Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Episode 52 - Masters Of Horror Part 2

The Fly - Meek scientist Seth Brundle ( Jeff Goldblum) has been secretly working on an incredible new technological breakthrough for past six years. He hadn't told anyone about it until he met Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis) at a science expo. Bringing her back to his home in an old warehouse, Seth demonstrates his invention to Veronica: a set of pods which can teleport objects between them. Veronica, a reporter for a science journal, secretly records a conversation with Seth and plans to become famous by writing about the invention, but her boss (and ex-boyfriend) Stathis Borans (John Getz) doesn't believe that what she's telling him is true, even with her taped conversation. When Seth catches up to Veronica he convinces her to hold off on publishing the story until he can perfect the machine, which as of yet, has been unable to transport an animate object without mutilating it. After several tests and a lot of time spent together, not only do Seth and Veronica fall in love, but they also finally discover how to successfully teleport living things. One night, drunk and suspecting that Veronica is cheating on him with Stathis, Seth teleports himself with his invention, becoming the first human to undergo the process. When Seth begins to grow stronger and more agile, he believes that his creation has made him better than before, but when his skin begins to deteriorate and he becomes violent and angry, he realizes that something is wrong. Checking his computer files, Seth discovers that a fly had gotten into the machine with him when he first teleported and that the machine spliced their DNA together. Now Veronica can only stand by and watch as Seth is transformed into something inhuman. Where to begin? The Fly is a film centered around an age-old science fiction premise with a brilliant new twist. The premise: teleportation. The twist: what happens when two living things occupy the same teleporter at the same time? Writer/director David Cronenberg answers this question with style. The direction and pacing of The Fly are perfect. In every scene a new question is raised regarding either the technology of the film or the main character's transformation. For someone inclined to have to think while watching their movies, you couldn't ask for much more. Sometimes the directions that the movie takes are so strange and repulsive that I'm honestly surprised that it was as well-recieved and acclaimed as it was. Jeff Goldblum, who seems to usually be stuck in supporting roles, proves in one fell swoop why he is so deserving of being a leading man as Seth Brundle. When he stutters and gives awkward glances to Geena Davis' character you honestly feel as though you're looking at someone who has had no human contact for six years, and then he can turn around and go off on a rant about random science-related topics and totally convince the viewer that he is excited and knowledgeable about the subject. Then, when the transformation of Seth Brundle into "Brundle Fly" begins to occur, Goldblum seems to completely lose himself in the act of becoming an illogical creature. This is by far the best performance that I have seen from Jeff Goldblum. Equally impressive is Geena Davis, whose character doesn't go through all of the changes that Goldblum's does, but must react and respond to the unbelievable events that occur. The emotional roller coaster that the character of Victoria is taken on because of Seth Brundle's experiments is deftly pulled off by Davis in every instance. The one slight drawback in the cast is John Getz's Stathis Borans, who often seems a little forced and not as emotionally natural as his counterparts. This doesn't manage to detract from the overall experience, though. Next on the docket are the special effects. The Fly is a movie (like many others) that would most likely be horrible had it been made a decade later. The mid-eighties was the perfect time for such a make-up effects-heavy movie to be made. The different stages of transformation between the human Brundle and the mutated creature that he becomes are all beautifully achieved without the use of CG. Body parts falling off and skin being shed are somewhat fake, but joyous to watch. Another great effect comes when Seth uses his acidic vomit to burn an enemy. Trying to decipher how the effect was achieved is almost as fun as just watching it happen. Also, seeing Seth climb from the ceiling to the wall, and finally back to the floor is very intriguing to behold. The fact that this effect was performed by rotating the set as opposed to using computer effects is purely delightful. As I said before, I'm not really sure how The Fly managed to squeeze through the margins of what is widely accepted in film because of how dark and disturbing that it often is, but it certainly feels like a victory for fans of gory horror movies that don't dumb themselves down for the masses.

