Air Terjun Pengantin 2009
aka Lost Paradise – Playmates in Hell
Directed by: Rizal Mantovani
Starring: Tamara Blezinski, Marcel Chandrawinata, Tyas Mirasih
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Throughout the history of Indonesian cinema, it has mostly been dominated by imports from larger countries. When Dutch-born filmmaker L. Heuveldorp attempted to launch a domestic market in 1926 with his silent fantasy piece Loetoeng Kasaroeng, he soon realised that his attempts were futile against the popularity of larger budgeted and technically competent features from the U.S. and Hong Kong. Later in the century during the Japanese occupation, films became more of a propaganda tool and the moderate success of self-developed titles such as 1938’s Fatima was brushed under the carpet once again.
It wasn’t until the year 2000, under the Reformasi movement of the post-Suharto era that a freedom was found once again in independent filmmaking. More titles were released that covered previously censored themes of love, politics, happiness and religion. This allowed budding directors to finally approach a genre that had been highly in-demand amongst native audiences: horror. Whilst obviously not on a par in terms of special effects, the creepy and haunting Jelankung from 2001 showed a huge amount of potential. It took a further eight-years, but in 2009, Indonesia’s first attempt at a slasher movie was released called Air Terjun Pengantin, or Waterfall of the Bride.
A group of youngsters take two boats and head to a secluded island of tranquil beauty for a romantic break. On route they discuss a myth about a deranged witch doctor that lived there and was rejected by his stunning bride. Before long, it becomes apparent that a masked killer inhabits the Isle and a fight for survival ensues…
When watching Pengantin, I was reminded of a skit from the 1988 tongue in cheek slasher, Return to Horror High. It’s the part where the eccentric producer mentions that he doesn’t care about plot or depth as long as there’s enough boobs and blood to go round. Whilst there is no ‘true’ nudity exposed herein, the first twenty minutes play like an exercise in the best camera angles to reveal the female anatomy through a bikini. Now there’s not a lot wrong with that, considering the fact that the chicas were undeniably hot, but when an attempt at exploitation becomes instantly recognisable, it is in danger of falling into the realms of campiness.
Keeping that in mind and the fact that I had absolutely no idea what to expect from Rizal Mantovani’s picture, I initially felt that it may be little more than a slice of prime fondue. In the opening scene for example, our obvious final girl is shown waking up in the morning sporting exquisite lingerie with perfectly coiffed hair and make-up. Despite attempting multiple times, I have never managed to avoid looking like an alcoholic scarecrow when my alarm goes off in the AM, so I found that extremely impressive. Moments after, when we are introduced to her gang of friends, they convey a collective cheesiness that would shame the cast of Embalmed. Upon the killer’s arrival sometime later though, the tone changes dramatically and the film becomes violent, gory and slightly mean-spirited. The murders are most definitely inspired by the torture porn trend and the first one caught me totally off guard. A teenage girl is nailed to a chair and has her finger dismembered before receiving a machete through the top of her cranium. Following that, another victim is slashed across the shoulder and left to bleed to death in agonising pain.
Even though both brutality and cheese are found regularly throughout the slasher genre, the strength of one mood brought out the weakness of the other in this juxtaposition. Pengantin has some memorable characters that are placed into intimidating situations, but I was never rooting for one of them to survive. I found myself more interested that actress Tamara Bleszynski was half Polish and born in London than I did anything that she gave to the final girl role and the rest of the cast offered nothing worth remembering. I’m not sure if this was mainly down to a poor translation of the script or because the plot was so threadbare that it failed to give us a reason to be interested. The lack of any real focus on the backstory though made it come across more like a collection of sequences that had been strung together randomly. Funnily enough, I Know What You Did Last Summer was immensely popular upon its release in Indonesia and I could see that it was a source of inspiration behind the planning and delivery of this feature. It’s just a shame that screenwriter Alim Sudho didn’t follow Summer’s strongest suit, which was its smart and engaging mystery.
