Halloweentown High (2004)

Another Halloweentown, another jump two years into the future. Marnie (Kimberly J. Brown) prepares for a new school year as she works to build the relationship between the world of magic and our normal dimension. To do so, she proposes bringing a group of Halloweentown students to her mortal high school. The big worry? There have been signs of the Knights of the Iron Dagger, a fanatical order that wants to destroy all things magic.

However, the Halloweentown High Council agrees to the plan after Marniebets all the Cromwell magic that her plan will work. If she can’t show why this was a good idea by Halloween, her entire family will lose their magical abilities. Luckily, she has the support of her grandmother Aggie (Debbie Reynolds).

It turns out that there are both humans and magical beings that don’t want our worlds to cohabitate. Things were better when they were status quo, which Marnie and her family are rallying against. These are big things to consider within the context of a Disney Channel movie, but here we are.

Mark A.Z. Dippé worked on the special effects for The Abyss and Terminator 2 before becoming a director. He’s made plenty of straight to video Garfield movies, but is best known for directing Spawn.

Disney live action fans will either be pleased — or dismayed as it’s a modern remix — to hear “Let’s Get Together” from The Parent Trap in this movie.

BRUNO MATTEI WEEK: Mondo Cannibal (2004)

If there’s something that all cannibal movies seem to have in common — beyond scenes where white people mistreat the native populace, real animal atrocities and copious levels of gore — it’s the idea that mass media is the root of most of the modern world’s issues. Italian exploitation filmmakers were several decades ahead of the mistrust of what many would call fake news today and their human beings devouring human beings offerings often placed documentary filmmakers or network television reporters as the reason why all of this chaos is taking place. The natives were just fine doing their rituals and eating random folks in the jungle. The white people bring cocaine and their modern perversions into the unspoiled green inferno, ruining everything.

Somehow, 24 years after Cannibal Holocaust, a 73-year-old Bruno Mattei — using his Vincent Dawn alter ego — would find himself in the jungle trying to bring back the sick feeling you get in your stomach when mass media goes to places that they should have known better to avoid.

Grace Forsyte (Helena Wagner in the only role of her career) was once a big deal in the world of television journalism, but the fickle whims of fate have cast her into the pile of the also-rans. She decides to reverse her fortunes by heading into the belly of the beast and capturing Amazon cannibals on video along with another once-famous telejournalist named Bob Manson (Claudio Morales, who was also in Mattei’s A Shudder on the Skin and Orient Escape).

The footage that they send back gets big ratings and makes them both stars again, but the TV news industry runs on blood, so they’re forced to get increasingly violent and horrifying images to continue getting those big numbers.

Look, this movie is also called Cannibal Holocaust: The Beginning and Cannibal Holocaust 2: The Beginning, so Mattei wasn’t even trying to hide what he was trying to do here. It’s a shot on digital video cover version of that film, along with a hilarious subtitle typo (some mouths later instead of some months) and a lot less real animal violence.

This was shot at the same time as In the Land of the Cannibals with much of the same crew. Is that one any better? Look for the review soon.

BRUNO MATTEI WEEK: In the Land of the Cannibals (2004)

Bruno Mattei uses the name Martin Miller here, but come on. The moment we see that this movie is pretty much Cannibal Holocaust with soldiers, we know who is behind this movie. To make sure that we’re completely certain that Bruno is in directing, the fact that footage from Predator is completely stolen and placed within this film is a neon sign saying, “Sam watch this.”

You have to give Bruno credit for naming one soldier Romero and another Vasquez. It’s as if he’s saying, “Guys, I can’t help it. I just like to see how much stealing I can get away with.”

So yeah. These commandos go into the jungle to rescue a senator’s daughter, but she’s gone native and is now part of the tribe. This would be why this movie is also known as Cannibal Holocaust 3: Cannibals vs Commandos.