Videodrome - Imagine a world where VHS tapes are still the most advanced technology in the film-viewing world. It is in this world that there lives a man named Max Renn (James Woods). Max is an executive at a sleazy cable television channel that goes out of it's way to push the boundaries of sex and violence. In search of a new show for his station, Max and his co-worker Harlan (Peter Dvorsky) have stumbled upon a pirate satellite feed called "Videodrome" which shows very convincing scenes of torture and murder. Max is immediately intrigued and enlists the help of a television promoter with connections named Masha (Lynne Gorman) to track down it's creators. When Renn's girlfriend Nicki (Deborah Harry) finds a Videodrome tape in his collection, she too becomes obsessed with the show, and after telling Max that she is going to Pittsburg for an assignment, instead tracks down the show herself to become a part of it. Max tries to stop Nicki after discovering that the acts of violence on Videodrome may in fact be real, but she's already made up her mind. All the while, Max has been experiencing exceedingly wild hallucinations, prompting him to visit the man responsible for Videodrome as soon as Masha tells him who it is: a man who calls himself Brian O'Blivion (Jack Creley). After meeting O'Blivion's daughter Bianca (Sonja Smits), he discovers that Brian has been dead for almost a year and that his daughter has been keeping him "alive" by playing people who wish to see him old videotapes of her father, of which there are thousands. What Max also discovers, as he expected, is that Videodrome is in fact responsible for his recent hallucinations. However, what he never dreamed of was what exactly had been causing them, or what purpose they would eventually serve. To truly enjoy Videodrome in this day and age you must be able to accept that the story takes place in a world without the internet or virtual media like MP3s. You also need to prepare yourself for some strange and often disturbing imagery. Videodrome is the brainchild of controversial writer/director David Cronenberg. Cronenberg is perhaps best known for The Fly and the recent A History of Violence, but he has also helmed such trippy films as eXistenZ and Naked Lunch. Videodrome is definitely one of his trippier films. The concept is very original and very strange, as are the visuals. As Max's hallucinations get worse, the special effects of the film become more intricate and impressive. Most of the effects are make-up and prosthetics that are part of James Woods' body, and they often walk the thin line between horrific and beautiful. Regardless of which side they fall on, though, they are always impressive. Another very memorable and intriguing visual effect involves the screen of Max's television as it grows out into a sort of bubble that Max can touch and interact with. The only part of the film when I honestly didn't think that the effects worked was at the very end when a man's body rips itself apart from the inside. It is still interesting to watch, but also very fake. Perhaps more disturbing than the special effects, though are the scenes in which the characters watch the Videodrome program. Most involve people being tied up and beaten, and they are made more unsettling by appearing on static-filled old television screens. James Woods' performance in this film is very impressive as he manages to keep the audience fully involved in the plot even when it gets a bit confusing or odd. His ability to remain a character that the viewer can connect with even in the most strange, unimaginable situations is impeccable. The rest of the cast is very well-rounded as well, creating the perfect world for Videodrome's curious story to take place in. Story, acting, and visuals aside, the thing about Videodrome that impressed me the most was, in fact, the world that Cronenberg has crafted. In modern society you can find almost any extreme of violence or sex with a few keystrokes in the privacy of your own home thanks to the internet. In my opinion, if the internet never existed, Cronenberg's vision of the near future in Videodrome is probably very much like the world we would be living in. Since there would be no way to search online for videos with horrific or sexual content like we can now, there's a good chance that television would evolve into a more open forum for content of that nature. In this manner, the alternate reality of Videodrome poses a lot of questions that are perhaps more viable today than they may seem at first glance. "What is it people want to see?", "how can we give it to them?", and "what do we do when we've gone too far?"

