Monday, October 26, 2009

Frontier(s)



(2007)

As riots break out in the streets of Paris after a right wing government is elected to power, a group of looting thugs ditch town with a large sac of stolen money. The political upheaval and Trainspotting similarities vanish within minutes when two of the crew check into a remote hostel by an abandoned quarry. Here they are greeted by two lovely women and one large, scary man named Goetz. One awkward dinner later it becomes painfully clear that Frontier(s) is yet another agonizing, why-am-I-watching-this Texas Chainsaw Massacre retread. So why bother with this French version? “Because it’s extremely intense and well executed with great actors and impressive gore”, while accurate, is no longer an acceptable answer to this question as we’ve seen several quality knockoffs already – Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, The Hills Have Eyes (2006), Wolf Creek and House of 1,000 Corpses to name a few.

If you want to hear more about the movie check out Catfreeek’s assessment. The rest of this review will be devoted to the Pipe in the Ass factor. JPX and I touched upon this before but a proper explanation is due. The PITA factor refers to the amount of satisfaction and sense of justice one takes away after viewing a violent film. My brother and I used to laugh at the way our father was so pleased with the way Steven Seagal would dispose of criminals in films like Out For Justice. Conversely if the villain didn’t get his comeuppance or “a pipe in the ass” then the movie failed him.

While (the big pussy) Van Damme would be satisfied to conclude his films with a mere roundhouse kick, head on a spike or exploding grenade, Seagal was absolutely insistent on punishing jerks like nobody's business before putting them out of their misery. Equally important was the depth of hatred for the bad guys. The more you hate’em, the more you want to see’em pay. JPX and I went on to create an unofficial rating scale where a wholly satisfying ass-whupping would be deemed “a full pipe” but if the villain got off too easy (or God forbid actually lived through the movie), it was considered a mere “quarter pipe” or a wholly unacceptable “no pipe”. (The new Dan Brown book boasts a top notch villain but alas – no pipe.)

Horror movies differ slightly from dumb action flicks. The villain doesn’t necessarily need to be human and the suffering of the protagonists also comes into play. (The more the characters suffer, the more you demand justice.) But the basic concept remains. I am not saying that I judge all horror movies using the PITA factor but it comes into play when confronting those with a plot that you’ve seen over and over and over and over and over and over and over (and over). Suck on this chart for a minute:



As you can see, Frontier(s) fared quite well, finishing shy of Hostel but considerably far ahead of The Strangers and TCM: The Beginning. (TCM:TB is an example of a very effective horror film that ends so overwhelmingly bleak, I have zero desire to ever view it again.)

I loathed the sick bastards in Frontier(s). Like the TCM movies, you're dealing with brutally sadistic cannibal whack jobs – and in this case Nazis with nary a trace of a conscience. I mentioned muscleman Goetz earlier. Even before this beast opens his mouth you can tell he would just as soon watch you bleed to death as ask you for the time. And he is just one of several bad, bad men that triggers a strong reaction. There's also Hans, the slovenly human butcher who's not all there. And most disturbing is Le Von Geislerthe the elder leader, whose shocking cruelty is significantly enhanced by his Hugh Hefner meets Hitler demeanor. These characters are thoroughly despicable and this makes their fate all the more gratifying.

I've rambled for far too long but surely you get the point. Frontier(s) is undeniably ugly and excruciating but you certainly won't walk away feeling used.

* Note the mediocrity of Jason Vorhees and Michael Myers. Because these killers are the embodiment of evil with little to no character behind them, you can’t truly hate them. (This is my big problem with dumb slashers – because they’re arranged so that you actually root for the villain, all chances of being genuinely scared are removed.)

9 comments:

Octopunk said...

Excellent. Just excellent. "Suck on this chart" indeed.

Having just watched Martyrs I think I am done this year with the French and other people's suggested flicks. But knowing the Pipe In The Ass rating for this will go far in terms of my screening it later.

So I reckon House of 1,000 Corpses would be hovering in TCM:TB's territory. Man, I hated that movie.

JPX said...

I can't stop laughing at your chart! Well done, brother. We need to create one of these charts for action movies.

Catfreeek said...

Awesome review, loved the chart!

Octo, I cannot wait to read your Martyrs review.

50PageMcGee said...

excellent chart dude. it looks so official. you should be somewhere with a tie on and a worried expression talking to a room full of government agents.

Jordan said...

"Pipe in the Ass" ratings! Excellent.

I'm increasingly aware of how much work goes into assisting the audience in hating the villains. And the actors are so involved in it, in on it; it's great. I love "behind the scenes" footage where the cast is clowning around and it's totally clear that everyone understands how the foulness of the villians must be conveyed to the audience.

Recent good-to-hate villains I've seen include Eric Bana as Nero in Star Trek, everybody bad in both Hostel movies, Mattheiu Amalric in Quantum of Solace (far more than his predecessor in Casino Royale, who's actually kind of likeable; you really want Amalric to get it from Craig in the excellent second movie).

Horror movies are different like you point out; I can't think of any "Pipe in the Ass" high scorers in the horror movies I've watched this year.

From a different perspective, the sadism you're describing is pretty repellent in the contexts of Seagal movies, or (for example) the horrible Stallone movie Cobra, in which Stallone impales a crook on a big hook, killing him, and then intones "You have the right to remain silent" (since he's supposed to be a cop). Cops aren't supposed to behave that way! Riggs and Murtaugh are constantly getting into convoluted situations contrived by the writers that force them to kill the villains rather than, you know, arrest them.

Great stuff! "Pipe in the Ass." Love it.

DCD said...

In my initial skim of who has posted what since the last time I was here, a quick glance at that chart made me think that "Pipe In The Ass" was something that was featured heavily in the movie. Literally.

Happy to see, on further examination, that this was not the case. Riot!

Johnny Sweatpants said...

I was unable to come up with a horror movie where you liked the villain but he gets horribly killed anyway. King Kong doesn't really count..

Now I'm morbidly curious about that Stallone movie.

Jordan said...

JSW, it's one of the worst movies ever made. Directed by the guy who directed Rambo, starring Stallone and Brigitte Nielsen and somebody else. Absolutely the bottom of the barrel of '80s reactionary crap.

JPX said...

I love stallone but Jordan is absolutely correct, cobra is awful. Remember the tagline? "crime is a disease, meet the cure"