Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...
This is not the best review Vern has ever written.
This is the best review anyone has ever written.
I heart Vern. Very, very much. I advise you to read every word of this one and savor it. Film criticism genuinely gets no better than this.
Well boys, there's this horror movie called CHAOS that comes out on DVD at the end of September. I thought it would be good to review it now so that you will have forgotten about it by then. I wouldn't recommend watching the movie - in fact, if possible, I recommend not ever hearing of it. Just stop reading now, unread the first part of this paragraph, and don't think about it again. We're only encouraging them. By reviewing this movie I'm just giving the dipshits who made it the attention they're waving their dicks around begging for, but I want to review it for two reasons:
1. I'm always up for another round of that stupid "torture porn" debate
2. For masochistic horror fans I might recommend borrowing or stealing (but not buying) the DVD just because the extras are so hilariously insane and retarded
CHAOS is a low budget, no imagination, blatant ripoff of LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT directed by a former pro-wrestler named David "The Demon" DeFalco. Its one and only claim to fame is that they managed to get a no-star review from Roger Ebert and then they wrote him a letter that lured him into an ongoing debate about violence in movies, as if their movie deserved to be a part of that discussion.
During the opening scene I actually thought I might like the movie. A Honeybunny-from-Pulp-Fiction type is hitchhiking when some rednecks pull over and imply that they will give her a ride in exchange for sexual favors. She refuses their offer, they grab her like they're gonna rape her. But these rednecks aren't the ones you gotta worry about. The girl's friends, one of them a big, bald Stone Cold Steve Austin type, come out of the trees, beat the shit out of the guys, and destroy their car with a baseball bat. The way it cuts right in the middle of the car-smashing just tosses you into the movie like a rock through a window.
But that's as good as the movie gets. The story is credited to "an original idea by David DeFalco and Steven Jay Bernheim," the original idea apparently being to remake LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT without paying for the rights. They are using a little known legal loophole that if you act confused and change the subject when somebody mentions it's a remake then it doesn't count as copyright violation. If you've seen LAST HOUSE there's no reason to watch this, it's just the same god damn thing but not done as well. Two girls go to "a rave" (which is portrayed by some dudes hanging out in the woods during the day time without music. I guess they couldn't afford a stereo). They try to buy ecstasy from a random dude (Sage Stallone, ROCKY V) who says he has some but they have to walk about 20 minutes to where his friends are. They are hesitant but decide to go.
We know Sage's friends are the crazy gang of fugitives we have been seeing since the attack on the rednecks. Their leader is the big bald guy, played by Kevin Gage (who seems like he could be good in other movies). The character's name is Chaos. I'm surprised the others aren't named Anarchy and Six Sixsix, because that's the kind of imagination and refined taste you got behind the movie. There is little suspense or tension. As soon as the girls come in the house the bad guys grab them and start menacing them, and the girls spend the rest of the movie crying and begging for their lives.
The gang takes the girls out in the woods, they let them get away, they chase them, rape them, kill them, etc. At the end the killers say their car broke down and ask if they can stay with the parents of one of the girls. The parents figure out that these people killed their girl, and try to get their revenge. But they don't do as good of a job as the parents in LAST HOUSE. So it's a TOTALLY different movie. Remake? I don't know what you're talking about. The ending isn't as good, so how could it be a remake?
I can see how if you'd never seen LAST HOUSE but you were open to that kind of movie, and you were in a charitable mood, you might think this movie was disturbing and raw enough to give it a mild, open-minded kind of pass. Most of it is competent as far as this kind of thing goes. There's some laughable line readings, but you're a horror fan so you're used to that. At least it's serious and somewhat realistic. Not nearly as well executed as the similarly serious and somewhat realistic WOLF CREEK, but maybe you didn't see that either.
