Author Archives: CZombie

Top Ten: Asian Horror Movies

I’ve been a fan of horror movies my whole life, and for much of that time the best of the genre invariably came from the US and, to a lesser degree, the UK. The likes of George Romero, John Carpenter and Wes Craven defined the genre through much of the 70s and 80s. However, over the last decade Western horror seems to have lost its way, becoming mired in an endless cycle of torture porn or tedious remakes of old classics, with only the occasional standout moment of success.

It’s no accident, then, that a large portion of US horror movies are also remakes of films from a part of the world that seems to have cornered the market in accomplished, well-executed and downright scary entries into the genre. Hollywood is looking across the pacific toward Asia, and this is where all dedicated horror fans should be looking, too. Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Hong Kong. This is where Horror’s new home is.

Often heavily influenced by the ‘J-Horror’ of Japan, with its vengeful, lank-haired, Onryō ghosts, Asian cinema produces horror movies the way they should be; creepy, brooding, psychological, extremely atmospheric and devoid of comfortable outcomes.

Here are Celluloid Zombie’s Top Ten from the continent that’s putting the horror back into horror movies.

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10. Kairo (Pulse)

Kiyoshi Kurosawa – Japan -2001

A solemn, moribund study of isolation and loneliness in the technological age, Kairo sees spirits from the other side use the internet to manipulate the living into disconnection and suicide. Those that do not kill themselves simply fall so into hopelessness that they become nothing more than shadows on the wall. We are the ghosts in Kairo.

What Kairo obviously lacks in laughs it more than makes up for in depth and mood. There are some chilling moments but Kairo is more effective when simply crawling under your skin and dragging you into its apocalyptic world.

Hollywood Remake: Remade in 2005 as Pulse, with the original’s ponderous atmosphere replaced with more direct horror. Not a bad movie, but lacks Kairo’s sense of despair.

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9. Noroi: The Curse

Kôji Shiraishi – Japan – 2005

One of the few ‘mockumentary’ style movies to come out of the Asian horror wave, Noroi is a movie that rewards patience and attention span. Mostly revolving around paranormal investigator Masafumi Kobayashi’s attempts to solve a series of unexplained events, a host of seemingly unrelated characters and occurrances are gradually drawn together to an unforgettable conclusion.

Noroi has a remarkably unsettling atmosphere throughout, which is all the more remarkable given that for much of the movie very little happens. However, as the truth behind Kobayashi’s investigation becomes clear, there are moments of bone-chilling horror and an ending which will stay with you for a very long time.

Hollywood Remake: No, and not very likely either. Too weird.

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8. Alone

Banjong Pisanthanakun & Parkpoom Wongpoom – Thailand – 2007

Thai woman Pim lives in Korea with her boyfriend Wee. Pim was separated from her conjoined twin Ploy when they were teenagers and Ploy died as a result of the operation. When her mother falls ill, Pim and Wee return to Thailand and to Pim’s family home, where she finds herself haunted by her dead, vengeful, sister. Is it real, is it guilt or is there something else?

The second movie from writer/director team Pisanthanakun & Wongpoom is probably the most Western-influenced horror movie in this list, but don’t let that put you off. Crammed full of great shock moments, a particularly mean ghost and a neat twist in the tale, Alone is scary and a lot of fun.

Hollywood Remake: The rights have been bought so expect the US version soon.

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7. Creepy Hide and Seek

Masafumi Yamada – Japan – 2009

After a series of bizarre disappearances involving students and colleagues, schoolteacher Ryoko discovers they had all been playing a ritualistic game called ‘creepy hide and seek’. The game involves all the same rules as normal hide and seek, except that what comes looking for you isn’t quite human.

Crap title, great movie. A little known gem, Creepy Hide and Seek has everything you could want from a good J-horror. The action is slow, deliberate and extremely atmospheric, helped in no small part by a very unsettling soundtrack and expert camerawork. At least it lives up to that title.

Hollywood Remake: Not yet, but this is exactly the kind of movie that American filmmakers like to assume they can do just as well. Expect one soon.

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6. Audition

Takashi Miike – Japan – 2000

When middle-aged widower Aoyama decides to look for a new partner, he holds fake auditions for a movie role to meet women. He is immediately taken with the young, seemingly shy Asami and begins a relationship with her. However, he soon discovers that cute little Asami has some really strange hobbies. And she wants to share.

The movie that made everyone sit up and take notice of unique filmmaker Takashi Miike, Audition is the kind of story that could put you off dating forever. Featuring a truly terrifying performance from Eihi Shiina, Audition is a horror movie with an emphasis on the horror.

