Draft date: 1997, Written by Stephen King
PLEASE NOTE: This review was written many years ago back on our old site, so some of the info may seem dated as of now.
A few years back, famed horror author Stephen King had the bright idea to release two 500+ page companion novels, mainly to ensure that readers could stand and look between the two scratching their heads while trying to figure out which one to get. For hours at a time. For those less informed, the choice was easy. You see, one of the books was called The Regulators, written under the name Richard Bachman. Those that didn’t know who the hell this was moved right on to the novel with Kings name on it, whereas informed readers knew that Bachman was a pseudonym King wrote under for a while. Apparently, the publishing company thought it’d be a hoot to release a ‘lost’ Bachman book. Regulators did not do well, due in large part because its companion, Desperation, was far superior in story and mood than The Regulators, even though both books featured the same characters. Neither had the same situation or story, however, and some characters’ personalities were completely turned around. Still, most agreed that Desperation was a better book and much more worthy of a big screen adaptation.
When the announcement came recently that Desperation is to be made into a feature length movie I did my usual moaning and groaning when I realize there will be yet another less than adequate King movie coming my way. But this is a little different. For one thing, Mick Garris is slated to direct. This is a monumentally good thing since Garris did the unthinkable and made a pretty damn good version of The Stand, a book no one thought would ever make a good film. He also went on to serve the King on many other adaptations all of which are better then most King movies.
When Daniel and I met with Garris at the Blair Witch Webfest back in 2001, he assured us that the feature-length version of Desperation would pull no punches and stay as faithful to the book as possible. So when we acquired a copy of the script I was very eager to check it out to see if it could live up to my expectations as a movie.
The draft I received is dated 1997 and is written by King. I can only assume it’s gone through many revisions since then, which is not altogether a bad thing.
For those unfamiliar with the book let me give you a quick rundown; the book (as well as the script) begins with two friends in Ohio. One of them is involved in a bad bike accident, and is almost killed. The other is unharmed, and prays to God his friend will be all right, promising to do anything in return for this one favor. Cut to a few years later, far away from the lushness of Ohio, to the unforgiving desert of Nevada. A couple headed to New York are pulled over by a local town cop. All seems fine at first but when a large bag of pot is found the two are promptly thrown into the cruiser and hauled off to the local jail.
And there’s something very wrong with this particular officer of the law.
His skin seems to be having a vicious argument with the rest of his body. It wants to rid itself of its skin, and seems to be winning. He also has a small speech impediment that causes him to say “TAK!” quite a bit. Oh yeah, and he wants to kill them both.
Only one of them makes it to the town jail alive, only to find a strange assortment of imprisoned people, all with similar stories. One is Daniel, the boy mentioned above who’s friend was almost killed, along with his parents and an old man from town. They soon realize there’s no one left alive in this desolate Nevada town, aptly named Desperation, and they must fight for their lives while trying to figure out what this thing is that so desperately needs to keep them alive, but is all too willing to kill whatever gets in its way.
As the script moves on we are introduced to three other characters. There’s Johnny, the hotshot author who’s touring America on his Harley. Johnny’s assistant Steve who’s about 70 miles behind him, driving a Ryder truck used to store the bike, and a hitchhiker he picks up named Cynthia. They all end up in town, but it’s Johnny and the boy Daniel who are the main focus for most of the story.
So there’s your back-story. It’s condensed and spoiler free, just like you like it. So, what did I think?
This being the first script I’ve read, I was surprised at how quickly I became enveloped in the unfolding story. It may have helped that I was familiar with the story to begin with but it’s undeniable that it sucks you in pretty quickly. From the first scene to the last, you are almost endlessly pelted with gore of some sort, be it the cop, Collie, who slowly disintegrates for most of the first act, to rooms full of dead and rotting bodies. This aspect of the script is great for a fan like myself because the book is full of images just like this and it’s good to see that, at least in this draft, most of the original horrific content is maintained. More importantly, however, is the action.
