Sunday, October 31, 2010

Young Frankenstein

Directed by Mel Brooks.
1974. Rated PG, 106 minutes.
Cast:
Gene Wilder
Peter Boyle
Terri Garr
Marty Feldman
Madeline Kahn
Cloris Leachman
Kenneth Mars
Gene Hackman


The tale of Frankenstein is one of the most famous and enduring in literary or cinematic history. Of course, that means we all know it well enough to laugh along when it gets made fun of. This is where Mel Brooks comes in. He gives a movie that works the way spoofs are supposed to. It makes fun of its source material, yet simultaneously stands on its own as a good story.

That story follows one of Dr. Victor Frankenstein’s descendants, Frederick (Wilder). Frederick considers Victor little more than “a famous cuckoo.” So ashamed of the family name is he, Frederick pronounces it “Fronk-en-steen.” However, when he inherits it, he has to venture back to the fateful castle where life was once breathed into a corpse.

From there we get an endless stream of jokes, and in-jokes that work marvelously. Scene after scene gives us something to at least snicker about, if not break out into uncontrollable laughter. It has plenty of fun at the expense of the original movie but unlike many current day spoofs, it’s never mean spirited. It treats its inspiration lovingly without alienating its fans.

Having watched it for the first time in a few years, I was pleasantly surprised by how risqué some of the jokes are. There’s plenty double entendres and a few flat-out penis jokes. To help out in this regard, the two main women in the film, Terri Garr and Madeline Kahn, play their roles perfectly. Their timing is impeccable. They give that sly knowing look at just the right time, or remain perfectly oblivious. Either way they play it is often an effective punchline with nothing else needing to be said.

All the while, the story that’s developing is fascinating. It moves along at a brisk pace. Chronologically, it positions itself well after Bride of Frankenstein but ignores that it exists, sort of. I say sort of because by the end, the bride is incorporated and becomes another in a long line of great gags.

Speaking of gags, anyone who has seen this movie has a few favorites. There’s Igor’s (Feldman) moving hump and the way the horses react whenever someone mentions Madame Frau Blücher (Leachman). There’s also the underrated see-saw scene. I’m a simple man. My favorite is probably the silliest: “Put ze candle back!”

None of this would work, if it our leads don’t. For my money, this is Gene Wilder’s finest performance. He plays it absolutely straight. It’s like he has no idea he’s in a comedy for about 99% of the movie. That other 1%, he breaks the fourth wall and gives us a look that just has us in stitches. It’s truly one of the great comedic performances of all time. And he does it without incessantly mugging for the camera and/or hogging the spotlight from the rest of the ensemble.

The other “lead”, if you will is Peter Boyle as the monster. The great part of his performance comes when he’s trying to communicate with someone but lacks the words to do so. He clearly knows more than he would appear to and that just adds to the humor.

Director Mel Brooks has given us a number of classics. This has always been my favorite of his. It does everything that a spoof should do, without a misstep. When it comes to the genre of spoofs, there is little doubting that Brooks is indeed royalty. He gave us Blazing Saddles, The Producers and Spaceballs among others. It says a lot, maybe about me, that I’m confident in saying this is his best and arguably the best of all time.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The House of the Devil

Directed by Ti West.
2009. Rated R, 95 minutes.
Cast:
Jocelin Donahue
Greta Gerwig
Tom Noonan
Mary Woronov
AJ Bowen
Danielle Noe


Right at the beginning of “The House of the Devil” we’re told that in the 1980s, 70% of all Americans believed in the existences of abusive Satanic cults. Abusive? Is there any other kind? Anyhoo, we’re then told the other 30% believe the lack of evidence supporting the existence of these cults is due to a government cover up. Hmm. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it sounds like they’re saying 100% of Americans believe in the extistence of Satanic cults. Maybe I’m overthinking. After all, this is just a horror flick. Let’s move on.

The very next scene introduces us to Samantha (Donahue). She’s a college student looking to move out of the dorm mostly because her roommate is a complete slob who sleeps all day, often with her boyfriend also inhaling much of Samantha’s portion of the oxygen supply. If you’ve been paying attention to the info we’ve been given and this first scene of her scouting a house to rent then you’ve already gathered that at some point she will come under siege by Satanic cultists some time during the 80s. It will likely happen in this house. Devil worshipping freaks terrorizing co-eds, I’m cool with that. My popcorn is ready.

