Euronymous, an Oslo teenager hellbent on launching true Norwegian Black Metal, shapes his band Mayhem with edgy publicity stunts that invokes the calling of Satan and being an anarchist against the moral norm to make his brand renowned around the underground music world in the late 1980s. As his fame flourishes with creating ungodly music, owning and running a music store, and helming his own record label, Euronymous continues his crusade agasint the establishment, but the lines blur when his messages of hellfire become unforeseen reality. Suicide, arson, violence, and coldblooded murder push Euronymous to the limits of his own soapbox inactions, leaving him open for the possibility of being overthrown by his own acolyte metalheads.
To prepare myself for Jonas Åkerlund’s biographical thriller, “Lords of Chaos,” I immersed myself into Jason Lei Howden’s 2015 black metal horror film “Deathgasm” as precursor preparation into the intense and unforgiving metal macabre genre. Whereas “Deathgasm” is a balls to the weed whacker splatter film of the pissed off demonia kind, “Lords of Chaos” is a polar horror feature with factual roots. Åkerlund’s, who directed Mads Mikkelson in Netflix’s “Polar” and has an extensive history in directing music videos for various artists, draws inspiration for the 2018 film from his own experience in a Swedish Black Metal band, Bathroy, from the late 80’s. The Grammy award winning music video director creates beauty out of the horrific true life event, unidealized nearly entirely without much speculation that faithfully puts to picture a misanthropic tragedy in a bone-chilling manner.
From “Signs” to “Scream 4,” Rory Culkin has remained on the actors-to-watch radar and is most certainly, our favorite Culkin to watch on the screen. In “Lords of Chaos,” Rory plays and narrates the story as Øystein “Euronymous” Aarseth, the guitarist and creator of Norwegian Black Metal band, Mayhem. As if written stars, Euronymous surrendered to Rory Culkin’s performance and Rory Culkin became Euronymous. The eerie synonymous blurred identities that catapults Culkin to be admired amongst his peers and his worked beloved. Opposite Culkin is Emory Cohen as Kristian ‘Varg’ Vikernes, former Mayhem bandmate and convicted murdered of Euronymous. Cohen is bitterly intense with a historical figure whose committed arson and homicide and the New York City born actor uncomplicated approach to a complicated character had a natural phenomena about that would spook your soul from your body. Culkin and Cohen fed off each other’s energy to an explosive dynamic too good to be stagecraft. Another highlight from “Lords of Chaos,” though rather story line brief, is Val Kilmer’s son, Jack Kilmer, as Per Yngve Ohlin aka Dead. Kilmer tackles a depressed introvert and, in one opinion, nails the mental deficiency metalhead who was ordained to take his own life with great savagary showmanship. The film also costars Sky Ferreira (“Green Inferno”), Valter Skarsgård, Anthony De La Torre (“Johnny Gruesome”), Jonathan Barnwell, Sam Coleman (“Leatherface”), and Lucian Charles Collier.
If not paying attention, “Lords of Chaos” will slip under the radar since most audiences are conditioned to subsidize shiny cinema productions that make you feel all warm and cozy inside and spark wander and induce marvel and amazement. Åkerlund’s film will not send those sorts of puppy dog tingles down your spine. Many biopic films about ill-fated tragedy don’t do well with the general population; “Auto Focus” comes to mind with Greg Kinnear and Willem Dafoe. Critics eat up the inherent black dramas like Cookie Crunch and “Lords of Chaos” exudes madness and misery through deep seeded vigor for fame and principle. Åkerlund deserves nothing but our admirable applause for delivering an unadulterated visualization of literal mayhem from soup to nuts.
Umbrella Entertainment releases onto DVD home video “Lords of Chaos,” a co-production from Gunpowder & Sky, 20th Century Fox, Vice Films, and Insurgent Media. Presented in a widescreen, 1.85:1 aspect ratio, Umbrella Entertainment’s picture quality is exemplary in it’s natural, yet supernatural-like surrealistic manner in a clean digital presentation. Pär M. Ekberg’s depiction is hard-edge elegant and haunting with recreations of and the intertwinement of actual photos of Euronymous, Varg, and Dead. If you’ve seen “Polar,” you know Åkerlund and Ekberg brush stroke a fine line between reality and graphic novel much the same as “Lords of Chaos'” allegory. The English language Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound mix has high level attributes with clean and perceptible dialogue, a vast range of ambient noise, and a killer black metal soundtrack worth banging your head to. No bonus features accompany this title. “Lords of Chaos” is a heavy story that needed to be told and feels very much like a part of Åkerlund, an extension of himself through his past brought forward to illuminate the blackness in us all derived from the power of metal with a psycho-psychology that’s industrial-built.