If this movie gets done the way the script reads, it’s going to be full of action almost all the way through. I’m interested in seeing the camera work that will be needed to keep these shots interesting and fast paced. Garris has worked on full-length movies, but most of his resume is television, which has it’s own limitations on creative content, and generally lacks the same cinematic feel as a motion picture. I’m confident in his abilities to keep the story moving but the film is going to need a great cinematographer to live up to what’s on these pages. There are wide, sweeping shots of the desert, streets lined with coyotes at parade rest, and detailed descriptions of scenes of the China Pit, the mine where most of the evil is centered. It would be a shame to see some of these scenes filmed with conventional methods.
The characterization is full and textured for those at the forefront of the story. We get some deep insight into Johnny and Daniel’s personas, and Steve (along with his hitchhiking friend Cynthia) has some good scenes where he’s given more depth, but not enough to slow the story down. One thing that’s quite noticeable is the way most of the other characters are ignored, which could make for some debate as to the validity of their presence in the final draft. I can imagine studio execs getting rid of some of the lesser-developed characters pretty quickly, which could serve to severely taint the final product. Hopefully in later drafts these people will be given a little more to do or say, if for nothing else but to keep the whole tale intact.
There are a few points I feel should be changed to keep the pace of the story up. The history of the China Pit is examined in close detail but it all takes place in the second act causing some of the speed with which the story is progressing to lessen. However, if the film is kept close to the script I’ve read, it may be almost necessary for the story to slow down at this point, so as not to over load the audience. The first time I read it I didn’t like the second act at all and felt most of it should be put at the very beginning of the film. Upon my second reading I realized that it does serve it’s purpose, but it will only do this if it’s pulled off with the right amount of tension and mounting fear.
Now for the main issue I had with this script, and to a lesser degree with the book as well.
Daniel is a very special kid, and he seems throughout to have a close report with the Almighty. There are many references to biblical situations, not said outright but very much implied, that some people could take issue with. I personally did not find it offensive or problematic to the story since it’s a very straightforward Good vs. Evil story. What I think will be the issue is that Hollywood, when making horror movies at least, tends to shy away from the entire question of the existence of God. You will come out of Desperation(if it’s made as-is) believing that God helped them out of these horrible situations. Not some “greater power” or human will, though that does help, but God, the big guy himself. This could be a bitter pill for some people to swallow, and it worries me that the studio behind it may try to tone down all references to Him in order to try and fend off any controversy. It’s hard to tell though. He’s portrayed as a very cruel God, and his actions are left for us to figure out for ourselves, which I think most studios don’t want to deal with when it comes to horror films. Desperation is very much a horror movie, there’s no doubt about that, and I feel any attempt to tone down or remove anything major from the script could do no good for it in the end.
Ultimately, it comes down to how much sway King has in Hollywood. If he’s able to insist that the script keep elements some could find offensive (be it the gore factor or the many religious undertones) this could end up being one of his first straightforward horror film adaptations that doesn’t let down his die hard fans. I’m not saying it’s going to change the face of horror or win much critical acclaim, but it could certainly end up being a movie horror fans come to treasure as a rare treat from the master of the craft.
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Eaten Alive! Blu-ray Review – The Jungle Retreat Where You’re What They Eat!
Starring Janet Agren, Robert Kerman, Me Me Lai, Ivan Rassimov
Directed by Umberto Lenzi
Distributed by Severin Films
Having just spent the past couple of weeks slowly listening to and digesting a five-part series on Jim Jones as heard on “Last Podcast on the Left” (which I highly recommend for fans of true crime and gallows humor), it was fascinating to watch a depraved slice of sleaze cinema combine elements of real-world tragedy with visceral, gory, and downright offensive horror. Think of Umberto Lenzi’s Eaten Alive! (1980) as the less-celebrated-but-still-accomplished brother to Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust (1980), and despite both being released the same year Lenzi got his project in front of cameras first. The exclamation point in the title is more of a warning than excitement because, yes, many things are eaten alive in this film: men, women – and animals. If the animal cruelty of Cannibal Holocaust causes bile to bubble in your gut then my advice would be to stay far away from Eaten Alive! because it ups the ante and then some. Lenzi goes straight for the jugular, spraying his feature with a geyser of gore and a buffet of body parts to ensure every viewer is thoroughly disturbed by the time those unexpectedly jazzy end credits start rolling.
After a mysterious South American blow-dart killer is run down on the streets of New York, the NYPD brings in Sheila (Janet Agren), whose sister, Diana (Paola Senatore), has gone missing in the jungles of South America. After viewing video of Diana involved in some unorthodox ritual Sheila hires Mark (Robert Kerman), a military deserter, to fly her down to New Guinea in hopes of rescuing her brainwashed sis. The jungles of South America are less hospitable than either of them had expected; the food chain is on full display as animals are routinely shown feasting on each other. Sheila and Mark stumble upon a group of cannibals eating a girl, cutting slices of meat from her breast and snacking on them like beef jerky. Titty jerky? They are “rescued” by Jonas Melvin (Ivan Rassimov), a Jim Jones-type cult leader who has a compound nestled deep within the jungle. Here, his followers perform manual labor and maintain the camp, and in return they receive frequent physical and sexual assault. It’s… not a great trade-off.
Sheila is desperate to get her sister to leave this questionable cult, but even once Diana comes around there’s the little problem of getting past armed guards, hungry jungle creatures, and that cannibal clan. Jonas, meanwhile, indoctrinates Sheila into the group via a ritual involving a large wooden dildo coated with snake blood. Another girl held at the compound, Mowara (Me Me Lai), is also tired of the daily rapes and so the three women, along with Mark, escape into the jungle in hopes of getting back to civilization in one piece. Unfortunately, those hungry, hungry cannibals catch up with a couple of them first and, well, the climax lives up to the film’s name and then some.
Although this feature was shot before Cannibal Holocaust, Lenzi actually used some footage from Deodato’s Jungle Holocaust (1977) here, not that anyone could notice. Eaten Alive! plays less like a full feature and more like some sick clip show, with a heinous act shown on screen every few minutes, lest the audience wise up and realize the plotting is skeletal at best. Lenzi capitalized not only on the current Italian cannibal craze but also the still-fresh memory of Jonestown and the largest mass suicide in history which is, of course, recreated here – and you know a film is chock full o’ sickness when a mass suicide is the least shocking thing seen on the screen. Seeing a few hundred people down some Flavor-Aid (it wasn’t Kool-Aid, people) pales in comparison to watching a woman have her breast cut off and munched on while another girl nearby has strips of flesh cut from her body and eaten in the same casual manner one might eat an orange. Don’t fret, ladies, because the guys get it bad, too; it wouldn’t be a proper cannibal film if someone didn’t have their dick chopped off. If there’s one thing Italian FX teams routinely nailed back in the ‘70s and ‘80s it was gore, and the work seen here is ooey and gooey and dripping crimson.
I could have done without all the animal death, though. The majority of these scenes are animal-on-animal action, reminding viewers nature is metal and savage and these things are a daily occurrence. But then, seeing these “natives” skin a living alligator more than once feels gratuitous. I could maybe understand if these scenes played some part in the overall narrative but they’re more like the porno scenes in Thriller: A Cruel Picture (1973), i.e. out of place and spliced in for maximum effect. This is a movie where a Jim Jones wannabe rapes a restrained woman with a snake-blood-covered wooden dildo – does it need any help in the depravity department?
