Tag Archives: Torture

286. AUDITION (1999)

Ôdishon

It’s a pretty strange script, he must’ve been taking some really bad drugs when he was writing this stuff.”–Takashi Miike on Daisuke Tengan’s Audition script

Must See

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: ,

PLOT: Seven years after the death of his wife, Shigeharu Aoyama decides it is time to marry again, but he has no idea how to meet an appropriate mate. His movie producer friend comes up with a plan: they will hold a fake audition for a movie role where the widower can secretly interview dozens of women. Aoyama becomes smitten with shy, mysterious Asami and asks her out; but when she disappears just as things start to heat up between them, he goes on a quest to find her, only to discover that his ideal love may not be the innocent creature she seems.

Still from Audition (1999)

BACKGROUND:

  • Based on a novel of the same title by Ryū Murakami.
  • This was only Eihi Shiina’s second acting role, and her first lead, after a career as a model.
  • Along with than the relatively tame 1998 drama Bird People in China, Audition was Takashi Miike’s breakout film, after specializing mainly in yakuza pictures seldom seen outside of Japan.
  • Audition was ranked #21 in Time Out’s 2016 List of the 100 Best Horror Films. and included in Time’s 2007 Top 25 Horror Films.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Poster and cover images always feature Asami holding a syringe, a moment that hints at bad things to come. But the weirder images that sticks in my mind are the shots of the mysterious beauty sitting in her apartment, head down, hair covering her face, telephone within arm’s reach. The implication is that she has been sitting there, motionless, in a trance for the entire time she has been offscreen, just waiting for Aoyama’s call. Also, she has something lying in the background. Something wrapped in a burlap bag…

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Thing in the bag; disembodied tongue; torture hallucinations

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Takashi Miike’s most accomplished film, Audition initially shocks because of how normal it seems, before the director slyly pulls the rug from under our feet and launches us headfirst into a nightmare of pain. Fortunately, a perfectly positioned 13-minute hallucination sequence gives this movie the surreal hook (meathook, as it were) needed to elevate this master of the perverse’s best-made movie onto the list of the weirdest movies ever made.


Trailer for Audition

COMMENTS: Audition‘s broad outline is this: an older man falls for a Continue reading 286. AUDITION (1999)

THE RAVEN (1935)

The Raven (1935) marks the second teaming of Universal’s dual horror stars: and . It is also downright mortifying  in its pedestrianism. Director Lew Landers simply did not have the sense of style or vision with which  imbued The Black Cat (1934) . Worse, Landers lacked the foresight or directorial strength to shape or reign in Lugosi’s performance. Lugosi’s overacting is both the key to that which remains most fascinating about The Raven and, paradoxically, sinks the film into abject parody. It was Lugosi’s deliriously sadistic antics here which inspired the two-year UK ban on horror films. The ban significantly hurt Lugosi, causing his salary stock, never good to begin, to plummet. Seeing The Raven today through a decidedly more jaded contemporary lens, one wonders what all the fuss was about.  Still, one can easily imagine why 1935 audiences were nonplussed regarding the Hungarian ham.

As the -obsessed, stark staring mad Dr. Vollin, Lugosi melodramatically throws up his arms, laughs maniacally, and screams: “Poe, you are avenged!” It plays like a scene out of a wretched comic book, with a Transylvanian Marx Brother in the lead role. The reason for Vollin’s madness is his unrequited love of the prettified Jean Thatcher (Irene Ware), which never seems feasible.  In gratitude for Vollin saving her life, Jean does a Poe-inspired ballet for him, but the dance is as dull as she is. Earlier, Vollin compares himself to a god, and that is ultimately the nagging problem with Lugosi’s screen persona. Karloff inspires us to identify with his suffering and outsider status: Lugosi, with few exceptions, distances himself from his audience.

While Lugosi undoubtedly sends The Raven crashing, the film would have imploded from boredom without him. Aside from Karloff, the rest of the cast is a non-presence, alternately delivering lethargic line readings and  grotesque comedy relief, which is anything but. The only relief  is supplied by the two stars, who are our lifeline, even through all that Lugosi pretension.

Still from The Raven (1935)Lugosi has a chilling, seductive moment when asking Jean if her injured neck still hurts. We sense his glee in the potential of her pain. This scene of intimate sadism works far better than his later howling. However, even in Lugosi’s most embarrassing moments, he remains alluring through his presence and his idiosyncratic mangling of the English language: “Torture, I love torture! What a deeelicccious torture!” When  Vollin has just mutilated Karloff’s Bateman, the victim, upon seeing his own reflection, shoots out the room of mirrors. Lugosi’s Vollin responds with a hair raising cackle. Vollin would have felt at home in ‘s castle.

