Oh how I truly love browsing in my local HMV, discovering a new film amongst all the racks of DVD's and Blu-Ray's that I know little about, then going to purchase said film, taking it home (there-and-then), and watching it, waiting to see if I'll be disappointed or dazzled. The possibility that your latest purchase could turn out to be a potential turkey, or a stellar gem, is always a little exciting, and risky. And where would we be, if we didn't take a risk in our film-viewing?
And so it was, with EXCISION (2012, Richard Bates, Jr): the film that I purchased on Saturday, and it has to be one of the most thoroughly-enjoyable horror-comedies I've ever seen. The joy of watching something so totally and utterly original and unique is rare these days, considering so much of what comes out in the US is stodgy, patronising, and extremely fatuous remakes, re-imaginings, and third-rate sequels, aimed at the younger end of the teen-market.
Here we have one very full-blooded horror film. And boy, what an absolutely jaw-dropping film it is!
AnnaLynne McCord (who co-incidentally played Eden Lord in Season 5 of NIP/TUCK) stars in the title role as Pauline, a shabby and ever-so-slightly psychotic teenager, who lives with devout mother Phyllis (Traci Lords, in a bravura performance), father Bob (Roger Bart from TV's REVENGE and DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES), in a white-picket fenced, suburban part of the US. Her life is diabolically boring. Friendless, misunderstood, and frequently misguided, she slumbers through each dead-end day, going from one disaster to the next, never knowing why she bothers fighting through life at all, because it all seems so vacuous. Enforced attendance at weekly therapy sessions with Father William, (Baltimore native John Waters, in one of many cameo roles the film features), in which the subject of sex and revenge are frequent bed-buddies, Pauline trudges through life, disenfranchised. Her one anchor to reality, is her Cystic-Fibrosis-inflicted younger sister, Grace (Ariel Winter), the one person she can truly talk to, about boys, school and the pains of adolescence, and keep her feet firmly planted to the ground.
When Grace becomes seriously ill, and the Cystic Fibrosis starts to attack her lungs, Grace's body starts to shutdown. Surrounded by self-loathing and hatred, Pauline finds her family and her teachers completely disenfranchising, to the point that torturing her Maths teacher, Mr Cooper - Malcolm McDowell in fine form - becomes the highlight of her day, in a scene, I might add, that no viewer will quickly forget!
After losing her virginity to the school's most desirable stud, Adam, she rebels and strikes out to try and reassess her very existance, whilst making her stake in the world, by aiming to become a world-class surgeon. It is on this premise, that Pauline decides to go all-out, firstly against Adam's girlfriend Natalie, in one of the most viciously barbed scenes of retaliation ever committed to film, and then slowly, and surely, against everyone else - from friends, her neighbours, the school principal (Ray Wise), and even, her immediate family.
What follows, is 81 minutes of darkly comedic, but genuinely scathing satire that synthesises the best parts of AMERICAN BEAUTY (2000, Sam Mendes) and HEATHERS (1988, Michael Lehmann), with the medical/self-beautification subject matter of that recent TV hit NIP/TUCK (2003-2010, Ryan Murphy), in a film that is more audacious and shocking than anything I've seen in a long, long time.
Neither wholly horror, nor wholly comedy about the growing pains of adolescence, EXCISION is a first-rate shocker, that completely deserved to win its selection at both the FantAsia and Sundance Film Festivals last year. Every scene, every joke, every shock, comes across as the most humanely-portrayed, infused with all of the passion and barbarity that so often come to fruition in real-life. At no point do you feel that Pauline, Adam or Phyllis wouldn't say exactly the dialogue they portray. In fact, it is the witty nature of the dialogue, the razor-sharpness of Pauline's put-downs, that makes this film such a joy to watch, from beginning to end, as it crackles along with an incredibly profound sophistication that is sorely lacking from many modern-day films. Not since DEAD SNOW (2009) or PHONE BOOTH (2002) have I sat through something, and been on the edge of my seat, as through this film. I won't even post any quotes, as memorably nasty and cruel as they are, simply because I personally feel that the less you know about this film, the more you are likely to "get" it, and the higher the chances you are to have one of the most enjoyably sinister and hilarious films of your entire film-viewing career.
Whilst hardcore horror fans may wonder why I am recommending this film so much, the horror elements that feature in EXCISION are dark. I mean borderline serial-killer dark. Dead fetuses in an oven. A teenager performing cunnilingus on a girl, during her period. Organ harvesting. Surgical procedures on a dead bird. The consumption of a dead bird's blood! And more! This is twisted stuff indeed. The film consistently bounces from extreme horror to black-comedy, as it weaves its incredibly story: from shock to side-splitting hilarity in seconds, and back again. Director Richard Bates, Jr really has gone to town with his first feature, and I would even go so far as to say that he is a talent that is well worth keeping your eyes peeled for. If ever he were given the money and time to create something truly barbaric, he would definitely be up there amongst the likes of Edgar Allan Poe, Tom Six, H.P. Lovecraft, Clive Barker, Lucifer Valentine, and Stephen King. From this, his first major film, Bates is definitely an impressive writer-director, and someone with something to say for himself!
The UK Region 2 Blu-Ray from Monster Pictures, a sub-division of Eureka Cinema, is a fairly plain release, featuring just the film, a trailer and an audio commentary from McCord herself. But seeing as it can be picked-up for about £10 online, and about the same in HMV stores, this is still worth a purchase. I would dearly have loved to have seen an interview with the other cast, especially from Ray Wise, Marlee Matlin, Matthew Gray-Gubler, Malcolm McDowell and John Waters, as to why they chose to be in this film - not exactly a career-enhancing title by any means. I'd also have liked to have seen Bates Jr talk about the film's inception and how he came up with its plot, and the filming of it. Alas, none of that features in the extras, but hopefully in the future, this oversight will be corrected.
The 1080p HD picture looks sublime, with every incision-cutting scene of terror amply delivered in crystal clarity. From Pauline's nightmarish visions and dreams, to the brilliantly sick ending, the palette of the film is a delight to behold. The sound, a Dolby Digital TrueHD 5.1 track, is very good, although it is extremely quiet. You may well find yourself having to increase the volume on your TV or sound sytem to double the level you would normally have it set at, as it's so tranquil. Whether this is a fault with the film itself, the transfer by Eureka, or something else, I can't say, but it is very low nonetheless. I haven't had the chance to hear the Audio Commentary, but that gives me a good reason to rewatch EXCISION again very soon.
All-in-all, I cannot recommend this film highly enough! Simply put, this film is cinematic nirvana, for any hardcore horror fan, and you owe it to yourself to see this amazing movie! Here we have originality triumphing over cack-handed sameness, and it's guaranteed to entertain and sicken you in equal measures.
The very fact that on Amazon, one review says...
This film tries to be clever by being shocking. I get horror, I get gore, but this film was just sick to the extreme....was a good enough reason for me to try this film out! Anyone who gives an 18-certificate horror film a one-star rating, because it was "sick to the extreme" is a vote of confidence in my eyes!
To tease you all, the trailer is shown below. I hope it tempts more of you to rent or buy this grotesquely sinister film!
I shall be back again soon. For now, though, I bid you farewell.