Leatherface (2017) Film Review

Origin stories-who needs them? When thinking of iconic horror monsters do we really want some explanation about where they came from or what created them?

Whatever our opinion we have had a few of these over the last decade or more. I was surprised when this film was announced so soon after the Texas Chainsaw3D film, and that it was not another sequel but a prequel ‘origin story’ of the main iconic monster of the long lasting horror franchise. In the past, often against the wishes or interest of loyal fans we have had hints at the origins of modern horror monsters such as Freddy Krueger of the A Nightmare on Elm Street series, flashbacks encounters of the past life of Pinhead from Hellraiser, and more. In my mind the most recent and probably unnecessary prequel origin tale for one of the most iconic modern monsters was the Hannibal Rising movie which looked at the early years of Hannibal Lecter of the Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal films. It was closely adapted from the short novel written by the great Thomas Harris, who created the character but it did not feel entirely called for. Did that movie take away too much of the mystery from the iconic monster that is Hannibal Lecter?

Would this new Texas Chainsaw prequel be just as unnecessary? Or would it give the iconic voiceless chainsaw wielding fiend a fresh and solid layer of realistic character?

It came free onto Netflix a few days ago so now was the time to find out I decided.

I had already heard and read many very mixed reviews and thoughts on this slightly controversial addition to the Chainsaw series. Leatherface is now up there with Dracula, Pinhead, Freddy, Phantom of the Opera and other legendary horror monsters. Many may hold the view that we don’t want to know too much about them-who they used to be, where they came from, what made them evil or unstoppable killers. The less we know, the more they may seem like some mysterious force of nature, a kind of evil energy or lifeforce.

This movie goes right back to the very start. Back to the Sawyer house out in the open fields of America. We have seen different versions of the Chainsaw family through the various sequels-there has never really been any clear explanation about why sometimes there seem to be a couple of older brothers with Leatherface, different mother figures, sometimes extra extended family members other times only one or two others. In this early beginning the story gives us a Sawyer family with a couple of older grown brothers, one simple chubby young brother, and the young Leatherface character now called Jed. The mother in this version is played by the excellent Lili Taylor, who continues to seem to get better with every film she appears in over the years. At first I thought she was only going to be in the short opening sequence of the film, but she appears throughout as it moves along. Young Jed seems to witness regular violent scenes and torture measured out by his family on unsuspecting people or police prying into their family business. The local sheriff is played by Stephen Dorff and we see that as in the 2003 remake the Texas police can be expected to be cruel and corrupt figures almost as violent as the Sawyer family. Young Jed is taken away after Sheriff Hartman comes in believing they were the reason his daughter died.

Cut to a few years later and young Jed is in some kind of mental institution for young offenders. The Sawyer mother comes to attempt to take back Jed (also now named Bud) but ends up starting a riot where the young offenders escape, cause violent bloody havoc, Jed and some others go on the run taking a young nurse who had only just starting working there. She had seen that while Jed seemed a quiet and dangerously strong young man he did seem to have a kind heart in some way. She is taken hostage along with one of the more sane and decent young men and Jed by two others who will do anything to get away. This young couple in charge have no morals and the film almost seems to morph into Natural Born Killers at this point, only set in the late 1950’s. It becomes a bloody road trip escape movie, where we seem to want the decent young man and pretty innocent nurse to escape together. Young Jed is silent and exploited by the crazed duo in charge as the Sheriff and police soon pick up their trail.

When you have known and watched the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre for a very long time (originally seeing as a banned copied VHS) the slick, Hollywood level cinematography and direction, costume and light and more take it many miles away from that original place of fear. But we have had several sequels already over the years and one prequel as well which only when so far back, not to where Leatherface was a small child as in this film. Do we know too much about the character now for him to really scare us? In a sense the discontinuity of the Sawyer family through the series does possibly help add a level of continued ambiguity for fans. This is an origin story-but can we really trust the truth of it? What is the real Sawyer Chainsaw family? Who is the real Leatherface and does this film really tell us the truth?

It does throw us a twist in the story after the halfway point which makes it interesting. I really did not expect it. Maybe I was just tired or liked the idea. You then want to go back and consider the film again and the characters up to that point. Well, the people who like the film. So it is probably true that it lacks a strong consistency all through the film with the narrative-is it a horror film? a road movie? a tragic romance? It certainly is not just a simple straight ahead brutal murder splatter flick all way the through like most of the other Chainsaw movies and as most fans may have wanted to see.

