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Les Gouffres (2013)



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Les Gouffres (2013)Starring Nathalie Boutefeu, Mathieu Amalric, Mario Dragunsky

Directed by Antoine Barraud

Spiritual destinations like the ones found in Sedona, Arizona (to name an American counterpart to the wondrous sinkholes discovered in Antoine Barraud’s Les Gouffres) are said to be a collection of swirling energy vortexes that can and have had a profound affect on weary travelers seeking solace. Scientists travel to these places as well to seek answers, and that is precisely what prompts Mathieu Amalric’s (Quantum Of Solace, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) character Georges in Les Gouffres to risk life and limb to investigate a series of vast, mysterious sinkholes that have just been discovered on the other side of the world.

With this initial setup, the expectation is to follow Georges and his team as they spelunk lower and lower into the depths of the unknown until the unknown comes up to finally introduce itself in whatever form it chooses to take. Instead, the story revolves around Georges’ wife, France (played exquisitely by Nathalie Boutefeu), a seasoned opera singer who agrees to accompany her husband on the expedition while she develops a new take on the classic opera Turandot. The expedition is too dangerous (probably even for the professionals) so she remains at a nearby cabin with an old caretaker and a psychic hippie turned housemaid who has packed up and moved from America just to be closer to the energy emitted by the vortexes.

Fantasia 2013As time passes and France grows more worried, earthquake tremors linked to the sinkholes become more and more frequent and violent. Her fear eventually overtakes her and she journeys down into the vortex in hopes of finding out what has happened to her husband. Instead, in an unsettling and confusing sequence of close-ups, she discovers a group of nearly naked men driven mad by the forces inside the cavern. They guide her down to a lake at the bottom that her husband is said to have crossed; she must decide if she will cross as well. What she eventually discovers is beyond comprehension, making it all the more frightening when she sees that the man she thought she knew isn’t the man he was before he went down into that cave.

Nathalie Boutefeu won Best Actress at this year’s Fantasia Film Festival, and her performance, along with the overall theme of Les Gouffres, is the reason it doesn’t feel like a letdown when Georges’ initial descent is not depicted in the film. France is in her own vortex as well that’s centered around her husband as she spins out of control from the fear of losing him. Her fear replaces the love she has for him, until it becomes too much to bear and she must embark down into the unknown to find him.

For how short of a running time Les Gouffres has, it’s surprising just how much of a psychological impact it makes; yet, it also makes the unexplained conclusion all the more puzzling. Antoine Barraud doesn’t seem to feel the need to justify or flesh out just what exactly happened inside the sinkhole. Is it magical? Since it somehow has only recently been discovered (although its sheer size is enormous), was it unearthed from another plane or dimension?

Again, Boutefeu’s acting chops and her dedication to her character’s growing anxiety turn the desire for a scientific explanation into a metaphor about loss, fear, and co-dependence. Towards the beginning of the film, just before Georges leaves for his adventure, he asks France to gaze into his eyes so he will never forget the face of his lover. In the end, it is France who ends up forgetting his face altogether.

3 1/2 out of 5

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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.

Special Features:

  • 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
  • Eaten Alive!
  • Special Features


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.

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Pyewacket Review – Be Careful What You Wish For



Starring Nicole Muñoz, Laurie Holden, Chloe Rose

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


Pyewacket is a heavy metal cautionary tale.

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SXSW 2018: Hereditary Review – Game-Changing Shocker Will Send Moviegoers Fleeing



Starring Toni Collette, Alex Woolf, Gabriel Byrne, Milly Shapiro, Ann Dowd

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


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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