Texas Killing Fields (2011)

texas1

Directed by: Ami Canaan Mann

I’m continuing the Texan theme with ‘Texas Killing Fields’, a moody crime thriller directed by Michael Mann’s daughter Ami. It received a lukewarm reception from critics and made no dent whatsoever at the box office when it was first released on a limited run, but I can’t help but feel that it is an underrated gem of a movie that deserves a little more attention than it got.

Interstate 45 is a stretch of highway that connects Houston to Dallas. There’s a corridor between Houston and Galveston known as the killing fields, there’s been at least forty women and young girls who’ve been found dead in the area, these cold cases stretch back decades and have baffled local Police and the FBI. The area is remote, almost uninhabitable, the kind of place where nobody would notice anything out of the ordinary.

‘Texas Killing Fields’ focusses on the good cop bad cop relationship between the twitchy and volatile Detective Mike Souder (Sam Worthington) and the placid empathic family man Deterctive Brian Haigh (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). The partners are approached by Detective Pam Stall (Jessica Chastain) who is investigating the disappearance of a young woman a little way outside of their jurisdiction. Stall and Souder used to be in a relationship, so Souder is understandably a little reluctant to work with his ex.

Detective Haigh develops a bond with a local girl called Little Anne Sliger (Chloë Grace Moretz), who is raised in a white trash hell hole. He seems especially concerned about her wellbeing in light of the recent murder of a young girl similar in age and appearance. I’m not sure if it is because I am fascinated with white trash America but the most interesting characters in the film are the Sliger family. An alcoholic prostitute mother lives with her children and a selection of weird ‘boyfriends’ including Rhino played wonderfully by Stephen Graham who’s recently been excelling in ‘Boardwalk Empire’ as Al Capone. Despite his diminutive stature Graham is always an incredibly sinister screen presence, and though he has limited time to shine he, as always, is fascinating to watch.

I think the incoherence and confusion of the uneven script somehow works in the favour of the film, given the illogical nature of these murders, and that the creeps and freaks who exist in small town Texas operate outside of any kind of normal structure. As the detectives get further embroiled into the case they get caught in a frenzy of frustration and futility, as dead ends and poor leads mean they find themselves wandering into the fields, a lawless and unforgiving place.

A comparison to ‘Texas Killing Fields’ comes in the shape of David Fincher’s much superior ‘Zodiac’, where the investigators find themselves on a wild goose chase, and whenever they make a breakthrough or think they’re close to cracking the case something goes horribly wrong and the opportunity falls through their fingertips. The similarities also come in the murkiness of the lighting; darkness is used to great effect, creating an unnerving cinematic experience.

– RJW
7/10

Texas Killing Fields on IMDB

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Six Stages of Hell – ‘The Stars Collection’ Part 1: Return to Cabin by the Lake (2001)

return

Directed by: Po-Chih Leong

6 Movies – 1 Box – 3 Double sided discs. Six rather randomly selected films. I mean, you’d assume that these films would be part of the same genre, or share at least some similarity, but instead the connection is rather vague. Given the title of the collection refers to ‘The Stars’, the suggestion is that these films showcase the cream of Hollywood acting talent. Considering the films feature Judd Nelson, Phil Collins, Matt LeBlanc, Bob Hoskins, Christopher Eccleston and Marc Warren, you could make an argument about the level of star quality. The first film I’m covering from The Stars Collection is ‘Return to Cabin by the Lake’, the long awaited (ha!) sequel to ‘Cabin by the Lake’.

I have not seen ‘Cabin by the Lake’, but essentially the sequel is a similar story to ‘Scream 3’, a film within a film, as Hollywood looks to cash in on a real life tragedy by filming at the site of the original murders, reopening several old wounds in the process. The opening scene could almost be taken from one of those late night softcore channel 5 films that usually starred Gene Simmons wife. Laura and Alan are talking about the dilemma between money and art in Hollywood screenwriting on a boat. Laura compliments Alan, and loves how he writes his characters, because you never knew who they were or what they were thinking.