Sam gets the house, but has to have a check for the first month’s rent to the landlady by Monday to seal the deal. Is the landlady our Satanic cultist? Nah, we never see her, or this house again.

Still, Samantha needs o come up with some cash quick. She doesn’t have a job, so no picking up extra hours there. Apparently, she doesn’t know the campus drug dealer, so no running packages over the weekend, either. She also seems to be unaware of the campus prostitution ring, or the nearby club where her friends strip to pay their tuitions, so using her body is out, also. I’m just speculating, none of this is actually in the movie. Sadly, I find myself with lots of thinking time while watching this. Hey, this artificial butter on my artificially popped popcorn is pretty good, has me licking my fingers.

Our heroine happens to stumble across a flyer soliciting a baby-sitter, calls the number and eventually gets the job. I say eventually because it takes FOREVER to get to this point. You see, during the first call, the guy on the phone sounds all in a rush and wants to meet her right away. Then he stands her up. After this, we spend an excruciating amount of time watching Samantha pal around with her bestest buddy Megan (Gerwig), engage in not so scintillating girl-talk and eat pizza. After an exceedingly long while the guy who needs a sitter calls her back hires her over the phone but the job is for tonight. I’ve got it! Whoever she’s baby sitting for are the cultists! Actually, I had this almost thirty minutes ago. I’m at that point where my bag of popcorn is half-empty and no longer hot. As a big fan of popcorn, particularly the kind created by the nuclear reactor in my kitchen most of you call a microwave, I soldier on.

Just as we think things are going to pick up, Sam and Megan have to actually drive to her new job. Oh yeah, Meg is going simply because Sam doesn’t have a car. At any rate, this place is about a million miles from campus and I think we ride along for every one of them. Is this some sort of sick joke? Did they film this thing in real time and not bother to tell us? It appears not, but I’m not so sure.

Finally, they arrive at the house only to find out there’s no baby to sit. Aiiight, here we go. It’s action time! Not really. The creepy old dude that’s played by Tom Noonan has to explain the situation, in depth. He needs the sitter for his presumably much older mom. Sam then decides she can’t do it and a lengthy negotiation takes place. Eventually, it concludes with Noonan forking over $400 and Meg leaving, all upset they had been lied to.Of course, she promises to come back and pick Sam up at the end of the night. You think she makes it?

Well, the creepy old dude and his even creepier wife, who just popped up out of nowhere, leave, letting her know about four times that they’ll be back in about four hours and the number to the pizza shop is on the fridge. Why yes, there is another scene of her eating pizza. However, it’s not before we watch her explore t he bazillion rooms in the house, one by one, rather uneventfully. My popcorn is completely gone, I’ve licked all the faux butter from my fingers, even from beneath my fingernails – don’t judge, and nothing has happened. I’m pissed.

I’ve now written way too much about this movie. I figure if I had to suffer through it, I might as well not be alone. Eventually, the creepy old couple returns and reveals themselves to indeed by Satanists, along with some random dude who gave the one vaguely interesting moment to this point, and delivered the pizza. I’m guessing he’s their son. Everything after this is just stupid. You know what? I can be evil, too. I’m not even going to fill you in on all the lunacy that wraps up the proceedings. You’ll either succumb to the agony of not knowing and see it for yourself, or go to your grave with curiosity about the exciting conclusion gnawing at your soul. Okay, maybe not.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Dread

Directed by Anthony DiBlasi.
2009. Rated R, 90 minutes.
Cast:
Jackson Rathbone
Shaun Evans
Hanne Steen
Laura Donnelly
Jonathan Readwin


Stephen (Rathbone) is a film school student who needs a topic for his thesis. He’s also just met and hit it off with Quaid (Evans), a bit of a creepy sort who keeps asking him about his deepest fears and constantly telling him to “face the beast”. This isn’t the type of guy most of would hang around, but just go with it. Within a day or so, Quaid suggests they should do a fear study that Stephen can film as a documentary and use for said thesis. Stephen agrees and Quaid descending further into nuttiness ensues.

