4 Reviews (1 New)
A Dark and Scary Place
It's Spain 1944. Young Ofelia is being brought by her pregnant mother to where her new 'father' is stationed. The captain turns out to be a cruel and sadistic man. The civil war is over, and elsewhere in the world the Normandy landings are taking place, but bands of rebels to Franco's dictatorship are loose in the hills. Close to the camp Ofelia is visited by a fairy who leads her to an ancient labyrinth. A faun tells her she is the lost daughter of the king of the Underworld, and that she must complete three tasks to prove she has not become too mortal. But the only ally she has is suffering dangerous problems of her own...
I've seen some surreal films in my time, but this pretty much beats them all. Director Guillermo Del Toro has an impressive track record already, with Cronos, The Devil's Backbone, Hellboy, Crimson Peak, and The Shape of Water to his name. This time he's excelled himself big-time. In fact, I am a big fan of most of del Toro's work and think of him as a successor to the great John Carpenter's crown.
Pan's Labyrinth is plainly a parable for many things, but mainly the coming of age. There are loose connections to Little Red Riding Hood, The Wizard of Oz, any number of Grimm's Tales, and even his own The Devil's Backbone. But this is not one for the little kiddy-winks. It's brutally and graphically violent, and eerie, as well as emotional and fantastical.
You realise after viewing it in its entirety that the entire movie is an allegory for life. The brutality of adulthood versus the innocence of youth. As one of her three trials, Ofelia enters the tree of womanhood (the entrance resembles a vagina opening, and the branches above are curled round like fallopian tubes) whilst being reluctant to put away childish thoughts. The Giant Toad is a metaphor for greed and the wealth of the world, the Pale Man represents the evil of the world feeding on the helpless. Pan, the faun is neither good nor evil, but it has its own motives.
It is ambiguous as to whether these fantasies are real or simply the girl's way of dealing with the harsh realities of life - specifically, the evil vindictiveness of her despised new stepfather, Captain Vidal, the ruthless dictator. As adults, we can only assume the latter. The film also explores selfishness against sacrifice. There's the irony of performing an adult selfless act when Ofelia still inhabits a fantasy world - presumably of her own making.
This is the most weird clash of genres I've ever come across, but the fact that they don't really fit together makes the concept all the more significant. This film spans the gamut of emotions, and is fantasy based in a harsh reality. Only when you reach the end do you begin to change your view of what has just taken place. Ambiguity in an ending is nearly always a good thing. It leaves you thinking. It leaves you thinking you have witnessed something rather special.
Extras on this excellent 2-disc set include a commentary by Director Guillermo Del Toro; a National Film Theatre Interview with Del Toro (hosted by Mark Kermode, in my opinion the best film critic around - apart from me, that is!); a prologue by the director; The Power of Myth short, DVD Comic Sketches: The Pale, The Fairies, The Giant Toad and Pan; El Fauno Y Las Hadas; The Colour and the Shape; Storyboard/Thumbnail Comparisons; VFX Plate Compare: Guillermo Del Toro and the Green Fairy; Director's Notebook; The Melody Echoes the Fairy Tale; Mercedes' Lullaby; Poster Gallery & Trailer, and much more.
Phew! If you've always shied away from subtitled films before, remove those blinkers open those eyes, and use this as your starting point. You won't be sorry. I've just discovered that there is now a Ultra HD 4K version of this masterpiece. I'll be picking that one up.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2007 - updated 2021)
In a gloomy and depressing nursing home for the elderly in East Texas lies Elvis Presley, alive but far from kicking. It seems that years ago, tired of the fame and pace of his life, he traded places with a talented Elvis impersonator. However, when the pretender died, Elvis was left with no career but impersonator. When he gyrated off the stage and broke his hip even that came to an end. Now, years down the line, he is a shadow of his former self, suffering the indignity of having his (possibly cancerous) puss-filled pecker greased by a nurse who talks to him as if to a child and, of course, doesn't believe for one moment he's Elvis. When the death toll in the home rises dramatically, Elvis and his new friend (a black man who is convinced he's JFK) discover that an ancient Egyptian mummy (part of an exhibition lost in transit) is entering at night and sucking the souls out of any available orifice. With only the two men having any knowledge of what's happening it falls on the pair to rise from their beds, prepare an offensive and take on Bubba Ho-Tep in a fight to the death...