Alan then bounds Laura in vines, and if a new viewer arrived at this point they’d wonder if it was a XXX parody of Batman & Robin. He reveals himself to be Stanley Caldwell and throws Laura into the lake. She struggles to the surface, and then we see that the vines are rooted to a heavy stone plant pot, Alan throws the pot overboard and it anchors Laura down to the bottom, where she drowns. Elaborate way of killing someone, I must say, the kind of way only a frustrated brewing psychopath at Homebase might think up as he plots against his employers for sticking him outside with hundreds of fence panels and polystyrene trays of chrysanthemums.

The film then moves onto the set of ‘Cabin in the Woods’, the director is flamboyant and egocentric, a sensible looking brunette named Alison is rewriting the script, the cast are a bunch of dizzy airheads and there is a lot of tension on set. A strange bearded guy who looks like a hillbilly Rob Zombie is milling around, getting in everyone’s way. Again, it is the master of disguise Stanley Caldwell, doing a bit of reconnaissance. What happens next is predictably sinister, Caldwell picks up an actor called JC Reddick, nephew of a rich uncle financing the film, he drugs Reddick, bumps him off and assumes his identity. As JC, Caldwell is able to take over the film, dealing with those who get in his way, one by one.

I think my favourite scene in the film is the cabin showdown between Alison and Caldwell. Caldwell finds himself in a bathtub; Alison is armed with a hairdryer, pointing it as if it is a Walther PPK. Caldwell says to Alison “You have the power now”; Alison then throws the hairdryer into the bathwater and electrocutes Caldwell. The special effects budget then goes into overdrive as blinding blue shock waves flash brightly.

Judd Nelson is sullen, and devoid of emotion in his portrayal of Stanley Caldwell, and it seems his emotional range hasn’t developed much since the days when he was bad boy John Bender in ‘The Breakfast Club’. Though Nelson has already played a serial killer before in the film ‘Relentless’…

if you’ve seen that film then you’d say that he’s merely replicating that performance, cold, calculating, emotionless…. and shockingly one dimensional.

‘Return to Cabin by the Lake’ is a poor TV movie, sprinkled with a few notable sporadic funny moments that acknowledge its faults.

– RJW
4/10

Return to Cabin by the Lake on IMDB
Buy Return To Cabin By The Lake [DVD]

The Cell (2000)

thecell

Directed by Tarsem Singh

I was talking about ‘The Cell’ to a colleague at work, it seems my self-censor switch was off at the time and I described in great detail the scene where Vincent D’Onorfio is suspended on meat hooks and masturbates over a bleach sodden naked female corpse. After I said this he looked at me strangely, and seemed a bit concerned. I hoped nobody overheard the conversation as we walked through the Menswear department of a well-respected High Street Department Store.

‘The Cell’ is one of those millennial future teasing films which potentially could have been great; there are several intriguing concepts, some amazing visual sequences and Vincent D’Onorfio is terrifying, at least until he suffers some kind of seizure and falls into a coma, which allows J. Lo to connect to his warped mind. She connects with coma patients by putting a micro chipped flannel over her face, whilst wearing a tight fitting skin suit that makes her look like the ‘How My Body Works’ model.

Tarsem Singh creates some majestic dream sequences, that are visually indelible, yet the film ends up as being the epitome of style over substance; which is a shame because Vincent D’Onofrio is chilling as Carl Stargher, the deranged sexual predator and serial killer, and J. Lo puts in a solid shift as the intrepid social worker Catherine Deane. Though D’Onofrio looks a lot like Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler, his creepy mannerisms and perverted sexual behaviour make him an intimidating on screen presence on par with Michael Rooker in ‘Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer’.

