Every Halloween every major website, magazine, newspaper, and entertainment-related television show makes up a list of the ‘...
Perhaps I’m hoping for a radical change, or maybe I’m hoping this will be the year that Halloween will finally usurp The Exorcist as number one. Then again, maybe I like basking in the warm glow of the familiar Top 10 list; perhaps I find comfort in the monotony. It seems that the top ten scariest movies have been preordained, written in ancient times and buried for generations, like the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Even if there were a change in roster, I probably wouldn’t be satisfied with it deep down in my movie loving soul. Factually I find myself agreeing with most of these lists. The Exorcist is one of the scariest horror movies I’ve ever seen. And what kind of movie-hating Nazi doesn’t like Halloween?
Rather than quietly scoffing at these lists (while still adoring them), I’ve decided to write up one of my own. I’m going to do my best to avoid all the old clichés though, and try to do something a little different. Therefore, you will not find The Exorcist, Halloween, Psycho, nor The Texas Chainsaw Massacre here, no matter how scary they are. I'm going to recount some of the movies that scare and disturb someone like me, a horror movie fanatic, someone numb to the attacks of the jump-scare and desensitised to the shock of even the goriest special effect. These are movies that rely less on the easy 'boo', and more on crawling under the viewer’s skin, making their spine shiver, their stomach knot, and their general well being falter.
This list follows each film with a brief listing of the fears it creates in the viewer, and the fears experienced by the characters.
10. Taxi Driver
Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece in New York Gothic is often listed as one of the best movies of all time, but for all of its technical mastery and acting savvy, its horror is often overlooked. This is the tale of the loneliest man in New York City. A man so lonely that it seems the only way to fill his void is through buying up a lot of guns and killing somebody.
Taxi Driver is a two-hour campout in a real life psychopath’s mind, not one of your average hatchet-happy, hockey-mask wearing, mother-obsessed movie psychos. Robert DeNiro represents Travis Bickle. Travis represents that guy on the corner you pretend not to see because he’s yelling obscenities at his imaginary friend, or that woman on the bus tracing the lines of her face with her crucifix while moaning religious hymns. In other words, crazy people; sad, dehumaized little monsters.
First time viewers will often try to identify with Travis, assuming he is the protagonist, as he is the center of their focus. This is an unhealthy assumption to make. He is not the protagonist nor hero of this story. He is the antagonist, the bad guy, the villain, and we don’t get a break from him for nearly two hours. There aren’t but 10 minutes of the movie that he isn’t on the screen, staring, scheming, and resenting. We fester with him in his mental and physical cesspool. Yes, the outside world may be filthy, but at least it offers an escape from Travis’ demented reality.
Taxi Driver is probably one of the more popular and well received films on this list, so I’ll assuming that most readers have a pretty solid basic knowledge of its plot. Because of its general popularity, I’ve found it can be hard to convince some that it is truly, on most genre levels, a horror film. It has its share of funny and dramatic moments, even some skewed romantic sentiment, but these mostly act as a release from the off-putting intensity of the story. Without these semblances of normality, Taxi Driver wouldn’t be a popular movie at all. It would be an art house curiosity, segregated to the grimmest of the grim film lovers. Next time you watch Taxi Driver, don’t let yourself be sucked in by the beautiful cinematography and DeNiro’s bravado performance. Instead pretend you’re watching the slowest moving slasher film ever made.
Taxi Driver was the first DVD I ever owned. The Region 1 disc contains a spectacular making-of documentary, which covers every aspect of the filmmaking process in a relatively short time, from the writing and selling of the script to the improvised dialogue to the spectacular camera work. The doc could have easily been another hour longer. Other extras include picture galleries, trailers and the entire original script. The only real minus is the non-anamorphic 1:85.1 transfer, which is more than a little dirty. It would have been nice to see the bloody finale lightened up a bit too (it was originally darkened to ensure an R-rating, but I think that today’s MPAA wouldn’t have a problem with the blood being a little bit brighter today). The soundtrack could also use a little 5.1 sprucing. Here's hoping for and two-disc set sometime in the near future.
