Archive for February, 2006

The Cave (2005)


Directed by: Bruce Hunt
Written by: Michael Steinberg & Tegan West
Starring: Cole Hauser, Morris Chestnut, Eddie Cibrian, Rick Ravanello, Marcel Iures, Kieran Darcy-Smith, Daniel Dae Kim, Lena Headey, Piper Perabo, and Vlad Radescu

I usually hate it when the cover of a DVD differs from the theatrical poster—especially if it’s a Sci-fi or Horror film. The theatrical poster (or one sheet) usually features an image that is meant to horrify or excite. The lightsaber sweeping through space on The Return of the Jedi poster. The ALIEN egg cracking open. The shadowy figure trapped within the goo of Chuck Russel’s The Blob. Yes, you can tell a lot about a film from a poster hanging in a theater lobby. But when a film comes to video, the DVD will often jettison the powerful marketing images of the one sheet in favor of headshots of the cast. This is especially true if there is a big star (see Tom Cruise’s mug on the War of the Worlds DVD) or a cast of young hotties (see Scream).

However, the poster for The Cave was nothing special. It was almost entirely black, with a single shaft of light that illuminated a rock wall, and skulls so tiny you had to squint to see them. Printed at the bottom was the tag line: “There are places man was never meant to go.” Judging by the domestic box office, people took the poster’s advice.

To entice these same non-movie-goers to pick up the DVD, new artwork was designed. The cover now shows the cast of the film floating in an underground lake, their flashlight beams shining down through the water to reveal an open mouth full of sharp teeth just below their kicking feet. While it’s better than the poster the studio shipped to the cinemas, it’s also highly derivative.

Remember how I said you could tell a lot about a movie from its poster?

It feels as if Michael Steinberg and Tegan West took elements of Jaws, Tremors, Predator, The Fly, Pitch Black, and a little classic called Trog, programmed them into script writing software, then hit “print.” Here’s what it came up with: A team of experts dive into a cave and are attacked by a creature (Predator/Trog). A scientist with the group determines the creature is an eating machine that is perfectly adapted to the environment (Jaws/Tremors). To complicate matters, an accident has trapped the group in the dark with the monsters, and a parasite is transforming the team leader into one of the creatures (Pitch Black/The Fly). The actors do the best they can with the lines they have been given, and fans of Invasion and LOST will love seeing Eddie Cibrian and Daniel Dae Kim as members of the team, but the script is not concerned with building character. These people are here for only one reason: they’re on the menu.

And what about those cave monsters? Director Bruce Hunt wants to hide them in the dark. When the actors do get around to shining light on them, we are granted quick glimpses of teeth or claws, or we’re shown the blur of a fast moving computer generated effect. Watching the film, you might think that Hunt was hiding a bad design, but a DVD extra that takes you inside the creature studio tells a much different story. These things are amazing! They are detailed, and huge, and scary, and it makes you truly angry that you were not given the opportunity to see more of them on screen.

The movie’s one saving grace comes not in the form of a man made creature, but in the beauty and wonder of what nature has forged. The producers wisely contacted Wes Skiles, who makes a living filming cave dives, to be their director of underwater photography. And the results are incredible and breathtaking to behold. We see divers glide across colorful rock formations, past odd shelves and jutting columns, and through stone arches no architect could replicate. It makes you long for an IMAX film of real-life exploration, and makes the rest of this movie seem all the more artificial.

Now, there were other words on that original movie poster, words that have been removed from the DVD release. They read: “Beneath heaven lies hell, beneath hell lies…The Cave.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Tomie (1999)


Directed by: Ataru Oikawa
Written by: Junji Ito (Comic)
Ataru Oikawa (Screenplay)
Starring: Miho Kanno, Mami Nakamura, Yoriko Douguchi, Tomorowo Taguchi, and Kouta Kusano

Sometimes it’s great to go into a film with no expectations. You’ve heard no spoilers, read no reviews. Hell, you may not have even heard the name of the movie before. Maybe all the copies of the latest blockbuster are gone. Maybe the cover just looks freaky—like something that might scare you to death. Whatever the reason, you take it home, pop it into your DVD player, and…whoa! You find a creepy little gem that makes you afraid to turn out the lights.

That’s the movie Tomie could have been.

The film starts off well. A boy walks down the sidewalk with a plastic shopping bag in his hand. Someone bumps into him and he quickly goes off to the side to make certain whatever he is carrying is unharmed. There is now a rip in the plastic, and we see a closed eye through it. Just as it sinks in that the boy is carrying a severed head, the demonic eye springs open. Cut to the opening credits and, in the background, we hear the strangest music ever produced. It sounds like a nursery rhyme, but it is garbled and played at an odd speed. The music alone sent a chill down my spine, and I said to myself, “This is going to be great!”

Sadly, the remainder of this tale never lived up to the creepy promise of its opening sequence.

Teenager Tomie Kawakami (Miho Kanno) was killed and dismembered as a result of a love affair gone bad. Her classmate, Tsukiko Izumisawa (Mami Nakamura), remembers nothing from that night, but she finds she has nightmares whenever she tries to sleep. Her doctor is trying to help her come to grips with these repressed memories and move on with her life. When people Tsukiko knows start turning up dead, however, it is obvious there is more at work here than bad dreams. Tomie has returned from the dead and come back for revenge.

Miho Kanno’s performance as Tomie is riveting. Her voice alternates between breathy seductress and giggling demon child. Her odd-shaped face is like that of a mask—a doll’s face. When she stares out of the screen, it raises the hairs on your neck. This works well for scenes of torture and menace, but it really makes you wonder why every man she meets falls instantly in love with her. I don’t know about Japanese men, but I normally don’t equate horribly creepy with sexy.

Writer/director Ataru Oikawa keeps things dark and mysterious, but his pacing is far too slow. His characters spend what seems like an eternity talking about horrible things that have happened, but we are shown few actual horrors. And when a police detective tells Izumisawa’s doctor that girls named Tomie Kawakami have appeared throughout history—that each and every time they have been killed and dismembered—the doctor acts as if this is nothing unusual. The tale eventually builds to a climax, and then rapidly spirals out of control—finally crashing with an ending that makes no sense in reality or even within the context of the film.

Tomie is based on a Japanese comic book or Manga, and there have been multiple sequels to this film in Japan. Normally, a sequel is never as good as the original, but it would be easy to take this concept and improve upon it. Miho Kanno’s Tomie could be the Japanese Freddy or Jason—a demon that can not die no matter what you do to try and kill it. If all the films are like this one, however, they should have quite while they were ahead.

2.5 out of 5 stars

“Goodnight” Named Best of the Year!

Michael West’s “Goodnight” has been named BEST HORROR SHORT STORY OF 2005 by the P&E Readers’ Poll.