Crash Analysis: RABIES (Israel, 2010)

Israel’s first horror – and not their last 

Different people all victims of circumstance and bad timing

Apparently, Israel’s first horror, RABIES (“Kalevet” is the Hebrew title) was such a success in its native land that more are on the way.

As for this venture, the writer/director team of Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado certainly captured an element of suspense and tension, as well as idiosyncratic dialogue, sadly lost in many horrors that focus more on visuals (aka gore) instead of a good story. However, this does not mean the tale was flawless.

This low budget story is comprised of several different groups of characters that due to circumstance, become intertwined with each other, which proves not to be a good thing by any means.

An ensemble film, we follow the characters as they work their way in and out of trouble, and in and out of a forest. Not an easy task when entrapment, kidnapping, murder, sexual abuse, assault, maiming and more are on the menu. Why is it called RABIES? That is one of the movies many mysteries, however, I have seen references that state kalevet also means rage. Although that may fit the movie better, Keshales and Papushado may have had another idea. In the movie, most of the characters are non-violent yet turn to violence when, once again, circumstance dictates otherwise. The directorial team may have focused on RABIES because of the notion that violence begets violence. If one is bitten by a rabid animal and bites another, the virus spreads exponentially. This is the case here, but this is also where the duo trip themselves up.

For the bulk of the film, we are in an area with our core group of characters, but late in the third act, as the story and violence reaches its zenith, one character escapes this isolated area and makes it home, while another tries to hitch a ride with a family. It may have served the movie best to have all the characters remain in that “infected” region of forest. Granted, we can suppose the characters that freed themselves will spread the “disease” elsewhere, but this is never implied.

A couple of other problems involve the police (Lior Ashkenasi and Danny Geva). As we often see in movies of this ilk, one cop is a major handful and a half-a-frequency off, and the other is far too easygoing to prevent his partner from becoming batshit crazy. Those two characters were the most stock of the bunch with Mikey (Ran Danker) and Pini (Ofer Shecter), as the clean-cut college boys, coming in a close second.

As for the acting, it was first-rate and no one missed a beat. The standouts were Ashkenasi as off-the-rails Danny the cop, Geva as his hesitant partner, spunky and independent Ania Bukstein as Adi, Yael Grobglas as Shir and Menashe Noy as Menashe. This does not mean any of the other actors faltered, but the aforementioned had that extra-special something. Hopefully, we’ll see more of them in the future. Some in the American market may see that as a bit farfetched, but Israel has also given us the exhilarating Natalie Portman, Chaim Topol of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF fame (both stage and screen), and Daliah Lavi, known by most horror fans as Nevenka in cult favorite THE WHIP AND THE BODY (Italy/France, 1963).

Visual effects and make-up were solid for the most part, and Guy Raz’s photography was wonderful – and this was his first film. To further enhance the technical aspects of the movie, Keshales and Papushado took to editing as well and did a masterful job, though they have one too many fadeouts.

If you like grit and suspense with solid characters, a bit of gore and some sex appeal, this will certainly fit the bill.

It’s a shame the story didn’t remain self-contained, or that we didn’t witness the violence spilling over beyond the forest like the spread of rabies, but this movie is certainly worth a look.

3 out of 5 stars

Crash Analysis: LITTLE DEATHS (UK, 2011)

Horrific Sex without the STDs 

Anthology of sex based horror tales

My heart usually drops when I hear of an anthology. Quite often, they are lame, or one segment sinks the whole attempt. Even worse, bad narration or some other silly thread holds many together. Rarely, in the case of UK’s FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE (1974), everything seems to click. However, this trio of shorts, also from the UK, may have put the anthology back on the watch list.

First we have “House and Home”, written and directed by Sean Hogan, which focuses on a couple that loves to bring home the homeless for some forced S&M. Featuring the lovely, and creepy in her own way, Siubhan Harrison as Victoria Gull, we instantly get caught up in the powerful wife, henpecked husband marriage that is not as hackneyed as we’re accustomed to. The story is dark, rich, and disturbing, which ultimately leads to a very satisfying and equally disturbing finish.

The truly odd one of the bunch is Andrew Parkinson’s “Mutant Tool” about a mad scientist continuing a bizarre Nazi experiment that is far removed from pleasant. Though fantastical, the grittiness of the story and its characters, mainly Jodie Jameson as Jen the prostitute who can’t escape her life, makes certain the disturbing element continues to reign.

