INT, daytime. 20th Century Fox's boardroom, sometime in the mid 2000's:
CORPORATE SCUM #1
...So, we're agreed, gentlemen? Another Alien Tril...Quad...Quintilogy Boxset on DVD? Only this time, the box will be in the shape of an entire lifesize Alien Queen, and the discs themselves will be excreted from its anus? Genius!
Any more business?
CORPORATE SCUM #2
Ah, yes...My Random Remake Suggest-o-tron came up with The Omen the other day, and I couldn't help but notice that it'll be June 2006 soon, so, you know: 06/06/06, so...
CORPORATE SCUM #1
Well, I suppose...Isn't it a bit, you know, old?
CORPORATE SCUM #2
No, it'll be great, honestly; we'll get some slumming actors, like the original did, toss in some in-jokes for the fanboys, and some of that CG blood that the kids love! It'll be awesomes!
CORPORATE SCUM #1
All right...make the leads much younger and duller, chuck in some flashy and pointless dream sequences for shocks, oh, and a gratuitous 9/11 reference and we've got a deal! Now, lunch? [buzz] Marcy, could you send us in the usual six live puppies, garnished with the crushed hopes and aspirations of a generation of film students? And a Pellegrino? Thanks!
Yes, your correspondent is extemporising somewhat, but it doesn't take a huge imaginative leap to visualise the thinking process behind this film: Exploitable property+built-in marketing opportunity+more blood=PROFIT!! They really only forgot one thing; to actually make it any good. So, what did they stupidly change, what should they have let go, and is that REALLY HIM under that awful plasticky burn makeup? [Short answers: too much, those blasted dream sequences, and yes; hooray!]
To start with the plot...If you need me to describe it, then go away and punch yourself, hard. In the stomach. While you're getting your breath back, read on: Diplomat's wife loses her child at birth, diplomat is persuaded to unofficially 'adopt' an adorable orphan baby, feels no need to inform wife of change. Adorable baby grows up to be adorable tow-headed little boy, acquires insane nannies, Rottweiler; is surrounded by mysterious 'accidents' that plague those who attempt to inform Daddy Diplomat that Dimples may in fact be Satan Jr. (Spoiler! He is.). Everybody dies!
[While the 1976 original didn't start the Evil Child genre (Paging Rhoda Penmark!), it was an early example of the (still popular) Evil Solemn-Faced Little Kid subtype, and was almost-singlehandedly responsible for turning the name Damien (or Damian) from a Saint-that-worked-with-lepers-and-therefore-perfect-for-Catholic-familes baby name, to shorthand-for-Lucifer in within a generation. You think I'm joking? According to the Office for National Statistics, in the UK in 1974 the name Damien (or Damian) was the 64th most popular; by 1984, it was 97th, and by 1994 not even in the top 100.]
This remake doesn't fiddle about with the basic plot points TOO much (baby death - nanny death - new nanny - ominous priest - priest death - mum off balcony - dead mum - gratuitous archaeology - headless photographer - angst dad - nanny fight - dead dad), and is as successful as the original in chucking a splashy death at the audience just when things are getting too fidget-inducingly Bible-y, but it's what they ADDED that's my main problem with it.
The film starts with some priest-y enclave in the (heavily-implied) Vatican, viewing a short film on all of the newsworthy disasters of the last 20-odd years, and doom-and-glooming it about the imminent return of the Antichrist...This is necessary, why? Your writer was raised Methodist, and knows about as much of Catholic priests as I do of Quantum Theory but refuses to believe that none of them have read a newspaper since 1970. Unless the film is assuming that the audience haven't either? Or need to see footage of the Boxing Day Tsunami, 9/11, etc, which they had surely FORGOTTEN ALL ABOUT UP TO THAT MOMENT? It's an arbitrary selection of footage too; oh, so it's natural disasters, because God is angry, but no...here's 9/11 and a civil war. So, it's the evil of people, but...ah, that was an earthquake. NVM then.
The film promptly cuts from this amazingly point-filled opening like it never happened (I'd like to pretend the same thing), and we start the plot proper. It trots along from point to point like a good pony until...well, you see Lee Remick (the mother in the original) could convey her growing paranoia and dread of the little bugger just with facial expression, body posture...you know, ACTING. The new girl...can't. So nuts to subtlety and let's have her dream-sequence some goatskullfaced robed jumpscares (that look nothing like they came off a Dennis Wheatley paperback cover from 1968 or anything)! Yes, let's do THAT!