I have to say that the acting does on the whole carry the film, especially Dorff as the Sheriff and Lili Taylor as Ma Sawyer. She could even get her own solo movie I would be happy. Some people moaned that Leatherface doesn’t even used a chainsaw or wear a mask until the end of the movie but well that surely makes sense in this case. It incorporate those elements into the story so that they make sense in the end and it is a tragic start to one of the most well known modern iconic horror monsters.

Like the Hannibal Rising book/movie which reveals much about the terrible childhood traumas which shaped the grown killer years down the line, this film shows us a number of things which affected the mind and life and outlook of Leatherface. Can we accept possibly knowing this much about a previously very mysteriously powerful monster?

A number of specific scenes and shots clearly set up the identity of Leatherface and suggest why he wears a skin mask of his victims, why he kills, his lack of voice and interestingly his confused identity. It even touches on his conflicted gender perception at the end previously explored to mixed opinion in the forth film.

Is this a great new addition to the Texas Chainsaw series? It may not have the usual terrifying rollercoaster nightmare experience of most of the movies in the series but it does have some good acting (which doesn’t always appear in the Chainsaw movies) and a number of very graphic moments which will please many of the bloodthirsty Chainsaw fans out there.

 

James Parsons is author of the horror novel Northern Souls out now in paperback and ebook from all good bookshops and online. He also has two science fiction novels-Orbital Kin and Minerva Century available paperback/Hardback/ebook as well published as James E. Parsons.

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Frankenstein (2015) Film Review

There have been so many films over the decades based upon the hugely influential and famous book by Mary Shelley. This new version I watched a week ago does change things around just a little and because of this does bring some new things to the story.

This Frankenstein film is directed by Bernard Rose (most famous for directing the first Candyman movie) and starring Carrie-Anne Moss, Danny Huston, Xavier Samuel. The begins right away with the ‘birth’ of the monster, this time called Adam (played by Xavier Samuel). We see that he is created in secret by married scientists Carrie-Anne Moss and Danny Huston. They run tests, try to teach him skills, and he starts life much like a naïve simple child. He does though possess a dangerous increased strength and eventually this almost has him terminated. After struggle, Adam escapes and runs away alone.

After this it moves along in similar fashion to the original story-the monster/Adam meets and accidentally kills a small girl, runs from police officers, blood is spilled as he runs on alone, confused and desperate.

The film is told from the point of view of the monster/Adam and set in our modern world. This does make it fairly more believable and more tragic in some ways. This does contrast in my mind with the large scale, big budget mid-90’s film version starring De Niro as the monster, with huge sets and costumes and set way back around the time that the original book was written.

Adam soon meets a friendly homeless blind-man on the streets who tries to give him advice and help him to understand people and how the world around them works. If you know the story, you can expect that eventually it all does again fall to pieces with increasing death and destruction around Adam. The end is more different to how the tale usually winds up and is trying to say something through the eyes of the monster this time.

Bernard Rose is a very talented director and while this film has a fairly low budget he does take care in crafting a very thoughtful and poetic film, while it does not shy away from explicit bloodshed and gore fairly frequently. It is probably one of the more bloodsplattered versions of Frankenstein on film but this does not ruin the film. Another director doing the same thing, with same levels of blood and gore may have put out a much more simplistic disposable movie. With this version of the classic tale, Rose opens out some different thoughts on man creating man or life in our modern technologically advanced times, but also how such an artificial being would exist, feel, struggle against our fearful, aggressive and shallow world.

James E. Parsons is author of SF books Orbital Kin and Minerva Century both out now in paperback/ebook/hardback in all good bookshops internationally and online from Waterstones, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and others. His first horror novel will be published toward the end of 2017.

Ex Machina- Film Review

This was another one of the significant science fiction films from 2015 which I have only just watched. I had been interested to see it from early on, knowing that the writer/director was the man who had written films including 28 Days Later, Sunshine and recently the second big screen adaptation of Judge Dredd. This new film, written by Alex Garland, was also his first as director as well.

Early on pictures of the cutting edge visual effects were released, which suggested something very special. This certainly was true, and it does turn out to be a very mature and different SF film.

