Thursday, 1 June 2017

PART FIVE: NETFLIX (CANADA) IS POO, SHUDDER IS GOLD: More Reviews By Greg Klymkiw of amazing cool movies on the magnificent online streaming service. Here you will read my reviews of 31, BLACK CHRISTMAS, BUG, HE TOOK HIS SKIN OFF FOR ME and IT FOLLOWS.

Preamble: I tried Netflix Canada for the free one-month service. It took one day to realize I would never pay for it. Shudder launched October 20, 2016 (in Canada, the UK and Ireland). It took less than one hour to decide it would stay with me forever. Shudder is overflowing with a magnificently curated (yes, CURATED, and not merely programmed) selection of classics, indie, foreign and mainstream cinema. Yes, it's all horror, all the time, but depending upon your definition of horror, there is plenty to discover here that's just plain great cinema!
31, It Follows, Black Christmas,
He Took His Skin Off For Me, Bug

First up is a review of Rob Zombie's genuinely great 31, followed in alphabetical order by reviews of Black Christmas, Bug, He Took His Skin Off For Me and It Follows.

Rob Zombie is the real thing. There, I've said it!

31 (2016)
Dir. Rob Zombie
Starring: Sheri Moon Zombie, Meg Foster, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs,
Malcolm McDowell, Tracey Walter, Judy Geeson, Lew Temple,
Jeff Daniel Phillips, Richard Brake, E.G. Daily

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Chainsaws and carnies and blood-spurting victims
Malcolm McDowell and Rob Zombie's saintdom
Carnage and torture
My heart soars and sings
These are a few of my favourite things

I love Rob Zombie. Not just Rob Zombie, the musician, but Rob Zombie the director. His first feature House of 1000 Corpses was a promising debut, but it was his sophomore effort The Devil's Rejects, a blood-soaked miasma of horror and black humour that really convinced me that this dude, as a filmmaker, was indeed the real thing. Hell, I even loved his universally reviled remake of John Carpenter's Halloween. I personally preferred it to the original.

Ah, but his new film, 31, is something else altogether. It's definitely his best movie and one of the finest horror movies of the new millennium. Zombie's feel for the gritty, grainy savagery of 70s horror has never been sharper and what's delightful is that it doesn't at all feel like a skilful fanboy homage to the likes of Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Wes Craven's Last House on the Left and so many other post-Vietnam/post-Watergate scumbag grim-fests, but as a movie, it feels like it could definitely find room on the same mantle as those masterworks.

It's October 31. Halloween. A ragtag group of misfits in a travelling circus find themselves driving their Winnebago on a lonely stretch of highway in some godforsaken rural American Hell. They're on their way to a gig in an out-of-the-way town of inbreds and make the mistake of filling up at a gas station presided over by a grinning, slow-witted, but decidedly creepy pump-jockey (played by the irascible character actor of Repo Man/Raggedy Man fame, Tracey Walter).

This is just the kind of place that alerts nefarious locals that some "fresh meat" is headed their way. Sure enough, as the sun comes down, our delightfully potty-mouthed heroes are shanghaied by mysterious hooded figures and find themselves prisoner in a dank old house. Here, a trio of rich old reprobates, led, no-less, by Malcom McDowell (A Clockwork Orange), inform them that they are part of a deadly survival game involving substantial wagers. It doesn't take long before they're assailed by an army of psychotic killers, all bearing delectable monickers like Sick-Head, Psycho-Head, Schizo-Head, Death-Head, Sex-Head and the most deadly and evil of all, Doom-Head.

To quite a famous tagline: "Who will survive? What will be left of them?"

Some might take 31 to be a vile, reprehensible bucket of swill. Well, it is, but it's stylish, sickeningly, morbidly funny and terrifying thrill-ride blessed with a memorable cast, great villains (one of them is a midget adorned with a swastika-emblazoned wife-beater shirt and groomed like Der Führer) and nerve-jangling suspense. Zombie's lithe, gorgeous real-life wife Sheri Moon Zombie provides a magnificent kick-ass heroine and it's wonderful to see 70s stalwarts like Meg Foster and Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs strutting their still-considerable stuff.

This is first-rate low-budget splatter mayhem with plenty of directorial chops guiding us into a macrocosmic Walpurgisnacht of America - an America in which we can truly believe that a man called Donald Trump could be handily elected as President of the United States. 31 is the cinematic equivalent of pickling brine being force fed down our gullets. And Jesus, it tastes so good.


Santa Claus is probably scarier that "Crazy Billy".