As for the cast, well...I'm sure Liev Schreiber is a perfectly nice chap, but...charismatic? No. To the extent that...I actually forgot he was in the film while he was off screen. Yes; I'm embarrassed, but I want you to know that never happened with Gregory Peck. The supporting cast of Reliable British Thesps swaps wavering-Irish-accented Patrick Troughton for Pete Postlethwaite, whose accent bounces back and forth across the Irish Sea like the Fishguard ferry in a Force 9-er, and offers us scruffy David Thewlis in lieu of mod David Warner; I do not consider this an acceptable substitute. I suspect the casting of Mia Farrow as the 'nanny from the agency' is a bit of wink-wink gimmick casting for Rosemary's Baby fans, since she's no Billie Whitelaw, and far too mimsy to be convincing as a threat to the large stolid tree that is Liev Schreiber; and is there really any reason except someone's game of Weird Character Name Bingo to have Michael Gambon follow Dumbledore with Bugenhagen?
Still, in each dungheap a diamond, and there's an unexpected treat for all the watching House On the Edge of the Park fans (so, me and Brad Jones, then); yes, it's Giovanni Lombardi Radice, aka John Morgen, as Father Spiletto! Oh Ricky, you can even make a Roman Collar suspect! Don't ever, ever change! While I'm on this positive trend, I should take time to praise the Damien; I have no maternal instinct whatsoever, but this is an adorable, solemn small boy. I definitely felt a small hollow thump in the place where normal women have a biological clock. If I could somehow guarantee that my loins would yield forth something like that (and not, as I secretly fear, some squawking money-sink with a Hannah Montana fixation) then even I might be persuaded to breed.
So, on balance: worth a peek as a curiosity, but don't expect it to be anywhere near as good as the original, and brace yourself for random goatskulls, and the odd crashing misstep of taste, amongst all the lumbering solemness.
Well, in these times of global recession, cutbacks, layoffs and trickle-downs, we're all looking to cut back a bit, aren't we? Whether it's recycling freezer bags, only using one ply of the toilet roll, or trapping rats for food, anything that can make the hard earned dollar (pound, Euro, shekel, rupee, talent, etc) go further is A GOOD THING; particularly the hard-earned ENTERTAINMENT dollar (rouble, yen, bottlecap).
"But Dear Impostor", I hear you cry from around a mouthful of partly-masticated Rattus Rattus; "how is one to obtain ones Quality Entertainment both legally and freely?" Turn to your mother, your helpmeet, your GOD; YOUTUBE! Yes, I said legally; hard to believe, but among the 9 minute 'videos' consisting of a still with a "go to www.jjfxnotarussiantrojansitereallyhonest7jw for the full version of this still-in-cinemas-hot-film" message, there are full, free (frequently out-of-copyright) gems. Of course, there's a large amount of dreck, but that is true of any given B****B**st*r rental shelf (Such a 20th-century concept!), and nothing is better than the opportunity to riff a bad film, save it be the opportunity to riff one FOR FREE.
So, for Instalment One:
No, not Dahmer: The Secret Life, or the Trial of Jeffrey Dahmer, or another daft Ulli Lommel film (as Uwe Boll is to video games, Ulli Lommel is to true crime, and oh my word Tenderness of the Wolves was a long time ago and another country - literally - and besides the wench is dead. Though, if it stops him making another blasted Boogeyman film...). Unlike most surnamed serial killer films, this is actually good. Starring (Oscar Nominee ooh-la-la) Jeremy Renner as Hungry Jeff, and Bruce Davison as his buttoned-up dad Lionel (and why isn't Bruce Davison in many more films, eh? And why is Willard not out on DVD yet? Did the remake bomb THAT badly that it put a black pox on every version? Questions for another day...), real names are used for the Dahmer family, though the victims tend to have names and biographical details fudged; not too surprising, since this looks like an indie film without room in the budget for name-brand coffee at the cast's lunch table, never mind for lawsuits from aggrieved relatives.
I'll level with you now; if you're looking for human-thigh sandwiches, and skull-fucking, then this will NOT be the film for you; odd as it sounds, it's more of a character piece...It just happens that the character is a cannibal serial killer, and a serious challenger to Travis Bickle as God's Lonely Man. Renner is very good as the Loneliest Man on Earth, and we're with him all the way from his awkward late teens, to his attempts at disconnected sex with drugged strangers in gay bars and saunas; to his hamfisted attempts to get people to come home with him, to stay, and then to never, ever leave. To which end he almost succeeds, thanks to the unwitting assistance of the local police, who seem very willing to sign off a naked, blood-covered, incoherent (very) young man as a domestic dispute; implausible as it seems, this incident's straight from the police reports, much to the police's embarrassment after Dahmer's arrest when they had to face a lot of hard questions about exactly how concerned they were about the (mostly young, predominantly black or Asian) victims.
As far as psycho performances go, Renner's more Tony Perkins than Hopkins; scenery (and longpig) goes unchewed, there's not a one-liner to be heard, and the tensest moment is a confrontation between Dahmers Junior and Senior over the key to an old medicine box. This is Dahmer, not Lecter; not a droll intellectual with a penchant for chianti and opera, but a sad, lonely foul-up with a boring job and a drinking problem; that odd fellow at the bus stop, or in the supermarket who tries to make conversation with the checkout girl, that messageboard commenter who gets angry about odd things, or your strange downstairs neighbour, or your cousin, or you...or me.
