Ethan Maniquis
It took three years, but Machete, whose fake trailer showcased before the B-picture homage Grindhouse, finally hit the cineplex. Anyone who found themselves excited by that teasing coming attraction will no doubt be satiated by the relentless onslaught of over-the-top violence, extreme gore, unnecessary nudity and cheap laughs that directors Rodriguez and Maniquis deliver in it’s full-length incarnation. Sugarcoat it with a dose of political satire and Machete is everything The Expendables should have been – self-aware, flashy and fun.
Rodriguez does a good job in updating a gritty, gory genre. His pic made-on-the-cheap mimics the grind house aesthetic right down to the choppy edits, 70’s style opening credits, the tongue and cheek use of funky soft core porn music (provided by Rodriguez’s band Chingon) and the grainy cinematography. More so the director summons influences of American Westerns and tough anti-hero movies informed by such auteurs as Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah.
As far back as El Mariachi, Robert Rodriguez was achieving maximum impact with minimal budgets. Machete is no different and despite being co-directed, his auteurist stamp is felt strongly in the comically ultra-violent action sequences. Rodriguez excels at staging visceral action scenes and understands that the most important role of the camera is to make images live with their greatest intensity. His camera work incites, stimulates, and impels the virtual abundance of impaling, severed limbs and decapitations. Machete dispatches his opponents using any and all sharp objects available – See Machete kill with a sword, then surgical knives, then garden sheers, then a meat cleaver, a bushwhacker, then a meat thermometer, then a shard of window pane, and even a corkscrew. In perhaps the film’s best, bloodiest and most grotesque sequence, Trejo gives new meaning to the phrase “it takes guts, when Machete slices open a henchman’s belly and uses his intestinal tract as a rope to swing down and escape through a lower window.
- Ricky D
#2- Piranha 3d
Directed by Alexander Aja
There is nothing particularly funny or poetic about the carnage in Piranha 3D. Even “disturbing” seems a bit too strong a word to describe the excessive, but still somehow palatably cartoonish bloodshed on display – can a film about pre-historic. bloodthirsty piranha really be disturbing? Tonally, this film is nearly impossible to pin down, and that is part of its appeal. It lends the film an air of unpredictably, while also aiding Aja’s apparent commentary on American exploitation films. While most of the film is played for laughs, the presentation of the human body as a sexual object as well as a source of food is purposefully conflated in an intelligent and engaging way.
This association, however, works with mixed effects. Purposefully or not, this film is not sexy: it presents very sexualized images which happen to also be very bland. Though this tends to work as there is little differentiating of the human body as a piece of meat (in the figurative and literal sense), the lack of genuinely arousing sexuality tends to underscore the strength of the prospective romance between the teenaged leads. Though Kelly (Jessica Szohr) certainly puts herself into sexualized situations and is never judged or punished for it, her chemistry with Jake (Steven R. McQueen) is nothing short of chaste. This development pushes for unnecessary moralism in a film that otherwise does quite a good job at deconstructing the tropes of the genre.
The film similarly uses its violence to literally turn people into meat. Not in recent memory has there been a film that is quite as bloody and gore-filled as this. The particularity of the piranha’s violence is that it rarely obliterates the entire human body, rather people are left half eaten or a little chewed up. Even for a monster film, the reduction of the body to food is rather extreme. There is really no real point of comparison in this regard, and the film drives home the images of half eaten bodies time and time again. They never become any less shocking, perhaps in part, because they often look like something you’d see in a slaughterhouse or a butcher shop.
This is a film to be experienced, though it is not for the faint of heart. It is brash, numbing, shocking and laugh-out-loud hilarious. Its underscoring commentary on films of its type is equally engaging, however hypocritical some of it may be. Though Aja’s consistency as a filmmaker can certainly be put into question, he remains an interesting figure in the contemporary horror scene. It will be interesting if after this venture if he will return to his more independent roots or continue to produce deceptively mainstream Hollywood horrors.