Fear List: Taxi Driver
- Agateophobia: Fear of insanity.
- Amaxophobia: Fear of riding in a car.
- Anthropophobia: Fear of people or society.
- Monophobia: Fear of solitude or being alone.
- Hedonophobia: Fear of feeling pleasure.
- Hemophobia: Fear of blood.
9. Capturing the Friedmans
I could very easily have filled this list with documentaries, but have decided to settle on one of the genre’s more recent entries. From the Italian Mondo Cane inspired shockumentaries of the ‘60s, through the ever flowing cornucopia of made for television murderer’s exposes, documentaries have shown us the real horrors of the world around us. One constant you may notice in my list is the presence of films based on and immulating real life. Movie horrors, like movie romance and movie drama, are at their base, escapes from reality. When the film is over, the viewer can go back to the mundanity of reality, knowing that tomorrow zombies won’t be eating their flesh, nor will pale-faced ghost girls be crawling out of their TV sets.
Capturing the Friedmans is mortifying for several reasons beyond the fact that it started as a short subject about party clowns. In the beginning we discover that this small town family is harboring two or more pedophiles in their midst. Pedophilia, in its own right, is an especially frightening subject, specifically for anyone with children in their care. As of late American culture has become unhealthily preoccupied with the dealings of these deviants, bringing the national amber-alert level to a lid-kissing boil of fear.
As the film progresses we are privy to sexual abuse charges pressed against the father and youngest son of the family. The charges are gruesome and revolting. While the father’s affinity to looking at child pornography is never in question, these accusations become more and more unbelievable. Then, like the most tantalizing of dramas, the police department’s questionable tactics are revealed and the family begins receiving death threats from their seemingly normal, church-going neighbors. Are the cops pressuring children into false claims of abuse? Is this tight knit community really so homicidal? These are questions that no one should ever have to ask in a perfect world, but the revelation that this world is real and not perfect sinks in like a duck tied to an anvil.
Then come the home movies. The internal turmoil of a family falling apart under the strain of molestation charges is all there on video. The fighting hurts to watch, but is far too fascinating to turn away from. The viewer’s lurid curiosity will get the better of them, which may be the scariest thing of all. In this, the age of reality TV on every channel, at every minute of the day, stories like that of the Friedmans are a counteragent to total public apathy.
The two disc, R1 DVD release is accompanied with equally fascinating special features, most of which expand upon the progress of this ongoing story. The highlight is an ill-conceived screening for the remaining family members and authorities involved in the case. The screening breaks out into a near brawl during a question and answer session with the filmmakers. Also included is an especially damning piece of secretly recorded audio evidence. In it, police officers can be heard belligerently questioning a young ‘victim’ without a parental presence. Shocking, fascinating, and of course, horrifying.
Fear List: Capturing the Friedmans
- Paraphobia: Fear of sexual perversion.
- Syngenesophobia: Fear of relatives.
- Agraphobia: Fear of sexual abuse.
- Mastigophobia: Fear of punishment.
- Acusophobia: Fear of accusations.
I know, I know, it’s a comedy, but anyone who doesn’t feel an onslaught of anxiety while watching Terry Gilliam’s Brazil probably isn’t paying close enough attention. The movie takes place in one of the grimmest non-post-apocalyptic future ever filmed. Homes are filled with space-age technology that doesn’t work. The skies are perpetually gray with industrial pollution that no one asks questions about. The government and workplace are filled with so much unnecessary bureaucracy that nothing ever gets done. And there is a constant threat of bloody terrorist bombings.
OK, that sounds a lot like the world we live in now, but really, the movie makes it seem much worse. Personally I find little more frightening than unnecessary bureaucracy, especially when presented as a futile loop. Your house is on fire? Well just fill out this form, we'll get back to you in a week. Who hasn't had that dream where you or someone you love is dying and the authorities won't do anything about it.