Black Christmas (1974)
Dir. Bob Clark
Scr. A. Roy Moore
Starring: Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder,
Andrea Martin, Marian Waldman, John Saxon, Doug McGrath,
Lynne Griffin, Art Hindle, Les Carlson, Nick Mancuso

Review By Greg Klymkiw

A lone figure stumbles through the snowy bushes surrounding a gorgeous old mansion. He's breathing heavily. We only see what he sees, we do not see him. Through his POV we see warm light pouring out of the windows and the sparkle of Christmas lights. As he gets closer to the house, his breathing becomes more heightened as he looks into the windows and spies a bevy of young beauties. He passes by a sign noting that the old manse is a sorority house. He then begins the arduous task of climbing up the wall and eventually into a remote attic.

Bad shit is going to happen.

Now if the aforementioned seems familiar to you, it should. It's the opening few minutes of Black Christmas, but most of all, it's an approach to horror film malevolence that's been used ad nauseam by virtually every slasher picture ever made. The whole killer POV thing was first popularized in North America by Bob Clark's Yuletide Horror Classic and if you first saw it in 1974 like I did, you'd be jaw agape at its original creepiness (unless you, like Clark, had been a giallo fan and seen a whole whack of Bava and Argento pictures by that point).

But that, frankly, isn't the only original, terrifying and brilliant ingredient of terror in the picture. Working from a layered and beautifully written screenplay by A. Roy Moore, Clark fashioned a horror movie that's as kick-ass scary as it was then and aside from a few elements ripped-off by subsequent films, Black Christmas is replete with all sorts of superb touches that most horror films made afterwards can only dream of.

In spite of the raft of pictures in North America that were influenced by Black Christmas, it still feels like it hasn't dated. Sure, there are obvious elements that could only have existed in the 70s and don't exist now (rotary dial telephones, the insane methods of tracing calls in the "old days", clothing and hair styles which, frankly, have come and gone so many times, they feel contemporary, etc.), but the fact remains that Clark's directorial style and the clever touches in the script are only of their time in so far as they feel ahead of their time. In terms of contemporary filmmaking, the style and craft is miles ahead of most genre pictures being made now.

Hell, I'd argue it almost feels like a contemporary film that is a period picture.

Right from the start, scribe Moore quickly lets us know that someone is living in an attic which hasn't been entered in a long time. In fact, it's either been long forgotten or isn't even known about. Ah, but the lovely young ladies downstairs in the sumptuous, comfortable sorority house living room know nothing about malevolence - never mind the evil which lurks within their home and hearth away from home.

They're busily preparing for Christmas celebrations in the sleepy college town which include dolling the sorority house up for the party they're going to be hosting for orphans, making last minute travel preparations to go home for the holidays, giving their den mother a sexy gift and dealing with the men in their lives.

Moore's writing is exceptional throughout, but especially in establishing full-blooded characters - most of whom we're going to care about, and one of whom will be a fairly convincing red herring.

Then the phone calls begin. The girls have received them before. This time, the calls appear to be far more disturbing than they ever have been. The language and threats are so extreme that these days, many audiences would be as shocked as they were in the 70s, but I'd argue even more so since most English language films made now would never utilize such violent language so grotesquely and effectively.

Then the murders begin. The first killing is so shocking we can't quite believe our eyes - especially considering who gets killed. Hitchcock did this in Psycho, but at least his first victim was seen lolling half naked in the sack and was an embezzler to boot - not so here.

The killings become so vicious, the scares so intense that we're clutching our armrests or biting our nails with such horror that we could even injure ourselves (biting down to the cuticles and ripping away the fleshy bits on each side of the fingernails HURTS LIKE HELL). Amidst the chills and kills, Moore and Clark never forget the human factor nor the dramatic resonance the characters bring to the proceedings.

Delightfully, they also know the importance of how humour must be wended throughout - nothing tongue in cheek, but all connected to character and situation. Marian Waldman as the den mother with a taste for the sauce, Margot Kidder as a delectably foul mouthed heroine and Doug McGrath as the straight-faced dimwit police sergeant who comes across like a perverse cross between Buster Keaton and Don Knotts' Barney Fife, all contribute to some genuine knee-slappers.

In spite of stupid American flags everywhere to make the film more commercial, the atmosphere of the film is quintessentially Canadian - everything from the snow, the parkas, the boots, the toques, the scarves, the actual breath pouring out of peoples' mouths like clouds of smoke and the strange amalgam of WASP primness and hoser gaucherie. One harrowing sequence involves the whole college town engaged in a massive hunt for a missing girl in the bitter cold. This is imbued with that stalwart Canadian sense of commitment in the face of all the elements. A Canadian knows that no matter how cold it is, you just bundle up, eh.