Hollywood Remake: No. And with its mixture of torture, abuse and vomit-eating, there’s not likely to be one anytime soon.

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5. A Tale of Two Sisters

Jee-woon Kim – South Korea – 2003

Jee-woon Kim’s highly acclaimed story of two sisters enduring an unstable, abusive step-mother and seemingly indifferent father is an intelligent, layered, unsettling film which reveals its secrets slowly and keeps you guessing right up until the end.

Quite possibly one of the most beautifully shot horror movies in recent memory, A Tale of Two Sisters marked out its director as a talent to watch and he hasn’t disappointed since. This one has a brand of horror for everyone, ranging from the supernatural, through the psychological, to the purely physical. Jung-ah Yum, as the step-mother, is at once appalling and sympathetic. No mean feat.

Hollywood Remake: Remade in 2009 as The Uninvited, which gave us a lot more teenage flesh and a lot less atmosphere.

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4. The Eye

Oxide Pang Chun, Danny Pang – Hong Kong – 2002

Blind violinist Wong Kar Mun has a successful cornea transplant and begins seeing ghosts wherever she goes, some friendly and some otherwise. Together with her doctor, she determines to find out the identity of her eye donor.

The Eye starts off as an effectively spooky ghost story, but deepens into something more heartbreaking as the mystery behind Wong Kar Mun’s new eyes is uncovered. The ghostly encounters make the hair stand up on the back of the neck, and just when you think the story is resolved, The Eye throws in a surprise ending.

Hollywood Remake: Remade in 2008 as The Eye. Jessica Alba, while easy on the eye (did you see what I did there), just doesn’t have Angelica Lee’s sympathetic appeal.

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3. Ju-on (The Grudge)

Takashi Shimizu – Japan – 2003

The third in Shimizu’s Ju-on series, but the first to get an international theatrical release, The Grudge centres on a cursed house and the characters who come into contact with it over varying timelines, usually to their extreme detriment.

Complex, layered and disturbing, The Grudge is also very, very creepy. This one will definitely make you feel less safe under your covers, which is traditionally where you are supposed to feel safe. Neat trick. The movie spawned further sequels, and while Shimizu’s Ju-on: The Grudge 2 was also very good, this remains the finest of the series.

Hollywood Remake: Yes, by the exact same director and starring Buffy, no less. Shimizu also directed the American sequel. Not awful, but neither matched his homeland efforts.

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2. Shutter

Banjong Pisanthanakun & Parkpoom Wongpoom – Thailand – 2004

Photographer Tun and his girlfriend, Jane, hit a girl with their car as they are driving home from a party. Tun insists that they flee rather than aid the girl, much to Jane’s consternation. From that point on, they are subjected to a series of spooky occurrances from which secrets begin to emerge.

The debut feature from Alone’s collaborative writer/director team. Shutter is a sleek and well-oiled machine of a movie. While it doesn’t exactly break new ground, it takes the elements that had made Asian horror so successful before it and weaves a well-paced, twisting tale around a series of consistently spooky scenes. Great ending, too.

Hollywood remake: Remade in 2008 with the same title but far from the same result.

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1. Ring

Hideo Nakata – Japan – 1998

Journalist Reiko’s niece dies, one week after viewing a mysterious video tape. Reiko views the tape and is warned, by a phone call, that she now has only one week to live. After her son watches the tape, Reiko and her ex-husband, Ryuji, try to discover the secret behind the cursed video.

The Granddaddy of all J-Horror and a hugely influential movie, Ring is heavy on atmosphere from the outset. Rather than subject the viewer to a series of shocks (although there are one or two) Ring slowly builds itself up to a single, extremely scary, moment.

Hollywood Remake: Remade in 2002 as The Ring. Overcooks what the original leaves simmering. You only get one chance to see this for the first time so choose wisely. Go Japanese.

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Review: Insidious

Starring: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Ty Simpkins, Lin Shaye, Barbara Hershey

Director: James Wan

‘I went into Dalton’s room. There was something in there with him. It was standing in the corner.’

When the Lambert family move into their new home, their son Dalton falls into an unexplained coma. Soon after a series of strange occurrences force the family to flee, believing the house to be haunted. However, they soon discover that the malevolent forces attacking them are not connected to the house at all.

The poster for Insidious reads ‘from the makers of Paranormal Activity and Saw‘, which is a little like claiming to be from the makers of Star Wars and 2010: A Space Odyssey, so different are they. However, despite the connection to Saw being more direct, with the same writer and director as the first (and only decent) instalment in that series, Insidious sits much more in the supernatural arena of producer Oran Peli’s runaway haunted house hit.

