[31 Days of Horror Part VII: The New Blood] Day 28 – [Happy 15th Birthday!] Saw II (2005)

Director: Darren Lynn Bousman
Cast: Donnie Wahlberg, Franky G, Glenn Plummer, Beverley Mitchell, Dina Meyer, Emmanuelle Vaugier, Erik Knudsen, Shawnee Smith, Tobin Bell
Screenplay: Leigh Whannell, Darren Lynn Bousman
93 mins. Rated R.

Saw was a horror phenomenon when it released in 2004. It surprised the hell out of me, as I didn’t expect to love it so much, to be rewatching it so regularly, trying to scope out clues and things I had missed before. It wasn’t for everyone, especially those unable to handle gore (even though the first actually didn’t contain as much as the franchise would be known for later on), but for me, there was another element that kept me entranced, and that was the story. I loved the mystery of the film, the clues, the references. I studied that film, and when the sequel came out, it didn’t arrive at my local theater and I was too young to drive to another town to see it, so I waited until the inevitable January DVD release, and I caught it. Now, looking back, let’s see how the first sequel to Saw holds up, and its influence on the direction of the series.

Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg, Ransom, Dreamcatcher) is a bad cop and a worse father. His life isn’t what he thought it was, and now he’s become the target of the villainous Jigsaw (Tobin Bell, Mississippi Burning, The Firm), a killer who likes to play games, set traps, and let his victims kill themselves in their struggle to survive. Eric and his former partner Kerry (Dina Meyer, Starship Troopers, Johnny Mnemonic) have discovered Jigsaw’s hideout, but they soon learn that catching Jigsaw will be tougher than they expected when Eric learns that his son Daniel (Erik Knudsen, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Scream 4) is also a part of Jigsaw’s next game. Now, Eric and Daniel are both playing for survival, and Jigsaw has a few surprises in store for both of them.

Saw II actually started as a completely different movie. Writer/director Darren Lynn Bousman (Repo! The Genetic Opera, Abattoir) had shopped around his script for a film called The Desperate and kept getting turned down, with most telling him that his movie was too similar to Saw. Eventually, the script found its way into the hands of Saw producers, who were looking to get a follow-up to the 2004 smash hit put together. Leigh Whannell, who scripted the original film, came in and adjusted the script into a Saw sequel, and the rest is horror history. In that way, Saw II is a bit of a unique flavor of the Saw films. It has most of Bousman’s writing stamps on it, and it has a look more in line with Bousman’s non-Saw films while still not straying away from the feel of the original. The screenplay, now adjusted to being a Saw sequel, is full of more of those clues and references to the connection with the original, and the way it ends up connecting is bonkers good. In fact, not even the cast was aware of the film’s ending and how it would play into the first film. Although, there are a few times when Jigsaw flat out lies to Eric, something he isn’t known for doing (he stretches the truth and leaves information out, but he never full-on lies to his victims and pawns), and that disappointed me a little.

Donnie Wahlberg is a standout here. His scenes with Tobin Bell as Jigsaw are amazing. The two have such different energies on display, and watching them collide is exhilarating while also highlighting their differences as characters and gives a lot of development to both. Remember, this film does a lot more heavy lifting of the Jigsaw mythos than the first film, in which [SPOILER ALERT!] Jigsaw spends most of the film lying in a bathroom covered in makeup and fake blood. Jigsaw gets to really flex his creed here and the reaction he gets from Eric works so well. Wahlberg’s work as Eric only highlights his own shortcomings as a cop, husband, and father.

Shawnee Smith (The Blob, Believe) also returns from the first film as Amanda, a character with limited but impactful screen time in the original (in fact, her scenes in the original were basically what the short film that inspired Saw were all about). Seeing her as someone who has survived Jigsaw’s game only to find herself back in it is horrifying, and we feel for her, but we also find a level of trust in her as she understands the game better than the others, and we cling to her for support. She also ends up in a fairly uncomfortable trap fighting for survival with the needle pit.

