Tag Archives: richard brake

Rob Zombie’s Halloween 2

Rob Zombie was always going to make the jump from musician to filmmaker, you could just feel it in the air and it also felt apparent that he’d be a successful one too, unlike a few of his compadres (poor Dee Snider). The term shock rock has been applied to his work and that can be said of his films too; he’s always been about brash, crass stylistic choices and as such it shocks *me* when people are appalled at his films and their off putting nature, I mean this is Rob Zombie the heavy metal guy we’re talking about here, not someone innocuous like Barry Levinson. What consistently surprises me about his work in film is that along with all the appropriately trashy, nasty imagery and visual grotesquerie there is a strong drive to explore themes, cultivate mature, realistic characters and build worlds that feel like our our own to tell his scary stories in. This is all apparent in his Halloween 2 which I feel is an overlooked, misunderstood piece of horror madness and brilliance.

Being a huge fan of his original Halloween reboot I was surprised and curious at his decision to follow it up, because the first stands on its own and wraps up very nicely in the final moments, in its own way and as a calling card to Carpenter’s original. But he and the Myers name made Dimension Films a big pile of money and this film went ahead, which I’m grateful for. His vision of H2 is a spectacularly terrifying, relentlessly bleak and disarmingly psychological one, worlds away from his first outing and while it still bears the profane, yokel brand of his dialogue writing in spots, this is some of the most down to earth filmmaking he’s done. Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor Compton) is a mess following events past, and understandably so. She lives with her friend Annie Brackett (Danielle Harris, a perennial totem of the franchise) and Sheriff Leigh Brackett (Brad Dourif), barely coping with constant nightmares, waking dreams and hallucinations from her trauma and sees a psychiatrist (the great Margot Kidder) who doesn’t prove to be all that effective. Malcolm McDowell’s once helpful and compassionate Dr. Loomis has fought his own trauma by drinking hard and becoming a cynical, nasty media whore who cruelly makes it public that Laurie is in fact Michael’s baby sister, which doesn’t help her mental climate much. Add to this the fact that Michael did indeed survive that fateful Halloween night and is slowly making his way back to Haddonfield for round two and you have all the ingredients for a perfect storm.

This film is horror to its core but I also love how Zombie dutifully explores Post traumatic stress disorder in brutally realistic fashion, something that none of the other films in the series bothered to look at, seriously anyways. Compton is fantastic in a picture of hell as Laurie here, disheveled and dissociated to dangerous levels and damaged by Michael’s evil beyond repair. Michael (Tyler Mane) is different too, spending much of the film without his mask and followed by ethereal visions of his long dead mother (Sheri Moon Zombie) and otherworldly, surreal demonic figures who spur him on in haunting dream sequences. Dourif is emotionally devastating as Brackett and people sometimes forget just what kind of dramatic heavy lifting this guy is capable of. He plays a nice, kind man who only ever tried to protect his daughter and Laurie both and when they collectively pass through the event horizon of being able to heal from the horror, the anguish and heartbreak in his performance shakes you to the bone. Zombie populated his supporting ranks with a trademark bunch of forgotten genre faces like Daniel Roebuck, Dayton Callie, Richard Brake, Richard Rhiele, Howard Hesseman, Mark Boone Jr, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Duane Whitaker and Sean Whalen and new talent like Brea Grant, Nancy Birdsong, Octavia Spencer, Angela Trimbur and, uh… Weird Al Yankovic too. Michael spends much of the film on his journey back to Haddonfield here after escaping a percussive ambulance crash (perhaps of his own elemental making) and as such many of the shots we get are him on the moors, farmlands and eerie fields of the neighbouring counties, haunting the land like some restless spirit until it comes time to kill once again. The atmosphere is one of dread and abstract mental unrest as we see each character, including Michael himself, begin to lose it. It all culminates in a horrifying, darkly poetic confrontation complete with a hectic police chopper and all the careening madness we can expect from Zombie’s vision of this world. Then he decides to give this legacy a disquieting send off that works sadly and beautifully by bringing back the song Love Hurts, this time crooned softly by Nan Vernon instead of a raucous strip bar sound system. Whether you’re attuned to Zombie’s aesthetic or not, there’s just no denying his artistic style, commitment to world building and brave openness in reinvention and experimentation within an established mythos. Great film.

