Tag Archives: Cult

Who Can Kill a Child? AKA Island of the Damned (1976)

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What can one say about “Who Can Kill a Child?” a cult 70’s shocker about a island of children who go insane and kill all the grown-ups, ruling with miniature iron fists ‘Lord of the Flies’ Style? It’s kinda funny (at least I laughed at the scene with the cornered hero (Lewis Fiander) with the Mario n’ Luigi moustache wielding a baseball bat and beating red paint out of feral tykes, although I’m not sure I was supposed to.)

Not very disturbing, besides the graphically exploitive war time footage at the beginning, which turned my stomach and seemed to go on forever. I think this film aimed to shock and disturb, but it just… fell short, to be honest. Ultimately, “How to Kill a Child?” proves to be tacky, silly, and downright pointless for the majority of it’s running time.

Is “How to Kill a Child?” influential? Maybe. Is it intriguing? Initially, yeah, sure. Is it good? Hhm… not really. The actors who play Tom (Fiander) and Evelyn (Prunella Ransome) do a decent job at conveying the couple that lands on the island’s confusion and fear, but their characters are afflicted with ‘What the Fuck Logic’ horror syndrome… in other words, nothing they do makes any freakin’ sense.

The main character, Tom, seems to be perpetually running off and abandoning his heavily pregnant wife Evelyn. In lieu of leaving your pregnant wife alone on an island inhabited solely by mad children every chance you get (“Wait right here,” he continues to say- I’d be like “Bitch, get back here… you got me into this situation, you can get me out of it!”,) there are myriad examples of bad decision-making on the part of all the characters in the movie, especially the male lead.

Also, dialogues like this-

Tom (after seeing a little girl beat an old man to death with a stick)- Why’d you do it? Why? Why?! WHY?!!

Little Girl- Mu-ha-ha-ha-ha! (laughs loudly and maniacally for a few minutes.)

Made me crack up, and not in a good way. Scenes involving young children getting their cute cherubic heads blown off and little boys stripping a corpse with erect nipples made me wonder if the child performers’ parents really couldn’t get a babysitter that day or if they just needed some quick dough.

So… I don’t like a horror classic. Boo on me. But if you want to watch an spectacularly unscary but highly regarded cult item with lots of unintentional humor, check this one out. Bring some friends. Get loaded. Count the instances of the male lead gawping in terror at small children wielding blunt objects. “Who Can Kill a Child?” is not particularly well-made or frightening, but it might be your new favorite comedy if you lower your expectations enough.

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Reservoir Dogs (1992)

“Reservoir Dogs,” Quentin Tarantino’s second film after the little known low-budgeter “My Best Friend’s Birthday,” is a good and polished early effort from a brilliant and controversial filmmaker.

A lot of Tarantino’s trademarks are present here: extreme violence, black humor, brilliant dialogue, and an unflinching portrayal of racism, but a little more emotion is present than with Tarantino’s other works, including a rather touching relationship between two of the main characters, Mr. White and Mr. Orange.

The color-coordinated characters, Mr. White (Harvey Keitel), Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen), Mr. Orange (Tim Roth), Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi), Mr. Blue (Edward Bunker), and Mr. Brown (Director Tarantino) are a group of criminals cornered by the police during a diamond heist.
After a bloody shootout, a group of them escape, including Mr. Orange (Roth), who is badly injured in the getaway. Stationed at a hiding spot, the remaining thieves suspect that someone among them may be a police informer. And with volatile Blonde in their midst, the situation has nowhere to go but down.

As per usual with Tarantino, the dialogue is clever and quirky, rife with the idiosyncrasies and oddities of daily life. I didn’t find the dialogue as funny this time round as “Pulp Fiction,” which was ultimately a more engaging work. The acting here is very good, with Chris Penn as “Nice-Guy” Eddie being a weak-point in an otherwise strong cast.

Tim Roth is a stand-out as reluctant newbie Orange, while Michael Madsen as Blonde makes a very convincing psycho. Harvey Keitel and Steve Buscemi give steady support as White and Pink, respectively. The violence is occasionally shocking and provoked walk-outs during “Reservoir Dogs'” stint at the film festival circuit, but may have become less so with time.