There's also the original ending, the one that leaves attentive viewers with that freshly-kicked-in-the-teeth feeling. Madness, as an individual's only possibility of freedom from torturous physical and mental pain, is a grim prospect indeed. Distributor Universal didn’t like that ending and ordered a new one, along with a shorter, friendlier version of the film (these guys thought they were getting the next Time Bandits). This studio cut of the film was protested by Gilliam, and led to one of the most famous movie custody battles in history.
The plot, like most good politically motivated Sci-Fi stories, liberally lifts several of it’s best ideas from Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and Orwell’s 1984. It plays exceptionally well in today’s political climate. Really too well actually, if you ask me. I’m just happy my mother isn’t spending her free time having her face rearranged by a psychopathic plastic surgeon every day of the week.
When Universal originally released Brazil on DVD, it was, thankfully presented uncut, unfortunately there were no meaty special features. Then along came The Criterion Collection with their biggest DVD release of the time (still pretty big in today’s world of Super-Extreme-Collector’s Editions). Criterion’s Edition is three discs in length, which was all but unheard of at the time of release. The first disc contains the original directors cut and Gilliam commentary, the second contains a plethora of documentaries, trailers, and text essays, and the third contains the ill-conceived studio cut with commentary from the author of The Battle For Brazil book. This collection may be 5 years old, but it still holds together as one of the best DVD sets ever conceived. Other regions aren’t entirely left out; they get the director’s cut, the great ‘What is Brazil?’ featurette and some trailers. On the big plus side, the Region 2 release is listed as being anamorpically enhanced, Criterion’s is not.
Fear List: Brazil
- Prosophobia: Fear of progress.
- Technophobia: Fear of technology.
- Sociophobia: Fear of society or people in general.
- Decidophobia: Fear of making decisions.
- Coprophobia: Fear of feces.
- Achiphobia: Fear of government.
7. City of God
I hesitate to put this on my list because I’m afraid it will deter the less adventuress readers from seeing it. However, I feel pretty strongly that everyone, old or young, liberal or conservative, male or female, should probably see this film. City of God is the true story of three generations worth of gangster children growing up in a Brazilian slum during one of the largest gang wars in the nation’s history.
The film leaves the viewer with a general feeling of hope in the end, but along the way, we are forced into a world where any moment can lead to tragedy. There isn’t any celebration without death in this Rio De Janeiro. To impress the girl of his dreams the hero must call upon his loose drug connections, which leads to an inevitable, near death experience. Again, the violent reality of our world is the most disturbing horror around.
The most frightening aspect is that almost every character is a child, some of them already merciless killers at an age of less than ten. Nothing puts your own childhood in perspective like watching one kid forced to murder another.
The City of God Region 1 DVD contains a chilling documentary on the subject matter. This actual documentary, complete with some of the original news footage, was made well before the dramatic account. It also features a beautiful widescreen transfer, which does great justice to the sun-bleached cinematography, and an aggressive 5.1 Dolby Digital surround mix.
Also available is a Region 2 PAL collection of the TV spin-off, City of Men, which ran nine episodes long in Brazil. Another interesting (and equally horrifying) companion piece to is Bus 174, a (Oscar nominated) documentary about the most watched television broadcast in Brazilian history, a 2000 Rio de Janeiro bus-jacking. It discloses a more contemporary time period, delves into the reasons for such violence in Rio’s impoverished, and goes behind the scenes of the Brazilian jail system. Better off dead than in here seems to be the film's general message.
Fear List: City of God
- Pedophobia: Fear of children.
- Peniaphobia: Fear of poverty.
- Panthophobia: Fear of suffering and disease.
- Amissiophobia: Fear of loss.
- Sociophobia: Fear of society or people in general.