-Nate Hill

Rob Zombie’s 3 From Hell

It’s been roughly fifteen years since Rob Zombie blasted onto the horror scene with his brilliant exploitation block party The Devil’s Rejects, and has now followed it up with 3 From Hell, a long awaited continuation following the further adventures of the murderous, hilarious, never boring Firefly clan. So, does it live up to Rejects? Well… no, but what could? Is it a good film? Hell fucking yes it is and although it’s arguable whether or not a third outing with these characters was necessary, in my eyes it was always more than welcome. Zombie is an inexplicably hated filmmaker and his detractors always make me laugh in their abject refusal to concede that he knows what he’s doing within the genre. It’s fine if it ain’t your thing, it’s all cool if his style doesn’t jive with yours, but whether or not he’s a talented, imaginative horror filmmaker just isn’t up for debate in my opinion.

So the Firefly family survived their Peckinpah standoff with the cops, which if you’ve seen Devil’s Rejects you’ll agree is a move both audacious and sheepish on Zombie’s part. Incarcerated indefinitely and placed squarely on death row, Otis (Bill Moseley), Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie) and Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig) make no end of trouble for the buffoonish warden (Jeff Daniel Phillips) and his harried staff. Otis stages a violent prison break (reminiscent of Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers, I might add) with the involuntary help of Danny Trejo’s Rondo, a character who met an even more finality laden death in Rejects but nonetheless hilariously appears here without even a scar. Once he and Baby are free from their bonds they hook up with their equally murderous and profane half brother Winslow Wolfman Foxworth Coltrane (Richard Brake, Zombie’s newest muse) and take a road trip down to Mexico. There they wade themselves into as much hedonistic debauchery as they can until, once again, trouble comes looking for them.

So the main thing here is how does this hold up when placed alongside the other two in the trilogy and I’ll be the first to admit it’s the weakest of the three. It’s the least grimy, shocking, hallucinatory and overall spiked with madness too. But it’s also the most laidback and straightforward outing, which I can appreciate. It feels like a hangout film with instances of horror, a wistful afterthought to wash down the glory days and carnage of its predecessors. If there’s one thing that *is* crazier than the other two though its Baby; she has a caged animal, untethered ferocity here that even alarms Otis, who remarks that she’s way more nuts than he remembers her, which is quite the statement coming from him. Anywho they are surrounded by Zombie’s beloved, customary and always welcome bunch of forgotten character actors from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s including Richard Edson, Dee Wallace, Clint Howard, Daniel Roebuck, Lucinda Jenny, Sean Whalen, Richard Rhiele, Barry Bostwick, Duane Whitaker and Austin Stoker who we lovingly remember as the Sheriff in John Carpenter’s Assault On Precinct 13. As most of you know the great Sid Haig passed away very recently and had been ill for a while before that, so his appearance here is sadly limited to a single scene, but it’s a loving send off from Zombie and a terrific if brief swan song for Sid and Spaulding alike. Was this film absolutely necessary? Of course not, Rejects had the perfect poetic justice ending and this story would have been fine if the buck continued to stop there. Am I grateful for a continuation and appreciative of it? You bet I am. Zombie shows talent again in writing simultaneously funny and scary scenes, crafting beautifully grungy production design and drawing you into this world. I almost saw this as a hazy fever dream had by the Fireflies as they are getting shot to bits at the end of Rejects, like a Jacob’s Ladder type foresight into a future that never happened in the final moments of thought before death. It’s a nice final outing with these lovable, hateful psychopaths and a good time overall.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: Steve Barker’s Outpost

The rate that teams of mercenaries seem to run into ghosts, creatures and demons seems to be awfully high in cinema but I guess their jobs take them to some pretty dark corners of the world where anything could be lurking. In Steve Barker’s Outpost the dark corner is an abandoned WWII bunker in Eastern Europe, the team is a hard scrabble bunch led by Ray Stevensen and Richard Brake and the gathering menace is… well you’ll see.

