October 13, 2006


TO SIR, WITH LOVE posterIt's October which means that everyone and their dog is engaged in some kind of lame SPOOK-tacular stunt to celebrate this pagan, devil-worshipping, hell-born holiday. Never one to let lameness pass me by, I'm celebrating Halloween on Kaiju SPOOK-down with reviews of horror movies. Some of you may have seen these before. Some of them may be old news. But here they are, all in one place and ready for you to SPOOK them. And when I say "SPOOK" I mean "read".

Who'd have thought that the best slasher pic to come along in a while would hail from Korea? But TO SIR, WITH LOVE is a super-sized serving of stalking, slashing, POV camera shots while someone breathes heavily on the soundtrack, gory stabbings and faceless killers...basically all the ingredients that made MY BLOODY VALENTINE, BLACK CHRISTMAS, FRIDAY THE 13th, and a million other movies clog up the video racks in the early 80's, twisting children for life and causing them to grow up and attend horror conventions.

With shout-outs to SLEEPAWAY CAMP and a fistful of other almost-forgettable slasher flicks it's impossible to mistake TO SIR, WITH LOVE for anything but what it is: the kind of movie you watch after a few beers or some "grass" at the midnight showing.

Now, to qualify an earlier comment, when I say "best slasher pic" I mean exactly that: best slasher pic. This is not a movie that's going to win any awards. It's got ambition, and you can feel the cast and crew chomping at the metaphorical bit (when they're not chomping on razor blades) to make a movie that's better than what's in the script, but it's all for nought. By the time the credits roll, reason and logic have gone out the window and what you're left with is a most excellent horror flick that has no pretensions to any greater goal than to sit comfortably in the video store between TICKS and TOURIST TRAP.

best slasher picThe set-up is red-blooded and raw, the kind of thing that B-list pictures like this can chew happily. A gang of elementary school students come to visit their ailing teacher Ms. Park. Confined to a wheelchair and given the odd sponge bath by Mi-Ja, another of her old students, Ms. Park is facing the end of her life. We know this because she coughs a lot and hallucinates. In an attempt to give her closure, Mi-Ja has invited her classmates to come visit the old gal so she can see how she touched their lives and made them better people. They arrive in ones and twos and bow to Ms. Park, thanking her for teaching them, as she tears up and pats their heads with trembling hands.

It could be the beginning of a sweet, sentimental TV drama except for a few little twists. Like the fact that Ms. Park abused most of these students, humiliating them in class and laughing at their pathetic attempts to curry her favor. Today they're cripples, bulimics, plastic surgery addicts, drunks, and generally the most self-loathing crew of extreme masochists I've seen since I attended the last Log Cabin Republicans meeting. And there's the fact that Ms. Park has a deformed son she keeps in the basement. And the fact that someone starts murdering house guests with school supplies.

There's plenty of stupid on display. The first couple of murders happen as characters line up politely, take a number and leave the house to go have a cigarette on the nearby beach before getting dispatched with a razor blade in an orderly fashion, one by one. And the ending defies logic, reason, common sense and most of the laws of Western Minneapolis.

But the over-the-top characterizations and back stories and the constant sense of menace result in a WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? vibe that permeates the first few reels like a bad smell. And by the time you get to the killings (which don't actually start until well past the half hour mark) you're already really enjoying this gallery of nutjobs and poor attitudes.

While the cinematography is sharp and nicely composed (there are a few shocks you actually won't see coming thanks to clever framing) occasionally it over-reaches, like an early scene where the camera zooms in and out over and over like it's on speed until you start to feel seasick.

The camerawork gets downright funky and experimental at times, which kicks up the fun meter another notch and the murders are the nastiest I've seen since ART OF THE DEVIL 2 despite being relatively brief.

TEACHING MS. TINGLE was a movie that tried to go in this direction, but no other film that I can think of eviscerates teachers and teaching as hard or as nastily as TO SIR, WITH LOVE. And, as staples and thumbs go into eyes, razor blades go down throats and geometry compasses are put to all kinds of ugly uses it made me think back on my high school days nostalgically and say to myself, "Yep, that's about how it was."

(Read another take on TO SIR, WITH LOVE over on KoreanFilm.org)

October 13, 2006 at 01:59 AM in Reviews | Permalink


I consider myself a horror fan, but let me put it this way:

if I don't like Art of the Devil 2, will I like this?

I'm not a huge Argento fan nor am I the biggest Fulci fan but I would put Fulci over Argento (based on my comparison of Suspiria vs. The Beyond) and am more than willing to give Bava a chance but the slasher pic is....very hit or miss with me. How can I hedge my bets here?

Posted by: Simon Abrams | Oct 13, 2006 12:35:32 PM


Posted by: oj | Oct 13, 2006 11:53:39 PM

This comes close to ART OF THE DEVIL 2, but while the gore isn't quite as good the over-the-top acting and situations are far superior to ART 2.

Your mileage may vary.

Posted by: Grady Hendrix | Oct 14, 2006 5:11:33 PM

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