It sounds crazy, doesn't it? Well, it is. Bubba Ho-Tep is a load of old nonsense, but it's a very enjoyable load of old nonsense. If you sell this film on the premise of Elvis fighting a mummy, the best you could possibly hope for is a chuckle at the vision it inspires, but I don't think many people would be intrigued enough to check it out. And that would be a crying shame, because this story is much more about the central characters, the mummy merely being the catalyst by which a sad old man becomes the king again. Two old people regain some purpose and dignity in their lives when they and everyone around them believes they are no use to the world and simply waiting to die. For these two men it's time to live again one last time.
So what classification does Bubba Ho-Tep come under? I hear you ask. Is it horror? is it comedy? Yes, it's both of those, but it's fundamentally a feel-good piece; a sort of reverse coming-of-age film. It says to you: "There's life in the old dog yet!" Bruce (The Evil Dead) Campbell's portrayal of the singing legend is uncannily good; there's no hamming-it-up here, and the character is treated with great respect. I'm no fan of Elvis Presley's music, so it's fortunate for me that the low budget didn't allow the use of any of his songs; doubly so, because the music by Brian Tyler which replaces it is nothing short of superb. Seldom does a film score composer manage to accurately capture the mood of each scene, so that you feel like rocking one minute and crying the next.
It's worth mentioning the men behind the film. Firstly, Joe R. Lansdale who wrote the original short story. Having read several of his books, I already had knowledge of his work. His style is a little like that of Richard Laymon. But his most popular books follow the misadventures of two middle-aged men in the deep south, one a gay black man, the other a straight white. I urge anyone to read Mucho Mojo; you'll laugh your socks off. But as for the short story, this is the last one Lansdale expected to be optioned for a film. The other man behind the project is, of course, Don Coscarelli, screenplay writer and director whose other works include the Phantasm films.
Aside from 5.1 and Widescreen, other special features include an entertaining Audio Commentary by Bruce Campbell and Don Coscarelli, an additional commentary by Bruce Campbell in character as Elvis, and an Introduction by Bruce Campbell. The second disc contains a veritable plethora of extras (more even than the region 1 version). Joe R Lansdale reads an extract from the story; there are deleted scenes with optional commentary; the Making of Bubba Ho-Tep featurette, with To Make a Mummy, Fit For a King (costumes), and Rock Like an Egyptian (music) featurettes accompanying it; The King and I (interview with Don Coscarelli), and a question and answer session with him; an Interview with Bruce Campbell; an excellent music video; photo gallery; trailer, TV Spot and Biographies. What more could you ask for? The packaging by Anchor Bay is also great, with a slip cover containing the DVD case with a different cover and an information booklet inside.
If you're expecting CGI think again. This is a low-budget film. The mummy is done for real, and the attacking scarab is a series of models. But don't associate no money with no good, quite often they prove to be better. This film is funny, corny, sad, poignant, and generally over-the-top, and I can't stress enough how you need this in your collection.
In the words of Elvis: "Come and get it, you undead psycho sh*t!"
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2005)
This 50th Anniversary Edition Blu-Ray release from Fabulous Films Ltd/Fremantle Media Enterprises couldn’t be more timely, as far as I’m concerned. Duel is one of my favourite movies of all time – certainly registering high in my top dozen – and I’ve only recently been searching for a Blu-ray or 4K version to replace my old and well-worn DVD. I couldn’t be happier to finally view this amazing film from 1971 in HD.
