Tag Archives: Halloween countdown

Halloween Countdown, Day 6: Green Room

Green Room (2016)

The 2013 revenge thriller Blue Ruin heralded writer/director Jeremy Saulnier as a filmmaker bursting with the instincts and craftsmanship necessary to give familiar tropes new bite. In Green Room his color scheme is horror, and the finished work is equally suitable for framing.

Young punk band the Ain’t Rights is in desperate need of a paying gig, even if it is at a rough private club for the “boots and braces” crowd (i.e. white power skinheads). Bass guitarist Pat (Anton Yelchin) eschews social media promotion for the “time and aggression” of live shows, and when he accidentally witnesses a murder in the club’s makeshift green room, Pat and his band find plenty of both.

Along with concertgoer Amber (a terrific Imogen Poots), they’re held at gunpoint while the club manager (Macon Blair from Blue Ruin) fetches the mysterious Darcy (Patrick Stewart, gloriously grim) to sort things out. Though Darcy is full of calm reassurances, it quickly becomes clear the captives will have to fight for their lives.

As he did with Blue Ruin, Saulnier plunges unprepared characters into a world of casual savagery, finding out just what they have to offer in a nasty backwoods standoff.  It’s a path worn by Straw Dogs, Deliverance, and plenty more, but Saulnier again shows a knack for establishing his own thoughtful thumbprint. What Green Room lacks in depth, it makes up in commitment to genre.

He drapes the film in waves of thick, palpable tension, then punctures them with shocking bursts of gore and brutality. Things get plenty dark for the young punkers, and for us, as Saulnier often keeps light sources to a minimum, giving the frequent bloodletting an artful black-and-white quality which contrasts nicely with the symbolic red of certain shoelaces.

And yet, Saulnier manages to let some mischievous humor seep out, mainly by playing on generational stereotypes. Poots, barely recognizable under an extreme haircut and trucker outfit, has the most fun, never letting bloody murder alter Amber’s commitment to bored condescension. Love it.

Only a flirtation with contrivance keeps Green Room from classic status. It’s lean, mean, loud and grisly, and a ton of bloody fun.

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Halloween Countdown, Day 5: Man Bites Dog

Man Bites Dog (1992)

Oh, Belgium. How we do love your horror output.

In a bit of meta-filmmaking, Man Bites Dog is a pseudo-documentary made on a shoestring budget by struggling, young filmmakers. It is about a documentary being made on a shoestring budget by struggling, young filmmakers. The subject of the fictional documentary is the charismatic Ben – serial killer, narcissist, poet, racist, architecture enthusiast, misogynist, bird lover.

There’s more than what appears on the surface of this cynical, black comedy. The film crew starts out as dispassionate observers of Ben’s crimes. They’re just documenting, just telling the truth. No doubt this is a morally questionable practice to begin with. But they are not villains – they are serving their higher purpose: film.

Eventually the filmmakers’ commitment to the project, fear of retaliation, bloodlust, or sense of camaraderie pushes them toward aiding Ben, and then finally, to committing heinous crimes themselves.

Benoit Poelvoorde’s (who also co-directs) performance as Ben is just as quirky, ridiculous and self-centered as it can be. He’s perfect. His character needs to move the group toward fear, camaraderie, and sometimes even pity – but slyly, he also moves the audience.

The film examines social responsibility as much as it does journalistic objectivity, and what Man Bites Dog has to say about both is biting. It’s never preachy, though.

Theirs is a bitter view of their chosen industry, and – much like The Last Horror Movie – a bit of a condemnation of the viewer as well. The fact that much of the decidedly grisly content is played for laughter makes it that much more unsettling.

There are cynical chuckles to be has as members of the crew die off, one by one, and the remaining crew come up with teary excuses to soldier on with the film. But filmmaker and views alike have been made unclean by what we’ve chosen to participate in.

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Halloween Countdown, Day 29

Hellraiser (1987)

“The box…you opened it. We came.”

Man, those cenobites were scary cool, weren’t they?

Hellraiser, Clive Barker’s feature directing debut, worked not only as a grisly splatterfest, but also as a welcome shift from the rash of teen slasher movies that followed the success of Halloween. Barker was exploring more adult, decidedly kinkier fare, and Hellraiser is steeped in themes of S&M and the relationship between pleasure and pain.

Hedonist Frank Cotton solves an ancient puzzle box, which summons the fearsome Cenobites, who literally tear Frank apart and leave his remains rotting in the floorboards of an old house. Years later, Frank’s brother Larry moves into that house with his teenage daughter Kirsty and his new wife Julia (who, oh yeah, also happens to be Frank’s ex-lover).

A gash on Larry’s leg spills blood on the floor, which awakens the remains of Frank, who then requires more blood to complete his escape from the underworld. Julia, both repulsed and aroused by her old flame’s half-alive form, agrees to make sure more blood is soon spilled.

Meanwhile, young Kirsty accidentally opens the puzzle box, and when the Cenobites come for her, she offers a deal:  let me go, and I’ll lead you to Uncle Frank.

What? A teenager in a horror flick doing some cool headed problem solving?

It was another way that Hellraiser rose above some weak production elements to stand out, and hail the arrival of Clive Barker as an important new name in horror.

Halloween Countdown, Day 22

Eden Lake (2009)

It’s crazy this film hasn’t been seen more. The always outstanding Michael Fassbender takes his girl Jenny (Kelly Reilly) to his childhood stomping grounds – a flooded quarry and soon-to-be centerpiece for a grand housing development. He intends to propose, but he’s routinely disrupted, eventually in quite a bloody manner, by a roving band of teenaged thugs.

Kids today!

The film expertly mixes liberal guilt with a genuine terror of the lower classes. The acting, particularly from the youngsters, is outstanding. And though James Watkins’s screenplay makes a couple of difficult missteps, it bounces back with some clever maneuvers and horrific turns.

Sure, the “angry parents raise angry children” cycle may be overstated, but Jack O’Connell’s performance as the rage-saturated offspring turned absolute psychopath is chilling.

There’s the slow boil of the cowardly self righteous. Then there’s this bit with a dog chain. Plus a railroad spike scene that may cause some squeamishness. Well, it’s a grisly mess, but a powerful and provocative one. Excellent performances are deftly handled by the director who would go on to helm The Woman in Black.

Don’t expect spectral terror in this one, though. Instead you’ll find a bunch of neighborhood kids pissed off at their lot in life and taking it out on someone alarmingly like you.