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Sick: The Life & Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist (1997)

"His CS Woulda Killed him If it Weren't For S&M!"

That's not only a theme of this movie, it's part of the lyrics that self-proclaimed (and with good reason)"super-masochist" Bob Flanagan cheerfully sings at a lecture/performance-he did a pretty witty re-working of the "Supercalafraga..."etc song from Mary Poppins. Did I mention he's wearing a little costume including a cape when he performs it?
Yep, Bob Flanagan had a pretty good sense of humor. That was one of the pleasant surprises of this movie. When I first heard about this movie, all I heard about was the hammer scene. I also had skimmed the RE-search book, and looking at some of the really extreme mutilations to areas of his body I would rather not name, I actually figured he was slightly disturbed. I'm pretty liberal and am of the opinion that what 2 consenting adults do, as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else against their will, is their own business. I thought, because of his CF combined with this serious torture that he either was suicidal or hated himself. I also wondered about his relationship with his dominant/lover/partner of 15 years, Sheree Rose, hoping that it was loving and she wasn't just using him.
I was glad that this movie proved my pre-conceived notions wrong. Thisis a very intelligent, sane, witty, talented, likeable, and above all, VERY brave guy who happened to enjoy being beaten and tortured sexually. The movie explains-without preaching- that he actually gained strength from his activities. (according to statistics, most CF sufferers die in their 20's. He lived till his early 40's (actually a record)and says his sex life kept him going. He figured for one thing, he had nothing to lose. For another thing, CF is a very painful disease, and he chose to use S&M as a way to take control of his pain and disease. If you find this a hard idea to understand, or are curious, I highly recommend this movie. This has been said before, but I don't recommend it if you're squeamish. I'm jaded, but I had to look away a few times. Interestingly enough, what I found harder to watch than the notorious Hammer of Love was seeing BF racked with pain, coughing his lungs out, and (I don't think I'm spoiling anything here as the movie opens with Bob good-naturedly writing his own obituary) finally losing his battle with CF.
I also didn't think this movie would be so touching. Before the end, I realized he had a very loving relationship with Sheree. Not only are they sexually a perfect match, she is his best friend, soulmate, and care-giver, which is no mean feat. Face it, if you don't love someone, you're not going to be sticking around and helping them expel mucus from their lungs on a regular basis. When he starts losing his fight and finally goes to the hospital to die, the scenes of them together, with her gently telling him it's OK to leave her, are some of the most heart-breaking I've ever seen. This is one brave woman. Also, when she's not in her S&M gear, she could easily pass for an kindly elementary school teacher. It's a great contrast to see her tying him up and sticking needles in his groin in one scene, and later to see her rocking and knitting. I was also haunted by the scenes of him dying, the way he looked, and what he said, things that I've heard are very common last words such as, "I never thought this would really happen...this is so weird."
Is this a hard movie to watch? Even if graphic depictions of *very* sensitive areas of the body being nailed, pounded, and pierced don't faze you, I cannot imagine anyone who wouldn't be shaken or at least moved watching the later scenes of this man really, literally dying in front of the camera and your eyes. But I'm glad I saw it. My husband, however, loves documentaries, and even talked about seeing the movie when it was in limited release. I made the mistake of telling him about one of the more extreme demonstrations, and now he refuses to see it, no matter how good it is (and he's sat through some pretty nasty stuff). If you're brave and feeling up to it, though, I highly recommend this movie. If you're easily (or even not-so-easily) grossed-out, but have an interest in the life and death of this man, then just cover your eyes during the graphic parts. And when you hear "Hammer of Love" start playing, you may want to take a little stroll out of the room for a minute or two.

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The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

Who will survive and what will be left of them?