- Justine Smith
#3- Birdemic: Shock and Terror
Directed by James Nguyen
On the list of movies so bad they’re good, we must now add James Nguyen’s Birdemic: Shock and Terror. The most recent candidate for the title of worst movie of all time, Birdemic has surely carved out a place in the pantheon of midnight movies along side such classics as Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space, Troll 2 and last year’s hipster cult sensation The Room. The Sundance reject soars above the terrible movie heavens, opening with extended slow scenes of the hero, cardboard-bland, dim-witted salesman Rod, driving across northern California in his blue Mustang. We meet his girlfriend Nathalie, a hopelessly vapid would-be model. The two apparently have sex (and sleep) with their clothes on as well as hang out at vacant local pubs (no money for extras) with the exception of the lead singer of a local band (minus the band). During the first painfully drawn-out 45 minutes of boy meets girl, we get just that. Plenty of driving, getting in and out of cars, inane dialogue and a dreadfully dull romance delivered with flat, emotionless acting.
While most other bad movies have some redeeming features, Birdemic has none. Birdemic features poor sound mixing, cheap foley work, repetitive, tilted camera framing, stretching tracking shots that pan across restaurant walls and empty vistas, bad musical interludes, horrible editing and imbecilic dialogue that barely resembles how real people talk.
Let’s also not forget the uniformly bad acting; the entire casts seems to insist on reading Nguyen’s script exactly as written. “It’s the human species that needs to quit playing cowboy with nature. We must act more like astronauts, spacemen taking care of Spaceship Earth.”
Look out for the background newscasts about global warming, stranded polar bears and heatwaves. Didn’t you know? Nguyen stuffs his nest with his pro-peace, pro-green message while giving a shout-out to An Inconvenient Truth (a great first date flick) and promoting Yoko Ono’s website, ImaginePeace.com. And just imagine – I haven’t even mentioned the poorly rendered CGI eagles and vultures nor the explanation as to why the heroes try to defend themselves with coat hangers or why the birds occasionally spit acid or explode.
Nguyen, a Silicon Valley software salesman by day, bought a camera, and without benefit of any sort of training, decided to film a tribute to Hitchcock’s The Birds in his spare time. On a budget of $10,000 Nguyen’s film may not have any story, nor decent production values, but it does have craft and his DIY fingerprints are in every shot. Like Ed Wood, Nguyen is an aspiring auteur with a dream and while we may laugh at the movie, we can’t laugh at the fact that he got the job done – and more importantly, found a way to make millions of people see it and find a distributor (yes, it actually got picked up and is set for a sequel as well).
- Ricky D
Directed by Quentin Dupieux
Rubber is without a doubt one of the oddest films to come out this year – a comedy / horror / coming-of-age piece about a killer tire with telepathic powers which he uses frequently to explode the heads of his victims.
Be it a tribute to or commentary to Stephen King – or a film self-defined as an homage to “No Reason Cinema,” Rubber is a twisted hybrid of trash and art. A preposterous slasher film that would make a great double bill with Van Sant’s Gerry. This postmodern rethinking of the slasher genre has turned heads since its screening at Cannes and blown up message boards on internet movie blogs.
The surprising thing, however, is how impeccably well-crafted the film is. Director Quentin Dupieux, who also wrote, edited and shot the film, and composes the music under his pseudonym Mr. Oizo, works magic on a small budget. Dupieux, undeniably, is very skilled behind the camera. The film looks fantastic, the effects are spot on and the score sticks with you long after the credits roll.
While the run time is undoubtedly going to divide people, Rubber is destined to be an enormous cult hit . Despite it’s flaws, the simple story about a tire that can control its own path is still truly original.
- Ricky D
Directed by Jake West
Director Jake West’s British horror-comedy Doghouse is an absolutely exhilarating gore-fest. Two parts Shaun of the Dead and one part Hangover, Doghouse is a recipe that horror fans should devour.
Screenwriter Dan Schaffer depicts his characters as loud and obnoxious philanderers – a bold move for a horror-comedy because if audiences are not emotionally invested in the characters, they couldn’t care less for who lives and who dies. This often spells doom for a horror movie’s success, but Schaffer effectively generates their likability through their affection for one another (and of course their antics) so we can still root for them.
James Ryman’s creature concepts and Karl Derrick’s make-up effects are extraordinary. Each zombie woman’s personality is magnificently realized through costume, make-up and movement. Some of the zombies include: The Snipper – a hideous hair stylist who shears her victims with pairs of long sharp scissors, The Bride – a gory axe wielding she-devil, The Dominatrix – a leather clad monster with an incredibly huge sword, and Bubbles – the obese, finger-eating housewife. Schaffer amps up the tension when these women chase, torture and bludgeon some of their victims (not all the guys come away unscathed); however, much of the film’s charm is its constant flow of dark humour. Despite the threat that the zombie women pose, our oversexed chauvinists still can’t resist objectifying them.