Any genuine horror movie buff knows that sitting down to watch an American-made horror is an activity invariably undertaken with a sense of exhausted pessimism. The odds are high that the quality will be low, so Insidious marks a most welcome spark of life for the genre. Like Poltergeist without the schmaltz, Insidious is by no means original but it does what it sets out to do with an unusual amount of success. For the most part, anyway.

Like all good haunted house movies, Insidious starts off slow, building tension and throwing in the occasional scare before the story picks up and takes off. It is within these first two acts that Insidious is at its best, with James Wan delivering an effectively spooky atmosphere as well as some genuinely chilling moments. Clearly, Wan knows his horror movies and understands how to move his camera to build expectation and make you believe that something horrible is about to happen. However, there are enough pay-offs, including a great face-in-the-window scene and a look-behind-you moment that makes the blood run cold, to prevent you ever feeling cheated.

The cast, not quite A-list but certainly of a higher calibre than most horror movies get lumbered with, all carry themselves with suitable conviction and earnestness, most especially the excellent Lin Shaye as the regulation eccentric psychic brought in to solve the supernatural problem. With a gas mask, of all things. And a horror movie soundtrack hasn’t made such an effective use of head-splitting strings since Janet Leigh decided to hose down in Psycho.

The Lens Cap Moment. We’ve all had one.

Unfortunately, Insidious does let itself down a little with an overblown third act. Having managed to spend the last hour staying just the right side of silly, the movie goes for broke with mixed results. Making the mistake of over-exposing a threat that had been wisely used sparingly up until that point, Insidious loses some of its ability to scare. It resorts to an unnecessary ‘throw-everything-in-and-hope-it-works’ approach which has as many misses as it has hits. But at least it has hits.

All in all, Insidious is definitely one of the better horror movies to emerge from Hollywood in the last few years, further marking out writer Leigh Whannell and director James Wan as talents worth following in a genre which is screaming out for just such a thing, and serving as suitable compensation for starting the dreadful Saw franchise.

Rating – 4 Stars (just about)

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15 Movie Questions Meme

This one has been doing the rounds for a while and I was finally caught, bagged and tagged by my good friend Custard over at Front Room Cinema. So, ever the dutiful taggee and Mememeister, here are my astounding and mildly amusing answers to 15 seemingly random movie questions.

Enjoy.

 

1. Movie you love with a passion

Raiders of the Lost Ark

For me, Spielberg’s first outing for Harrison Ford’s archaeologist and mercenary is one of the finest pieces of celluloid ever made. This is the reason why cinemas were invented. Some movies make us think, some movies teach us stuff and some movies just give us a ride. This one has a little bit of everything. Pure cinema, no pretensions. Perfect.

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2. Movie you vow to never watch

Anything with ‘Movie’ in the title

Scary Movie, Epic Movie, Date Movie, Disaster Movie, etc. Dreadful, lame, unfunny spoofs churned out to make a quick buck without actually making anyone with a brain larger than a popcorn kernel laugh. Mel Brooks could spoof, Jerry Zucker could spoof but Jason Friedberg and his gang can kiss my pink ass. Kiss it!

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3. Movie that literally left you speechless

Antichrist

Hang on, was that Willem Dafoe’s….? Did Charlotte Gainsbourg just grab a pair of scissors and cut off her…? Did Willem Dafoe just…? Why’s that fox talking? I’ve seen horror movies and I’ve seen porn movies, but nothing quite prepares you for Lars von Trier’s bizarre mix of both, with added talking mammals. Don’t watch this with your mum.

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4. Movie you always recommend

Fight Club

I recommend some movies simply because they are great movies, but I recommend Fight Club because it’s a movie that has something very important to say and says it with David Fincher’s singularly brazen style. For anyone who lives and endures the myriad banalities of Western culture, watch Fight Club.

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5. Actor/actress you always watch, no matter how crappy the movie

George Clooney

Not only do I respect him as an actor who has managed to rise above the limitations of his good looks, and as a director and producer of great movies in his own right, but also because Clooney very rarely picks a bad project. He just seems to have the knack for picking interesting, challenging roles for himself.

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6. Actor/actress you don’t get the appeal for

Jason Statham

Give me a break. How did this wooden, boring, zero-charisma, no-talent pudding with a phoney accent that is neither English nor American manage to get to where he is? I just don’t get it. He’s like a throwback to the action heroes of the 80s, before filmmakers realised that they were better when they could actually act.

