Dave Wain’s essential breakdown of this week’s cavalcade of straight-to-disc treats. Step inside the DTV Junkyard…
Roger Ebert called Meir Zarchi’s 1978 I Spit on Your Grave “a vile bag of garbage… without a shred of artistic distinction”, and even Mark Kermode concedes that the nature of the film is “deeply, deeply problematic at the best of times”, so quite how this late seventies sleaze-fest has managed to spawn a remake and two sequels is a staggering turn of events.
Although the overall tone of original has been re-evaluated over the years, with prominent feminists like Julie Bindel relaxing their vehement opposition, the same could not be said for Steven R. Monroe’s 2010 remake; this time Ebert sneering at its “phony moral equivalency”. I thought the remake was more purposely exploitative than Zarchi’s film, which tended to cloud any good intentions with regard to its morality. The sequel to this however, I just found pretty abhorrent and targeting the lowest common denominator.
As you can imagine, the release of I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE 3 this week filled me with dread and despondency at the prospect of another ninety minutes of rape and torture. It came as a surprise then to actually like this R. D. Braunstein directed sequel. With its narrative effectively ignoring the repellent second film, we find Jennifer Hills (Sarah Butler) still in a state of torment from the brutal assault that she endured a couple of years ago. Having changed both her identity and the city she lives in, she reluctantly joins a support group and attempts to piece together her new life. However, when a close friend is murdered and the killer goes free, mixed with tales of serial rapists from the support group haunting her, Jennifer is determined to hunt down the men responsible and action the justice that the legal system won’t.
A customer of mine rented this movie the other day, and upon returning it said “It was alright. Not as good as the others… It needed more raping in it”. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I Spit on Your Grave succeeded for me. Less concerned with the trappings of depravity, it focuses more upon the fallout from sex crimes, with emphasis on how the individuals and their families cope with everything in the wake of such heinous acts. For the first time in the series, you actually feel emotionally invested in what’s going on; the return of Sarah Butler is key to this, but the addition of Jennifer Landon as her friend Marla, and Doug McKeon as Oscar, grieving the tragic suicide of his daughter, contribute immensely to a more worthwhile experience.
Granted, it’s still an exploitation film at its core – a length of piping and a tube of lubricant will attest to that – but that’s ok, it’s the balance that has to be right. Braunstein’s film, against all odds, manages to make this franchise more palatable, and by abandoning its polarising rape / revenge agenda, it enters the realm of the Death Wish films, which considering what went before, is just fine by me.
Bruce McDonald shot what I’d consider to be one of the best horror movies of the last ten years, Pontypool, so word of his latest film – HELLIONS – was met with frenzied excitement… albeit short-lived. As conflicted teenager Dara Vogel (Chloe Rose) ponders her future while alone in her isolated home, strange trick-or-treaters begin to stalk the house in a menacing manner. Dora has no choice but to defend both body and soul from these relentless hellions, who are dead-set in possessing something she won’t give them.
Considering the directors pedigree, not to mention the fact that the script came from the writer of the very passable The Colony, Pascal Trottier, the fact that it’s such a crushing disappointment is all the more confounding. For me, the main issue lies in its schizophrenic tone, from gazing in slack-jawed wonderment at its brilliance, to head-scratching at its muddled theme and laboured execution. Its ‘visually haunting landscape’, I found to be a desperately unnecessary red hue which spoiled a great deal of the satisfying photography, while its seventy-five minute running time should in no way have led me to check my watch as often as I did. Despite the initial unnerving appearance of these hellions when they first came knocking, the potential was quickly lost, the scare factor dwindled, and a potential cracker of a Halloween movie became one of the disappointments of the season.
We horror bloggers can often surf on the cusp of paranoia, checking out every other genre-scribblers work for fear of a newbie riding into town with a heightened level of wordsmithery that we can only aspire to. In reality though, we just tend to IM each other relentlessly while mocking the poorly written, badly researched dross that always seems to find a way into cyberspace. I read one piece this week which questioned the viability of a killer insect movie in 2015! “Very much of a bygone era” wrote the amateur scribe, “A blast from the past!”. Presumably the notion of the SyFy channel has yet to enter the world of the aforementioned word slinger, but for the vast majority of us we’re all too familiar with that schlock conveyor belt, so the appearance of STUNG on DVD didn’t exactly set pulses racing at ZH Towers. Having said that, as long as it managed to rise above 2001’s Flying Virus with Craig Sheffer and Rutger Hauer, I’m a happy bunny.
For catering staffers Paul (Matt O’Leary) and Julia (Jessica Cook), a garden party at Mrs. Perch’s remote country villa is nothing out of the ordinary. Little do they know that the hosts’ illegally imported plant fertilizer has mutated the local wasps, turning them into giant killer bugs who are intent on laying eggs in their human prey!
The main surprise about Stung was undoubtedly the fact that it had nothing to do with the SyFy channel. Indeed, this German-shot film was independently financed to the tune of two million dollars; such a meagre budget though belies the quality of the special effects which deserve a plethora of plaudits for their impressive design. I have to admit, the first third of the movie was pretty much a waiting game with regard to drumming your fingers incessantly on your knee for things to go awry as the narrative was less than gripping, but once it did begin to go haywire, all bug-infested chaos was a delight to behold. Appearances from Clifton Collins Jr and Lance Henriksen add to a b-movie charm, and let you forgive some of the clumsily written comedy, but flat jokes rarely get in the way of this recommendable piece of popcorn entertainment.