Tag Archives: A History of Violence

The Films That Made Us — U-571

By Nathanael Griffis

Every film I’ve ever seen has had some personal impact; it is simply the degree of impact that differs. I would argue, that it is the point of something artistic, to have a personal impact. Art is meant to reach out to a viewer and affect them somehow. Quality does not necessarily lead to impact. Citizen Kane is one of the best films I have ever seen, but it does nothing for me personally. This does not diminish its value as art. It is simply to state that personal impact is just that, personal and not tied to quality. I love the film Troll 2  because of all the Friday nights I’ve spent sharing this film with friends, but it is undoubtedly one of the worst films ever made.

Still, one film has always stayed with throughout my life: U-571. This is by no means the best film I’ve seen, or even my favorite, but I’ll always love it for what it meant to me and what it still means to me. It was late April 2000 and I was on spring break. I had always liked films, but truth be told I was a bookworm and saw movies simply as entertainment. I liked Schwarzenegger movies, Star Wars and Indiana Jones, Monty Python, and that was about it. Movies with kissing were lame, stupid, and girly, and as such to be avoided. Basically, I was a teenage boy.

 

 

I saw U-571 in the theaters on opening weekend, which was unusual for me. I know you expect me to say I came out of the film changed, that my vision toward film or something was shaken, but the truth is U-571 is not that kind of film. What was important to me was that I went with my Dad and a friend of his who was visiting in town. This mattered to me greatly, because they let me choose and I trusted my instincts, which turned out to be good. We all enjoyed it. I remember my father’s friend and my father turning to me as we left:

“Good pick, Nate, that was one intense film. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time,” my father’s friend said.

“Yeah Nate, that was a good movie. I’m glad we saw it. You did a good job picking that one,” my father said.

Now sure, we could say this is nothing more than a clichéd response to liking a film. Where’s the depth right? Shouldn’t I be talking about a movie that resulted in a long three-hour conversation over coffee and left me a different person? No, sorry. This film matters more than most others, because I had chosen a film and people I respected enjoyed it. It lifted me up and made me realize that my opinion mattered and that I could contribute. For a child this is a profound moment; this is truly a moment when one finds an important aspect of one’s identity. It had little to do with the film, which I still think is fantastic and has some of the most intense scenes in film. It had everything to do with the idea that I could choose a good film.

How many times do we look at kids and discount their opinions, because they’re kids. Hey, it’s cute that they watch silly Disney Channel shows. We throw away what they like and neglect to even give anything from music, books, or movies that they enjoy proper consideration. It meant so much to me to know that my Dad respected me and thought I’d made a good decision. It made me feel like an adult. It made me realize I mattered. Teenagers’ opinions are brushed off and thought of as ridiculous fads (sometimes rightly), so much so that we sometimes see adolescence itself as a fad of sorts. We see it as a phase that a person just needs to get through until they matter and can start contributing.

U-571 made me want to love films more, but not because of its filmmaking prowess, the depth charges, Matthew McConaughey or Harvey Keitel’s acting, or that insane scene where McConaughey willingly sacrifices one of his men to save the rest. It was because I wanted that affirmation. Simply put, I wanted people to like me. I wanted my Dad to be proud of my choices. It seems trivial and if I look at it objectively it is, but I’m a person and people are subjective. I have since seen at least 100 more films that are better and have a strong impact on me. WALL-E reminds me of the amazing bond and value of love and friendship. Up in the Air spoke to me when I was in a time of personal struggle between being single or in a healthy relationship. A History of Violence made me reevaluate my ideas about violence in film and in life completely. A Beautiful Mind gave me hope in my own ability to conquer whatever challenge was set before me. Singin’ in the Rain is nothing short of good memories of my family and sheer elation on screen. Finding Neverland helped me address issues of imagination and reality and their relationship to mortality.

None of these matter more to me than the simple act of my father being proud of me.

Expectations — Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

By Nathanael Griffis

Hyperbole is fun, but it’s also the cute girl that flirts with you at the bar for drinks and then says no to dinner. Not that I’m bitter or that that’s ever happened… Anyways moving on, sometimes I find myself getting carried away with how excited I get for a movie and use hyperbole. I might expect it to be another stupid romantic comedy with no depth and a waste of my precious time and then discover that The Notebook is a great movie. On the other hand, when all the trailers tell me a film is going to be the best comic book movie ever made and I really want Matthew Vaughn to be a good director, then sometimes our hearts are rendered to shreds of… I don’t know, X-Men: First Class was just bad, it didn’t really scar me.

My expectations and how they influence my viewing experience has always fascinated me. Do I like The Notebook more because I didn’t expect to like it, and because the depth or characters surprised me? Was the problem with X-Men: First Class my desire for it to be good or its failure to be good? Our expectations are powerful things, and don’t think for a moment studios don’t know this. That’s why trailers can sometimes be more exciting than the films themselves. If enough good buzz is generated about a film people will see it. On Buried Cinema we did an entire podcast that dealt with this issue after we saw Catfish. I’d sum it up for you, but then you wouldn’t watch the podcast. I will say this, though: the directors of Catfish are now horror directors. I’m happy for them, no doubt, but Catfish is a not a horror movie. The way the film was advertised, though, was almost like a horror film, and you can imagine that that comes with certain expectations.

How stupid am I, this poster clearly screams middling documentary.

What I’d like to do, from here on out, is look into those expectations and try and determine how they affect my film watching experience. I’m going to drown myself in introspective metacognitive processes (i.e., probably just babble a lot) and try to discern, if at all possible, some of the connections between what we expect from a film and how we then judge it.

How this’ll work is simple. I’ll watch a film I’ve never seen before, but before doing that I’ll analyze what advertisement I’m given: posters, trailers, clips of the film, screen shots, probably not everything but enough to get a gist of the film. Then I’ll see what critics have to say. What does the mighty Internet tell us about this film? Is it highly regarded? Is it the kind of film that divides friendships? Does it involve people staring at each other for hours? I’ll sum up my expectations into a sort of hypothesis. Then I’ll watch the film and say my piece. Consider this the results and analysis section, so now it’s got scientific pretensions.

To start us off I’m going with a movie that has a whopper of expectations for me personally: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

My expectations: This’ll be a shorter article than the next few I suspect1 but perhaps deserves as much space as those that follow. The fact is I’ve been waiting for this movie for at least two years. After watching Let the Right One In, I was stunned that a film like that could be made. It was full of depth and perfectly crafted. There wasn’t a flaw in it. Every cut mattered, every performance was airtight and convincing. It transcends the sense that you’re watching a film and engages you in a shared experience. I know, I know, that all sounds very fluffy and as philosophical as it is nonsensical, but I believe it’s the truth and you won’t convince me otherwise. Although bribed with a cookie, I will gladly say otherwise.

It wasn’t long after that I heard Tomas Alfredson, who directed Let the Right One In, was working on an adaptation of John le Carré’s novel Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. I immediately went and told all my friends and it was at this point I began to suspect I am the only John le Carré fan under 50 years old. (These suspicions, by the way, were further indicated by the silver-haired audience I sat with tonight.) My friends did not care, but the fire for espionage and paranoia continued to bubble within my blood. Then mysteriously, casting began to leak: Colin Firth, Gary Oldman, Mark Strong, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Ciarán Hinds, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hardy. Clearly Britain has heard of John le Carré. It was like they were making this movie just for me. A stupendous trailer followed that told me nothing except that there was a spy, a mole, at the head of British Intelligence, and suddenly, with as much seemingly swift power as the anticipation had, there was silence and disappointment. My small upstate New York town was not deemed important enough to receive this gem of movie.

Best Poster Ever, nope, Best Poster Ever.

The time and waiting I think built up my expectations; it drove my thirst for a slow-paced, realistic spy thriller. Enough Jason Bourne. I wanted a real spy, an old tired man with a briefcase who goes over files and tapes photos to chess pieces, yeah sexy. Lack only strengthened my desire. It was like the theater deliberately didn’t want me to see this movie and, like a child being forbidden, my thought was that the verboten must by amazing, for all adults are selfish and want to keep all the fun to themselves. So I started to devise this theory. An idea began to creep up in my head. Hyperbole dripped down through my nerves till it fed every bone in my body. I was convinced, plainly, simply, deludedly, that Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was the greatest movie ever made.

With all honesty those were my expectations going into the film. I was about to watch something that would leave Citizen Kane in the celluloid dust, a film that wouldn’t even blink at Raiders of the Lost Ark, a movie that redefined violence previously exposed in A History of Violence, a movie that struck my heart deeper than Singin’ in the Rain, a film that better understood the craft of filmmaking than WALL-E, something more eternal than Casablanca. So, not a big deal right?

The Result: The best movie of the year. One of the best films I’ve ever seen. But, the best movie ever made? No. Let’s return to the pretty girl metaphor. Forgotten it already because of my stirring prose, I’ll remind you. A pretty girl flirts with you, your hopes travel wildly down the path of the delirious lie that is the male imagination. A single thought drips down a stalactite in far reaches of your brain: perhaps. Perhaps what? Perhaps anything, and that is what is so engaging. This could be the one. She’s pretty smart… and she says yes to dinner. Then comes dinner and it’s wonderful. You have salad, she orders steak, it’s fancifully contradictory. The sad thing is it never really becomes all those amazing things your imagination thought up, does it? Still, it’s something worth treasuring. This film is like that.

Saying a movie is one of the best ever made, a Top 100 film, is not an insult, but it’s a long way from the best. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is, to review the film as a whole, astoundingly perfect. There is a haunting combination of cinematography and sound, a blend of acting and directing like I’ve never seen, and the sharpest editing and script this year or in several years. Alfredson does some amazing things with the camera. He on several occasions pulls back, which seems minute and a simple small choice, but it’s a brilliant subtle reference to the larger picture. We, like the characters, will at first only see a small glint of the truth, but once we stand back…well, you’ll come to realize that perhaps there is still farther back to step. Nothing is completely cleaned up or solved; most things are, but the loose ends and questions remain. There is still farther back we could step, but won’t or can’t. There is a limit to perception, and we have to content ourselves with such limits.

The film is not simple. It’s complex and realistic. There is no over-hyped Bourne tension. No globetrotting action scenes. These are quiet, nervous men with guns, reading books. My father said, as we drove from the theater, “They’re real spys: men getting killed over dangerous, boring things.” He’s right, and it adds a sense of realism to the film that is backed up by le Carré’s past as a commander in British Intelligence. The performances are the best I’ve seen all year. Each man is a unique picture of caged, controlled, and unleashed emotion. Gary Oldman deserves the Oscar, but if Brad Pitt wins I won’t throw a fit. I will, however, if Alberto Iglesias doesn’t win for his score and Tom Brown and Zsuzsa Kismarty-Lechner don’t win for their art direction.

I don’t want to give anything away, yet I suspect that even if I did it might still stand on its own. This is a film for film-lovers, and a film to make a film-lover out of you.

Analysis: So were my expectations met? No, but I think they impacted my view greatly. Trying to be unbiased with this film is impossible. I honestly cannot see any way I would have disliked this film. If something catastrophic, like a random car chase and Hollywood slow-motion suddenly crept up and ruined the film, I would have brushed it off as the producers’ fault. Excuses would have been made for missteps, and the film would have still ended up on my shelf. I just got lucky that it’s a spectacular film. It wouldn’t surprise me if my views aren’t agreed with, but I think I can chalk that up to the difference in expectation perhaps. A viewer expecting something akin to Jason Bourne, Ethan Hunt, or James Bond, will be befuddled when actions scenes are limited to a few frames. People expecting closure, but perhaps a sequel teaser at the end, will be grasping for answers to a serpentine plot that may come full circle or not. It’s a hard film to dislike, because I think expert artistry is simply noted and appreciated, but not free of the shackles of  bias and expectation. But are any?

 

1: I said this before I finished writing the piece, so this is probably how long they’ll be. If they’re not, I’m clearly even more of a pompous verbose ass than I think I am.

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Korean Cinema: I Saw the Devil

By Nathanael Griffis

I Saw the Devil is a classic revenge thriller–the man seeking revenge normally sees reflected in himself aspects of the killer. We know the story: psychopath rapes and kills the fiancé of a secret agent who then goes on a spree of morally compromising actions, becoming more and more like the psychopath himself. The only thing is, the secret agent Kim Soo-hyeon seems to have taken a page from Edmond Dantès and toys with his psychopathic victim by catching and releasing him.

Byung-hun Lee about to do some revenge gardening.

Eventually succumbing to the thrill of the kill and drifting into psychosis himself, Soo-hyeon (played by Byung-hun Lee) is different from most revenge thriller protagonists in his complexity. He doesn’t lose his soul entirely like Edmond Dantès, become a heroic martyr whose actions are justified like John Creasy in Man on Fire, or stay morally ambiguous in the vein of Dirty Harry. His shrinking humanity and the consequences to his remaining loved ones who become victims of the psychopathic Kyung-chul (played by Min-sik Choi) keep him grounded. The final shot is of Soo-hyeon walking away crying, but with just a hint of a satisfied smile. Revenge has ultimately not left him fulfilled; it hasn’t brought back his fiancé; it’s only brought more pain and suffering to those around him, but it was necessary.

