Produced by: Margot Robbie, Josey McNamara, Tom Ackerley, Ben Browning, Ashley Fox, Emerald Fennell, etc.
Written by: Emerald Fennell
Cast: Carey Mulligan, Bo Burnham, Alison Brie, Clancy Brown, Jennifer Coolidge, Laverne Cox, Connie Britton, etc.
Music by: Anthony Willis
Cinematography: Benjamin Kračun
*** CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS ***
As the recent awards garnered upon Emerald Fennell’s brilliant screenplay for Promising Young Woman (2020) testify, Fennell is a major talent. She has acted in TV shows such as Call the Midwife and The Crown, as well as writing and producing the second series of Killing Eve. Not only is she an excellent actress, writer, director and producer, but she is also now an Oscar and BAFTA winner at the age of thirty-five. I am Jack’s raging envy!
But, is Promising Young Woman (2020) any good, and does it deserve these awards for best original screenplay? Well, for starters the film is not particularly original in terms of genre. It is what I would class as a B-movie revenge thriller at heart with A-list credentials. Like cinema classics such asSilence of the Lambs (1991) and Seven (1995), plus Tarantino’s Kill Bill (2003) films and the recent arthouse assassin thriller, You Were Never Really Here (2018), Promising Young Woman (2020) takes a well-worn subject matter within the crime genre and intelligently delivers a narrative experience which transcends such familiarity. Indeed, in the era of #MeToo, Fennell’s directorial debut updates and surpasses both intellectually and emotionally, similar themed films such asDeath Wish (1974) and I Spit on Your Grave (1978).
Promising Young Woman (2020) starts with one of the best opening scenes you’re likely to see in a long time. Here we meet Cassie Thomas, drunk and unable to stand, in a nightclub. Thankfully, there are “kind” gentlemen waiting to assist her, one of them being Adam Brody’s, Jerry. But instead of taking her home he takes her to his place and tries to take advantage of her inebriated state. I won’t spoil what happens next but safe to say that Cassie has other plans for Jerry. As the expertly plotted film progresses the story reveals Cassie has a long standing desire to wreak revenge on those individuals who brought tragedy to the life of her former medical school classmate and friend, Nina. A college dropout and working in a coffee shop, Cassie finds her life at a pitstop as she cannot move past what occurred to her friend. A budding romance with Bo Burnham’s charming Doctor threatens to pacify Cassie, but Fennell’s twisting plot soon puts Cassie on a deadly path right to the door of those who ruined her and, most significantly, Nina’s life.
The first three-quarters of Promising Young Woman (2020) are a witty, frightening and absolutely spellbinding exploration of negative masculine behaviour, gender politics and institutional corruption when it comes to cases of gang rape. No one is safe from Emerald Fennell’s sharpened pen and Cassie’s clever plan. As Cassie, Carey Mulligan gives a wonderfully subtle performance of a deeply pained and grieving individual. One thinks that Margot Robbie, who co-produced the film, would have made Cassie more zinging and wise-cracking. Mulligan gets it just right in terms of magnetic allure, strong personality and hidden vulnerability. It’s a shame that Fennell kind of throws Cassie under the narrative bus at the end. Don’t get me wrong the denouement ties all the previous scenes together, but I don’t think Cassie deserved such a messy fate. Unlike Fennell herself though. She deserves all the current success and that which is coming to her in the future.
In keeping with my theme of branching out and watching different subscribers, last month I paid around £4.99 extra for the ARROW VIDEO CHANNEL via AMAZON PRIME. This gave me access to a whole host of good, bad and very weird films. There are some newish films on there, but mainly the channel contains vintage horror, arthouse and cult movies. This was a good old trip down memory lane for me as it meant I re-watched loads of films which were considered part of the 1980’s “video nasties” era. I also watched a number of films I had never seen before.
