FIVE FILMS FROM...2001
(Directed by James Isaac)
'Jason-fucking-Voorhees, that's what's going on!'
Space. The final frontier … that film franchises often go to when they start showing signs of fatigue. Leprechaun did it. Hellraiser did it. Machete threatened to do it. Even James Bond and Fast and Furious have dipped their fingers into areas beyond the Earth's orbit. And so did Jason Voorhees when the cinematic chips were down. After the false Final Chapter (Part 4 in 1984) and the Final Friday (Part 9 in 1993), the tenth instalment came officially in 2001. That's what the "X" stands for. It's not ol' hockey mask making a bid for porn notoriety; it's just the roman numeral version of part 10. Actually, we're cheating a bit here, as the film was released in Spain in November 2001 for a single showing but wasn't released widely until April 2002. It was written by Todd Farmer and starred Lexa Doig, Lisa Ryder (both from pulpy sci-fi show "Andromeda"), and Kane Hodder in his fourth and final cinematic appearance as Jason.
Completely and utterly ignoring the events of Final Friday and generally flipping the bird to the body-swapping concepts introduced in it, the film starts in 2008. Jason (Hodder, of course) has been finally captured and incarcerated in some Area-51-alike government bunker. They haven't killed him because they're really interested in the way he can regenerate himself and not die. He's shown as horror's Wolverine, basically. But of course, he gets away, kills David Cronenberg (!), and gets caught in some "Futurama"-type shit as he gets cryogenically frozen along with the chosen final girl, Rowan LaFontaine (Doig). Four hundred forty-five years later (!!), a scientific exploration of the now-ruined Earth finds the bodies of Jason and Rowan. Of course, they retrieve them, fly into space, and start to examine them. Jason is awakened by a couple having sex (!!!), and it all goes slasher-in-space. Not just that, but the reckless use of nanobots also results in the appearance of a cyborg "Uber-Jason" (!!!!)
As that synopsis undoubtedly shows, the plot of Jason X is absolutely preposterous. It makes Jason Takes Manhattan look like Maniac in comparison! But if you can bear the "Alien" set-up, convenient technobabble, cheap-looking sets, and lightweight science-fiction principles … this is enormous fun. It manages the clever trick of just falling short of becoming a parody whilst highlighting the tropes of the "Friday" films in brilliantly inventive ways. For instance, the famous VR/Hologram sequence sees Jason being mocked by topless holographic women who trill "We love premarital sex" and laugh at him whilst he slams their bodies together in sleeping bags. A stereotypically corrupt future scientist tries to bargain with him in a futile gesture ("Phew! It's okay! He just wanted his machete back…"). The film is genuinely funny with snarky kills and one-liners that work surprisingly well due to the knowing way they are presented. Try to watch the "He's-Screwed" death sequence without cracking a grin.
Apparently, David Cronenberg appeared in the first act as a favour to Jim Isaac (who also appears in the film) and asked to be killed by Jason. Speaking of movie maestros, this is also (allegedly) one of Quentin Tarantino's favourite entries in the franchise, and he loves the gnarly death-by-nitrogen sequence, which is a definite highlight. Many deaths do take place offscreen (which led to it getting a "15" certificate in the UK), but there's still a decent amount of gore to be seen, with some early CGI work allowing a bisected character to drag his torso across the floor. Hodder is at the top of his game and physically superb in his last official Jason excursion, although Uber-Jason appears annoyingly late in the game. You may be disappointed by the goofiness of the plot, but this is worth it for an Amazonian Fembot absolutely destroying JV and one of the ballsiest characters (Peter Mensah as Sergeant Elijah Brodski) and endings that exist in any of the franchise entries. Otherwise, the biggest "F" in this "Friday" stands for "Fun", and we love it.
Fun Fact: The film doesn't have "Friday the 13th" in the title. This is because (like "Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday") New Line Cinema couldn't legally include it, as Paramount Pictures still owned that element of the brand and trademark.
(Directed by Hayao Miyazaki)
'Once you do something, you never forget. Even if you can't remember.'