The Return - At the age of eleven, Joanna Mills (Sarah Michelle Gellar) was in a car accident with her father (Sam Shepard). Ever since that day she has had strange visions that resemble memories, but none of them are hers. She also sometimes harms herself while in deep trances that come out of nowhere. Fifteen years later she is a young woman working for a trucking company. Her work requires her to take trips all across America, but she normally refuses to set foot in Texas where she grew up. When an opportunity to impress a big client near her hometown arises though, she takes the offer and is on her way. The closer she gets to her childhood home, the more frequently and violently her visions begin to occur. Mysteriously drawn to a bar she's never been to before, but which seems very familiar, Joanna meets a man named Terry Stahl (Peter O'Brien) who she has seen in her visions, and decides to ask him some questions. What she soon finds out is that his wife was murdered at about the same time that she and her father were in their car accident. Assuming that this is why she's been having the strange visions, Joanna begins looking into the death of Terry's wife, but what connection does she have to the events that took her life some 15 years ago? In a word, The Return is bad. In another word, it's uninspired, and in yet another, it's boring. Based on the advertising campaign for The Return, I had assumed that it was going to be yet another in the long line of copycat films spawned from The Ring to feature pale, creepy dead people scaring the shit out of attractive blonde girls. As it turns out, The Return is just a slow, pointless film that I nearly forgot about as soon as it ended. I never watched the Buffy The Vampire Slayer television show, but Sarah Michelle Gellar has got to be deserving of better roles than this. As such, I dare anyone to show me proof that she cared in the least about putting in a decent performance in this film. Outside of Gellar, the only significant character in the film is Peter O'Brien's tortured soul Terry Stahl, and he also put in a weak effort to make anyone care about him. No one else in The Return really seemed all that important, so it was up to these two main characters to drive the story, and it felt more like they fell asleep at the wheel. Perhaps it would have helped them out some in entertaining the audience if director Asif Kapadia had at least tried to add something original or interesting to his movie, but alas he seems to have opted not to. It is not Asif's fault though, that the story behind The Return is complete garbage. Not only is it uneventful and boring, but it also manages to be confusing. There was a scene at the end of the film that was obviously supposed to wrap everything up and clue the audience into what was going on the whole time, but it just left me with more questions. Questions that I didn't really care that much about finding out the answers to. There are movies that are bad and then there are movies that should just never have gotten past the scriptwriting stage. The Return is far and away one of the latter.

Virus - The Sea Star, a tugboat under the command of Captain Robert Everton (Donald Sutherland), finds itself caught in a storm at sea. Barely surviving it's wrath, Everton and his hesitant crew stumble upon another ship, seemingly deserted in the wake of the storm. Boarding the ship, which turns out to be a Russian science vessel, the crew of the Sea Star opts to salvage the ship for themselves and collect on the reward money for bringing it in. However, their plan is compromised when they discover a raving woman onboard named Nadia (Joanna Pacula) who claims that she is the ship's only surviving crew member. According to her, the vessel's satellites intercepted an electronic signal from space that took over all of the ship's electronics. In the wake of this event, her crew shut down all of the power. Disregarding her ridiculous claims, Everett orders that the Russian boat's electricity be restored, but as soon as it is, people begin disappearing. Before long, mutilated humans with robotic limbs and weapons welded to their bodies begin attacking the crew of the Sea Star. Slowly losing his mind, Captain Everett confronts the creatures and agrees to help them murder the rest of his people in exchange for a position of power among them. With Everett now against them, Kelly Foster (Jamie Lee Curtis), Steve Baker (William Baldwin), and Richie Mason (Sherman Augustus) team up with Nadia to once again attempt to defeat the creatures, which view humans as a virus that must be terminated. My feelings on Virus are fifty-fifty. On one hand it has a great premise, decent directing, and some truly impressive special effects. On the other hand it has a stereotypical formula, poor writing, and some equally bad special effects. Based on the Dark Horse comic book of the same name, Virus' core concept is refreshingly original. Instead of a monster from space or a demon that takes over people's bodies, we have a bit of a combination of both. The enemy in Virus is a living electronic signal. As such, it possesses electronics, and using human bodies, creates man/machine hybrids which it controls via a hive-mind. In this capacity, there are some pretty neat looking creatures in the movie without it feeling too cliched. Speaking of the creatures, the designs and make-up effects of the cyborg villains are (for the most part) great. They are truly creepy and pleasing to the eye, yet at the same time they can appear fairly clunky in action. It is always obvious when there is an animatronic enemy onscreen as opposed to a person in make-up, which makes some scenes feel more cheesy than others. By the time the majorly CG final enemy, the Goliath, makes his appearance, though, he takes away any hesitations that the viewer may have about the technology utilized in making of the film. For being produced in the mid-nineties, the computer effects in Virus are surprisingly convincing. The filmmakers also did a good job of matching the real props with the CG imagery, especially in, as I said, the final scenes with the Goliath. The acting in Virus is one of it's downfalls as even proven veterans Donald Sutherland and Jamie Lee Curtis seem to be unable to sell the wild story that they are a part of. Particularly horrible is Sherman Augustus, whose character Richie goes insane for no good reason about halfway through the film and begins randomly building things that will come into play during the movie's climax. This is just a poor plot development and a transparent way of wrapping things up at the end of the movie. I wouldn't say that there are any really good instances involving scares in Virus, but it's certainly worth checking out for some of the effects and the original premise. I haven't personally read the comic books off of which this film is based, but after seeing it again, I'd like to pick up some copies and give them a look.

No comments: