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High Tension (Unrated DVD)

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What more can be said about this film? For the true horror fan, this is far from a new release. Due in part to tremendous word of mouth, most of us had already tracked down our copy of Haute Tension on foreign import DVD way before this film made its way Stateside.

For those unfamiliar with the story, High Tension follows the exploits of two college girls on their way to visit one of their families. What starts out as a pleasant road trip quickly turns into a violent orgy, and for that I say AMEN! The groundwork of High Tension is very familiar. It’s a story we’ve seen countless times. This time, however, it is done more than right! This is one film that lives up to its name. The tension is almost suffocating! It serves as a competent throwback to the golden age of the slasher film.

Until . . .

The twist. Can someone please tell me why there always has to be a twist ending nowadays? Sometimes twists can be cool, but in High Tension‘s case it is completely implausible, incoherent, and outright senseless. Everything was moving along at a breakneck pace for near eighty minutes until all the life is just seemingly sucked out of the experience. “Sucked” being the operative word. Sometimes I wish it just would have ended at the eighty-minute mark. This is just my opinion though. There are those that loved the twist. But, then again, there were also those that thought New Coke was a good idea too. Let’s move on!

It’s impossible to talk about this film without giving a nod to the F/X genius of the great Giannetto De Rossi. This man can do splatter with the best of them. He’s a living legend in the world of gore and F/X, and he has earned that title time and time again. During High Tension you’re guaranteed to cringe at the liberal use of the red stuff! As always, Giannetto, my hat is off to you!

Enough about the film. It has been dissected numerous times on this website and in our forums. The bottom line is, you’re either going to love the twist, or you’re going to hate it. I’ll leave that up to you to decide. Let’s talk about the disc itself!

Lions Gate has a winner here. Everything you could want from a DVD is included and brimming! One feature of particular interest is Haute Horror: The Making of High Tension, which includes some typical behind-the-scenes stuff, but more fascinating are the interviews with director Alexandre Aja and co-writer Grégory Levasseur. It’s clear that these guys are both passionate and well versed in the genre. Hearing them speak about making a horror film warmed my little black heart. There’s no running away from what they did. There’s no backing down. They aren’t calling it a thriller; they’re actually calling it a horror film! Too many filmmakers nowadays refuse to admit that what they’re making or have made is indeed a horror film. They call them psychological thrillers with supernatural overtones, whatever the hell that means. Kudos to them for embracing the genre!

Also on the disc is a seven-minute featurette with splatter legend Giannetto De Rossi. In it we get some insight as to the difficulties of the F/X and hear some clever anecdotes from the man himself. I swear, someone needs to do a documentary just about this man’s career. I could have listened for hours on end. Speaking of listening, the commentaries on this DVD warrant its purchase by themselves! There’s a feature length one with Aja and Levasseur and also a select scene one with Aja and star Cécile De France.

The bottom line is that whether you’re a fan of the film or just the genre itself, you need this DVD in your collection. Like the twist or not, there’s enough gore in this unrated edition to keep you coming back, and for purists that HATED the dubbing in the theatrical version, the original French track has been ported over as well. Viva L’horreur Francais!

High Tension (2003)
Lions Gate Films
Directed by Alexandre Aja
Starring Cécile De France, Maïwenn Le Besco, Philippe Nahon

Special Features
Audio Commentary – Alexandre Aja and Grégory Levasseur
DVD Introduction with Alexandre Aja and Cécile De France
Selected Scene Commentary with Alexandre Aja and Cécile De France
Haute Horror — Making of High Tension Featurette
Giannetto De Rossi: The Truth, The Madness, and the Magic Featurette
Building Tension Featurette
Trailers


4 out of 5

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The Cured Review – Ellen Page Fights for Her Life

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Starring Ellen Page, Sam Keeley, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, Paula Malcomson

Written and directed by David Freyne


Taking a cue from AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” the new Irish horror film The Cured begins where most zombie stories end. Drawing more comparisons, the themes of mistrust and social upheaval are front and center here as well. We’re the real villains, and the infectious disease turning humans into monsters is only there to hold up a mirror to show the worst sides of ourselves. The Cured uses the zombie mythos as Romero intended as a commentary on culture, with a little cannibalism thrown in for good measure.

Against the backdrop of a military takeover attempting to reintroduce the recently cured back into society, two people try to return to some kind of normalcy in a war-torn Ireland that’s been turned upside down by the zombie menace. Recently widowed, Abbey (Page) allows her now virus-free brother-in-law Senan (Keeley) to live with her and her son, even though most survivors are forced to live in an army encampment. Under constant surveillance, Senan’s old friend Conor (Vaughan-Lawlor) radicalizes the mistreated survivors of the virus into open rebellion.

The treatment of the survivors isn’t entirely unfair considering that they still have a connection and are not detected by a small percentage of the infected that haven’t responded to the cure. As both sides size each other up, Abbey and Senan are caught in the middle as they try to restore their humanity before the powder keg around them erupts.

Given its far out premise, the story stays firmly grounded in reality, focusing on the growing resistance and its political implications, drawing parallels to the protest movements such as the “Black Block” that have dominated some recent news cycles. When the virus divided the population, it was easy to know what side you were on; now, the cure has created a new class structure where the lower class is maligned until they cross the line and overthrow the uninfected. Clearly still affected and haunted by the heinous acts they committed when they were infected, the cannibalistic rage they still carry reflects the rage felt by the mistreated masses hellbent on overthrowing the powers-that-be.