I'm going to comment not only on the movie itself, but also on the new Collector's Edition DVD. I usually don't do this in IMDB reviews, but I was so impressed I wanted to in this case.
If you want a short summary, here it is. Excellent movie, excellent DVD, excellent special features.
First, the movie. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is probably one of the scariest movies ever made (and one of the best titles of all time). Man, they made some creepy movies in the 70's (Carrie, The Exorcist, Rabid). It was unique for its time, and there's still nothing quite like it today. The plot doesn't sound like much- 2 women and 3 men make a drive to rural Texas to check out a graveyard that has been 'defiled', and to also relax and enjoy themselves. This last part of their vacation plan doesn't go real smoothly, as they make the mistake of wandering into an area where an insane, backwoods, inbred, cannibalistic sociopathic family live. Things get more and more horrifying from there.
I've heard people complain this movie isn't scary and not gory enough. Well, as far as the gore, it is fairly low-key by today's standards (though I'm sure my mother wouldn't want to watch it, and it couldn't be shown uncut on regular network TV). There's not a lot of blood till the end of the movie, but the acting is so good, and the screams of the victims so wrenching, your imagination fills in the rest and it actually is painful to watch. I will agree that the movie is kind of slow to get started- I admit the first time I saw it as a teenager I was getting impatient for some action. However, the last half of the movie more than makes up for it.
But if you think this movie isn't scary, I seriously doubt you've watched alone, at home, at night, with all the lights off. The first time I saw it was in the daytime, and it still made my hair stand on end. When I got the Special Edition DVD (more on that later)I unwisely watched it after midnight with the lights off, after my husband went to bed. That night, I couldn't sleep until the sun came up. The opening scene of the rotting corpse in the cemetery wired to a headstone alone made my skin crawl. The scene where Pam first discovers Leatherface's room, with the furniture made of bones and the chickens in bird-cages, gets scarier each time I see it. The last 20 minutes, at the dinner table, has to be one of the most grueling and realistic scenes ever. The final few images-the crazy laughter and the spinning-well, over 10 years went by between the last time I saw the movie and the time I watched it on DVD a few weeks ago, and I *still* could remember those shots so vividly it was like I saw it yesterday.
The DVD is incredible-the transfer is so crisp that it seems like the movie was filmed last year instead of in the early 70's. Since I'd only seen it on VHS, I never really appreciated how beautiful some shots of the rural setting are, and also how well-thought out and carefully put together most of the cinematography is. Breathtaking, actually. Until the commentary pointed it out, I never realized how perfect and effective the long, continuous shot of Pam hesitantly getting up off the porch swing to try to find out where her boyfriend has gotten to and slowly walking to the screen door is. This movie does not look at all amateurish, even though it was made on an extremely low budget.
The DVD is packed with cool and interesting special features. First, the commentary by Tobe Hooper, Gunnar Hansen aka Leatherface, and director of photography Daniel Pearl is fascinating. There's lots of subtle but powerful elements in the movie I missed till now-for instance, the lack of almost any score or soundtrack that gives it a documentary feel, making it that much more disturbing. Hardcore fans of this movie know already this was NOT an easy shoot by any standards, but their accounts of how much energy and work it took to get certain things right, not to mention the really tortuous things many of the actors went through...well, if any actor deserves to be paid millions for a movie, this cast certainly earned it. The dinner scene was the most horrendous- they could only do one take, since the actor playing Grandpa decided he would only give them one day, it went on for 20+ hours, and this was in 110 degree heat with no air conditioning. Gunnar Hansen said that by the end, he was so out of it he started to think he wasn't acting. Kind of gives the tagline "Who will survive and what will be left of them?" a whole new meaning.
There's also some deleted and alternate scenes; nothing mind-blowing but still very interesting. With many of them, you can read the script excerpt of the scene first. There's a hilarious blooper reel-the quality isn't that great, but you'll laugh your butt off. There's lots of production notes and stills, along with shots of rare publicity material. A couple scenes are broken down shot by shot, with Hooper explaining why he made the directing and editing choices he did. There's even more, I just don't have room for it all. The menu is also pretty great-if you let it sit too long though, you'll get a brief surprise that'll make you jump. I was quietly paging through the booklet at the time and it scared the bejeezus outta me. I highly recommend the Special Edition to anyone who is a fan of TCM. You'll be able to spend hours enjoying it, and they couldn't have done a better job.

grade: A+

Pit and the Pendulum (1991)

Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition!