If you didn’t know ARROW FILMS is a leading independent entertainment distribution company. Established in 1991, it is dedicated to supporting upcoming and established filmmakers of dynamic new cinema and developing a slate of fantastic films from all around the globe. Moreover, they are also a leading restorer of classic and cult films and enjoy releasing anniversary celebrations of landmark titles. You’ll find some films of both incredible and dubious quality. Safe to say though, such releases are never boring. Lastly, ARROW are never frightened to distribute films previously banned, unreleased or heavily censored. They are true pioneers in the world of cinema. Check out their website here!
***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***
THE HORROR! THE HORROR!
If, like me, you love horror films then an Arrow subscription is essential. But before I get onto those, they also have a decent roster of world cinema films. Directors such as Krzysztof Kieślowski, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Susanne Bier, Thomas Vinterberg, Marjane Satrapi, Vittorio De Sica, David O. Russell, Hirokazu Koreeda, Richard Kelly, Bruce Robinson, Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Nagisha Oshima have many of their works distributed by Arrow online and via DVD or BLU-RAY. Indeed, I recently watched and loved Kieslowski’s BLIND CHANCE (1987) and Oshima’s MERRY CHRISTMAS MR LAWRENCE (1983). on the Arrow channel.
Yet, it was mainly the horror and cult movies I concentrated on during my month’s sojourn into Arrow’s back catalogue. Thus, here are some mini-reviews and marks out of eleven for the numerous films I watched.
THE BEYOND (1981)
Insane, surreal and with some incredibly gory deaths, this is perhaps Lucio Fulci’s most illogical, but brilliant film. The imagery and music collude to both sicken and chill in equal measures. It also has one of the most haunting final scenes in horror cinema. Mark: 8 out of 11
THE BLACK CAT (1981)
A truly dreadful adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s story which is contemporised badly by Lucio Fulci and his scriptwriters. I dislike cats generally and this revenge story does nothing to appease such negativity. Mark: 2.5 out of 11
THE BURNING (1981)
Pretty decent gore-fest which, while written before FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980), suffers mildly in comparison to that murdered-teenagers-at-camp classic. Famous for being produced by the Weinstein’s and early acting appearances from Jason Alexander, Fisher Stevens and Holly Hunter. Mark: 7.5 out of 11
Truly terrible, but actually “so-bad-it’s-entertaining” mash-up of ALIEN (1979) and the 007 Bond franchise. Dodgy effects, acting and dubbing make this Italian B-movie laughably enjoyable. Mark: 5.5 out of 11
DON’T TORTURE A DUCKLING (1972)
An earlier Lucio Fulci film which actually has a decent plot and some disturbing, but compelling scenes and themes. Centred amidst a rural Italian setting, a murderer is running amok killing the village children. A reporter sets out to uncover the murderer as villagers begin to suspect the kids died at the hands of witchcraft. Mark: 7.5 out of 11
THE EXTERMINATOR (1980)
I used to revel in this nasty B-movie revenge film as a teenager. The school yard would have hives of thirteen-year olds chattering about the Doberman attack scene, pimps set on fire and the gangster killed in a meat grinder. Watching it back now, it truly is a terrible piece of filmmaking and an extremely lurid viewing experience. For all its derivative faults, I still loved it! Mark: 7 out of 11
Clive Barker’s cult horror classic is not so much about narrative coherence, but an assault on the senses. That damned mysterious and devilish “Rubik’s cube” is opened, giving way to a whole host of demonic monsters breaking Earth’s dimensions and threatening an Anglo-American family. Powerful visuals, incredibly effective prosthetics and brilliant nemeses in Frank and Pinhead, make HELLRAISER (1987) an extremely memorable low-budget horror cult classic. Mark: 8 out of 11
HELLRAISER II: HELLBOUND (1988)
A direct sequel to the original, but without Clive Barker directing this time unfortunately. HELLBOUND (1988) has some wonderful gore and monstrous moments as Kenneth Cranham’s mad doctor opens up the hellish gates to the beyond. But the surreal storytelling is so deranged and ridiculous I was just laughing by the end. Mark: 5.5 out of 11