“Bitch”, the final installment from Simon Rumley, definitely serves as the most poignant due to its reality-based foundation. Again, S&M comes into play, though this time consensual, but with a fetish that leads to a very harrowing end. Once more, actors keep the story hard, sharp and riveting with the fabulous Tom Sawyer (no lie) and Steel Wallis. In addition, this ending alone should have moviegoers talking for some time.

Though “Mutant Tool” is the weakest of the three, due to a somewhat convoluted plot for such a short venture, it easily surpasses the bulk of horror spewed out all too quickly.

The common thread is sex and violence when it comes to story, but another key component is the keen photographic eye of cinematographer Milton Kam, who has forty-two films to his credit, including THE LIVING AND THE DEAD (UK, 2006) and RED, WHITE & BLUE (2010). Each segment is dark, though one can easily capture everything that happens before the camera. This is special because there are no jarring transitions between each segment, though they do not all look the same. The most distinctive is Kam’s use of blue coloring for the final short, which further enhances that particular story’s theme.

The filmmakers and actors accomplished something wonderful with a low budget, proving once again that it’s not the money, but the will to produce quality. Though many may point to elements of misogyny, which automatically comes about from three male director/writers, all the female roles are strong and they do not come lightly to screen or story by any means.

This is definitely worthy of a rental, especially since UK’s up and coming young actors are showcased. We can only hope to see more of Sawyer and Willis, as well as the rest in future endeavors.

As for LITTLE DEATHS, this translates from “la petite mort”, French terminology for an orgasm. For horror fans, this movie just might bring them that coveted release they are looking for thanks to three intriguing tales far removed from the cliché-laden miasma that often chokes them.

4 out of 5 stars

Crash Analysis: SOMETIMES THEY COME BACK… AGAIN (1996) – 1 star

Greaser punks gone really bad… 

A father’s past haunts him when demons come calling.

Milestones are great benchmarks of achievement. They tell us how far we’ve come and grace us with some semblance of accomplishment. Therefore, when horror geek me celebrated watching my 1,300th horror, the only downside was that it was SOMETIMES THEY COME BACK… AGAIN.

Michael Gross, forever pigeonholed as the father from “Family Ties” stars as something completely different – a father. Well, he’s also a therapist, though that never really ties into the tale. Anyway, his mother just died and he’s off to close the house, with soon to be eighteen-year-old Michelle (played by a very young and toothful Hilary Swank). Soon enough, however, father is haunted by some old demons: the three boys who murdered his sister thirty years before. And now, they want his daughter.

The movie maintained a total low budget 80s feel with cheesy characters, a predictable plot and some horrendous special defects. What’s worse: Michael Gross knows better. He can act. I’ve seen him in TREMORS (1990) and its pathetic sequels, as well as other venues where he shined. Yet it seems that once on set, he realized what he had gotten himself into and decided to hold back. Then again, Swank gives us no indication of her acting prowess. Finally, Alexis Arquette, before his sex reassignment surgery, played the bad boy nemesis – and he couldn’t act either.

When there are that many actors not stepping up, and the rest of the cast was quite weak, except for Patrick Renna who truly glowed, the fault lies with one person only: the director. In this case, it’s Adam Grossman, the same culprit who also rewrote and directed CARNIVAL OF SOULS to much booing, hissing and dead cat throwing. His career fizzled into the ether afterwards.

As for the special effects, which should support the story, they were distracting. Special effects make-up should never look obvious, and visual effects should be clean and sharp, not clearly cartoonish and subpar. Now you know why many laugh at this film, which makes me wonder why no one has created a drinking game around this one.

But there is some good news: Christopher Baffa’s cinematography is solid. And his work has taken him to big time fare, such as RUNNING WITH SCISSORS (2006), and regular work as director of photography for “Nip/Tuck” and “Glee”.

Baffa and Renna are the combined reason for the one star. As for my 1,300th horror, I guess it’s fitting that it was a cheesy piece of laugh out loud garbage. After all, of those 1,300, I’ve only found a handful of brilliant films in the 4.5 star or better category – and you’ll learn about all of those soon.

1 out of 5 stars