The Horrors of Tribeca 2013 - Part 1: V/H/S/2, Frankenstein's Army, Big Bad Wolves, and More
The 2013 Tribeca Film Festival has come to an end, and it's time for Part 1 of our wrap-up of the horror films we took in this year with a look at V/H/S/2, Frankenstein's Army, Big Bad Wolves, and a trio of short films.
Once again I stalked the streets of New York City seeking a little red door in the middle of normal looking homes that would take me to the Tribeca Film Festival press lounge. Within were my partner in low-level future crimes, Heather Buckley, free coffee, and for some reason Magnum Ice Cream Bars. Yes, Tribeca. Make the journos fatter. That will certainly help us walk across town from one film to another. Genius. Pass in hand, I attempted to hit as many of the horror offerings on this year’s schedule as possible, and here's round one of my conclusions (in most instances you'll find links to my colleagues' longer reviews as well).
The world of horror’s newest anthology series makes a speedy return with a second helping of quick creepers, all conveniently transferred to VHS tapes from their respective GoPros and HD Cams…cuz ghosts got mad editing skillz. Silly wrap-around premise aside, I had a blast with the first round and have been looking forward to another helping, wondering how they might top a demon bird woman looking to get laid. The mind boggles. This time out, we kick things off with a man who gets an experimental camera eye replacement, allowing us to view the world whilst nestled snugly in his cranium. The one catch to this free cyborg upgrade? The eye allows the host to see ghosts, and as most horror films go, when you can see them, they can see you… and touch you… and throttle you. Luckily a young woman who had a similar surgery and can now hear the ghosts comes to our boy’s rescue, saving him with her boobs and not much else, but at least she gave it a shot. (And he gave her a shot. Sorry, I had to. It was in my contract.) This segment is a quick guilty pleasure with no real direction and the type of ghost that sort of just stands there while folks run off into the bathroom, which is of course the safest place in the house - and impenetrable to ghosts. But hey, at least there were boobs.
Next up we follow a cycler through the park via his GoPro camera head mount as he stumbles across a pack of zombies and is quickly transformed himself. Ever ask yourself what it’s like for the zombie as he acclimates to his new point of view, meets interesting new undead friends, and journeys off on wacky zombie hijinks? Me neither, but the answer is pretty excellent. While I first thought this would be a typical zombie tale, the story quickly won me over with clever shooting and an all-around fresh take on the theme. How does a zombie know what is good to eat and what isn’t? TASTE TEST! This one is a keeper with a bittersweet ending.
Next was the gem of the bunch. A camera crew gets permission to shoot within the confines of a religious cult’s compound, expressing their desire to show the world the fuzzier side of the lunatic fringe. As they begin filming an interview with their host and head of the cult, we travel down a slippery slope that begins with the expected allegations of child endangerment and perversity and takes a hard left into suicidal fanaticism, the supernatural, demon worship… need we say more? The bodies pile up, folks are exploding all over the damn place, and a new life is screaming to be born. Well, that’s not quite accurate. It’s actually trying to claw its way out. "Safe Haven" is deliciously, sadistically bloody and contains more carnage per second than any ten big budget horror movies combined. I’ll also mention that these sick moments are delivered via button cam, giving the viewer a sort of first-person shooter perspective, making the entire package all that much more insane. I loved every second. THIS should have been the show stopper, but no. The filmmakers thought some poor film should follow that gruesome gold, and so we dive into "Slumber Party Alien Abduction."
A trio of boys runs around, causing mayhem and destruction in their path, but only on the level that kids often do. It’s a sort of war of pranks between this crew and the older teens left to watch them. The super original twist laid in seconds before the madness starts? PUPPY CAM! Yes, friends, you watch the action via a camera attached to the family dog, which is sort of adorable. Before long blinding lights flood the scene, and strange beings attack. The lights and sounds are so disorienting, with each attack there was a time I thought the end game of the creatures was to throw everyone in the lake so they could get eaten by some Cthulhu-esque tentacle creature, which of course got me excited. Sadly, this was just to be a straight-up alien abduction. Bummer. While I give the filmmakers credit for shooting in a very disorienting way, heightening the tension as far as it could possibly go and making the most of some really horrible looking alien suits, I felt the scares were nil with the story dissolving into a mindless scramble of folks screaming and running as their friends get picked off. I liken it to a haunted house ride at an amusement park. You paid a buck, didn’t expect much, and pretty much got what you expected.