OK, sorry, I couldn't resist. Though this is a pretty grim movie at times, I can't hear the phrase "Spanish Inquisition" without going through the Monty Python routine. Once the movie starts, however, I am always so engrossed I forget about the sketch.
This movie had me hooked from the first scene the first time I saw it, but it has that rare quality of actually getting better with every viewing. As many have said, this is without a doubt Full Moon's all-time best. I'm a diehard Stuart Gordon fan, and if it wasn't for Re-Animator, I might say it was Gordon's best, too. By the way, the first scene is very grisly and cold-blooded, and you *know* it's gonna be a great movie when that happens even before the opening credits.
I'm really saddened that this movie didn't get more of a chance for wide release. I remember it being in the theater for maybe one week and then going to video, and the only reason I even knew it existed was from reading Fangoria. Look at the cast- while they aren't all considered "A-list", they are favs among horror and cult fans- Lance Henriksen (Millennium, Aliens) Tom Towles (Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer), Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator, From Beyond), Frances Bay (Blue Velvet), Oliver Reed... I think the other strike it has against it is that people see the title (maybe that's why it was changed in some versions, including the R-rated DVD that I rented, to The Inquisitor) and figure it's a travesty to even try to remake. Some friends wouldn't even give the movie a chance (to the point where they didn't even want to look at the box, they were so scornful) until I had to beg them to watch it- they thanked me after the first few scenes.
Don't get me wrong, the original is wonderful, and Vincent Price is, well, Vincent Price and in a class by himself. However, this movie has very little in common with Corman's other than the title, the fact that both movies are based on Poe's work, and that there's a scene towards the endwhere some unlucky b*stard tries to get free before the pendulum slices him in half. The similarities end there, however, and I don't think it's fair or accurate to call it a remake.
This version is actually set back in Spain during 1492, the REAL inquisition. Lance Henriksen, who can make his voice sound so quietly evil that Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter sounds harmless by comparison, stars as Torquemada. With the assistance of his underlings, he wants to rid the world of witchcraft and heresy, figuring the best way to do this is to torture and kill what seems like 99% of the population (historically, he was said to be responsible of over 100,000 executions). During one ugly public display involving Gordon's wife Carolyn Purdy-Gordon -other than Re-animator, she always seems to come to a horrible end in his movies) the young baker Antonio and his lovely wife Maria make the mistake of trying to intervene, so they assume she's a witch and toss her in the dungeon. In her cell, she's befriended by kindly Esmeralda. In one of the most clever twists, her cellmate turns out to be the one out of the tens of thousands accused who actually IS a witch. Maria's husband tries to save her and of course is immediately arrested as well. Unfortunately for Maria, ole Torq is horrified to find himself secretly attracted to her (he's a monk, and as Henriksen explains in the feauturette, has 'probably never gotten any in his life') and doesn't know how to deal with it. At first it seems like Maria might be able to use this to her advantage, but since Torq is so psychotically religious that he thinks any human emotions are the work of Satan, things just get more complicated and intense from there.
There are several references other than the Pendulum to Poe's work -clever ones, that fit in with the plot and are not just tossed in for the hell of it. Someone is walled up, even quoting the notorious line "For the love of God!" "Yes...for the love of God" is the grim reply. A cask of wine is revealed to be Amontillado. There's also subtle references to "The Premature Burial" and probably more I missed.
One of the elements that is actually kind of amusing in a horrible way is that you have absolutely NO chance against the evil forces in this movie, to the point where it is ludicrous. You're reasonably attractive? You're obviously trying to tempt men and must be a witch. You're ugly? That's also a sign of being a witch. You look normal? You're a witch disguised as a normal person! You try to fight back when they tear your clothes off to 'examine' you? You're not co-operating, you're a witch! You give up and co-operate? You're an evil whore! You have a mole or freckle anywhere on your body? That's the mark of the devil and you're a witch. Oh, you don't have any? Someone will pinch you and make a mark. Oh, the mark is starting to fade? You're using your evil powers to make it fade! You're just completely screwed no matter what. Also, if they haven't tortured you yet and you confess first to get it over with? Sorry, no such luck! You might just be trying to avoid torture, so confession doesn't officially count until you've been tortured for days-that is, if you don't die under torture ("Not another one!" a torturer complains in exasperation at one point).
The cast is amazing. There's not even near enough room to list all the great acting in this movie. Standouts are Henriksen, who not only portrays total evil all too convincingly but the inner struggle against his lust for Maria VS his 'holy duty'. Oliver Reed has less than 10 minutes of screen time as a heavy-drinking Cardinal who comes to visit Torquemada and try to get him to ease up on the mass killing a little, but trust me, you'll remember his scene long after the movie is over. Jeffrey Combs, as the scribe with the prince Valiant haircut and huge horn-rimmed Harry Potter glasses who seems to be the only one involved who is "just doing his job" and not getting off on it like all of Torquemada's other flunkies, steals every scene he's in. A less talented actor would have been forgettable in what could have been a boring part, but he makes the most of every second of his screen time. He also gets the some of the best and funniest lines ("How can they confess if they DON'T HAVE TONGUES??"), including the best in the movie along with the actress playing Esmeralda. She's wonderful, and one of the best and most memorable scenes of this, or any horror movie for that matter, involves her show-stopping revenge when she's burned at the stake. As she's being dragged up, Comb's character actually tells her apologetically: "I'm sorry that you weren't properly able to confess. There just wasn't enough time to torture you". Esmeralda: "Thanks anyway".
Not only am I running out of room to rave about how much I loved this movie, but I don't want to talk it up so much that I ruin it. Just watch, enjoy, and get the bejeezus scared out of you. Make sure you are not going to be interrupted for 90 minutes, because it is so riveting you do NOT want to have to turn it off even for a minute. Watch, and prepare to be impressed. Caution: this is NOT a movie for kids, or easily upset adults. The movie pulls NO punches in the graphic portrayal of extremely nasty tortures and executions. The movie is scary and disturbing enough; I try not to dwell to long on the fact that it is based on historical events. In the words of a character during a climactic moment that you won't forget for a long time..."Look into Hell!"