6. Barefoot Gen
From the horrors of poverty, I direct your attention to the horrors of war. There are a lot of Japanese films about the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings at the end of WWII, and several of these films are animated. One could argue that pretty much every Anime (series or movie) ever has some semblance of allegory alluding to the destruction caused by these massive bombs, whether it be in visual cues or just context. Barefoot Gen makes my list as a representaion of all these films, and all depressing, adult animation in general. It also epitomizes an alarming series of anti-bomb films produced in the 1980s, mostly for television.
When referring to films in these genres, most viewers will cite the animated masterpiece Grave of the Fireflies, which concerns two young orphans fighting to survive in late-WWII ravaged Japan, and the live action, made for TV depress-fest The Day After, about the days leading up to and following a massive nuclear attack on the US. Barefoot Gen, while not exactly dwarfing these grim efforts stands atop my list of post-nuke animated and made for TV flicks (both surprisingly lucrative sub-genres) as the gold standard of true, hand-drawn, melting flesh horror.
Barefoot Gen is based on Manga writer Keiji Nakazawa's real-life childhood adventures following the bombing of Hiroshima city. Gen, through blind luck, avoids the brunt of the bomb’s explosion while walking to school. He runs home to find his father, sister, and brother burning to death in the ravaged remains of his home. He and his pregnant mother look on as their family screams in agony and begs for help they cannot give. Then things get worse, and worse, and worse. Gen and his mother attempt to pick things up where they left off, but all's obviously easier said than done when most of the city lies in ruins. Radioactive ruins.
Together, the pseudo family bears witness to babies suckling their dead mothers, hoards of skinless travelers journeying to over-booked infirmaries, and public food riots in the streets. And these atrocities are only the beginning, as the story follows our hero through the months following the impact, the anarchy, and the sense of loss.
Perhaps the roughest aspect of the film is the extremely stylized drawing style utilized for the child characters. They all have that Astro-Boy look, which lulls the viewer into a false sense of security early on in the film. These adorable faces make the gut-punch violence that much crueler. When the bomb drops everyone, including the angelic children, start melting, burning, or exploding. The unlucky ones end up dying slowly of debilitating radiation poisoning. Barefoot Gen was so fascinatingly mortifying that when it was over, I watched it immediately again, something I’ve never done before or since. Those who ‘enjoyed’ The Day After and its UK counterpart Threads will recognize the value of anti-bomb films like this one, which burn their all-too-real imagery into our minds.
The All Region, NTSC DVD release of Barefoot Gen leaves a lot to be desired. It contains a full-frame transfer and a semi-effective stereo sound mix. Movies like these speak for themselves, but I think a director commentary could be quite interesting, assuming we could get some subtitles. I’m very curious as to what really happened and what was simply good story telling. Also available in Manga form (Japanese comic), and a new R2 PAL SE, which I’ve not had the liberty of viewing.
Fear List: Barefoot Gen
- Nucleomituphobia: Fear of nuclear weapons.
- Carcinophobia: Fear of cancer.
- Dysmorphophobia: Fear of deformity.
- Panthophobia: Fear of suffering and disease.
- Radiophobia: Fear of radiation
5. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
Formally a mainstay of the ‘scariest ever’ list, it seems the general public has all but forgotten Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. How anyone could forget this film is beyond me, though I suppose I do understand that the controversy surrounding it is now old news. Usually old news doesn’t make the lists, especially when the movie is of the mega-low-budget variety, and as despondent as this one.
The film concerns a serial killer named Henry who has just been released from prison, having served time for offing his own elderly mother. Upon entering a new town (he leaves the old ones behind because, well, the serial killing), he is greeted by his bygone friend Otis and Otis’s young sister, who take Henry into their unhappy little household. What follows is a gritty wallow in a week in the life of a monster and his despicable sidekick. Like Taxi Driver and City of God, most of the film’s terror is found in its realism and unrelentingly grim life outlook. Original intended as a sort of anti-slasher, slasher movie, and based loosely on the real life exploits of mass murderer Henry Lee Lucas, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer circumvents all the fun of watching a man in a mask cut promiscuous teenagers to ribbons, and focuses instead on the true horror of real murder.
