18th Oct2014

Review Round-Up: The Pigman from Das Cabinet to The Void

by Phil Wheat

With so many films released on the run up to Halloween it’s been hard to keep up with reviews, so we’re going to play catch-up with another review round-up looking at some recent releases in brief. This time round we have reviews of Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari, Saints & Soldiers: The Void, The Island of Doctor Moreau, and The Pigman Murders.

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Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari

Stars: Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt, Friedrich Feher, Lil Dagover, Hans Heinrich von Twardowski, Rudolf Lettinger | Directed by Robert Weine

Synopsis: At a local carnival in a small German town, hypnotist Dr. Caligari presents the somnambulist Cesare, who can purportedly predict the future of curious fairgoers. But at night, the doctor wakes Cesare from his sleep to enact his evil bidding…

My thoughts: Along with Last Year in Marienbad and The 400 Blows, Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari was one of those “important” films that I, and my classmates, were forced to study, nay dissect, whilst on our Film Study degree course. You know the type of course, a course where you discuss the mise-en-scene, the diegetic and non-diegetic sounds. All those key tools of analysis which, in my five years as a film reviewer I have never used once! As such I’ve never approached Robert Weine’s film as just that, a film.

Until now.

Turns out if you don’t NEED to study every aspect of the movie and just enjoy it for what it is – a very early example of the horror genre – Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari becomes a thrilling, and (given its age) even creepy journey into a strange expressionist world that mesmerizes and confuses in equal measure. This is a film built on atmosphere, it oozes from every pore – be it the weird sets, the strange behaviour of the cast or the incredibly moody lighting – this is horror before there was what we, as modern audiences, know as horror. And at nearly 100 years old, there’s a reason this is studied on degree courses across the world.

Saints & Soldiers: The Void

Stars: Adam Gregory, Ben Urie, Bart Johnson, Timothy S. Shoemaker, Michael Todd Behrens | Directed by Ryan Little

Synopsis: Germany, May 1945, deep in the Harz Mountains a U.S. tank crew discovers a platoon of Germans preparing to ambush U.S. supply trucks. A deadly game of cat and mouse quickly unfolds as the Americans find themselves out-gunned and out-manned by three German tanks. Tension and fear begin to grow as the crew reluctantly decide they must stop the enemy from executing their deadly plan. Knowing that hundreds of lives are at stake they must put aside their differences and work together to fight a desperate battle against the greatest odds they have ever faced.

My thoughts: Apparently Saints & Soldiers: The Void is the third film in an 11-year old series. Who knew? Until we were sent the film review, out of the blue may I add, I had never even heard of Saints & Soldiers never mind the two sequels. Doing a little bit of research (thanks Wikipedia), the first film was originally released in 2003 and was followed by a prequel in 2012. And all three films come from the same director, Canadian Ryan Little, who also helmed Age of Dragons, the Syfy channel remake of Moby Dick that replaced whales with dragons and starred Danny (Lethal Weapon) Glover.

So why am I telling you all this?

Well all this preamble is literally to fill the word count. Otherwise this review would look a little sparse. After all the sentence “incredibly dull, badly acted mess” doesn’t seem like much of a review – even if it boils my feelings down into one succinct phrase. Fair enough there’s a nice bit of war action and the odd cracking battle scene but honestly there was nothing amazing, or even remotely outstanding, about this movie – it is an incredibly dull, badly acted mess.

The Island of Doctor Moreau (1977)

Stars: Burt Lancaster, Michael York, Nigel Davenport, Barbara Carrera, Richard Basehart, Nick Cravat, Bob Ozman, Fumio Demura | Directed by Don Taylor

Synopsis: Crewman Andrew Braddock (York) survives the wreck of the sailing ship The Lady Vain. After several days at sea in a lifeboat, he reaches the shores of an island governed by the mysterious scientist Dr. Moreau (Lancaster). Though welcomed as an honored guest by Moreau, Braddock finds his contact with the natives increasingly disturbing, for they are not like any men he has ever seen before. Eventually, it becomes apparent that these men are, in fact, the hybrid products of Moreau s experiments upon various species of wild animals. Braddock becomes so shocked and curious that Moreau explains to him that he has invented a serum with a genetic human gene that can transform many wild animals into human beings giving them human characteristics. Braddock finds himself threatened by both the manimals and the sinister Moreau, who he suspects has plans to experiment on him.

My thoughts: Whilst H.G. Wells film has never really translated well to the big screen, the 1977 version of the story – featuring barnstorming performances from both Burt Lancaster and Michael York; and then of course there’s stunningly sexy Barbara Carrera, which doesn’t hurt! – is at least one of the most “fun” iterations of the oft-told tale (it takes a large leak over the godawful John Frankenheimer film from 1996 that’s for sure).  Like Island of Lost Souls before it and Frankenheimer’s film after it, director Don Taylor and co. do take some liberties with the story, but there’s a real charm to this movie that helps it overcome any shortcomings.

Another worthy addition to 101 Films excellent “Cult Horror Collection”, The Island of Dr. Moreau is out now on DVD and Blu-ray.

The Pigman Murders

Stars: John Berry, Gerard Fallon, Eugene Horan, Mark Hutchinson, Ollie Keogh, Andrew Neenan, Trevor O’Neill | Directed by Stephen Patrick Kenny

Synopsis: On June 7th, 7 Irish lads headed into the wilderness of Connemara, Co. Galway for a weekend break in remembrance of their friend who died the year before. They brought with them a cameraman to film the trip as a present for their friends family. But all did not go to plan. Documented here is the horrific footage that was found 6 months later…

My thoughts: Originally titled Somebody’s There, The Pigman Murders is yet ANOTHER found-footage movie – so the usual caveats apply folks.

This one features a group of unlikeable idiots who piss off into the woods to get drunk, stoned, and otherwise off their heads – only they hire a cameraman to follow them! Er… what the hell? It’s a ridiculous concept to build a film around and it’s only made worse by the usual amateur-hour performances and crappy shaky-cam which is only made EVEN WORSE by yet more use of unwarranted filters – what is it with trying to make movies look like they’re shot through via instagram these days? Oh and then there’s the titular “Pigman”, who [SPOILER ALERT] turns out to be two dickheads in pig masks [END SPOILER].

I’ll hold my hands up, I watch and LOVE a lot of films my friends and work mates call out for being godawful examples of movie-making but even by my admittedly low standards The Pigman Murders is bad. Really bad. The type of film that will undoubtedly make many a “worst of 2014″ list… It’s definitely on mine!

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