Writing in the Toronto International Film Festival program book Steve Gravestock said Rhymes with Young Ghouls plays, “as if an S.E. Hinton novel were re-imagined as a righteously furious, surreal thriller.”
The self-assured debut feature from director Jeff Barnaby is the story of Aila (Devery Jacobs), an Aboriginal teenager who is guided by the spirits of her departed mother and brother to exact revenge against a vicious Indian Agent named Popper.
“I think the idea behind what we were doing was to show the enormity of that went on,” says Barnaby. “You do want to shock people but not with the content of the film but with the idea that the content of the film actually happened. Most of the reviews have been astoundingly positive but the couple of bad ones that we’ve gotten have complained about the Popper role, and how over the top it is and how he is like this moustache twisting villain, but if you know the history, these guys had to have existed.
“I suppose you could be polite about saying, ‘You can’t leave the reserve and you can’t go find work and you have to live in this poverty, and by the way, you have to give us your kids.’ I’m sure there was an Indian Agent or truant officer somewhere who was really cool about it but at the end of the day these are the acts of evil men.”
It’s a pop culture savvy movie; a work Barnaby calls “a cinephile’s film.” A pop culture sponge himself, he says years of influences came together in the making of Rhymes with Young Ghouls.
“I grew up being saturated in everything, comic books, books,” he says. “My stepmom was going to university at the time so she was bringing home all these great books, like English poetry, T.S. Elliot and Robert Frost, so I began to appreciate art at a very early age.”
Near the top of the influence list are Batman and Conan the Barbarian.
“They are both anti-heroes but they share this idea of not being above physical violence in order to rectify a situation,” he says. “They both lost their parents, they’re both vigilantes particularly with Conan we follow the storyline of the first Schwarzenegger movie—a religious cult comes along and destroys his family and he goes searching for them and destroys the cult. That is more or less the model we used for Rhymes although very loosely, in the way Scorsese says he used The Searchers for Taxi Driver.”
He also cites Scott Hampton’s The Upturned Stone, Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest and Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club but adds the influences go “through all these filters and by the time it hits the screen what you are trying to emulate has turned into something completely different.”
These days the most famous Conan is a flame haired TV host with the last name O’Brien, but that may change this weekend when a new Conan hits screens. Instead of chatting up celebrity talking heads this Conan is beheading rival tribesmen.
The new “Conan the Barbarian” has all the earmarks of the infamous Arnold Schwarzenegger 80’s cheese fests. There’s a bare-chested hero (Jason Momoa), damsels in distress (Rachel Nichols), big swords and a character described as “a mysterious warrior of dark magic” (Rose McGowan).
It’s a revenge story sparked by the murder of Conan’s father (Ron Perlman) and the slaughter of everyone in his Cimmerian village by a power hungry bandit (Stephen Lang) and his henchmen. Young Conan witnessed the whole thing and though helpless to stop the carnage then, vows to use his giant muscles and even bigger sword to hunt down and destroy the men at the root of all his daddy issues.
With a name like “Conan the Barbarian” you know pretty much what you in for. “Eat, Pray, Love” this ain’t. Maybe “Eat, Slay, Love.” There are several epic battle scenes, a cool fight with magical sand warriors and the “Clash of the Titan’s” Kraken even makes an appearance. It’s not for the faint of heart (also, horse lovers might want think twice about this as well) but what did you expect from a movie with the word Barbarian in the title?
It’s a kind of take-it-or-leave-it proposition. If you’re a fan of sword and sorcery movies then this will be for you. If the idea of blood spurting off the screen in glorious 3D appeals, then by all means have a look. If not, well the talking ape movie is still in theatres.
Hollywood is so into recycling you’d think Al Gore was running a studio and green-lighting movies. This year alone we’ve seen reimaginings, reboots and redos galore, from Straw Dogs and Footloose to Conan the Barbarian and The Mechanic.
It seems Tinseltown never met an idea it couldn’t endlessly recycle.
