FRONTIER(S) (2008)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 48 minutes

MPAA Rating: NC-17 for Extreme Sadistic Graphic Violence and Gore

(French with English subtitles)

Directed by: Xavier Gens

Written by: Xavier Gens

Starring: Karina Testa, Aurellen Wiik, Samuel Le Bihan, Estelle Lefebure, David Saracino, Chems Dahmani, Adel Bencherif, Maud Forget & Jean-Pierre Jorris

FRONTIER(S) is another example of New French Extremity and had a rather rocky road to American theaters. This gorefest was originally slated as part of the After Dark Horrorfest 2007 (remember when that cool little experiment backfired?). However, it never hit screens in November 2007 because this film got slapped with an NC-17 rating for its sheer brutality. In May 2008, FRONTIER(S) hit 10 theaters and was quickly released onto home video a few days later. Besides being extremely gory and aiming to extremely disturb its viewer, FRONTIER(S) is also an extremely entertaining treat for horror fans!

After a right-wing candidate’s election sparks riots in Paris, a street gang plots to escape the city. To do this, they will need cash and they solve this problem by quickly pulling off a robbery. Yasmine (Karina Testa), Alex (Aurellen Wiik), Tom (David Saracino) and Farid (Chems Dahmani) decide to hide out (with their suitcase of illegally acquired cash) in a small inn near the border. However, this decision may have been their gravest mistake because the family-run establishment happens to be owned by a sadistic, inbred group of psychopathic neo-Nazis. Lots of gory violence ensues.

The premise of FRONTIER(S) is simple to a fault, but the script unsuccessfully attempts to pull off a half-assed message too. This mainly comes in the political backdrop of France being the starting point for this story, wherein the gang’s mistakes launch them out of the frying pan and into the fire. It’s clear that director/writer Xavier Gens was trying to make a statement by having one of the gang members be openly Muslim and cut to an awkward transition of a Jesus statue for no apparent reason. However, I don’t think he succeeded in this at all. He further makes the viewer shrug their shoulders by throwing in awkward transitions of landscape shots that slightly interrupt the film’s flow. This all being said, Xavier Gens’s FRONTIER(S) also succeeds in many different (more visceral) areas.

Though I suspect Xavier Gens tried to make this film as disturbing as humanly possible, I actually felt that FRONTIER(S) was a very fun thrill ride. Again, I don’t know if this film’s intention was to be entertaining from the get-to, but I definitely had a lot fun watching it. This script feels like a love-letter to 70s slasher films and shocksploitation cinema, while never really leaving a bad taste in your mouth. There are gallons of blood and gore, but these bits resemble 2003’s TEXAS CHAINSAW remake cranked up to 11. Be prepared for things to get ultra-gory, but also be prepared to be totally entertained. After all, this is a slasher movie that features crazy cannibal Nazi rednecks on the outskirts of France.

Though occasional stylish transitions can be jarring, the film’s cinematography is stunning. I don’t know what it is about the New French Extremity titles that I’ve seen so far, but French directors seem gifted with the slightly disturbing ability to film horrible things in beautiful ways. FRONTIER(S) is no exception as the viewer is thrust into the hellish inn (and a nearby abandoned mining facility) with a grim atmosphere. In almost every scene, the viewer can see every speck of dirt, bead of sweat, and gush of blood…and they’re all gorgeous.

The gang characters are a bit weak as Yasmine is clearly the final girl from the get-go and the only “good” person worth caring about. Karina Testa gives a great performance as this female protagonist trapped in a Nazi cannibal-filled nightmare. She gets her share of bad-ass heroine moments and delivers the best damn kill in the entire film (you’ll know it when it happens). Testa also receives a couple of scenes that reminded me of Marilyn Burns (from Tobe Hooper’s original TEXAS CHAINSAW). The other gang members are just lambs to the ultra-sadistic slaughter. It also doesn’t help that these three guys are scumbags and the viewer will most likely to be rooting to see their gory demise, rather than wanting any of these pricks to survive.