Where does it go wrong? Well, things fall apart when D’Onorfio is comatose. Although he is scary in his ‘dream world’, adopting this sinister demonic persona, he’s not a threat as such to J. Lo the dream explorer because obviously dreams aren’t reality. Sorry, even in a Science Fiction Thriller I refuse to suspend my disbelief. In my humble opinion it would have made more sense to have the FBI Agents find a comatose survivor, who had somehow not been murdered by D’Onorfio and had J. Lo enter the mind of that survivor in order to get to capture D’Onorfio, who would still be out and about raising hell with his albino dog.

Yet, that’s not what we have, so we will have to make do with a menacing serial killer, who whilst in a comatose state is no risk to anybody. Instead FBI Agent Novak (Vince Vaughn) and Catherine are teamed together (despite having no chemistry) to try and save the life of a survivor trapped within a cell, in a water tower situated somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Vaughn really does struggle outside of his usual nice guy / buddy comedy acting persona, when he’s acting serious he comes across as awkward and unintentionally hammy. He’s pretty much a hapless bystander for most of the film, and when he does get involved he usually makes a pig’s ear of things, such as getting his small intestine removed in the dream world and the anti-climactic final scene when he almost gets hit by the ricochet from a shot he fired.

The imagery in ‘The Cell’ is like a glossier version of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s work, disturbing, arresting and at times weirdly beautiful. This compliments Tarsem Singh, who has since gone on to make some indulgent and largely forgettable films. Again, and I refer mostly to Singh’s 2011 film ‘Immortals’ when I say this, the ingredients are there – good acting performances, impressive visuals and an interesting story, but he seems unable to put everything together.

I’m quite fond of ‘The Cell’, and though it resembles a bizarre mash-up of Marilyn Manson and Lady Gaga Music Videos in places (Singh has acknowledged the influence of Manson’s video director’s Floria Sigismondi), there is in essence a decent film, perhaps let down by its director’s boundless vision, as story is sacrificed for a succession of visually striking scenes.

– RJW
6/10

The Cell on IMDB
Buy The Cell [DVD] [2000]

Youtube Film Club: Sleepaway Camp (1983)

First up, don’t say I never give you anything:

Available in its entirety on Youtube, so go and watch it. Don’t worry, the rest of us will wait right here for you. I guess I’m going to have to spoil the heck out of this film, so it’s best if we’re all on the same page.

We start off with a little bit of jumping around in time. Or maybe the editor quit and no-one else could figure out how to use the machine. Camp Arawak, “Up For Sale”. Straight away, the film puts us on the back foot – given that it’s open at the beginning of the film, and open at the end, when chronologically does that “for sale” sign happen? But I can’t dwell on this! There’s so much film to talk about!

It’s a happy summer’s day, and there’s a family out in a small boat, a couple of kids towing their waterskiiing friend in a speedboat, and various assorted kids in the background. So far, so beautiful. But…if you want to blame anyone for the carnage that follows, blame the idiot girl who demands that her boyfriend lets her pilot the boat. He gives in, and almost immediately everything goes to crap – while they’re switching over, the family have capsized their little boat, and are laughing and joking about…then another man wanders over to the shore and, calmly, asks the family to hurry up, as they’re going to miss some meeting or other. Now, I’d like to think I’d express some emotion if my friend and his two kids had just capsized, even if it were just to say “would you like a hand?” But our man is remarkably stoic, which is good because, apart from ten seconds later on in the film, it’s the last we’ll ever see of him.

Anyway, the dad dies, and the two kids, who are apparently cousins (I couldn’t be bothered to find out why) are sent to live with someone who the boy, Ricky, calls “Mum” but the girl, Angela, doesn’t call anything at all. The mum is an extra-creepy overactor in the same fashion as that woman from “Troll 2” – you know the one:

I don’t want to say I have a type, but call me

They look a bit similar too. So, this unbelievably odd woman packs them off to summer camp, and after a terrible, stilted exchange, we’re at…Camp Arawak! The camera pans across buses and buses full of kids running towards the camp, full of…excitement? But the problem is, the looks on their faces and their screams make it sound like they’re running away from something very bad, not towards something good. If it was a better film, I’d be all “that’s a nice bit of foreshadowing”,but as it’s this I did not. We’re introduced to the camp counsellors and the camp workers…one of them is the worst paedophile I think we’ve ever seen on film, just openly in front of all the others talking about the fresh meat and how they can’t be too young. Rather than, I don’t know, chasing him down the street with sticks, or calling the police, they just laugh it off and go about their day. WHAT THE HELL?