This is a different kind of film in the science fiction genre, and some SF fans may need to really be prepared for that. It is slow at times, and very concerned with the psychological affects of finding real artificial intelligence.

This film looks fantastic, with an amazing real location out away from crowded cities and towns. Away from everyday civilization Caleba young programmer is flown out to take part in a Turing test with only a reclusive highly successful software company founder. The test lasts around a week, and day by day tensions and questions about the test rise as Caleb spends more time with the new A.I. and designer Nathan.

While the visual effects and design of A.I. female robot Ava and honestly very amazing, this is also very much a seriously tense and dramatic psychological drama. Young programmer Caleb becomes increasingly paranoid, and wonders how the testing of Ava really works, and why he really is there. Not everything is as it seems.

Visually the Ava robot reminded me of some of the effects and designs from Steve Speilbergs’ A.I. film from over a decade ago. Other than her, the film visuals are very basic and minimal which probably works to highlight our focus upon her. Not many modern SF films are so seriously focused on the very real ethical and moral questions relating to potential A.I. if or when it comes. As the film is set very soon from now, and with the CGI effects so convincing today, we really can feel the confusion and desperation of Ava, and understand why Caleb is concerned about her and what is really taking place. It also seemed similar to the recent tv series from the UK, Black Mirror, which has science or speculative fiction tales set in the very near future of years or even months from now.

Besides the science fiction element, it also reminded me of some European films, especially those of Ingmar Bergman and theatre plays in the way it moves along and focuses on the thoughts and feelings of the three main characters in this one building.

This may not be easy for all science fiction film fans to watch, but it is rewarding and really does make us think about things which may in real life, be just around the corner.

 

James E Parsons has his first SF book Orbital Kin out now from all good bookshops, and new book Minerva Century out soon in 2016.

 

THE ALIEN AND THE GIRL-ALIEN5

Another week, or even another day and another change of title for film directing living legend Ridley Scott. Now that we know his continuation of the Prometheus story is go, and set to begin shooting early next year he has change the title from Prometheus 2 to ALIEN:Paradise Lost, and now it has change again to ALIEN: Covenant.

The other big news in recent days is that the Blomkamp sequel could very likely see a return of the Newt female character from ALIENS as a grown woman. Who would play the role, and what would the character be doing years later?

So ever since Prometheus was release in cinemas a few years ago now, there have been so many divisive opinions and views about the success of it, the reason for it, and the meaning of it. So who did create the aliens Xenomorphs we know? Why were they created and how did they get loose?

With Prometheus, we were simply given a whole load more questions, which confused some of us, and enraged a great deal more of us. Back then Scott did suggest that it would be the first in a trilogy which would connect up with the original ALIEN film.

Many fans were left feeling very short-changed and cheated, with Prometheus offering us possibly a weaker imitation of the events from the original movie, and some contradictory or confused space philosophy and Theology which not many fans seemed interested in.

Many fans have been on a new high in recent months knowing that contemporary sci-fi movie director Neil Blomkamp will now be directing a brand new ALIEN sequel, which does seem to be involving many elements which fans would be much more delighted to see on screen. He seems to be a real fan, and also keen to put something out there which would holds more of the fan-popular marks of the SF series and the actual Xenomorphs.

Now with yet another official name change for the Ridley Scott project, what does this suggest to us about the plot? He has stated that yes, this will now be the first in a trilogy connecting into the first ALIEN film. So does Prometheus not actually really count in the series at all? (I know many of you may be very pleased with that).

Despite the second name change (or is it third or more?) ALIEN:Covenant is still a continuation of Prometheus in terms of plot and characters involved. I personally and happy to know this, and am still very interested to see more of the surviving characters and how their journey continues on through space after the events of Prometheus. Even with the numerous plot-holes and contradictions, the ideas and themes do still have the potential to offer what could be a very stunning science fiction epic movie series on the scale of Avatar(but with hopefully better scipts than that particular film as well.)

With the hope that the new Blomkamp ALIENS sequel will not be delayed by too much time, there is room in cinema for both of these strands of the ALIEN universe to be explored and connected over the next few years and please fans of all the previously related movies.

James E. Parsons is author of Orbital Kin sci-fi book, out paperback/ebook from all good bookshops/retailers. New SF book Minerva Century out 2016.