MANIAC COP (1988)
I love a lot of Larry Cohen’s work, but this is arguably only a minor B-movie script from him. The clue is in the title really as a vengeful cop goes on a kill crazy rampage in the dark recesses of the city. Notable for Bruce Campbell’s turn as a bemused cop suspected of the crimes, plus the impactful silent giant of a killer. Mark: 6 out of 11
THE NEW YORK RIPPER (1982)
While I do not agree with censorship as a rule, I can see why this Lucio Fulci United States shocker was banned in Britain for many years. It is disgustingly violent and misogynistic, verging on pornography in many scenes. The biggest crime is it’s so badly made from a capable filmmaker. Avoid at all costs! Mark: 1 out of 11
RAWHEAD REX (1986)
A gigantic phallic cock-monster called ‘Rawhead’ is woken near an Irish village and kills anyone who gets in his way. Another Clive Barker short story gets a film adaptation and this is awful in every way! Barker hated it and that led to him taking more control of HELLRAISER (1987). Lacking narrative context and even basic filmmaking skills, we are in the “so bad it’s hilarious” camp here. Mark: 3 out of 11
RED EYE (2005)
A rare diversion away from the horror genre finds Wes Craven directing Cillian Murphy, Rachel McAdams and Brian Cox in this fast-paced airplane-set thriller. I had never seen this film before as McAdams and Murphy provide committed performances while possessing excellent on-screen chemistry. Extremely suspenseful for the most part until it gives way to huge explosions and shootouts at the end. Great fun overall! Mark: 7.5 out of 11
I have to admit that I am not a big fan of Dario Argento’s films generally. I find them imaginative, but mostly loud and nonsensical. Moreover, they have little in the way of suspense or actual scares. TENEBRAE (1982) is another empty Argento exercise in misogyny and style-over-substance as an American writer finds himself pitted against a vicious killer copying murders from his novels. There are some decent horror moments, but the twist is too self-knowing and ridiculous to not find laughable. Mark: 6 out of 11
THE WITCH THAT CAME FROM THE SEA (1976)
Now, this is a weird film. Part-revenge-part-feminist-part-porn-part-horror story that was also banned in Britain as a video-nasty. Millie Perkins gives a haunting performance as a psychologically damaged individual, who is so disturbed by a childhood trauma she kills when in sexual congress. It’s almost a really good film because the characterisation and motivation is well conceived. However, it’s also rather eccentrically acted and directed in places, so approach with great caution. Mark: 6 out of 11
ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS (1979)
This classic zombie exploitation from Lucio Fulci is one I’ve seen many times. While not quite as good as the Romero classics in terms of story and theme, it has so many unforgettably bloody scenes. The moment when a zombie attacks a shark is a horror set-piece you will never forget. As Fulci rips off Romero he spins the undead genre into a frenzy with relentless dirt, maggots, sinew, bone and guts on screen, all the while accompanied by a creepy score by Giorgio Tucci. Mark: 8 out of 11
ZOMBIE FOR SALE (2019)
The most contemporary film I watched from Arrow Video is a riotously funny and moving rom-zom-com from Korea. A rural family find a way of making money out of a zombie who has escaped a science laboratory, however, their get-rich-quick-scheme backfires with bloody hilarious results. While it is overlong, it benefits from a clever script and excellent acting, although it over-does the slow motion scenes and jarring narrative tonal switches. Mark: 8 out of 11
I’m continuing the Shudder film review residency here on my site with this post. However, as I watched so many horror films on the channel recently, I have decided to break them down into categories. This one is called Extreme!
Essentially the films reviewed here are — because of their content, style or both — prime examples of nasty, violent, sickening and in some cases extremely depraved horror movies. So, be warned do not watch these films, unless you have a strong emotional constitution and actually enjoy witnessing graphic scenes of gore, sex and bloody mayhem.
For your information, the films are reviewed in order of my rating, which as usual is out of eleven.