Unfortunately, Karloff is saddled with one of Jack Pierce’s absolute worst makeup jobs, which seriously threatens to undermine his performance. The actor even has a been there, done that canned monster growl. Playing second fiddle, Karloff’s discomfort occasionally shows. Still, he is our humanist touchstone. The strength of his performance lies in his introduction as a gangster on the lam, pre-mutilating surgery. He has an outcast monster-like sense of resilience and pathos, and with no help from his director or makeup man, Karloff is forced to rely solely on his own internal resources.  He succeeds with underrated, protean skills, delivering a refreshingly nuanced performance, even through a fake, pancake eye. Fortunately, Karloff never descends into Lugosi’s level of cringe-inducing caricature.

The rest of the film is merely a commercial for torture devices. Just as in a commercial, little drama is drawn from the props.  Apart from the two leads, The Raven is adolescent, gothic decor.

CAPSULE: TUSK (2014)

DIRECTED BY: Kevin Smith

FEATURING: Justin Long, Michael Parks, Genesis Rodriguez, ,

PLOT: A shock comedian stranded in Manitoba, in desperate need for a replacement guest for his podcast, gets more than he bargained for when he answers an ad from an eccentric retired sailor who promises he has “many stories to tell.”

Still from Tusk (2014)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Sure, some people are calling Tusk “the weirdest movie ever!,” but those are moviegoers whose cinematic diets consist almost exclusively of Kevin Smith stoner comedies. Heck, I’m not even sure this is Kevin Smith’s weirdest movie (he did bring us Chris Rock as the forgotten black 13th apostle in 1999’s Biblical apocalypse comedy Dogma). In my screening there was a 33% walkout rate, which sounds encouraging until you realize that there were only three of us in the theater. The evidence had to be scrapped on the basis of low sample size.

COMMENTS: Tusk almost literally seeks to answer the bizarre question that preoccupies its antagonist, “is man indeed a walrus at heart?” Most of the good will that the movie earns is for going all the way with its crazy premise, for its willingness to” go full walrus.” Most of the movie’s problems, on the other hand, come from its lumpy blend of horror and comedy, sincerity and irony. Tusk is sort of like what Human Centipede might have been, if it was made by people with triple digit IQs, but the script ultimately tries to do too much. Besides straight horror, it also fits in absurdism, a running series of Canada/USA culture clash jokes, and satire on the cruelty of Internet culture, and it doesn’t keep the many balls it juggles in the air at all times.

Although it’s certainly the blackest of comedies, at heart Tusk is a morality play. Wallace, who will become the film’s victim, begins as a victimizer. He hosts an improbably popular podcast whose sole purpose is to make fun of YouTube embarrassments, sort of like a version of “Tosh 2.0” with a mean streak that would make Howard Stern blanch. Long’s Wallace is smoothly loathsome, but when he picks up on references to Hemingway and “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” you realize that there’s humanity buried somewhere under the crust of callousness. The deserving victim is a slasher movie trope designed so that we won’t feel bad when the character is offed, but Smith’s script takes on a much tougher task of making this victim simultaneously repulsive and sympathetic, of asking us to see the humanity beneath the monster. I don’t believe that the final symbolic redemption works on an emotional level, but I do appreciate the effort—it’s a nuanced, almost intellectual twist on the torture porn genre, more like “torture erotica.”

But for all the laudable ambition here, it’s a tough sell to say that Tusk overcomes its tone problems. The film’s comedy and horror, and its smart-assery and empathy, work against each other more than they support one another. The key illustration comes in the third act, when the focus shifts away from Wallace and his tormentor and onto the searchers combing the Canadian countryside looking for him. Tusk‘s “special guest star” leaps into the film as Guy Lapointe, a comic French Canadian detective in a beret with a Jacques Clouseau accent. It would probably be a fine performance in a wackier movie, but here it’s like a comic reef that springs a leak in a movie that was already limping to port. Lapointe essentially disappears at the movie’s climax, like the afterthought he is, and could have been written out of the script entirely: the part was always envisioned as a little more than gimmicky cameo to highlight some decidedly non-Quebecois celebrity hamming it up with a goofy accent (Smith’s original choice for the role was ). This broad performance is divisive, at best, but it is clearly out-of-step with the surrounding material, and my (quite common) reaction was to see it as a distraction and time-stretcher, rather than a comic interlude that throws the surrounding horror into relief. All in all, Tusk is the sort of movie that seems doomed to be considered “an interesting experiment.” Conceived of almost on the spot during a podcast where Smith pitched the story in real time based on a hoax advertisement about an old sailor looking for a roommate, the finished work plays like a movie made on a dare.