The acting is superb in this film. Min-sik Choi probably shouldn’t be allowed out in public around blunt objects, or sharp objects for that matter, or how about we just scrap the whole thing and keep him in a little actor box where we let him out to portray some skin-peelingly horrifying role. From Oldboy­ to Lady Vengeance, he’s one haunting performer with a frightening penchant for using hammers. Simply put, he’s one the best actors in South Korea, if not the world.

Min-sik Choi doing something. Sometimes it's better if you don't ask.

Byung-hun Lee stretches himself a bit here. He’s not just a pretty-boy action star like he was in G.I Joe or The Good, the Bad, the Weird. He can deliver a menacing glare well and works up some tears. It’s not a tour de force, but he’s worthy of praise for stepping out of a comfort zone and never reducing himself to his sex appeal. The rest of the cast is fine, but given little to do other than scream in pain, whimper, look confused, or do cop stuff like yell at Soo-hyeon and allow him to do what they can’t.

This movie is a mixed bag. Unlike a lot of revenge thrillers, this one is clearly in the horror genre. Director Jee-woon Kim was doing something new with The Good, the Bad, the Weird; he’s more known for grisly horror thrillers like A Tale of Two Sisters and A Bittersweet Life, but I kind of prefer his entertaining action. Perhaps it speaks to his talent as a horror director, but he’s knows just how far to push the gore envelope. Several scenes in this movie had me cringing and reaching for the remote, but just as I was ready to fast-forward, skip, or shut it down, he’d cut away. It was scary how much this got in my head. My imagination started to play with me and I no longer needed his grisly presentation. He knows what to show and what not to show. It’s more horrifying to see Min-sik Choi dragging a plastic-lined box of appendages across the screen than seeing him chop up a body.

Still, the gore felt a little too excessive. The presentation was done with a enough professional touches and skill that it horrified and sickened to the right degree without feeling exploitative, but the concurrent violent scenes did become visually deafening. Revenge thrillers, and horror films for that matter, are better when the violence and gore are focal points, staggered between moments of calm that horrify you. This is the basic reason Paranormal Activity is so affecting. The viewer comes to dread the night scenes, because they want to return to the peace of the day. There are really only three scenes of violence in A History of Violence, plenty of father-son time in Road to Perdition, and even Sweeny Todd has songs that don’t involve throat-slitting. There are not enough peaceful moments in I Saw the Devil, so it rockets forward and becomes more of a chase movie. By the end I had had enough of the gore, and it took away from the performances and the over-arching theme, which I do think is a deeper look at revenge. Kim should have taken a page from Chan-wook Park’s Vengeance Trilogy, which is extreme in its violence but has enough calm story-building to allow for an enjoyable viewing experience. There’s only so many times one can watch a skull get bashed in or someone stabbed with random hardware.

There’s also the issue of plot holes. The police seem unwilling or incapable of stopping either Kyung-chul or Soo-hyeon, even though at several occasions they have the option to do so, including a moment where Kyung-chul willing surrenders and they inexplicably wait three minutes for Soo-hyeon to show up. It felt really forced. Then there’s Soo-hyeon’s strange insistence to drive on the wrong side of the road in an attempt to cause traffic accidents. Despite popular opinion, you don’t get to the bad guy quicker by dodging oncoming SUV’s.  The characters also seem immortal until the director Kim decides they’re not. It apparently is not a big deal to have you skull cracked, Achilles tendon ripped out, several stab wounds, broken wrists, and stepping on a fish hook to boot. I mean I think I could wage war with a secret agent with those sorts of injuries, right?  These sorts of faux pas were charming and fit in The Good, the Bad, the Weird; they added to the comic aesthetic and allowed Kim to stage some amazing action scenes. Here they seem out of place and distracting. They only convolute the plot and weaken what are interesting characters.

Psst... psst... behind you....