Whether for budget reasons or simply a style choice, the eating frenzies that occurred before the cure are never fully shown so any gore and graphic images that could’ve been showcases for effects are left to the imagination. Maybe they weren’t shown because these acts were so unspeakable that they are too horrific to see and too painful to fully be remembered by the survivors. The top-notch sound design ratchets up instead and roars to life to the point where just hearing the carnage is enough to make you turn away.

Page’s performance is the emotional core of the film as she goes from understanding to fear to dealing with the ultimate betrayal. It’s important for a slow-developing story like this to have an actress with some star power, and director David Freyne and his team were fortunate to have a high caliber actress ready to deliver in some of the film’s quieter, more intense moments. Freyne directs these smaller character moments with care and also delivers once things open up to show the inevitable anarchy brimming under the surface.

The Cured may feel too closed off at times to allow its bigger ideas to fully breathe, but it never pretends to encompass a more epic scope that would be more in the vein of something like World War Z. Without ever addressing it directly, Freyne, as an Irishman, seems well aware of the history of the country; and he and cinematographer Piers McGrail inject their film with a pathos that makes Dublin come to life inside the world of the undead.

  • The Cured
3.5

Summary

The Cured is a gritty take on the genre that fits nicely into the new type of storytelling that these stories need to embrace in a post-Romero world.

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Bad Apples Review – Rotten Fruit, Indeed

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Starring Brea Grant, Graham Skipper, Alycia Lourim

Directed by Brian Coyne


Like a seriously bad rash, some films stick with you regardless of whichever topical ointment you slather in generous fashion over your regions – ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce today’s orbital irritant: Bad Apples.

Directed (rather misdirected) by Brian Coyne, this lamentably sterile piece of celluloid follows a couple of murderous sisters, donning horrific (and not in a good sense) masks, and generally putting the sharp edges to random folk on Halloween night…case closed. Only problem here is this: the film has no pulse, no interesting characters to speak of, and basically nothing to redeem or recapture the time that you’ll have spent watching this complete dud. A husband and wife duo has a spotlight on them as well, but their tempestuous relationship makes rooting for them about as pleasing as sitting through 3 hours of Olympic curling…absolutely brutal. Also, you’re reading the babblings of a guy who loves to put the boots to any film that has been deemed “unwatchable”, but this complete wreck of a production is entirely that – something so remedial and uninspired that to type an endless array of rightful vitriol would be an utter waste of time.

So I’ll go on a bit longer with my public display of vehemence, as the casting seems WAY out of whack, and the production? Whoa…don’t even get me started on this – okay, I’ll go on a bit. With differing levels of sound editing, you’ll get the feeling at times like you could pick up a needle drop inside of a concert hall, and other frames of dialogue are so muddled they’re incomprehensible (not like you’ll feel the need to know what’s going on). Wonky camera angles and following shots are so horrendously captured, you’ll be wishing to watch your Mom and Dad’s old home movies just to gain a sense of stability. I normally pride myself on not begging this particular audience to take what I say to heart, or to shy away from something that could potentially ruin their eyesight, but believe me when I plead with you: do not waste your valuable time on this shipwreck – even if your time isn’t all that valuable: don’t waste it. Find something else to do and take a big ol’ pass on this wannabe slasher.

  • Film
1.5

Summary

I don’t mean to pick on the low-hanging fruit, but these Apples should be batted away with a Louisville Slugger.

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Edge of Isolation Review – A Movie with a Simple Message: Don’t Trust Anyone

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Starring Michael Marcel, Marem Hassler, Alexandra Peters

Directed by Jeff Houkal


Sometimes, relying on the kindness of strangers is the thing that’ll do your gullible asses in – kindness? Strangers? Come on – think about it! Even further proof of said warning comes in the form of director Jeff Houkal’s brutally blatant film, Edge Of Isolation – won’t you come inside and grab a seat? You see! You fell right into another trap – jeezus, people…don’t trust just anyone, will ya?

Set up in a simplistic format, we’ve got a traveling couple (Lance and Kendra) whose Jeep, conveniently enough decides to shit the bed along a desolate stretch of roadway, leaving them at the mercy of the Polifer family, a slightly odd bunch of backwoods residents. This particular clan isn’t exactly wrapped too tightly, and they’re not afraid to let their freak flags fly, that’s for sure. You see, the family has been deeply-rooted in these here woods, and their “hospitality” has kept them fed for quite some time, and with a fresh supply of unsuspecting commuters stopping in at varying spells, their stomachs never truly seem to growl out of sustained hunger…oh, that kindness will bite you in the ass every single waking moment.

As I mentioned earlier, the film is constructed fairly simple, yet effective in its barbarism, and those who dig survivalist-horror will be wringing their mitts in anticipation for this one. While some editing does look a bit hokey, the practical effects more than make up for an at-times bit of strewn-about plot navigation, but who’s keeping score? Certainly not me, that’s for sure. I absolutely revel in low-budgeted films that don’t necessarily have the looks and feels of such, and Edge Of Isolation is one of those presentations that is certainly worth its weight in blood and guts – do yourself a solid and give this one a look when it becomes available to the masses, and for f**k’s sake, don’t take up anyone’s offer to chill at their place when your ride breaks down – get AAA and save your life (the previous statement was in no way affiliated or endorsed by the Triple A Automotive group – just sayin’).

  • Film
3.5

Summary

Edge Of Isolation doesn’t need a full-blown allocation to keep future stranded motorists from losing their heads – all they have to do is push “play.”

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