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7. Actor/actress, living or dead, you’d love to meet

Christopher Walken

How could that ever be a boring meeting? It would be impossible. Walken is incapable of being boring. The guy is like a force of nature. We could talk about his amazing career, about all the movies I watched just because he was in it for five minutes (Gigli, for one) and when the conversation ran out, he could teach me some wicked dance steps.

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8. Sexiest actor/actress you’ve seen. (Picture required!)

Tina Fey

Sure, there are plenty of good-looking actresses out there but sexy is a lot more than just that. Sexy is brains, beauty, talent and a great sense of humour and Tina Fey ticks all the right boxes. It also doesn’t hurt that she seems to be completely oblivious to her sexiness. And that’s also very sexy. It’s a sexy win/win!

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9) Dream cast

Star Wars Episode VII

Okay, so it’s a bit cheesy, it’s exceptionally geeky and it’s wholly unrealistic given that they all have a collective age of about 900 (the ones that are still alive, anyway), but how cool would it be to have the original Star Wars cast together again for a new episode? Huh? Can I get an Amen? No? You got a problem with old people or something?

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10) Favourite actor pairing

Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart

Okay, there are actors and then there are British RSC actors. It’s not really my style to blow the trumpet for Blighty but the truth is we really do produce some of the greatest thespians know to stage and screen and when X-Men director Bryan Singer decided to cast two of my favourites in a superhero movie (of all things), he was having a very inspired day. Hurrah and huzzah!

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11) Favourite movie setting

New York

It’s magical but commonplace, grubby but pristine, antique but brand new. It can be an equally comfortable home to the most whimsical fairytales and the bleakest horrors. Six million movie sets rolled into one. Few places on Earth are as versatile as The Big Apple. And I’ve still never been there.

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12) Favourite decade for movies

The 80s

It’s probably got very little to do with the level of quality, although this decade delivered some of the best movies ever made. But this was the decade I grew up in, and the decade where my love of cinema truly blossomed. Raiders of the Lost Ark, Ghostbusters, Gremlins, Back to the Future, Terminator and the peerless The Breakfast Club. This was the decade when cinema got its imagination back.

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13) Chick flick or action movie?

You’re a troublemaker

I’m not falling into your nefarious trap, my friend. You can try to sow the seeds of despair and drive a wedge between the sexes with your loaded questions but you will not succeed! Evenings can be comfortably arranged to accommodate one of each, right? Yes, I am the bringer of harmony. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called big, fat couch potatoes.

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14) Hero, villain or anti-hero?

Villain (and enjoying it)

It’s a tough one, this one, but ultimately there’s something irresistible to me about the irredeemable bad guy who takes genuine pleasure in his work. Hannibal Lecter, The Joker, Richard III, or any villain played by Gene Hackman. They make being evil seem far more appealing than the sober, brooding heroes make being good.

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15) Black and white or colour?

Dumbass Question

Do me a favour. I am neither pompous enough to say I prefer black & white movies nor pedestrian enough to say I prefer colour movies. What kind of person dismisses a movie because of the colour it is? That’s like celluloid racism. Are you encouraging celluloid racism? Shame on you with your silly question.

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Review: I Saw the Devil

Starring: Byung-hun Lee, Min-sik Choi, Gook-hwan Jeon

Director: Kim Jee-woon

“Please don’t kill me.”
“Why not?”

When brutal serial killer Kyung-chul murders the fiancee of government agent Kim Soo-hyun, the agent vows revenge. Hunting the killer down, Soo-hyun incapacitates him and places a tracking device on Kyung-chul; the beginning of a cruel cat and mouse game between the two which will blur the lines between good and evil.

Korean revenge movies have become rather commonplace over the last few years so it is very much to the credit of director Kim Jee-woon that his latest is so thoroughly engaging. Jee-woon first caught the attention of international audiences with the excellent A Tale of Two Sisters in 2003, and I Saw the Devil is equally as  accomplished, and equally as chilling.

At its core, I Saw the Devil is an unflinching  journey into human cruelty, taking in murder, revenge, cannibalism, rape and torture along the way and asking one question; is an act of cruelty rendered less so according to the innocence of the victim? It is this twisting and probing of moral certainties which is the driving force behind the movie and, while the presentation doesn’t always make for comfortable viewing (I Saw the Devil will never be hailed as the ideal date movie), it is never less than thoroughly absorbing.

