Thursday, October 26, 2006


Lucky McKee, despite his name, seems to have bad luck. He makes good films, which flirt with the mainstream, while quitely subverting it, and never seemed to get a proper release. Probably the most exposed work he has done was the (apparently substandard) 1 hour telefilm for the Masters of Horror series called "Sick Girl." The title could actually apply to both of his films, the 2002 modern riff on the creation of Frankenstein, if the good doctor was an alienated and sexually frustrated teenage girl, which got such a very limited theatrical and subsequently quiet DVD release. May has become a sort of secret handshake between discriminating horror fans in the same vein as Canadas feminist werewolf movie Ginger Snaps. His most recent film, which didn't even get a theatrical release, despite starring academy award nominated actress Patricia Clarkson and B-Film legend Bruce Campbell was unceremoniously dumped onto DVD a couple weeks ago. The Woods is very restrained horror/drama set in a remote girls 'finishing' school in the 1960s. A young girl (Agnes Bruckner is practically abandoned by her parents due to her lack of discipline at home, the latest incident being almost burning down said home. This school has a reputation of turning out smart disciplined ladies. Our heroine, appropriate named Heather (referencing the surrounding forest as much as the viscious teen dark comedy from 1989) indeed soon find out rough social order at the school imposed by some of her classmates and the tough (but strange) school mistress that her initiation is indeed going to be a trial by fire.

The pacing in the film is much more of a drama than a horror, in a similar way to Dario Argento's "Suspiria" Guillermo del Toro's "The Devil's Backbone" or Peter Weir's "Picnic at Hanging Rock." Notably all three of films push pass the conventions of horror films and are co-incidently set in remote schools. Other fleeting echos of similarity I felt while watching were to the Stephen King movies "Firestarter" and "Misery" (the Agnes Bruckner/Patricia Clarkson battle of wills resonated a bit as a James Caan/Kathy Bates for me anyway). The film is somewhere in between all of these things, (although not quite up to the standards of any of them, it gives its premise a good stylish whirl) its deliberate pace is likely to throw off genre fans (despite a couple tips of the hat to Evil Deads Ash, Campbell is quite restrained here. Put yourself in a slow-burn frame of mind to best enjoy the experience. Special mention is warrented for the superb sound design which featured creaking limbs and groan house/school structural moaning throughout the film giving an aural nod to underlying adolescent stresses on the lead character from the school and her classmates.

Thursday, October 19, 2006


Well it seems to be Rutger Hauer month for KBT screenings. After his highly intelligent, slightly psychotic (justifiably) turn as Replicant in Blade Runner, here he is as an intelligent, very psychotic (not so justifiably) hitchhiker who torments C. Thomas Howell (Wither are you now?) and a young Jennifer Jason Leigh. Yes boys and girls, it is that often overlooked white knuckler from the eighties, The Hitcher. A film that is soon to be remade, much like every other slightly overlooked horror film from the past 3 decades. I have to admit that a no small portion of KBT Screenings (Infernal Affairs, The Wicker Man, King Kong, Black Christmas and Nine Queens) have the purpose of ‘catch the original before the remake’ raison d’etre; besides, of course, that all of the above are highly original and entertaining cinema.

Because I’ve not managed to rewatch The Hitcher in nearly a decade and to go into narrative detail would be to spoil the movie anyway, I’ll just say that whether or not the plot logic, or character motivation hold, The Hitcher gets full points for blending suspense and brutality without one outweighing the other. Taking the best aspects of Steven Spielberg’s early 1970s made for TV movie Duel and adding a stalker/slasher element (which was very popular at the time due to John Carpenter and Wes Craven, director Robert Harmon never went on to make anything particularly memorable after this. Nonetheless several minor horror/thrillers such as 1997’s Breakdown, 2002’s Joy Ride and the first 45 minutes of 2001’s Jeepers Creepers owe no small debt to this bloody diamond in the rough.

Thursday, October 12, 2006


Ridley Scott's iconic film Blade Runner was the perfect film at the perfect time and place, even if that time and place was not ready for it. Coming out approximately at the same time as William Gibson 's novel Neuromancer which is widely credited with creating the entire cyberpunk movement, the movie had its share of troubles and growing pains - a rumoured 12 re-writes on the screenplay- and with the exception of really only one scene ("Is this testing whether I'm a replicant or a lesbian, Mr. Deckard?") barely resembles the original novel by Philip K. Dick (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?).