This one is cool because these guys are essentially trapped between one bad scenario and a severely worse one. As bloody war rages above them on the surface, they descend deeper into this long forgotten bunker for refuge and discover that naturally they aren’t the only ones down there. For the most part it chooses atmosphere over gore as the menacing forces gradually encroach on them surrounded by ghostly mist and they realize that this is one right corner they can’t just shoot their way out of. Stevensen has a great stalwart screen presence and heads up this dirty dozen style posse nicely, while Brake also provides his usual sly charisma. There’s a sequel out there by the same director no less but I haven’t seen it so I can’t recommend yet. This however is a chilly good time, a serviceable action horror that doesn’t go too far overboard or become obnoxiously silly but reins it in just enough.

-Nate Hill

Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins

These days we take the abundance of DC/Batman films and TV series for granted, but back in the first half of the 2000’s there was a massive drought left on the land thanks to Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin, which we won’t go into here. Then Christopher Nolan came along and changed that forever, not with necessarily a bang, but the thoughtful, moody, introspective Batman Begins, a film that served as catalyst to one of the most celebrated motion picture trilogies of today. That’s not to say it didn’t blast into the scene with a bang, this is one seriously fired up action film that left iMax screens reeling and sound systems pumped. It’s just that Nolan gave the Batman legacy the brains and psychological depth that it deserves to go along with the fireworks, while Schumacher & Co. were simply making live action Saturday morning cartoons, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing either but after two films seemed a bit beneath the potential of what Batman could be.

Nolan bores into the roots of Bruce Wayne’s anguished past to expose themes of fear, not only facing his childhood fears but eventually becoming them to release the anger he’s harboured since that night in the alley. Christian Bale finds both the cavalier flippancy of Bruce and the obstinate, short tempered dexterity of Batman and yes, he makes an impression with a voice that has perhaps since become more well known than the films. Trained in the heartlands of the Far East by mysterious Ducard (Liam Neeson), Bruce returns to Gotham years later to find it rotting from the inside out with crime, corruption and poverty. Nolan shows the rocky road he sets out on and the failures he endures in his first few ventures onto the streets in costume, crossing paths with Cillian Murphy’s dangerous Dr. Jonathan ‘Scarecrow’ Crane, uneasily aligning forces with Gary Oldman’s stalwart Jim Gordon and assisted at every turn by Michael Caine’s Alfred Pennyworth and Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox. Nolan assembles a cast full of roles both big and small including Richard Brake, Mark Boone Jr, Ken Watanabe, Linus Roache, Rade Serbedzija, Joffrey Lannister, Rutger Hauer and more. I have to mention Katie Holmes because she gives one of the most underrated performances in the whole trilogy. I’m not sure what went on behind the scenes when recasting her with Maggie Gyllenhaal for the next film but it did no service to the character, Katie made it her own, is full of personality and will always be the real Rachel to me. Special mention must also be made of Tom Wilkinson as mob boss Carmine Falcone, who is only in a handful of scenes but scares the pants off of everyone with his off the cuff blunt dialogue, violent tendencies and shark-like personality.

I can’t say this is my favourite film in the franchise or even the one I’d call the best (Dark Knight holds both those honours), but it is definitely the one that stands out to me the most when I think of the trilogy as a whole. Why? Visual aesthetic and production design. With the next two films Nolan cemented a very naturally lit, real world vibe that became his signature touch on the legacy, but Begins is different. There’s a burnt umber, earthy, elemental, very gothic tone he used here that just isn’t there in the next two, and whether intentional or not, it sets this one in a Gotham slightly removed from Knight and Rises. The mood and story are also rooted far more in mysticism and the fantastical as opposed to the earthbound, economically minded, concrete edged sensibility of what’s to come. Just a few observations.