As a horror thriller, this movie’s pretty good. It’s kind of disappointing to see Kim’s ability to get good performance from actors and frame some wonderful shots ruined by plot holes and the laws of biology and physics (stupid science ruins all the fun). In the end though it’s his own fault for focusing too much on the violence, which overruns the interesting ideas of monstrous actions demanding monstrous responses, the line between humanity and psychosis, and the universality of pain (even killers have families that a certain unhinged secret agent could harm). Unless you’re a connoisseur of foreign horror, or just horror for that matter, I would avoid this film. It’s not easy or enjoyable to watch, and the little art that shines through is not worth the images you have to bear. If horror’s your genre, there is a lot to learn from Jee-woon Kim’s execution of several scenes, but the overall package is a little light of substance.

Korean films: a look back.

By Nathanael Griffis

A while back someone, I believe it was Steve, asked me if I could identify any patterns in Korean filmmaking after watching a few Korean films in a row. They all speak Korean and there’s a lot more kicking than in American movies, I thought. Neither truly felt accurate, and I doubt I’ll be able to give an accurate description of prevailing themes, styles, techniques, or ideas.  I did, though, begin thinking about my whole experience and how to discuss Korean films in a general sense, at least as much as one can after having seen ten films. There were five main things I took away from this experience that I was impressed with in Korean films: little color correction, strong female characters, bold unhampered violence, a concern for the framed shot, and experimentation especially in editing for narrative. These things are not unique to Korean cinema, but they stood out to me as something that was of a primary concern within most of the films I watched.

This is the country I've been talking about.

The lack of color correction–by which I mean no computer enhanced color palette (i.e. Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd’s gray scale and red palette, O Brother, Where Art Thou?’s sepia palette, Amélie’s sun-drenched yellow and green, or the blisteringly annoying steely blue of most sci-fi action films like Transformers)–was refreshing. At first it was disconcerting in Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance; it felt unpolished. I grew to really appreciate it though, in that film especially, because it lends a realistic feel to the images . Color correction isn’t hard to do. It’s a matter of a few dials, buttons, and toggle switches and you’re all set, so this is not something beyond the filmmakers’ abilities. They consciously choose to shoot with realistic tones. This style is a rarity in American filmmaking. I’m not calling for them to change; I like the difference between the two countries. The use of color correction signals certain themes and genres and allows a director another added level of artistic control. It can be annoying though, especially in poorly made sci-fi and horror, when the color scheme is simply there because that’s the accepted color scheme of a genre. It’s even more annoying on television where, with the exception of reality TV, most procedurals on CBS are given blue tones (just watch an episode of CSI), ABC is garnished with reds and greys, and FOX tends to go with whatever the genre calls for. Sometimes, all the color correction done needlessly all the time becomes tired so I appreciated these films’ decisions to avoid it.

Strong female characters are another large cross-cultural difference. Korea, as I understand it, is much more of a matriarchal society than America, which is almost so individualistic as to be neither patriarchal nor matriarchal, but we tend to slide towards the male-dominated end of character development. Every film I watched, with the exceptions of The Good, the Bad, the Weird and Painted Fire, had female characters at the focal point of the film, and they had depth that is rarely seen in American movies. When a film like Black Swan, which presents strong complex female leads, is released in America, it’s seen as daring and different. (Mind you, Black Swan is daring and different for so much more than just strong female characters, but you get my point.)

In case I never mentioned it, Kang-ho Song = amazing.

Films like Lady Vengeance, Mother, My Sassy Girl, and 3-Iron were striking. The difference to me is that both sexes are given equal consideration and complexity. Female character are not used to bolster the male character, but to play off of each other. The actress’s story is just as important as the actor’s. There is little sense, except in Painted Fire, that women are objects men use, or that men are objects strong women use. Having strong, well-written characters of both genders has removed objectification to some extent in these cases. (Mind you, I’m watching what is considered the best of Korean cinema; it could be different if I watched less highly regarded films.) This is something I wish American films would take a cue from, because strong female characters just improve your story as a whole.

Something where both countries are similar though is in their presentation of bold unhampered violence. By this I mean that violence isn’t pulled away from. It’s a visual experience that causes a visceral reaction. American films have always been preoccupied with violence. It is sometimes a popular criticism of them, but both countries have been moving towards a stark presentation of violence. The Coen Brothers’ No Country for Old Men is the perfect example of this. Along with David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence, we’re seeing more realistic violence in film. The difference is that violence is forthrightly presented as more horrifying instead of the slow-motion glorification of the late 80’s and early 90’s. This is not the period of the John Woos and John McTiernans of earlier.