Shot at the same time as Mondo Cannibal, this may not be as good as that film, but it has refreshingly little real animal violence. Yes, I can watch all manner of people be masticated upon, but cut one turtles head off and I get squeamish.

Shaolin vs. Evil Dead (2004)

Man, if the Italians found out about this movie*, it would have been a La Casa film for sure. As it is, it references Evil Dead while ripping off the look of the Mr. Vampire films while placing Gordon Liu into a battle between the shaolin monks and the living dead.

Mr. Liu was already a major star before Tarantino tapped him to appear in the Kill Bill films in two roles (Johnny Mo, the leader of the Crazy 88s and Master Pai Mei). His first break happened when he played San “Iron Arms” Te in The 36th Chamber of Shaolin. Sadly, the star had a stroke that gave him a speaking slut and confined him to a wheelchair in 2011. It’s a pretty rough story about his second wife’s family taking much of his money, but luckily today he has entrusted his estate to his friend, actress Amy Fan.

Here, he’s Pak, also known as Brother White, teaming with Siu-Wong Fan (who was, of course, the title character in Riki-Oh: The Story of Riki) as Hak, or Brother Black. They’re up against a vampire king and evil Yat. You know, most of the reviews I’ve read of this hated it, but it has a child eating a magical egg and pooping out a magical shaving cream-covered full-sized kid who keeps calling the other little boy his mommy. Also, it just ends because they wanted to set up a sequel that took three more years to come out.

*It was released as Evil Dead 4 in Pakistan.

You can watch this on YouTube.

KAIJU DAY MARATHON: Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Back on March 30, 2020, we covered a whole bunch of giant monster movies in preparation for Godzilla vs. Kong. Then COVID showed up. Luckily, we can recycle that work and bring it back to celebrate this monster mash finally coming out!

Huh? What, pray tell, does the 29th film in the Godzilla franchise and the sixth and final film in the franchise’s Millennium period, as well as the 28th Godzilla film produced by Toho Studios overall, have to do with Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s fifth album, 1973’s Brain Salad Surgery?

Please, don’t say “who” when I say, “Keith Emerson,” ye youthful movie and music fan. Here’s a link to the full soundtrack, also embedded below.

As result of today’s classic rock FM radio eliminating the ELP catalog from their playlists (come on, even “Lucky Man”?), all you horror hounds most likely know Emerson through his Italian giallo soundtrack work for Dario Argento’s Inferno (1980), Lucio Fulci’s Murder Rock (1984), and Michele Soavi’s The Church (1989). In addition to Sylvester Stallone’s Nighthawks (1981), Emerson also composed the soundtrack for Toho Studios’ Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)—which serves as his final work as a film composer.

And that musician analogy continues as director Ryuhei Kitamura (Clive Barker’s 2008 The Midnight Meat Train starring Bradley Cooper; 2012’s No One Lives) compares his contribution to the Godzilla cycle to that of a musician’s “best of” album; Kitamura picked what he felt were the best elements from the past Godzilla movies that he loved. He chose that approach as result of his being unsatisfied with the Godzilla films of the ’80s, ’90s and 2000s and he wanted to bring back the messages and themes of the times those films reflected in their plots.

And “greatest hits” he gave us . . . and then some!

In addition to the big guy, Kitamura brought back Angurius, Ebriah, Gigan, Hedorah, Kamacuras, King Ceasar, Kumonga, Manda, Minilla, Monster X/Keizer Ghidorah, and Mothra—along with a slew of other monsters via stock footage and toy placements throughout the film. And the alien Shobijin twins—from 1961’s Mothra—and the Xiliens—from 1965’s Invasion of the Astro-Monster—are back. Then there are the ships! Yeeeessss! The Gotengo from 1963’s Atragon (and 1977’s War in Space) is back—along with the all-new kaiju-battling weapons: the Earth Defense Force’s Éclair, the Karya, and the Rumbling. Then there are the new, reversed winged Dogfighter jets, and the good ‘ol Heisei and Millennium-era Type 90 Tanks and Type 90 Maser Cannons are back.