The basic idea is for these guys plus Cheryl (Steen), whom Stephen recruited to be their editor, to interview volunteers about what they dread most, hence the title. Whenever he doesn’t get the type of answers he’s searching for, Quaid flies off the handle. This is because Quaid himself is hiding a deep, dark secret that has caused him to be put on crazy people pills for the rest of his life. Well, he should be, but of course he’s decided to go off his meds. Not surprisingly, the interviews are soon not enough as he yearns to, eventually does, take the study to the next level.

Dread is a surprisingly well done, even well acted, psychological horror film. If you’re looking for some boogeyman hunting down hordes of teenagers, or for a creeky haunted house, don’t bother. There are some pretty nasty images but this isn’t a gore-fest, either. This is just twisted stuff.

There are flaws and a couple lulls that almost lose us. Once things get taken to “the next level”, it’s a smooth gearshift. We suddenly find ourselves with mouths agape and behinds scooched forward so they barely have enough seat beneath them to not have fallen to the floor.

The ending is reminiscent of the Saw franchise. I’ll submit it ends with a slamming door. However, this is somehow more sinister and sadistic. To recap: see this if you want to see a solid, screw with your brain type of horror flick that is not and adaptation of a foreign film from the year before. By the way, this is adapted from Clive Barker’s short story of the same name. Skip it if you want see a flowing stream of brutal homicides.

MY SCORE: 7/10

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Dracula (1931)


Directed by Tod Browning.
1931. Not Rated, 75 minutes.
Cast:
Bela Lugosi
Helen Chandler
Dwight Frye
David Manners
Edward Van Sloan
Herbert Bunston
Frances Dade


Count Dracula (Lugosi) arranges a trip from his native Transylvania to London and quickly sets his sights on young Mina (Chandler). Oh yeah, the Count is a vampire, but you already knew that.

As the mysterious Dracula, Bela Lugosi gives us the performance that defines a genre. Nearly every vampire since either uses some updated version of Lugosi or makes a conscious effort not to. For instance, the head vampire in 30 Days of Night looks like a modern Lugosi while Edward in the Twilight looks like a model for Ambercrombie & Fitch because the classic look is no longer cool.

What this movie has fiven us is far greater than the film itself. Along with its predecessor, 1922’s Nosferatu, its given us many of the cues vampire movies have continued to take in the decades since. In the nearly 80 years since its debut, the movie has lost much of its bite. The dialogue feels wooden, Drac feels more like a creepy stalker than the evil master of the undead and even though it’s only 75 minutes long, it drags. It pales in comparison to its contemporaries, Frankenstein (1931) and The Wolf Man (1941). It probably doesn’t help that there have been far more vampire movies than versions of those others, with a seemingly endless stream of updates and additions to the lore. With all that said, it’s a movie that needs to be seen by all vampire fans, especially those curious about the genre’s humble beginnings.

MY SCORE: 7.5/10

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

It's Alive


Directed by Josef Rusnak.
2008. Rated R, 80 minutes.
Cast:
Bijou Phillips
James Murray
Raphaël Coleman
Owen Teale
Ty Glaser
Jack Ellis
Todd Jensen
Laura Giosh


Lenore (Phillips) is about to be a mom for the first time. Unfortunately, her little bundle of joy has some strange prenatal complications that force an emergency c-section. The doctors give momma some knockout gas, snatch junior from the womb and bada-boom, bada-bing, everyone in the delivery room ends up all sorts of dead, except for the new mom and her bouncing baby boy.

The police investigate and logically settle on Lenore as the prime suspect. Meanwhile, the rugrat is developing at an unprecedented rate. Within a day or so, he’s flipping over by himself, crawling shortly after that and devouring whatever small animals he can get his hands on. At his regular feeding time, he flat out abuses mom’s boobs. That pisses me off. What kind of godless creature would hurt a breast? Doesn’t he know we’re supposed to save the ta-tas? Oh…sorry for going off on that little tangent.