It's not a perfect film; the flashback-flashforward structure is tricksy, and for not much effect; a very little of some of the supporting actors goes a long way; and good Lord there is a LOT of red light, and low light, that makes some scenes hard on my old pair of eyes.
This film is not for you if:
You think 'low-key' means 'boring'
Male-male sexuality makes you squirm, or titter
You want every serial killer film to have a body count; nubile coeds for preference
You work for, or have a relative in, the Milwaukee Police Department.
You have poor night vision,
BUT; if you'd like a little something different, and for free, come and see here:
Cannibal Holocaust with an 18 cert? I've lived too long!!
Yes, Shameless films apparently spent another 3 months in the BBFC's waiting room, to get Cannibal Holocaust certificated, and only 15 seconds of cuts (replaced by reaction shots of the same length, to avoid jumps in the soundtrack)! I'm surprised that the BBFC had to cut as little as that, given the legal restrictions under which they operate regarding animal cruelty; since I'm the first person to verbally pistol-whip Our Esteemed Classificators for their often daft responses, I have to doff my bonnet to the serious consideration they gave to the film and that they describe here (Well, me with a nice thing to say about a BBFC decision? Maybe these are the End Times after all...).
Now; Cannibal Holcaust, see, was a harder watch than films like Salo, for me; because cheek-to-cheek with the faked rape, staged arson and body-painted extras chewing on ribs, CH has real, unfeigned animal cruelty and death of at least...four (possibly five) live animals, including a pig (kicked, then shot), a river turtle (de-shelled while still alive and piteously flapping its flippers), a spider (business end of a machete, may have been subbed for a rubber spider), a monkey, and some sort of muskrat(?) thing. Perhaps it's hypocrisy, since I'm comfortable with animals dying to fill my belly (yes, it was a delicious beef madras that I had the other day, thanks), but not for my amusement (not planning on a trip to a bullfight any time...ever). We all make our...accommodations with our consciences, and this one's mine. There is a non-animal-cruelty version available; included with the R1 boxset that I have; a sensitive viewer may find that less troublesome; rest assured that the real (pre-existing) atrocity footage of an African civil war has been retained in that version.
On an unrelated point...I'm not entirely convinced that the South American locals playing the anthrophages were ever, you know, PAID for all their running around, rolling in mud, and being pretend-raped and pretend-killed. I start to visualise a 'The Last Movie' situation, and shift awkwardly in my seat; curse you, white liberal post-colonial guilt!
CH is...actually, probably indefensible for a moral human being in the 21st century and just to shrug and say 'oh, them crazy Italians'...yeah, probably not good enough. What it is, among other things, is an indictment of an even worse trend in the Italian cinema of the time; Mondo films which really did traffic in 'real' war crimes footage [including a more-than suspicion that some of it may have been, um...'arranged' for the cameras] or at least, that executions, army-charges, etc were scheduled for the film-makers' convenience. Consequently, there's very little that the filmmaker characters in CH do, that Jacopetti and Prosperi (the directors of Mondo Cane and the fathers of the entire 'Mondo' movement) weren't at least accused of,up to and including real animal death, setting up atrocities, exploitation of native populations, and at the very least culpability in rape and killing. For more background on those charming fellows Signore Jacopetti and Prosperi, and the whole Mondo subgenre, I'd highly recommend Kerekes' and Slater's Killing For Culture, albeit vastly overdue for an updated reprint; I'd particularly like to see them cover the Blair Witch Project; the most successful 'Snuff' film ever made.
So, Cannibal Holocaust; problematic, all right, in more ways than you'd think were possible; still, I'm glad that it's around, and available in as intact a form as possible. Your correspondent urges you, in this as in all situations, to see it for yourself (punt some cash into Shameless Films' pockets, since I'm sure there are still more Sirpa Lane films awaiting their DVDebut), use your own eyes, and make up your own mind.
...And opened a box that I haven't opened since I moved house (last October). Which turned out to be full of dvds! Whee! Well, what have we got?
Ooh! Nightmare Before Christmas! Nightmare on Elm Street Box Set; [Night of the] Intruder; - yes, I alphabetise; what of it? National Lampoon's Class Reunion! Napoleon Dynamite? How the Sam J Jones did that get here? Ah, curse you, vanished Virgin Megastores and your 4-for-£20 offers! I would wish a pox on your line...if that hadn't already happened.
So, perhaps this is A SIGN that I should start up the reviewing things thing again. Or that I am a lazy slattern. Either/or.
Now, perhaps those bobbins are in that other box, with my Fango back issues...