Mada watashi no kokorodearu: I am in Kaiju Tengoku.

So film 29 picks up where the initial attack on Tokyo in 1964’s Godzilla left off: the green guy trapped under the Antarctic ice after losing the fight against the original Gotengo battleship. As the years pass, the Earth’s environmental changes (yes, the “message” is back) results in the mutations of more giant monsters and superhumans, aka “the mutants,” the genetic offspring of humans and the Xiliens.

One of those returning classic monsters, the Manda, from 1963’s Atragon (aka, Destroy All Monsters in the U.S.), goes up against the Gotengo once again, and the drilling battleship, piloted by Captain Doug Gordon (MMA and UFC, and New Japan Pro-Wresting champion Donald Frye!?)—loses the battle and Gordon is stripped of his command.

Helping in the battle are the mutant solider Shinichi Ozaki (Japanese musician Masahiro Matsuoka of top-selling pop-rockers Tokio), who protects U.N biologist Dr. Miyuki Otonashi (Rei Kikukawa, the lead in the awesome action flick, Crazy Gun: 2 Beyond the Law; You Tube clip), as she studies a mummified monster.

And a deus ex machina teleportation device zaps them to Mothra’s planet and the Shobijin twins warn of a coming battle of good and evil. Then the Haisetsu-mono wa fan ni atarimasu and all manner of monsters and aliens attack.

I’m on Kitamura’s side: I’m an Old Milwaukee or Miller Beer guy; get away from me with that fancy imported swill. I want the Godzilla monsters of my youth and not so much the ones from the ‘80s or ‘90s.

So, Keith Emerson brought me here . . . but Ryuhei Kitamura made me stay to see the show. It’s a sushi-splashing kitchen sink of craziness that rivals the hard to beat insanity that was the pseudo Planet of the Apes romps Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974) and Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975)—my favorites of the franchise (Kitamara cites the first as his favorite of the franchise as well)—that I watched in the darkened duplex all those years ago. The kaiju special effects—all shot in-camera with no CGI assists—combined with the present-day Mission: Impossible and The Matrix-inspired live action sequences, only enhances the film’s awesome retro-throw back qualities . . . and you get a ripping Sum 41 tune, “We’re All to Blame,” too?

Wow! What a way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Godzilla franchise!

You can stream the film—and watch the official trailer—on Amazon, Vudu, and You Tube. And, yes! Kitamura’s The Midnight Meat Train and No One Lives are both streaming for free on TubiTv.

Looks like a Kitamura marathon night! Life does not suck.

Hey! Don’t stomp off yet, green guy!

If you jump on Netflix, you can check out the Reiwa-era trio of the latest animated Godzilla flicks: 2017’s Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters, and 2018’s Godzilla: The Planet Eater and Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle. The first Reiwa-era film, 2016’s live action Shin Godzilla, is available on Amazon Prime and Vudu.

Of course, the whole reason for our March 2020 “Kaiju Week” blowout was to celebrate the release of Warner Bros. Studio’s Godzilla vs. Kong that, if you’re nuts for the green guy and keeping track, is the fourth film in Legendary Studio’s (the studio made their debut with 2005’s Batman Begins and 2006’s Superman Returns) “MonsterVerse” and serves as a sequel to Hollywood’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) and Kong: Skull Island (2017).

Of course, we finally “kaiju’d” COVID! And that’s why were are here today with this crazy one-day, “Kaiju Marathon” blowout: To celebrate the release of Godzilla vs. Kong — finally — in theaters on March 25, 2020.

Hey, wait! Do you need a little more Godzilla in your Kong?

Then check out our “Kaiju Week” reviews from last March 2020 with Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974) and Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975), which also ran as a two-fer review from our January 2020 “Ape Week” blow out to celebrate Disney green-lighting their entry in the Planet of the Apes saga.

Screw you, COVID! We win!

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook.


