Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Have You Seen ...

The Wicker Man
Must see!

One of the few cult movies that deserves more acclaim than it already garnishes, The Wicker Man is a deep, mysterious, smart and truly terrifying tale of religious tolerance that will stay with you long after the credits roll. The true beauty of 'The Wicker Man' is that its rich message and difficult themes are not smashed into the audience's face, rather they are gradually coaxed from the orange coals of curiosity and horror until it is literally a towering fire of macabre controversy during the final minutes.

'The Wicker Man' opens with Sergeant Howie arriving from the mainland of Scotland to the isolated island community of Summerisle. He is investigating a case of a missing girl, but he soon learns that this will be anything but a typical case. The alleged mother of the missing girl has no recollection of her and introduces Howie to her only child. Things continue to go south when Howie checks into his inn, as he observes a public orgie in the twilight and is seduced by a hypnotic spell from the inn's daughter.

Howie's by-the-book demeanor and God-fearing spirit is put to the test when he hears an adolescent class of girls being taught about how fallic symbols are everywhere, learns that the town is a giant Pagan contingent who worship the "old Gods," and when he meets Lord Summerisle himself, played by (who else?) Christopher Lee. Summerisle does not hide the fact that the missing girl is in fact dead, and he has his blessing to continue with the investigation, but warns him that he may not enjoy their traditional May Day celebration. Growing more and more suspicious and bewildered, Howie sneaks his way into the festival, when the true intentions of the populace (and the crime he is investigated) are revealed.

The theme of religious tolerance emerges early, as the Christian Howie is mortified at the practices in Summerisle. All of the island's inhabitants are clearly happy with their way of life, but Howie's staunch British values force him to question why they follow such a faith. This is why 'The Wicker Man' is still relavent, as all cultures will continue to ponder what is the 'right' religion to be a part of. But this advanced plot does nothing to take away from the horror-feel of this film, which reaches a stirring peak with its end that will leave you speechless.

Prime Cut
Must see if you like dark/violent comedies

Starting in the mid 60s, the film industry became more and more liberal with its tabboos, with filmmakers continuing pushing the limits of what was acceptable on the screen. Prime Cut is a perfect example of how fast the industry changed. Made in 1972, just eight years earlier, it would not have been possible to make such a movie, especially in America. 'Prime Cut' was one of the first dark/violent comedies, which means it's not exactly packed with jokes, but the characters, situations and action make it funny in a disturbing/quirky kind of way. This genre today includes the likes of Pulp Fiction, Snatch, Kill Bill, Sin City and Layer Cake. 'Prime Cut' is just as violently zany and amusingly strange and kinky as the latter movies with a twist of midwestern hospitality and a smashing cast.

The opening scene of 'Prime Cut' sets the tone for the rest of the film, as we see a meat processing plant as the opening credits roll. By the end of this sequence it becomes apparent that the meat being transformed into sausage form is that of a very unlucky person. These sausages are sent from the Kansas City plant to the gang in Chicago who sent said unlucky person to retrieve their money. No, they are not joking. So the gang sends its resident hardass Nick Devlin (Lee Marvin, yes!) and some of his flunkies out of the city and into the country to get the money owed to them by cattle baron/mobster/asshole Mary Ann (Gene Hackman). His name really is Mary Ann, and best of all there's no attempt at an explanation of it either, the other characters don't even bat an eye when referring to this very scary man as Mary Ann.

But ole' Mary doesn't just sell cattle -- he sells flesh, as in human, as in prostitutes, as in slaves. Nick gets into Mary Ann's flesh auctions because the two go back a ways, and Nick takes a liking to one particular piece of flesh -- an unbelievably young and cute Sissy Spacek, in her first starring role. Spacek and Marvin make a good team, and they might just take down Mary Ann's whole operation, but not before feeding a limousene to a thresher, driving a semi-truck through a nursery, watching Gene Hackman nosh on tripe and setting more than a few orphans free.

Must see if you aren't afraid to be entertained and completely disgusted

The first shot in May is only about 0.8 seconds long, but it is 100% perfect and I don't think I've ever seen anything else like it. You don't really know what you've seen, but it sets up a terrifying scene at the end, so that you somehow know inside you what's coming next. It's the only possible way the ending could by any more horrifying. It also makes you wonder (around the one hour mark), just how the movie is going to get back to that first 0.8 seconds.

That's because 'May' is only a horror movie for the last 20 minutes or so, much like Carrie, which many will compare 'May' to. And the two are very similar. Both title characters carry the evil passed on to them from their mothers, and want oh-so-much just to be a normal girl with friends, even if that means spilling blood by the gallons.

You see, May is not your average girl. Her closest friend is a mildly disturbing doll made by her mother after May could not find any friends at school. It's housed in glass, and seems to control May from behind it at times. As May sinks further and further from reality, we hear the glass beginning to break, as the true side of May wants to get out.

It wasn't always bad, though. May met a guy at the laundromat (Jeremy Sisto), who professes that he 'likes weird.' Perfect. Eh, no you don't pal, not this kind of weird. After May shares with him some stories from her animal clinic workplace over lunch one day, he starts to think, 'maybe I'll give normal a try.' Sisto's character distances himself from May and soon she decides to give her mother's philosophy of 'making' a friend for herself a go. This has horrific consequences, as she adds a equal parts Frankenstein and Ed Gein to this troubling mix. Director Lucky McKee takes a bold gamble with the final shot, one most directors would never dream of with a serious movie like this. Does it work? If it had been more subtle, it would be perfect, but as it is it's a fitting ending to this outside-the-box horror tale.

{{{spoiler warning}}}

One thought about the 'eye scene' that degraded it for me: YOU CANNOT CUT YOUR OWN EYEBALL OUT, at least not to the degree May did. The ocular bone protects the eyeball very well, that's why you don't hear about people's eyes falling out. It would be like trying to push a golf ball through a hole meant for a large marble, just wouldn't work. Sorry, my limited anatomical knowledge ruined that scene's shock value for me.

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