Sauna, Directed by Antti-Jussa Annila, 2008
Synopsis: In post-war Eastern Europe, Finnish and Russian delegates arbitrate a new border as they travel north through the country, before coming across a mysterious village and the secrets of an anachronistic sauna nestled in the middle of a swamp.
My Thoughts: Sauna rounded out the bottom of my personal Top Ten list in 2008, but this was the first time I'd seen the film since screening it at Fantastic Fest. In the comfort of my living room, I have to say, it lost some impact. There was definitely something special being completely unprepared for it when I first saw it in a movie theater, where the sights and sounds enveloped me in a way that a television screen can't. It's a shame more people didn't get to see Sauna on the big screen.
Even though I love Sauna, I'm not sure who to recommend it to. It probably doesn't have enough visceral thrills for the average horror fan, but it may be too much of a horror film for the foreign arthouse crowd. It's a dark tale of redemption, with a pleasing supernatural bent to it, in a very unique setting. If you like slow-burn, creepy horror, a little outside the norm, give Sauna a shot.
Recommended If You Like: Silent Hill, Andrei Tarkovsky
Planet Terror, Directed by Robert Rodriguez, 2007
Synopsis: A bio-weapon accidentally infects the public, transforming people into gut-munching zombies.
My Thoughts: As Rodriguez continues to build his resume, it's more and more obvious that he's not interested in much of anything other than creating a thin plot with which to hang cool characters and ideas for scenes. Sometimes it fails (Shorts); sometimes it works -- like it does here.
Planet Terror is an unapologetically dumb action romp, filled with unbelievable cartoon characters and exciting gore gags. While it doesn't quite feel like a grindhouse film, it does feel a little like some forgotten VHS gem from the 80s. Planet Terror is at its best when it stoops for gallows humor (the scene where Marley Shelton leaves her kid in the car with a gun kills me every time); it's at its worst when it gives Rose McGowan dialogue (I still don't understand the running bit about her wanting to be a stand-up comedian, and I don't think McGowan understands it either).
Recommended If You Like: John Carpenter, From Dusk Till Dawn, zombie comedies
Empire of the Ants, Directed by Bert I. Gordon, 1977
Synopsis: A group of prospective real estate investors are boated out to a toxic peninsula covered in deadly giant ants.
My Thoughts: I really like how unlikable almost all of the characters are in this film. Of particular interest are Joan Collins as a shrill, selfish land developer and Robert Pine as a poor man's Jack Nicholson and wannabe rapist. Bottom line -- this is really just a movie about giant ants killing everyone, and it succeeds in that way (over and over and over again).
It takes a bizarro left turn in the final act, which certainly breaks up the endless ant attacks, but also makes no logical sense whatsoever. You'll thrill to the blown-up stock footage of (incredibly noisy) ants, as our characters stand beside the super-imposed images and panic. If that sounds like your cup of tea, there's enough B-movie entertainment in Empire of the Ants to make it worth your while.
Recommended If You Like: Antz, Them!, Phase IV