Doghouse is proof positive that the Brits are cornering the market of entertaining horror-comedies (see Severance, The Cottage and Shaun). Hopefully, with the success of Zombieland, this hidden British gem will find its way to North American audiences soon.
- Nigel Hamid
This is not a movie that earned deep analysis in any way, and spoiling the jokes would be a disservice. But it’s worth noting that MacGruber hits its action beats with a commendably straight face, and it has more in common, structurally, with its satirical influences than its short-form source material. Mileage is going to vary on the movie’s humor, but some gags are irrefutably worthwhile, including the most idiotically committed, and persistently funny, sex scene this reviewer has seen since Watchmen. MacGruber will probably be playing against better films, but if you’re in for 90 minutes of full-throttle comedy, see this one in a packed house.
Directed by Ernesto Díaz Espinoza
Chilean director Ernesto Diaz Espinoza and his action star collaborator, Marko Zaror, are three films deep now, with a fourth (in 3D!) on the way. Mandrill is a full-scale homage to our beloved action flicks of the 70s. And it has all the style, cheese, archetypes, and, occasionally, humor of its creative benefactors.
Mandrill is sometimes quite enjoyable. There is definitely something charmingly retro about this kind of hero, and, ever since Bond went all 21st century, there’s a vacancy to be filled. There are quite a few bits of truly inspired humor and, though occasionally repetitive, the action scenes are often very exciting and well choreographed. Mandrill is best when it’s self aware and jokey–a high point is a fictional 70s exploitation show that gets a montage and multiple callbacks.
- Emmet Duff
#8- The Human Centipede (First Sequence)
Directed by Tom Six
For horror-film junkies who crave the extreme, I recommend The Human Centipede (First Sequence), a deeply disturbing – perhaps even deeply disturbed – surgical nightmare. Centipede plays on the notion that the only thing more frightening than death is a state of prolonged torture and imprisonment – a state in which though one’s body is no longer in their control, but the mind still remains conscious. It is a definite mix of psychological and biological horror, positioning the viewer to identify with the victim’s physical and mental suffering and lack of free will. How much pain and suffering can one individual possibly take until eventually, death is a relief?
The film itself is not as violent or grotesque as you would expect. Centipede is never as explicit as the Hollywood schlock seen in the Saw or Hostel films. First it has a style and sense of humour lacking in those franchises. Centipede disarms the viewer with comedy early on, before shifting gears into a steady second act of stomach-churning dread, but director Six has a masterful sense of how to generate that dread and suspense through performance and suggestion. The Human Centipede is one of these movies that has become infamous for its idea but it is not ultra-violent.
The film itself, as staged by the Dutch director, is a fairly crafty piece of over-the-top suspense. Its nail-biting second act gives the audience some hope that the victims will find some way to escape the horror bestow upon them. Unfortunately the whole enterprise runs out of steam before it’s done. The script tends to have a one-note plot — our victimes get captured and try to escape, rinse and repeat. It’s the midpoint of film that is the strongest – when the grand plan is realized, Six’s style shifts subtly into a more abstract rendering of the horrors he’s dreamed up and it is in this midsection that the the film is at its most disturbing. The problems all lie in the last act. When The Human Centipede begins moving toward its conclusion the effect is mostly one of relief and it is the most conventional – lacking the humour of the first act and the uncertainty generated in the middle. Even worse, Centipede concludes with the promises of a sequel.
The films two strengths are its look and its villain. Much of the film’s “entertainment value” rests on the sadistically outlandish performance of Dieter Laser, and director Six clearly has an eye for horrific imagery. The look of the film is highlighted with chillingly pristine set design and camera movements that creep up on their subjects like the stalker himself. Still, The Human Centipede feels like something less than a classic – like early Cronenberg, only stripped of subtext.
In a world of Takashi Miike’s and French New Wave horror, there’s definitely room in the spectrum for The Human Centipede, a film that, like it or not, delivers exactly (and only) what its title implies. That should be enough to lure the most ravenous genre fans.