Crossing Over: “PUNISHER: WAR ZONE”Fearful Features,Movies/TV,News Ken W. Hanley
Welcome, FANGORIA Readers, to CROSSING OVER, our newest column that highlights the films, series and content out there outside of horror that is fashioned towards or pays tribute to our beloved genre. By shining a light onto these projects, FANGORIA hopes to open a world of entertainment perfect for fright fans that lies just beyond the borders of the horror community. So without further ado…
While the superhero genre has occasionally crossed paths with the horror genre- SPAWN, HELLBOY, BLADE, GHOST RIDER, to name a few- the former genre rarely gets to unleash the full range of the latter’s potential. Sure, there are monsters, demons and other nasty beasts that show up occasionally to face our heroes, and sure, things do get bleak and occasionally bloody at times, but rarely do superhero films embrace the darker side of their imagination on the big screen. However, one of the glaring exceptions to the rule is also likely the goriest and most brutal superhero film to date: Lexi Alexander’s PUNISHER: WAR ZONE.
A sequel/soft reboot of THE PUNISHER film franchise, WAR ZONE opted out of the ‘70s revenge film feel of Jonathan Hensleigh’s 2004 PUNISHER film to go headfirst into the colorful, cartoonish world of Tim Bradstreet’s comic book companion. In that sense, WAR ZONE unleashes the fever-dream version of THE PUNISHER, complete with scenes of faces being caved in, bodies mutilated, incapacitated baddies being blown to bits and enough blood to paint a warehouse. Yet while THE PUNISHER and gruesome deliveries out of the mortal coil are virtually synonymous, WAR ZONE reaches for its inner horror hound when it comes to its villains.
Complete with grotesque facial scars and a demeanor pulled out of the Freddy Krueger hand-book, WAR ZONE opts to go from mobster to monster with their depiction of longtime PUNISHER villain Jigsaw. While Jigsaw’s “origin” in which a man is thrown into a bottle-crushing machine is likely the most outwardly horrific moment of WAR ZONE, Jigsaw’s rash outbursts of violence and fervent aversion to mirrors definitely leans closer to sadistic maniac than calculated villain. Hell, there’s even a scene where Jigsaw uses his disfigured face to explicitly scare a child! And don’t even get me started on Looney Bin Jim, the cannibalistic psychopath who was created explicitly for this film.
As much as this could be attributed to the short-lived Marvel Knights banner under which WAR ZONE was released, the truth is that the most visceral and bad-ass moments of the film can be traced back to Lexi Alexander. With the awesome, chaotic GREEN STREET HOOLIGANS to her resume, Alexander mixes the aesthetics of Dario Argento, John McTiernan, and Michael Winner to create a superhero film that eased up on the “hero” element and “super” could be applied to the body count. And what a body count it is too: Alexander composes her carnage like Tobe Hooper with a gigantic playbox, going with bold colors, hard-hitting kills and a wicked-grin all the way through.
In fact, PUNISHER: WAR ZONE goes to depraved lengths higher than even Marvel’s other R-rated property, BLADE, and masterfully raises its horror quotient every step of the way. Even more admirably, the bloodshed is executed as practically as possible, which is paired with enough explosive VFX to satisfy even the most hardened gorehound. And since PUNISHER: WAR ZONE trades its cape and costume for body armor and heavy weaponry, the superhero stigma is all but gone, allowing Lexi Alexander to let her frightening freak flag fly.