In any case Nolan pioneered an arresting new Gotham for Batman, his friends and foes to do battle in, he injected the smarts, philosophy and character development that the franchise had been thirsting for a long time before. Wally Pfister’s swooping cinematography, Hans Zimmer’s cannonball original score, Nathan Crowley’s spooky, cobwebbed production design and every performance in the film work to make this not just one hell of a Batman film, but an overall excellent fantasy adventure that truly transports you to its world, the mythology, development and destruction of which leaves a lasting imprint on the subconscious. Brilliant film.

-Nate Hill

Panos Cosmatos’s Mandy

“When I die

bury me deep

lay two speakers around my feet…

wrap two headphones around my head, and rock and roll me when I’m dead”

Panos Cosmatos’s Mandy. Wow. This is a film I have been waiting a year for, and while I eagerly devoured up every production still, sound byte and trailer released for marketing, none of that diminished the thunderous, neon drenched nirvana that was the experience seeing it on the big screen. Cosmatos is madly, deeply in love with 80’s horror/fantasy/scifi cinema, and after the initial stroke of brilliance that was Beyond The Black Rainbow, he has evolved into something more cohesive and specific, but no less balls out surreal and brazenly expressionistic. Set in the same austere, timeless 1983 twilight zone meta-verse as Rainbow, this one sees tortured lumberjack Red (Nicolas Cage) exacting apocalyptic vengeance on both a maniacal cult and a clan of demon bikers for the murder of his beloved girlfriend Mandy (Andrea Riseborough). That is of course the nutshell, analytical summary you’ll see in the online rental guide. What really fills up this two hours of nightmarish bliss is a more free flowing, right brain amalgamation of everything special to Cosmatos in both cinema and music, mottled using material from his own lively imagination, wearing influences both proudly and organically on his sleeve and giving us the gift of one of the most intensely invigorating pieces of art I’ve ever seen. The rage is all about Cage and his gonzo performance, and while that is a sideshow later on, it’s certainly not the main event and the real strength of his performance lies in the restrained, beautiful relationship he has with Mandy, which only makes his crazed rampage cut all the more deep later on. Riseborough is really something special in her role too, she’s the crux of the whole deal and gives Mandy an ethereal, introverted aura that’s just creepy enough and cute enough to live up the film’s title. Linus Roache is really something else as Jeremiah Sand, the fiercely insecure, manically dangerous cult leader, it’s a career peak for the former Thomas Wayne and he plays him like a bratty failed folk musician who’s delusions have fused into his very soul and made him really fucking sick. Ned Dennehy is freakishly deadpan as his second in command, while chameleon actor Richard Brake has a key cameo and veteran Bill Duke shows up to provide both weapons for Cage and a tad of exposition regarding the Hallraiser-esque bikers. This is the final original score composed by Johann Jóhannsson before his untimely passing, and it’s one hell of a swan song. After a gorgeous, arresting opening credit sequence set to King Crimson’s Starless, its all dreamy synths, thunderclaps of metal, extended passages of moody, melodic strains and threatening drones, a composition that leaves a scorched, fiery wake in its fog filled path. One thing that’s missing or at least depleted in film these days versus yesteryear is atmosphere: Back then there were ten smoke machines for every acre of set, title fonts were lovingly hand painted and scenes took their time to unfold, rather than tumbling out of the drawer in a flurry ADHD addled action and exposition. Cosmatos is a physician to this cause and his films feel like both blessed nostalgia and an antidote to that which many filmmakers have forgotten. With Mandy he has created a masterpiece of mood, violence, dark humour, hellish landscapes, softly whispered poetic dialogue, Nic Cage swilling down a sixty pounder of vodka in his undies, fire, brimstone, roaring engines, beautiful music, a tiger named Lizzie, and a pure unbridled dove for making the kinds of films I want to see at the multiplex. Best of the year so far.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: Stephen Norrington’s Death Machine 