The performances are significantly better from the neo-Nazi family of psychopaths. It looks like Xavier Gens scoured the French countryside to find actual French neo-Nazi cannibal rednecks and then just hired them on the spot as actors. Each antagonist has a distinct look and colorful personality behind them. My favorite of the villainous bunch was easily super-muscular Goetz (Samuel Le Bihan) who looks like he could break a man in half with his bare hands and is legitimately terrifying. Patrick Ligardes doesn’t receive much screen time as the most calculating member of the Nazi bunch, but makes the most of his role. Estelle Lefebure rocks as a slutty, gun-wielding clerk. Meanwhile, Maud Forget is a bit too over-the-top as super-shy Eva and Jean-Pierre Jorris chews the scenery as the sick Nazi grandfather/head of the family.

FRONTIER(S) clearly wears its horror influences on its sleeves. There’s plenty of nods to TEXAS CHAINSAW and even touches of THE DESCENT, but this French film is gorgeous to look at and has lots of style. The story may not be original and the characters are mixed (lots of them are one-dimensional victims and villains), but this will thoroughly entertain gore-loving horror fans and packs plenty of memorable moments into its well-paced 108 minutes. FRONTIER(S) is basically THE FRENCH CHAINSAW MASSACRE and I mean that in the best way possible!

Grade: B+

HITMAN (2007)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Bloody Violence, Language and some Sexuality/Nudity

Hitman poster

Directed by: Xavier Gens

Written by: Skip Woods

Starring: Timothy Olyphant, Dougray Scott, Olga Kurylenko, Robert Knepper, Ulrich Thomsen, Henry Ian Cusick & James Faulkner

Movies based on video games don’t have a great reputation. That’s because what might work in a game doesn’t exactly work on the big screen where you don’t have the benefit of a controller. However, even though we have yet to see a truly fantastic video game movie, fans of certain properties still manage to get excited for upcoming adaptations. 2007’s HITMAN was no different. Back when it was coming out (I was still in high school and playing video games on a semi-regular basis), I remember being stoked out of my mind to see this movie. So Thanksgiving weekend, I went with a couple of friends to catch a double-feature of HITMAN and THE MIST (the latter being a far superior film). Our feelings on HITMAN were mixed. Years later, having all but forgotten the film and with an upcoming reboot (due out on August 21) on the way, I rewatched this cinematic HITMAN adaptation.

Hitman 1

Meet Agent 47. He’s just your average workaholic who dresses nicely and constantly takes business trips to unique locations. However, 47 is slightly different from the average businessman. You see, he was bred from a young age by a mysterious organization to be a killer-for-hire. Said mysterious organization doesn’t exactly have any loyalties and 47 goes where the money pays. However, his latest assignment (the assassination of the Russian President) goes horribly awry. Despite apparently killing his target, it appears that there is something deeper and more mysterious going on. Agent 47 soon finds himself on the run with a damsel-in-distress in tow, while being hunted by an Interpol agent and his fellow assassins. Someone has put out a hit on our titular hitman, but who and for what purpose?

Hitman 2

HITMAN was a video game primarily made up of different assassinations that you would complete. These assignments could take you through dangerous foreign countries or into the backyard of a suburbanite. Needless to say that there wasn’t necessarily a ton of story and that paid off in spades as you could just have fun completing dangerous tasks and being the bad guy. This movie attempts to inject a solid plot into the screenplay, one that can carry a film for just over 90 minutes. The end result is a convoluted conspiracy thriller that tries to function with an action movie mindset. That combination doesn’t exactly blend well, because the movie gets so weighed down by its conspiracy plotline that it constantly forgets to indulge the mayhem and bloodshed (part of what made the games so fun).

