Re-makes. Mother frickin’ re-makes.

9 Sep

The Eye‘ (Gin Gwai) became ‘The Eye‘, and Jessica Alba couldn’t save it. And that’s just the start.

‘One Missed Call‘, ‘Shutter‘, ‘Pulse‘. All fantastic asian horrors re-made and reinvented as, well, pretty awful.

I only recently found out that ‘Ils‘ was a massive inspiration for the highly successful and well-regarded ‘The Strangers‘ in more ways than one, and it took a single line low down in IMDB to even know any credit was even given.

More worrying however, is the fact that there are already re-makes planned for ‘Oldboy‘, ‘Battle Royale‘ and ‘Martyrs‘ (here and here on IMDB respectively, Martyrs entry doesn’t exist yet), and although the details are at best minimal, the forecast may look bleak for those who love their foreign cinema… ‘untainted’.

But, there are those times when it can all work out for the best; I personally adore the re-make of ‘The Ring‘, and sometimes, shock-horror, I even think it’s better than it’s predecessor, ‘Ringu‘ (and this is a common opinion).

However, in it’s wake, it opened the door for endless asian horror re-makes; the best of which, ‘The Grudge‘, still spawned two sequels that were, at best, slightly irrelevant. It did help that Takashi Shimizu directed both the original and the re-make, though…

And this is a hugely important factor; when there is involvement by the original creators, whether it be in direction or writing, the film seems to stay true to it’s cinematic roots and doesn’t just stink of re-make.

But, this is rarely the case. Even ‘Let Me In‘ recently split audiences 50/50.

What do people think? Will ‘Oldboy‘, ‘Battle Royale‘ and ‘Martyrs‘ be ruined or reborn?

Ils (France, 2006)

26 Aug

Quiet one evening in their Romanian country house, Lucas (Michaël Cohen) and Clémentine (Olivia Bonamy) settle down to sleep. When Clémentine, already a little nervy and jumpy, hears strange noises outside, Lucas marches outside to discover his car halfway down the drive.

When their car disappears into the night and they quickly realise they are not alone, a night of desperate fear begins as Lucas and Clémentine are on the wrong end of a cat and mouse chase, trying to hdie in their own home and discover who or what is chasing them, and why.

This film is a textbook example of creating perfect tension and seamless scenes of agonising intrigue. Directors David Moreau and Xavier Palud play out the key scenes in real time, and rarely jump between shots until the pace picks up. This, alongside the extreme lack of contact between cat and mouse, has an impressively powerful effect.

For the English-language horror-film fans, the film bears more than a passing resemblance to ‘The Strangers’, and is essentially a boiled down version; none of the masks, more of the mystery.

‘Ils’ is a very good, fantastically constructed film, but with little replay value. There are whispers and rumours of how true a true story created ‘Ils’, but it definitely adds a tinge of realism that, when blended in with the believable and natural set-up of the film, carves a sharper story and adds an impressive element of fear.

Find out more here (IMDB) and buy it here (AmazonUK).

Oldboy (2003, South Korea)

24 Aug

Oh Dae-Su (Min-sik Choi)  lived a shameful life. When he is imprisoned, with no answers, no explanations and no human contact, but all amenities catered for, he has 15 years to ponder which one of his adventures cost him his freedom and to ponder his revenge.

Upon his release, he is given clothes, money and a task; to discover the reason for his imprisonment. Along with new companion Mi-Do (Hye-jeong Kang), he begins his second chance at life with a lust for vengeance and a 5-day deadline in which he must discover what he did so wrong.

The centre of the Vengeance Trilogy (the first of which was ‘Sympathy for Mr Vengeance’, and the latter being ‘Lady Vengeance’), and Park Chan-Wook’s masterpiece, ‘Oldboy‘ insists upon your full attention and definitely shocks and stuns, and whilst less visually beautiful that it’s counterparts, some of the scenes stand-out as irreplacable.

The scene that everyone remembers is the corridor. For good reason admittedly, as it’s uniquely shot and endearingly gory, but it is also genuinely amusing. And it looks like a video game.

But, throughout the film, that violence that eminates from the pure frustration of the characters is something that is understandable, and whilst you see little of Oh Dae-Su’s past, you are drawn into supporting his plight and it is difficult to comprehend when events unfold.

This is one of the films that put Korean cinema on the map, and had an impact on the underground, indie foreign film market similar to the impact ‘The Host’ made on mainstream movies. A remake is in the works, sadly, but ‘Oldboy’ will forever remain unique, and a testament to the innovation and attraction of Korean cinema.