I also want to discuss the house trap, as it’s where most of the action of the film is. It’s a cool house with a lot of history and character to it, and seeing all these people trapped inside with slow-acting poison, looking for antidotes, it creates a larger set piece than the bathroom but doesn’t feel like it betrays the first film. It just has its own flavor, much like the rest of Saw II, probably carried over from Bousman’s earlier script. What I love about the way Bousman directs is that he tries to create a sense that the story never slows down by creating in-camera tricks in filming and editing that make scenes flow from one to the another without actually cutting. Look at the way Eric leaves his apartment early on and ends up at a crime scene. It’s a fascinating shot that emphasizes the best of Bousman’s ability to work low-budget and still create interesting and compelling cinema.

Saw II is still a step down from the first film, but it continues the story, elevates the characters, and develops the world-building of this franchise quite nicely while feeling like its own contained story. Yes, there are a few screenplay faults, there are more unlikable characters than likable ones, and the film maybe feels a bit too big at times, not allowing us to spend time with the cattle on their way to slaughter, but at least it highlights its most interesting characters like Jigsaw, Eric, Kerry, and Amanda, the ones who are developed enough to interest. I enjoyed the film immensely when I first saw it, and I still do, even if I’ve seen some of its faults on repeat viewings. I would still encourage fans of the original to see this one, and those who haven’t seen it in a while to consider revisiting it.

4/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

  • For my review of James Wan’s Saw, click here.
  • For my review of Darren Lynn Bousman’s Repo! The Genetic Opera, click here.
  • For my review of Darren Lynn Bousman’s The Devil’s Carnival, click here.
  • For my review of the anthology film Tales of Halloween, click here.
  • For my review of Darren Lynn Bousman’s Alleluia! The Devil’s Carnival, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part VI: Jason Lives] Day 3 – Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008)

Director: Darren Lynn Bousman

Cast: Alexa Vega, Anthony Stewart Head, Sarah Brightburn, Paris Hilton, Ogre, Terrance Zdunich, Bill Moseley, Paul Sorvino

Screenplay: Darren Smith, Terrance Zdunich

98 mins. Rated R for strong bloody violence and gore, language, some drug and sexual content.

 

Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II, St. Agatha) came off his run of Saw films with several dark operatic fantasy/horror films, the first being Repo! The Genetic Opera. I remember being extremely excited for this one, having been such a fan of the Saw franchise. I even had a few college friends (I’m dating myself here) come by my dorm so we could watch it when the home video was released (in those days, we had to drive to Walmart to get such films). As I put the disc in (in those days, movies were on discs) and sat back with the others to watch, a momentary question popped into my head: what if it sucked?

In the not-too-distant future, organ failures have crippled the planet, and the corporation known as GeneCo steps in to aid the crisis by creating payment plans for organ transplants, but if you are unable to make your debts, they send the Repo Men, trained killers who take the organs by, likely causing in the client’s death. GeneCo’s CEO, Rotti Largo (Paul Sorvino, GoodFellas, Acts of Desperation) is sick and looking for an heir to his empire. Of his three children, he sees nothing but failure, so instead he looks to Shilo (Alexa Vega, Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams, Christmas Made to Order), the daughter of his ex-fiancé, Marni. Shilo’s father Nathan (Anthony Stewart Head, Batman: Gotham by Gaslight, TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer) wants nothing to do with the Largos, but he is in a situation where he cannot fight the family on his own while still keeping his sick daughter safe from the world.

Repo! The Genetic Opera has a lot of exposition to its science fiction elements, but it handles most of that info quite well through its operatic and amusing songs. Many of these songs stayed with me after watching the film once, and I kept going back to it. This is a strange movie, and I wouldn’t say that I quite loved it the first time I saw it, but the songs kept returning me to it, and it has now developed in me a cult following similar to other midnight madness films like the Rocky Horror Picture Show (though, not to that level) and The Room (though much better).