Hitman 3

Though he’s become known for much bigger things since this film (cough, JUSTIFIED, cough), Timothy Olyphant is an okay anti-hero. He’s supposedly playing an emotionless shell of a human being (as one might be…especially if they were trained to be a contract killer from birth), but is more of an action hero as opposed to an intimidating assassin turned reluctant good guy. I can’t fault Olyphant too much for this, seeing as he isn’t exactly given a workable script or memorable dialogue. Dougray Scott is enjoyable as an Interpol agent, but his character proves to be utterly useless with the sole exception of padding out the running time a little more. The only other stand-out face/character of the cast comes in Olga Kurylenko as the damsel-of-distress in tow. It’s a bit odd that she’s essentially playing a Bond girl in a non-Bond film…and then went on to play a Bond girl in QUANTUM OF SOLACE…and then played another Bond girl in the non-Bond NOVEMBER MAN. There’s a bit of typecasting going on in her career, but she fits well into the role and makes the most she can of the overly familiar material.

Hitman 4

The quality of the visuals varies from scene to scene. While the beautiful locations are cool to look at, the camera too constantly flirts with shaky-cam, unnecessary flash-cuts, and forced slow motion. There are times and places to implement each of these techniques, but we don’t need to see Agent 47 pulling a pair of guns out of an ice chest in slow motion. Maybe, the shootout afterwards, but not necessarily the act of pulling the concealed weapons out. Much like the video games it’s based on, HITMAN has some graphic violence (blood spraying everywhere and even a few decapitated limbs). However, a movie titled HITMAN should definitely have more than three notable action scenes. The script gets so bogged down with its conspiracy thriller angle that I counted three memorable action scenes in total (two of which are wonderfully executed). My favorite moment has Agent 47 facing off against other hitmen aboard an abandoned subway train. From the trailer alone, it looks as if the upcoming reboot HITMAN: AGENT 47 has fixed the issue of minimal chaos and pandemonium (maybe becoming a little too ridiculous in the process).

Hitman 5

HITMAN is far from the worst video game movie that I’ve seen, but it’s a definite let-down from the source material. If you go into HITMAN expecting an action-packed thriller spanning across multiple countries, you’ll be disappointed as the movie doesn’t have more than three action scenes in the space of over 90 minutes. The performances are alright given the cliché-ridden storyline and the over-stylized flare (slow motion, flashes, and shaky-cam) can reach annoying degrees. However, the film looks good for the most part and isn’t necessarily infuriatingly bad. The two stand-out action sequences (not counting a lackluster final showdown) reveal how cool this whole damn film might have been if it had a better screenplay. As a whole, HITMAN is a strictly middle-of-the-road affair.

Grade: C

THE ABCS OF DEATH (2013)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 10 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

ABCsDeath poster

Directed by, Written by, and Starring: Too many to list

When ABCS OF DEATH was announced, anticipation was through the roof in the horror community. This sounded like an epic undertaking. 26 different directors (most of which had already carved out a well deserved reputation in the genre) were given a letter of the alphabet and $5,000 to make whatever they wanted. There were two rules: it had to involve death in some way and the death had to be related to a word starting with that letter of the alphabet. Can you see why many (including myself) were absolutely stoked to see this opus of violence, gore, and death run for two hours? Unfortunately, that’s not quite how it turned out. Free reign on creativity made for a film that’s very hit-or-miss. Some shorts are funny, some are creepy, a couple are downright nightmarish, and a lot range from bad to awful. The positive is that if you don’t like one then another is coming in a matter of minutes. However, there are only a handful I’d say are really worth watching. So I’m going short-by-short and awarding a grade for each. The final grade is the average for the entire film…

ABC A

A is for APOCALYPSE: A woman tries to kill her husband in a variety of ways and he doesn’t quite go down as easily as expected. This short shows off really awesome practical effects, but that’s about all it had to offer. The ending feels convoluted. Not exactly the stellar opening that one would hope for in a massive anthology about 26 ways to die. C

B is for BIGFOOT: A young couple are trying to get a little girl to go to sleep so they can have sex without being interrupted. Their solution is to tell her a scary story, but things don’t exactly work out in their favor. This segment was just alright. Had a good idea behind it, but it doesn’t exactly come off as well-done. The incorporation of the word “Bigfoot” also feels forced. It’s slightly better than A, but doesn’t exactly offer a whole lot either. C+

C is for CYCLE: A guy is hosing off his sidewalk and spots a puddle of blood. Trying to figure out where it came from, the guy finds himself in a waking nightmare. Though the ending sort of gives up before diving into anything mind-blowing or cool, the main idea is kind of neat. B-

