john b. cribbs

Where the internet intersects film, you will find horror movies the subject of discussion. The Pink Smoke is no different: John Cribbs has annually written about his marathon horror film viewing sessions. Normally, it's a month of horror film in October. This year, he's waited until springtime to settle in to watching dozens of blood-soaked, lunatic-centric& filcks - whatever, it doesn't necessarily make sense present this in April, but he's a not robot or a bureaucrat, so get off his back, grandpa.

This year's selections are divided up thematically; with Part I casting his two evil eyes on films concerning homidical children and works from the direst of decades for horror cinema, the 1990's. Next week, Part II will take a look at Bad Pregnancies, Killer Babies and Subterranean Killers!


In my recent review of Frank Henenlotter's Bad Biology, I mentioned how the 90’s was a terrible decade for horror films. Sure there were a few scattered gems (Braindead, Cronos, Cemetery Man, Cure, The Frighteners, Henenlotter’s last three films and Richard Stanley’s only two) but compared to the 80’s it was a long stretch of scorched desert for fans of the genre to crawl across.

So, for the first part of this year’s horror marathon I decided to watch as many horror movies from the 90’s that I hadn’t seen which have gained some form of reputation among fans or were recommended to me somewhere down the line, to determine if in fact the decade’s horror movie reputation was salvageable. It was an interesting journey; I couldn't find a few of the titles I was looking for (A Chinese Ghost Story, The Bone Yard, Rodman Flender's The Unborn) but the ones I managed to track down made an interesting case for the decade, for good and bad.

Graveyard Shift (1990) - see "BENEATH THE SURFACE" in Part II.

Baby Blood (1990) – see “BAD PREGNANCIES AND KILLER BABIES” in Part II.

mark peploe, 1991

A British thriller that can best be described as sub par giallo with a successfully disorienting second-act twist. It follows a boy named Lucas who, like the young hero of fellow Brit Philip Ridley's The Reflecting Skin, becomes witness to horrible crimes being committed in one slow, dreamlike afternoon. A killer is stalking and mutilating blind women, and somehow Lucas stumbles upon each attack in what seems like a series of odd coincidences until the big mid-movie mix-up that shifts around reality and character relationships like no other film I can think of outside the end of Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. On one hand it’s a jarring transition (I watched the movie late at night and the next day I honestly couldn't remember if the story really took that swerving reality turn or if I had started to fall asleep and hallucinated it that way), but it also makes it seem like the screenwriters hit a wall in the first part of the film and devised the second to seem like it was where everything was already headed. Just before leaving the initial plot, the kid discovers Paul McGann tormenting and torturing a naked blind lady, rushes in and stabs him through the eye – pretty exciting stuff, I was looking forward to finding out what happened next. But since the director pulls this "it was all a dream"-type switcheroo, I felt a little cheated. So the whole thing left me a little conflicted as to whether the weird and interesting story shake-up (readers who don't care about spoilers can follow the asteriks to the bottom of the page*) was a cheap way to get out of a story that was going nowhere or the ultimate end the original set-up was trying to reach all along. It's also just the kind of thing to excite casual film viewers for all the wrong reasons, if that makes sense.

The movie really does remind me of Reflecting Skin - it's like to a Dario Argento movie what that film was to a David Lynch, except not enough of the director's voice to really distinguish itself; his touch is too clinical. But both films show that kids can be just a screwed up mentally as adults and create their own warped sense of reality where their dark mannerisms feel more at home. David Thewlis turns up in his pre-Naked role as "creepy thin guy" (his post-Naked roles have proven to be mostly "addled creepy thin guy"...and Knox Harrington, the video artist?) and the second part does have a memorable sequence where a harmless neighborhood dog is transformed into a monster. A good effort, but better luck on your next horror movie Mark Peploe (oh, there won't be one? Just a forgotten Conrad adaptation? Nevermind.)

dan o'bannon, 1992

(a.k.a. Shatterbrain.)