Dennis Weaver – best known for the 1970s police series McCloud, which first aired from 1970 until 1977 – plays David Mann, a travelling salesman on his way to California to meet a client for a lucrative deal. At one point he overtakes a slow-moving 40 ton truck, which shortly afterwards overtakes him and slows right down again. Concerned that he might be late for his appointment, Mann makes a risky movement to get past the truck. Thereafter, he is singled-out as prey for the super-charged huge truck, and Mann is caught in a desperate down-spiralling game of cat and mouse for survival.
It doesn’t sound like much, does it? But believe me, this movie is packed full of nail-biting, edge-of-the-seat suspense. It’s as though a proverbial ratchet is steadily clicking up the tension. Several factors come together to make this work in synergy. The first is the choice of actor. Dennis Weaver was chosen based on his impressive performance in Touch of Evil (1958), and achieves the impossible by carrying this portrayal alone. There are around fifteen or so peripheral characters whose cameos Mann has only the briefest interaction with (his wife on the phone, a roadside café’s handful of patrons, a petrol pump attendant and a school bus driver and some kids. For ninety percent of the running time it’s simply the man, his car and the terrifying truck. This works really well, as the viewer sub-consciously bonds and sympathises with Mann to the point that they replace him in the car and experience many of the emotions he very clearly feels: humour, impatience, annoyance, fear, terror, the edge of madness, and an underlying survival instinct. Weaver also performed many of his own stunts.
The second factor is the source material. Duel originated as a novelette tale by master storyteller Richard Matheson, which was printed in Playboy magazine only a short time before it was optioned for the screen. Legendary filmmaker Stephen Spielberg was to be the director. Yes, him. But I’ll come to that. Matheson was a master of his art and had countless novels and shorts adapted for TV or the big screen – many of which he also wrote the script/screenplay for. Among his many successes you might recognise are The Shrinking Man (it had the word ‘Incredible’ added for the film), I Am Legend (adapted into at least three different film versions), Hell House (The Legend of…) , A Stir of Echoes, The Button, What Dreams May Come, Somewhere in Time, and of course Nightmare at 20,000 Feet (the classic Twilight Zone episode, starring William Shatner).
A young Stephen Spielberg was shown the Playboy story of Duel by his assistant, as she felt it would be of interest. Spielberg had worked in television, so the original idea was to film it as a TV movie, but ultimately after editing it the rare decision was made to film additional scenes for a theatrical release. As a fan of silent movies he wanted to make the truck a sinister character rather than simply an object. Spielberg auditioned seven different trucks as if they were actors, deciding on a 1955 Peterbilt 281 because the front resembled a face. In doing so, he created one of the most unusual and menacing characters in a movie. The filming is very low and contact-based, giving the feeling you are not just witnessing events but are actually a part of them. He also achieved a number of ‘firsts’ with the professional aid of Stunt Co-ordinator Carey Loftin, who arranged the timeless car chases in Vanishing Point (another favourite of mine), Bullitt, and The French Connection. Loftin drove the truck. First person-effective low shots of the road create a sense of speed and panic, which has subsequently been copied in multiple films. Also, rogue trucks and cars with faceless unseen drivers have been used many a time but to much lesser effect. Spielberg proved to the producer that he could film the entire script on location (the director fought against using soundstage sequences) in little over ten days. It was well worth the fact he went two or three days over on the shoot, otherwise we might have ended-up with back projection and Steven Spielberg might not have been given the leeway to achieve the impressive career he has.
You would think that the roadside café scene would be utilised as a breather – a break in the pace – but there is no downtime here, as Weaver's character silently scrutinises the patrons and their boots, attempting to discover which, if any, is the driver of the truck. We hear his thoughts, and frantic reasoning. There are some amazing set-pieces, and also some red herrings in that certain other things are made to sound like the truck as we experience Mann’s shaken psyche. Spielberg even incorporated a primeval monster roar at the conclusion. The camerawork is amazing, with unusual shots and angles which enhance the off-kilter reality of events. The striking sound score (not really music) accompanies the picture well, making the truck even more menacing. I played the film through my new home cinema system and the loud rumble each time the truck approaches is both exhilarating and unnerving.
