Thursday, October 23, 2014

Thursday Movie Picks: Vampire Movies

The theme for this week's Thursday Movie Picks, hosted by the amazing Wanderer at Wandering Through the Shelves, is one that is near and dear to my heart: vampire movies. Vampires are my favorite of all movie monsters. Well, they were, until the Stephanie Meyer led wussification of them. So yeah, I still fully believe that Edward Cullen must die.

Thankfully, there are some vampire movies of recent vintage that I'm proud to call blood sucker flicks. However, they aren't as widely known as the tripe that rakes in all the box office dough so I'm definitely calling these hidden gems. In fact, all three of my picks made my list of the best vampire movies since 2000. Chronologically, they are...

Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust
A wealthy man whose daughter has been abducted by vampires hires D, the best hunter in the business to bring her back safely. What transpires is a wild, violent, and strange ride into a world overrun by vampires. D himself is half-vampire. To oversimplify, think of this as an anime version of Blade. Since that's selling it way short, just see the damn movie. Without the kids.

30 Days of Night
In a small Alaskan industrial town, the set is about to set and won't come back up for 30 days. When that happens, a group of vampires shows up with sharp teeth and large appetites. And that's pretty much it. This is one of the most savage and visceral portrayals of vampires ever committed to film. There are no romantic notions, no thoughtful metaphors, just hunting for food. These vampires...and the food they eat...are about as raw as it gets.

Oldboy director Park Chan-wook delivers this ridiculously under-seen vampire flick. It centers on a priest who, through a blood transfusion needed to save him from a deadly disease, becomes a vampire. If wrestling with that weren't enough for the man's conscience, he finds himself falling in love with a married woman. He turns her. Then the real fun begins. (full review)

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones

Directed by Christopher B. Landon.
2014. Rated R, 84 minutes.
Andrew Jacobs
Jorge Diaz
Gabrielle Walsh
Renee Victor
Noemi Gonzalez
David Saucedo
Gloria Sandoval
Katie Featherston
Micah Sloat
Molly Ephraim

For this installment in the Paranormal Activity series, we switch from a sprawling quiet suburb to a cramped inner-city apartment building. Instead of focusing on Katie (Featherston) and/or members of her family, we follow around Jesse (Jacobs) and Hector (Diaz), a couple of guys who just graduated from high school, but don't really seem to have much direction. Their days consist of a little skateboarding, smoking a little pot, trying to get into some girl's pants, videotaping everything, and avoiding the occasional horde of thugs who happen to notice that they're suddenly on camera. After hearing some strange, erotic sounding noises coming through the vent from the apartment below, guess where they drop their camera. What they see enhances, but doesn't quite confirm their belief that the lady who lives in said apartment is a witch. To cut to the chase, strange things start happening in Jesse's apartment, and to him personally.

Once again, we follow the Paranormal Activity template. Someone lugs a camera around while odd things happen and someone is possessed. Aided by the home footage look that permeates the series, the acting is pretty natural. It is a major plus to be able to say anything good about the acting in the fifth movie in a horror franchise. And it's true. Watching these two guys just be boys is easily the best part of the movie. Unfortunately, nothing else holds much water. The jump scares don't make us jump and certainly don't scare us. The plot meanders way too much for its own good. The whole thing makes less sense any other film in the series, and ends with a lame tie-in to those movies. Part of that is simply due to location. It simply doesn't work.

The change in scenery creates a big problem for this film that its predecessors didn't have. Part of what makes a haunted house flick successful is the isolation felt by the inhabitants. It's easy for neighbors to not believe you have ghosts because they may never hear or see anything. This fosters a sense of hopelessness in both the people living in the house and the viewers. The only people that might help are ones you call when times are desperate, members of the clergy or oddballs that fancy themselves to be ghost-busters. More important to the atmosphere of the movie, there really is nothing else going on. By changing to a crowded urban landscape the plot is instantly convoluted. There are too many people that could, and should, know something. There are also too many people who don't give a crap what's going on. There are just naturally too many agendas to present for this type of story. This leads us in the audience to more willingly question the events in the movie. Our ability to suspend disbelief is more seriously tested. When things are focused on the happenings inside a single family house where the neighbors aren't too close, it's easier for us to be absorbed by the movie and experience it. With The Marked Ones, we just watch it. Magic already fading due to the redundant nature of being a franchise with an installment every year, is now completely gone.