Overall, “Reservoir Dogs” embodies what we have come to expect from Tarantino — shocks, thrills, and graphic violence — like an invigorating roller-coaster ride, but with a little extra heart. We care about the relationship between White and Orange, and the following events saddens us. But most of all, it is spectacular Tarantino entertainment. Who could ask for anything more?

Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)

“Martha Marcy May Marlene” is an amazing cinematic jolt to the nervous system, plain and simple. It stars Elizabeth Olsen as Martha, a girl who escapes to her sister and her brother-in-law’s lakeside retreat after involving herself with some scary people.

But this is not the ordinary “victim escapes near death — victim fights  back story.” By intertwining Martha’s new life with scenes from her past, we are forced to confront the ambiguities of the situation — is Martha being followed, or does she simply perceive it that way? Was Martha crazy before the events leading to her escape from the cult?

What exactly is Martha’s secret? On the surface, she seems like a normal young girl, but inside her subconscious, an inner war rages. Elizabeth Olsen knocks it out of the park as fragile, damaged Martha, running from inner demons and stuck in a constant state of shell shock.

By making her compliant in some of the cult’s wrongdoings and philosophies, Martha becomes a puzzling character, with a hint of malice in her doe-like eyes. I almost hated her for what she did to Sarah, another girl in the cult, but at the same time I felt as if I kind of understood her.

Soon up to their eyeballs in responsibilities taking care of Martha, Martha’s sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) and her husband Ted (Hugh Dancy) despair at the direness of their situation. Meanwhile, memories of life in the cult and cult leader Patrick (John Hawkes in an icky, slimy, absolutely brilliant performance) lie just below the surface.

This is a nearly perfect film, fueled by palpable suspense and great stylistic touches, including a shaky cam moment early on, that, surprisingly, works. On a final note, I was surprised that the ideology behind the cult wasn’t gone into more.

On the other hand, it kind of makes sense, since, ultimately it doesn’t matter if the cult is dedicated to Jesus or free love or the God of tits and wine (to quote the great Tyrion in “Game Of Thrones.”) All that matters is the influence of the cult and what cults do to people.

This movie is about what cults do to people. To dwell on the cult’s ideals would be simply superfluous. “Martha Marcy May Marlene” is brilliant filmmaking, and will hopefully stand the test of time in the annals of indie films. Fin.

The Sacrament (2013)

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I was a little skeptical about the prospect of actually enjoying this movie, because my only contact with filmmaker Ti West were his shorts in the utterly rubbish anthology films “The ABCS of Death” and “V/H/S.” Still, the premise and the trailer looked promising, so I watched it on Netflix Instant (thank God for streaming.) After seeing it twice in the last month, I have to say I am very impressed with what the director managed to do here. The build-up is slow-going to say the least, but there were extended periods in the movie where I was glued to the seat, simultaneously fascinated and unnerved by this rarity- a found footage film that seemed altogether too real and rang true as a horror movie with smarts, not just as gimmicky trash.

Journalists Sam (AJ Bowen) and Jake (Joe Swanberg) communicate with a fashion photographer named Patrick (Kentucker Audley, what a name!), who confides in them that his sister Caroline (Amy Seimetz,) who has a history of drug abuse and irresponsible behavior, has ‘found herself’ in a remote religious sect. Obviously curious about his strange story, the duo join Patrick to fly over to visit Caroline in ‘Eden Parish,’ a community that lies isolated in the jungle. Vowing to film their experiences and share it with Sam and Jake’s readers, the three men have no idea how much trouble they’re about to get themselves into.

This viewer found the acting to be surprisingly good for this kind of movie. AJ Bowen gave a good performance as Sam, an easy going good-guy who finds himself plunged into the heart of darkness. Amy Seimetz is creditable as Patrick’s ditzy sister, under whose cheery exterior lies a undercurrent of mania and confusion. But the actor who takes the cake as the most convincing and award-worthy is Gene Jones, who had a small part in the critically acclaimed “No Country for Old Men.” Here he plays the utterly appalling but charismatic cult leader ‘Father,” who has seemingly won the utter respect and admiration of the people of ‘Eden Parish.” Jones’ scene where ‘Father’ is interviewed by AJ Bowen’s ‘Sam’ is brilliant on so many levels, and both actors knock it out of the ballpark with that one conversation.

