Just in time for the global economic morass comes a pitiless British horror thriller that pits a well-to-do middle-class couple on holiday against nasty kids from the local working-class community who don’t limit themselves to throwing rocks and abusive language. Distressing images of fear and brutalization on the film’s posters should keep most adults away, but for anyone into horror or British cinema, this is the pick of the week. Comparisons have been drawn with Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left, a notoriously vicious horror milestone from 1972 that was never released in Taiwan. House’s inspiration, Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring (1960), screened here a few weeks ago, however, and that title’s similarity to Eden Lake can’t be a coincidence.
The Midnight Meat Train
Clive Barker hit his bankable peak in the late 1980s when a number of his grim horror tales were turned into films, most famously Hellraiser, which Barker also directed. The Midnight Meat Train is a short story from his Books of Blood that started it all, and stars ex-soccer star Vinnie Jones as a beefy killer prowling an American subway late at night as a photographer tries to track him down. Like Eden Lake, this film has higher ambitions and attention to style (including an excellent poster), possibly thanks to the presence of Japanese director Ryuhei Kitamura (Azumi, Versus). Also stars Brooke Shields.
Orochi – Blood
The week’s third horror outing is a more stately, elegant and restrained affair from Japan. Based on a work by horror manga specialist Kazuo Umezu, this film explores the sinister underpinnings of beauty as an actress mother takes a strange young female visitor into her home with a curse. Japanese gothic horror or baroque horror might be too crude a description, but the visuals are lush and detailed, and the satirical message of female physical decay from age 30 has resonance in Taiwan in particular. This Umezu adaptation comes courtesy of Hiroshi Takahashi, the writer responsible for the Ringu films, and horror director Norio Tsuruta.
Not quite horror, but close. A parable of political servitude sees a legless Afghan child from a comfortable family use a poverty-stricken child in the neighborhood as the “horse” of the title for a daily pittance. As time goes on, the brutalities mount and the “horse” ... becomes one. Robert Koehler, reviewing the film for Variety, lent the film some notoriety of his own when he wrote “anger is likely to be directed at [award-winning director Samira Makhmalbaf] herself rather than at her subject, totalitarianism. Pic will raise festival howls and walkouts, with distribs certain to consider it untouchable,” because of the apparent suffering of the actors. Aha, but not in Taiwan, Mr Koehler.
Not quite horror, but very close. A cop-turned-pimp searches for one of his hookers after she is tortured and left for dead by a hitherto reliable client. Problem is, everyone who is supposed to do this rescue work for a living is corrupt, incompetent or ill-willed. This is a serial killer thriller with horrific elements (and a restricted rating) from South Korea that treats the audience with keen intelligence and the establishment with utter contempt. It was a monstrous hit at home.
Morgan Freeman, who rejoins director Mimi Leder after their work together in Deep Impact, stars as an aging thief who returns from retirement for, all together now, one ... last ... heist. Antonio Banderas is his younger partner and foil who is attracted to Freeman’s goddaughter (Aussie actress Radha Mitchell) in addition to some almost priceless Faberge Eggs. The rest of the story writes itself. Also known as Thick as Thieves, this one is struggling to secure a US release date.