The one thing that makes these Italian cannibal “classicks” stand apart from one another is the scoring. Cannibal Holocaust is the sickest film with the most beautiful music, courtesy of the legendary Riz Ortolani. Eaten Alive! is no slouch in that department either thanks to composers Roberto Donati & Fiamma Maglione’s funky, jazzy score that at times feels completely incongruous with the action on screen. The duo is credited under one pseudonym, Buddy Maglione. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn this feature was scored “cold”, with little regard given to how it would marry with the on-screen action. In one unintentionally hilarious moment at the end a close-up shot of a child, the only survivor of the Flavor-Aid cyanide suicide, quickly cuts the NYC skyline as Maglione’s upbeat theme begins to blast. A somber moment of reflection turns to near-comedy in an instant.
Here’s the thing, as abhorrent as virtually everything seen here is… I had a damn fun time with this one. You can’t possibly take any of this shit seriously. Eaten Alive! runs wild, packing so many mondo moments into its running time that viewers who aren’t too squeamish are going to be glued to the screen, wondering what wildness will be unleashed next. It’s like Lenzi directed under a mandate that every scene must feature dismemberment, cannibalism, boobs, animal cruelty – or all of the above. Seeing cannibal circuit stalwarts like Robert Kerman and Me Me Lai adds a nice touch of familiarity to the film, while Rassimov brings a brand of craziness to his Jonas that only a real-life inspiration such as Jim Jones could provide. This is a wild ride through rough terrain. Buckle up.
Severin touts Eaten Alive! as being “fully remastered for HD”, though it is clear the 1.66:1 1080p image still needs a bit of work. Expect to see plenty of white flecks, emulsion scratches, minor damage, and variations in color saturation and film grain but, I have to be honest here, that’s how I want to see a film like this. Color values fluctuate at times but the overall palette is strongly saturated and pleasing enough. The upgrade to HD has tightened up the image well enough that definition in objects and people is evident, revealing fine detail and looking more true to life. Black levels appeared dark and stable.
Audio is available in three varieties: English, Italian, and Spanish, all with a DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono track. I always opt for a dub on these Italian schlockers and the presentation here is crisp, with dialogue intelligible and clear at all times. There is some minor hissing on the high-end register but nothing distracting. Maglione’s score is delivered with excellent fidelity and depth. Subtitles are available in English and Italian.
“Welcome to the Jungle: Interview with Director Umberto Lenzi” is a new chat in which he discusses the state of cannibal films at the time, challenges during production, and more about the production history.
“Me Me Lai Bites Back: Feature Documentary on the Queen of Cannibal Movies” is a piece that runs for over an hour, with Lai discussing her oeuvre, what she’s been up to all these years, her legacy, and so much more fans will want to hear.
“The Sect of Purification: Interview with Production Designer Antonello Geleng” focuses on how Geleng was able to achieve the vision Lenzi had sought, even with most of the production taking place in a jungle clearly made by nature.
“Archive Interview with Actors Ivan Rassimov & Robert Kerman” features both leads briefly talking about their time on the production.
“2013 Q&A with Umberto Lenzi from the Festival of Fantastic Films, UK” and the film’s trailer are also included.
- NEW 2K REMASTER of the film presented for the first time ever
- Welcome To The Jungle: Interview With Director Umberto Lenzi
- Me Me Lai Bites Back: Feature Documentary On The Queen Of Cannibal Movies
- The Sect of The Purification: Interview With Production Designer Antonello Geleng
- Archive Interviews With Actors Ivan Rassimov and Robert Kerman
- 2013 Q&A With Umberto Lenzi from the Festival of Fantastic Films, UK
There is no false advertising with a title like Eaten Alive! and Lenzi does his damnedest to make viewers lose their lunch. Definitely for fans of distasteful and detestable cannibal crusades, this release from Severin is a bloody blast from start to finish.
Pyewacket Review – Be Careful What You Wish For
Written and directed by Adam MacDonald
Part family drama and part supernatural horror, Adam MacDonald’s second feature, Pyewacket, shows what happens when a morbid curiosity with the occult becomes a terrifying pact that can’t be undone. After MacDonald’s last film, Backcountry, based on a true story of a brutal bear attack, warned us not to go into the woods, the director returns to the great outdoors to introduce us to an even greater force of nature: demons. Mixed with a dab of heavy metal teen angst along with a healthy dose of disenfranchised youth, Pyewacket keeps adding ingredients to form a dangerous potion that eventually conjures up an unthinkable evil.
