Directed by: Jovanka Vuckovic, Annie Clark, Roxanne Benjamin and Karyn Kusama
Run time: 81 minutes
The Lowdown: Finally – and it has been a long time coming – there is a kickass new horror anthology to recommend.
Once a genre staple, particularly throughout the 1980s and early ‘90s, the horror anthology slowly fell back into the shadows until Michael Dougherty single-handedly resurrected the format in 2007 with Trick ‘r Treat. Since then, there have been highs and lows, with specific segments from the 2012 to 2014’s VHS and The ABC’s of Death franchises, 2015’s Southbound and A Christmas Horror Story and 2016’s Holidays (Zombie Jesus Easter Bunny, anyone?), showcasing just how effective a short burst of controlled horror can be.
But none of those films managed to maintain a consistent tone and, more importantly, consistently unnerve audiences the way Dougherty’s film did.
When it was announced, XX played heavily on the fact that it was being written and directed entirely by women. And that makes sense. Horror has long been a not-exclusive, but predominantly male-dominated, club that was interrupted too-infrequently by party crashers like Mary Lambert (Pet Semetary), Mary Harron (American Psycho) and the twisted twins, Jen and Sylvia Soska (American Mary).
The four tales that comprise XX are decidedly personal. Three of the short films, The Box by Jovanka Vuckovic, The Birthday Party by Annie Clark, aka avant-garde muscian St. Vincent, and Her Only Living Son by Karyn Kusama, explore what it means to be a mother in a world gone mad, and the lengths that maternal instinct will go to protect a child’s innocence.
Whether it’s disguising the fact that a father has made a terrible decision on the morning of a child’s birthday celebration or making a selfless sacrifice to keep a child from a dangerous paternal influence, The Birthday Party and Her Only Living Son crackle with emotional intensity and resonate with truth. The Box takes a different path, presenting its mother as an outsider, an observer instead of participant, until it’s too late and her family is beyond reach.
XX is further proof that Hollywood needs to pay better attention.
Take Kusama – after making a big splash with her 2000 debut, Girlfight (which also introduced the world to Michelle Rodriguez), the studios came calling. Kusama was hitched to the big-budget, live-action adaptation of Aeon Flux, which bombed, and suddenly she was off the radar. Two years later, she returned with the wonderfully dark and violently funny Jennifer’s Body and it barely made a ripple. She transitioned to television, directing small-screen stories for a while, only to come back in 2015 with The Invitation, a blistering, brutal and taunt thriller that thankfully did get noticed.
But here’s the point – her talent has always been there. Jennifer’s Body, The Invitation and Her Only Living Son are not flukes. They are collectively better than the recent output of several quote-unquote male masters of horror.
Clark’s The Birthday Party is another example of a major talent just waiting to be discovered. This short film is her first, but the control Clark exhibits, the playful perspective that her camera eye follows and the patience to build and build and build to the final reveal is the stuff of a seasoned veteran.
Horror fans should begin clamoring for more from her, and fast.
So much focus on three of the four tales in XX doesn’t mean the fourth, Don’t Fall, isn’t as good or as up to snuff.
Roxanne Benjamin’s contribution is a practical effects creature feature/slasher mashup blast of gory goodness that echoes past survival thrillers but doesn’t imitate them.
Even the wrap-around story, a festering slice of putrid pie told through a blend of stop-motion animation and live-action, is enthralling.
XX is so damn good.
Go, find it. Now. It’s the horror you’ve been needing for some time.
The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – Yes.
Nudity – Brief.
Gore – Considerable.
Drug use – No.
Bad Guys/Killers – Take your pick, we’ve got creatures, creepy dudes and the son of Satan.
Buy/Rent – Buy. It.
Get Out (Universal, 104 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): One of the best horror films in recent years, but more so, one of the best thrillers to tackle the tricky issue of race relations, and possibly the first film of 2017 to address the boiling cauldron of emotions and personalities that is the United States right now.
For more, please see BVB’s review of Get Out from February.
The Great Wall (Universal, 103 minutes, PG-13, Blu-Ray): Chinese director Yimou Zhang, who made a splash with American audiences back in 2002 with Hero, crafts an English-language creature feature that cleverly incorporates all the hallmarks of China’s epic action cinema.
The Great Wall was unfairly maligned by allegations of whitewashing for casting Matt Damon as the main protagonist, a thief named William, but honestly, Damon does very little to carry the film. Anyone could have played the role of William, and The Great Wall wouldn’t have been better for it.
Zhang’s film is full of spectacle and awash in CGI, but the thrill of Chinese genre cinema still bleeds through to elevate some of the breath-taking battles, of which there are plenty.
If anything, this is a creature feature that could have done with fewer creatures. The legion of amphibious, dragon-like monsters that try to storm and scale the wall become a bit of a blur at times, and even their cool anatomical attributes get pushed aside with too little explanation to make them memorable.
This is a fun movie, on par with the recent Kong: Skull Island. It doesn’t do anything special to transform the genre, but it’s entertaining and briskly paced.
Wolf Guy (Arrow Video, 86 minutes, Unrated, Blu-Ray): Here’s the deal, if it’s a genre film that finds a new and/or unique approach to werewolves, I’m in.
As in, just take my money already!
That would explain why BVB has gone gaga over several releases in recent years, including Wolf Cop, Bubba the Redneck Werewolf and Uncaged.
Something else we’re pretty high on – ridiculous kung fu flicks from the 1970s and ’80s that incorporate horror elements – horror fu, if you will – and simply defy description. I’m talking Black Samurai (black magic ninjas), Raw Force (zombie ninjas) or the flag-bearing benchmark of this particular sub-genre, Ninja III: The Domination (demonic exorcist ninjas)!
When you stumble across a genre film that somehow incorporates werewolves and kung fu, it’s like unearthing the holy grail.
Meet Wolf Guy.
Released in 1975 by Japan’s famed Toei Studio, Wolf Guy is the apex of the psychedelic era of exploitation cinema. Shinichi “Sonny” Chiba stars as the titular Wolf Guy, a police detective with lycanthropic leanings who can’t help but stop his police work to get busy with the ladies.
It’s a riot from start to finish.
Does it make sense? Hell no. But Chiba is at his alpha male/wolf best, laying waste to bad guys with visceral slashes and kicks as he tries to track down a female beast woman believed to have killed a businessman. Or something like that. You’re not here for the story, so don’t even bother.
Just crack open a tasty beverage and watch Chiba crack open some heads and howl with laughter throughout.
My Life as a Zucchini
Cops vs Thugs
The Jacques Rivette Collection