On the plus side, the location is outstanding in its beauty and Mantovani captures the colours of the picturesque landscape exceptionally. There’s also a great soundtrack that gives the production a truly polished feel and gore fans will enjoy some of the outlandish killings. It’s just that the film’s methodology was best demonstrated by its portrayal of its female cast members: glossy and attractive, but ultimately hollow. Last year, a sequel of kind to this was released, titled, Air Terjun Pengantin Phuket. I haven’t plucked up the courage to sit through that one yet 😉
Killer Guise: √√
Final Girl √√
The Collector 2009
Directed by: Marcus Dunstan
Starring: Josh Stewart, Andrea Roth, Juan Fernández
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
When Saw was released almost a decade ago, a lot of horror websites had billed it as a macabre slasher movie, but then after it hit screens sometime later, it turned out not to be a slasher flick at all. Its surprising success, and that of the multitude of copycats that followed, allowed the birth of a new sub genre, which was affectionately named, torture porn. The differences in structure between torture porn and that of our favourite category are small, but obvious enough that director Marcus Dunstan could merge the two together for this nerve-jangling cross-breed from 2009.
Whereas Saw and its brothers are big on slash, they are generally low on stalk, but The Collector fixes that by giving us a masked menace that imposes himself on the audience as would a Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers. His lack of vocal characterisation and background development is straight out of an old skool classic, but he utilises the tools of murder that we find more generally in modern horror.
An ex-con that is determined to help his wife pay off a debt to some ruthless gangsters, plans a burglary at his new employer’s country home. He is unaware however that a maniacal killer has also targeted the family, and has set up deadly traps and devices to fulfil his lust for murder.
I must confess that Marcus Dunstan had not been a name that I had initially recognised until I was informed that he had written the screenplays to parts IV, V and VI of the Saw franchise. The intention here was to set this up as a prequel to that series, however the content owners declined and it proved to be the right decision. The mystery surrounding the identity of the antagonist, much as in Halloween, is perhaps one of the strongest things about this story, and it gives the villain a boosted fear factor. For a hardened horror veteran such as myself, it’s unusual that there is a feature that can both keep my eyes transfixed in tension and force me to recoil at the gore that I’m witnessing on screen. I can truly say that I found this to be much scarier than anything that I have witnessed within more recent gore led flicks.
What we have here is an exhilarating motion picture and it’s one that bursts with suspense and energy. Much of that is thanks to the fact that we are guided through the mayhem by an un-archetypal hero; a criminal who redeems his unlawful motives by striving to assist the victims that he comes across throughout the bloody death trap. There’s a point in the runtime where he could escape the minefield of blood-letting, but he returns; not for selfish reasons, but because a young girl that reminds him of his daughter, is still trapped inside the house. The pair then team up against the menace and work in tandem to survive, which drives our hope that they can conquer the assailant.
Dunstan directs the action impeccably and the camera at times feels like a webcam that is giving us a sneak view inside the production of a snuff video. We see close-ups of colourful spiders in the opening, which turn out to be not just artistic flair, but symbolic of the antagonist’s modus operandi and predatory instinct for trapping and executing his prey. There’s heaps of goo splattered throughout the numerous kill scenes and as a nod to the stalwarts of the genre, they even include the ‘have sex and die’ rule. One youngster loses his fingers, before falling into a floor laden with bear traps, whilst another is catapulted onto a wall of spikes. Perhaps the most gruesome moments are saved for our hero, and he suffers constantly when pitted against the maniac inside the house. Unlike the heroines that we have seen conquer seemingly unstoppable villains time and again, we feel that mano a mano the pair are on an almost equal footing without the deadly appliances, so we are constantly anticipating the moment that they come face to face. When that finally happens, it doesn’t disappoint and somehow the fight scenes seem all the more realistic due to this.