The trouble is, if you've seen LAST HOUSE you gotta be wondering even more than the people who are offended by this kind of movie what the fuck is the point of making this. The original is definitely not for everybody. I hated it the first time I saw it. It's not a fun time, alot of it is sloppy, and if you're gonna make a moral argument against a movie it's a pretty easy target. But over the years I've sort of learned to appreciate it. It was a movie that came out of the Vietnam war, it was some young angry guys trying to make a movie against violence by depicting it as horrible and messy. It makes death long and painful. It has a sadistic villain who seems like the original Mr. Blonde. And it has that muddy, dirty look of some low budget '70s movies that make them seem so spooky and almost real. In the end, when the parents try to kill the murderers using methods as vicious as those used against their daughter, Craven is hitting on one of his favorite themes of seemingly civilized people breaking down into savages when the shit hits the fan (see also THE HILLS HAVE EYES).
The CHAOS chumps try to do all the same things, except for that last one, which is probaly a little over their heads. They're not interested in that stuff, they're just interested in serial killers (which DeFalco explains he has been researching for years, even before he wanted to make the movie.) They never veer from the original plot in any way that I noticed, adding only the insignificant detail that the parents are an interracial couple and the sheriff makes racist comments. YOU SEE, NOT A REMAKE. TOTALLY DIFFERENT. DO NOT SUE.
So it's LAST HOUSE, but not as good, and less. Except - and I'm pretty sure this is how they justify it in their minds - the details of the girls' murders are even more disgusting. It's not wall-to-wall violence or anything but it's true, the two murders of the girls will be something you will wish you didn't see. Which they will take as a compliment. Way to go guys, here is a sticker for your star chart.
In an ideal world the movie would've disappeared like all the other crappy horror movies that people throw on the pile every day, and I wouldn't even be reviewing this shit. But there was that Roger Ebert thing. Somehow they got him to review the movie, unsurprisingly he thought it was shit, so they turned that into "controversy" and the ol' torture porn argument comes up again.
This time around the argument is especially stupid because it's obviously just a promotional gimmick for a shitty movie. But it also comes up every time a more legitimate movie like a HOSTEL or a WOLF CREEK comes out, which is alot these days. And it's generally a debate between people who don't watch horror movies and people who occasionally watch horror movies, some of both types accusing the latest horror movie of being "nothing but torture porn." Usually, they're just being ignorant of the genre. I didn't think HOSTEL was very good, and it definitely has that "dude, it's fucked up, like Miike!" corniness to it. But you are clearly supposed to sympathize with the idiot frat boy dickhead protagonists. You are supposed to root for them to escape the torturers. Just like you rooted for Laurie in HALLOWEEN and Sally in TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE and Nancy in HALLOWEEN and all those other horror movies that even these critics admit are classics. You are not supposed to just get a boner because people are being tortured, like the "torture porn" label implies.
I was more impressed by THE HILLS HAVE EYES, which both had more to say and was more fun to me. And I liked WOLF CREEK which to many critics was torture porn and to me was a good old fashioned adrenaline pumping oh-shit-let's-get-the-hell-out-of-here type of slasher movie. I thought alot of critics punished that movie for being too good. If it had been silly and cartoony like HIGH TENSION they would've laughed it off but since it was believable and intense they acted like it had pissed on their shoes. I mean if you're gonna make judgments about which grueling horror experiences are acceptable, where is the line drawn? Why did some people think that escaping the mutants in THE HILLS HAVE EYES remake was appalling but escaping the mutants in THE DESCENT was great fun? Was HILLS too close to reality because the mutants were wearing clothes? Or does it not count as torture porn if it's below sea level?
It's the same as the "gore vs. no gore" debate, the whole thing is based on a false premise. You know, somebody always has to bring up that old classic about "movies are only scary if the gore is off screen, like Hitchcock." And then there are the guys who are only interested in the goriest, most graphic shit available. The people who buy the Guinea Pig box set and movies with either CANNIBAL or HOLOCAUST or both in the title, those types of movies that I'm not sure if Ebert even knows about. The whole issue is ridiculous, it's like saying that you only like movies with balloons in them or you only like movies without balloons in them. Gore could be good or it could be bad. It all depends on what the story is and how the story is told. THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE manages to be disturbing by making you imagine there's horrible violence even though almost all of it is off screen. TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE PART 2 is disturbing by being gorey as hell - that scene where Chop Top beats L.G.'s head in with a hammer is no picnic. In some movies gore can actually be a fun rush, like when the wood splinter goes into that gal's eyeball in ZOMBIE. Some people like car chases, some people like that. Or of course alot of the newsies enjoy the over-the-top bloodiness of DEAD ALIVE/BRAINDEAD.
