Monday, January 30, 2012

Jump Cuts: The House of the Devil, Hellraiser, The Babe

Full reviews aren't right for all films - particularly ones that seem past the point of timely comment. These films are better off with bite-size opinionating. Let's call them "Jump Cuts."

The House of the Devil (2009)
Dir. Ti West

3.5 out of 5

An immediate sensation in the cultish world of horror aficionados,
The House of the Devil is a canny throwback to the vintage American splatter films of the 1970s and early 1980s, zeroing in on a comely co-ed (Jocelin Donahue) who takes an iffy babysitting job in a remote Victorian home and gets much more than she bargained for. The film hinges on a long, slow build of tension - literally over an hour - until erupting in a ending that's one sustained burst of violent mayhem. Writer/director/editor Ti West creates massive anxiety by constantly teasing the audience's expectations, even turning a goofy interlude set to the Fixx's "One Thing Leads to Another" into a nail-biting experience. And while some of the material comes across as blatant filler, West's technical skill and loving attention to detail are obvious. In this House, the waiting is the hardest - and best - part.

Hellraiser (1987)
Dir. Clive Barker

3.5 out of 5

Can a film be rightly remembered for the wrong reasons? It's a key question to consider in Hellraiser, Clive Barker's examination of sexual desire and dysfunctional human relationships in the context of a horror movie. When a married couple (Andrew Robinson and Clare Higgins) moves into a house previously inhabited by Robinson's brother-in-law (Sean Chapman), it rekindles Higgins' memories of her hedonistic affair with the prior tenant. She discovers that her lover has been transported to a realm of sadomasochistic torture after opening a mysterious puzzle box, and helps him slowly regenerate his body with freshly murdered corpses. Despite
its confounding mythology, the film has a uniquely transgressive vibe thanks in no small part to its disturbing imagery and subject matter. However, audiences have heaped attention on the former, particularly a group of S&M demons called Cenobites - mutilated harvesters of corrupt human souls - with enough appeal to sustain a nine-film Hellraiser franchise. There's no doubt that Barker's vision has been diluted by all the facsimiles, as well as his complicity in the rise of the "torture porn" subgenre. But the astonishing humanity of Hellraiser will always be there, proving that he's not just another sicko.

The Babe (1992)
Dir. Arthur Hiller

2 out of 5

A dubious exercise in fantasy casting, The Babe takes the Colossus of Clout and turns him into the Sultan of Snooze. John Goodman surely fits all the physical requirements to portray baseball legend George Herman "Babe" Ruth, but there's simply not enough of him to fill out the disappointing two-dimensional role. His gift for paternal softness mingled with quickly escalating rage works well when it's nuanced, but The Babe demands that he swing for the fences in every scene. There's an admittedly good arc in Ruth's life story, the archetypical "too much, too soon" athlete who achieves a belated sort of redemption and wins many laurels along the way. Yet the film persists in perpetuating old myths (that Ruth was sold from the Red Sox to the Yankees to cover the Boston owner's losses on Broadway) and portraying half-truths (the Babe calling his shot in the 1932 World Series) in the most turgid way possible. The Babe cuts too many corners to be worthy of its larger-than-life subject; by the end, it's sadly like the man himself, just going through the motions.

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