This is particularly true in the horror genre. In the last 12 months, Colin Farrell clipped on Chris Sarandon’s used fangs in a remake of Fright Night, and this weekend, The Thing is, according to IMDB, “a prequel to a remake of an adaptation of the novella Who Goes There?” Whatever it is, original it’s not.
Not that all original horror films are better than their remakes. David Cronenberg’s dark vision enhanced the story of The Fly, delivering the real scares that the campy 1958 version lacked, and 1978’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers is far creepier than its cinematic predecessor.
The Blob, the tale of what happens when germ warfare goes awry, has been made a couple of times.
The original is an unintentionally funny flick with more giggles than gore, but it inspired a sequel, a remake and, if the rumours are true, a bloody revamp by horror maestro Rob Zombie.
I have a soft spot for the low-budget charm of the 1958 version, although the 1988 reboot has a smarter-than-it-needs-to-be script co-written by Frank Darabont and a cool tagline — “Scream now! while you can still breathe!”
Count Dracula is one of the most portrayed characters on the big screen, having appeared in more horror films than any other famous monster of filmland. Eighty years after he first portrayed the vampire in the 1931 film Dracula, Bela Lugosi is still the most famous blood sucker of them all, although for my money, two British actors — Gary Oldham in Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Christopher Lee in Horror of Dracula — are tip-top Transylvanians.
Unlike his work in Scream, Wes Craven’s early films didn’t have any of the self-depreciating humour to go along with the scares.
His first movies were brutal, bloody and grim, usually all at once. Recent remakes of The Last House on the Left — rated R for “sadistic violence” — and The Hills Have Eyes — “The lucky ones die first!”— don’t have quite the impact of the Vietnam-era originals but still require a strong stomach.
Sword and sorcery movies are easy to spot. Look for a bare-chested hero, damsels in distress, big swords and at least one character described as “a mysterious warrior of dark magic.” You’ll also see an epic story, a hint of romance, some fantasy and, of course swashbuckling battle scenes.
On film, the genre had its heyday with two 1980s cheese fondues starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Brigitte Nielsen (as the She-Devil with a Sword) respectively— Conan the Barbarian and Red Sonja.
This weekend, Hollywood hopes to breathe new life into the genre with a reimagining of the Schwarzenegger saga. Stepping in for Arnold, Jason “Game of Thrones” Momoa will battle monsters, evil henchmen and a powerful witch, played by Rose McGowan in Conan the Barbarian.
Critics have always had an ambivalent relationship with sword and sorcery. The 1982 Conan the Barbarian was described as “both exciting AND unintentionally amusing,” while Red Sonja was dismissed as “pure silliness, but not silly enough to qualify as amusing.”
The Beastmaster, a 1982 film starring the Canadian-born Marc Singer as Dar, a warrior with a mystical control over all animals, only has a 50 per cent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but has become a cult classic over the years due to near constant exposure on television. TBS played the movie so often it earned the nickname The Beastmaster Station. Ditto HBO, which one writer joked stood for “Hey, Beastmaster is On.”
Also dismissed by critics but worth a look is Atlas In the Land of the Cyclops, a 1961 film starring muscleman Gordon Mitchell, whose first showbiz gig was as a strongman in Mae West’s beefcake revue, and sex symbol Chelo Alonso as the prerequisite beautiful but evil queen. Strangely, no character named Atlas actually appears in this Italian import—Mitchell plays Maciste, a hero made famous in silent Italian cinema, but unknown to American audiences—and Cyclops is only onscreen for about two minutes. Still, it’s good Saturday matinee fun.
No mention of sword and sorcery films could be complete without Hercules. There are dozens of films starring the Greek demigod but Hercules Against the Moon Men must be the silliest. This grade-Z flick is so bad, its director, Giacomo Gentilomo, who also made Slave Girls of Sheba and Goliath and the Island of Vampires, quit the film business shortly after the movie was completed.