ABC D

D is for DOGFIGHT: Shot in slow motion and lacking dialogue, DOGFIGHT is an awesome five-minute horror tale that delivers! A boxer is forced to fight a vicious canine in an underground fight club. Director Marcel Sarmiento makes the most of his limited budget and every single shot looks beautiful. Between this short and DEADGIRL, it seems like Marcel Sarmiento is a master storyteller of complex horror that is more than meets eye on surface level. This is the best segment of the entire film! A+

E is for EXTERMINATE: A guy encounters a fake-looking CGI spider on his wall and bad things happen. It’s a quick, predictable take on a well-known urban legend. This one is nothing special, new or fun. C-

ABC F

F is for FART: Many will argue that this is the absolute worst short of the bunch. While I can’t debate that it’s one of the worst short films I’ve ever seen, the crappiest segment is yet to come. This tale concerns a teacher and schoolgirl who love flatulence and things enter truly WTF territory about midway through. F

ABC G

G is for GRAVITY: Seriously, what was that?!? There’s nothing I can really say about this one because this segment doesn’t give me much to work with. D-

ABC H

H is for HYDRO-ELECTRIC DIFFUSION: Definitely one of the more creative letters of the bunch. Thomas Malling has an awesome imagination as seen in this live-action cartoon that incorporates stop motion, CGI, and absurd costumes. A WWII pilot dog is drinking at a bar only to be wooed by a dancing Fox who may have some dark ties to the enemy. This is as over-the-top as over-the-top can get, but it’s really frickin’ fun. B+

ABC I

I is for INGROWN: An underwhelming segment about a guy and a woman in a bathroom with a syringe. It’s pretentious, overly artsy, and tries to signify deeper meaning with an inner monologue. I just wasn’t digging the vibe this one was throwing my way. I wasn’t scared, creeped out or disturbed. This was just plain mediocre and annoying. D

J is for JIDAI-GEKI: Some of the Asian shorts in this anthology are terrible due to either not focusing on a horror vibe at all or just veering off completely in stupid WTF territory. This is actually one that I liked for the sheer absurdity of it. A samurai is executing one of his own, but keeps getting distracted by the silly faces his victim is making. It’s bound to be weird fun for some and awful for others. I found it to be fun. B

K is for KLUTZ: One of two animated segments, this one relies on childish potty humor. A woman takes a dump at a party and finds that her poo won’t flush. That’s the short and it’s just as terrible as it sounds. D-

ABC L

L is for LIBIDO: One of the best letters in the film and definitely the scariest (at least, for me). This demented little ditty comes from the sick mind of Timo Tjahjanto (of the best segment in V/H/S/2 and the upcoming KILLERS). A man wakes up half-naked and bound to a chair. Turns out he’s being subjected to a grotesque masturbation contest where losing means a horrible death. The kicker is that it becomes even more difficult and depraved with each passing round. This one goes into SERBIAN FILM territory at one point and is absolutely nightmarish. A graphic mini-masterpiece that’s sure to turn more than a few stomachs! A+

M is for MISCARRIAGE: Insulting in its pure laziness. Ti West is probably sitting somewhere with $4,999 dollars in his pocket, because it looks like this was shot on a cell phone and used noodles as a special effect. Godawful! F

N is for NUPTIALS: Short, sweet and to the point. This Thai segment focuses on a guy who buys a talking parrot for his girlfriend, but this backfires in a darkly hilarious way. You can probably guess how this one plays out from that one sentence description alone and you’re not far off. However, it’s still pretty entertaining. B

O is for ORGASM: Arthouse to its core, but haunting and beautiful. The gist of this segment isn’t fully given until the last few seconds. It’s an incredibly designed series of close-ups, quick shots and colors that winds up being one of the best segments of the film. A

P is for PRESSURE: A woman finds herself in a rough patch of life when her boyfriend doesn’t turn out to be the kind of person she thought he was. Told without any dialogue at all, this segment is headache inducing in the shaky camera work and quick editing. Simon Rumley crafted one of the best human horror stories in the last few years with RED, WHITE & BLUE, but this plot is also far from that level of quality. D+