The story is simple; the year is 2019. Rick Deckard, a detective specializing in tracking down and 'retiring' rogue replicants (genetically engineered humans) is recruited to do just that for several of the latest-models who escaped from the offworld colonies and are hiding out on a dilapitated urbanized section of earth (Los Angeles). Over the course of this investigation, Deckards career, his beliefs (or prejudices) and even his humanity are put to the test, both from his prey and the replicant corporations rich owner and his mysterious daughter.

Like most great science fiction films, it was misunderstood at the time of original release, but that did not stop the film from re-defining the visual aesthetic of sci-fi film moving from a crisp clean positive future where everything is minimal (see THX 1138 , 2001: A Space Odyssey , Logan's Run, etc.) to a mismashed chaotic urban sprawl where nothing is clean, planned or makes sense, including the language. It is as if technology and society just grew from the 20th century without purpose, a guiding morality, and certainly for the worse. Without Blade Runner there would be no The Matrix or Serenity, at least not visually. The other major innovation here (although not 100% new, Jean-Luc Godard did it first with Alphaville) is the blend of film noir conventions with sci-fi elements. Rick Dekkard is the classic hard-boiled detective loner who straddles the high and low and ostracized of society while working the investigation. Rachel is the epitome of femme fatale, complete with cigarette, a 1940s coiffure, a mysterious air and some serious issues.

Through a combination of all the actors giving top-shelf performances (including a host of great character actors in small parts) to wonderful score from synth-rock outfit Vangelis, to the pulpy execution blended with one part Dick-ian paranoia, one part Jung-ian philosophy, Blade Runner has survived several theatrical versions, directors cuts and the like to become one of the true canonical science fiction films.

Come out Thursday October 12 to enjoy the 1992 Directors Cut version of Blade Runner, recently remastered. It is truly one of those films which suffers on a small screen, and while I'm no full blown Cinema, this should be a fine hold-over until the re-release this in theatres. Drinks at 8pm. Trailers and Showtime at 8:30pm.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

KBT Presents: VITAL

When we are young and do crazy things, do we flirt with death because we do not understand it, or are we just wired that way?

Japanese auteur Shinya Tsukamoto delicately tells the story of a man who recovers from an difficult personal tragedy by literally dissecting his girlfriend. Before you lock in a mental picture of the previous sentence, know that the film is not an exploitation piece. It is in fact a film which wishes to probe the idea of the human body as a document. Can dead flesh be a record of who that person was? Stretching beyond the physical towards the spiritual, the end results it is actually quite respectful of the flesh. (Anatomical pencil sketchs shown throughout the picture display a haunting type of beauty.)

Vital is not a horror film or even science fiction in any conventional sense. The basic narrative, when a description is attempted, actually sounds like a collection of bad movie clichés requiring co-incidences of the highest order to make sense: A man wakes up with amnesia. He is told by his father that he was in a car accident with his girlfriend (who died). He enrolls in medical school and years later when he gets to his anatomy lab, gets his girlfriend as the cadaver. He does not know this at first. But has he does the hands-on-course work his memories of life with her begin to flood back. He is able to move on with his life because he has done this.

The movie does not even attempt to exist in the 'real world,' opting to explore the concept through metaphor much like the bodies of work of Antonioni, Tarkovsky or even Vincent Ward. Spiritual questions posed are probed through visuals more than dialogue. Yes, Tsukamoto knows the medium he is working in. It is difficult enough to address these questions with words. It is a treat to watch such a morbid yet beautiful film work so well. As memory returns in 'flashbacks, 'the lead character, played by Tadanobu Asano, is not just reliving the moments with his girlfriend, but also existing outside the moment, as if memory and nostalgia for the past give him a new way to interact with her. She is prescient and omniscient in those dreams. This is illustrated through a couple tour-de-force dance sequences against some stunning cinematography. Emotional, intellectual and even sexual engagement (no, there is no necrophilia for those of you with dirty minds) of the movie is unsurpassed this year for me. The film references Blade Runner (which for that, will put any movie at least on my curiously list) several times - from memory as tears in rain, to the belching smokestacks which open both films. While most known for his guerilla fusions of tissue, tendons and technology explored his own Tetsuo films, here Tsukamoto explores the flesh as the soul.