Here’s some of the other Kaijus (and sort of Kaiju) that we’ve reviewed. For the rest that we’ve recently reviewed to commemorate the March 2021 release of Godzilla vs. Kong, enter “Kaiju Day Marathon” in our search box to the left to populate that list of films (you may see a few reposted Godzilla reviews, but many new film reviews concerning Godzilla, Kong, and other creatures from the Lands of the Rising Sun).

Gamera
Gamera vs. Barugon
Gamera vs. Gyaos
Gamera: Guaridan of the Universe
Gamera vs. Guiron
Gamera vs. Jiger
Gamera 2: Legion
Gamera 3: The Revenge of Iris
Gamera Super Monster
Gamera vs. Viras
Gamera vs. Zigra

Godzilla: Final Wars
Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla
Terror of Mechagodzilla

A*P*E
Bakko Yokaiden Kibakichi
The Beast of Hollow Mountain
Cozzila
Daikaiju Mono
Gakidama: The Demon Within
Gappa: The Triphibian Monster
The Iron Superman
The Great Gila Monster
King Dinosaur
Orochi, the Eight-Headed Dragon
Planet of Dinosaurs
War of the Gargantuas
Yokai Monsters: 100 Monsters
Yokai Monsters: Along with Ghosts
Yokai Monsters: Spook Warfare

King Kong Escapes
King Kung Fu
Queen Kong

Torque (2004)

We gleaned over this biker flick as part of our “Exploring: The Clones of the Fast & the Furious” featurette during our first “Fast & Furious Week” back in August. And since John Doe shows up as tough-ass sheriff, we decided to bring it back with a review proper for our “John Doe Week.”

That’s right. If you have a hankering for a movie that stars one of the guys from N.W.A and one of the guys from the Los Angeles punk band X — then this is your movie.

That’s not your rods n’ cones, that’s the copy. The guys who made the Fast and the Furious, XXX, and S.W.A.T made this.

Now, if this Ice Cube-fronted two-wheeler sounds a lot like the Laurence Fishburne-fronted Biker Boyz, you’re probably right, as both films went into production at the same time. But the better known Ice Cube John Doe one was concocted by the production team of the Fast & Furious franchise. And Dreamworks wanted some of that Warners Bros. F&F stank on the screen, so they came up with their quickie mockbuster knockoff, got it?

So, is this The Fast and the Furious . . . only on motorcycles? Well, do you see any Torque sequels on your streaming service? No, you don’t. And that’s what happens when you get a $45 million box-office return on your $40 million investment: for Torque is one of those films where its performances, writing, and direction are slagged across the board . . . but everyone praises the stunts — so much so that it was nominated for several Taurus Awards.

Taking its cues from those juvenile delinquency films of the ‘50s and ’60s, the Sharks and the Jets the Hellions and the Reapers are illegal street racing-cum-biker gangs that compete on the two-lane blacktop and in the crystal meth business. And one of those members of makes the mistake of returning from Thailand to set things straight with his estranged girlfriend. Is any one woman worth it? Apparently so: for when she’s kidnapped for leverage, her ransom is the delivery of two bikes filled with crystal meth because, well, illegal racers always deal meth to finance their bike builds. Complicating problems is yet another gang member who wants our on-the-run biker wusspud from Thailand for the murder of his brother.

Damn right our favorite punk bassist steals his scene/courtesy of backgroundartist.tumblr.com.