“The Sacrament” is heavily inspired by the Jonestown Massacre, and is made particularly potent by the realization that events like this mark our history. I remember seeing a TV program on David Koresh and wondering how so many people could be brainwashed by a douchebag whose obviously cuckoo for cocoa puffs. One of the things that stays with me is the last moments of the children the police were frantically trying to get out of the compound. The kids were calm and compliant moments before burning to death in the place that was both their home and their prison. Did things have to go down that way?

Chilling in its psychological and sociological implications, “The Sacrament” is a real breath of fresh air as both a modern horror movie and a found-footage scare film. Driven by a frightening performance by Gene Jones as a persuasive cult leader, this film ratchets up the intensity that comes with viewing a situation like this to a nearly unbearable level. It’s not for the faint of heart, and those who seek cheerier entertainment look elsewhere, but horror fans that seek smarts in modern horror should love it.

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An American Werewolf in London (1981)

“An American Werewolf in London” is a overlooked classic of horror that provides laughs and scares and remains fresh upon repeat viewings. Sporting amazing make-up effects by Rick Baker, it also contains a werewolf transformation scene which has to this day not been topped.

Goofball American youths Jack and David (Griffin Dunne & David Naughton) are backpacking in England when they are attacked by a werewolf, leaving Jack dead and David barely injured, but infected with lycanthropy that takes hold of him every full moon.

After a stay in a hospital whilst having his wounds treated, David is taken to the flat of a pretty nurse (Jenny Agutter) who has taken a shine to him (if this is starting to sound a little like a “Playboy” pubescent fantasy, read on.)

In between getting hot ‘n heavy with his new girlfriend, David is visited by his dead friend Jack (!) who’s still a live wire even while returning from the grave in a state of decomposition. Jack, always the optimist, arrives to warn David of his impending doom.

Meanwhile, David suspects he is going crazy and hospital doc Dr. Hirsch (John Woodvine) looks into the circumstances that surround the attack. The dialogue in this is great, and fairly crackles with life and wit.

The use of the werewolf myth is well-conceived and the movie never takes itself too seriously, which is an asset in a movie that involves zombies in porn theaters and curvy nurses.

With all these strengths, isn’t it a shame that they didn’t pick a better actor to play the lead. Naughton, who was discovered by director John Landis doing a Coke commercial, doesn’t exactly impress playing David, the titular werewolf of the title.

It’s hard to buy his performance, which awkwardly melds grief, guilt, and frustration. Meanwhile, Griffin Dunne (Jack) and Jenny Agutter (Nurse Price) provide strong support. Nurse’s development is questionable, though, as is her decision to pair herself up with a confused and seemingly insane man.

However, “An American Werewolf…” is strong and funny comedy-horror. The soundtrack, which employs only moon-themed songs, is an asset, as is the script, originally written by John Landis when he was only nineteen years old. Does my screenwriting movie-loving nerdy little heart proud. Watch it.

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Although George A. Romero’s influential cult classic must have been terrifying for it’s time, the years have rendered it rather mild and outdated. Still, “Night of the Living Dead,”  which was filmed on a shoestring budget of $114,000, serves as an interesting study of peoples’ reactions to a crises and the necessity of action during a devastating event. Furthermore, it interestingly casts a black man in the leading male role, which was quite daring for it’s time.

Fragile Barbra (Judith Dea) makes a visit to her father’s grave with her perpetually complaining brother Johnny (Russell Streiner) when a strange man attacks them. Managing to escape alive (Johnny was not so lucky,) Barbra becomes holed up in a farmhouse, and soon renders herself obsolete due to suffering a complete mental breakdown.It is there that she meets Ben (Duane Jones,) a fellow survivor of what turns out to be a zombie attack.

The movie works best with just Barbra and Ben, who represent two opposite approaches to a crisis. Ben is a kind person but still a survivalist, and has no time for Barbra’s weakly grieving. Barbra is consumed by guilt for leaving her brother, and turns to Jell-O almost immediately, while Ben thinks on his feet and begins to barricade the windows and doors from the approaching ‘ghouls.’