REVENGE (2017) – DIRECTED BY CORALIE FARGEAT
Featuring a B-movie rape and revenge plot, this exploitation story is raised way above its subject matter due to ultra-stylish direction, gorgeous cinematography and a compelling lead performance by Matilda Lutz. She portrays Jen, an aspiring actress, who is on a weekend getaway with handsome boyfriend (cheating husband), Richard (Kevin Janssens). He seems very well off as their break takes place at a stunning isolated villa location. However, things go awry when two of his hunting buddies turn up, and one, Stan (Vincent Colombe) attacks Jen while Richard is out. From then on events twist from incredibly bad to worse for Jen, and she finds herself being hunted down in the blazing heat of the desert. The film looks absolutely incredible with amazing photography and colour design. Overall, what it lacks in story and characterisation though, it more than makes up for in stunning action, searing violence and a powerful critique of toxic masculinity.
Mark: 8 out of 11
TERRIFIER (2016) – DIRECTED BY DAMIEN LEONE
I saw this horror film appear in a post on the YouTube channel What Culture Horror. So, the story of a demented clown who never speaks and slashes people to death on Halloween definitely piqued my interest. It’s both extremely violent and low-budget, having been made for around $100,000. However, it is in fact impressively shot and edited for such a small amount of money. The gory effects are amazingly effective too, summoning up memories of 1980’s prosthetic film effects. There is no real subtext or thematic strength, but I was pretty tense and sickened throughout. Moreover, the clown called Art is a memorably monstrous creation. He kills without reason and purely for his own entertainment. Nihilistic in tone, the director sure knows his horror and delights in presenting many sick ways of murdering his characters. Thus, if you like disembowelling, strangulation, burning, beheading and other gruesome movie deaths then, Terrifier(2016), is worth watching from behind the safety of the sofa.
Mark: 7.5 out of 11
CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (1980) / THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY (1981) – DIRECTED BY LUCIO FULCI
Filmmaker, Lucio Fulci, is often found lurking in the shadow of Italian horror filmmakers such as Mario Bava and Dario Argento, however, he truly knows how to frighten and sicken the life out of an audience. So much so he has been given the nickname, ‘Godfather of Gore’. As well as directing many films, notably, Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979) andThe New York Ripper (1982), he is infamous for his “Gates of Hell” trilogy which included: City of the Living Dead (1980), The House By the Cemetery (1981) and The Beyond (1981). I re-watched the first two recently and while not as terrifying as when I saw them in the past, they still have the power to shock. While lacking coherent plots, containing pretty bad acting and some chronically dreadful dubbing in places, paradoxically Fulci’s films can arguably be considered surreal horror classics. They may not make any narrative sense, but his ability to create stunningly violent set-pieces is legendary. Memorable scenes include: the spewing of intestines, crawling maggots, hanging priests, drilled brains, chopped heads and monsters rising from basements and graves. Such imagery and dreaded moments — all set to a creepy synth soundtrack — make Fulci’s movies unsettling viewing experiences.
Mark: 7 out of 11
ISLAND OF DEATH (1976) – DIRECTED BY NICO MASTORAKIS
Not only is this one of the sickest films I have seen, it is also one of the most appalling I have sat through. Having said that, that is in fact what Greek director Mastorakis, based on what I’ve read, set out to do. The story, if you can call it that, focusses on a couple called Christopher (Robert Behling) and Celia (Jane Lyle) who go on a sex-driven-kill-crazy-honeymoon-rampage on the Greek island of Mykonos. If you can get past the couple having sex in a phone booth while telephoning his mother, and stomach Christopher raping a goat before killing it, then do watch the rest of this conveyor belt of pornographic sex and violence. By the end, I was stunned to silence at how sick the film was.
Mark: 1 out of 11
TETSUO – THE IRON MAN (1989) – DIRECTED BY SHINYA TSUKAMOTO
Lauded as a low-budget Japanese extreme body horror cult classic, Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989), is either the work of a genius or a complete madman. Filmmaker, Shinya Tsukamoto, deserves so much praise for literally making most of the film in his own house and paying for it out of his own pocket. Yet, the thumping industrial soundtrack, jump-cutting-stop-motion style and story of metal invading the body, soul and mind of various characters was too f*cked-up, even for me. I know it gets mentioned as a work of genius, but it was frankly unwatchable. Thankfully, it’s only sixty-seven minutes of hell to get through.