The most long lingering of the film’s horror isn’t found in Henry, but Otis, who is eventually invited along on a few of Henry’s soulless slaughters. Otis, an already rather contemptible character when first introduced, tumbles so quickly, and so easily into the abyss that the audience finds itself affiliated with the lesser of two evils. Henry may be a psychopath, but at least he has some standards, and we’ve come to accept this kind of behavior from him. The villain becomes the hero when a greater evil than himself is revealed, but unlike most anti-heroes, Henry is an unredeemable beast. Through this association, the audience finds itself aligned uncomfortably with a dark soul it should naturally despise.
The original All Region, NTSC DVD release of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer was a mess. It was presented in a serviceable 1.33:1 transfer (the film’s intended ratio), but the 2.0 Dolby soundtrack had several sync problems. The audio problems were so bad that when I, personally first bought it I promptly returned it, thinking it was defective. Suspension of disbelief is a little tricky when the actors’ voices and mouths don’t match up. This sync problem was carried into the only real special feature on the disc, a recollection interview with director John McNaughton. On Tuesday, September 27th of 2005 (just in time for this article), a true special edition, anniversary DVD was released. It features a much cleaned transfer, still in the original 1.33:1 ratio, a cleaner, properly synced soundtrack, and an entire second disc of extras. Included is a documentary regarding the real Henry Lee Lucas, who’s life story makes the film seem like Mary Poppins in comparison.
Fear List: Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
- Virginitiphobia- Fear of rape.
- Sociophobia: Fear of society or people in general
- Agateophobia: Fear of insanity.
- Syngenesophobia: Fear of relatives.
- Thanatophobia: Fear of death or dying.
4. Cannibal Holocaust
Very few movies live up to the hype or stigma that surrounds them. Remember The Phantom Menace or Matrix: Reloaded? There was no way those movies were going to live up to audience expectations. Frankly, their true judgement should probably wait another ten years or so, when their achievements can be viewed with a truly subjective eye.
Scary movies come with a whole different set expectations. I am personally fascinated by the ‘Video Nasties’ controversy that overtook the UK in the 1980s, and have made it my ambition to see every film on the BBFC’s banned list. Living in the States has made this persuit a whole lot easier. Usually these films don’t live up to their infamy. Most ‘Video Nasties’ are so inept, featherbrained, and, worst of all, boring that their ban becomes down right obtuse. This includes most of the blacklisted films of the Italian cannibal cycle of the 70s and 80s.
Those who’ve yet to see an Italian cannibal film aren’t missing much, I’m afraid to say. They are mostly just flimsy, racist plots veiled in cut-rate gore effects (come on guys, we all know that’s not that man’s real penis), with the false promise of some kind of political or moral message. The only real objectionable material to be found in most of them is the real, onscreen killing of wild animals, and total exploitation of the natives of whatever jungle nation the movie is being filmed in. Making the viewer angry and actually disturbing them are usually two different things, cementing the failure of the lot of these films.
All that said, however, I can say Cannibal Holocaust lives up its infamy in spades. This is mostly because the film is expertly crafted, rather than slapped together for a quick exploitation buck. The people who made this film cared about it, as scary as that may be. The story concerns the disappearance of a film crew who journeyed into the Amazon to document the antics of ‘real cannibals’. The crew’s footage is found about 40 minutes into the movie, but their bodies are not (look to the film’s title for a clue on their whereabouts). The rest of the movie is made up of this ‘found’ footage.