Is this Studio Ghibli all-time classic really horror? Well… it may be a family-friendly fantasy that mixes "stink-spirits" and no-faced ghosts with dragons and witches, along with an enslaved 10-year-old heroine, but we're going with a "yes" so that we can include this beloved classic. The film is based on the Japanese mythology of "kamikakushi", where humans are abducted by the gods and transported to the spirit world. Historically, this has been blamed for the disappearances of children and adults over many years. Written and directed by anime master Hayao Miyazaki, his friend (and fan) Pixar animator John Lasseter convinced Walt Disney Pictures to buy the film's North American distribution rights. He then served as an executive producer of its English-dubbed version. As a result, the film is one of the few examples where the dubbed version is as good as the original, with lots of good voice acting going on that matches the visuals. He even ensured that minor points that might befuddle or confuse Western viewers were addressed in the adjusted screenplay. For instance, Chihiro is forced to work as a cleaner in a bathhouse and NOT a brothel, as some early viewers interpreted the narrative.
The fantastical-but-dark story sees the slightly spoilt and stroppy ten-year-old Chihiro Ogino on a road trip to the new family home. During an unwise exploration of an apparently abandoned amusement park, and after eating some food in an empty restaurant, her parents turn into feral pigs and a flooded river traps her. Ghosts and monsters ("yokai" for mythology fans) suddenly populate the site, and she realises that she has been orphaned in the spirit world and must fend for herself. She meets protective boy/dragon spirit Haku and comes under the influence of massive-headed witch Yubaba. From this point, Chihiro starts to befriend some of the strange creatures around her, especially the silent "No-Face", who will eventually aid or hinder her in a quest to regain her parent's humanity and return to the real world.
Like the golden days of Disney family films (before they became obsessed with live-action reboots of every animated property they held), Spirited Away is a brilliant mix of the grotesque and the cute, danger and wonder. The typical Ghibli animated style (precise lines, quiet moments, calming music, surreal imagery, etc.) adapts to the Wizard-of-Oz-type storyline immaculately. As with most of the Ghibli films, the central plot is simple and repeats across many of their productions – imperfect protagonist learns humility and kindness in weird and scary scenarios before becoming a better person. Some moments are quite unnerving, such as when the dark spooks start to infest the park after Chihiro loses her parents or the appearance of Yubaba and her twin sister (who just look "wrong" on so many levels). The sense of loss and loneliness that affects Chihiro is quite emotional, but there are also some supremely cute moments, such as the insanely adorable overweight mouse and tiny bird that two characters are transformed into.
On top of this is the effortlessly beautiful animation and imagery that alternates between beautiful and disturbing. It makes a change to recommend the dubbed version, but the voice work of James Marsden, Suzanne Pleshette, Tara Strong, John Ratzenberger, and Daveigh Chase totally suit the characters and add to the visual style greatly. The score is marvellous, and the serene train journey sequence even pops up on YouTube as a favourite ASMR subject. Alright, maybe we're going a bit soft in our old age, but the horror genre (especially with proto-kaiju, yokai, witchcraft … and don't forget the "stink-spirit") is there, and it's about time we recommended a Japanese anime'. You couldn't pick a better starter pack than this. Enjoy.
Fun fact: The character of "No Face" is supposed to resemble a silkworm, which is an important animal in Japanese culture. This is why No-Face eats and grows so quickly and is seen in the final sequences spinning silk.
BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF
(Directed by Christophe Gans)
'Lies appear true when dressed in Latin.'
If you've seen the South Korean creature feature Monstrum on Shudder, then you've seen a similar narrative to this hugely underrated gallic journey into mediaeval Gallic horror. But for the time, it was something remarkably different to usual international horror efforts. Ostensibly Brotherhood of the Wolf (or "Le Pacte des loups" if you prefer) is a French period action horror film, which is a fairly limited sub-genre it has to be said. It is actually VERY, VERY loosely based on a "true" incident in France's history. There actually was a Beast of Gévaudan (La Bête du Gévaudan), which was thought to be either a wolf, a werewolf, a witch, a demon, or something else. It stalked the rural areas of France's Auvergne and South Dordogne regions between the years 1764 to 1767. It is thought to have killed about 100 people and countless animals, but records were notoriously unreliable in such cases that were tinged with superstition. Nevertheless, cracking idea for a movie. It stars Samuel Le Bihan, Mark Dacascos, Monica Bellucci and Vincent Cassel and makes compelling viewing.
