Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Beast's Movie Cave- Inside

Back when I reviewed the film Martyrs, I stated how the French are kicking ass in the horror film department, and I mentioned a film called Inside. Now it's time to take a closer look at that film.

Inside (or A' I'nterieur,2007) tells the tale of a woman named Sarah ( Alysson Paradis). Sarah lost her husband in a tragic car wreck 4 months prior. She is pregnant, however, and due to go to the hospital the next day ( which happens to be Christmas)to induce labor. Sarah is not overjoyed, however, as she is still overwhelmed with grief at her husband's death. She makes plans with her mother and boss to get to the hospital the next morning.

That night, she has a stranger knock on her door- a woman (Beatice Dalle), who when Sarah refuses to let her in, tells her that she knows her name, that her husband is dead, and that she wants Sarah's baby...and the woman is armed with a very large pair of surgical scissors to do the job. What starts as a holiday evening filled with depression and solitude becomes a blood-soaked night of terror and murder. Will Sarah survive? Will the unborn baby survive ? Who is this mysterious woman, and why does she want Sarah's baby so badly?

Inside is a masterpiece of horror, in my humble opinion. It takes a very simple (if not twisted) premise and runs with it. The film, written by Alexandre Bustillo and co-directed by Bustillo and Julien Maury, makes the most of its modest structure-small cast, few locations (the primary one being Sarah's house), and a small budget by your usual Hollywood standards. In spite (or maybe because) of its somewhat small scale, the film is packed with emotion, intensity, and blood...gallons of it.

Like Martyrs, the acting helps to sell the story. Paradis' portrayal of Sarah makes the viewer feel for her loss, even as she alienates those around her(in fact, she's downright bitchy at times). Still, it's hard not to have sympathy for her, especially when there's a crazy woman trying to cut her baby out of her with a big-ass pair of scissors. Speaking of that, big acting kudos go to Dalle for her role as 'La Femme', said scissor-wielding psychopath. Dalle makes her character one of the scariest screen nutjobs to come down the pike in quite a while. Whether it's lying, acting innocent, or going all stab-happy, La Femme will do whatever it takes to reach her goal.

It's interesting that these two French films, Martyrs and Inside have a lot in common- strong female lead actors, powerful emotional content, intensity, and violence aplenty. I think one of the reasons these films are so effective is the depth of the emotional content , and of the acting...if you care about and feel for the characters, it's even more horrific when tragic and violent things happen to them.

I want to also mention the look of the film. The colors/lighting used make for an interesting look-the dark house, the yellow, sodium-looking light in most of the house, the bright, white of the interior of the bathroom (which makes the blood stand out all the more)...the use of different colored lighting reminds me a bit of Italian filmmaker Dario Argento's Suspiria ( see my review back last october), but used in a more realistic efffect, as opposed to the otherworldly, fairytale effect Argento strove for.

As the above picture may tell you, Inside is a very violent film. There were some scenes that made me cringe, and that takes a lot. As always, the copy I own is unrated, and , as always, if there is a watered-down version, I would stay away from it...there's no sense in half-assing it.

If you've a mind to watch an intense, bloody horror film, put a copy of Inside in the old DVD player, and prepare for a wild ride. I officially give it The Beast's Seal of go watch it, already.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Beast's Movie Cave- The Holy Mountain

Alejandro Jodorowsky , director of El Topo ( see my previous entry on this film), made a film in 1973 titled The Holy Mountain. Like El Topo before it, The Holy Mountain is a surreal film full of symbolism, mysticism, and just plain weirdness, for lack of a better term.

The story follows a thief ( Hector Salinas), who meets an alchemist (Jordorowsky) , becoming his disciple. Seven more people are gathered, each representing a different planet. The group is trained in mystical ways for their quest-to go to the Holy Mountain, and gain immortality from the wise men there.

Like most surreal films, the plot summary sounds fairly straightforward. It's the execution that puts the film in a different class than most. Symbols and mystic imagery abound here, inspired by Catholicism, Eastern religions, alchemy, and the Tarot. For example, in the beginning of the film, the Alchemist performs a ritual based on the Japanese Tea Ceremony. Later, after the Thief is 'reborn', he's made drunk by some people who use his Christ-like countenance to make life-sized Jesus staues. The Thief awakes on a large pile of potatoes, surrounded by dozens of Christs, and begins to scream at his betrayal. Still later, the Thief meets the Alchemist by climbing a golden hook up into a tower, inspired by the Tarot card 'The Tower'. More Tarot imagery is found within the Alchemist's tower as well.

Some images , I think, are just straight from Jodorowsky's wild imagination. There's a room with a table, both shaped like an eye, in the Alchemist's tower, for example. A student, when shot to death by fascist government soldiers, has small birds fly out of his gaping chest wounds. Wax effegies are a recurring motif, with the Thief carrying around one of the Christ statues that most resembles him (later eating it's face and tying balloons to it, sending it skyward), and later , in the Alchemist's tower, wax effegies of the seven 'Planet' people, which they ceremonially burn. There is also a circus that re-enacts the Spanish invasion of Mexico using lizards as the Aztecs, complete with feathered headdresses, spears and shields, and frogs portraying the Spanish, decked out in monks robes and conquistador armor.

With scenes like these, this obviously isn't your typical film. I really enjoyed The Holy Mountain. Besides the strangeness and symbolism, there's also a good helping of humor and satire, as well as some wisdom to be had. I wouldn't necessarily want all movies to be like this one, but I'm glad that such films do exist...they're a breath of fresh (and weird) air on the cinematic landscape.