Anthony Stewart Head slays this movie. I had not been much of a Buffy fan when I first saw Repo! but I had others with me that knew of his abilities as an actor and singer, especially from the Once More With Feeling musical episode of Buffy.  That’s actually what got him the job for Repo! and it’s easy to see that it was a good call.

What’s so interesting about the casting for Repo! is how director Bousman took advantage of his small budget to cast the film with unlikely pairings of performers, some with singing talent, some with acting chops, some with neither (looking at you, Paris), and then performers who could mine the camp of the material, like Bill Moseley (The Devil’s Rejects, American Exorcist) as the son, Luigi Largo. It reminds me of a term that the Russo Brothers came up with for their Avengers movies: strange alchemy. The way Bousman captures performers from wildly different backgrounds for Repo! gives it a special unforgettable quality that makes the cheesiness seem rather artistic.

Now, there’s a lot of things that don’t work. The film may have been too ambitious with its smaller budget, and much of the special effects look pretty poor. The idea to animate the flashbacks like a comic book sounds cool on the surface, but it does come off a little sluggish. Not all the songs work. Not all the performers do either. The ending leaves a bit to be desired. The film has its faults, but some of them actually aid the film while others detract from the enjoyment.

Repo! The Genetic Opera is not even close to a flawless experience, and it’s a movie that isn’t for everyone, but I suggest it to a lot of people looking for a fun musical experience that’s unlike a lot of films that came before it. Bousman tried to follow-up this film with two other dark fantasy/musicals in The Devil’s Carnival duology, but neither really hit where Repo! did. Repo! works due to a selection of amusing and mostly catchy music, a scene-stealer performance from Head, and a unique viewpoint from a promising horror director. Seek this one out.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

For my review of Darren Lynn Bousman’s The Devil’s Carnival, click here.

For my review of the anthology film Tales of Halloween, click here.

For my review of Darren Lynn Bousman’s Alleluia! The Devil’s Carnival, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part V: A New Beginning] Day 22 – Alleluia! The Devil’s Carnival (2015)

Director: Darren Lynn Bousman

Cast: Emilie Autumn, Barry Bostwick, Chantal Claret, Dayton Callie, Briana Evigan, Brea Grant, David Hasselhoff, Kristina Klebe, J. LaRose, Mighty Mike Murga, Bill Moseley, Ted Neely, Adam Pascal, Tech N9ne, Nivek Ogre, Marc Senter, Lyndon Smith, Paul Sorvino, Jimmy Urine, Danny Worsnop, Terrance Zdunich

Screenplay: Terrance Zdunich

97 mins. Not Rated.

 

I was very on the fence about The Devil’s Carnival. I really enjoyed the collaboration between director Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II, Abattoir) and Terrance Zdunich (Chain of Souls) on Repo! The Genetic Opera, and I was hoping to feel that same fire again. Sadly, I did not. Hoping that the first shorter piece was just a fluke, I ventured into the sequel, a feature-length follow-up with a grander story. I was unpleasantly disappointed.

Lucifer (Zdunich) is sending a train filled with condemned souls back to heaven. Meanwhile, in Heaven,  God (Paul Sorvino, GoodFellas, Abe & Phil’s Last Poker Game) is figuring out a plan with his top Agent (Adam Pascal, Rent, Punk’s Dead: SLC Punk 2). Back in Hell, Lucifer is telling one of his favorite stories about a woman named June (Emilie Autumn) and her time in Heaven.

There’s somehow even less of a story in this longer sequel to the original film. Many of the musical numbers toss around parables and information but most of it is far too convoluted for anyone to really connect with it. Zdunich clearly has a mind and eye for the fantastical, but it is just poorly executed here.

I liked some of the grander additions to the cast this time around. Emilie Autumn gets way more screentime and she is quite an interesting character. Barry Bostwick (The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Incredibles 2) appears as The Watchword, a sort of journalist of Heaven. David Hasselhoff (Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2, TV’s Baywatch) is quite fun as The Designer. Ted Neely (Jesus Christ Superstar, Django Unchained) appears as The Publicist in a fun song-and-dancey performance that was enjoyable to watch. None of these interesting new characters are afforded the time in the film to raise its quality, though.