There are a couple of logic lapses, of course, but you don't really begin to notice them until after you watch the movie and even then, after subsequent viewings, the movie is so wonderful you begin to supply your own explanations. My own, of course, seem perfectly valid to me.

And then, there is the killer, Billy. That's all we know or even need to know. We never see him, save for his murderous hands, we only hear him when he's breathing or making obscene phone calls and maybe, just maybe Clark reveals a teasing element or two which chill to the bone. Billy is a serial killer who puts Jason, Freddy and Michael to shame. We know what their respective beefs are, but with Billy, all we know is that he wants to kill. Somehow that's a lot more scary than the silly back-stories given to all the slashers who followed.

Black Christmas is not only a GREAT horror picture, but most significantly, you'll leave the cinema with a whole new appreciation for the word "fellatio". That, my friends, is worth its weight in gold.


Bug (2006)
dir. William Friedkin
Scr. Tracy Letts
Starring: Ashley Judd, Michael Shannon, Harry Connick Jr.

Review by Greg Klymkiw

Without question, Bug is one of the most compelling, terrifying and compulsively watchable pictures to grace the screen in quite some time. Directed by William Friedkin, that venerable master of all that can be deliciously and artfully nasty-minded in cinema, it is a picture that some might even view as a bit of a comeback for the filmmaker who unleashed, among many others, The Exorcist, The French Connection and Cruising. I am, however, not all that fond of the notion of comebacks – especially as they relate to men of Friedkin’s talent and vision – as Norma Desmond said, “it’s the pictures that got smaller”, and certainly in the case of Friedkin, the motion picture industry and the marketplace itself has changed, and certainly not for the better.

Bug tells the seemingly simple tale of a lonely working class woman (Ashley Judd) who finds a glimmer of happiness with a mysterious handsome stranger (Michael Shannon), only to be drawn into his web of paranoia. By finding love, they also discover pain, and eventually true happiness proves to be as elusive and delusional as their respective and, finally, collective states of mind.

In the end, does this really sound that simple? To be frank, it isn’t. In fact, one almost wants to avoid lavishing too much (or even any) attention to the plot since, for most of the picture’s running time, Bug careens madly into very dangerous and surprising territory. So surprising, in fact, that one of the minor disappointments is that the script by Tracy Letts (from his play of the same name) veers into some not-so-surprising territory in the last third of the picture’s running time.

However, for the first two-thirds of the picture, one never really gets a handle on where it is going. And in an age of cookie-cutter story telling, being surprised with every turn is not only rare, but in the case of Bug, supremely engaging and, even during some especially stomach-turning moments, entertainment of the highest order.

Friedkin is responsible for so much of this. Based on a theatrical piece, the movie wisely does not betray its roots but enhances them in a wholly cinematic way. Since most of the picture involves two people (with a handful of occasional “interlopers”) in one motel room, this could have (in less capable hands) been a dull, dreary mess. Friedkin keeps us glued to the screen with a keen eye that makes every shot a pleasure to look at, but also resonating with dramatic intensity. Not that the style is intrusive or obvious – it is, in fact, a delicious bird’s eye view of two people spiraling into a pit of insanity presented with verve and honesty.

This should come as no surprise to Friedkin followers. His early career as a documentary filmmaker in addition to his years of experience as a visual storyteller serves him very well. He has also adapted theatre to the big screen – most notably with the slightly dated, but still groundbreaking motion picture of Mart Crowley’s play The Boys In The Band. Friedkin is not one of those filmmakers who fall into the cliché of having to unnaturally “open up” a theatrical work and/or gussy it up with overly fussy visual details. Friedkin embraces the proscenium in a variety of inventive ways – preserving the claustrophobic intensity of the piece, but allowing it to still breathe as a work of cinema.

But perhaps Friedkin’s greatest gift as a storyteller is his audacity. When necessary, he will push the boundaries, up the ante and shove us headfirst into territory that most filmmakers who prefer to hide from or even worse, try to mute. Not Friedkin. He ‘rub our noses’ in the worlds of his various films and succeeds admirably.

