Set in conflict of the Iran-Iraq war, the young and educated Shideh living in war-frightened Tehran becomes forced to succumb to patriarchal dogma after participating in a revolution against Iran’s standing principals. Her husband’s conscription sends his medical experience to the battle front while she settles into her role as a stay at-home mother to their young daughter and despite pleas from her husband, the stubborn Shideh will not vacate her apartment building home even when the threat of an Iraqi attack is imminent. When a dud ballistic missile crashes into the apartment about them, nearly breaking through their ceiling, the fear of a sinister presence circulates amongst the tenants that drives them one-by-one from the building with the prospect of an Iraqi attack to further motivate as a logical decider. An unsuperstitious Shideh remains until her daughter’s imagery whims and unwavering fever begin to form a more terrorizing atmosphere that even has her questioning the shadowy company of evil.
Not many horror films scare nowadays. “Under the Shadow” is not one of those films. The debut feature film of writer-director Babak Anvari posses a rare commodity of grueling fear set inside an already tense backdrop of the 1980’s Iran-Iraqi war. Anvari, the Tehran born Iranian nationality who was engulfed religiously in the culture, borrowed and rendered his from his family’s stories of supernatural pre-Islamic demons whisking through the wind toward those swimming in sorrow and fear; those demons were also labeled djinns. As a child born in the 80’s, Anvari had to rely and family to obtain a sense of the anxious air suffocating those taut by potential missle strikes as well as political and social punitive measures going against the grain. The UK based independent production company, Wigwam Films, financed the BAFTA winner for an Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer as well as receiving other nomination nods in other categories, serving as one of young production company’s shining stars early in the tenure.
Wrought by the explosive squabbles of two sovereign nations and incepted with archaic folklore, Shideh’s bound and torn between reality and the prospect of superstition, a role dutifully played by another Iranian born, Narges Rashidi, whose family moved to Berlin and she studied acting, scoring a minor role in the motion picture adaptation of the science fiction television series, “Aeon Flux,” and in the 2009 comedy-horror “Must Love Death.” Rashidi courts Sheideh approvingly with sincere strife over how women serving beneath men in 1980’s Iran as well as struggling to overcome that internal conflict as the mirror image of herself, meaning her daughter, when a phantom prowler is afoot. Portraying Shideah’s daughter, Dorsa, and the frequent link between the Djinn’s world and her own is Avin Manshadi in her debut performance. Manshadi’s round cheeks and doughy eyes set upon a physique stilling lingering some ounces of baby fat has little range, but most creepy kids and in creepy kid horror films rarely do. Rashidi and Manshadi fend well for themselves as the sole two characters cornered by war and Shideh’s personal vendetta against her country, her husband, and even her daughter to prove she isn’t useless as the motif lets on. “Under the Shadow” rounds out with Bobby Naderi (“Bright”), Aram Ghasemy, Soussan Farroknia, Behi Djanati Atai, and Ray Haratian (“A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night”).
“Under the Shadow” finds itself in a subgenre nearly all it’s own as the variety of djinn-horror anemically pops up every so often as an unpopular and uncoiled viper, unlike the antagonist powerhouses of zombies and ghosts that’ve reigned supreme over the last two decades, and though Anvari’s film shares little with Robert Kurtzman’s demonic djinn of 1997’s “Wishmaster,” “Under the Shadow” has more in common with the late Tobe Hooper’s last film, entitled simply Djinn, before his death. Both are built on the substructure of an Arabic/Muslin mythology, set on an apartment building locale, and exhibit the malevolency side of the djinn, but Babak Anvari accomplishes a great feat on his very first attempt – a stiffly frightening air of a phenomenally harrowing horror story. Anvari patiently stacks blocks of tension, one on top of another, without a hint of quivering throughout the acts and what’s more astonishing is that all the acts deliver different notes prosed to detail that secures a simmering, shivering plot. To praise Anvari more, the young filmmaker leaves nothing to chance by closing with an open ending for the mind to assemble information and interpret the events; a classic directorial tool used by some of the greats.
Shuttering in the dark has never been so delectable with “Under the Shadow” inside a packed, limited edition Blu-ray from Second Sight Films. The LE runs with only 2000 copies sheathed inside a rigid slipcover with covert art by science fiction artist, Christopher Shy. Global horror aficionados will rejoice to learn that the UK BD disc is region free and presented in a widescreen, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, that’ll be available February 10th. Unfortunately, Second Sight Films provided a DVD-R Blu-ray screener so I’m unable to speak upon the video and audio aside from what’s already been stated. I will say the subtitles were accurate and timely paced. There were special features on the disc, including segmented interviews with director Babak Anvari, lead actress Narges Rashidi, producers Lucan Toh and Oliver Roskill, cinematographer Kit Fraser along with an audio commentary Babak Anvari and Jamie Graham and Anvari’s short film “Two and Two.” Press release also mentioned the release includes a soft cover book with new essays from Jon Towlson and Daniel Bird plus behind-the-scenes photos and concept illustrations and a poster featuring new artwork. “Under the Shadow” must be watched in the dark, alone, and with the volume up, maximizing the crawling chill down the spine and raising all the micro hairs on every square inch of skin.
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.
Masters of horror. You know. Those legendary filmmakers that become iconic in our beloved genre. The monumental men who made history by evolving the monsters, killers, and madmen to the very monsters, killers, and madmen we see today on the big and small screen. These giants of horror are household names to ordinary film fans and Gods to those who dedicate their lives just to live in a moment in a very small portion of their foot heel shadow. You, reading this op-ed, know the very names of these directors without even me mentioning their names. For those who are virgin to horror, however,…
George A. Romero
The list could go on with more familiar names. Familiar. That seems like a term for old people now, like myself, the thirty-years of living on this planet. Why is ‘familiar’ now for the old fogies? For one, I don’t think much of the younger generation are aware, or even respect, the above list of names. And why should they? Because, secondly, those listed about have done squat in, I don’t know, how many years? Think about. The Masters of Horror are no longer producing any great horror films and there seems to be no clear cut answer to why. A couple of theories swirl in my clustered little mind.
They’re old. Getting elderly is tough and when you’re youth runs dry, you’re energy goes right along with it. Take Romero for example. The man is 74 years old. Wes Craven is even older than Romero by one year. Could their old school imaginations keep a generation, doped up on ADD medication, entertained for more than 10 minutes. Much of today’s horror is about the blood and the tits and the “how scary you can make a CGI monster.” Creativity has gone out the window and I think that “Saw 7” and the soon to be fifth sequel to “Paranormal Activity” have proven just that.
Old school horror has run out of ideas. Can you remember the last time Romero, Carpenter, Stuart has made a good movie? Romero’s last film was “Survival of the Dead” back in 2009 which flopped. Before that “Diary of the dead” and that was another flop. Since the turn of the century, the king of the zombies has only directed four films with Land of the Dead being the more successful. Take a look at “Halloween” director John Carpenter. “Halloween” is the highest grossing independent film ever, yet also in the last decade, nothing spectacular from Carpenter. His vision of “The Thing” is classic, his character Snake Plissken is iconic in “Escape from New York”, “Big Trouble in Little China” is timeless cut, but “The Ward” and “Ghost of Mars” have been absolute below the bar with audiences. This theory doesn’t exclude international directors because we can also examine, point in case, Italian director Dario Argento. Argento famous for his colorful, psychedelic intense films such as “Suspiria”, “Phenomena”, and “Don’t Torture the Duckling”, has been reduced to direct a “Dracula 3D” movie starring Rutger Hauer. Freaking RUTGER HAUER!?!? Don’t get me wrong, I love Rutger Hauer – “Blind Fury” and “The Hitcher” are some favorites – but you can’t have a strawberry haired Van Helsing. Maybe you can – I don’t know. Let’s not forget poor Wes Craven who can’t seem to get off the “Scream” franchise train and everything else he touches turns into a limp, floppy mess.
Now that we’ve gone over my theories, there lies another question to be discussed. Who are the NEW masters of horror? Today’s films rely on blood and guts and not so much suspense and story. Would Eli Roth be my first example of a more current master? His films seemed to be well criticized – “Cabin Fever” with a fresh 63% and “Hostel” with a fresh 61% respectively on Rotten tomatoes. Also, his latest project “The Green Inferno” held promise until it’s untimely indefinite on hold status declared a few weeks ago. Who else? Alexandre Aja? More shock than schlock but hasn’t really produced anything original as he’s banked on remakes – “The Hills Have Eyes”, “Piranha 2” – but with his breakthrough hit “High Tension” and his upcoming release “Horns” starring Daniel Radcliffe, we could be watching a master in the making.
I want to hear from you. Who do you think will step in the shoes of a master? Lucky McKee? Adam Wingard? Let me hear your choices and your thoughts on these!
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.
My share of horror films deriving from the victims of post traumatic stress disorder of war extends from Bob Clark’s golden oldie Deathdream to more recent no budget indies like Andrew Copp’s Quiet Nights of Blood and Pain. The issue that always seems to arise in my thoughts when watching one of these flicks is can PTSD victims one day snap into a vicious, emotionless killer? Examples of actual occurrences doesn’t come to mind (a few will hit me while I’m walking the dog most likely) and this lack of evidence renders me helpless agains’t opposing feelings about wanting to believe that the horrendous acts, such as portrayed in my recent venture Psycho Holocaust, can really take place.
Six friends embark on a getaway vacation to an isolated area lake house. On the very first night, their getaway turns into a futile get away when three psychotic and evil men plan to toy with the group for as long as there is pain and blood to be given. These violence junkies won’t stop, won’t be merciful and won’t let anyone live long enough to last a full day.