Sadly, Alleluia! The Devil’s Carnival starts out promising and then makes the same mistakes that its predecessor did. Instead of the first film being a bad fluke, perhaps Repo! was just a good fluke.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Darren Lynn Bousman’s The Devil’s Carnival, click here.

For my review of the anthology film Tales of Halloween, click here.

31 Days of Horror – Extra Bits: [Take 5] Horror Musicals!

Hey everyone, well, October is well upon us, and for my first entry in the 31 Days of Horror, I talked about a horror musical called The Devil’s Carnival. As you might recall, I didn’t love it, but it got me intrigued about horror musicals. I know they can be pulled off, I have seen some pretty fierce ones and they can ride that line of camp or darkness or sometimes both. So, today, I’m starting a new feature called Take 5, where I give you a list of five movies that are horror musicals. Now, this is not a list of the only five horror musicals ever. It is also not a countdown, but merely five movies that I’m trying to bring to public knowledge more. The idea came from a casual reader that asked me about marathoning movies for Halloween, and I thought back to a weekly movie night I hosted at my home, and one night we did a horror musical night, and all the horror musicals listed here were up for contention. So, I’m not going to drag that out much longer and just present you with this week’s Take 5!

 

Take 5 Horror Musicals:

 

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

the-nightmare-before-christmas-movie-poster-1993

(Dir: Henry Selick)

Nominated for Best Visual Effects (1994 Academy Awards)

Now, I want to exclaim this right now. I haven’t seen this movie in a number of years. To be honest, I have always respected it, but it just never got me like it got so many.

The Nightmare Before Christmas is the story of Jack Skellington (Chris Sarandon) who lives in “Halloween Town” and ends up finding his way out through a doorway leading to a mystical forest of sorts. Spotting another doorway and entering through it, Jack finds himself in “Christmas Town” and decides to celebrate this newly discovered world. It features some absolutely powerful music (this is music that gets stuck in your head, even when you don’t know any of the lyrics, and you just can’t stop singing them) as well as some wholly terrifying voice work from the stop-motion characters. I want to point out that Tim Burton did not primarily direct this picture, but it has his look all around it.

 

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)

Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)

(Dir: Tim Burton)

Awarded Best Achievement in Art Direction (2008 Academy Awards)

Nominated for Best Actor (Johnny Depp) and Best Costume Design (2008 Academy Awards)

Now, Tim Burton did direct this feature, based on the musical theater production from Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler. It tells the tale Sweeney Todd (Depp) and his slow descent into madness following the loss of his wife and child. He decides to hone his skills as a barber in order to lure men into his home and murder them before sending the bodies to Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter) to make into meat pies. His main target is Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman), the man behind the inciting treachery. This movie was released right at the time where Tim Burton wasn’t really holding my love, but I was in a musical renaissance where musicals were big for me. Maybe it was the emotional pain of youth, but I had to see this movie. I loved it, and it was one of my favorite movies from 2007, which was a pretty great year for movies already.

 

Little Shop of Horrors (1986)

Little_shop_of_horrors

(Dir: Frank Oz)

Nominated for Best Visual Effects and Best Original Song (“Mean Green Mother from Outer Space) (1987 Academy Awards)

Another fan and critical favorite is this 80s classic, which has an interesting backstory. I actually studied this movie in college and it holds a special spot in my heart. So, it is based on a stage musical which in turn is based on a Roger Corman anti-classic B-movie from 1960. It stars Rick Moranis as Seymour Krelborn, an unlucky slumper who comes across a very unusual plant while walking the back streets of New York City during a “Total Eclipse of the Sun!” and decides to name it Audrey II after the woman he loves (played by Ellen Greene). Things get complicated when he finds that Audrey II talks and only enjoys blood and flesh. Morbid, campy and all things terrific, this is a movie that I have to watch regularly and I dare you to watch it and try not to sing.