Can anyone forget how far Friedkin took us in The Exorcist? Developing compelling characters and charting their journeys with the precision of a master documentarian and slowly building to a series of crescendos in which he earned and flung all manner of visceral atrocities in our face. Friedkin ensured that The Exorcist would be a true classic with lasting value by never forgetting that movies are a rollercoaster ride and that one must build to the peaks and valleys of terror with skill and precision to make sure that the moments of viscera stay with us forever.

With Cruising, Friedkin blended the tried and true ‘policier’ with a descent into a sexy, thrilling, Bosch-like world of gay S&M clubs. Some found this offensive and/or homophobic - too bad for them. They lose. It was supposed to be thrilling. And so it was.

And in The French Connection who can ever forget the moments of utter terror behind the wheel of Gene Hackman’s speeding car as it tore through the grubby, crowded streets of New York in pursuit of a train?

With Bug, Friedkin takes us on an equally compelling rollercoaster ride. As thrilling and memorable as the ride is, there is a point in the story where one gets a nagging feeling that it could go in a certain and potentially ho-hum direction, but because the picture has been surprising you all along and because the ride has been so happily infused with style, you repress your doubts and believe it will go into more unpredictable directions. The ride continues and it is still thrilling, but the eventual outcome was what you will, no doubt, have predicted at that earlier juncture. This is a bit of a drag.

But no matter: there are so few movies around these days as provocative and stunningly directed as Bug that one can forgive a flaw that would sink most other pictures.

The performance Friedkin coaxes from a slightly de-glammed, but still delectably sexy Ashley Judd is a tour-de-force – ranging from shy submission to out and out over-the-top insanity. Michael Shannon has had plenty of time to perfect his performance as the paranoid war vet on the stage, but he seems as fresh as if he were doing it for the first time. And in a supporting role as Judd’s psychotically abusive ex, Harry Connick Jr. shocks and surprises with a performance that is as sexy as it is terrifying.

Bug is a must-see motion picture. Even if you end up hating it, you’ll probably admire it anyway for both audacity and Friedkin's relentless directorial virtuosity.


He Took His Skin Off For Me (2014)
Dir. Ben Aston
Scr: Maria Hummer
Starring: Anna Maguire, Sebastian Armrest

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Having seen more short films than anyone in their right mind should (in addition to the ludicrous number of features I've seen in my life), it's especially gratifying to see a polished gem like this one - and not just polished, not just a gem, but a film that brilliantly contributes to expanding cinema's boundaries.

After spending 13 years as a senior creative consultant and teacher at Uncle Norman Jewison's film school the Canadian Film Centre and presiding over the mentorship of Jesus-H-Christ-Knows-How-Many short films, I'm relatively well versed in what it takes for young filmmakers to generate truly original and cutting-edge work in such a setting (often quite impossible given the pressure placed on them by - ugh - "industry stakeholders"). Since the mid-90s, far too many burgeoning filmmakers have squandered the opportunity (especially, though not exclusively in North America) to generate short films that work, quite simply, as good, if not great, films - period. Too many have been drawn to the "Look Ma, I can use a dolly, but have nothing to say" calling card nonsense which allows them a shot at camera jockeying series television (not too egregious in Jolly Old Blighty, though) or worse, making short-form versions of feature films they almost never end up making. It's enough to make a movie lover sick to the stomach. Once in awhile, though, once in a Blue Moon, once upon a mattress (as it were), a short film comes along - from a film student in an academic setting - that blows the living pants off everyone who sees it. He Took His Skin Off For Me is just such a film.

Based on a short story and screenplay by Maria Hummer, director Ben Aston has crafted a delectably creepy, darkly hilarious and jaw-droppingly perverse love story which traverses the mine fields of contemporary notions of sacrifice within the context of male-female relationships (though, frankly, any significant other coupling might well apply). Sacrifice in relationships has always been at the forefront of any deeply passionate and lasting union, but in recent decades, with the steady collapse of traditional family units and the rightful advance of women in modern societies, sacrifice, it seems can often take on the most ludicrous extremes. Here, Hummer and Aston, cleverly focus on the more traditional aspects of a relationship - one that seems to be a reflection of the kinds of traditions which can spell death for any relationship - where the rituals of what it means to be "traditional" settle into a kind of dull-as-dishwater existence of comfort and expectation.

Here, we have a couple who seek to put some pizzaz and pep back into their love. When the hubby makes an extreme sacrifice to literally remove his outer layer of flesh, things are clearly new and exciting, but once the relationship begins to settle back into familiar territory, it seems that the irreversible sacrifice is all for nought.