MY SCORE: 3.5/10

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Cockneys vs. Zombies

Directed by Matthias Hoene.
2012. Rated R, 87 minutes.
Harry Treadaway
Rasmus Hardiker
Michelle Ryan
Alan Ford
Georgia King
Ashley Thomas
Jack Doolan
Tony Gardner
Tony Selby
Georgina Hale
Honor Blackman

Two dim-witted blokes working on a construction site think it's their lucky day when they discover a hidden underground room. They journey down the dark stairway hoping to find a buried treasure only to become zombie food. Switching over to more stupid people, we meet brothers Terry (Hardiker) and Andy (Treadaway) as they're assembling a crew to help them pull off a bank robbery. They also make a stop to visit their grandfather Ray (Ford), a World War II vet now living in a rest home. Of course, the heist doesn't go according to plan. As they're trying to escape the bank they see that just about everyone in town has been zombified. Our heroes, plus a few others, trying to rescue Grandpa and his friends at the rest home, and just trying to stay alive ensues.

From time to time, we get some good laughs, and some cringe inducing gore from Cockneys vs. Zombies. It's a lively affair that stars a tad slow, but picks up considerably once we get to the bank robbery. Much of the humor comes from the stupidity of our co-leads. Together, Rasmus Hardiker and Harry Treadaway make a funny enough pair. The psychotic behavior of Ashley Thomas as Mental Mickey, the "back in my day I woulda..." quality of Alan Ford's performance as Ray, and Michelle Ryan and Katy pointing out the idiocy of everyone involved all elicit their fair share of laughs.

Even as we're getting those laughs, we're not as thrilled with it as we should be. What holds the movie back more than anything is its completely derivative nature. It's most obvious influence is, of course, Shaun of the Dead. Not only does the plot go in many of the same directions, but Terry and Andy come across as a knock off version Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Like I said, they aren't terrible, just not nearly as good as the originals. CvZ also draws heavily from the crime comedies of Guy Ritchie. A number of exchanges between characters and even the characters themselves feel like they were picked up off the cutting room floor of Snatch, or Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. Again, the way it happens here is okay, but pales in comparison to its own inspirations. That makes this a movie that's okay, but probably works better if you haven't seen the films it draws from.

MY SCORE: 6/10

Monday, October 20, 2014

Movies I Grew Up With: A Nightmare on Elm Street

By November of 1984, I was only thirteen years old, but already starting to develop my lust for slasher flicks. I had already seen Halloween, Prom Night, Sleepaway Camp, and the first three Friday the 13th movies. There are probably a few more that I'm forgetting, but you get the picture. Naturally, when I saw the commercial for Wes Craven's latest, A Nightmare on Elm Street, I had to see it as soon as possible. My bestest buddy in the whole wide world also wanted to see it. Here's where Mom came in. I was only thirteen. How else was I going to get there? Sure, my friends' had parents that might be willing to take us to the theater, but they weren't all as liberal as my mom when it came to what types of movies us kids watched. all, she was fully aware I was watching stuff like Porky's, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, The Last American Virgin, and Zapped!, along with the aforementioned fright movies.

Don't judge her.

In this case, I can't recall the amount of begging that actually took place. I do know that Mom isn't much of a horror movie fan. She's not utterly opposed to them, at least back then she wasn't, but she'd rather watch something else most of the time. Still, I, or we, did enough whining to get her to bite the bullet, load up the car, and take a bunch of us to meet Freddy Krueger. By a bunch of us, I mean myself, three siblings, my bestest buddy, and his little brother. My three siblings, by the way, all younger than I. In fact, I was the second oldest of all since my friend was six months my senior. My youngest brother brought up the rear at a whopping four years of age.

Don't you dare judge her.