The entertaining extras include A Conversation with Director Steven Spielberg; Steven Spielberg and the small screen; Richard Matheson: Writing of Duel; Trailer; Photograph and Poster Gallery; and an all new (and quite excellent) Graham Humphrey artwork sleeve. If you like road movies and buckets of suspense, I can’t urge you enough to add this to your collection.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2021)
Mun, a young woman in Hong Kong, who has been blind since the age of two, undergoes a cornea transplant. After the operation she is told by the doctor it will take some time for her eyes and brain functions to work in tandem, but that her eyes will gradually improve. One night in the hospital she wakes to see a dark shape at the bed of the old woman next to her in the ward. The shape leads the old woman away, and the next morning a nurse announces that she passed away in the night. Later, when she is being driven to her mother's apartment to recouperate, she sees a man standing in the middle of the road. At the apartment building itself a boy asks her for his missing report card; a boy nobody else can see. Many other frightening experiences lead Mun to the edge of insanity, until her eye surgeon, Dr Lo helps her to discover the reason for her sightings...
I recently compiled a list of my top ten films of all time, in an attempt to procure them all on DVD (for anybody who might be remotely interested, I now possess seven of the ten). Receiving this movie to review reminded me just how much I love it. The Eye made quite an unexpected impact on me when it hit selected cinemas in the UK. Due to the fact it wasn't on general release I was obliged to go out of my way to find it, but it was well worth the inconvenience. In my humble opinion The Eye is an unrecognised masterpiece. Watching it again a couple of times since its theatrical release has only confirmed my belief that it deserves many accolades and is certainly justified a position in my personal all-time greats. I now have eleven films in my top ten!
Why is it so good? I hear you ask. Well, although it contains English subtitles they are always clear and too few to distract you from the enjoyment of watching the film. The pacing is spot on; there's no padding here, and the jolts and revelations are evenly spread throughout the running time, keeping you both hooked and spooked. The music score is intelligently utilised, enhancing the emotional ups and downs of plotline events, but never once spoiling the spontaneity of a fright. Aside from the last major scene, The Eye is simply and effectively filmed; indeed, many of the early parts are merely blurred images seen through the eyes of the cornea transplant patient, Mun. But these are genuinely creepy moments, believe me.
For some years now the makers of horror movies have been forced to use other means to produce a reaction from hardened audiences. This is normally achieved with shock tactics, either with increasingly violent gore-fests, or with cop-out loud noises and suddenly slamming doors. The Eye gets back to what horror films should be all about: scaring the hell out of people with a good story, inducing goose pimples and spine tingling. There are some nice set-pieces, such as the figure in the lift and the calligraphy class scare, but set in an unfamiliar culture makes everything seem more startling and real. It's no exaggeration to say this is the creepiest film I have ever seen and, unlike the classic The Exorcist, you enjoy watching it. The front blurb on the original DVD cover makes inevitable comparisons with The Sixth Sense, but although there are minor similarities, I think The Eye is a much better film.
And now the strange bit. This is the second release on DVD for The Eye, but this version is supposed to be the Special Edition. That's where the confusion lies. Granted, this release has improved picture and sound quality (with the option of Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1 EX Surround, and DTS-ES 6.1 Discrete Surround), but the only other extras are trailers. Where are the extras which were on the original release (Making of... Documentary, Pang Brothers Documentary, Promotional Art Gallery, Star and Director Filmographies, Justin Bower Film Notes)?
I have both copies, so it doesn't really matter to me; however, until we are presented with a suitable Blu-ray or 4K release, I suggest that you seek out this version. After all, it's the film itself that's important - and The Pang Brothers' The Eye is worthy of the highest marks. Don't bother with the American remake, like all their other remakes of East Asian supernatural horror movies they are beneath consideration when compared with the originals.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2004)
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