The screenplay does suffer from a lack of logic somewhat in places. Whilst our killer is mysterious and ominous, it’s physically, practically and financially impossible that he could rig the house the way that he did in order to achieve his goals. It’s true that cinema is a form of entertainment that should be allowed to push the boundaries of reality, but the story aimed for continuity in so many other places that the key aspect of the horror flies in the face of all that was built up around it. Still this is hardly a big complaint and it is one that is easily forgiven when we are biting our nails and wondering what could come next. I felt that Josh Stewart’s Arkin was outstanding as the lead character and Fernández brought so much to the bogeyman’s role without saying a word. In certain lighting, his eyes shine like crystals and this makes him look almost superhuman. His motives are never really disclosed to us, which helps to maintain the aura of fear that surrounds him.
There was a time when new-age horror movies were called ‘MTV’ by long-time enthusiasts and unworthy to share a stall with the classics of old. The Collector is one of the most frightening pictures that I’ve seen for ages and could never be accused of being diluted for PG-13 audiences. If you’re looking for a film that makes you double check if you have locked the door tonight, you could do a lot worse than this. I loved it..
The Cycle 2009
aka The Devil’s Ground
Directed by: Mark Bafaro
Starring: Daryl Hannah, Leah Gibson, Luke Camilleri
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
“Never forget where you came from as one day you may have to return”
True words. Especially in the case of Daryl Hannah. Back in the summer of 1981, she was a young starlet when she signed on for the early killer in the woods flick, Campsite Massacre. Her career rocketed thereafter as she soon became the poster girl for the light-hearted Ron Howard romp, Splash. She then developed her actress chops in the underrated street flick, Pope of Greenwich Village and became a box office babe in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street. After a few less successful roles, she was reinvented in 2003 by Quentin Tarantino in Kill Bill parts 1 & 2, but struggled to find a role that was as successful thereafter. Eventually, she accepted this new age genre piece from director Michael Bafaro, which would be her second addition to the stalk and slash group.
Bafaro’s casting decision was most definitely inspired by the fact that he is a massive Tarantino fan, who has himself directed 5 prior movies. The best of them was The Barber from 2002; a serial killer flick with a nicely written plot and a sharp momentum. He always works on small budgets, but has brought good performances from his casts and shows a flair for ambitious storytelling.
Five students head off on an exercise to stop a coal mining project in some secluded forest. They are targeted with finding the bones that prove that it is a sacred Native American burial ground, so then it cannot be built upon. What they discover however is something far more threatening…
The slasher genre is like no other. Take the most recent title that you’ve seen. For me, it’s Demons Never Die. Now take one from thirty-years earlier during the peak period. I don’t know, let’s say Final Exam for example. Now aside from the obvious fashion sense and modern technology, what’s really changed between these two stories? Hardly anything at all. The bare basics, or the source code so to speak, has and always will be a psycho killer against a group of stranded victims. Anything else just doesn’t seem to work. Now The Cycle is most definitely a slasher movie, but in fairness, it’s something of a fresh restructure, which throws in a few extras.
It kicks off with a fast-paced chase sequence through a forest that puts us straight in to a Friday the 13th mindset. This is a SLASH above the usual cheap shot on an iPhone footage of a killer in a dime store mask running through a few trees in a park that we find in DTV efforts. Instead, it’s a stylish, credibly planned sequence with the wide desolate locations being conveyed to provide an unusual claustrophobia. Next up we meet Daryl Hannah for the first time and the plot begins to reveal itself; mostly through flashback. There’s a fair amount of intrigue thrown in to the build up, with mentions of the aforementioned burial ground and constant shots of crows and haunting visuals. I also was incredibly impressed with the intelligence of the dialogue, which touched on some thoughtful subjects. You just can’t take your eyes away from the screen for the first thirty-minutes, but The Cycle struggles to maintain the audacious momentum that it kicked off with.