Narrated by a Marquis during the French Revolution, he diarises the events of 1764 as he experienced them. The aforementioned mysterious beast is terrorising the province of Gévaudan, with the peasants and local aristocrats equally fearful. Grégoire de Fronsac (Le Bihan) is a French-born knight who arrives with his Iroquois companion Mani (a butt-kicking Dacascos) to investigate and capture the beast. But it soon becomes apparent that although the beast is real, it is being used as a weapon for nefarious means by human masters.
What makes this film so cool and unique is its broad mix of styles. It incorporates gothic romance, swashbuckling fights, martial arts slo-mo (!), monster madness, and medieval griminess. There are also some past and future horror and video game connections; the leads turn up looking like live-action versions of the main character designs in 2015's computer game "Bloodborne", one character uses an extending "chain-sword" that was inspired by a female fighter in the "Soulcalibur" games, and the basis of the plot melds historical truths with Hound of the Baskervilles twists and conspiracy theories.
The film is mostly a damned good action-rush and unusual creature feature. In-between political shenanigans and anarchistic plots, there are skirmishes in the pouring rain with staffs and kickboxing, desperate Predator-type trapping efforts, and one-on-one duels with specialised swords. The climactic revelation of the nature of the beast provides a daft explanation that is about as likely as a truth-telling politician but that fits in with the general atmosphere. For the most part, early CGI provides the representation of the feral beast. Whilst it's no Jurassic Park, it isn't too bad when it comes to breakneck action sequences for the technology at the time. The running time could be trimmed a little (most cuts are around 2hrs 20 mins), but otherwise, it's a great romp. Although it's not mentioned much these days, at the time, it was one of the biggest international successes for French-language cinema, which is very much deserved.
Fun Fact: According to IMDB, Vincent Cassel turned down the villainous role when first approached. So it was rewritten in order to make the character creepier and add an incestuous attraction to his sister. Cassel then came onboard….
(Directed by Victor Salva)
'Every 23rd Spring, for 23 days, it gets to...eat.' It's worth stating from the off, that the controversy surrounding the director of Jeepers Creepers will undoubtedly affect how some treat the film as a whole. Whilst we're not going to go into any depth regarding the awful particulars of Salva's crimes, suffice to say that if anyone has no intention of watching (or rewatching) this film ever again, we get that. It's an understandable position to take. Feel free to skip this entry. For those that are happy to read on, we would much rather talk about the film than the film-maker in question, so that's what we'll do...
Jeepers Creepers opens with siblings, Trish and Darry, travelling home from college through the deserted rural roads of the American mid-west. Car games and bickering makes way for panic, as they are are tailgated by an old truck, which eventually passes them and speeds off into the distance. Their relief is short lived however. They soon spot the same truck parked up outside an old abandoned church and an ominous cloaked figure dumping what appears to be bodies wrapped in sheets down a large pipe that protrudes from the ground. To make matters worse, the creepy figure has seen them and he gets back in his truck and pursues them at breakneck speed. Trish and Darry are run off the road and once again have to watch as the mysterious assailant speeds off into the distance. Trish just wants to get the hell out of there (clever girl) but Darry insists they go back to the church to see what's down the pipe...
Although the opening ten minutes or so plays out in a suspiciously similar manner to a certain episode of Unsolved Mysteries, it's nevertheless a formidable opening sequence. The image of the creeper standing beside the pipe, watching Trish and Darry as they cruise past in their vintage car is something that has been imprinted on my brain since I first saw it over 20 years ago. The fact that it may have been one of the first horror films I saw on the big screen surely played a small part but that feeling that I (and Trish and Darry) had just witnessed something that they weren't supposed to is a deeply unsettling one. The film makes a rather bold mythology choice about half way through and for some, it's a leap too far. I get that. But for the first forty minutes or so, I and pretty much everyone that was in the same screening as me back in 2001, were completely and utterly engrossed. It was edge of the seat stuff.
