All entries for October 2005

October 27, 2005

AMERICAN PSYCHO (18)

Title:
Rating:
4 out of 5 stars

Dir. Mary Harron

For those worried about my review trend, I promise this only happens to be because I bought this recently and not because I fetishise serial killers, okay? Good. I also happen to appreciate very dark movies – much like the excellent American Psycho.

The film American Psycho happens to be based on a rather good, if extraordinarily macabre, novel by Bret Easton Ellis. The novel has been stripped down to its bare essentials and is now a lean, dark social satire with a bit of slasher horror thrown in. Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) is a mild, intelligent, charming, hard working, amiable and rich young banker working on Wall Street. He's also a murderous psychopath, who kills call girls and homeless men for no apparent reason. The film charts his degeneration from savvy banker into maniac, and is all the more powerful for its denouement that pretty much emphasizes the entire message of the film – if I told you, it wouldn't be as amusing and flabbergasting as it turns out to be. It's not a twist as such, more just a deeply surprising way of concluding a movie where the ending would otherwise be astonishingly predictable.

With all due credit to the director and writers, the tone is dark and comical with an acidic edge and kept at a decent 98 minutes which makes the film snappy and fast-moving. Unlike the book, where it occasionally goes to town on the detail and gore, the film is conservative about blood being spilled – there is claret to be seen here, but compared to the book it really is nothing in terms of quantity – and draws an interesting contrast between Bateman by day as banker, and by night as murderous lunatic in underwear wielding his chainsaw around. The best shots in AP are the subtle yet shocking ones; a casual conversation reveals Bateman opening his fridge to retrieve some wine, only for the audience to see a severed head in a plastic bag inside he obtained from a woman he met earlier. No violent strings, no screams…just the shot, Bateman talking, and the door closing. Shots like this make the film as blackly comical as it is.

Christian Bale excels himself, the pure embodiment of smirking charm and arrogance and beautifully portrayed narcicissm. He is, essentially, everything you'd expect Patrick Bateman to be. He is well supported too; Reese Witherspoon is delightfully vacuous as Bateman's fiancee, Evelyn, and Chloe Sevigny is nicely understated as Bateman's sweet and bashful secretary. Willem Dafoe does nicely too, although he doesn't really have much to work with – only being in two or so scenes.

The dialogue is great ("I just…had to kill a hell of a lot of people!!") and when a film is as well acted as this, you have a great film resulting. If I have any criticisms, it is that Bateman's degeneration in mental state seems almost too quick, but it is marginally better than the constant bloodletting of the novel. It also lacks some of the more vividly satirical moments of the novel, something that would have worked well in the film, but to be honest you couldn't include the whole book in the film – The result would just be unwatchable.

Mary Harron has done a great job, creating a magnificent villain for the modern era, and the fact the film remains unflinching and makes no attempt at moral judgement makes the film that much more powerful.


THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974, 18)

Title:
Rating:
5 out of 5 stars

Dir. Tobe Hooper

It has three sequels and one remake, and neither one came even slightly close to the sheer buzzsaw power and terror of the brilliant original. In the early 1970s, it was not uncommon to find films akin to TCSM - largely in the form of rather pointless orgies of bloodletting inspired by Night of the Living Dead (18, 1968). What singles out TCSM is its surprising lack of gore – blood is rarely spilled, but when it is, the effects are shattering.

Made for $500,000 in a sweltering August in 1973, Tobe Hooper's feature length debut was banned in a number of countries, as well as the UK - a campaign sperheaded unsurprisingly by those protectors of moral values, The Daily Mail. It was years before mainstream audiences in the UK saw it, and before it finally got the acclaim it so obviously deserved. It is a horror masterpiece. No, there is no intricate complex plot involved here, it's not The Ring. It does what it says on the tin. A group of teenagers driving through texas are waylaid by a rather 'unconventional' family, out of work since the Slaughterhouse closed down. The first inkling they get of this family is the slightly crazed hitchhiker (Edwin Neals) who hints at what is to come with an amusing lack of subtlety ("My family's always been in meat") before they run out of gas, and poke around an old house before they explore a little too far.

What with there only being five teenagers, the bodycount is low but their deaths are quite awesomely shocking. Deaths are delivered via hammer, chainsaw and meathook – by the insane squealing Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen), a rather unfortunate name to give a growing young man but hey, it has the intended effect. The sole survivor, Sally (Marilyn Burns) spends most of the remainder of the film running away and screaming – unlike most scantily clad film heroines however, you're actually screaming with her. The chase is truly terrifying, and as the film powers into its final minutes, we're still holding our breath and trying not to scream. As a hysterical, shrieking Sally finally escapes, we see the most chilling shot in all cinema – leatherface screaming, waving his chainsaw around his head in a fit of rage.

It is a horror film with a distinct lack of frills and is probably one of the purest horror films ever. It's the bad guy and his quarry, laced with black humour (seen particularly when Leatherface is in the kitchen, being hounded by 'paw') and plenty of shocks and a constant sensation of dread. The film forces you through one nightmare after another; in fact, some of the most disturbing scenes are where leatherface has no weapons and the whole family are sat around the dinner table, shrieking and laughing hysterically at the bound and gagged girl. Okay, so the film is unlikely to win awards for acting – although Gunnar Hansen is fantastic as the insane and child-like Leatherface – but having Shakespearean actors in a film that is all about getting cut up with a chainsaw is not strictly necessary. The film has dated, but it has never lost the power to terrify. The power of the film was such that it was felt that it needed a remake with higher production values and a larger 'Sawyer' family – but the 2003 effort just couldn't get close. Hail one of the great horror movies of all time, as well as one of the greatest and most frightening villains.


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