Perhaps the reason for this is that Bafaro doesn’t live up to the expectations he set for himself. There’s a night attack scene on the camper’s Winnebago, which is electric and rapidly photographed. Funnily enough it reminded me of a very similar sequence from Hannah’s previous venture in to stalk and slash territory. But when the butcher actually turns up, the killings are extremely diluted and moderate. Most of them are screened by quick cuts that are begging for some gore. Then to make matters worse, the maniac commits the worst slasher crime of all and uses a shotgun for the third victim – no fair! Guns in a slasher? Go figure. We also step in to the unappealing ‘psycho family’ Texas Chainsaw Massacre-alike story branch, which I for one do not enjoy as much as a lone maniac. The majority of the players are pretty much dealt with by the fifty minute mark and then the feature heads off in to a more supernatural direction with a very ambitious revelation
Skip this paragraph if you want to miss a potential spoiler –
I have to offer all due respect for the twist, which meant something to me, because I came across a similar phenomenon when I lived in Kent for a year back in the late nineties. I really don’t want to give away too much, but if you have time and ONLY do it after watching the movie (why ruin a good twist) check out: Here Now I remember this quite vividly. It’s not as if I ever experienced it, but it was my first taste of an urban legend, because everyone knew someone whose cousin’s brother’s best friend had seen it. (If you get what I mean) It was an awesome idea to include it in the story, even if it perhaps wasn’t handled the best way. By this, I mean that when they were writing the screenplay, it must have sounded like a brilliant way to set-up the conclusion and you can understand the obvious excitement behind the shoot. Unfortunately, there’s a loss of pace in the twenty minutes or so prior to the pay off, and it doesn’t quite have the impact that it should have.
What I also thought was strange was that there were a few things that weren’t made the most of. The aforementioned burial ground talk didn’t really result in anything (I was hoping for a maniacal Native American like Scalps etc) and the constant shots of crows squawking, almost as if they were predicting the danger, were not really explained or developed. I also felt that the villain, when revealed, was nowhere near as intimidating as he could have been.
I really don’t want to be too Harsh on The Cycle and I have to give 10/10 for effort. It’s a decent enough picture, but should have been a better one. It just needed a little something that unfortunately, was missing. It’s credibly shot, sharply edited, well scripted with a good use of sound and it hides its budgetary limitations very well. I was just disappointed, because it could have been so much more
Killer Guise: √√
Final Girl: √√√
Sorority Row 2009
Directed by: Stewart Hendler
Starring: Briana Evigan, Audrina Partridge, Carrie Fisher
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Now I am somewhat of a fence sitter when it comes to remakes. Whilst I quite enjoyed My Bloody Valentine 3D, I still haven’t seen the rehash of Halloween and I don’t intend to. For me, the original was a masterpiece and with all due respect, giving Rob Zombie the reins for a new version is almost like giving Henry Hill the chance to do a remake of The Godfather. Somehow, modern-day teens seem far more arrogant than they used to and the MTV generation are a lot less alluring body count material for splatter flicks.
The House on Sorority Row was one of my favourite genre pieces of the peak period. A great story with a compelling mystery and razor sharp direction gave it an advantage on its brethren from the same era. That eerie final sequence is a postcard from the greatest period of the stalk and slasher and I hoped that if there’s any justice in the kingdom of moviedom, Sorority Row would pay not just homage, but respect to its grandfather. Having Mark Rosman on board as executive producer, was a good move, because I felt sure that he would really want to guide the way in terms of representing the brand he created.
After a poorly-planned prank goes wrong, a group of sorority sisters are left with an incriminating secret that could cost them their lives. After some on the spot soul searching they decide to keep it between themselves and dispose of any remaining evidence. Eight months pass and the group have mostly put the events behind them and are looking forward to graduation. Things take a turn for the worse when someone begins targeting the girls with evidence linking them to their earlier endeavours. Before long a hooded killer turns up and begins working his way through the group one-by-one…
The film kicks off weakly; and by the ten-minute mark, I was expecting the worst. After the prank backfires, there’s a panic-stricken scene, which was a golden opportunity for the junior thesps to show that they had the talent to build some rapport with the audience. Unfortunately, they don’t take it and there’s a clearly visible lack of chemistry and cohesiveness as they scream at each other unconvincingly and sink to further depths of banal dramatics.
