The Brood (1979)
★★★ / ★★★★
Frank (Art Hindle) found his daughter (Cindy Hinds) covered in bruises and bite marks. To Frank, there was only one person to blame–the mother (Samantha Eggar) who was entitled weekly visitations from a psychiatric institution run by Dr. Raglan (Oliver Reed), a doctor who had a strange way of providing therapy to his patients. It seemed as though he induced his patients into deep hypnosis. By pretending to be key figures from a specific patient’s life, they engaged in conversations and sorted through many emotions in hopes of arriving at some form of closure. Writer-director David Cronenberg took a lot of risks with this project by focusing on how negative emotions could potentially manifest themselves physically. There was true horror when the mutants started killing people. Were they real or were they simply a product of the mind? During an autopsy of one of the mutants, it was revealed to resemble a human but it did not have a navel. When the film was concerned with specifics regarding the mutants and how the new therapy technique worked, I was most fascinated. There also came a point when I stopped and asked myself if I was being paranoid for characters. Perhaps there was a scientific explanation that connected all the strange happenings. But the movie was not just about the horror of the unknown corners of our minds. It was also about ethics such as a doctor’s relationship with his patients. How far should we push a patient to go through therapy when, if they had been in extended states of hypnosis which possibly altered their judgments, they were not aware of its effectiveness? Or worse, they were not allowed to see their loved ones so that they, too, could see how the therapy was coming along. I was constantly challenged because metaphysical and psychological questions often came up and just when I thought I arrived at a valid conclusion, new evidence made me question. In a way, it felt like I was analyzing the movie as my own patient. Even though it asked us to take certain leaps of faith such as the so-called psychoplasmic therapy, the material had a solid grasp between playing within the extremes based on today’s established psychology (such as psychosomatic disorders) and total unbelievability. The final twenty minutes was very memorable because it offered grotesque images even the most hardcore horror fans would be impressed with. “The Brood” may have been deliberately slow-paced but the rewards were plentiful. It was the kind of horror picture that did not sacrifice intelligence and actually incited thoughtful discussion about mutation as a tool (or side effect) of therapy.
The Human Centipede (First Sequence) (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★
Lindsay and Jenny (Ashley C. Williams and Ashlynn Yennie), American tourists in Germany, were invited by a boy to attend a party. But on the way there, their car broke down in the middle of nowhere. Desperate for help, they decided to walk to the nearest house they could find and telephone for help. The two unlucky women knocked on Dr. Heiter’s (Dieter Laser) door. It just so happened that the doctor, a renowned surgeon for dividing siamese twins, was in need of human subjects for his latest experiment. Written and directed by Tom Six, when the film started, I thought it was completely hopeless. The acting was egregiously laughable, the script was terrible because the characters lacked internal dialogue, and the kidnapping happened on a cold, foggy, rainy night. On top of that, Lindsay and Jenny made the worst decisions. When asked by Dr. Heiter if they were alone, they decided to be honest instead of saying that the rest of their friends were waiting for them in the car. When offered water, they made no hesitation to drink it. Not for one second did I believe that the girls were from New York. They lacked common sense. However, there was something mesmerizing about how the twisted events played out. When the girls had finally woken from the effects of the drugged water, I was convinced that the director purposely made the first fifteen minutes to be comical. He was aware of the conventions of the horror genre and he wanted to make fun of it. The real horror was thrown on our lap when the doctor explained to his subjects, using images from a projector, what his experiment was about. Although I felt sick to my stomach, admittedly, I was curious how it would turn out. The best scenes were when Lindsay ran around the house to look for an escape route. I was glad that Six remained true to Lindsay’s character. She just wasn’t a very bright person. When given the chance between going through an open door that led to freedom and saving her friend in the basement, she chose the latter. A smart person would have ran like the wind through that door and not stopped until she found help. Through delayed gratification, you can save someone later by not saving them now. Instead, she was stuck trying to carry her friend’s body up the stairs and around the house. Didn’t it occur to her that Jenny was recently drugged and would not regain consciousness any time soon? But I digress. Maybe she just panicked. I must commend Laser for playing such a cold and utterly unsympathetic character. Every look, body movement, and silence between his words was terrifying. The film offered no reason why he wanted to make a so-called human centipede. Perhaps it was simply because he had an innately curious scientific mind and he just wanted to see if he could do it. “The Human Centipede (First Sequence)” was a shocking, disgusting, grotesque horror picture. But it was also, and more importantly, brazen, darkly comic and inventive. The more I looked into the details of its craft, such as having a Japanese character which was most likely a wink to equally twisted Japanese horror films, the more impressed I was with it.
Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
★★ / ★★★★
When aspiring filmmakers (Francesca Ciardi, Perry Pirkanen, Luca Barbareschi) decided to go to a rainforest in the Amazon to document real cannibals and never returned, a New York University professor (Robert Kerman) went on a journey to get them back. But when he found out that they have been murdered by the cannibals, he took the footages shot by the crew back to America. Little did he know that the contents of the film reels contained grotesque behaviors performed by the aspiring filmmakers which included rape, flaying animals, and multiple attempts in murdering the natives–all the while putting on a show for the world that the things they stumbled upon were shocking and sometimes enlightening. Directed by Ruggero Deodato, “Cannibal Holocaust” has a reputation of having the most intense images portrayed on screen. What I liked about the movie was its daring attempt to blur the line between simulated and the actuality. When I saw an image and I could not tell whether it was one or the other, that was when I thought the picture was at its most horrific. But there were a plethora of scenes where it was easy to tell if something was real of not. For instance, the flaying of the giant turtle was obviously real. I experience no pleasure in watching animals suffer because when I was a kid, I’ve seen a dog being killed in the bloodiest, most unkind way and it was later served as a meal. So it was a bit of a struggle when I saw that segment. As for the filmmakers being killed by the natives, it did not move me as much–in a positive or a negative way–because the movie tried too hard to make it look real to the point where it looked fake. However, the most disappointing element in the picture was the heavy-handed messages that it tried to get across. Questions such as the media’s role in trying to sensationalize every story in order to get reaction from the people were painfully transparent. There were also some bits and pieces about who the real savages were: the tribes in the Amazon who were “backwards” or the Americans who stupidly decided to walk into the tribes’ territories and terrorized them for the sake of having power over them? As a faux-documentary film, it felt too calculated, too controlled, and too contained so it ultimately worked against itself. As for the graphic nature of the film, I was horrified at some points because it was indeed very violent. But then I started thinking about modern horror movies of today and their gratuitousness. The “Saw” pictures suddenly came to mind and I felt that “Cannibal Holocaust” did not seem as bad as a whole. Nevertheless, “Cannibal Holocaust” is definitely not for everyone especially the squeamish. I wish it left a lot more unanswered questions. Since it answered everything for us, despite the many intense images, I started to forget about it right when the credits started rolling.