I don't understand why people like FACES OF DEATH and ANDROID OF NOTRE DAME and shit, but oh well. Life goes on. It's kind of obnoxious to moralize about it. All these people who don't like horror trying to convince me it's wrong to like WOLF CREEK is like me trying to tell Tim McGraw how to make his albums better. It's none of my business. For me all that matters is WOLF CREEK works as a horror movie. CHAOS doesn't.
But there's always gonna be that bullshit "HAS HOLLYWOOD FINALLY GONE TOO FAR?" debate, so it's a handy way to add a sheen of importance to a shitty horror movie like this. At least they didn't go the First Amendment Martyr route, I guess. On the DVD extra "The Roger Ebert Controversy," director DeFalco sits mostly silent while producer Steven Jay Bernheim quotes from reviews and defends the movie. One review he talks about is by some dude named "Capone"
Okay, I don't want to take away from Capone, who apparently thought the movie was pretty good. But he buys into their claim that it's "a cautionary tale," as if the producers are desperately trying to help teenage girls make better decisions that will prevent them from being attacked in the woods by roving gangs of serial killers. The movie opens with an unintentionally funny after school special type text crawl that ends by saying, "The producers hope the film you are about to see will serve as a warning to parents and potential victims alike. It is intended to be as disturbing as the subject matter it depicts in order to educate and, perhaps, save lives."
What's great is watching Bernheim go into detail trying to support this ridiculous idea that the movie is educational. At first it just seems insulting to your intelligence, then at a certain point you start to wonder if he has actually sold himself his own bullshit. I think he now really believes that this movie was planned as a public service announcement to help teenage girls be more streetwise in the woods.
I almost don't have the heart to tell him that very few teenage girls watch movies like this. The people who watch these movies are the dudes I mentioned before who are always looking for the most "fucked up" thing available. They might enjoy the two sicko rape/mutilation scenes in this movie. After all, on the commentary track they explain that they are exactly based on the mutilations that a real serial killer did. They keep dropping the killer's name like it's an old blues singer they're fond of, and Bernheim says that depicting the mutilations he did "gives legitimacy to the movie." If that's not classy enough for you he also explains that one of the actresses had been raped in real life and was creating a cathartic experience for other victims of violent crime by playing a character who spends most of her screen time being raped and killed. Hopefully these selfless humanitarians will get some kind of award for their great compassion toward victims of sexual assault. I mean I don't like to throw around words and phrases like "hero" or "the new Gandhi" or "makes Jesus seem like kind of a dick in comparison," but Steven Jay Bernheim has earned all those labels with his work on this film, it sounds like, the way he tells it.
Anyway, some Faces of Death types may enjoy that shit, but they probaly won't agree with DeFalco's description of this as "the most brutal film of all time" (repeated dozens of times throughout all the extras as well as on the front cover, the back cover and the disc itself) since they've jerked off to CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST since they were 13, and the "brutality" in this is mostly confined to two scenes. It's weird because they are the only audience for this movie but they're gonna be bored during most of it.
Unless they're parents and they're busy learning, because it is after all gonna "serve as a warning to parents and potential victims alike." I'd love to see the family meeting where mom and dad sit down little Susie and Taylor to watch CHAOS.
"Honey, as you get older, you're starting to notice changes in your body. You're not a little girl anymore. So stay at the party, don't leave with someone you don't know. As you can see here, a guy might cut off your nipple and stick it in your mouth and you'll puke, and then he'll stab you in the back a bunch of times and then buttfuck your corpse and then peer pressure his buddy into doing the same. I know it's tough to watch but it is intended to be as disturbing as the subject matter it depicts in order to educate and, perhaps, save lives."