Sound familiar? The parallels between The Blair Witch Project (one of those movies that use to make Halloween season top ten lists before its garbage sequel made it officially ‘un-cool’) and Cannibal Holocaust have been explored before, in detail, much more than I’ll go into here. Blair Witch didn’t involve quite as much torture, rape, impalement, or cannibalism, nor did it feature the onscreen killing and eating of any endangered species, but the premise remains quite similar. The funny thing that makes Cannibal Holocaust ultimately more successful is the average Italian cannibal film that makes up the film’s first half. When an audience is left expecting very little at the half-way point, it is very easy to sweep the perverbial carpet from under their feet.
When it comes to a legitimate American, British, or Aussie release of Cannibal Holocaust, I’m afraid we're all fresh out of luck, for now. As previously eluded to, the film is outright banned or heavily cut in several territories including Norway, Finland, Australia, Austria, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Iceland. For your notes, the original and uncut running time is 98 minutes. The film’s absence on US DVD is also with good reason: its chief in charge of remastering, and the DVD's producer has been busy editing Sam Raimi’s Spider Man films. In the next few months however, Grindhouse will be releasing this ‘much anticipated’ special edition DVD.
In the UK, one could purchase a heavily edited Vipco release, and suffer though a horrible transfer (so I hear, friends, I’ve not watched every version available). If someone were truly interested in an uncut version, their best bet would be one of the several Italian releases, including the newest of which utilizes a Ultra-Bit transfer, and has an entire second disc of special features. Or they could all just wait for the R1 version. Be warned though, if you buy this film, you will be labeled a deranged monster by most of your friends and loved ones.
Fear List: Cannibal Holocaust
- Seplophobia: Fear of decaying matter.
- Thanatophobia: Fear of death or dying.
- Xenophobia: Fear of strangers or foreigners.
- Agrizoophobia: Fear of wild animals.
- Phagophobia: Fear of swallowing or of eating or of being eaten.
- Virginitiphobia: Fear of rape.
The Cannibal Holocaust R1 limited special edition DVD is now on sale. You probably won't find it at a store near you. Try ordering from HKFlix.com before they sell out...if you dare
Anyone here think that The Passion of the Christ is the most disturbing and violent biblical account they’ve ever seen? I was certainly disturbed by it, but not nearly to the degree that I was disturbed by E. Elias Merhige’s Begotten. Those left unfazed by Mel Gibson’s ostentatious excersise in Biblical sadism might want to check it out.
I purchased Begotten blindly simply based on various dares I’d read on the Internet. In the days before this purchase, I’d always take people up on these types of dares, but now I think twice. Begotten is only 78 minutes long, but it took me 3 sittings to get through it. The plot you ask? Well, I guess you got me there.
Basically, Begotten is a series reenactments based on various Bible tales (mainly Genesis and the Crucifixion), filmed in stark black and white, with almost no screen related sound. Most of the soundtrack comprises of birds chirping and violent, heavy breathing. And when I say black and white, I mean black and white, period. There are barely any halftones here to speak of. According to the DVD insert, this disturbing photography took approximately eight to ten hours of optical work - re-photographing, visual treatments, and filtering – per minute of film. All this meticulous work evokes more of a Rorschach test than a real work of motion picture entertainment. The viewer has to focus very hard on any image to see what it is, which creates an uneasy sense of participation with the film.
For instance: that shaky man-like shape at the beginning, that’s God, and he’s cutting himself up with a strait razor. That woman-like shape moving around in that black pile of goo God dropped, that’s the Virgin Mary rising from his intestines. This website is intended for family viewing, so I don’t think I should go into any further detail. Once you’ve figured out what you’re actually seeing, Begotten is deeply mortifying religious iconography. There is no artistic compromise here.
Begotten is available in several regions and every DVD, according to the specs, is identical. The transfer I viewed is presented in 1.33:1 standard, as it was filmed. The picture is grainy, fuzzy, dirty, artefact filled, and nasty. There isn’t anything more to say than it is what it is, and we’ll all just have to assume, after all Merhige’s work, that this is the way the film was meant to look. For all I know, this is the best film to DVD transfer of all time. The sound is the same, pretty much critique-proof. The sounds coming out of my speakers seem to go with the movie playing on my screen so I guess there you have it.
