THE LAST KNOCK presents: Snuff Horror

The Last Knock

Snuff: pornographic films where an actress is murdered on screen for sexual pleasure, has instilled fear in many for decades, and has been investigated by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies. This ultra-horrific urban legend of gross misogyny has found its way as fodder for several horror films. Are they worth watching? Do they have merit? And what’s worst: is “snuff” real? We navigate this terror to bring you some answers – and snuff out the rumors.

This episode’s SCREAM OUTS from Twitter: 

@PromoteHorror @PopcornFrights @RonGizmo @VicsMovieDen @peterkidder @MelanieMcCurdie @machinemeannow @BohemianCelt @SiaraTyr @MirandaNading @ChadSchmike @rosebyanyother7 @AFiendOnFilm @OlettaTheAuthor @FriscoKidTX @LoudGreenBird @isaacrthorne @palkodesigns @EmilieFlory @dixiefairy @d_m_elms @ButcherBabies @deepfocusllc @corybrin and Paul J. Williams from Facebook

 

THE NEON DEMON and the Provocation of Beauty (2016) by Jonny Numb

 

The-Neon-Demon-Film-Nicolas-Winding-Refn-8-892x467[118 minutes. R. Director: Nicolas Winding Refn]

The world of fashion modeling is ripe with metaphorical potential. And while nobody would seem more suited to bring a new and unique angle to this topic, Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon is a conundrum that piggybacks off some of the best examples of this interesting subgenre, while infusing the proceedings with a variety of scattered horror fruits and nuts.

While theories are left ambiguous in Demon, Refn posits that models could be blank-eyed zombies; machine-tooled cyborgs calibrated for a world hung up on the concept of physical perfection; aliens beamed down to Earth from another planet; or bloodthirsty, Elizabeth Bathory-styled vampires looking to maintain their Forever 21 looks by any means necessary.

This is the type of film that Austin Powers, lulled into submission by the lethal Fembots, would love. It presents a paradoxical world of beauty and danger where mystery and piercing color schemes are the true aesthetic currency, something that comes as a given from the man who gave us the divisive, style-drenched panoramas of Drive and Only God Forgives.

Considering Refn’s icy, meticulous attention to color and symmetry within his shot compositions, the match of creator to subject is appropriate. Demon, a brazenly unclassifiable film that swims in a steaming genre soup is, like its characters, marked by the exclusivity of club rules. Narratively dense, it runs nearly 2 hours and follows a myriad of story threads, few of which are met with satisfying conclusions. The ending, which has all the stylistic trademarks of a Calvin Klein fragrance ad, contributes only more thickness to a well-muddied narrative path.

But for all intents and purposes, the type of story Demon tells will determine whether it will pique individual viewer interest: following the well-established narrative catalysts of films where bright-eyed, beautiful young women seek fame (Starry EyesBlack Swan; and especially Mulholland Drive), it borrows freely and unabashedly from its forebears, while the director inverts expectations by gorging style over substance. This approach tows a tricky line between virtue and self-indulgence, and will be a point of contention for people unversed in Refn’s hyper-stylized aesthetics. For a director whose previous film was jeered at Cannes, he seems to be going for the jugular in widening the gap between his fans and detractors.

Lulled by the shifting color hues on a velvet surface (or the surface of a distant planet, who knows?), the opening credits bear a tongue-in-cheek “NWR” watermark, as if Refn is presenting us with his 2016 entry in the cinema fashion wars. He then progresses into a macabre tableau centering on Jesse (a deliberately somnambulant Elle Fanning), a 16-year old who has fled small-town Georgia and her deceased parents to establish a name for herself in Los Angeles. In a surreal string of events, Ruby (Jena Malone, oozing steely authority throughout) takes Jesse to a party, underscored by a strobe-lit performance art piece, and introduces her to Gigi (Bella Heathcote) and Sarah (Abbey Lee), two wide-eyed, highly competitive models.

While the performances are uniformly excellent, Refn’s presentation of his mostly-female cast is problematic. In Drive, women were presented as either passive spectators to male-centered action, cannon fodder, or topless eye candy; in Only God Forgives, women were presented as passive sex objects with no function outside of fulfilling the desires of the men of the piece, or gender reversals on monstrous villains (for as ruthless and brilliant as Kristin Scott Thomas is in that film, it is a role that could’ve been inhabited by a male with few script changes). For example, there is a shower scene in Demon that provokes a disconnect between prurience and narrative necessity; photographed in slow motion, in pale lighting, and accompanied by Cliff Martinez’s otherworldly synth score, it contains important cutaway shots to a specific character’s point of view, but its protracted nature seems to be Refn staging a deliberately leg-crossing sequence of sheer excess. While the film shunts its male characters to the periphery (despite a greater significance being teased for all), the women are not necessarily “strong” by design or default – if anything, the vagaries of the script leave them as more signifiers and symbols than fully fleshed-out beings (which, to add to the frustration, is appropriate for the story). My perspective: the icy presentation of femininity, beauty, and sexuality synthesizes well enough with Refn’s aesthetic fixation on surfaces (both literal and figurative) for the lack of texture to make sense on a narrative level.