Cast: Emma Booth, Ashleigh Cummings, Stephen Curry, Harris Gilbertson, Susie Porter, Damian De Montemas, etc.
Music by: Dan Luscombe
Cinematography: Michael McDermott
Edited by: Merlin Eden
*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***
Where narratives relating to rape, abduction, and serial killers are concerned, a filmmaker can tread a fine line between lurid exploitation and absorbing suspense and drama. Low budget B-movies are replete with stories of death, sexual assault and crazed murderers. Some overstep the mark becoming notorious beacons of bad taste. Many horror fans love the exploitational nature of “video nasties”, seeking out films like: Cannibal Holocaust (1980), A Serbian Film (2010), I Spit on Your Grave (1978), Driller Killer (1979), Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and The Last House on the Left (1972), to name but a few. The latter two films directed by horror maestros Tobe Hooper and Wes Craven are arguably exceptional visions of terror which transcend their horror genre subject matter. Similarly, Ben Young’s The Hounds of Love (2016), in my view, represents the evil of human beings without exploiting the actors or audience.
While it may not be as gory on-screen as the films mentioned above, The Hounds of Love (2016), does offer a shattering and sickening set of images and sounds within these savage set of events. Set in Perth, Australia during 1987, this is a disturbing and all too realistic horror story. It opens with a majestic set of slow-motion shots from the point-of-view of suburban couple, Evelyn White (Emma Booth) and John White (Stephen Curry). They sit in their vehicle as the sun hazes and watch teenage girls playing netball in the school yard. They are stalking their next victim; patiently waiting to lure another unsuspecting soul into their nefariously sadistic crimes. Stylistically impressive, but at the same time incredibly unnerving, Ben Young skilfully establishes the canvas on which he will paint further horrors.
Having fed their violent and sexual lust with the opening victim, we are then introduced to their next. Vicki Moloney (Ashleigh Cummings) is a rebellious teenager who is smarting from her parents recent split. Acting with both charisma and defiance, Vicki is slightly annoying, yet empathetic. Obviously, she does not deserve the ordeal she is about to experience at the hands of the Whites. The sequence which finds them cajoling her into their clutches is so tense and had me screaming at the screen, “No!!!! Get out!!!” What follows then, as Vicki becomes a prisoner, is a series of heart-pounding and distressing scenes which raise the stakes to unbearable tension. Ashleigh Cummings performance is absolutely compelling as “final girl”, Vicki. She takes a potentially one-dimensional casualty and imbues her with fight, guile, pain, distress, intelligence and determination. No surprise therefore that she won a Best acting debut award at the Venice Film Festival.
Cummings performance is not the only one which impacts the story greatly. Emma Booth’s complex portrayal of Evelyn is quite startling. This is a character who is permanently on-the-edge and desperate to please her evil partner, John. Systematically controlled and bullied, there is no excuse for Evelyn’s part in the kidnappings and torture of these young girls. But, it is clear to see that toxic masculinity has, over the years contributed to her mental and emotional collapse. Booth’s persistently fraught acting is all bag-of-bones and shredded nerves. It is via Evelyn’s imploding emotional state that Vicki is able to attempt to turn her against John’s venal influence.
Ultimately, one could say this is an exploitation film in terms of theme and story. However, it feels different than the many B-movie serial killer films I have seen. I felt like I was in the hands of a filmmaker who was determined to explore the nature of sadistic relationships in a risky, but intelligent manner. The acting, cinematography, direction and haunting soundtrack all contribute to make this a highly effective psychological thriller. Of course, there are many which may feel differently and that the film has its cake and eats it in term of violence and sexual perversion. Yet, we never actually see much of the cake. Unlike many of the films I mention in the opening paragraph, the audience only see the build-up and aftermath of the crimes. Indeed, what we don’t see on screen is more frightening than what we do. That, overall, is what sets The Hounds of Love (2016) apart from many other films dealing with these unpalatable themes and subjects.