 

Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008)

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(Dir: Darren Lynn Bousman)

I highly recommend this one to anyone who is curious about The Devil’s Carnival or someone who has already seen it and needs to wash the taste out. Repo! is set in the future where the one thing on everyone’s mind is surgery: make yourself better, look hotter, and live longer. Shilo (Alexa Vega) is stuck with a blood disease which is slowly killing her, and her relationship with her father (Anthony Stewart Head) is dying from his wanting to protect her from further harm. But father has secrets of his own and Shilo won’t follow his directions any longer, as she gets more and more into the mystery surrounding the death of her mother Marni. A gruesome and violent rock opera, Repo! is an addiction all its own, and features Anthony Stewart Head belting out the music in some his most powerful work to date.

 

The Rocky Horror Picture Shown (1975)

the_rocky_horror_picture_show_poster

(Dir: Jim Sharman)

Celebrating its 40th Anniversary next year, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a film that everyone needs to see, though most picture will not like or understand it. The film is a send-up to the horror films of back in the day, a campy but lovable triumph of fun and music, and also a satire of many heavy themes about politics and gender and sex and, well, the movie is about so many things that it’s hard not to take something new away every time you see it. My advice, watch this movie once in your home, then head to a midnight shadow cast (you’ll learn more when you go), preferably on Halloween. I have seen The Rocky Horror Picture Show Live for the past seven years in Grand Forks, North Dakota, and if able, this year will be number eight.

 

Take-aways:

All five films here are winners, and I suggest them to you for your Halloween pleasure. Little Shop goes together well with Rocky Horror, as do Sweeney Todd and Repo!, and will make for a grand marathoning. Happy singing!

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

 

31 Days of Horror: Day 1 – The Devil’s Carnival (2012)

Devilscarnival033012

Director: Darren Lynn Bousman

Cast: Emilie Autumn, Sean Patrick Flanery, Briana Evigan, Jessica Lowndes, Paul Sorvino, Terrance Zdunich, Bill Moseley

Screenplay: Terrance Zdunich

56 mins. Not Rated.

 

Now, I get it, technically speaking, this isn’t a movie. More of a short since it doesn’t really meet the 75 minutes and up criteria that a lot of people consider a release as a feature length film, but I figured that it was something I needed to see, having heard good things for so long about it. I really loved Darren Lynn Bousman’s work with the Saw franchise and Repo! The Genetic Opera, so when it came time to test out another of his works, I was excited. Until I saw it.

devilscarnival_a

I must say, it wasn’t all bad, but none of it was particularly good. The plot revolves around three newly deceased souls who enter a purgatory-like place called The Devil’s Carnival, where they proceed to be judged based on the nature of their sins in life. The three stories are based on Aesop’s Fables, but I didn’t feel any connection to any of these characters. All we ever really know about any of them is how they died, which I would say is important information, but I can’t root for or condemn anyone based on the nature of death as it is usually something out of one’s control. John (Sean Patrick Flanery, TV’s Dexter, The Boondock Saints)commits suicide out of grief for the loss of his son. Tamara (Jessica Lowndes, TV’s 90210, The Haunting of Molly Hartley) is murdered by her boyfriend. Ms. Merrywood (Briana Evigan, Step Up 2: The Streets, Mother’s Day) is killed in a shootout. Each one goes through several macabre steps but the motive is unclear.

The performances from much of the cast fine, with special points to Paul Sorvino (GoodFellas, Jersey Shore Shark Attack) as God and Terrance Zdunich as Lucifer. The whole issues comes down to whether or not this is actually anything new. The entirety of the film felt to me like passed over ideas from Zdunich’s previous work with Bousman in Repo! The Genetic Opera, a more refined and much stronger rock opera with definite character development. I felt like the film I was watching came down to just watching these people meander this strange environment, but I just thought there would be more to it.

The music is another factor here. It is uneven and just not all that engaging.

The makeup is a reason to see it, but not a reason to love it.

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I would say that The Devil’s Carnival has been done before, and if given the option, I would pick the far superior Repo! for my viewing pleasure.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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