Tuesday, May 8, 2012

New on DVD/Blu-ray: MOTHER'S DAY (2012), THE SHOCK LABYRINTH (2009)

(US, 2012)

Completed in 2009 and released in a handful of "select exclusive theaters" five days ago, director Darren Lynn Bousman's (SAW II-IV, REPO: THE GENETIC OPERA) very loose remake of the 1980 hillbilly horror cult classic loses the backwoods redneck element and turns it into a suburban home invasion thriller.  It's ludicrous but alright for about an hour before taking an abrupt exit at Rob Zombietown and never finding its way back.  A get-together at the home of Jaime King and Frank Grillo, still grieving over the tragic death of their son, is interrupted by a family of bank robbers who owned that very house before losing it in foreclosure.  The criminals eagerly await the arrival of Mother, played with committed gusto by Rebecca De Mornay.  The robbery didn't go as planned, and now they need $10K to get out of town and hold all the houseguests captive while they figure out what to do.  This DESPERATE HOURS situation is never plausible, but it's watchable until it just gets sick and twisted for no reason other than Bousman realizing he made three SAW films and is remaking a film that caused a stir for being sick and twisted.  This MOTHER'S DAY flies off the rails the moment De Mornay decides to make one of the female hostages (Briana Evigan) take her gunshot-wounded son's (Matt O'Leary) virginity.  It doesn't work, because he's too injured to perform, but not before De Mornay tries fondling him erect.  Really, Bousman? 

Scott Milam's script just gets dumber from there.  The hostages have plenty of chances to get the upper hand (like when De Mornay and trigger-happy son Warren Kole dance to Roger Miller's "Do Wacka Do" and everyone's too obliviously busy watching two bickering hostages brawl), but only try anything when it's completely impossible, because otherwise the film couldn't be stretched out to 112 minutes with about nine climaxes and a terrible ending.  And this takes place in a neighborhood, but somehow, the screaming, the gunshots, and the commotion attract no attention.  There seems to be one cop on duty in the whole town.  Plus, there's a bunch of news and radio reports throughout the film of a tornado warning, with the twister on its way, but it must've taken the scenic route because it never comes.  De Mornay's performance almost makes this worth seeing, even if she's basically playing her HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE character two decades later.  She's always been an underrated actress and she's pretty terrific here, whether she's cozily sweet-talking her hostages with an evil gleam in her eyes, or the way she delivers Mother's cutting remarks.  The bit where she takes a quick look at Evigan's extensive tattoos and, just from that, condescendingly sneers "Hmm...must've been rough after your father left," is priceless.  It's too bad the film isn't up to her level. (R, 112 mins).

(Japan/The Netherlands, 2009)
(2012 US release)

Reportedly Japan's first 3-D horror film, the largely loathed THE SHOCK LABYRINTH took three years to get a straight to-DVD/Blu-ray release in the US (there's also a 3-D Blu-ray available).  Directed by J-horror auteur Takashi Shimizu (JU-ON, THE GRUDGE, MAREBITO), THE SHOCK LABYRINTH has proven wildly unpopular with horror fans, whose comments on IMDb (where it has an average rating of 3.9 out of 10) essentially dismiss it as  "JU-ON for the under-12 set." THE SHOCK LABYRINTH's biggest crime seems to be that it's not the film Shimizu's fans wanted it to be.  In a time-fractured narrative, college-aged Ken (Yuya Yagira) is visiting childhood friends and couple Motoko (Ryo Katsuji) and blind Rin (Ai Maeda), when they get an unexpected visit from Yuki (Misako Renbutsu).  Yuki is in hospital garb and disoriented, and they haven't seen her in ten years.  They aren't even sure it's her.  They take Yuki to her sister Miyu (Erina Mizuno), who can't believe she's seeing Yuki, and their mother, who seems to have lost all connection with reality, doesn't even acknowledge she's there.  When Yuki is injured, they take her to the nearest hospital, which they find almost completely abandoned except for the audible sound of children playing somewhere.  Shimizu then cuts to five children at an amusement park ten years earlier.  They go into the Shock Labyrinth, an abandoned funhouse, and encounter...themselves ten years later, in the abandoned hospital.  Past and present continue to overlap as they piece together what happened in the Shock Labyrinth ten years earlier, and figure out why they've been drawn to this place to encounter the childhood versions of themselves.

There's not much here that's overtly scary (depending on how terrified you are of a stuffed toy rabbit that seems to get around on its own), but Shimizu is focused more on mood than shocks.  Though he eventually caves to some iconic J-horror elements here and there, Shimizu's use of garish red and blue lighting, surreal imagery, creepy mannequins and animatronic funhouse figures, and a ghostly girl in a white dress indicate a very intentional homage to both Mario Bava and Dario Argento.  There's audio and visual shout-outs to Argento's INFERNO, PHENOMENA, and SUSPIRIA and Bava's KILL, BABY...KILL! and LISA AND THE DEVIL just to name a few.  So, fans may have wanted another JU-ON, but that's not THE SHOCK LABYRINTH's motive.  There's almost no gore, but it does get a bit intense near the end.  While the final reveal isn't exactly a shocker, THE SHOCK LABYRINTH is one of Shimizu's most interesting projects, and one not at all deserving of the derision that's been heaped upon it. (Unrated, 89 mins).

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