Q is for QUACK: A super meta-segment about Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett trying to figure out how to make their short centered around the letter Q. It may not work for certain crowds, but I found Q to be very witty and an especially good use of the letter that everyone was probably hoping they wouldn’t get. B

ABC R

R is for REMOVED: The guy who made the most disturbing movie I’ve ever seen (A SERBIAN FILM), which is quite a feat I’ll have you know, disappoints in this utterly underwhelming piece of body horror. Surgeons are mutilating a guy and making film strips out of his flesh. I’m sure there was some deeper meaning aimed for here, but the entire segment is just plain middle-of-the-road at best. C-

S is for SPEED: From the guy who made DOGHOUSE, this short was just all around awful. Shaky camera work, a forced Grindhouse-ish feel to it and a bad twist that was a bit silly to say the least. A woman tries to outrun a hooded figure with a captive in the trunk of her car. It’s just plain bad. D-

ABC T

T is for TOILET: When his project was announced, there was a contest put into place for fans to submit their own short films for a chance to be featured in the final cut. The letter given to those entering the contest was T and these videos were all placed up on a website for viewers to vote on. It’s easy to see why Lee Hardcastle’s morbid claymation tale about a child’s fear of potty training was the winner. A lot of love, effort, and creativity was put into this darkly hilarious segment. I love it and it’s one of the absolute best letters! A+

ABC U

U is for UNEARTHED: A monster tale told from the point of the monster, this segment is downright awesome! It’s shot through the POV of a certain well-known beast of folklore and we never see a concrete view of this ghoul. Instead, Ben Whealey (KILL LIST) shows the viewer everything through the monster’s eyes. The effects used are impressive and there’s a heavy atmosphere hovering over the whole thing. The last perfect letter of the film! A+

V is for VAGITUS: In a technologically advanced future, a police officer is tasked with taking down unusual criminals. This segment almost seemed like a short film that was pitched to producers for a feature. The effects were so-so and the story itself is silly. This might have actually worked better as a feature rather than trying to compress all of these ideas into the span of five minutes. C-

W is for WTF!: It’s like a lame version of the letter Q. A group of filmmakers struggle over what the topic of their short for the letter W should be. Completely stupid and an utter failure. It literally seems like the filmmakers filmed themselves pitching ideas for W, added a few effects and called it a short. F

ABC X

X is for XXL: Goriest of the bunch, this segment is downright hard to watch at points for its sheer brutality. An overweight woman finds herself mocked wherever she goes, so she uses some home remedies to lose weight (namely a few sharp kitchen utensils). It’s purely torture porn, but succeeds in being beyond disturbing and very well-made! It almost feels like a really solid short story committed to film in a haunting way. A-

ABC Y

Y is for YOUNGBUCK: A boy goes on a hunting trip with a creepy old janitor. It doesn’t end well for either one of them. Stretching the name of good taste in this short for truly uncomfortable material at the center, it’s almost like Jason Eisener is playing a genuinely disturbing topic for laughs in a Grindhouse style (complete with synthesizer score). It’s not only offensively bad, but it’s also downright insensitive. D-

ABC Z

Z is for ZETSUMETSU: Without a doubt, ABCS OF DEATH goes out on the worst note imaginable. Incomprehensible and beyond stupid, I don’t think words can properly portray my hatred for this final segment. F

ABC Overall

As a whole, ABCS OF DEATH takes about 15 minutes to get going and then shows off it’s best short first (DOGFIGHT). From there on, it sporadically gains and loses momentum only to go out on two pretty awful final shorts. The only A-grade shorts I’d recommend checking out are: D, L, O, T, U, and X. Definitely avoid: F, G, K, M, S, W, Y and Z. The others range from solid to disappointing (as you can see in the paragraphs above). Overall, ABCS OF DEATH is a severe mixed bag. Just watch it on Netflix or Amazon Video and skip to the worthwhile shorts while avoiding the garbage.

Grade: C

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