I was curious to see this one as it’s the only other directorial effort from Dan O’Bannon (Alien, Lifeforce) beside 1985’s Return of the Living Dead. Adapted from Lovecraft’s only novel, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, The Resurrected is clearly inspired by Stuart Gordon and Brian Yuzna’s successful run of Lovecraft movies from the 1980’s. Unlike Gordon and Yuzna, O’Bannon doesn’t retain Lovecraft’s hilariously anachronistic character names, so instead of playing Marinus Bicknell Willett, John Terry (Jack’s dad on “Lost”) plays John March, a private investigator hired by the wife of brilliant scientist Chris Sarandon to find out why the good doctor’s morbid experiments are slowly driving him insane. So far so good, but the movie’s low budget** really hinders its overall tone and effects: it looks and plays more like a “Tales from the Crypt” episode than a feature film. But I'm a sucker for a good Lovecraftian detective-undercovers-unspeakable-evil-that-slowly-drives-him-insane plot structure a'la Exorcist III and In the Mouth of Madness, and it's a considerably faithful modernization of the original book (although O'Bannon was smart enough to leave out the cameo by Merlin.)

The main element from the Stuart Gordon movies missing in O'Bannon's film is the humor: Sarandon gives an enjoyably nutty performance - my favorite part of the movie is where somebody asks how he's feeling and he breathily replies "Unspeakable!" I'm going to start doing that - but I don't think he considered it tongue-in-cheek. The main characters are blandly written (the script is by Brent V Friedman, co-writer of the Lambert-less Mortal Kombat: Annihilation) and the overall flat aesthetic of the film is just barely above any given episode of "Tales from the Crypt." There is some good use of stop motion animation to create one of Dexter Ward's horrible abominations, and I'm a fan of old school stop motion suddenly popping up in a more recent movie, like the lizard thing in the lab in Piranha. At the end of the day I guess I'm glad this film exists, but the Curse of the 90's seemed to have hit Lovecraft movies the worst, producing this, the dreadful Re-Animator sequel, Lurking Fear and Necronomicon (which Friedman also worked on.) Did O'Bannon have better luck with 1997's Bleeders, the 1997 "Lurking Fear" adaptation he co-wrote? Maybe I'll find out next year.***

david marconi, 1992

I decided to label this one a "horror" even though technically it's an early 90's action-thriller that just happens to involve involuntary live organ harvesting. Which is horrifying, right? That's a flimsy pretext for including it with these other more genuine horror titles – the fact is, I came upon this one in a used dvd bin and wanted to see it again for the first time since high school because of the beautiful Leilani Sarelle, known to most as Sharon Stone's butch-dyke partner Roxy in Basic Instinct and to some as the super-sexy highway cop in Days of Thunder. Despite disappearing from the film scene after 1995 (although she has two new credits for this year on her imdb page), she'll forever be immortalized in this above-average sleeper.

Nothing good happens in Mexico: Ambrose Bierce disappeared there, Hart Crane went down to the Gulf to commit suicide, Charlie Sheen unearthed a massive conspiracy involving shape-shifting aliens below the border. Alcoholic screenwriter Miguel Ferrer unwittingly stumbles upon another kind of conspiracy, and before he knows it he’s waking up on a gurney missing his wallet, his watch and his right kidney. The roots of xenophobic horror films like Hostel and Touristas Go Home can be found here, as well as the American in Foreign Land gets-over-his-head and unearths cryptic mystery angle of films like Polanski’s Ninth Gate. He follows the organ trail (that was some sort of attempt to make a play on "Oregon trail" that just fell completely fucking flat, sorry about that) back to the operation's benefactors and comes under the radar of – early 90s, straight to video, who else? – Henry Silva as the shady Mexican cop. 

The surprisingly smart script with surreal twists, albeit a little overwritten in parts, is by director David Marconi, who for some reason never helmed another picture. He gives the film a consistent creepy feel (thus justifying its inclusion in this write-up) and more than its share of expertly-handled action sequences including a curvy car chase and final shoot-out where the murderous surgeons arrive at Ferrer's farm via helicopter to collect their investment. He's credited for the scripts of one of the most f'd up "G.I. Joe" episodes, where Cobra has a machine that literally steals the faces off young girls (leaving them looking like The Blank from Dick Tracy) and makes an older woman attached to the same machine younger: some thematic resemblances there to this film. Other than that he wrote Enemy of the State and worked on the story for Live Free or Die Hard. Come back, David Marconi. Come back, Leilani Sarelle. Your sex scene in this movie is incredible. The Harvest includes appearances by Harvey Fierstein, Tim "The Wrong Guys" Thomerson as an alcoholic washed-up writer spouting conspiracy theories in a Mexican hotel and, that's right folks, a young pre-fame George Clooney**** in a single shot as a sexy cross-dresser lip syncing "Heaven is a Place on Earth" at a night club.