Irrevocably damaged from the death of her father, Leah (Muñoz) finds solace in death metal and spell books as she tries to cope with her grief and deal with her inconsolable mother (Holden), who’s quickly becoming more and more abusive as the lonely nights begin to take their toll. When Mom suddenly uproots them upstate to a remote cabin to get her away from the bad crowd she’s fallen in with, Leah rashly decides to run into the woods to perform an evocation spell in hopes that the Pyewacket witch will do away with her mother. Unfortunately, even after the two make up the next day, it’s too late to put the lid back on and close the portal that Leah has just opened.
Once the inevitability of doom sets in, MacDonald slowly ratchets up the feeling of dread through Leah’s gradual realization that something is lurking just out of frame or crawling around outside in the pitch black night. Of course, she could be letting her imagination get the better of her; but something is telling her (and us) that she may have, in fact, awakened something blackhearted and ancient. Through Leah’s increased paranoia of what’s to come, there’s a palpable sense of evil that MacDonald and Muñoz create through his direction and her increasingly unhinged performance.
The real standout here is Laurie Holden, who changes from a grieving widow to an abusive, calculating mother with such effectiveness that it’s easy to understand why her daughter wants to get her out of the picture. Then, in other more sensitive scenes, she’s loving and affectionate, giving a glimpse of who she was before the tragedy and how much healthier their old relationship used to be. It’s in the third act, however, when Holden is surprisingly frightening in some bone-chilling scenes where she’s more witch than mother.
Speaking of the witch (and yes, you will come face-to-face with one), the cat-like contortions of dancer Bianca Melchior give life to Pyewacket. Her slinky moves and the way MacDonald films her are absolutely inspired by the spirits of J-horror classics like The Grudge but still feel vibrant and fit into this particular story. There’s a subtle build to the final scenes, and the witch never steps out of line with the pace that’s been established already; she’s menacing but never over-the-top.
Whether it’s a tumultuous family relationship or seeing a group of Goth kids trying to cope with high school, there’s a lot to relate to here if you were a troubled kid or just an outsider growing up. What’s most compelling about Pyewacket is how it walks right up to the line of what’s acceptable behavior when dealing with loss and then shows you the worse case scenario of what can happen when you step way over that line. It’s better to keep putting patches on your battle jacket instead of thinking you can pick a fight with something you can never defeat. The last moments of Pyewacket are unapologetically dark; but, then again, a happy ending isn’t very metal, is it?
Pyewacket is out TODAY in select theaters, on VOD, and via Digital platforms in the U.S.
Pyewacket is a heavy metal cautionary tale.
SXSW 2018: Hereditary Review – Game-Changing Shocker Will Send Moviegoers Fleeing
Written and directed by Ari Aster
While what I consider to be “the best horror film of all time” depends on my current mood or company, I can state with confidence that Hereditary is the scariest movie I’ve ever seen. For context, I previously considered The Exorcist, Paranormal Activity, and The Conjuring to be the ultimate trifecta of fear; and Hereditary tops them all. But unlike those examples, whose power and impact are dependent on the supernatural, you could remove all genre trappings from Hereditary, and it would still be a devastating experience—one most mainstream moviegoers are ill-equipped to endure.
While the (potentially) paranormal elements are slow to emerge, there’s a scene in the first act that I predict will send even hardened horror fans fleeing. It’s a soul-crushing, trauma-inducing scenario with visceral imagery to match, an emotional and visual assault that hits like a sucker punch with PTSD-triggering potential. Those who can endure the ride to its conclusion will simply be able to refer to “that scene” for immediate recall.
