Batman: The Killing Joke

Director: Sam Liu (2016)
Starring: Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, Tara Strong
Find it: IMDB

“It's all a joke! Everything anybody ever valued or struggled for... it's all a monstrous, demented gag! So why can't you see the funny side? Why aren't you laughing?”

Yeah, alright, I went through my dumb teenage* nihilist phase too, but you don't see me making a movie about it. At last, the 'definitive' Batman/Joker story for the masses** gets its official animated adaption, once again luring Mark Hamill out of Clown Prince of Crime retirement. Well, when Mark Hamill says he wants to do The Killing Joke, you do The Killing Joke. And here it is, R-rating and all. Escaping Arkham Asylum for the latest time, the Joker embarks upon his nastiest scheme yet - proving that even the best, most sane men are only 'one day away' from becoming the Joker.

And this, as anyone who knows anything about comic book history will be aware of, sees Jim Gordon kidnapped and tortured - and Batgirl 'fridged' so as to drive Batman and the Commissioner both to the brink. The most controversial of Batman stories then, and this adaptation's first order of business should be an attempt to give Barbara some agency of her own before doing away with her.

A transparent prologue gives Barbara some time in the costume, bickering with the Bat and battling a smitten criminal. With Alan Moore patently having none of it, Brian Azzarello fills in the gaps for the pre-Killing Joke Batgirl sequences. Don’t expect the fun of recent Batgirl comics though, Azzarello sticking with his usual hardboiled vibes; maintaining the R-rating by having folks shot in the head at regular intervals and inserting the most left-field, ill-advised of sex sequences you’ll ever see in a comic book adaptation. As though The Killing Joke didn't have enough controversy of its own already.

Does the added Batgirl make what follows any more palatable? Sadly not much, the story forgetting about her anyway when it comes time for The Killing Joke to fully kick in. Worse, rather than hinting at it like the book, we finally find out how far the Joker went in his treatment of Barbara – a trio of hookers confirming to Batman that no, the Joker hasn’t visited them like he usually does after escaping Arkham (!), so he must have gotten his ‘kicks’ elsewhere. The lingering question at the ending is also answered, albeit in a more underwhelming manner.

However you feel about the book (it's still a classic!) there’s always Brian Bolland’s career-high artwork to fall back on. This animated movie has no such luck, being surprisingly slapdash in places. The Dark Knight is depicted well enough (we’re well rid of that horrible chin-strap most DCAU movies lumber him with), but this Joker is ugly in the worst way, lacking Bolland’s sense of detail or most cartoons’ vibrancy. It’s only when the animation stops aping Bolland and does its own thing that it works – see the Joker, staring up at his neon nightmare, depicted in eye-bulging anime glory. The action sequences, at least, are well done, if all too brief (and seemingly cribbed from the Two-Face story Faces, in places). Rubbish musical routine aside (Arkham Knight did it better), the rest of it is simply the novelty of hearing Mark Hamill do all of Alan Moore’s famous Joker monologues.

This Stupid Fucking Meme: The Movie

This, at least, doesn’t disappoint. The voice over legend gets to do pre-Chemical Dip Joker, enlivening a series of flashbacks which felt unnecessary even when Alan Moore did them. He and Conroy haven’t let us down yet, and The Killing Joke doesn’t disappoint from that perspective. Ray Wise and Tara Strong are also good as the two Gordons, gamely playing to an audience who only really care about their legendary leading men.

While this punchline is less overtly nihilistic than Moore’s template, it should change few minds. Those who dislike the story for its controversies and grim legacy will find little redemption here (no, not even in an Oracle nod), while the curious cult of Joker will continue to idolise his dim, bleak Nihilism 101 philosophies. Those who can appreciate the book for its place in history and considerable artistic merits will be worst off – it’s a cheap adaptation with bad animation, creaky writing (“a storm was coming”) and an opening that feels completely tacked on and disingenuous, heaping new problems onto an already troublesome prospect. It’s far from the worst DC Animated feature (hello Son of Batman and Assault on Arkham) but one should stick with The Dark Knight Returns movies or Year One for their classic Batman fix. Provided, of course, you can’t get your hands on The Animated Series proper.

In spite of the obvious passion and talent of its main players, The Killing Joke is a sad disappointment, and a concept which probably should have been well left back in the 1980s, when it was first published.

“I’ve heard it before. It wasn’t funny then.”
Why so serious, modern Joker?

*Late twenties
**The Joker's Five Way Revenge is way better

Cabin Fever (2016)

Director: Travis Z (2016)
Starring: Gage Golightly, Matthew Daddario*, Samuel Davis
Find it: IMDB

A girl takes selfies all the time. A gamer guy bemoans the lack of Internet and GTA 5. The Deputy is now a lady but still really wants to party. Such are the most notable additions to Cabin Fever 2016, the remake nobody wanted, expected or needed.

Look, I am all for remaking movies to include less Eli Roth, but Cabin Fever is not a good place to start with the erasing of his Bro legacy. Not only is Cabin Fever Roth's second best movie (next to the masterful Hostel 2, which I really do like that much), but it also contains his only tolerable slash good performance in Pothead in the Woods character Justin (who I think I only like because of Doctor Mambo). It also doesn't help that his Cabin Fever is a fairly timeless horror film - a genuinely witty precursor to Cabin in the Woods that I much prefer to Cabin in the Woods.

The plot is, quite literally, the same as the first one. Pretty young college kids travel to cabin in the woods. Encounter local drifter, sick off his face with a mystery illness. Accidentally murder local drifter. Get sick. Squelch. If you've never seen Roth's Cabin Fever, you're bound to have a lovely time with this slick, sick horror movie. Everyone else however, will be left bored, nonplussed and slightly angry.

Cabin Fever: now with added CGI that looks worse than CGI from 2002.

It's not a shot-for-shot deal, like the infamous Psycho debacle or Funny Games US, but it is close enough as to be pointless to anyone with a half-decent memory and horror education. It's the same movie but with less jokes, more gore and slightly sharper visuals. The odd surprise is thrown in here and there - an effective jump scare where there wasn't before - but largely it's just longer, gooier versions of the same old splatter sequences. Where it's at its best is during the second half, when the action takes over and the pace ratchets up, at least being quick and easy to watch in spite of the all-encompassing deja vu. Dare I say it, I did actually enjoy this version of the bathtub scene a little bit more than the first time around.

Those sparse flashes of brilliance, however, do not hide the fact that Cabin Fever 2016 is perhaps the laziest remake ever (re)made.

*Related, but he's certainly no fucking Alexandra

Goodnight Mommy

Director: Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala (2015)
Starring: Lukas and Elias Shwartz, Susanne Wuest
Find it: IMDB

Speaking as a self-confessed and unapologetic mummy's boy, there is no idea more terrifying in life than the love between a son and his mother going un-reciprocated. It's this primal (yeah, alright soppy) fear that informs Goodnight Mommy, an Austrian horror film about a violent battle of wits between a mother and her sons, both parties doing their damnest to hurt the other most viciously.

Face all bound up in bandages, Mommy (Wuest) returns from a major cosmetic procedure - literally - a changed woman. Now cold and cruel to her twin sons (the brothers Schwartz) - even refusing to acknowledge little Lukas - Mommy's sudden change in demeanor leads the boys to question whether this woman is even their mother at all.

It's a question which drives Goodnight Mommy, and one that writer/directors Franz and Fiala are in no hurry to answer. Indeed, Mommy spends most of the film looking like an archetypal slasher movie villain and acting like an abusive asshole, (allegedly) murdering cats and repeatedly slapping her one kid about the face while being downright negligent towards the other. And yet the kids aren't exactly alright either; a pair of weirdos who collect giant bugs, pickle dead cats for some reason, and dress almost exclusively in vest tops and three quarter length shorts. To say nothing of their behaviour in the second half, which verges on being the best Let's Go Play at the Adams' adaptation never made.

One's sympathies dance all over the place in a chilly, elusive narrative which refuses to stay still or take the easy route. Like the thematically similar The Babadook and The Witch, it positions itself as one thing but turns out to be another, game-changing twist and all. A twist I guessed ten minutes in, granted (as will anyone remotely versed in horror cinema), but isn't so much hiding in plain sight but rather brazenly swanning about all over the place. Thankfully, that revelation (however soon you work it out) serves only to enrich the story, making the cruelties of the second half feel even more upsetting.

And such upset it is. Goodnight Mommy is not a particularly violent and gory film, but its brutalities hit home hard, making for genuinely, profoundly difficult viewing. A film that will test viewer patiences on many levels, it's a creepy, unsettling and difficult picture with serious mommy issues.

Girl House

Director: Trevor Matthews, Jon Knautz (2014)
Starring: Ali Cobrin, Adam DiMarco, Slaine
Find it: IMDB

Online strippers live in a house together, constantly and intimately filmed by a Big Brother style setup recording their every move. Angry spurned mysoginist Loverboy (a man allegedly called Slaine in real life) breaks in, wreaking brutal violence upon the women he deems to have mocked him. Girl House opens with a quote from Ted Bundy, but it's the (paraphrased) one by novelist Margaret Atwood that seems more appropriate here: "Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them."

And so Girl House opens with little Loverboy (Isaac Faulkner) mocked by two very young girls, who pull down his pants and laugh at his chode. A sequence which culminates with Loverboy smashing up Camren Bicondova's (little Catwoman from off've Gotham) face and booting her to her death from a great height. It's as troubling and memorable an opening for a horror film as one could wish for, and that level of violence rarely lets up. 

And therein lies (no pun intended) the rub. On the one hand, Girl House in no way glorifies its killer, being an outright condemnation of an angry weirdo and his online ilk, a genuine threat and a bitter portrayal of hateful misogynists convinced that womankind owes them something. On the other, however, there's so much glee there in depicting his crimes that one has to wonder where the filmmakers' loyalties lie. Or, indeed, if they should lie anywhere. Girl House is no feminist opus. But does it have any obligation to be?

No-one ever expected a cheap exploitation movie like Girl House to be at all forward thinking, but by having its antagonist be a very specific sort of male threat, it does open doors to equally specific criticism that could otherwise and ignorantly be ignored with a shrug. The boyfriend character, for instance, who casts aspersions upon Final Girl Kylie's choice of lifestyle and frequently suggests that she quit, displaying a (much milder) form of entitlement the likes of which are responsible for Loverboy's killing spree in the first place. Mixed messages much?

Girl House doesn't know upon which side of the fence it's sitting; whether to be empowering (it isn't) or exploitative, whether to leer or shy away, greedily attempting do everything the same time and just winding up muddled as a result. Even a confused cross between Halloween and My Little Eye has its moments though, and Girl House is always gripping, even as it grasps dimly at its messages, distracted by all the boobs sometimes, often and nearly on show. It's not even properly explicit - being surprisingly prudish for a film about strippers living in a house together.

Ultimately, it's this inconsistency which does the film in for me, a horror film which takes in important, relevant and modern ideas about misogynists and online pornography... and then proceeds to make it so that the male audience can still have a good fap over it at the same time.