adam friedman, 1993

The vampire craze has gotten out of control recently that covers to DVD re-releases of movies like the gritty Near Dark have been Twilight-ified. How dare they – you think little goth dweeb Robert Patterson would last two seconds against demon drifter Lance Henriksen? The adolescent vampire in The Lost Boys could probably wipe out that pussy. Or the Jerry Maguire kid from that movie where he played the little vampire (I think it was called Baby Bloodsucker. Or The Toothy Tyke. Diaper Dracula?) The one good thing about this whole Twilight fad is that the sulking, tragic high school vamp has made the bloodsucking beasts from the 80’s and 90’s seem much cooler in retrospect. Remember when they used to have powers cooler than just running real fast, were relentlessly untamed and violent, and, in the words of Guillermo Del Toro, didn't "fucking sparkle?” What happened to those glory days?

Well, 1993's To Sleep With a Vampire refutes that romantic notion of the badass vampire of yesteryear. It turns out laughable, cheesy vampires have been a mainstay in cinema well before Kristen Stewart had even grown the teeth with which to bite her lower lip. Scott Valentine (My Demon Lover, Nick from "Family Ties") and Charlie Spralding (of Wild at Heart ass-pinchoriety and ex-wife of Jason "Rick Rambis" London) are directed by Adam Friedman (lots of Playboy specials) in what is probably the most enjoyably hokey vampire movie ever made. My problem is that I genuinely can’t tell how self-conscious the filmmakers were and how much of the comedy was intentional. When explaining to Spralding that he doesn't usually interact with people he plans to feed on, vamp Valentine outdoes Daniel Day-Lewis with the memorably terrible line "Do you introduce yourself to a hamburger? Do you converse with a milkshake?" (I dunno, sometimes I converse with a milkshake - depends on the kind of day I'm having.) Later he sits on a beach at night under a spotlight Spralding has set up wearing tiger-print speedos and shades to try and recreate the feel of tanning under the sun. But the impromptu spotlight tanning is a spontaneous thing, so you have to assume he just wears tiger-print speedos all the time! A minor character laughs when he sees this sulking vampire in his speedos, which seems to suggest the filmmakers knew how ridiculous they were being, but who knows. There are just as many attempts at solemn, meaningful moments between the two characters that are as embarrassingly silly as the parts that seem like they're being played for laughs.

Valentine gives a hilariously cheesy performance as the tortured creature o' the night who just wants to know what it's like to be human, and Spralding gives a largely nude performance as the stripper with a heart of – well frankly I'm not sure what's in her heart, it's covered by her large breasts. They should consider re-releasing this one into theaters as the next Twilight movie. Part of me believes that would be a great joke, while another acknowledges that this is actually no worse or better than these new Li'l Vampire tween flicks.

stephen norrington, 1994

Somewhere between The Terminator and Richard Stanley's Hardware is Death Machine, the feature debut of Stephen "Blade" Norrington. Brad Dourif, who is more likely than not to serve up the most over-the-top performance in any given horror movie, doesn't disappoint here as the porn-loving power-hungry savant who unleashes his latest homicidal robot on a group of environmentalists who break into the facility armed and ready to put a stop to all the weapons manufacturing (it's funny, like a Die Hard-style action movie where the terrorists become the targets.) Ely "The Wrong Guys" Pouget***** is the newly-appointed CEO of the company whose conscience gets her to pull the plug on Dourif's carte blanche access to the factory for whatever death machines he happens to be working on and gets her trapped with the terrorists against the killbot. The whole trapped-inside-a-structure/stalked-by-killing-machine-also-inside-of-structure model (the Alien Formula...or, if you like, Smart Sharks Formula...or, if you like, the horror version of the Career Opportunities Formula, just substitute Jennifer Connelly with some kind of killing machine) is a well-worn scenario for this kind of movie, but you really can't go wrong with it. It's an easy set-up for the quick video market cheapies in the wake of Alien, where one massive location is utilized to the best possible effect. At this point in the marathon, I started to realize that I'm becoming nostalgic for early 90's dtv titles like this one.