Jeepers Creepers is both a monster movie and a slasher movie, a combination rarely seen nowadays and although the mere fact it's the former undeniably offends some, the fact is that the Creeper is still one of the best horror monsters of the 21st century. But what really elevates this above other early noughties slashers is the relationship between the central duo. Justin Long and Gina Phillips are perfectly matched and the decision to focus on siblings rather than lovers, is something of a master stroke. Their dynamic propels the story forward and makes everything that much more tense.
Critically, it was generally well received amongst horror fans at the time and commercially it was a huge success too – raking in nearly six times its $10m budget. There have been two sequels since but it's a case of diminishing returns unfortunately, with the third entry being really quite bad. The franchise is being rebooted though (with a new Director) so there's hope that there will be an upturn in fortunes. Until then, we've thankfully got this bad boy to fall back on.
Fun fact: The role of the creeper was originally written for Lance Henriksen.
(Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa)
'Death was...eternal loneliness.'
Although it often gets overlooked in favour of The Ring and The Grudge, Kiyoshi Kurosawa's moody techno-chiller is probably one of the best J-Horror movies out there. And that's no small feat. Unlike Hideo Nakata and Takashi Shimizu, Kurosawa was never hired to make any American features – and so for us in the West, he has flown under the radar a little. But he's an accomplished film-maker that deserves recognition and Pulse is perhaps the best film he has ever made.
Pulse follows two converging storylines, which eventually conjoin later in the narrative. Michi is a twenty something who works at a plant shop in Tokyo. She has a small group of friends amongst her co-workers, one of whom, Taguchi, has been missing for several days. When she visits his apartment, he seems unusually quiet and aloof. Whilst Michi talks to him, he wanders into another room and hangs himself. Michi and her friends discover a disk in his apartment that contains an unsettling image of Taguchi staring into a computer monitor, creating an endless series of repetitive images. There is a second monitor in the picture too – and this one seems to show a ghostly face staring out at Taguchi's room. Meanwhile, Ryosuke, a rather luddite economics student, tries to set up the internet in his dorm room for the first time (This is 2001, people. You needed a CD-ROM and everything!) Somehow, his computer loads up a website by itself – one that seems to show creepy footage and images of people alone in darkened rooms, doing weird and unsettling shit. Ryosuke does what all sensible people would do. He pulls the plug. However, his interest piqued, he pays a visit to Harue, a computer science student who tries to help him figure out what is going on. Suffice to say, it's nothing good!
The Weinstein's (boo!) bought the rights to Pulse and due to their desire to produce some rather shabby remakes and sequels, made Kurosawa's original quite difficult to track down in early noughties. However, rather than hindering the film's popularity, it has only added to its cult status.
Released at a time when the internet was in its infancy (for us proles at least), you would think that the technological aspect would hamstring the film and make it feel dated. However, if anything, watching it in 2022, it somehow feels rather prophetic and ahead of its time. Sure the dial up and old school hardware will tug at the nostalgia strings for those of us old enough to remember them, but the concept that something that is supposed to make us feel more connected to each other is actually doing the exact opposite, is never more poignant than right now. I am not sure that anyone is really sure what exactly is going in terms of the plot in Pulse. It doesn't feel the need to spell everything out for us. Instead it's content to let us ponder its bleak but human themes of loneliness and hopelessness. Yay!
And whilst the scares are not as outright and grotesque as some of its J-Horror peers, there is a lingering sense of dread that exists throughout almost the entire movie. A lot of this is down to the sheer ambiguity of what we are seeing on screen. We don't fully understand the ghosts that Kurosawa presents or why they exist or what they want (although these questions are speculated upon). And this inability to grasp onto any sense of logic makes it difficult for us to predict what may happen at any given moment. The unhurried pacing and contemplative nature of the story means that even in the third act, we barely shift gears. But by the end, we are nevertheless left with a haunting and affecting ghost story that is difficult to forget.
Fun fact: A large number of scenes were shot from windows (yeah, the internet is light on Pulse trivia for some reason)