What we saw was simply, and still, one of the best slasher flicks ever made. Just in case you're somehow unfamiliar with the story, I'll give you a quick rundown. Years ago, Freddy was the janitor at a local school and murdered a bunch of kids. He was arrested, but got off on a technicality. Not willing to take that lying down, the neighborhood parents got together and burned him alive. Now, it seems Freddy is haunting their children from beyond the grave through their dreams. The kicker is that if he kills anyone in their dream, they die in real life. And yeah, he kills up some Elm Street kids in their dreams. One of them actually went to have a fairly successful career. It was the kid who got sucked into his own bed during a dream only to have all of his blood and guts come shooting out of it like a geyser. He was played by some guy making his big screen debut by the name of Johnny Depp. You might have heard of him.

Didn't I tell you not to judge her?

That scene featuring Depp is just one of a number of surreal sequences. Another featured a girl who seemed to be flying about the room as her body was being repeatedly gashed. Still another, showed the heroine being dragged into her own bath water which turns out to be a bottomless pool, waking up just before she meets her end. Often it wasn't immediately clear that the person being shown had fallen asleep. This added to the mystery of things. The entire movie significantly raised the bar on what could be done with dream sequences. Of course, spoiler alert, the good guys figure out a way to stop Freddy. They think they kill him, but that's not really the case as we're set up quite nicely for a sequel. The credits roll. We go home. Then the fun starts.

That four year old brother of mine had watched this entire movie unfold without flinching. At least, I didn't see him flinch. He certainly never crawled into Mom's lap, bury his face in her bosom, or even call her name. He hung in there like a champ. I was proud of the boy. Then, he showed his true colors. Whatever colors a four year old has, of course.

When we got home, he had to use the restroom. He ran to the upstairs bathroom, went in and dropped his pants. I happened to be coming up the stairs right behind him and noticed he left the door open. Being a good big brother, I closed it without even thinking about it. Suddenly, my brother screamed as loud as humanly possible, ran to the door, and yanked it open. My first reaction was to ask what in the world was he doing, since his pants were still down around his ankles. All he could do was point toward the bathtub. I laughed and tried to close the door again, but he was having none of that. So yeah, my brother used the bathroom with the door wide open. I don't know about your house, but that was most certainly not a normal occurrence at mine.

The fun wasn't quite over for my brother. During those days, he and I slept in the attic which had been transformed into a bedroom. We each had a side and were separated only by the staircase leading up to it. Once he made it up there, it was well past his bedtime, so he got his pajamas on and...

didn't get into bed.

Instead, he just stares at the thing. I remind him that it's time for him to hit the sack. Since he was obviously having a flashback to the demise of Johnny Depp, he started feeling all over the mattress, checking for holes to be sucked into. It took quite a while for him to be satisfied that Freddy Krueger was not going to grab him from somewhere beneath the bed and spray his insides all over the ceiling. When he reached that point, he manage to lie down and actually sleep through the night.

You still can't judge her.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Ape Man

Directed by William Beaudine.
1943. Not Rated, 64 minutes.
Bela Lugosi
Louise Currie
Wallace Ford
Henry Hall
Minerva Urecal
Ralph Littlefield
Emil Van Horn

Sometimes, people are too smart for their own good. And by people, I mean mad scientists in movies. James Brewster (Lugosi) is one of those. I'm not sure what he was actually trying to accomplish, but he's managed to transform himself into an ape in the old school Roddy McDowall sense of the word. He's totally in control of his thoughts and actions. However, he walks kinda-sorta like an ape, has hairy knuckles, and can't stand up straight. On the plus side, he's almost as strong as a gorilla and has grown a thick head of hair with an awesome beard to match. In my world, he has two clear choices for what he should do next. He can either get himself a costume and fight crime, or get a costume and try to take over the city. Either way, dude should be dressing up and making a name for himself. But alas, Dr. Brewster doesn't live in my world. He lives in the...ahem...real world of 1940s sci-fi/horror. So, no costume. Dammit.

When we meet him, he's inexplicably in a cage in his house laboratory with a "real" ape. And by "real," I mean a dude in a gorilla suit. This is also the first time his sister Agatha (Urecal) has seen him since his accident. For good measure, there's a reporter (Ford) and his lady photographer (Currie) snooping around because, apparently, Dr. Stewart is famous and has been reported missing. Yes, it's important that the photographer is a lady because this movie was made in 1943 (hate to keep harping on the era). She's just been hired by the newspaper (remember those?) and the reporter keeps questioning her abilities because, well, girl. Don't worry. She has a witty comeback for every one of his snide remarks. Later on, get this, she even defends herself. This is downright progressive stuff for its time.