V/H/S/2 continues the original's tradition of ill-conceived wrap-arounds with a dud of a tale about a missing boy who finds the VHS tapes and decides to make his own. As the film’s heroine watches each tape, she is slowly sucked in and transformed into… something… I don’t know… spooky? There’s no story here, and at the end of it all we are left with a sad, sad excuse for a prosthetic attached to our final “monster” in a finale not worthy of the movie it is attached to. For shame. V/H/S/2 is absolutely superior to the first installment with a seemingly higher quality of storytelling and shooting to enjoy. Not in a very long time has there been a more perfect horror series tailor-made for gathering friends and screaming at your TV. The kids will love it!
Read Kalebson's V/H/S/2 review from Sundance 2013 here (note that it was still called S-VHS at the time).
The idea is a familiar one, especially to those of us who have been attending conventions for over ten years: The Nazis were a sadistic group of madmen and murderers, dabbling in the occult and exploring every mythological avenue to achieve their end game. Enter a group of Russian soldiers being filmed to inspire the populace (found footage WW2 movie!), sent to back up a squad in a nearby skirmish. When they arrive, the bodies are plentiful, but the Russian troops are nowhere to be found. As the crew explores the town, they tread where they clearly should not… and activate machines they obviously should have kept their damn hands off of! In typical horror movie fashion, one turn of a crank and the flick of a switch sets things in motion and the fun begins!!! It is hard for me to put into words the sheer level of awesome put up there on the screen. Metal goliaths with pincer claws. Stilt-walking, gas-masked creatures with drills where their faces should be. It’s as if a sadistic 12-year-old was told to take industrial tools and attach them to zombies in a series of crayon drawings, and that kid sat there until every variation was exhausted. Inspiring!
With a story that could probably be printed on the back of a pack of cigarettes, the movie marches on with a dizzying array of monstrosities attacking from every crack in the wall like mad hornets protecting a hive. Hornets with SAW BLADE ARMS!! The set itself seems alive with machinery gulping and pulsating. It’s a wet landscape riddled with things set on an unthinkable task. One minute all those creatures can be pushing carts and welding great walls of iron; the next, when you’ve gotten too close and pose a potential threat, those tools are pointed at you. Once again, the first-person perspective allows for a first-person shooter-esque quality as we run down endless hallways and drilled out caverns with new, insidious machinations at the end of every pathway, stomping slowly toward you with enough force to make the ground tremble. This allows for a heightened sense of claustrophobia, even though there seems to be no end of holes into which to dive for cover… but you are not in control. That sense of manic movement plays right into the film’s tension and will make for many moments where you’ll find yourself involuntarily, frantically motioning in the direction you want to run in!
The cast of soldiers set to take on these supernatural forces are highly likable from the start and just indistinguishable enough from the men next to them so that when the carnage begins, we won’t miss them too much. It’s an amazing achievement when a film can make you cheer for the horrific death of your favorite character. That’s some sort of voodoo right there.
Prior to my viewing, I told the director I would be downing some vodkas and asked how many should I go for to allow for optimum viewing pleasure. I added that the team of Neveldine and Taylor remarked my three drinks before Ghost Rider 2 was just right. In this case four was the magic number, but I can honestly say that had I been completely sober, I would have had just as much fun watching this movie. That said, Frankenstein’s Army just might be an instant cult classic and without a doubt the ultimate “get shitfaced and enjoy” horror film. Punk rock horror at its finest.
NOTE: I want to see this as the bonus DLC for the next Call of Duty video game, and threeA, get to work on the toys. Go Team Frankenstein!
Big Bad Wolves
A killer is on the loose. This psychopath abducts young girls and, after he has his way with them in every horrible way possible, leaves them to be found, spread out in all their horror… and missing their heads. It’s a sick message. “I’ve given you your daughter back, only because I am done with her, but you’ll never have all of her.” Miki is a police detective who is dead certain they have their man, but the little guy won’t confess his crimes no matter how much they try to beat it out of him. When his latest stomp-fest goes viral, Miki is off the case, but not off the hunt. As he stalks the unassuming teacher of religion, waiting for him to strike again, another man watches them both; and when things don’t escalate as quickly as either had hoped, they take matters into their own hands. Now the lines are drawn but, at the same time, blurred. Miki wants justice, but he will only go so far to get the truth. This clashes with the agenda of Gidi, the father of the killer’s last victim, who is also certain the killer is in front of him and is fully resigned to torture the man as horribly as he tortured his victims. All the while, the teacher tied up before them sticks to his claims of innocence even in the face of grisly torture. Could they have the wrong man?