The recurring imagery of Demon, in another bit of obvious aesthetic deliberation, uses mirrors to emphasize the illusory nature of the modeling business (many over-the-shoulder shots, or off-sided glimpses of characters casting distorted reflections; and yes, a bathroom mirror gets shattered at one point). The actors’ reliance on wide-eyed glares is vapid in a way that drains the sexuality from the film’s amorous moments; in fact, there is a jaw-dropping sequence near the end that creates a blunt visual metaphor of beauty as a form of sexual violation, ice-cold to the touch. Complementing this further is Ruby’s ornate yet empty-feeling mansion – all long, echoing corridors and high-ceilinged rooms, recalling the sets of many classic Universal and Hammer horrors.

“My mother said I’m dangerous,” Jesse intones to Ruby near the end, and one wonders at the implications of that statement. Despite top billing and her visage being front and center in the film’s ad campaign, Fanning comes across as a cipher in her own story, while the more powerful (on the surface, anyway) women manipulate her for their own ends. With the images of penetration, consumption, and birth that mark the film’s closing minutes, the facial blankness and soft-toned naivete of Jesse leaves one’s mind venturing into the “what ifs” that spring up from her minimal backstory and hallucinatory initiation into the high-profile, high-cost world of high fashion. If there are answers to be found within The Neon Demon, none of them come easy, but the decoding process is part of its lethal charm.

4 out of 5 stars

Crash Analysis Support Team:

Jonny Numb (aka Jonathan Weidler) measures his life in coffee spoons, and writes reviews once every couple years at numbviews.livejournal.com. He co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast, and can be found on Twitter and Letterboxd @JonnyNumb.

(Photo from gds.it.)

THE LAST KNOCK presents: Hodgepodge of Horror VIII

The Last Knock

So many horror movies, so little time! This is why we’re bringing you our eighth installment of “Hodgepodge Horror” where you’ll get a chance to hear about some new and old films in the genre that may be worth seeing, or definitely worth avoiding. And, of course, there’s a chance Crash and Numb will argue about one film or another. So dive in with abandon (unless the shark from JAWS is directly underneath you), and give a listen to what horror movies we’re watching now!

This episode’s SCREAM OUTS from Twitter: 

@TheHorrorMaster (John Carpenter) @LianeMoonRaven @FriscoKidTX @isaacrthorne @machinemeannow @RSBrzoska @_greatnorthern @DanielMlYoung @RealJillyG @Miss_Dibbly @MFFHorrorCorner @Karinm37 @MelanieMcCurdie @RayZor_33 @HorrorSyndicate @BlackCabProds @Israel_Finn @KeyzKeyzworth @KissedByFate2 @pugmum1 @horrorfilledfun @palkodesigns @Horrorview @aj_macready @wilkravitz @Theladyphantom @AFiendOnFilm @LoudGreenBird @VicsMovieDen @d_m_elms @GrindhouseFilm @ShoutFactory

THE LAST KNOCK presents: Horror Double Feature: HUSH, DARLING

The Last Knock

Just because a horror film’s made on a small budget, and shot with minimalism in mind, doesn’t mean it’s cheap and easy. Both Mike Flanagan’s HUSH and Mickey Keating’s DARLING are low budget, independent films with small casts, manageable effects, and few locations. But what they offer horror fans may be twists on old themes where tropes are turned on their heads, and solid storylines are inhabited by intriguing characters. So listen in and find out if we put a hush to the buzz, or declare them both darlings.

This episode’s SCREAM OUTS from Twitter: 

@ScreamHorrorMag @EmilieFlory @60Secondstodie @RonGizmo @RSBrzoska @sarahsweets83 @BleedingCritic @Promofilia_ @RealJillyG @MuldoonPatrick @LINTstagators @Tammysdragonfly @MelanieMcCurdie @AFiendOnFilm @nicolemalonso @OklahomaWard @AmandaBergloff @machinemeannow @saulnier_Jeremy @GreenRoomFilm @mrbluelouboyle @LAMANIACmovie @GreenRoomMovie @talk2cleo and Paul J. Williams from Facebook!