Along the way, Joe Doe shows up as the bad ass Sheriff Barner. Oh, and the always badass Dave Wyndorf and Monster Magnet appear in a club scene to perform “Monster of Light” from their sixth album Monolithic Baby! (2004) — which did nothing to place the song on Top 40 Active Rock charts. So, we’ll give Torque bonus points, not only for quenching our John Doe jonesin’, but for giving Wyndorf a line and letting him kick a little ass, and for ripping off George Romero’s Knightriders with a sword-jousting scene that inspired us to watch Knightriders, again.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

Prey for Rock & Roll (2004)

In 2002, long time L.A. rocker Cheri Lovedog found critical acclaim for her stage play Prey for Rock & Roll which had a successful run at New York’s famed rock club CBGBs. This caught the attention of film producer and music consultant Alex Steyermark (Hedwig and the Angry Itch), who was searching for a film to break him as a first time director. Lovedog’s self-professed “rock n’ roll love letter” to the L.A. club scene stars Gina Gershon (who got her start in Girls Just Want To Have Fun with Helen Hunt, found acclaim in Bound, and while great in it, deserves better than Showgirls) as a 40-year-old tattoo artist and rocker deep in a mid-life crisis, wondering how much longer she can deal with the struggles of keeping her band together.

Starring as the Clam Dandies (since it’s an all-girl band, read into it) are Drea Dematteo (HBO’s The Sapranos) as terminally-stoned bassist Tracy, Laura Petty (Tank Girl) as Faith, and (the awesome; yeah he’s from Pittsburgh, baby) Marc Blucas (TV’s Buffy) as “Animal” the roadie. Shelly Cole (Madeline Lynn from TV’s Gilmore Girls) impresses with her drum skills; she hits all the right notes as one of the best “film” drummers out there. Petty fakes it well, while Dematteo knows her way around the neck and Gershon, who didn’t play a note before the film, blows the doors off with her power chords. The soundtrack composed by Cheri Lovedog — and sung by Gina Gershon — features an alternative-rock super group of the Lunachick’s guitarist Gina Volpe, bassist Sara Lee of Gang of Four, and later of the B-52s, and Hole drummer Samantha Maloney.

To promote the picture on the festival circuit, Gina took to the road with the Washington D.C. punk outfit Girls vs. Boys (aka GvsB, they provided “Kill the Sex Player” to Kevin’s Smith’s Clerks) as her backing band, which was chronicled in the IFC Cable Series Gina Gerhson: Rocked. Cheri Lovedog compiled the feature documentary Hollywood Trash & Tinsel on the making of the film. Musician Stephen Trask, who also worked on Hedwig and the Angry Itch alongside Alex Steyermark, produced the soundtrack.

Astute viewers will notice the footage of X in the film’s opening refrains originates from The Decline of Western Civilization. Fans of the Lunachick’s can watch Gina Volpe’s bandmate Theo Kagan in Live Freaky, Die Freaky (a seriously f’d up animated puppet movie where, in a distant future, a cult forms around the Manson Family and Charles Manson is mistaken as a Jesus-messiah; the film also stars the voices of the members of Green Day and the Go-Gos). Lovedog’s other films include 2010’s All American Gender Outlaw and Go Hard or Go Home, a 2012 document on the indie band Devil Dolls MC. Alex Steyermark made another rock n’ roll flick, the indie ’80s rock tale, Losers Take All, which, despite Kevin Smith’s involvement, failed at the box office and VHS shelves.

During the film’s initial stages, Joan Jett was involved in the soundtrack’s production, but left early on due to the usual “artistic differences”; Linda Perry of Pink and 4 Non Blondes (“What Going On?”; their cover of Van Halen’s “I’m the One” appears in Airheads) stepped in (it is also said Jett was to star in the Gershone role, but had issues with the script). However, as you can see from Gina Gershon’s look and tone, Joan definitely left her mark on the film — in many ways Gershon’s Jacki harkens Jett’s own Patti Rasnick in 1987’s Light of Day.

As with any rock flick that isn’t a splashy, A-List bioflick of the Jim Morrison, Johnny Cash, or Ray Charles variety, the critical — both professional and general movie goer — response was, as with Light of Day, lukewarm. Many reviews, while praising the costuming and set design, and calling out Gershon’s dead-on portrayal of a failed, disillusioned rocker, dropped the word “soap opera” in their reviews in regards to the endless stream of bad luck befallen the band (e.g., a band member’s rape; another’s death by car accident; a recording deal falling through because Jacki didn’t “put out” for the record executive) that came across as “phony.”