I found it hard at first glance to like these characters and for an avid fan of eighties slashers, the words Facebook and YouTube seemed bizarre in this kind of flick. Well I have just turned thirty, so maybe I am getting too long in the tooth now. My view is admittedly dated as social networking plays such a large part of the youth culture of today that I guess I should credit the necessary attempt to pull the category forward in to more modern surroundings. In fairness, as a critic, I should have given this a chance on its own to impress from the start, but it was impossible for me not to think of comparisons with the original. I hadn’t seen it for a while, but I remembered the ominous opening and the haunting score that set the tone so early on. Here we are given a bouncing ‘Hip-Hop’ baseline, conceited characters and zero recognition that this is a horror film rather than yet another dumb teen comedy.
Then suddenly and most unexpectedly, things began to improve. Now I’m not sure if it’s because the aforementioned poorly-acted sequence was the first that they shot and they hadn’t yet found their footing. After an uncomfortable and disorientated opening, the plot began to tighten, the dramatics improved and the river of intrigue began to flow. The killer’s guise was nothing special (how many cloaked maniacs have there been since Urban Legends?) but using a lug wrench as a weapon allowed for some inventive slayings and the film found the right balance of subtle parody and engaging plot.
Stewart Hendler’s energetic and ambitious direction is exactly what the film needed and the fluid cinematography adds to the party-like vibe. Briana Evigan grew in to her role as the plot thickened and there’s a good mix of characteristics on display so that you can chose those that you like or those you want to see gruesomely impaled on the tyre iron. The mystery is a tough one to crack, but in effect is a bit disappointing once revealed. I mean, where did that come from?
Nowadays MTV horror movies are targeted at a younger generation of viewers, so in order to get a wider target audience they don’t invest in gratuitous gore, which would probably result in a stringent rating from the censors. Sorority Row, unlike the appalling Prom Night remake, does at least pack some blood and creativity in to its murders. Although there’s never any really solid fear factor on display, Hendler does produce moments of suspense.
So is Sorority Row worthy to share the brand of one of the best films of the golden period? I would say just about, yes. Don’t get me wrong this is nowhere near as good as the film it redesigns, but compared to the amount of plop we get nowadays that describes itself as horror, Hendler’s slasher does enough to separate itself from the masses.
The only negatives are the large amount of ‘hard-to-like’ characters, an insignificant bogeyman (they don’t even try to make an iconic Jason/Michael Myers type) and no real scares.
It pains me to say it, but slasher films of modern times are the chick-flicks of the horror genre and that’s why they need to do the little that is expected of them to the best of their ability. Row does exactly that and boasts a frantic pace, some cool kills, a good mystery and a divine final girl. Fairly good global box office meant there’s life in the cycle yet…
Final Girl: √√√
My Super Psycho Sweet 16 2009
Directed by: Jacob Gentry
Starring: Julianna Guill, Lauren McKnight, Chris Zylka
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
The old school horror enthusiasts that lived through the golden age of the slasher flick are not the biggest fans of the newer wave of entries. With their rock video fast cuts, silicone implanted heroines and perfectly groomed cast members, these modern additions are now categorised as, ‘MTV horror’. The term applies even if they have no production link to the popular TV channel, so imagine what would be made of a slasher that had been developed by MTV themselves.
As the company has expanded with popularity over the years, MTV has moved away from focusing solely on music and has entered the competitive worlds of drama, movies and reality television. My Super Sweet 16 is one of their more popular reality shows, which takes a look at money no object kids and their lack of grasp on the struggle of the everyday person that goes about their life on a modest budget. It conveys how mega rich parents move the earth and galaxy beyond to fund elaborate parties for their children’s sixteenth birthday bashes. Even if the show is fairly rubbish (boasting a 1.9 rating on the IMDB), it is an interesting social study of how the other half live.