The title beast itself is a charming pre-CG combination of live model shots and stop motion comprised of clanky metal and coiling wires. Norrington worked as a "special robotics technician" on Hardware just a few years earlier, so he must have come into this one confident that he knew his shit (character actor and Stanley regular William Hootkins is also in the movie.) I should also mention the effective opening scene where some cops enter a diner to find the patrons slaughtered and their murderer, a confused cyborg, standing around in the bathroom unaware of what it just did. It's another one of those flicks like Night of the Creeps and The Dead Next Door that names its characters after horror directors (John Carpenter, Sam Raimi - there's even a "Jack" Dante and a "Scott Ridley") which is cute but distracting, especially in a movie like this that has nothing to do with anything at least three of those directors have ever worked on. Fortunately Norrington kept things at a brisk enough pace that it didn't bother me - I liked this one. Rachel Weisz pops up in a small early role. Memorable line: "Fuck you, ho-ho!"

scott reynolds, 1997

The New Zealand film industry is basically Peter Jackson, so it was a nice surprise to find this above-average Kiwi horror movie which thanks the bearded Rings ringleader in the credits but otherwise doesn’t seem to have any Wingnut involvement. Considering its budget, the story is complicated and ambitious, and not afraid to experiment. The beginning of the film is a familiar set-up: female psychologist enters a poorly-governed insane asylum to assess a murderer. Flashbacks ensue, but they're not your average flashbacks: like that great moment in The Frighteners where Michael J Fox is in the past one minute then seamlessly goes back to the future within the same shot, characters shift between time periods and realities as if they were merely turning the corner. Visual ingenuities like these augment the standard story of a young man traumatized by a repressing mama to the point that he builds up an insatiable bloodthirst, but this portrait of a serial killer has a few interesting plot turns as well. In a twist that reminded me of the best aspect of An American Werewolf in London, the killer is perpetually surrounded and tormented by the ghosts of his victims, who he claims goad him into further violence, a genuinely creepy addition that's never overplayed. He also sees himself in the mirror as a wretched, deformed freak - the "ugly" of the title - and actor Paolo Rotondo (whose last name sounds like a superhero whose power is to be really fat) does a nice job reverting from slick mindfucker in the Hannibal Lector vain to self-flagellating wimp whose most heinous crimes are mostly committed in a state of confusion. He makes his remorseless killer sympathetic, like the guy in The Young Poisoner's Handbook. And in the past he's henpecked by a scary crazy mother, her perverted idea of parenting rivaled only by Piper Laurie in Carrie or Rose Ross in Mother's Day.

There's nothing in The Ugly that hasn't been done a hundred times, but like a good Robert Cormier novel the inventive storytelling reworks the clichés into something that feels fresh. Not every risk works, but you've got to respect director Scott Reynolds for taking them. The movie is guilty of one too many of those gimmicky scenes where SOMETHING SUDDEN AND VIOLENT HAPPENS! then it cuts back to the previous uneventful moment because it was all in the guy's imagination (fooled you!) and there are other problems along those lines. But to be fair, several of them - including a weird color scheme where all blood is black (which for some reason both of the reviews I found online really hated) - work towards the warped reality of the film. Something tells me I wouldn't enjoy The Ugly as much upon repeat viewing, but since I didn't know what to expect going into it I was more than pleasantly surprised. I'll definitely check out Reynolds' follow-up features, Heaven (with Martin Donovan) and When Strangers Appear (with Radha Mitchell.)

wilson yip, 1998

In the tradition of Mr. Vampire, this Hong Kong riff on the zombies-in-a-mall scenario would seem more impressive if you think of it as coming between Dawn of the Dead and Shaun of the Dead than if you consider it was released after Dead Alive. Any arguments along the lines of "well the makeup's nothing to write home about, but I guess that's just where non-Hollywood horror movie makeup evolution was at the time" or that zombie movies hadn't been as goofy and chaotic until this film fall apart when you remember that Peter Jackson's messy masterpiece arrived seven years earlier. That said, I think whatever lightly-scaled social message about consumerism and pop culture that Dawn of the Dead may have hinted at is even more poignant in Bio Zombie. Whereas private access to the wide, empty and ornate Pennsylvania mall of Romero's movie with its multiple shops and passageways was undeniably enticing, the low ceilings, awful greenish-blue lighting and bland, generic shops of this film make up a place you definitely wouldn't want to be trapped in, zombies or not. Literally every store looks like a soulless cell phone kiosk or overly-decorated video game outlet at any generic shopping center, with mirrors lining the walls to duplicate them and make the monotony seem to go forever: in a word, horrible. It's bad enough that the heroes of the movie have to work there; getting stuck overnight was simply unpleasant to have to watch. And I can't think of anything more depressing than getting drunk at a mall, so when it happens to the characters in this movie I couldn't wait for the infected flesh-eaters to start rampaging and bring an end to their pathetic existence encased in, and symbolized by, this particular setting.