The DVD has some cool extras. There's a bit that shows how the film was remastered, and they did an excelent job. Another extra that I enjoyed was the one on the Tarot, with Jordorowsky explaining the cards and his fascination with them. Probably the most interesting extra was the director's was cool to watch the film and then re-watch it with the commentary and see what Jordorowsky had in mind when making the film. In addition to what some of the symbolism means, he also gives info such as why the Alchemist has big boots...not because it was the '70s, but because he liked Frankenstein!

Though not as violent as El Topo, there is a fair amount of violence, as well as nudity and various sexual situations. As I said earlier, there's also quite a few scenes with Christian imagery involved, and not always in a traditional other words, there's something to potentially offend everyone here, so be forwarned.

If you liked El Topo, you will most likely enjoy The Holy Mountain. If you're willing to take a trip ( which is an appropriate term, in this case) into a mystical, surreal world, check out The Holy Mountain. It's an interesting, artistic, and thought-provoking cinematic journey. The beast gives it his seal of approval. Go watch it.

" It's easy to enter another world if you set your mind to it. Just jump into the void. "

-Alejandro Jodorowsky

The Beast's Movie Cave- Severed Ways- The Norse Discovery Of America

Hail, All! I've had PC problems, and been on a much-needed vacation, but I'm back, and I've watched a lot of movies...Severed Ways being one of the more interesting ones.

This film tells the story of two Norsemen, Ord( played by Tony Stone, who also wrote and directed the film), and Volnard ( Fiore Tedesco), who are stranded in what will later be known as North America. The Norse, who arrived there hundreds of years before that Colombus guy, tried to set up shop there, but ran afoul of the natives, or 'Skraelings', as the called them. A huge battle took place, and the Norse decided to pull up stakes and head out. Ord and Volnard were sent into the woods to scout , and were assumed dead, therefore left behind. Severed Ways tells of their struggle for survival, which not only deals with finding food and shelter, but encounters with the Skraelings, a pair of Irish priests, spirituality, religion, and ultimately each other.

Severed Ways is not yout typical Viking movie. While the backdrop of Nature in the film is of epic proportions (more on that later),the story ityself is not of the epic scope one usually sees in a Viking movie. The story isn't about lords or kings, or revenge, or a treasure hunt, but simply about two guys left behind in a strange land, dealing with the outer and inner problems they face. The film's website ( describes the story as an 'inward adventure', and that's a pretty good way to put it, I think. The way the film was shot also marks it as a different kind of Viking movie. It was shot digitally, using only available light, giving it almost an indie/documentary feel at times ( this is definately an indie film, after all). There is also very little dialog in the film, and when there is its in Old Norse, subtitled in English. The soundtrack is unique as well, with instrumentals by Brian Eno and Popol Vuh, as well as music by Judas Priest, Dimmu Borgir, Burzum, and Morbid Angel. The inclusion of this music may seem jarring when put with the primitive scenery and setting, but it actually works , especially the Black Metal bands.

The landscape in this film is breathtaking. It was shot in West Virginia and Newfoundland, primarily, and there are many scenes of beauty to counterbalance the overall grittiness of the story. One such scene that comes to mind is Volnard's flashback, where he follows his sister to her meeting with her lover, who is a Christian. The violent and tragic result of this event is a counterpoint to the natural beauty around the characters...but then, Nature has been witness to all sorts of human drama, I suppose. This flashback also gives us some backstory that goes toward explaining Volnard's sparing of one of the priests they stumble upon (Ord, strongly of the old-school worship of Odin and Thor, is not so gracious to the other priest), and his subsequent intoduction to Christianity.

I've read several reviews of Severed Ways, and I disagree with a lot of them. Many reviewers didn't like the fact that the subtitles were in modern English , such as when they're on the shore and decide to move inland, or they'll be "toast". I didn't have a problem with it, myself...I think that because of old Hollywood films, we expect people in period pieces to say 'thee' and 'thou' a lot. I'm pretty sure they didn't talk quite like that. Another so-called 'critic' claimed that Ord said Odin's name so many times you could make a drinking game out of it. I watched this film twice, and I only caught about 3 or 4 times Odin's name was invoked...since the character was a worshipper of the Norse gods, this was in character and not overdone. I think that some critics are too busy trying to make snarky comments in an attempt to seem clever and miss the film they're supposed to be watching. I think, too, that the subject of Vikings is similar to the Metal music used in the film's soundtrack...either you get it or you don't, and often those who don't feel the need to ridicule it, in a vain attempt to seem cool or clever. Guess what-you're neither. Then again, these are two subjects close to my heart, so I may be a bit biased. Ok, end of rant.

Obviously, I liked Severed Ways. There were a few things I didn't like. One, the shaky camera work at the film's beginning , which settles down, thankfully. I also could have done without the scene where Ord takes a dump in the woods...I know they were striving for gritty authenticity, but I think we all assumed that like bears, Viking shit in the woods, and didn't have to have visual proof. These instances aside, I felt that this was an interesting and unique film. On the DVD there's also some atmospheric footage of the elements, which is kind of a cool extra, especially for those of us without fireplaces ...just pop the disc in and watch 'Fire'.

If you're up for an unusual Viking film that's violent, beautiful, harsh, and lyrical in turns, then give Severed Ways a try. It comes with the Beast's Seal of go get a shank of beef and a horn full of mead, and watch.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Raise The Horn

Been busy of PC died, had to get a new one, etc. I plan on making some entries tomorrow...'till then, here's a pic of me at my friend Janis' B-Day party a while back, in place at the Mead Circle.
Pictured, L to R: Lori, Paul, Big Mike, myself, and Dave.
Hail , Skoal, and Cheers to you all!