As far as extras, the disc itself is pretty bare, featuring only trailers. Fortunatly, an indespesable booklet is also included. Without this, no one but the film’s creators would have the foggiest idea as to what was really happening on screen and what every frame represents. If you find this used and the booklet is missing, don’t bother with the purchase, unless you like spending you 78 minutes in the dark (maybe that’s the way you like it). A special note: the feature is split into more than 40 chapters, for those of us with itchy remote control trigger fingers.
Fear List: Begotten
- Ouranophobia: Fear of heaven.
- Peccatophobia: Fear of sinning or imaginary crimes.
- Sciophobia: Fear of shadows.
- Stigiophobia: Fear of hell.
- Theophobia: Fear of gods or religion.
- Acousticophobia: Fear of noise.
Audition freaked me out so much I almost couldn’t finish it. I ended up conjuring a phantom bowel problem so I could continue stopping the DVD without raising suspicions among my friends as to how mortified I was. Me, the horror movie guy, the one who always told my buddies to quit being sissies (not the actual word I used) when they squirmed, cried, and covered their eyes during whatever Italian splatterfest we happened to be watching that night. Like Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Audition is one of the few titles on my list found in the local video stores horror section, but Audition is something far beyond simple genre titling, which is what makes it such a harrowing film to watch.
This film drove me to lies about my intestinal health because director Takashi Miike ( Ichi: The Killer, Happiness of the Katakuris, Dead or Alive) made the first half so slow and so tedious that my feeble brain turned itself off. Due to this temporary retardation, even though I knew before watching the film where the story was heading, I was still caught off guard by the utter horror of the final half. Audition is comperable to Psycho in its rug-pulling sneakiness. Master director Alfred Hitchcock has been quoted as stating that successful on-screen terror is often attributed to the proper misdirection, but even Hitchcock couldn’t have conceived of something as brutally volatile as this.
It’s hard to describe the film in too much detail without giving too much away. After losing his wife, an aging widower is talked into holding a phony audition by a friend in show business. This critical investigation of local women is actually an underhanded tryout for a future releationship. He finds one girl he likes, and the two begin dating. She is shy, and he is still unsure of himself as well, creating a barrage of adorably awkward new couple moments. Kind of sounds like a sappy romantic comedy staring Jennifer Lopez or Ashley Judd doesn’t it? Just keep telling yourself that when you first see that lumpy potato sack the girl keeps in her home. Oh, I’ve said too much. The rest is better left to your imagination.
Pretty much anyone, in any region can get a hold of Audition on DVD. The special features seem to all come from similar sources, and include the usual featurettes, trailers and interviews with the director. As far as transfer comparisons, I’d advise against the original Tartan release in the UK. It is anamorphically enhanced (apparently), but is pretty dismal, especially during darker scenes. A remastered R1version was made available in August, but I haven’t actually seen it. The new edition is also labeled as being an uncut version, which I’m guessing is in reference to the flimsy American ‘R’ rated cut that was put into mainstream video chains like Blockbuster. The special features seem plentiful enough, including Audition’s segment from Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments feature aired last Halloween, where even genre afficianados Rob Zombie, Eli Roth, and John Landis admit their fear of Miike’s vicious masterpiece.
Fear List: Audition
- Odynophobia: Fear of pain.
- Oneirogmophobia: Fear of wet dreams.
- Philophobia: Fear of falling in love or being in love.
- Aichmophobia: Fear of needles or pointed objects.
- Apotemnophobia: Fear of persons with amputations.