I’ll try and give you a flavour of the film through the next half hour or so. One of the camp counsellors, an angry young woman, tells the rest of the kids her name is “Meg – spelled M – E – G”. How else would you spell it?…the paedophile gets a pot of boiling water over his entire body…and then the first actual murder, an idiot camp counsellor who’s been horrible to everyone, especially including Ricky and Angela. He goes inside an upturned boat and calls out to the woman he was just sexually harrassing, who’d left the lake minutes before, and never comes out. Who is the murderer, we people with head injuries who are unable to see the bloody obvious say?

The police turn up to take the body away, and the boss of the camp manages to cover it up, convincing the police it was an accident. Now, this is a problem I have with so many horror films (and one I hoped that “Scream” and its ilk had killed off forever but keeps showing up, in films like Piranha 3DD) – the people in a film acting as if their universe doesn’t have any horror films in it. When you’re at a summer camp, or a hotel, or any other enclosed space where murders are happening, CLOSE IT DOWN! There are going to be more! Also, in a notoriously litigious country such as the USA, I’d think all it’d take would be some parent suing the summer camp for keeping it open after they knew everyone was in mortal danger, and people would be paying up millions of dollars and doing some serious time.

The third death is someone getting rather gruesomely stung by a bees nest, and in the aftermath of this we reveal that this camp pretty much employs one decent Guido-type, one decent woman and a ton of psychopaths. If you were a lazy antisocial idiot, would you go and work at a summer camp? At the same time, Angela has got herself a little boyfriend, a scrawny type who seems nice enough, until he sneaks up on her and does the “hands over the eyes, guess who?” thing for the second time. Now, I’m no bleeding heart, but if there’s just been a murder, you’d have to be some massive bell-end to sneak up on an emotionally traumatised young girl.

This triggers a flashback, which is when the creepiness of the film kicks into high gear and we enter the endgame. It appears that Dad and his business partner were actually gay! This is shown by the two kids giggling behind a door while the two men lay in bed, staring into each other’s eyes (it’s obvious they didn’t pay the men enough to kiss or even get their heads fairly close together).

The camp owner finally realises, when he only has 25 kids left (it seems some of the parents were sensible enough to come and get their offspring from Camp Murder), that it might be a good time to shut up shop, but not until they’ve done their normal evening’s activities, including a social event in the main hall and a bunch of kids going camping. We reveal that there’s 10 counsellors still there, which seems like over-employment for the 25. But anyway! The bitchiest of the remaining counsellors gets stabbed through a wall, left in the shower she was in for about an hour, then falls out conveniently when someone goes looking for her. I’ve often wondered about those corpses that stay upright for extended periods of time…well, of course I haven’t, this film is just stupid.

Kids are dropping like flies now. Four of the camping kids are butchered in their sleeping bags, and for those people who’ve been living on another planet and don’t understand how human drama works, the killer is revealed. It’s Angela! But, there’s a twist in this…tale…we get another flashback, to the newly orphaned Angela going to live with her Aunt…the woman, upset at her husband being dead and / or gay (I’m not sure which one was which’s father, to be honest), wants no truck with men, and ANGELA IS ACTUALLY A LITTLE BOY!!!! The woman decides to raise Angela as a girl…I didn’t see that one coming, so kudos to you, movie. She’s found at the dockside, screaming demonically, naked, covered in blood, with her face superimposed on a teenage boy’s body. Yikes!

