Gareth Evans is a Welsh guy who, in 2008, started making Indonesian action movies with a total bad-ass named Iko Uwais. Their second film, “The Raid: Redemption,” became an international cult phenomenon by being the most brutal, bone-breaking action movie of the last ten years. They also made an awesome sequel together. As fantastic as Evans' action movies are, it's apparent that horror is also a genre he loves. His first film, the little seen “Footsteps,” sounds like it borders the genre. He contributed the break-out segment in “V/H/S/2.” When news of Evans' latest arrived, it sounded like another spine-crunching action flick. Dan Stevens rescues his sister from a cult? Lots of opportunities for punching there. Once the trailer for “Apostle” premiered, it became apparent that the film was Evans finally fulfilling his love for the horror genre.
Thomas Richardson was once a missionary. Following a disaster trip to China during the Boxer Rebellion, he lost his faith. The love of his sister, Jennifer, is the only thing that gives him hope. When Jennifer is kidnapped and held for ransom by a cult, operating on a Welsh island, Thomas volunteers to rescue her. The society on the island is led by a prophet named Malcolm Howe. As Thomas attempts to fit in with the cult, he discovers many strange things about them. They worship a goddess. They make blood sacrifice every night. Odd tunnels run underneath the homes. Upon discovering his sister is still alive, Thomas will go on the run and be thrown even further into the bizarre things happening behind-the-scenes on the island.
Having said that, when “Apostle” goes for in-your-face horror, it's hugely successful. A sequence where Thomas is crawling through the island's filthy sewers is claustrophobic to being with. It then ends with a startling and disturbing chase. A ritualistic execution half-way through makes the audience squirm, the incredibly uncomfortable gore being paired with nasty sound effects and people standing in creepy, occultic robes. This proceeds a later horrific scene, where a bizarre monster attacks Thomas and fingers are shoved into the nastiest looking meat-grinder I've ever seen. Evans brings this disturbingly potent strength for intense images even to non-supernatural sequence, such as the visceral flashback that explains Thomas' scars.
After kicking much ass in “The Guest,” Dan Stevens has mostly appeared in rom-coms and Disney movies. Stevens spends much of “Apostle” brooding and growling, being in a paranoid state due to fear of being discovered. When he's unleashed though, Stevens proves, once again, that he's one of the film industry's most underrated action stars. (I hold out hope he'll be our next Bond.) Michael Sheen is also very good as Malcolm Howe. When speaking from the pulpit, he's a confident and charismatic leader. In private, he expresses more doubt about the situation he's found himself in. I also liked Kristine Froseth as the teenage girl at the center of one of the film's abbreviated subplots. Her youthful energy is positive and upbeat.
Bride of the Monster (1955)
Through some bizarre happenstance, I have never reviewed an Edward D. Wood Jr. movie before. I've reviewed the movie about him but never one of the films he actually directed. For years, Wood was considered one of the worst filmmakers ever made. With the dawning of the internet, most film fans know that there were many directors who consistently made far worst films. Wood's movies might've had incompetent special effects and strung-together stories but they are rarely boring. The trash auteur's surreal dialogue and bizarre digressions suggest a fascinating, if unconventional, talent. While I hope to get to Wood's most iconic work of accidental weirdo art later in the month, tonight I decided to give “Bride of the Monster” a spin.
People are disappearing in the marsh around the old Willow House. A monster is supposedly to blame. Thought to be haunted, a new resident has recently moved in. Dr. Vornoff is a disgraced mad scientist from an undisclosed European country, determined to use radiation to create a race of atomic supermen. He is assisted by Lobo, a silent and monstrous man with a gentle heart. A giant octopus in the lake has him dispose of his enemies. Janet, a reporter from a near-by paper, is determined to get to the button of this monster business. Instead, she gets captured and hypnotized by Vornoff.
What makes “Bride of the Monster” even more entertaining, of course, are the idiosyncrasies that mark it as an Ed Wood movie. At 70,000 dollars, this was actually among Wood's more expensive productions. Despite that, the laboratory set still looks like it's made of cardboard. The giant octopus, when not played by documentary footage, obviously doesn't move. The rolling boulder at the end looks fake as can be. Bela Lugois is traded out for an unconvincing stunt double at one point. Yet these barebone production values add to the film's charm, making it feel like a small town production, made by people with more dreams than money. Wood also brings his trademark oddball dialogue tot he film. A monologue about how the swamp is made for death is fascinating. An attempt at catty dialogue between women or a smart alack secretary comes off as hilarious.
Yeah, it's ridiculous and hilarious and obviously not by design. At this point, my enjoyment of Ed Wood's films come as much from genuinely appreciation of their low budget charms as it does ironic laughs at their expense. “Bride of the Monster” rolls along quickly, being only a little over an hour. Something nutty or silly or fun is happening on-screen at every point. It's a comfortable slice of old school horror hokum. A brisk October night, when paired with some Mothman beer and monster tacos, is the ideal environment to be seduced by “Bride of the Monster's” particular charms. [7/10]
Trick or Treat
Boy, I sure picked a good time to start including “Roseanne” episodes in my Halloween marathons. Months after a racist Twitter tirade got her fired, and a few days after her show moved on without her, here I am revisiting “Trick or Treat.” It's a classic Halloween episode from the show's third season. The show's A-plot has Roseanne and Jackie getting stranded at a bar on October 31st. Rosie's costume is of a male trucker and she easily fits in with the macho guys at the bar. Meanwhile, Dan, Becky, and Darlene participate in a local haunted attraction. Dan becomes concern when D.J. decides he to trick-or-treat as a witch this year.
The A-plot of “Trick or Treat” is hilarious, timely, and insightful. We'll be getting to it in just a minute. Because the B-plot of this episode is where its Halloween atmosphere truly shines. The Connors' costumes are next-level stuff. Dan goes as all Three Stooges, Moe and Larry's heads on his shoulders. Becky dresses as a prom queen, half of her body mutilated and burned. My favorite is Darlene's outfit, a fake arm allowing her to puppet a demonic baby bursting from her abdomen. Sara Gilbert's delivery when puppeting the critter is hilarious and adorable. Halloween theatrics like this could not be more pleasing to me.
The Disappearance of Willie Bingham (2015)
Here's another short the internet recommended to me. “The Disappearance of Willie Bingham” follows a prisoner undergoing a newly introduced punishment. Bingham, a rapist and murderer, is to have his body slowly amputated. His surviving family signs off on each limb or body part he has removed. He's marched into school and treated as an example, a warning to disobedient children of what could happen to them. As his body is slowly whittled away, Willie is forced to consider his situation in silence.
“The Disappearance of Willie Bingham” is a not too sublte indictment of the prison system. As Willie has his organs removed, it's mentioned in passing that prisoners provide a number of organ transplant in the film's world. This is mentioned as a side effect of the increasingly privatized prison system. We aren't harvesting prisoners for organs – yet anyway – but we do use them for slave labor. The ways the system dehumanizes the criminals its suppose to rehabilitate is obviously the target of Matthew Richards' short. As more of Willie is cut away, his mental state starts to break. He is transformed from a human being into an object.
The acting is strong, especially from narrator Gregory J. Fryer. Matthew Richards' quasi-documentary style is well suited to the short's presentation. “The Disappearance of Willie Bingham” is a disturbing condemnation of a society all to eager to forget that imprisoned criminals, no matter their crime, are still human beings deserving of mercy. [7/10]