 

The ways of space travel…

Now you may have noticed that the new Ridley Scott sci-fi movie The Martian is out in cinemas from last week, it has recieved mostly postive reviews it seems. It is a film adapted from an already quickly respected and well recieved novel from only a few years previous.

I may go and see this flick, as I am both a sci-fi film and Ridley Scott fan equally. This does though now have me thinking about the number of SF movies focused on exploring Mars, the Red Planet. Are there too many of these kinds of movies? Why always Mars?

I understand that this mysterious planet is possibly one of the most close to our own in a number of ways, but should we not consider and explore some the other known planets around us which are regularly ignored and forgotten?

Another question which comes to mind now-are science fiction films becoming far too serious again? This may be due to very interesting continuing research and investigations from NASA and other international space missions and tests, but in some ways I yearn possibly for just a little more fiction and imagination.

I understand also that films such as The Martian, Interstellar and Gravity from the last few years were partly made thanks in some ways due to the ground-breaking filming techniques and camera and CG overlap, allowing effects on screen never previously available to such stunning levels.

Such we still expect aliens and first contact in SF movies on the big screen? Are we just far past that time now?

NIGHTBREED:The Director’s Cut (2014)

This epic horror fantasy film written and directed by the hugely talented artist/author/director Clive Barker was first released in cinemas way back in 1990. At the time that version of the film had been sadly recut and edited under orders by the film studio and producers, to sell it as more of a ‘slasher’ style movie. The real film was never intended to be like that, and at that time so much of the film was abandoned and lost for many years, with most people believing that the original version would never really ever be seen by the public.
After close to twenty five years, and with a sudden amount of sheer luck and then extreme hard work and effort, reels of footage were found and eventually cleaned up over the last couple of years. After a rough cut which was then toured around the UK, USA and other international film festivals, a strong response prompted the eventual successful completion of the closest cut of the film which Clive agrees with.
I personally live in the UK, and so had to get a US dvd copy (no idea when or if it will come out over here yet) and hope for the best. Thankfully I have been able to watch it today.
Nightbreed was adapted by director Clive Barker, who had only just has huge international success with his first horror film Hellraiser, also based on another of this short novels. This film though, while containing monsters and including some bloody and graphic sights, was much more than a simple slasher or gore fest horror flick.
I first saw the cinema cut version recorded from cable tv in the late 90’s, and was already a huge Clive Barker and Hellraiser fan then. As many have stated, that original cinema version of Nightbreed left out so much, and distorted the story vastly. I did though easily love that version because I could see enough original and stunning imagery and characters and pieces of the story between the patchwork structure of atempted slasher flick. I had read the novel Cabal which it was based on, and while I could tell that it was the same story, I knew that there were parts left out, or cut short which was strange enough as it was a fairly short book.
Over the years, reading interviews from Clive Barker I found him and some of the actors and other involved discussing the tragic events which had produced the box-office and artistic failure. Clive knew that the film studio probably did have reels of missing film scenes and footage for years, but would not let him have it. Thankfully, a glorious load of extra footage was hit upon suddenly a couple of years ago-and here we are with the cleaned up and recut version of Nightbreed today.

I did see the rough ‘Cabal Cut’ of Nightbreed when it was shown in some select UK cinemas a year or more ago, and though most of the found scenes and new footage was of fairly terrible visual quality (the film reels having deteriorated over years slightly) it was so great to see more of Midian and more of the monster I had seen pictures of but never seen on screen included in the film.
I sat down this afternoon and enjoyed a restored and spectacular horror fantasy movie, this time a slightly different, coherent and emotional film. Most of the structure of the film is still the same, but there a number of extended scenes and sequences which previously were only a second or two onscreen. This time Midian is a much more wider, elaborate, detailed place, there are dozens more monsters within the caverns below. The relationship between Boon and Lori is deeper, more touching and real. We care for them more, and by the end of the film, it means much more to see them get through the entire dramatic tale.
It does feel less like a simple Friday the 13th rip-off, with Dekker moving back in the narrative in the second hour, and more of the monsters and world of Midian move forward this time. I would agree that yes, there could still be say around ten minutes cut down perhaps, but largely this is a very satisfying, hugely enjoyable dark fantasy movie, now thankfully given the true finish and version that it should have had so many years ago.