A girl with something extra

There’s an extra bonus for us all, though, the unbelievably creepy end credits music. A gentleman by the name of Frankie Vinci was employed to write some songs for this movie, and one of them is now being played. Because I think you might not believe me, here’s a link to the actual lyrics of this song:

http://www.lyricsmania.com/angelas_theme_youre_just_what_ive_been_looking_for_lyrics_frankie_vinci.html

Knowing the sort of girl Angela actually is, and given the fact “she” is maybe 14 or 15, what do you think of this adult man singing lines like

“You’re just what I’ve been looking for
No other boy can love you more
You’re the only girl I adore
You’re just what I’ve been looking for”

???

Well, I’ll still give this film a hearty recommendation. It’s bonkers, doesn’t slow down enough to be boring, and is well worth a watch, given it’s free. Enjoy!

Sleepaway Camp on IMDB
Buy Sleepaway Camp Trilogy [1983] [DVD]

Tony (2009)

Directed by: Gerard Johnson

Since the beginning of time, human beings have killed other human beings. Some do it for patriotism, some for God, and others for money or power or women. The reasons for taking the life of another human being are vast and complex and terrifying. But none are quite as terrifying as people who murder for seemingly no reason at all.

Gerard Johnson presents us with this particular brand of domestic horror in “Tony”, a film about a London based serial killer. Too many times in film history, I feel serial killers are portrayed as the rich suave sociopaths like Pat Bateman in the legendary “American Pyscho”, or the deranged lunatic like the Joker in “The Dark Night”. They are violent, commanding men, complete out of touch with the real world while committing atrocity after atrocity to feed their blood lust and desire for anarchy. Tony is not one of those killers.

We are introduced to our anti-hero as a small, pathetic man who lives in a rundown London slum. He has been unemployed for 20 years, and spends his time watching 80s action films in his dirty apartment. He has no friends or family. He looks like the kind of man that would be arrested for kiddie porn. Tony, despite being so reclusive, frequents both female prostitutes and gay bars, apparently for attention. This all makes him seem that much more pathetic, the chronic loser alone in his small shithole eating microwave dinners. Oh yes, he also brutally murders those who would seek to push him around. Drug dealers, aggressive gay men, and others all end up on Tony’s dead list. He doesn’t appear to gain excitement or sexual gratification from such murders; instead it merely seems that at some point in his shitty life he figured out that murdering someone was the quickest way to eradicate a problem. He chops up the bodies in his sink and disposes of them in the dirty river nearby, after carefully wrapping the parts neatly in newspaper and a plastic sack, much like a deranged butcher.

If you are looking for a good crime film, or a film about a menacing pyscho: this is not it. We are offered no explanation for Tony’s behavior. There is no wily old detective on his trail. By the end of the film, things are not better or worse, they just ARE. Several times throughout the film, I forgot it was a movie, and more seemed like I was looking through a window at a real life person in London just eating crap food and murdering assholes. It is raw, and honest, and cold. I think that the matter-of-fact manner in which Gerard Johnson portrays his anti-hero makes him a sympathetic character. Is Tony really a bad guy? Did he really deserve scorn? Or was he an unfortunate loser trapped in a cycle of monotony and necessary violence? There is an almost touching seen when we see Tony awake in his dirty bed lying next to a corpse from the night before. He cheerfully greets the cadaver good morning, and asks if he would like a cup of tea. Is this the behavior of a menace to society, or a pathetic fuck up with no way to interact with the human beings around him? When people are nice to Tony, he is polite and distant, and they live. When people are mean to Tony, he is polite and distant, and they die. Simple as that. By the end of the film, I was rooting for Tony, and I feel most others will feel the same way.

This was an extremely simple film, shot on limited budget, with limited music and no actors I recognized. Peter Ferdinando does a fantastic job of portraying our star, chilling and mesmerizing. This is a superb film, and the best serial killer film I have seen since “American Pyscho”, and while I don’t think Tony will ever be as popular as Patrick Bateman, he certainly deserves his place among terrifying movie killers. And all because he looks just like a guy any one of us would know.

– Adam Schirling

Tony on IMDB
Buy Tony [DVD]