I'm off track. Let's get back to our doctor friend. Instead of going in either of the directions I suggested, he's hell bent on curing himself. Other than being slumped over, I'm not sure the cons outweigh the pros of his new condition. Hell, I even forgot to add that he can communicate with apes now, in their language. I'm just not seeing the big problem, here. Actually, I do see the problem. Given the time during which this movie was made I get that it's tinged with anti-Nazi sentiment. After all, they were touting themselves as the superior race and killed a lot of people to push their own agenda.

Ahhh, the killing. Now, we finally get to the meat of the story. To cure himself, Dr. Brewster announces that he needs human spinal fluid. How he reached that conclusion or how it works, or how anything he did to this point worked is never even hinted at, so don't ask. Of course, the only way to get spinal fluid is to extract it from real live people, killing them instantly. Guess what the doc does with the aid of his trusty gorilla pal? If you guessed go on a killing spree, give yourself a pat on the back with your newly elongated simian arms. The gorilla actually does the killing, after which J-Brew jabs a needle in their back and drains them. As you might imagine, this practice is frowned upon.

The way the film plays out it's abundantly clear that we're not watching a classic monster flick. Dr. Brewster starting the movie in a cage is just one of many nonsensical things that happen. The most ridiculous is the random old dude who shows up everywhere in town and directly alters the plot. He pops up out of nowhere to tell people what to do and then disappears again. Eventually, he breaks the fourth wall and explains who he is. I'll just save that little surprise on the off chance you might actually watch this. Sadly, or maybe not, he gives the most interesting performance after Lugosi. The horror icon was clearly past his prime of a decade earlier, but still seems to be giving it his all. Unfortunately for him, but not me, the movie around him is a steaming pile. Mind you, it's often an inadvertently hilarious steaming pile, but still a steaming pile. That makes The Ape Man so bad, it's awesome!

MY SCORE: -10/10

Other horror movies so bad they're awesome:

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The ABCs of Death

Directed by 26 different contributors.
2013. Rated R, 124 minutes.

Right away, we're told how this movie came to be. Twenty-six directors from around the world were each given a different letter of the alphabet. They then chose whatever word they wished, as long as it started with the same letter. Using that word and death as the theme, the director made a short film. That means there is no chance for cohesion whatsoever. That's fine. I just hope most of them are good.

If not actually good, nearly all of them are definitely interesting. By interesting, I mean weird. This is very much a collection of the bizarre, filled to the brim with WTF moments. Most head shake and face palm inducing is the segment for the letter 'F', by Japanese director Noboru Iguchi. 'F' is for far,of course. Far from frightened, I was frankly freakin' flabbergasted. Too much? Okay, I'll stop. In general, though, the entries from our Asian auteurs tended to be the most farthest out there. Another oddity being the section marked 'L' for libido. As the title suggests, it's a sexually charged short. Men are strapped to a chair and forced to masturbate to whatever scene is being acted out before them. In this case, being a quick finisher is a good thing. Unfortunately, what's being acted out before their eyes grows increasingly strange and/or repulsive.

Not to be outdone, an animated entry focuses on a turd that won't stay in the toilet. Speaking of toilets, director Ti West uses one in his segment to make me hate him even more than I already do. I didn't think that was possible. If you didn't know, I've developed a rather passionate dislike of the man, or at least, his work. I thought it was as bad as it could get. Then this. Sigh.

Hidden within this pile of rubbish, there are a few legitimately strong entries. The two best take a self-aware approach. Adam Wingard's short opens with he and his cohorts lamenting the letter they were given to work with, Q, then trying to come up with an idea. Finally, they settle on filming themselves blowing up a live duck. That sounds bad, but it works out in hilarious fashion. By the way, Wingard also directed You're Next. Similarly, Jon Schnepp's segment starts with him griping with his buddies because the deadline to get their entry done is fast approaching and they haven't done anything yet. Then all hell breaks loose. Another standout involves a young boy being told a story about a boogeyman like figure by his older brother who wants the lad to hurry up and fall asleep so he and his girlfriend can get it on. That one comes from Mexican director Adrian Garcia Bogliano.