Grade: A+

Threads (1984) (TV)

OK, that's enough nuclear holocaust movies for me, please.

I watched The Day After last summer, the first time seeing it as an adult, and it really, really shook me up. I decided that, even though I've been hearing about this movie and looking for a copy for over 10 years, it might be a smart idea for me to pass on it. Then I temporarily got amnesia and forgot about my smart idea and bought the video when I saw a rare copy for sale. This was stupid thing to do on my part on two levels- first, it was just as depressing, grim, and upsetting as everyone told me, to the point where I thought if I watched The Day After it might actually cheer me up. Second, other reviewers are absolutely right- this is the kind of movie you only need to see once (so I should have tried to rent it, first, as it would have saved me some money).

This movie was well-made, especially for a low budget, and was horrifyingly realistic. The way the film was put together, with the timeline of dates and aftereffects rattled out on titles between scenes, made it seem almost like a documentary. It just gets more and more grim and depressing as it goes on, though the most terrifying scenes are the minutes before the blast, with sirens blaring and people in the streets either running around, panic stricken, or staring at the bomb dropping in awe and fear. I'll never forget the way some of the 'survivors' (if you can call them that) looked, especially the haunted eyes of one woman who has completely lost her mind, sitting and rocking a scorched infant as if it was still able to be saved. The movie's final image before it cuts to black is the one that really stayed with me, though. I heard about the last scene and was prepared for something much more gruesome and graphic, but the look on the face of the young mother when she sees the bundle placed in her arms simply scared the bejeezus out of me more than any gory image could have done.

I kept remembering one of the last few lines of Shute's "On the Beach" where the main character thinks, "this is the end, the very end". Speaking of lines, the last half hour of the movie hardly has any dialogue, which made it even more powerful.

Not only do you not need to see "Threads" more than once, after you see this movie, you probably don't need to even ever see another nuclear holocaust movie, because after watching this (especially if you've previously watched TDA) you definitely get the idea. Actually it didn't even take me till maybe halfway through the movie before I got the idea, which is that if a nuclear strike is imminent, the best and smartest thing to do is to get your family together and just quickly kill yourself as efficiently and painlessly as possible.

I definitely do NOT think it should be seen by kids or anyone easily upset (or pregnant). I've watched some really nasty and graphic stuff in my life and am pretty jaded, but I actually took the movie out of the VCR, put it back in the box, and put the box in the basement until I can sell it instead of filing it away with the rest of my large video collection. I think the only other movie I've done that with was Deathscenes 2 (don't ask). I just wanted to forget about it and move on, but this is a hard movie to dismiss.