What better way would there be for MTV to poke its tongue out at the critics of the style that it’s accused of inadvertently creating, by taking the level of conceitedness to the maximum and making a motion picture version of that reality hit. In an attempt to rekindle the vibe brought to the screen a decade earlier with Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Urban Legend and the like, My Super Psycho Sweet 16 chucks a masked killer in with a bunch of heavily pampered youngsters and goes for the jugular. It was a brave effort from the channel and one that I guess that they knew would meet with disapproval from those already against their input to the styling of current horror
It’s rolling up to Madison’s sixteenth birthday. Her dad has pushed the boat and re-opened the local Roller Dome, which was closed many years ago after a young girl’s father murdered a group of teenagers at a birthday party. The killer’s daughter, Skye, is now at school with Madison, but the pair don’t get along due to Skye’s chemistry with Madison’s ex-boyfriend Brigg.
On the night of the party, Skye and her friend decide to gate crash the celebration. Unbeknownst to them, a maniac in a mask has the same idea and the blood begins to flow…
As you had probably expected from an MTV picture, My Super Psycho Sweet 16 has a well-produced soundtrack, some slick production values and a generally polished look. The director makes good use of the Roller Dome location, but unfortunately he didn’t include any ‘roller skate’ related appliances into his murders like that other recent gore-fest Gutterballs had done so well with the bowling theme. I was hoping maybe for a rehash of the notorious ‘skate and slash’ sequence from Curtains, but you can never be sure nowadays if directors like Jacob Gentry have even seen such classics or if the first slasher that they experienced was Wes Craven’s Scream. There’s no real attempt to add anything to the traditional trappings and the script remains content to stick to the rulebook, which is absolutely fine by me. Despite this being a TV movie, the unrated cut has a few gruesome killings with decent effects and there’s a neat decapitation, which sees a body with a spurting stump stumble straight in to Madison’s exhibitionistic birthday cake. Much earlier in the runtime, there’s another decent gore scene, which sees a pool cue rammed through the head of a youngster. On top of that, we get a couple of solid suspense scenarios and the killer has a brilliant cape and mask combo.
Super Psycho is not the travesty that many would have expected, because it shows its intelligence by poking fun at the modern stereotypes that it knows that it will be accused of creating. The writers succeed in making the characters so awfully arrogant that you actually want them to get splattered and you can smile when indeed they do; viciously. Lauren McKnight was good enough in the role of the final girl and I liked Matt Angel as the geeky Derek too. Julianna Guill makes the most of turning Madison into a horrendously spoiled brat, which was the whole idea, so kudos to her for making the right moves. In fact, the entire cast did a good job with what they were given and there’s never a weakness that can be blamed on bad dramatics.
Whereas Halloween was not a whodunit, the modern day slashers are almost always given a mysterious angle to add depth to their storylines. I thought that I had worked this one out, but it was not as simple as I’d initially envisioned and I guess it could be considered rule bending against the more recent theme. Again, that’s ok with me, because it was done well. The momentum wilts a bit during the mid-section, where we get an overload of teen-romance and character development. It’s not as boring as it could have been though and things flow quite fluidly throughout. I really wanted to know who was under the mask by the time that the conclusion was upon us and I haven’t had that feeling to such an extent for a while.
I can’t really compare Super Psycho to the old skool slashers, because it is in every sense of the word a modern day take on the formula. It seeks to be classified alongside Scream and the like and it sits amongst them quite comfortably. If you hated I know What You Did Last Summer and Urban Legend, then don’t bother with this, but I think it offers what teeny boppers need without totally disrespecting slasher fans that have been their from the start. There was surprisingly very little that I could find to dislike and you have to admire the fact that the producers took on a minefield of expected criticism and dealt with it successfully.
Final Girl √√