To order any of the various editions of Audition on DVD please visit HKFlix.com/
1. Requiem for a Dream
There are very few movies that make me want to look away from the screen. There are even fewer movies that make me want to leave the theater. Requiem for a Dream almost made me leave the theater. By the end credits my palms were literally bloody from making fists. The experience was so intense I thought I was going to throw up, and not because it was gory or icky like Cannibal Holocaust, but because it felt so real and so intense.
Requiem for a Dream is, at its base a story about the horrible things drug addition will make human beings feel and do. Sure, most people will say that Trainspotting and Basketball Diaries already floated that boat years before, but both ended with a general feeling of release and hope (and lets face it people, Trainspotting was funny stuff). At the end of Requiem for a Dream there is no release, just a knot of fear in the viewer’s stomach, and there most definitely is no hope for these addicts.
The characters are morally good enough people that most viewers, while probably wanting them to learn a lesson, don’t really want them to suffer such pain, as they suffer in some the worst ways imaginable outside of open warfare. The emotional and psychological violence on display become nearly unbearable. The dramatic tension rises out of the simple plot and the superb performances (Julia Roberts robbed Ellen Burstyn at the 2000 Oscars), but most of the horror comes out of director Darren Aronofsky’s super-stylized filmmaking and bravado editing. Nary a single tool in the history of film isn’t used at some point, from split screen techniques and time lapses, to special rigs and lenses. The last count stated that there are more cuts in this movie than any other in history, at least of comparable length. Aronofsky is a talent to be reckoned with.
It was not Jared Leto’s rancid needle hole, Jennifer Connely’s self deprecating sexual acts, or Marlon Wayans’ grueling prison sentence that caused me sleepless nights, but the sad and lonely plight of Ellen Burstyn’s character. She's so desperate for love and attention in her waining years, that she allows herself to believe everything she’s told. This blind faith leads her, the most innocent of the four main characters, into the deepest chasm of hopelessness. Her life truly is over by the end of the film, whereas we viewers can at least dream of a better life for the younger protagonsists. The reality of human frailty again rears its ugly head.
The DVD release of Requiem for a Dream is something to pay attention to. In the US it was released in theaters Unrated, as to avoid the dreaded NC-17, due mostly to its sexual content. When it was released on video, chain stores like Blockbuster Video demanded a truncated R-rated cut. Do not see the R-rated cut. It hurts the film. The DVD’s were otherwise identical with really spectacular surround sound effects and clever menu designs. There is an excellent commentary track with director Aronofsky, but listening to it does tend to dehumanize the film as he revels mostly in the technical achievements, which through impressive, are better left unnoticed in favour of allowing the film to flow effortlessly into the psyche.
According to most accounts, the UK R2 release runs only 97 minutes. This leads me to the conclusion that this version has been cut by even more than the US R-rated cut - the full, uncut version runs 102 minutes. This is a depressing thought. This is a spectacular film that needs to be seen as originally intended, and very loud. Viewers should really do themselves a favour and try to see it in its totally uncut form.
Edit: Thanks to readers like Kim Noxon for reminding me about PAL speed-up. It appears that Requiem for a Dream is available uncut on R2 DVD. According to the BBFC home page the film passed with no cuts. My apologies.
Fear List: Requiem for a Dream
- Opiophobia: Fear of medical doctors.
- Pharmacophobia: Fear of taking medicine.
- Panthophobia: Fear of suffering and disease.
- Pharmacophobia: Fear of drugs.
- Soteriophobia: Fear of dependence on others.
- Athazagoraphobia: Fear of being forgotton or ignored
- Tomophobia: Fear of surgical operations.
- Toxiphobia: Fear of poison or of being accidently poisoned.
As a personal psychological profile, the listing of entertainment, art, and/or literature that frighten and disturb is actually sort of cleansing. Figuring out why one is made to feel this way is even more insightful. This list is very personal, and though I’m sure several readers will agree with me, I’m also positive that no two Movie Fear Lists will ever look entirely alike.
So the question is:
What scares you?
Editorial by Gabriel Powers
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