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I’ve been on the American Film Market beat since 1998, and at this year’s industry marketplace, held November 3-9 in Santa Monica, CA, I watched more movies in six days than the average person sees in a year. Then again, said moviegoers usually don’t have the opportunity to catch films such as THE DEVIL’S FLOWER (Russia’s TWILIGHT knockoff) or THE TERROR EXPERIMENT (C. Thomas Howell vs. zombies in a high-rise) at their local multiplex.
Though AFM screens some high-end independent genre product (MONSTERS, THE LAST EXORCISM, LET ME IN, etc.), the majority of the 400-plus movies for sale to international and domestic buyers fall squarely into the B-movie category. Many of these films will eventually land in Redbox kiosks and on late-night cable TV, though a few will win greater exposure from the Magnolias and IFCs of the world. Luckily, no one expects you to sit through movies with tiles like DINO MOM; that’s my job. And the results of my annual AFM screening frenzy appear below.
THE CHILD’S EYE: Thailand’s Pang brothers (Oxide and Danny) continue to explore ghostly phenomena in this fourth (and worst) installment in their EYE franchise. In this stand-alone film (actually, nothing connects the EYE pictures, as far as I can see), a group of vacationers get stranded in Thailand due to political unrest and hole up in a seedy hotel. Before long, a ghost woman (reminiscent of RINGU’s Sadako and THE GRUDGE’s Kayako, of course) begins haunting the travelers, and the guys disappear into some other dimension. Three creepy kids and their spook-sniffing dog (!) offer clues, but CHILD’S EYE gets sillier and duller as the predictable story plods along, with an especially ridiculous twist ending. The de rigueur addition of sporadically effective 3-D FX (the sales agent promotes CHILD’S EYE as the first Hong Kong production to be shot entirely in hi-def stereoscopic 3-D) does little to improve this rather shoddy-looking production.
BURKE AND HARE: This British black comedy marks the welcome return to the big screen of AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON director John Landis, making his first feature film in a dozen years. Landis and screenwriters Piers Ashworth and Nick Moorcroft tackle the oft-told (THE FLESH AND THE FIENDS, THE DOCTOR AND THE DEVILS, etc.) story of the titular Scottish murderers (amiably played by Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis) and milk it for macabre gallows humor. As before, we follow the notorious 19th-century duo as they supply medical teacher Dr. Knox (an underutilized Tom Wilkinson) with curiously fresh cadavers (no questions asked), though this time the filmmakers add romantic subplots and underworld entanglements for the klutzy killers. A superb cast, which also includes hilarious turns by a snobby Tim Curry and diminutive Ronnie Corbett, plus a cameo by Christopher Lee, makes BURKE AND HARE a joy from start to finish, even if the material is never quite as funny as it should be.
RAMMBOCK (also pictured at top): Germany weighs in with its contribution to the tidal wave of zombie films and, with RAMMBOCK, comes up with a winner. An average Joe (Michael Fuith) arrives at his ex-girlfriend’s flat to make amends just as a viral outbreak infects the populace, creating symptoms right out of 28 DAYS LATER. The man teams up with a teen plumber’s assistant (Theo Trebbs), and the two hole up in the apartment while violent chaos ensues all around them. Director Marvin Kren keeps the movie suspenseful and scary throughout its brief 64-minute running time, and the sympathetic characters and offbeat plot twists (the infected don’t like flashes of light and the virus can be initially held at bay with tranquilizers) help elevate RAMMBOCK way above the usual low-budget zombie fare.
I SAW THE DEVIL: Almost as disturbingly intense as A SERBIAN FILM and more brutal than Park Chan-wook’s VENGEANCE trilogy (which it owes a debt to), I SAW THE DEVIL, the latest from Korean director Kim Ji-woon (A TALE OF TWO SISTERS, 3 EXTREMES II and THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE WEIRD), takes no prisoners from the get-go. A serial killer (Choi Min-sik) abducts and murders a pregnant woman, showing no mercy in his dirty, body-parts-strewn lair. Turns out the victim is the fiancée of a special agent (Lee Byung-hun), who will stop at nothing to get even. Over the course of the film, the “good guy” stretches out his torturous vengeance as he stalks, taunts and brutalizes the twisted murderer, planting a GPS tracking devise in his gut that allows the agent to anticipate the unrepentant maniac’s every move. I SAW THE DEVIL almost jumps the rails by the end with its sheer violent outrageousness and over-the-top shocks, but those with strong stomachs will want to stick it out to the bitter end. Magnolia Pictures releases I SAW THE DEVIL Stateside next year.
BITTER FEAST: Our savvy friends at Glass Eye Pix and Dark Sky Films offered two new productions at AFM this year, Jim Mickle’s apocalyptic vampire tale STAKE LAND (which I already saw at Lincoln’s Center’s Scary Movies 4 fest and loved) and writer/director Joe Maggio’s more intimate revenge thriller BITTER FEAST (previously reviewed here). PHANTASM II’s James LeGros stars as Peter Grey, a popular TV and restaurant chef at the end of his rope. When a web blogger named J.T. Franks (BLAIR WITCH PROJECT’s Joshua Leonard) savages Grey in a review and he loses his culinary jobs, the chef kidnaps Franks and takes him to his country home to teach him a bloody cooking lesson or two… What could have been a Vincent Price-style campfest is instead played chillingly straight by Maggio’s indie-cred cast, with both LeGros and Leonard investing their characters with depth and shading. The movie does not shy away from the red sauce, and an added bonus finds producer Larry Fessenden showing up as a smarmy private detective in the Martin Balsam tradition (you know his investigation won’t end well). Though BITTER FEAST overstays its welcome past dessert, fans will come away satiated from this dark treat.
WE ARE THE NIGHT: Like zombies, vampires have been done to death lately—pun intended—but leave it to the Germans, as they showed with RAMMBOCK (see above) to breathe new life into these moribund creatures. In this ultraslick action/horror yarn, wastrel pickpocket Lena (Karoline Herfurth) falls in with a group of sexy all-female vampires, including leader Louise (blonde bombshell Nina Hoss), who puts the bite on her in the bathroom of a noisy disco. Lena begins to embrace her new lifestyle with the playgirl vamps, who speed around in fancy cars, shop after hours at the chic-est stores and hang out at the trendiest clubs and restaurants (they can eat all the food they want and not gain weight). The gang also attracts the attention of a copper (Max Riemelt), who has a thing for Lena too. Director/co-writer Dennis Gansel keeps WE ARE THE NIGHT moving at a furious pace while also infusing the movie with a welcome feminist streak and lesbian subtext (I especially loved how he explains the absence of male vampires). Co-produced by Constantin Film, WE ARE THE NIGHT has the look, feel and pacing of the same company’s RESIDENT EVIL series, except this film has a heart and soul missing from those entertaining but forgettable video-game adaptations. Expect a big-budget U.S. remake and/or Gansel to be grabbed by an American studio to helm the next sci-fi or action blockbuster.
TO BE CONTINUED
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