Find out more here (IMDB) or buy it here (AmazonUK).

Martyrs (2008, France)

21 Aug

Lucie (Mylène Jampanoï) was horribly abused as a child, and even her best friend Anna (Morjana Alaoui) knows tragically little about the trials of her past.

Lucie was discovered fleeing from a gruesome scene of torture and abuse in an abandoned slaughterhouse. She never speaks of her captors, nor does she speak of the horrible abuse she suffered under their control.

And, when Lucie discovers those who wronged her, she is intent on scathing revenge, to avenge others before her and to tackle personal demons. But she is clearly a troubled girl, and the events that unfold are beyond even her imagination.

Martyrs‘ was, and still is, truly unique. The drama is simply enthralling, and even as the jarring horror of the film fades, the events that unfold are so unpredictable that you feel as though you’ve watched a show-reel of four or five smaller films seamlessly entwined together with twists that leave you genuinely shocked.

The dark, psychologically challenging tone is similar to that of it’s French sister ‘Inside’, and, at some points, challenges on the violence and gore stakes. As director Pascal Laugier suggests, the film is so hard to deal with because of the injustice you feel. There is no reprieve for the characters and no reprieve for the viewer, and the issues are endlessly difficult to deal with.

But, this film really stands out for it’s entirely believable but utterly horrifying approach to one of the weirdest days anyone could imagine. It’s a difficult film to forget and is irrepressibly irreplacable.

Battle Royale (2000, Japan)

20 Aug

The Japanese government have lost control of their country. Mass unemployment, violence and a young generation intent on rebellion.

So, they introduce the Battle Royale Act; a nationwide lottery plucks a public school class out of their relative comfort and dropped onto a deserted island, where they are forced to fight to the death until there is only one survivor.

‘Battle Royale’ (adapted from the novel by Koushun Takami and inspired by his TokyoPop manga) follows a class of 42 as they pick out their allies, discover their enemies and battle the deadly ‘special guests’ picked out to make their battle that little bit more exciting. Armed only with a random weapon (ranging from binoculars to a scythe, and from a pot-lid to a handgun) and told that only one will survive, it is up to each individual to play the game, fight the system or bide their time.

Wonderfully conceptualised and chillingly appropriate for today’s society and recent events, following the ‘heroes’ Shuya Nanahara and Noriko Nakagawa (Tatsuya Fujiwara and Aki Maeda) is simultaneously a heartening and troubling watch. A cult classic in Japan, and likened to ‘A Clockwork Orange‘ in the UK, this film certainly made a mark, and resassuringly, it did so with the full co-operation and writing skills of it’s original creator, Takami.

Although ‘Battle Royale’ is a violent film, it is, against it’s print counterparts, dramatically less sexual and gruesome (it’s 18 classification is scarcely justified). However, it is given a classical and imposing force by the soundtrack, which is orchestral and bhugely, hugely powerful. As a result, ‘Battle Royale’ is a masterful film with a poignant message, delivered in an all-too-realistic timeline parallel to our own, and it is truly gripping and powerful as a result.

One of the few films that has truly made me reflect on my own life and after watching, I went back and bought the novel and the full manga collection. I reckon that speaks volumes.

Find out more here (IMDB) or buy it here (Amazonuk).

Fighting for a Long-Toothed Tradition…

18 Aug

Mention Vampires to any self-proclaiming Horror movie buff and they will rattle off a list of their favourites; the classic ‘Nosferatu’ (or the less aged ‘Nosferatu’) most likely thrown in with a ‘Martin’ reference is a likely response for some of the older generations. But what about my generation?

Introduced to Buffy as a young ‘un and with few other ports of call, the vampire genre has never really had a chance to stand out. And, frankly, Vampires have become sparkly. What Buffy started ‘The Twilight Saga’ has accelerated, snatching Vampires away from the horror genre and placing them firmly in the adoring grasp of early every female teen-fantasy fan across the globe. But, I think there’s a chance that the classic horror vampire can claw its way back in a way no-one has seen before.

Far away from the cross-Atlantic Twilight realm once known as the UK and US, Sweden and South Korea have changed the game; Let The Right One In and Thirst have both burst through onto the international movie scene in recent years with a new and unique approach to vampires and horror.