As someone who experienced this life as radio jock dealing with local bands, as a roadie for said bands, and bassist myself, I can attest that Alex Steyermark’s directorial debut is a commendable first effort that ranks up there with Paul Schrader’s Light of Day as one of the most accurate portrayals of a struggling rock band; Steyermark pulls back the curtain on a musician’s love of rock ‘n’ roll clashing with their family and relationship obligations. Yes, most struggling musician’s lives are a hot mess — just like in this movie.

The film’s soundtrack has also taken its share of critical hits; many critqued the music as “awful.” Personally, I enjoyed Lovedog’s music for the film, which serves as a sort of “greatest hits/best of” compilation of her life’s work. Not to say that the music was purposefully composed as “bad” for dramatic effect or that Lovedog can’t write — but isn’t that the point? It is one thing to love music: it’s another thing to be able to write it . . . and yet another to write it successfully. So, if you’re watching the film for the first time, and you think the music “sucks,” it should only lend to your appreciation of the film as a whole and in your understanding of why many, many local bands — no matter how hard they try — never make it.

This film is a must watch. The soundtrack is a must listen. Do it. And stick around for the band flyer-inspired end credits. The film — as well as the soundtrack — is readily and easily available in the online marketplace with VOD streams on a wide variety of platforms. Vignettes from the film and its music abound on You Tube to enjoy.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

Miss Cast Away and the Island Girls (2004)

Captain Maximus Powers (B&S About Movies mainstay Eric Roberts) and co-pilot Mike Saunders (Charlie Schlatter, 16 years after 18 Again!) have crash-landed with a planeful of beauty pageant winners. The island they’re on? Well, it has a monster on it called Jurassic Pork — a gigantic pig — and Wahlberg-era Planet of the Apes who are making their own Ark.

This also has Playboy’s Fiftieth Anniversary Playmate Colleen Shannon, Miss Puerto Rico 1998 Joyce Giraud, Allie Moss, Janna Giacoppo, Popi Ardissone (Vampyre Femmes), Blythe Metz (Jacqueline Hyde), Baywatch’s Brande Roderick, Price Is Right model Gabrielle Tuite, Stuart Pankin as Noah, Evan “Joe Millionaire” Marriott, a Pope John Paul the Second impersonator and cameos from Pat Morita and Bernie Kopell from Love Boat.

Wait — so why is this article running during a week of music movies? Read on.

That’s because Michael Jackson — yes, the real one, not an effect or someone in makeup — appears as Agent MJ of the Vatican, who appears as a hologram out of a droid. All of his scenes were shot in his Neverland Ranch home and his appearance is why this movie went unreleased for so long.

How was this movie made? Why was this movie made? Why would Michael Jackson appear in what is essentially a Scary Movie level movie about a reality dating show?

Who can say? All I know is that I’ve watched it. Experience it. And decided to tell you about it. It’s not good, trust me. But it’s definitely something to talk about.

Countess Dracula’s Orgy of Blood (2004)

Way back in 1897, a man named Dumas (Mark Bedell) loses his sister Roxanne (Kennedy Johnson, Tomb of the Werewolf) to the fangs of Diana Ruthven (Gloria Anne-Gilbert, who hosted a series of releases as Morella Ghost Hostess with the Mostest, including House of EvilThe Blood SeekersDisciple of DeathBlood Vision and Terror In the Crypt). Turning to Padre Jacinto (yep, Paul Naschy, in America no less), they use a cross, Holy Water, a Bible and a silver stake to take out Rebecca, Diana and her brother Lord Ruthven (Arthur Roberts, Not of This Earth), which empowers the priest to stay alive until the evil of vampires has been erased from our reality.