THE LAST KNOCK presents: Extreme Horror – Family Fear

The Last Knock

If you love extreme horror, those disturbing films that make you cringe and wonder what the hell’s wrong with you for watching them to begin with, then this initial segment is definitely a must listen.

In this first of our Extreme Horror series, we explore those films that present families in a far different light than Disney ever could. We crash into A SERBIAN FILM, THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, THE HILLS HAVE EYES, and more. We’re not looking at gore and shock value, but the exploration of emotion and ethics that rocks us to the core. After all, these are the disturbing ventures into extreme horror that will keep you awake at night because your mind’s on fire.

Billy Crash and Jonny Numb traverse the trauma with special guest, William Meeker! You can find his remarks and reviews on film, from horror to science fiction, at Loud Green Bird, and follow him on Twitter at @LoudGreenBird as well.

This episode’s SCREAM OUTS from Twitter: 

@wilkravitz @gregskesworld @BigSpoonyBard @KeyzKeyzworth @jerryWalach @MrMarkzilla @meanlouise @ktanimara @LindaLeeKing @RonGizmo @THETomSavini @flcamera @RiversofGrue @vincentmward @SiaraTyr @isaacrthorne @TheresaSnyder19 @theadman40 @Bigolegoofy1 @tommyjoker73 @The_MOE_Dome @MirandaNading @ThisIsHorror @EmilieFlory @Israel_Finn @RSBrzoska @IvonnaCadaver @AmandaBergloff @aicforever @AFiendOnFilm @MFFHorrorCorner @BleedingCritic @laurenashleycar @mickeykeating and on Facebook: Christopher Alan Broadstone and Doug McCambridge!

Crash Analysis Support Team: GREEN ROOM (2016) from Jonny Numb

GR4[94 minutes. R. Director: Jeremy Saulnier]

The visceral experience of Green Room is that of having an ice-cold fist throttle your spine, dislocate your jaw, and twist your nerve endings for 90 relentless minutes. In an attestation to its punk pedigree, it takes the straightforward lyrics of the Circle Jerks’ “Back Against the Wall” and makes them vulnerable (and often mutilated) flesh. Green Room never relents long enough to bask in its myriad ironies, and thus underlines the difference between it and most other postmodern genre efforts that stop to wink at the audience.

That’s not to say its influences aren’t as abundant as they are disparate (and merit their own analysis), but that writer-director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Murder Party) isn’t content to merely churn out stale variations on the films that shaped his directorial sensibility. In that regard, he’s much closer to Quentin Tarantino than the ghetto of indie-film poseurs who slavishly recycle the most influential movies of their youth in the most unimaginative manner possible.

To address the finer details of Green Room’s plot is to venture into perilous and plentiful spoiler territory, but there is much to appreciate and gape at (aesthetically and thematically). This is as visceral as the most effectively brutal efforts of the horror genre, and that is something that can only be verified by experiencing it first-hand. Saulnier’s Blue Ruin bristled with a quiet, mounting intensity that surpassed the Coen Brothers’ No Country for Old Men; the surprise here is that Green Room not only meets the oft-unbearable suspense of those films, but exceeds it.

The Ain’t Rights are a suburban punk band in the midst of a tour that isn’t going very well (the opening scene has their van wiped out in a cornfield). After meeting with a ‘zine editor and radio DJ who interviews them about their “desert island bands” and lack of social media presence (which not all of the members agree on), he hooks them up with a lame, mid-day gig for peanuts, followed by a more lucrative – yet foreboding – proposal: a couple hundred bucks to play at a skinhead club in the middle of nowhere. When band member Pat (Anton Yelchin) accidentally stumbles across the aftermath of a violent act, these middle-class suburban punks are thrust into a fight for survival against seemingly insurmountable odds.

For as provoking as the scenario and characters are, Saulnier doesn’t turn the film into a heavy-handed, American History X-styled treatise on the wages of hate. Shock-value epithets don’t gratuitously worm their way into the dialogue, nor do our protagonists ever offhandedly toss around the word “Nazi” (outside of a rendition of the Dead Kennedys’ song, “Nazi Punks Fuck Off”). Ever the sly craftsman, Saulnier is fully aware he’s creating a genre picture, and by not making any overt statements, ventures into subtext that is rather fascinating.

Green Room is a double threat: a relentless machine of suspense and violence, and one that makes you think well after all the corpses have been accounted for.