Stephen Norrington’s Death Machine whips up a knowing, near meta grind-house schlocker that harvests names, ideas and actors from other well know horror classics and churns out a wonderful little pastiche that’s clearly in love with every project influencing it, as well as the genre. In a giant m, imposing corporate high rise, the collective minds of future tech enterprise brainstorm the next best thing, but all of the are bested by creepy, psychotic designer Jack Dante (Brad Dourif) an antisocial lunatic who has designed an appropriately razor-adorned monster equipped with cunning AI, primed to tear the building, and everyone in it, to shreds. This includes the looney board of directors who all bear names lovingly similar to that of various creative minds in the horror/sci-Fi industry. Scott Ridley (The always maniacal Richard Brake), Sam Raimi (The Machinist’s master of everything unsettling, John Sharian) John Carpenter (William Hootkins) and even a pair of characters called Weyland and Yutani, all references are here and they’re not subtle whatsoever, part of the film’s charm. Dourif’s moniker is no doubt based on Gremlin’s pioneer Joe Dante, and speaking of Brad, he’s a flat out beastly delight as he turns loose a mechanical nightmare of a creation for all to be sloppily slaughtered by at some point. Bureaucracy is lampooned between decapitations and corn syrup gore, the film is never short of dark humour to garnish it’s violent pandemonium. The film is displayed a lot like Alien, and the creature itself looks not unlike a bionic xenomorph with the ability to change into all sorts of elaborate shapes, all the better to hunt you down through the tight crawl spaces and narrow ducts that made up most of 1989’s cinematic architecture. Director Norrington would go on to make his own horror classic in 1998’s Blade, and here he earns his stripes as both a vetted disciple of the genre and a thrifty low budget wizard. Watch out for Rachel Weiss, of all people, as a random board member who’s seen briefly. A howlin’ good time. 

-Nate Hill

Legacy: Black Ops – A Review by Nate Hill 

Legacy: Black Ops is a good one. Like so many indie products, it has been marketed to look like an action flick for dvd, but the truth is something more akin to a psycho – political thriller. Clearly influenced by both the Bourne films and Jonathan Demme’s The Manchurian Candidate, it reins the intrigue in somewhat for an intimate, starkly paced look at one man who is on the brink of losing both his mind and memories in the wake of a special ops mission gone awry. Idris Elba gives a mini powerhouse as Malcolm Grey, a battle scarred veteran who has isolated himself in a drab motel room, ruminating on a calamitous outing with his fellow squad members to find and take out eastern European extremist Salenko (Julian Wadham). Whatever went wrong sent a chain reaction down the ranks and left them divided in years to come, but we are only treated to unreliable fragments of these events, reflected through the prism of Malcom’s broken mind. He receives visits from his squad mates, but are they really there, or yet another illusion dreamt up to avert his gaze from the truth? Character actor Richard Brake is O’Keefe, his longtime friend and second in command, providing sympathy and solid support during the mission we see unfold in hectic flashbacks. Adjacent to this plot is the political rise of Malcom’s brother Darnell (Eamonn Walker) riding the wave of an election that will put him in a seat of immense power, but one wonders how he’s connected to Malcolm and his past? How indeed. It’s confusing to say the least, but never trips over its own ambitions, sewing threads of concise cause and effect throughout it’s story, which is emotionally downbeat and melancholic in nature, a stylistic choice that really works in the film’s favour. If you’re willing to sit, absorb and meditate on a slow burner of a tale that feeds you pieces of the puzzle bit by bit, with almost zero action to be found, have at ‘er. I enjoyed it immensely.