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Gory, Goofy, GOOD Times: Two films try blood 'n' guts horror with uneven results

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In the digital age, it’s a bit unusual (and refreshing) to see a throwback horror movie that relies more on latex, goo, prosthetics and mechanics for its special effects instead of more costly, more polished, but often just as artificial computer-generated mayhem.

To be honest and practical, the choice may be driven by economics as much as imagination. Still, anything different from the usual dreck is worth a look for genre fans. Two recent ones—both awash in gore and guck—fit the bill. Similar in technique, each features the typical hapless characters in a nearly nonsensical plot—that still compels us to watch. The biggest difference? One’s from the U.S., the other from Turkey!

Crowdsourced and Kickstarter-funded, The Void (2016) was written and directed by Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski, who honed their technical skills doing makeup and artwork on Suicide Squad, Crimson Peak and Pacific Rim. And plot? That’s secondary to effect here; the filmmakers throw their characters (and viewers) into a chaotic world where monsters of all sorts are emerging from the woods, the floorboards, the windows, even other dimensions.

The opening sequence is genuinely chilling. A young man races from an isolated house in the woods at night (natch!), quickly followed by a desperate young woman who’s then shot in the back, doused in gasoline and set afire by two men who were also in the house.

Collapsing by the highway, the survivor is picked up by local cop Daniel Carter (Aaron Poole), who takes him to a hospital, where Carter’s ex-wife is the night-shift nurse. Also waiting for the doctor is a young girl in labor (again, natch) and her grandfather. The small cast includes mad Dr. Powell (Kenneth Welsh), a ditzy aide, a couple of luckless patients, and more assorted victims.

Meanwhile, the hospital is surrounded by guys in white hooded robes with a black triangle on the front. Whatever they’re supposed to be, they are not nice. Inside, dead people are coming to life, morphing into globular masses of multi-tentacled horrors; down in the basement, a doorway to another world (and possibly eternal life) beckons.

The first two acts of The Void are the best, the final 30 minutes or so devolving into gruesome nonsense. To be kind, the acting is uneven. In both regards, I was reminded of Lucio Fulci’s 1983 “masterpiece” of Italian gore, The Beyond. For genre fans, that’s sort of a compliment.

The 2015 Turkish film Baskin is better—less silly, more disturbing, and even more nonsensical (but in a good way, as if David Lynch were helming an episode of The Twilight Zone.)

The debut feature of director and co-writer Can Evrenol, Baskin (Turkish for “raid”) was inspired, according to the director, by such disparate and excellent films as Neil Marshall’s The Descent (’05), Jean-Jacques Annaud’s Quest for Fire (’81), Xavier Gens’ Frontier(s) (’07), and Nicolas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives (’13).

Baskin might not be equal to any of those, but it demonstrates a powerful visual style and, even more important, a thematic narrative as substantive and provocative as it is confusing and challenging. The opening pre-title scene is the stuff of real nightmares. A young boy awakens in the night to inexplicable moans and groans (at least to him) coming from his parents’ locked bedroom. Walking down the hall, he discovers the TV screen alight with snow, the only audio white noise. Turning back to his bedroom, he sees a bloody hand reaching out the doorway for him as he pounds frantically on his parents’ door.

Jump ahead 20 years or more; the child has become a young man and he’s a cop, Arda (Görkem Kasal), who sits in a café with his fellow officers, listening to scurrilous stories in between some verbal baiting of a waiter, which threatens to turn into something violent. A call for assistance at an isolated building in the woods (is there any other kind in movies like this?) takes the cops on a horrendous trek into the night, where the borders between past and present, dreaming and wakening, are ripped asunder in what might well be the maw of hell.

One of the most striking features of Baskin is the casting of Mehmet Cerrahoglu as Father, a character that is to Baskin what Pinhead was to Hellraiser. The actor suffers from a skin condition which gives him a truly odd, disturbing look, rather like Hollywood actor Rondo Hatton, whose physical appearance (due to acromegaly) relegated him to mostly monster roles in the ’40s.

The Void is little more than goofy, gory fun, but Baskin uses the same grisly techniques to probe themes of guilt and retribution in familial, sexual, religious and political contexts. Besides being graphic and gross, it’s imaginative and thought-provoking.

If you care or dare to venture there!

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