Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas With the Cassels

Sometimes one performance really can make a film. Other times, one performance plus a supporting turn in pregnant drag by the same insanely charismatic actor can simply win all.
Kim Chapiron‘s Sheitan will never be called an unmemorable movie. Derivative of other suggested inbred horror? Maybe. Annoying filmed and stocked with characters that need more face punching than a wormy Steven Dorff? You betcha. Unfocused and unresolved? You can say that.
But all these insults ignore the fact that as an eternally smiling bucktoothed animal loving satanic SOMETHING, Vincent Cassel gives one of the funnest, most bizarre and energetic performances I’ve ever seen. It’s almost a Christmas miracle.

Quick Plot: A trio of horny young men make some trouble at a horrifically seizure-inducing club on Christmas Eve. Enter the aptly named Eve, a mysterious temptress who brings the gang (plus too nice hanger-on Yasmine and a smelly unneutered pit mix) to her country home, a strange mansion filled with eerie puppets, a random gang of gangly goofs, and the pure perfection of Joseph, Cassel’s sweater vest (sans shirt) wearing caretaker.
Anyone who’s seen any of the hundres of TCM ripoffs knows something is amiss, and most of us have been well trained enough to predict the plot. Emotionally ugly party kids act obnoxious. EUPKs start getting suspicious. Someone is placed in a situation of seduction and dies horribly pre-orgasm. The remaining EUPKs fight back. One survives, typically amongst lots of screaming. A hit of sequel cues the credits. Rinse and repeat.

Except Sheitan has no plans whatsoever of retreading America’s favorite subgenre. Yes, the setup echoes a dozen other titles, but whether it’s defiant in not satisfying your predictions or just prefers to dally in the details, Sheitan simply avoids the final chase scenes we horror audiences are so conditioned to expect.
This doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a masterpiece of originality. By trying os hard to be bizarre, Sheitan occasionally just feels annoying. We care nothing for our leads, from their bastardly games of gas ‘n dash, cheating on girlfriends with no guilt, and generally, treating property as if it were their own personal urinal. Perhaps it’s refreshing to not have to worry about inevitable victims. But it also means we have to spend 90 minutes with their awfulness.

Is Sheitan a comedy? Maybe. There’s plenty of humor, including raunchy sight gags like Eve getting a goat milk facial. 

The Franklin character of Bart, an unhygienic, ill-mannered jerk, is quite fun to watch squirm, especially when it’s Cassel’s insane Joseph putting on the discomfort.  On the other hand, you get some horrifically creepy dolls that seem to tease you every moment as you wonder when they’ll suddenly engage in a French folk dance or stab someone’s eyes out with cheese knieves. And just when you think he can’t get any better, Cassel shows up with an unflattering banged wig and pregnant belly. At this point, you can’t not want to watch this movie.

Yet I honestly don’t know what in Eden I though of Sheitan. It defies typical horror conventions with such aggression that you simply can’t get a proper handle on what it is. That’s not a bad thing, but it also makes the film one tough nut to crack.
High Points
Did I mention Vincent Cassel is in this movie? DId I mention he’s beyond fabulous. Just to be clear: Vincent Cassel is in this movie and he is indeed beyond fabulous

Though it doesn’t really do too much with its December 25th setting, Sheitan is a refreshingly different alternative to the pile of killer Santa movies that hogs up xmas horror
Low Points
MINOR SPOILERS: When you make us hate characters as much as the guys (particularly the increasingly smarmy Ladj) why would you not show us their ultimate fates?
Lessons Learned
Tall men have a lot of strength in their upper leg region

Unevenly matched games of pool chicken have bigger dangers than your pride

If you don’t want the truly obnoxious men you’ve just met to play with your father’s handmade dolls, perhaps you should stop showing them every single room where said dolls are stored

French nightclubs=the driveway to hell. Why does that not surprise me?

You know those nights when you feel like doing something new and wacky, say, pouring hot sauce on popcorn or sleeping with your feet where your head usually rests? Sheitan is the film for those times, one you’ll recognize bits of from your favorite hick horror but ultimately be blindsided by its utter weirdness. Cassel fans simply can’t pass it by. In all honestly, I wouldn’t necessarily say I liked Sheitan, but the experience was one I won’t soon forget. 
And let’s face it. Any movie that gives us this:

is one worth watching


  1. I caught Sheitan a few years back and still am not entirely sure what to think about it.
    I loved how audacious it was, even when it felt like it was going for shock-for-shocks sake (esp the scene with the aforementioned un-neutered dog - it certainly garnered an audible response from the crowd in the cinema i saw it in).
    That said, the film does leave you feeling, well a little cheated.
    There are some great ideas and images here, the dolls, the stuff w/ the eyes, everything Cassell does, but in the end, it jsut felt like it petered out - lots of cool ideas but not a refined idea of what to do with it all. It almost felt as though they filmed the first draft of the script.
    However, all things considered, I agree with your final assessment: see it, it's bloody odd and has enough of a unique, twisted, vibe that it's not totally unrewarding.

  2. Exactly my thoughts! It's incredibly unsatisfying, but so damn unusual that it's totally worth watching...even if it leaves you feeling really frustrated. Definitely one that's more fun--or at least more interesting--in a group watch too, I'd imagine.

  3. jervaise brooke hamsterDecember 27, 2010 at 6:19 AM

    Emily, Heather would have been 35 today, i hope you`ll be watching "Poltergeist 3" to commemorate.

  4. No I won't, mostly because it's not a very good film and has nothing to do with December 27th.

  5. I share the same sentiments as zombivish. I saw this about 2 years ago and I STILL don't know what to make of it It's truly bizarre.

    But Cassel's performance was maniacally brilliant.

  6. jervaise brooke hamsterDecember 27, 2010 at 2:18 PM

    But Emily i was primarily refering to the fact that it was the last film she ever appeared in and there-fore it would be nice to watch it on her birthday purely for senti-girl-tal reasons even though it is an appalling film.

  7. Here here Cortez!

    And JBH, today is also John Amos' birthday so there's simply no way I wold dare dishonor that by NOT watching Coming to America.

  8. jervaise brooke hamsterDecember 31, 2010 at 6:59 AM

    John "WHO", Emily i`m talking about the Goddess that is "HEATHER O`ROURKE" who should be worshipped by everyone.

  9. Now Jervaise, if we all had the same religion, the world would be way too not interesting.

  10. jervaise brooke hamsterDecember 31, 2010 at 11:29 AM

    Emily, religion is a horrifying abomination in all its forms and it must be destroyed with malice-a-fore-thought and extreme prejudice if the the hu-girl race is to ever reach its full potential (by the way, i didn`t need Richard Dawkins to explain that to me, i`ve known it all my life). I randomly used the words "Goddess" and "Worship" to describe Heather just to illustrate how all-engulfing and all-encompassing my obsession with her is.