Friday, June 22, 2007

"Captivity" and the art of the B-movie hustle

Captivity (2007)

Director: Roland Joffé
Writers: Larry Cohen

Elisha Cuthbert... Jennifer

The amount of time and energy that is going into promoting “Captivity” is an interesting display of B-movie hustle. It’s the kind of shameless exploitation that you just don’t see much of these days. Most B-movies land with a soft thud in the video store waiting for some dupe to pick it up and give it a whirl. The hucksters behind “Captivity” really want the world to think that they have got an ultra shocking film that must be seen. “Captivity” is not content to be just another box on the video shelf waiting for that one B-movie fan to show it some love. It wants to stir up the mainstream and reap all of the controversy and condemnation their little exploitation flick can muster. Will the normal people take the bait and point their self righteous fingers at the B-movie fiends? They already have. Suckers.

But first, let’s jump back in time to last year. I went to an advanced screening of “Captivity” at the Arclight Cinema in Hollywood. I was sitting in front of the writer and a tall blonde who I think was Hundra in the classic 80’s cheesefest “Hundra”. The guy sitting next to me was talking to himself and babbling about starting his own radio station. I was listening to the people sitting behind me and they were wondering if the director was going to show up for the screening. Someone yelled out that he was in Italy. I took that as a bad sign. He didn’t want to see the reaction to his movie. So with all of this going on around me, I settled in to watch “Captivity”.

“Captivity” is about a blonde getting imprisoned and tortured. It is about nothing else. Cuthbert goes through the B-movie motions of a spoiled model getting forced to do things against her will. Sadistic mind games twist Cuthbert until she just can’t take it anymore. More violence and depravity follow.

When the screening was over, they asked us to stay behind to answer a few questions. I was the only one in that room who kind of liked “Captivity”. I thought it was a fair B-movie. The rest of the group despised it. They were not the right target audience. These were mainstream moviegoers all the way. Near the end of the session, they asked us to grade some alternate ending ideas. One of the possible endings was to have Cuthbert take a shotgun and shoot the main bad guy in the nuts. I applauded that ending. I was alone in my applause.

As I left the theater, I didn’t see much of a theatrical future for “Captivity”. It had the look, feel and smell of a straight to video B-flick. After the critical mauling they got from the test audience, I felt sure that the responsible filmmakers behind “Captivity” would see it my way and send it to a video store near me as soon as possible. Now I understand that I was terribly wrong.

Never underestimate a determined B-movie showman. The carnies behind the sideshow “Captivity” won’t take no for an answer. Hurry! Hurry! Hurry! Step right up for the wildest spectacle you’ve ever seen! We’ve got a blonde behind bars! WOO-HOO! Bring the kids! Fun for the whole family!

The brainstorming on how to hustle “Captivity” must have started the night after the screening. They knew they needed a hook to get audiences already bloodied by the “Saw” and “Hostel” flicks excited about their particular celluloid brutality. So they let their marketing department off the chain and allowed them to run free and cause havoc. It was B-movie promotional gold they brought back to their masters.

So some maniacal genius unleashed a series of billboards in Los Angeles to brace moviegoers for the onslaught of “Captivity”. It was a disgusting billboard even by my standards. There’s something about driving down Pico and seeing a four panel billboard promising you “Abduction, Confinement, Torture, (with a picture of Cuthbert being force fed through her nose), Termination” that makes you feel dirty just looking at it.I was laughing at the filmmaker’s desperate decision to sell their B-flick. But I thought to myself, if I’m doing a double take on this billboard, I wonder how the normal moviegoers are going to react.

Well, it didn’t take long for the rubes to be up in arms over this billboard. It even got a mention in the California section of the L.A. Times as a columnist proceeded to rip into the filmmakers for their decision to blight L.A. with their exploitative advertising. Won’t someone please think of the children?! When contacted about their morally bankrupt billboard, the filmmakers assured the general public that is was all a misunderstanding and the billboards would be taken down by next week. The public congratulated itself on a job well done.

Of course we all know the truth. The filmmakers were the real winners as they drew more attention to their little “blonde in a hole” flick than any amount of trailers and talk show appearances possibly could. Those billboards were no mistake. The filmmakers were praying for some self righteous do-gooder to condemn them. All of the stones that were thrown at them felt so good. Now people will remember “Captivity”.

After the billboard fiasco, I read that the filmmakers went back and reshot 30-40% of the movie to add some more blood and gore. So the movie I saw a year ago is probably nowhere near the movie that will be slinking into theaters. Now the posters around town just have a picture of Cuthbert staring behind prison bars. At the bottom of the poster it reads, “Friday July 13th.” The hustle never ends…

SCORE: 2 out of 4 for blondes, blood and B-movie bullsh-t


Heather Santrous said...

I was reading where they reshot the film and was reading about someone that had watched a screening of the film. Possibly it was you since I know you post on IMDb. I agree with you that it was no mistake. Every film that gets someone to protest it for whatever reason, almost always makes money in the end. I don't think people will ever learn that if they ignore it, it will probably go away a lot faster. More than likely I will see this movie, not because of what I have been reading about it but because I just love horror movies.

Since I found your blog I have noticed you haven't been posting to it as much. Hope that changes. I have been really enjoying it.

Dr. Gore ( said...

Thanks Heather. Glad to know there are people out there checking me out. I'm going to get back on the bandwagon soon. The blog will be back on the path of sleazy movie reviews. That's where it belongs.

Zacery Nova said...

I love the controversy this film managed to garner. Films need to go overboard, I missed out on the days where every b-movie flick did this and wish more would go overboard nowadays.

- Zacery

Michael Whiteacre said...

I think it's amazing that a Larry Cohen movie now gets the Hollywood test screening process. It just shows you that the people in charge of making movies today -- the people who can greenlight them-- have absolutely no idea what movie they're making. It's just a product. They basically have an accounting table: one "name" tv star plus a catchy title with a budget of less than X = a profitable enterprise. These guys don't know if the director is getting the necessary shots, because they have no idea what those might be -- they're investment bankers not filmmakers. Once it's all put together, "How do we market it?"

Dr. Gore ( said...

What I find amazing is that these hucksters think that people are going to buy into their marketing onslaught. Maybe back in the days before the internet you could get away with scamming people into thinking you've got a hot property. But now you've got so many sources of info streaming at you it's near impossible for a B-movie like "Captivity" to pretend to be anything other than what it is: A sleazy B-flick with a blonde crying for help.

Don't get me wrong. "Captivity" is my kind of movie. But if you're trying to rope in the normal moviegoer, you're going to be severely disappointed.

Anonymous said...

my only complaint, which you address, is the movie was just a pointless gore movie. No real philosophy, no gripping ending....just torture :(