Patrick Stewart plays Darcy, the articulate owner of the club, an even-toned yet methodical man who, one could argue, is overqualified to be presiding over such a dump – until you realize he doesn’t just book shows, but offers “educational” workshops on race under the same roof. (For an unexpected corollary to Green Room, check out the unsettling documentary Welcome to Leith.) In an early scene that represents the film’s turning point, he delivers his dialogue muffled, behind a door, while a terrified Pat is forced into a negotiation with no positive outcome. The lack of Stewart in visual form actually makes the exchange that much more gut-clenching. He may be spinning bullshit, but he makes bullshit sound like something you’d want to concede to all the same.

While the presence of Stewart is a coup, it could have been easily viewed as a stunt if the rest of Green Room’s cast didn’t also perform at a higher level. The other characters come across as amalgamations of the “desperate scenario survivor type”: Yelchin fares strongly as the coward of the group; Joe Cole renders a muscular hothead without being an out-and-out asshole; and Alia Shawkat (The Final Girls) and Callum Turner (Victor Frankenstein) represent the more level-headed voices of reason. Imogen Poots’s (the Fright Night remake) character and her motives are a bit more complicated, but she quickly forms an alliance with the group out of necessity.

Certain films, like Alex Cox’s Repo Man (1984) and James Merendino’s SLC Punk (1998) capture elements of the punk subculture in ways that still resonate today. To a great extent, a lack of Hollywood sanitization is what makes these films hum with a distinct countercultural energy. And Green Room is no exception – it doesn’t simply make its central characters punk rockers as a bit of throwaway edginess (though “Punks [sic] Not Dead” would be a great tagline), but uses that to augment the driving, spitfire pacing.

Furthermore, Saulnier finds clever ways of integrating the DIY aesthetic that has informed punk since its inception. Beginning with the innocuous image of a hand-drawn flier announcing the Ain’t Rights’ fateful gig to the use of Sharpies to draw on war paint, to improvised weapons (including a broken fluorescent bulb), and the use of duct tape as a wound dressing, these characters make MacGyver-esque use of the limited items at their disposal.

And those ironic references to bands of yesteryear emblazoned on white T-shirts (Dead Kennedys, Minor Threat), graffiti (The Damned), window sticker (Fugazi), and within the dialogue (The Misfits) actually complements the situation and characters. Before any threat presents itself, Shawkat puts on a record by Fear (we only hear the first few seconds, though – as if to say, “let’s not get too ahead of ourselves here”).

Despite the whipcrack pacing, it’s not used to cover up gaps in logic, plot, and character (this isn’t Transformers IX). On the contrary: hero and villain alike are canny and clever within their respective circumstances: from Darcy’s cockroach-like thugs to the outgunned punks, I never once found myself thinking – as I do with many other horror films – “Why are you being so STUPID?”

The music, by Brooke and Will Blair, is also interesting, opting for droning ambient noise (reminiscent of Mica Levi’s minimalist soundscape for Under the Skin) over a more obvious, rat-a-tat punk score. This not only intensifies the ominous silence of certain scenes, but creates a pervasive atmosphere of dread that contributes to the overall visceral impact. The way the film deals largely in desaturated earth tones also adds to the dank and dire mood.

But perhaps most notable of all the notable aspects of Green Room is its raising of the bar for films in the “trapped room” subgenre. Earlier this year, 10 Cloverfield Lane performed a similar feat, daring audiences to embrace a limited setting and a script that refused to kowtow to weary genre conventions. As with John Goodman’s quietly menacing performance in that film, Stewart’s villainous turn here should make those cobweb-festooned Academy voters sit up and take notice. At the halfway point of 2016, the horror genre definitely ain’t fucking around.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Jonny Numb (aka Jonathan Weidler) measures his life in coffee spoons, and writes reviews once every couple years at numbviews.livejournal.com. He co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast, and can be found on Twitter and Letterboxd @JonnyNumb.

Crash Palace Productions and THE LAST KNOCK podcast extends its condolences to the family and friends of Anton Yelchin. We will miss him.

(Photo from Monkeygoosemag.)

THE LAST KNOCK presents: Interview with Writer Isaac R. Thorne

The Last Knock

Isaac R. Thorne may look like a steampunk captain extraordinaire, but he has a penchant for mixing horror with comedy in intriguing and unsettling ways. In this interview, we’ll find out how he ticks, what he likes, and how horror got him there. We’ll also find out about his teleplay “Because Reasons” with the Carmen Theater Group and his other projects coming your way.

You can learn more about Isaac from his website, find his great horror work on Amazon, and you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook.