Monday, October 26, 2009
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.)