There are several elements which make the film work as well as it does. First and foremost is the simple approach it takes to rendering the tale. The filmmakers do not shy away from utilizing a borderline literary voiceover which is not only deftly scribed, but played with a delicate deadpan. The actions of the characters are also played straight and if there's any tongue-in-cheek at all, it seeps quite naturally from the proceedings due to the Buster-Keaton-like visages applied by both leads. The almost matter-of-fact acceptance of the inconvenience-factor in having no skin (trails and stains of blood that need to be endlessly cleaned) is what has us alternately laughing and grimacing. Aston's compositions and colour-schemes are also imbued with an aplomb that borders on muted - not unlike the approach David Lynch takes in his best work where the utterly insane proceedings are all the more insane because nobody on screen (or off, for that matter) is going out of their way to point a finger at it.

It's also gratifying to see that the special makeup effects are rendered without digital manipulations. This always adds a remarkably naturalistic touch to tales of the fantastical. This is especially important here given the fact that the film is often rooted in a kind of skewed realism that reflects the lives of so many (if not all).

This is a thesis film generated at the London Film School.

Bravo! He Took His Skin Off For Me a great short film no matter how, when or why it was generated. That it is the work of young talents, however, speaks volumes about their considerable talent, promise and yes, any powers-that-be that allowed them the freedom to create a work of singular and lasting value.


It Follows (2014)
Dir. David Robert Mitchell
Starring: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Daniel Zovatto, Jake Weary, Olivia Luccardi

Review By Greg Klymkiw

It's early morning magic hour. A stately home rests quietly in a leafy suburb. The front door bursts open. A babe in her undies races outside, her melons bobbling. In no time at all, she'll be found horribly mutilated. Dead, in fact. Granted, we're in Detroit, one of the most poverty-stricken, crime-ridden and decrepit cities in America, but this grotesque sequence has played out in a bucolic setting, far away from the urban blight.

What gives?

Well, after this shocking preamble to David Robert Mitchell's It Follows, we meet our heroine Jay (Maika Monroe) and in no time we find out exactly what the deal is. She too lives in a 'burb o' Detroit and when she goes on a date with a hot hunk, she's so charmed, she hops into the back seat of his car, tosses off her panties and lets him deliver one right royal solid boning. As our babe lolls about in post-coital bliss, the hunk goes to the trunk to retrieve something. When he returns, he smothers the scantily clad missy with a chloroform-soaked rag. When she wakes up, he's got her strapped into a wheelchair - in her undies, 'natch. He forces her to look at something and what he shows her is so jaw-agape ghastly she can't quite believe her gorgeous eyes as she trains her gaze at IT.

Make no mistake, IT is real, alright, and now, IT is after her. According to the stud-hunk, the only way to get rid of IT is to pass IT on through sexual intercourse. He offers Jay a bit of solace when he says that IT should be no problem for her to pass on since, she's a girl and most any red-blooded male will want to nail her. Once she convinces her friends that she's cursed, they all make like Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy and Scooby-Doo to get to the bottom of this mystery.

Delightfully enough, the notion of passing on the curse sexually allows for some added boinkage in addition to the carnage and shock-til-you-jump jolts. And, of course, the movie gives us IT.

IT is a formidable supernatural villain. If this is the first thing you've read about the movie, read no other reviews, puff pieces and any other literature which might provide TMI. It's a lot scarier, creepier and deliciously perverse if you go in without knowing anything more than this - IT follows you constantly and IT will kill you if IT catches you. If this happens, the curse reverts to afflicting the entire line of boinkers who've preceded you.

Though the movie doesn't quite go into the sickeningly, darkly hilarious territory of David Cronenberg's Shivers (which also featured a sexually transmitted horror), It Follows is a solidly directed shocker with plenty of homages to John Carpenter's output from the late 70s to early 80s. If Mitchell's screenplay is, save for its supremely original "villain", a bit too reliant on well-worn tropes of the genre, his filmmaking is both dazzling and assured. He's the real thing. He handles the proceedings with great style, visual flourish and far more intelligence than your run-of-the-mill horror-fest. Then again, it also has what any horror movie needs - babes, root-slipping and killing.

We even get some scary sojourns into the downtown decrepitude of Detroit. This stuff in the abandoned Detropia of Motor City is so creepy, one almost wishes most of it were set there. If Mitchell generates a sequel, maybe, just maybe, he'll oblige us. As someone who loves a good horror picture and having been conceived in Detroit, I, for one, can hardly wait. My drool is dripping and pooling up like the thick, crimson rivers of blood which permeate the ever-so-delightful It Follows.