You know how the fake controversy goes. Decide for yourself. You gotta watch it so you can make up your own mind about some dudes buttfucking a corpse. Listen to the commentary track, watch the "Roger Ebert Controversy" extra. Maybe you'll disagree with me. Maybe you'll think they seem like reasonable people and that they make an intelligent argument.
Then I want you to click on the next extra, "Inside the Coroner's Office: A Tour of the L.A. Coroner's Crypt." This is a little featurette following L.A. county forensic technichian Michael A. Cormier, who talks about his job while showing off actual rotting corpses in his "crypt." And it keeps cutting to footage of director DeFalco in the same place, with no shirt on and a chain around his neck, flexing his muscles and yelling pro-wrestling type commentary such as "10,000 bodies a year baby, go right through these doors and THE DEMON... the Demon's playground - ARRGHH!! (flexes muscles) - is here, now!"
I'm not kidding. This very serious filmmaker, who has a strong educational message about the nature of violence, stands among real life murder victims declaring that he is "the Demon" and "the director of the most brutal film of all time."
"First time, baby! First time IN CINEMA HISTORY! A director has EVER been interviewed in this... crypt... of homicides, su-i-cides, car wrecks, and every other horrific faTALity in Los Angeles, California."
And I swear to God that in this featurette he starts calling out Roger Ebert as if he was Macho Man Randy Savage calling out whoever it was that Macho Man Randy Savage used to fight.
"Well Roger Ebert, as I stand here surrounded by homicides, suicides, and all the brutal fatalities in Los Angeles, I ask you, jack... THIS is reality! This is why I have the outlook on life that I have. Because this is where it all ends up. They end up in pieces, head exploded, extremities torn off. This is what it's all about. This is what CHAOS is all about. The horrific part of life, the part that you don't see in movies. The part that they don't tell you about in books. Because this is the reality, this is MY reality, Roger Ebert."
THIS JUST IN: THERE ARE MURDERS. COURAGEOUS NEW MOVIE WILL REVEAL SHOCKING TRUTH. BOOKS ARE LIARS.
Before this insanity gets boring there is a crazy plot twist where DeFalco ends up in the same shot as Cormier. He shakes his hand and talks about being his close friend. At first I thought this poor coroner guy really didn't know "The Demon" very well and was starting to wonder what he had gotten himself into by letting the cameras in here. But then you find out that they really are friends and are developing a movie together which DeFalco keeps calling "the next step in the succession of evil" as well as "the next step in the progression of evil."
That's when Cormier starts talking about his theory ("we'll call it a theory for now") that when people use methamphetamines it opens up a "doorway" to another dimension that allows "demonic beings" access to "this realm" so they can possess them and commit brutal crimes. You may think this sounds far fetched, even asinine, perhaps even fucking embarrassing. But Cormier explains, "I've been documenting it for several years, and it's undeniable. People who use methamphetamines are opening themselves up to demonic possession..."
Later DeFalco says, "You are looking at the future of horror," he flexes his muscles and the camera zooms in on his bicep.
The whole thing is so crazy I started to wonder if maybe this Cormier guy was an actor, and it was just another gimmick to promote DeFalco's next crappy movie. Googling technology failed to bring up a real coroner named Cormier. But an email to the L.A. Coroner's Office Media-Public Information Officer proved that it wasn't a hoax. The Chief Coroner Investigator and Chief of Operations confirmed Cormier's employment, adding, "I believe that he was offering his own opinion/theory regarding the subject matter he was speaking to and not the official position of the Department of Coroner or the County of Los Angeles."
Which is good to know. But still, I have a message for those of you who live in L.A.: try not to get killed. You don't want that guy cutting on your body, in my opinion.