Wilson Yip, future director of SPL, does a decent if not revolutionary job keeping things moving after a contaminated soft drink starts turning folks into undead monsters. But it's hard to side with the lead characters, Woody Invincible and Crazy Bee, who are introduced as a pair of horny losers who mug a girl in the restroom (and not in a charming Freddie Fringer Jr. sort of way.) In fact the most affecting part of the film is an even bigger loser, a counter jockey who is infatuated with one of the makeup shop girls: when he becomes a zombie he still tries to protect her in touching King Kong fashion. But none of the characters are as charming or funny as the members of Guitar Wolf in their own "stupid and fun" zombie epic Wild Zero. The filmmakers could have also had an even stronger theme of consumerism and corporate products turning people into zombies if the contaminated soda played more of a role, but basically one character drinks it and everything else is standard bite-by-bite undead mayhem. I would have liked to see a more apocalyptic tale of the cola infecting the entire country, which is merely hinted at in the final scene (no sequel) but as far as small scale zombie romps go this one wasn't too bad.

So not bad, 1990's Horror: you're 6-3, with at least two being movies I'd consider genuinely great. Congratulations - I have much more respect for you as a decade.

* Instead of the kid being witness to blind people he knows - his mother and a friend - stalked and attacked by a sadistic tormentor, it turns out the mom and friend (in actuality his sister) can see fine, the kid is losing his sight and slowly going crazy by (I suppose) hallucinating the previous events. Sinister characters introduced earlier, like McGann and Thewlis, turn out to be regular folks. The second half is a Repulsion-esque descent into the boy's growing confusion and harmful attempts to "protect" his sister's baby.
** I say "low budget," but I looked it up and Resurrected was made for an estimated $5 million, whereas Re-Animator five years earlier was apparently done for $900,000. Also it's notable that Brian Yuzna directed Return of the Living Dead III.
*** Two months after this writing, Dan O’Bannon tragically succumbed to Crohn's disease, which he had lived with most of his life. It made me genuinely sad to hear it, since his name has been associated with so many movies I like - Dark Star, Alien, Heavy Metal, Lifeforce, Total Recall, Blue Thunder (I'm apparently the only fan of that one and Tobe Hooper's Invaders from Mars remake) and of course his Return of the Living Dead, one of the most quoted movies among me and my high school chums (half-dog! "Kill it!")
By sheer coincidence, a couple people we've mentioned on the site recently have passed away (Budd Schulberg's death for one was badly timed after a short bit of character assassination on Chris' part.) I've been accused in the past of "killing" certain celebrities by simply mentioning them just before their end. This is based on me predicting Dudley Moore's death by mistake the day before he died, and then after Ingmar Bergman died saying out loud "Who's left of the great European masters? Antonioni? Is he the last one?" I don't actually think I'm cursed with some I Bury the Living-like burden (nor do I think Theodore Bikel is running around killing anyone I think happen to mentally picture dying...but I guess if Theodore Bikel dies tomorrow I'll be in trouble.)
**** In terms of family, this movie was kind of a Ferrer affair (no? sorry) Clooney is his cousin, and he married Sarelle around the time of production (they divorced in 2003.)
***** She's also in the 1990 West German submarine-horror film The Rift which I tried to locate for this marathon but wasn't able to find. I love submarine movies, and I love horror YOU have a copy of The Rift (a.k.a. Endless Descent?) "You can't hold your breath and scream at the same time," probably the best knock-off of Alien's famous "In space..." tagline.

It's become a recurring theme with me, but I'll say it again: scary children are not really scary. But with the following films, I realize that it's kind of a cool challenge for the filmmakers: how to make something threatening that normally isn't? M Night Shayamalan couldn't make trees scary, but with the right gimmick (example: Village of the Damned's kids being all albino and cliquey, and also able to control your mind) a director can turn even the most harmless ankle biter into a creature that could conceivably bite off your ankle. Some succeed (like Narciso Ibanez Serrador with Who Can Kill a Child?), others don't (the French guys behind Ils.) Whether they do or not, I actually like a good killer kid(s) movie. Maybe for laughs I'll watch all three hundred of the unending Children of the Corn series for next year's marathon. Until then, I indulged in a double feature of recent releases...