Although Tusk isn’t the kind of movie that gets remembered come awards season, there is one category it honestly deserves a nomination: Robert Kurtzman’s makeup.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…an utterly bizarre, weirdly compelling story of manimal love that stakes out its own brazen path somewhere between ‘The Fly’ and ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.'”–Scott Foundas, Variety (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: MARTYRS (2008)

DIRECTED BY: Pascal Laugier

FEATURING:  Morjana Alaoui, Mylène  Jampanoï, Catherine Bégin, Robert Toupin, Patricia Tulasne

PLOT: A girl ventures into unknown territory when she helps her lover, a former torture victim,

Still

seek revenge on her one-time captors, in this unusual, bloody tale of madness and sadism.

WHY IT  WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  You may have heard incomplete descriptions of Martyrs in the media or by word of mouth.  Hushed references and whispered gossip might make it sound like a snuff movie, a sado-masochistic tableau, or a scandalous exploration of taboos.  It is none of these things. While Martyrs is a heavy, very violent film with a grim story, it is not a snuff movie or a sensational expose of torture.  It is an offbeat, horrifying thriller, and nothing more.

COMMENTS: When Anna (Alaoui) and her lover Lucie (Jampanoï) embark on a mission of revenge against Lucie’s childhood torturers, the situation quickly spirals out of control.  The couple locates Lucie’s alleged abductors, but did they find the right people?  Lucie is stalked and victimized by the spectre of the mutilated sister she had to leave behind, and Anna is not so sure where the truth lies.  In the process of exacting retribution the landscape changes dramatically and Anna is swept into an incomprehensible morass of hell on earth.

I’m so underwhelmed!  I was expecting a real stick of dynamite, but instead, I got one of those Fourth of July smoldering snake novelties.  Movie site rumors and an ongoing debate over whether or not Martyrs amounts to little more than “torture porn” made me expect a wild ride.  I had hoped to see the ultimate horror movie, or at least something mindlessly vulgar and sensational, but no dice.

What I got was an extremely well-shot, conventionally produced, offbeat story.  Unfortunately, it consists of two loosely linked plot sequences which, once combined, don’t amount to a sum greater than their parts.  Nor do they deliver any sort of soul stirring revelation.  Ho hum.

I found Martyrs to be intriguing, but, well, kinda boring.  Maybe even a little tedious in places.  Continue reading CAPSULE: MARTYRS (2008)

CAPSULE: FUNNY GAMES (1997)

DIRECTED BYMichael Haneke

FEATURING: Susanne Lothar, Ulrich Mühe, Arno Frisch, Frank Giering, Stefan Clapczynski

PLOT: Held captive by two charming but very twisted psychopaths, a family tries to outwit them as they are forced to play sick parlor games.

Still from Funny Games (1997)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LISTFunny Games is a more substantial captive torment tale than most. It features enigmatic villains, and unconventional breaking of the fourth wall.  At times parts of the plot are relayed from different points of view. But overall it is still a straight-forward psychological thriller, too conventional in structure and subject to be considered weird.

COMMENTS:  With son Schorschi (Clapczynski) in tow, rich yuppies Ana and Georg (Lothar, Mühe) arrive at their vacation house on a remote mountain lake ready for a quiet summer of relaxation and solitude. And what better setting for it than a security gated compound in a security gated community where everyone minds his business and doesn’t come knocking unless invited?

Despite their hi-tech Maginot line of fortified privacy, Ana and Georg have no phone line to their house. Their only link to the outside world is Ana’s cell phone and she’s not prone to be careful with it. No matter. Nobody is planning on getting in touch with them, nor is anyone expecting contact from the couple for a few weeks. Or longer.

Of course, all of the security in the world is useless when one lowers the drawbridge to admit a Trojan Horse. Charming Peter, a guest of friends down the way, shows up to borrow some eggs, and of course Anna lets him right in. Peter accidentally destroys her phone, and then just can’t seem to leave.

Peter’s friend Paul arrives, and the next thing you know, the family watchdog is mysteriously dead. Now neither Peter nor Paul can seem to get out the door and go home. Georg. who had been out, returns and won’t listen to Ana’s assertion that the beguiling young men are trouble. One mustn’t be rude to guests. Georg discovers too late that he should have listened to wifey for a change. He meets the business end of one of his own golf clubs—with his knee. And a Continue reading CAPSULE: FUNNY GAMES (1997)