The woman to my left drew her knees up to her chest and put her hands over her face; the gentleman to my right unconsciously uttered, “Oh my God… Oh my God… Oh my God…”
As indelible as this moment is, however, first-time director Ari Aster manages to deliver additional moments of equal intensity—liberally.
Hereditary, as the name implies, examines the inescapable horror of our own DNA; just as someone born to parents afflicted with schizophrenia may find himself susceptible, members of the Graham family are literally cursed by coding embedded on a cellular level. This is illustrated in the genetic disabilities and food allergies of 14-year-old Charlie Graham (Milly Shapiro). Similarly, Annie Graham (Toni Collette) is often emotionally abusive towards her son, Peter (Alex Wolff), and husband, Steve (Gabriel Byrne); but character development reveals she is (probably unconsciously) continuing the cycle of her own abuse.
Family dysfunction hits oppressively palpable levels of intensity, making any uncomfortable holiday gathering you or I have ever experienced seem mild by contrast. It’s easy to believe a mother loves her children unconditionally, but Hereditary convinces us a parent can hate her offspring too—a crippling revelation that wouldn’t carry such devastating weight without Collette’s Oscar-caliber performance. Inescapable tragedies often bring families together where healing begins through expressions of shared grief. The events that plague the Grahams, however, pit parent against child and husband against wife until the unit becomes an archipelago of waring islands, each threatening to obliterate the other. All of this before the lurking supernatural undertones are even identified or named.
Hereditary is a game-changer, something many horror fans will consider instantly canonical. You may have already read Ben Larned’s review from Sundance last January, but this isn’t a film that can be encapsulated by a single 1,000-word recap. Plus, Hereditary’s emphasis on family dysfunction means viewer experiences may differ greatly depending on personal histories. It’s the kind of film worthy of an entire college course, where its numerous subtexts can be dissected and analyzed with a multitude of creative and academic insights. Like shapes that emerge from the darkness once our eyes adjust, the film’s intricacies will reveal themselves to those who look deeply into its darkest corners. Eighty years from now, we’ll be discussing Hereditary in the same breath as Martyrs, The Witch, The Exorcist, and The Shining.
And speaking of Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 horror classic, many viewers and reviewers have already made connections and noted The Shining’s influence on Hereditary. And while there are echoes, Aster isn’t as enamored by the seminal film as many believe. “I thought The Shining was a comedy,” he told Elijah Wood, who moderated the post-screening Q&A at SXSW. “You could tell that guy wanted to kill his family the moment you see them in the car together!” This doesn’t undermine Kubrick’s achievement; rather, it’s proof there’s more than one formula for absolute horror. Aster and Kubrick may have arrived at the same destination, but they took different routes—indeed, they used different maps.
In addition to presenting a family whose suffering is legendary, Aster has adorned the supernatural portions of Hereditary with a vast and unique mythology horror fans will adore. Prepare to meet a brand-new defiler, an entity who could find peers among the likes of Pazuzu, Sinister’s Bughuul (aka Mr. Boogie), and The Conjuring franchise’s Bathsheba and Valak. Hereditary is punctuated with powerful imagery also destined for iconography: The miniature houses, the treehouse (itself a miniature), the dolls constructed from knick-knacks and dead animals, and a sketchbook filled with scrawlings both innocent and ghostly are just a few examples.
Hereditary isn’t a date movie—or a movie for anyone looking for uninterrupted sleep and/or a mind free from unshakable depression. Even I felt pushed close to my limit, and, unlike most movies, my recall remains crystalized (a testament to the film’s ability to impact its audience, like an imprint of actual trauma). Still, I already know I’ll revisit Hereditary again—and again. The film has transformed me, and whether its influence will be overt or subtle, the horror genre will never be the same. A new gauntlet has been cast.
Hereditary is the movie horror fans have been begging for. The irony, of course, is that many genre fans won’t be able to handle it. Be careful what you ask for because this movie will change you.
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