manik & tom shankland, 2008

In last year's horror marathon, I stated that "evil child" films don't scare me for the simple reason that I don't find children physically threatening. Nobody should find children physically threatening. It's tantamount to being frightened of a doll; in the words of Dee Snyder, step on it - it's over! However, this British film managed to find a group of child actors who are terrific at acting creepy. More or less a sequel to Who Could Kill a Child?, this one takes place in a rural home over the holidays where three sets of families are celebrating together. The first half of the film is the best, with the adults engaging in banal formalities, dull conversations and sordid personal drama while the young children become increasing more upset and hysterical over the strange behavior of one of their number. The parents treat their fits of terror like misbehavior, thus missing all warning signs that an infection is slowly taking over the kids one at a time. (There doesn’t seem to me to be much difference between ignorant parents who sit around in public places texting while their little spawn run all over like animals and the ones in this film who twiddle their thumbs as the crumbcrushers plot torture and murder...but then I'm going to be a dad soon, and I'm already anticipating what my level of tolerance is going to be when she hits those terrible two's.)

So the first half is a good example of "daylight horror" (the kind that develops right out in the open and eventually overwhelms normalcy), but once the little ones actually set their killing spree in motion I found myself gradually falling out of the film. The director overuses the standard “character looks and sees killer(s) staring at them, looks away, looks back and - oh shit - they’re gone!” gimmick and there's at least one case of near deal-breaking overacting (by a grown-up, of course.) The violence escalates at an unbelievably fast rate and the eerie set up is kind of shattered by the ultimate pay-off, which is (again) little kids who could easily be restrained somehow managing to get the better of full-grown human beings. Not that there aren't highlights in the second part of the movie: the little blonde girl in particular is pretty freaky looking, and one character learns the hard way that she can’t kill a child. But speaking of that classic film, the mysterious ailment infecting Serrador's island of hellions really worked towards the movie's intangible horror; in The Children, it seems more like the screenwriters couldn't think of a good reason all this is happening. That's as good as example as any to distinguish a great filmmaker who can create a tense atmosphere (Serrador) from a talented director who's not bad at fulfilling the basic elements of a horror movie (Tom Shankland.) Sometimes this kind of thing can be totally effective helmed by the latter, as evidenced here, and the first half more than makes up in atmosphere what the second half lacks in subtlety.

james watkins, 2008

To continue this "kids aren't scary" theme: after watching 2006 French horror film Ils (Them), I made my case of not being frightened by a bunch of brats running around in hoodies to a friend of mine who had found the movie very effective. He related to me a story of how he and his brother were mugged in a park by a group of delinquents, none older than 13 or so, who got the drop on them with the help of an attack dog on a leash. Oh, kids AND a snarling, rabid rotweiler ready to tear my flesh off: well ok, that's a little scarier. But if I may point out, the little bozos of Ils did not have a dog, nor did the homicidal tykes of The Children. Which brings me to this recent “hoodie horror," in which the psychotic gang of underaged pishers actually DO have a dog they're more than willing to unleash on vacationing couple Michael Fassbender and Kelly Reilly, which changes the game considerably. This film sets up the following: a group of obnoxious, noisy kids are encroaching on your private time with the missus as you're vacationing in the wilderness. You want her to know you're not scared of these brats but at the same time not get pulled in and humiliated by their "what are you gonna do, call my parents?" mentality. Then they steal your vehicle; without any law enforcement in sight you're forced to confront them and their BIG FUCKING DOG. After a confrontation that got way out of hand, you're left wounded and at the mercy of these healthy young psychopaths - fine, James Watkins, writer-director of Eden Lake, you've got my attention. Thank you for taking your time setting up a scenario in which children could conceivably get the upper hand and be genuinely menacing.

The movie has more than its share of moments where our couple make the mistake of simply not fleeing when they should and lots of tedious explanations as to why they can't just use the cell phone to call for help (which I hate to see in movies), but perfectly balances the "actual evil kids who will kill you" set-up with Who Can Kill a Child moral questions when it comes to fighting back: if one of the murderous scamps is between you and escape, do you run him down with your car? What are the consequences of that? Do you trust a kid who says he's not with the group and wants to help or do you bash his little head in? And how are you going to explain to the authorities that THEY were trying to kill YOU? There's also an indignity on the kids' part whenever the couple tries to stand up for themselves, like "what the hell -we're just teenagers! What's wrong with you, you big bully?" This adds an effective frustration to the unpleasantness. I certainly hate seeing Michael Fassbender tortured, and a combination of good make-up effects and great acting make it look like it actually hurts. Eden Lake is never really scary, but it's a well-made thriller with a funny (and infuriating) ending that's sort of a reverse Last House on the Left.

~ MARCH, 2009 ~