That’s right — Paul Naschy in his first American film and…well…it’s a soft-core porn pretty much. Now, the two vamps are after the reincarnation of their lost love — yes, they’re fine despite dying earlier — in a movie written and directed by Donald F. Glut (Tales of Frankenstein).

That’s because Count Dracula (Tony Clay, who has shown up in more than on of Glut’s movies) has sent his daughter Martine (Eyana Barsky) and thrall Renfield (Del Howiso, continuing the role from The Erotic Rites of Countess Dracula, another Glut movie that has William Smith has Dracula) to pull that stake out and find the vampire’s bible.

The big issue is that the silver dagger has cursed Ruthven to never be able to drink human blood, a fact that he learns when he tries to suck the neck of a stripper named Lilith (she’s played by Lolane, who was in plenty of BDSM tease videos with great titles like Criminals Who Use Cholorform!). His sister has none of these worries, so she soon seduces the very same exotic dancer. All manner of sibling rivalry and sapphic shenanigans ensue.

Imagine a sub-par VCA vampire film — at least Ejacula has Lois Ayres, Patricia Kennedy and Rocco Siffredi in it — without the actual penetration and you have this. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that a vampire sex movie would be so boring, which is either me growing up — no, I screamed like a maniac every time Naschy was on screen, all eight minutes worth — and more that this is not a good movie.

If you want to see a much better Naschy vampire movie, check out Count Dracula’s Great Love.

PS: To further throw in some adult film references, Belinda Gavin is in this. She’s better known as Kylie Wyote in X-rated movies. There’s also a girl named Bella Donna who plays a hooker, but she is not Michelle Anne Sinclair, which would be amazing to have her in the same movie as Count Waldemar Daninsky.

Saw (2004)

After film school, Australians James Wan and Leigh Whannell wanted to make their own movie. Inspired by The Blair Witch Project and Pi, they wanted to make a low budget movie that took place with two characters in a room, unsure of how they got there, with a dead body between them that turns out to be alive.

While the title of the film came quickly, Jigsaw was not created until months later. Whannel had developed migraines from job-related anxiety, but worried that it was a brain tumor. This led him to think of a villain that knew he was dying soon and who would force others to quickly choose their fates.

They shot a seven-minute version of the bear trap on the face opening and shopped it around to studios as a team, with Wan as director, Whannell as an actor and both writing the movie.

While other entries became more “torture porn,” the first is more of a puzzle box. However, seeing as how the movie is on its upcoming ninth entry in sixteen years, you can see how it easily found a formula and stuck with it after this.

This first entry had a $1.2 million dollar budget and made $103.9 million at the box office, so you can see why they keep going back to this very bloody well. Not bad for a movie that was originally going straight-to-video.

Photographer Adam Stanheight (Whannel) and Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes) wake up with their ankles chained to pipes and a dead body between them. They each have a tape in their pockets which tells Adam to escape and Lawrence to kill Adam or his wife Alison (Dina Meyer) and daughter Diana (Makenzie Vega) will die. That’s when the doctor realizes two things: the hacksaw in the room is meant for them to cut their own feet off to escape. And they’re dealing with the Jigsaw Killer.

Dr. Lawrence had been involved in the case of brain cancer patient John Kramer (Tobin Bell), who he helped clear of all charges. Detectives David Tapp (Danny Glover) and Steven Sing (Ken Leung) follow the path of Jigaw’s only survivor, former heroin addict Amanda Young (Shawnee Smith) right into one of the killer’s traps.

It all leads back to the struggle of the two men, the corpse, an obsessed Detective Tapp, a man in a pig mask and a puppet.

As much as I was loath to watch these films, the first one isn’t all that bad. It certainly has style and it tells its story in a very tense, quick way. And hey, how you can fully dislike a film that has a puppet — much like Deep Red — and a killer with black gloves on? Wan would say, “A lot of people have said that Saw is similar in tone to Seven. But the biggest influence wasn’t a recent Hollywood thriller at all — it was the work of Dario Argento from the seventies.”