Sweden brought ‘Let The Right One In’ to the international film scene in 2008 and had a profound effect; Vampires, at least for a while, were real people and despite still being relentless in basic instincts were human in their everyday struggles. Despite the fact it is character driven and a huge step aside from the classic vampire films of old, it is more violent, more gripping and more challenging than anything released recently.

Set against a backdrop of snow-coated Sweden, 12 year old Oskar makes a friend in Eli, a strange and curious girl who appears to Oskar in late-night encounters in the playground. The unlikely and blossoming friendship formed between the two provides a stark contrast to the spate of violent murders in the area, and as Eli’s story unfolds the  children’s lives develop in unforeseen ways.

The international acclaim and numerous awards the film received are justified, but understandably classic horror film fans will not be satisfied with the lack of evil and frankly, a lack of blood, despite the fantastic closing scene (in which a swimming pool is the venue for the most severe violence in the film, shot in a chillingly understated way) being more than a sufficient replacement to make the film a classic (The Americans certainly noticed the potential, and the remake ‘Let Me In’ has hit cinemas worldwide but to not quite the same effect).

However, if Vampires are going to be lured away from the glittery appeal of the fantasy genre, it’s going to take a film with a bit more of a kick, and this is where Park Chan Wook’s ‘Thirst’ fills the void. Since its UK release last year it has gained limited recognition, as is par for the course when it comes to South Korean cinema in the UK. But a Vampire movie from the director of a film as infamous as ‘Oldboy’ is nothing to be overlooked.

And in my opinion, it’s his best work yet. A priest, Sang-hyeon (played by Kang-ho Song, who also plays the lead in ‘Sympathy for Mr Vengeance’ and in Korean blockbuster ‘The Host’) grows tired of his work and decides to dedicate himself to helping find a cure for a deadly disease in a medical experiment. Instead, he contracts the disease and grows desperately ill, leading to him contracting vampiritus in a botched blood-transfusion as a result.

The story follows his journey as he develops unique ways of surviving without harming others, but every basic urge he holds as a Vampire is amplified by his prior innocence as a priest. As he falls in love and has to cope with his new-found blood-lust,  he begins to lose control and let his base urges take over.

Although less out and out gory than the standard vampire outing, it holds the passion and grip of ‘Let the Right One In’ whilst, at times, being as difficult to watch as any of the horror films I’ve watched. The violence, when introduced, is pretty full on (I’m always caught off guard by full-frontal bone breaks) and there is a lot of what some would call unnecessary and gratuitous sex, but these just make the film all the more engrossing and challenging.

So, the classic blood-seeking missile Vampire that once roamed the horror streets may be a different creature today, but the horror-film buffs may appreciate the more subtle take on an old favourite that these two films have set the way for. After all, the elements of pure fear and evil that emanated from the Vampires of old are still being brought through in this newer  titles. The fantasy fags haven’t won just yet…

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This is a piece I wrote for a magazine a few years ago, but I believe it wasn’t used. That’s just an FYI. Seemed fitting since I just posted ‘Let The Right One In‘.

Let The Right One In (2008, Sweden)

18 Aug

A 12-year-old boy, Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), living in Stockholm with his mother makes a friend in Eli (Lina Leandersson), a strange and curious girl who appears to Oskar in late-night encounters in the playground. An unlikely friendship is formed between the two against a spate of violent, bloody murders in the area, and the story unfolds as both children’s lives develop in unforeseen ways.

A twist to the genre like few others before it, ‘Let The Right One In’ plays on the contrast between the cold-hearted brutality now synonymous with the vampire genre and the innocence of youth to stun the viewer, and the constant play on blood-red vs. crisp-white is an image that creates a style of it’s own. The most visually stunning scene, in which our vampiric ‘heroine’ saves Oskar from being drowned by his bullies in the only way she knows how simply drops jaws.

The Morrissey inspired title of ‘Let The Right One In’ provides an apt background for the innovative and original style of the film, and Tomas Alfredson’s adapation of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel took unique inspiration in developing the chilling and abruptly shocking aura it seeps through the screen.

‘Let The Right One In’ is more gripping than anything I have watched before, and is fascinating in its production. The acting is brilliant, and the two child stars match the dark but glimmering snowy setting in a powerfully understated way. The music, effects and cinematography all entwine to create a horror film the likes of which we rarely see in the UK, avoiding excessive gore and complex twists and turns to produce something as staggeringly beautiful as it is edge-of-your-seat gripping.

Find out more here (IMDB), or buy it here (amazonUK)