What Big Bad Wolves does expertly is keep you thinking. Those who love to unravel the murder mystery in the first ten minutes of any given film will be left scratching their heads far into the action. The filmmakers give little glimpses as to each player’s nature, but no real solid clues as to their true motives. Miki is clearly down for bending the rules to see justice, but is all this bravado just a front for his true, sadistic nature? After all, what could be more fun than leading the cops on a chase from the inside! Gidi claims he is seeking justice for the death of his daughter, but what if he has grown tired of his games and is looking to wrap the whole case up with two scapegoats left holding the bag, one as killer and one as the killer’s murderer? Finally, we have the teacher in the chair, ostracized from his school over the allegations of murder, even though the video which brought this to light clearly shows HE was the victim of police brutality. Loving father kept from seeing his daughter. A quiet man with a little dog who couldn’t hurt a fly. It would be the ultimate fakeout to point to this man, lead us to believe he is the killer, and then steer it completely in another direction. TOO MANY OPTIONS!! Excellent storytelling.
When you put the genius of this murder mystery aside, you are left with an excellent cast of actors playing incredibly likable characters, save for the man in the chair. It’s more than a little funny we are meant to bond with the crew doing all the torturing rather than empathizing for the man being tortured. A statement on society? I don’t care… it’s damn fun. Miki is slightly vulnerable and often off-guard but trying his best to roll with every situation. Gidi displays an almost gleeful peace in his torturing methods. He is done being angry over the loss of his daughter. Now he will take pleasure in seeing her tormentor suffer… without a twitch of remorse. I also find it comical that a situation like this would normally be labeled “torture porn,” but remove the gore for the sake of gore, add an insanely charismatic cast, and the label goes right out the window. Make no mistake; the things done in this movie are pretty vicious and will most likely leave you flinching like crazy, squirming in your seat long after the act is done and the horrible sound accompanying it has ceased.
With superb pacing and hysterical strings of dialogue followed by gut-wrenching violence all shot with an eye for tension and drama, Big Bad Wolves emerges from the Tribeca Film Festival as a film worthy of a major theatrical release. These filmmakers understand how to make an audience drop their guard with a laugh and then recoil in terror seconds later. This magical mix always makes for great fun and is my favorite film tonic. As Heather Buckley pointed out when we were discussing it, the film also draws comparisons against its native Israeli life. The teacher of religion, beaten by the government and meant to feel like the guilty party; whether he is or is not is of no concern to the public. The police force totally accepting of using a strong arm to beat a confession out of a suspect for a speedy resolution. Then we have the father, ex-military, well versed in torture and obviously unflinching in inflicting pain on a subject. Strong statements indeed, and all without battering you over the head with it.
All mirroring of society and politics aside, Big Bad Wolves is just a fantastically crafted thriller, wound so tightly you’ll be on the edge of your seat the entire time. This is only the second film for the team of Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado, following on the heels of Rabies (another excellent horror film). Here’s hoping Hollywood takes notice and gives this crew everything they need to continue making superior cinema until they are old and grey.
And now some shorts!
A classroom full of kids play an April Fool’s Day joke on their cool teacher… and it goes horribly wrong. Now it’s a race against time to cover up the murder before a policeman comes to give a speech and ultimately throws them all in the slammer. GENIUS!! Amazing execution, hysterical writing, strong acting from all points, and a ridiculous amount of carnage for a film (even a short film) with little kids in a classroom on a sunny day. All of this achieved by the children of Dee Snider of Twisted Sister. Be proud, my friend!! Director and co-writer (with brother Shane) Cody Blue Snider is a force to be reckoned with.
A rich food snob is turned on to a new kind of meat that requires a virgin to hunt it down. Excellent premise, but there's hardly any execution and it's over before you know it. I could have watched 5 to 10 more minutes of this, allowing for tension to build. As it stands, the tension is dropped on you, but the movie ends quickly after so it is all for naught. There are some great ideas here, though, and I’d be curious to see what this team comes up with next with a bigger budget and longer running time.
A powerful guest is arriving at an elite hotel. Everything must be perfect from the drapes along the windows to the bed linens to the chains above the bed. It is a full moon after all. This is a charming little monster blast with a lot of heart at its core and a slick exterior. Every shot is beautiful. This one is a treat for creature feature fans, even if it is just a tiny bite!
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