Anyway, probaly the most insane DVD extra I've ever seen. I should correct something that Quint said in his introduction to Capone's review, that "having Sage Stallone in it is almost a stamp of approval" because of Stallone's involvement in restoring and releasing gorey Italian movies. By now Quint has probaly heard that when Stallone signed up it was to work with his friend David Hess (from LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT... what an incredible coincidence!) who was playing the sheriff. When Hess was fired a few days into production Stallone tried to quit but couldn't get out of his contract. And this has apparently led to at least one humorously tense panel discussion at a horror convention. It's not clear to me whether or not the cast really signed on thinking it was an official remake, but whatever happened, you can't deny it's a brazen daylight robbery.
To me that's the biggest strike against the movie, that it's an unnecessary and not very good remake of LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, and that they won't even admit it. The only big difference is that they dumped the booby traps the parents made in the original and changed the ending. In their version the cops try to get the dad to put down the gun he has to Chaos's head. For no reason, the sheriff shoots the dad in the forehead! Then the mom shoots the sheriff, Chaos shoots the other cop, then shoots the mom and cackles as we fade to black.
The ending is actually kind of a relief because after so much sadism you get to laugh at these idiots and their attempts to be shocking. Craven was pretentious when he made his movie but that's better than this moronic Insane Clown Posse type "dark" bullshit. OOOOOH! He's laughing! because he's EVIL. And not only that, he's CHAOS. EVIL CHAOS. Zip-a-dee-doo-dah. You can probaly be an idiot and get away with making a "fun" type of horror movie, but you gotta have a little bit of intelligence behind this grim nihilistic stuff if you don't want it to be laughable and sad.
I guess because of that dumbass change to the ending they have convinced themselves that their movie is not a ripoff. In fact, nowhere on any of the extras do they ever mention LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT. It's almost as if some sort of lawyer had advised them not to mention it. They do mention being inspired by "all those '70s drive-in movies" but they're careful to always specify that this means TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE. TEXAS CHAIN SAW is of course named as the inspiration for the chain saw fight at the end, even though it happens to be exactly like the chain saw fight in LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, which came first. The closest they ever come to mentioning LAST HOUSE is on the commentary track when Bernheim gets defensive about the parents' revenge at the end:
SJB: "And this is a theme that dates back to mythology, to folklore."
DD: "Yeah, it's a public domain story."
SJB: "it's a theme that, that, you know, a revenge theme. It's not the principle focus of the movie."
Of course, all of us remember that old folk tale about the father whose daughter and her friend get raped and killed in the woods by a gang of fugitives (one female, the rest male) and there's the two wacky cops looking for the girls and then the fugitives come ask to stay at the father's house and he notices that they have an article of his daughter's clothing and they must've killed her so he attacks them with a chain saw. I think it was called "Anansi the Spider" or something, I forget, but it was a good folk tale. And public domain. Don't worry about it.
On the commentary track they go on and on about how they were trying to make a movie that depicted violence as ugly and not glamorous, as if they had no idea that Craven was going for the same thing with his movie almost 35 years ago, or that he described his goals similarly on his commentary track. It's like they live in some alternate universe where LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT doesn't even exist.
That must be it because how else do you explain an extended debate with Roger Ebert about violence in horror movies that never mentions his 3 1/2 star review of LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT? He called it "a tough, bitter little sleeper of a movie that's about four times as good as you'd expect," and compared it to WAIT UNTIL DARK and STRAW DOGS. If DeFalco and Bernheim lived in a world where LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT existed, they could bring up this review and say, "Hey, you liked the exact same thing when Wes Craven did it, you're such a hypocrite." But then they'd have to wonder if that meant it wasn't just the gruesomeness of the movie that was bad. It was the movie itself. Craven did it better, smarter, and three decades earlier.
But Craven's biceps are much smaller than DeFalco's, he always wears a shirt, and he never went into a morgue and flexed his muscles, yelling shit about demons. So you guys can be proud about that one. Way to go fellas.
If you must watch this movie - and believe me, you mustn't - just find somewhere to download it. Then if they get mad because you downloaded their movie just say "What? This isn't your movie. It's totally different. And besides, I'm watching it to, perhaps, save lives."