Korean films follow this trend as well–Chan-wook Park, Ji-woo Kim, and Joon-ho Bong especially. Ji-woo Kim is unique in this category, because he still seems to be glorifying violence and presenting an enjoyable spectacle in The Good, the Bad, the Weird, but he uses the stark violence to make the presentation more fluid and exciting. Park’s use of violence is without a doubt horrifying and grotesque at times, while Bong has a sense of grace and beauty built around the extent of the violence he is willing to show. I personally prefer this style and technique for presenting violence. Gore should disturb; it should frighten the audience. We should cringe and turn away from it, not jump up and clap. (I say this, yet I still love a good action flick, but that’s my own personal struggle to contend with.)

The final two things I noticed go together: a strong concern for the framed shot (which most American cinematographers and filmmakers still have) and a desire for experimentation go together. The things Chan-wook Park and Ki-duk Kim do with editing to control the movement of time in their film is fascinating. All of their films have a strong sense of framing. Every detail is placed within the frame for a purpose. This is more than merely skilled filmmaking; it’s really a persistence to continue bettering the art of film. Ji-woon Kim reminds me of early Spielberg, with a panache for exciting stories and a gift for visual presentation. Joon-ho Bong is like Robert Altman reborn and mainstreamed. Chan-wook Park has the gifts of Martin Scorsese, if Scorsese made sci-fi horror movies. I think these filmmakers will be studied in the future for their editing and framing and their impact on film as an art form.

The greatest thing I’ve taken away from this experience is a greater love for the universality of film. Everyone loves stories, and films are such an amazing way to present something as dense as a novel but only as time-consuming as a short story. I want to keep watching more. I missed several, like J.S.A., Peppermint Candy, Simodo, The Man from Nowhere, Secret Sunshine, A Bittersweet life, The Show Must Go On, Barking Dogs Never Bite, and Thirst. If I had to recommend one film that you must watch from the ten I saw, it would have to be Memories of Murder–it’s an amazing and unique experience in film. If there’s one I’m sure people will love, it’d be The Good, the Bad, the Weird.

I don’t know what I’ll do next, but that’s half the excitement of writing.

30 Days of Madness, Day 13: The Fly

The Fly (1986) Screenplay by Charles Edward Pogue and David Cronenberg, from a short story by George Langelaan. Directed by Cronenberg. Starring Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis, John Getz, and a baboon.

“Dear heaven, what else did he have stored in that cabinet? It looked sort of like… and I wanted to rewind and see… but then again I don’t… and I think I’ll just move on now.” This is what I wrote down immediately following a scene in which Jeff Goldblum’s mutated character Seth Brundle starts losing his teeth. He carries his “relics” over to his medicine cabinet and opens it, where we see the ear he lost earlier. The camera pans over a few other discarded body parts, leaving what exactly else he’s lost to the imagination, and it is one of the most horrifying moments in a film full of some of the most horrifying images ever created for a film.

I became a fan of David Cronenberg very late in his career with his near-perfect films A History of Violence (2005) and Eastern Promises (2007), each featuring an amazing performance by Viggo Mortensen, at a time when the director was moving away from the fantasic horror upon which his career was built. I’m familiar with most of his work from the mid-90s on, but this is my first attempt at watching something from what might be seen as the height of his career in horror cinema.

The Fly is based on the same short story as the 1958 film of the same name, but goes in a much more horrifying, and much more post-1960s, direction. It was in the 1970s that “body horror” really started to gain momentum. Horror directors were going for broke exploring the very human fear of one’s own flesh–aging, mutation, zombification, aberrant sexuality. Cronenberg was at the forefront of that movement with films like Shivers (1975), Rabid (1977), The Brood (1979), Scanners (1981), and Videodrome (1983)–all films he directed from his own original scripts. The Fly was the first film offered to him by a studio as an already-completed script, and thank God he eventually accepted.

Believe it or not, this creature effect manages to elicit an incredible amount of sympathy at the end.

The Fly is absolutely one of the greatest horror films ever made. I won’t go into detail on how the plot unfolds, but Jeff Goldblum is perfectly cast as the eccentric scientist who mutates into a human-fly hybrid, the makeup and visual effects are some of the best from the era (special props to Chris Walas and Stephen Dupuis who won most deserved Oscars for their creature effects), and the screenplay is full of wonderful dialogue and literary allusions. This is, however, not a film for weak stomachs. My only negative criticism is that the film ends rather abruptly, and leaves a truly intriguing plot thread hanging. Otherwise, it would have been a perfect film.

My Netflix rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

–Tom Kapr