However, when a group of fellow survivors come, this film becomes a bit boring. The most asinine of the survivors, played by Karl Hardman, overacts almost constantly, and listening to the group argue becomes tiresome. Meanwhile, a lot of the violence seems fake (when one character punches another, it sounds like a balloon popping.) The character dynamics are much more interesting when it’s just the two heroes.

You may find yourself laughing at certain scenes, which lack the intensity of “The Walking Dead” but also the tongue-in-cheek self-awareness of films like “Dead Alive” and “Shaun of the Dead.” Yes, in many ways it’s the film that started it all (though “White Zombie” starring Bela Legosi, unwatched by me, came first,) but it pales in comparison to many modern zombie stories. However, I liked how the zombies were not totally stupid and could use tools.

The acting overall wasn’t great (best from Duane Jones and Judith O’Dea, the leads) and the the special effects are dated (although it’s interesting to see how people improvised using practical effects before the era of CGI.) The movie was fun but not particularly disturbing or scary, except for the scene involcing the mother and her daughter (no spoilers.) I wonder how they got away with that.

I may have been shocked by the death of my favorite character at the end, but my psychiatrist had already spoiled it for me (damn you man!) For those who have not been informed of the ending, it will be unexpected and sad. This is an important film for all horror fans and zombie lovers to see, but it isn’t technically great in comparison to later horror flicks. I didn’t love it, but I’m glad I saw it.

Dead Alive (Brain-Dead) (1992)

Be forewarned, this is grade-B all the way, so if you are a no-fun fuddy-duddy like my mom or need an Oscar pedigree for every film, you watch, you will probably find this equal parts tedious and repellent. However, for those with a subversive wit and tolerance for bad taste and a ridiculous amount of blood and gore, look no further. This is your movie.

Lionel (Timothy Balme) is just your ordinary Bates-ish momma’s boy who is astonished when cute Hispanic shopkeeper Paquita (Diana Peñalver) takes an interest in him. Now this is the 1950’s, so whites and minorities were not the best of friends, but Lionel is about to face a lot more than close-mindedness when his domineering mother Vera (Elizabeth Moody) gets herself bitten by a mysterious Sumatran rat-monkey and becomes a flesh-eating zombie.

Instead of killing his mother like most people would do, Lionel lets her fester, much to the misfortune of everyone around him. Meanwhile, sleazy Uncle Les (Ian Watkin) prowls around, trying to steal Lionel’s inheritance, and the body count rises.

This is early Peter Jackson, before he became a Hollywood bigwig and brought to life the Hobbits of the shire. Now I’d like to say that “Lord of the Rings” means a lot to me, and that I am a LOTR nerd who owns a life-size replica of Saramaun’s staff and can speak elvish. Okay, maybe not. But I’ll be damned if I don’t prefer “Dead Alive,” with all its bile and guts and mounds of intestines and rotten flesh.

I’ll be damned if Frodo and Sam’s touching friendship doesn’t make me fall asleep. Maybe it was all my Dad’s “Lord of the Rings” marathons (featuring the four-hour extended editions), but I think I’m just about Shired out. And now that I’ve turned in my movie fan card and revealed myself as the charlatan and the fraud that I am, I concur.

The acting is… meh. Nobody’s going to winning any academy awards, but the actors seem to be having a good time and so are we. There are many memorable scenes (the kung-fu priest being a particular favorite) and there are some creative shots. Gorehounds will find more than enough gore n’ guts to satisfy their bloodlust.

“Dead Alive” is the ORIGINAL Rom-Zom-Com, before “Shaun of the Dead,” before “Zombieland,” before “Warm Bodies,” and before the many additions of the genre to come. In 1992 it was considered by many to be the goriest film of all time, and I wonder what progressions have been made, especially in the Japanese horror genre.

People who enjoy “bad” movies that are actually good movies with a subversive sense of humor will find a lot to like in “Dead Alive,” and if you don’t like it, shame on you. Go watch “Citizen Kane” or “Gone With the Wind,” and stay off my blog, which is way too cool for you. Fin.

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