This may not be the most depressing movie I've ever seen, but it has to be in the top 5, along with...uh...along know, that's funny, I can't think of any other movie I would put in the top 5 with it.

Grade: A-

Ringu (1998)

Now THIS deserves the tagline "Scary as hell".

I heard a lot about this movie, and what I heard 99% of the people who saw it say most often was that it scared the living s^%t out of them. It's kind of hard to track down in the US (you may have better luck just buying a used copy of the VCD over the net than you would have finding a video store that has it in stock) but worth it. It's not available officially on VHS format at the time of this writing, which upon reflection, is probably wise due to the storyline. I don't know if this is the scariest movie I've ever seen, but it's definitely up there in my top 10. Also, it's probably the movie in my top list of scariest movies with virtually no gore.
The plot centers on a reporter who investigates what could possible be a video tape with a 'curse' on it. Yeah, I know that sounds ludicrous, but the way the story is laid out, it doesn't turn out that way. It starts with two teenage girls talking about the VHS videotape, one telling the other a sort of urban legend (anything involving an urban legend scares the hell out of me right there-I think I heard too many of them at slumber parties as a kid and was permanently warped). Anyone who watches the tape, then gets a phone call (we never hear what the voice on the other end of the phone says exactly) telling them they will die in a week. So far, everyone who has seen it has died in exactly a week. And guess what? One of the girls saw it slightly less than a week ago! One dies, and the other goes incurably insane. One of the girls is the main character's niece, so she and another journalist (who I think was her ex-husband- the English subtitles were pretty badly translated in parts, but you get the idea) have a week to track down the source and try to stop things before the next Sunday evening.
There's plenty of big jolts and scares in the movie-times where I really jumped. That's scary enough, but what's more frightening is the creepy sense of dread you get as the movie goes on. It's filled with extreme suspense as well- captions show the days counting down and their time they have left ticking away. The dread was the worst-there are quite a few very creepy images, such as those shown on the videotape itself. You have a horrible feeling you're going to see something you really, really would rather not see very soon, but you can't stop watching. This is a good one to watch with the lights off, though I am very glad my husband was asleep on the couch next to me.
There's a scene towards the end where the two main characters must bail water out of an abandoned well in an area that is already dark and creepy. One of them, of course, has to be lowered down into the well (which is somewhere you *really* don't want them to go, but they have to) to fill the bucket, and I actually had to wake my husband up to hold my hand only about 20 seconds into the scene. That scene is wonderfully filmed and edited. You have the nail-biting suspense when the clock is ticking for the characters to bail out the deep well as quickly as possible to find what they need to, yet you also REALLY don't want to see what is at the bottom, so along with the suspense there's the creeping dread.
Unfortunately I read a review that gave away the TV scene at the film's climax, but it still made every hair on my body stand on end. Jesus! I'm a grown woman who has seen some pretty hideous, frightening movies, but I still spent at least the last half of the movie curling up into a smaller and smaller ball and covering my eyes in parts. The story-line is clever yet simple, with a couple of twists, the scenes are beautifully filmed, the cinematography is gorgeous, the editing and pacing are perfect, and the acting is also pretty impressive. The score is great-I had to keep lowering the sound during the movie because it was giving my cat (and me) the creeps so badly. It also says a lot when a movie can scare you this bad without virtually any blood, gore, or the popular sudden-discovery-of-a-mangled- corpse effect.
I really can't think of anything negative to say, other than to see this movie before the American remake/version comes out and probably completely screws it up. Younger viewers who only have seen those teen slasher pics and expect every horror movie to be exactly like that, may just not get it. Either that, or they'll realize what they've been missing. Viewers that get bored unless there's not slam-bang action and over-the-top gore every other scene...I just feel sorry for them because they will probably get impatient and turn the movie off after 20 minutes and miss out. If you want that kind of movie,(not that there's anything wrong with that) rent TerrorFirmer or something instead. But if you don't fall into either of the above categories, like a well-made, atmospheric movie and want to have the hell scared out of you slowly but surely, see Ring.

Grade: A+

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