Unfortunately, the bad far outweighs the good. You may not agree if you delight in seeing just how strange things can get. If that's your deal then you should have already watched this. Just stop reading now and get to it. If weird isn't your thing, there's not nearly enough good to here to recommend you taking the plunge. As for me, well, I survived all twenty-six entries. I think I deserve some sort of horror flick medal. It starts with an 'M'.

MY SCORE: 3/10

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Slasher Cast-A-Thon: Dell's Entry

A couple weeks ago, I opened invitations for my fellow bloggers to take part in the Slasher Cast-A-Thon. The idea is fairly simple. Come up a bunch of characters you'd like to kill off (who weren't actually THE villain of their movie) and then find one you'd love to survive.

There are some official rules. You can see those by clicking here.

Now, let's kill some folks off...

The Victims

Way Too Many Tyler Perry Movies
I'm begging someone...anyone...please kill this the most horrible, gruesome fashion imaginable. The high-pitch shrieking, the purposely mutilated words, the ridiculously unfunny "humor," I just can't take it anymore. I hate to play into the traditional trope of killing off a black character first, but if this is the one, I'm all for it.

Private Timothy E. Upham
Saving Private Ryan
Take a good look at that pic. This is merely the first instance where I wanted this young terrified soldier to be killed. At this very moment a member of his own unit is being slaughtered while he does this. I'm screaming at the screen for him to do something and no, nothing. Well, not until much later in the film when he suddenly decides to execute the man who was in their doing the killing. Since this was too little, too late, it marked the second instance I wanted him dead.

Lala Bonilla
He Got Game
Normally, I'm completely against killing off high school girls, especially one played by the lovely Rosario Dawson. In this case, however, I think my desire to see her separated from life is warranted. She's the girlfriend of the hottest high school hoops star in the land. Not merely content to ride that gravy train, she hedges her bet by cheating on him with a potential agent. Again, I'll use the pic to support my stance. That's her sure-fire superstar ball playing boyfriend on the phone while some other dude's hand is creeping up over her naked back and shoulder. Oh yeah, this chick has to die.

Sandra and Van
Sandra is the manager at a fast-food joint. When a "cop" calls her on the phone and orders her to strip search an employee he suspects of theft she just goes along with it. That's right, this "cop" isn't even in the same room, just tells her to do this on the phone. Later, her boyfriend Van proves twice as dumb when he winds up sexually assaulting the woman under the orders of the person on the other end of the line. The only thing worse than either one of these two is the fact that everything they do is based heavily on facts from real life cases. Yup, these two morons deserve a slow, painful death.

Annakin Skywalker
Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones
This is a tough one for me. Killing him means taking out someone who would go on to become one of the great movie villains of all time. Keeping him means endorsing one of the worst performances in a big budget movie in the history of film. And one of the worst written. I'm okay with keeping the kid that played the even younger version in The Phantom Menace, even though most of you hate him. Somehow, we have to keep Vader. Let's just slaughter this version and re-write the whole damn movie.

Bella Swan and Edward Cullen
The Twilight Series
Do I really have to explain this one? For me, the fact that they are single-handedly responsible for the complete neutering of the vampire that has taken place over the last decade. On top of that they are miserable people in miserable movies and I want them killed. Preferably, they will be taken out together while wrapped in a pale embrace. That way, one stake can simultaneously go through both of their hearts.

Yes, boys and girls there will be a survivor. A...

Final Girl

Su Lin
Enter the Dragon
Since we've been busy sending people to their early demise, how about bringing back one who met hers? Yes, Su Lin actually died during her one and only scene in the iconic Enter the Dragon. However, it's obvious the girl has got ungodly sorts of strength. After all, she died by her own hand rather than be violated by a gang of thugs. Before actually finishing herself off, she gives them all they can handle by kicking their asses all over the place before finally getting cornered. Of course, she did. She is the sister of the movie's hero, none other than the one and only Bruce Lee. She's got what it takes to handle some lone psycho. And I so want her to live, so here she is.

Alrighty, boys and girls. That's my roster of victims, plus a heroine. It's not too late to post yours. This blogathon runs right up through Halloween!