Texas 1955 – the pride of the Sawyer family was not their tattered farm, but a bloodline taste for something else – callous murder and a penchant for human flesh. Verna Sawyer sought to instill that pride into her children, especially her youngest, Jed, but when Hal Hartman, hard nose local Sheriff, learns that his daughter becomes victim of the Sawyer’s suspect nefarious carnage, he executes the law to his advantage, deeming the Sawyer house unfit for children and removes Jed from his labeled degenerate mother Verna. Ten years later, a group of teenage patients escape a mental hospital, kidnap a young nurse, and reek bloody havoc in their voyage to Mexico in an attempt to elude the very same lawman who put them away, but this time, Hartman isn’t adhering to the law, straying off his moral compass to pursue a vengeance mission against unprincipled youth that’s personally driven by Jed and the Sawyer family. Once the embattled Hartman catches up with his prey, a series of gruesome events lead to the creation and the construction of one of the most notorious killers Texas will ever see.
I love a good origin story. There’s something to be said about understanding the commencement of character, to be in the shoes of a long running icon, and to be able to sympathize with their story no matter how atrocious. Directors Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury’s 2017 “Leatherface” does just that with the film’s own origin enlightenment on how the chainsaw wielding, human skin mask wearing psychopath came to fruition inside a home of unspeakable brutality and influenced externally by a unforgiving society. From a script penned by Seth M. Sherwood, “Leatherface,” serving as a direct prequel to Tobe Hooper’s “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre,” briefly touches upon the preteen years to setup the catalytic road trip from hell, birthing a monster in a time of adolescence and if part of a legacy spanning over forty decades inspired by Ed Gein, the real life human skin wearing and notorious serial killer, then you damn well know “Leatherface” has to be genetically predisposed to be ultra-violent drenched in blood splatter. The French filmmaking duo, who’ve helmed 2007’s “Inside” and had directed the “Xylophone” segment in “The ABCs of Death 2,” nail the dark and gritty tone that not only breathes a gassy and exhaust fumed life into a massive flesh-ripping chainsaw, but also inflicts heartlessness across the story board into a heartfelt homage to the characters and to the story fathered by Kim Henkel and the late Tobe Hooper, both of whom were attached as executive producers.
Over the years, many actors have held the mammoth power-drive cutting tool in their hand that’s ready to chip away at flesh such as Andrew Bryniarski (“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” 2003 remake), Bill Johnson (“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2”) and, most famously, Gunnar Hansen, the original Leatherface. However, I’m not going to divulge who the pubescent Leatherface is in the story because the film plays out as a who out of the group of degenerate teens is the son of Verna Sawyer, even though you can easily obtain the information in a simple click and search on Google. Instead, Sam Strike, James Bloor, and Sam Coleman portray the three escapees who are accompanied by an equally insane sociopath in Jessica Madsen and an eagerly novice kidnapped nurse by Vanessa Grasse. Amongst a sea of English actors are a pair of vets to shepherd the young cast and be the embattled bookends to the dawn of an icon. Lili Taylor (“The Haunting”) and Stephen Dorff (“Blade”) face off as Leatherface’s mother, Verna Sawyer, who butts horns with a longstanding sheriff, Hal Hartman, with a steadfast vendetta against the Sawyer family. Christopher Adamson (“Razor Blade Smile”), Nathan Cooper (“Day of the Dead: Bloodline”), and Finn Jones (“Wrong Turn 5: Bloodlines”) co-star.
Usually with a pair of directors, two different styles spawn to an end result. With Bustillo and Maury, styles merge into a seamless effort of elegant wonders. Each shot emerges a purpose to the story whether it’s painting an image of the Sawyer’s death house to pulling a one-eighty with characters, the filmmakers ability to combine each element into a single story, that has such a close knit cult following, and still manage to cinematically pull off the atmosphere, the grit, and the gory carnage of a Texas Chain Saw Massacre film is impressive. Cinematographer Antoine Sainer, whose worked previously with the directing duo on the “The ABCs of Death 2’s” segment “X,” has the ever so poised eye that’s able to well-round and solidify Leatherface’s terror tenor, particular exampled in a foot chase scene through a moonlit forest, smoke bellowing out of a growling chainsaw, and a tattered young girl bawling, screaming, and fleeing for her life from a deranged masked killer whose huffing, snarling, and growling during the pursuit.
Lionsgate Home Entertainment presents the Millennium Films produced “Leatherface” onto Blu-ray + Ultra-violet combo disc, a MPEG-4 AVC encoded disc with a 1080p resolution and presented in a widescreen, 2.38:1, aspect ratio that displays the Bulgaria landscape in a yellowish-brown, Texas-like backdrop. Details are noticeably fine that exquisitely reveal the death and destruction of the Sawyers and those who unfortunately surround the family. The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track evenly distributes and consistently a range of engrossing fidelity, ambient, and dialogue layers. Bonus material includes a play feature with an alternate ending that’s less superior in contrast to the final product, deleted scenes, and a behind-the-scenes making of that includes brief interviews with directors Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury, actors Sam Strike, Stephen Dorff, Lili Taylor, and others, and goes behind the scenes in creating the tone and style of “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” while implementing their own vision. “Leatherface” forces the unsavory and unpleasant down the throats of TCM fans, jamming an attempt to exposition a futile chance to a destined maniac of cannibalistic proportions and manages to mix up the Tobe Hooper’s weathered franchise with a barbaric bruiser of a tale.
Teenage horror-throbs. Young, dumb, and full of chum.
A small town pack of football jocks and cheerleaders with a dark secret spend Halloween night at a rundown farmhouse to party until dawn, but a sadistic killer in the school mascot uniform hunts them down one by one. Now their only chance of survival is to rely on each other, but will their dark secret get the better of them?
“Varsity Blood” tries to home in on the slasher saturated 80’s decade and, more or less, hits the mark right on the head with quick quip dialogue, teen angst, nudity, and blood. The killer garnishes a costume, even if the costume is the school mascot of a goofy tribal warrior, but the warrior outfit is simple, dark, and, like aforementioned, tribal which already gives it a ominous feel. Like most iconic slasher movie killers, they all have to brand a signature weapon – Jason had his machete, Myers had his knife, Leatherface had his chainsaw. The Warrier had his axe. Not too many killers carry an axe as a signature weapon and the axe is not overused as the Warrior does implement various methods of death.
What about the teen group of various mannered jocks, cheerleaders, and other high school patrons of “Varsity Blood?” Like I said before, there is plenty of teen angst – jock wants sex badly, girl is major slut, fat girl tries to prove herself, lots of crying – so there lies enough teenage drama to make white and black pimples to form on your face. Some characters, like the main female lead Hannah (Lexi Giovagnoli) and good-girl Heather (Elyse Bigler), receive good character background, some of the cast are just fillers for the killer to dice up and their deaths become less important and severely fall short of a sympathetic death.
The whole reason why the killer kills is a bit of a joke too. I’m not going to go into more detail, but lets just say that there is an agreement and the one’s side terms are a bit too lame for my liking. The other side has an legitimate excuse for making these teen hooligans into mince meat. I do mean ‘hooligans’ too as the teens don’t learn from their historical depravities that resulted into a terrible accident that they’ll never forget. The past always catches up with them and the warrior makes sure of that.
Didn’t I mention nudity earlier? You would think nudity would run rampant in a film about cheerleaders getting hacked to bits. Unfortunately, we’re teased to no end as Natalie Peyton and Elle LaMont give nothing but a tease show with covered nudity and bra and panties. However, not all is a total loss. Taylor Moessinger does do a strip show dance and goes topless and you can read my short review of her scenes here.
The death scenes were relatively tame for a slasher that is suppose to homage the greats, but these deaths weren’t necessarily terrible either. There is great use of practical effects that are pulled off with excellent angle work with the camera and use of camera placement. I’ll give that to Jake Helgren, you might remember from my review of “Bloody Homecoming”, another high school slasher with the same vein.
Give “Varsity Blood” a try and see how it fits. Room for growth and improvement with the director Helgren, a promising career for sexy leading lady Lexi Giovagnoli, and a great topless scene from the spirited, free loving, always naked model Taylor Moessinger. “Varsity Blood” is now available to own on DVD and VOD from Image Entertainment.
Marilyn Burns, lead scream queen actress in the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre directed by Tobe Hooper, died on August 5th at the age of 65. She was “found unresponsive” at her home in Texas by her family members.
Burns landed the lead role in Hooper’s cult classic in 1974 while a student at University of Texas. She has also appeared in another Hooper film, Eaten Alive, and had some cameo roles in Future Kill, Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation and Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D.