Min-sik Choi is both terrifying and entertaining as the psychotic Kyung-chul, delivering the kind of manic performance that brought him to the attention in 2003′s Oldboy. Here is a man totally devoid of compassion, fear and morality, but by no means a fool. His insanity has not robbed him of his wits and this makes him truly dangerous. Byung-hun Lee, as the vengeful and determined agent Kim Soo-hyun, delivers the more reserved performance as a good man discovering to his horror what he is really capable of, willingly sinking to Kyung-chul’s level and perhaps beyond in his quest to make the killer suffer for his sins.

Kim Jee-woon brings a cold, uncompromising eye to proceedings and while the movie’s two and a half hour running time takes in a vast array of locations, all are shot with a crisp, harsh beauty. What we see is the world as it is, as stark and unreconstructed as the perceptions of the lead characters. However, when Jee-woon decides to let the camera free, particularly in a scene involving three people trying to stab each other to death in a moving car, there is some breathtaking ingenuity on display.

It was only seconds after he pushed her down the hill that he realised they’d forgotten the damn sled

There are some jarring leaps of logic along the way in I Saw the Devil which sometimes leave you scratching your head. The story sometimes moves from one location to another with barely an explanation as to the journey. Occasional threads are left hanging while the fates of a few characters seem unresolved. Whether this is down to necessary editing to reduce the already bloated running time is unknown, but it is a minor issue. I Saw the Devil is an enjoyable attempt to explore violence and cruelty without sparing the audience, and while it certainly won’t be everybody’s cup of tea, this doesn’t weaken it as a valid and accomplished piece of cinema.

Expect a watered-down and feeble American remake to emerge soon.

Rating – 4 Stars

 

 


Review: Hanna

Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Cate Blanchett, Eric Bana

Director: Joe Wright

“What did your mother die of?”
“Three bullets.”

16-year-old Hanna has been brought up in the wilds of Finland by her father, Erik, and trained as an assassin to prepare her for the day she is ready to leave and explore the world outside. When that day comes, Hanna finds herself hunted by intelligence agent Marissa, who is intent on stopping Hanna discovering the truth about herself.

So, if you’ve ever wondered what an action movie made by a director previously known for period dramas and Jane Austen adaptations is like, here you go. Joe Wright, who gained much acclaim for 2007′s Atonement and not so much acclaim for 2005′s not-as-good-as-the-Colin-Firth-one version of Pride & Prejudice, wanders from his comfort zone for this bizarre mix of spy thriller and Grimm’s fairytale. Welcome to the weird world of Hanna.

As with last year’s George Clooney vehicle, The American, those who choose Hanna expecting a fast-paced, thrill-a-minute action flick are going to be a little disappointed, not to mention somewhat perplexed. Hanna seems intent on defying expectations from the off, but that doesn’t mean it fails within its chosen genre. It just does things a little differently. Rather than assault us with a barrage of action scenes, Hanna sprinkles them sparingly on an otherwise thoughtful and languid story. So, when events spring to life, accompanied by the pounding Chemical Brothers soundtrack, you are obliged to take notice.

Following the current trend for using Europe as the setting for espionage movies, Wright still manages to make his movie look different to the rest. From the opening moments in Hanna’s beautiful snowbound home to the bookend scene in an abandoned carnival in Berlin, Wright lends the movie an almost otherworldly quality. This is the world we know, but just a little off-kilter, a little surreal. It is the perfect palette for painting this dark fairytale.

Hanna’s ‘I Hate Ska’ T-shirt didn’t go down well in Camden

Saoirse Ronan is a commanding presence in the title role, able to display all the wonderment and emotion on Hanna’s face as she discovers the world, and then switch it all off when the killer emerges. Eric Bana is his usual likeable self as Hanna’s protective and equally dangerous father. Tom Hollander is frankly bizarre, and not very threatening, as a bleached blonde, possibly gay, rent-a-thug with neo-nazi skinheads in tow. However, the genuine threat comes from Blanchett, clearly enjoying herself in the ‘wicked witch’ role as the sinister, embittered and manipulative agent hunting Hanna down.

If there is a fault in Hanna, and unfortunately it’s a pretty big fault, it is one of style over substance. While the movie looks lovely, and clearly draws from a plethora of influences, it is strangely difficult to find any emotional attachment to the characters, especially Hanna herself. This often leaves you with one foot out of the picture, less invested in the fate of the characters than you should be. It’s an odd development for a director more recognised for character-driven pieces.

Still, for its beautiful visuals, cracking soundtrack and the simple pleasure of watching a 16-year-old girl opening a can of whup-ass on a bunch of tough guys, Hanna is well worth your time.

Rating – 3 Stars

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