Anyhoo, small animals aren’t always enough to satisfy the little monster. This means when people show up at the house, they tend to end up victims of a gruesome homicide. Slowly, but surely mom becomes flat out hysterical about the whole thing. Oh yeah, I haven’t even mentioned dad yet, have I? He’s completely oblivious to what’s going on for most of the movie. Sure, he’s a doting father when he’s home, so proud that “something so beautiful came from us.” Those are his words, not mine. Then again, he’s not home much during the day when the little one is doing most of his terrorizing because hey, somebody’s gotta pay bills around there. And like any good housewife, the little lady makes sure to clean up and put away the corpses before her man gets home. Nope, he doesn’t notice the teeth marks all over his wife’s chest. C’mon, you know new dads don’t get any. Mom is too busy with the baby.

Why is this happening? There’s actually a very clever reason which I won’t spoil. So clever is it, an argument can be made that it is either pro-life or pro-choice. There’s also an interesting ending.

It’s Alive is an interesting flick. It works best when you can barely see the baby, if at all. It’s like the Star Wars series with regards to Yoda fighting. The thought of it was awesome, but when we actually saw it, it was rather silly. The same applies here, except for the one close-up we get of the baby near the end, a very nice jump-scare. It plays like a dumbed down sequel to Rosemary’s Baby. It’s actually a remake of the 1974 cult classic, also named It’s Alive. And finally, it’s so bad, it’s awesome!

MY SCORE: -10/10

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Nightmare of Elm Street (2010)


Directed by Samuel Bayer.
2010. Rated R, 95 minutes.
Cast:
Jackie Earle Haley
Rooney Mara
Kyle Gallner
Katie Cassidy
Thomas Dekker
Clancy Brown
Connie Britton


The kids from Elm Street aren’t sleeping because of the horrifically realistic nightmares they’re having. Soon enough, they discover their bad dreams are all of the same man trying kill them. He even succeeds on a number of occasions. Unless you’ve been under a rock for the last quarter-century, you know that this guy is Freddy Krueger.

Yup, this is merely a remake of Wes Craven’s 1984 horror classic, with the master’s blessings, of course. It’s not a prequel or sequel or even a re-imagining, no matter what you’ve heard. Therein, lies the problem. A sequel attempts to extend a story we already know. A prequel tries to do the same, just in the other direction on the timeline, showing us what got characters we already know to the spot where we first met them. Even a re-imagining extends the story by fleshing out details its predecessor glossed over, or maybe not even mentioned. This is pure remake, doing none of those things. It tries to add in some stuff about Nancy being Freddy’s favorite and expands on Freddy’s torching at the hands of an angry mob of parents. Still, we’re simply watching the same movie, with different people playing the roles and nothing of their own to add.

Like most such films, where it loses to the original is in the intangibles. It’s tale is no longer fresh. In 1984, plenty of slasher flicks had already been made, but none quite like the original Nightmare. In 2010, many of us have seen all of the movies in the franchise and/or a countless number of movies influenced by it. We've moved on to torture porn and 3D gore. We know what to expect. Any fears we may have had with regards to sleeping are checked at the door. While the original was a visual spectacle, psychological attack and a watershed moment for the genre, this is only a movie.

Since it is only a movie, the tension never feels quite high enough. The death scenes are mostly altered or updated versions of what happened in it’s predecessor, but neither better nor worse. Freddy isn't quite menacing enough, either. Thankfully, he’s far from the stand-up comedian version of later Freddy movies, but not quite up to snuff with what the character is in the original. Jackie Earle Haley, who handles the role, is a fine actor. He’s had an excellent career, to this point. I still expect him to at least be nominated for a major award, someday. However, no matter how good he is, he’s simply playing Freddy Krueger. On the other hand, Robert Englund, never before or since better than a B-grade performer in B-grade horror movies, caught lightning in a bottle. He seems to actually be Freddy Krueger.

To be quite honest, the remake is perfectly adequate in every way. It is good enough not to be an abomination, like the shot-for-shot remake of Psycho. And if, by some chance, you haven’t seen its predecessor or are new to horror flicks, it might be an excellent thrill ride. There is just nothing here that should cause you to hate it, except for the fact that it isn't the original.

MY SCORE: 6/10

Monday, October 25, 2010

Open Water


Directed by Chris Kentis.
2004. Rated R, 79 minutes.
Cast:
Blanchard Ryan
Daniel Travis
Michael E. Williamson
Saul Stein


Susan (Ryan) and Daniel (Travis) go on vacation to an exotic island and go on a deep sea dive in the middle of the ocean. As luck would have it, the company they paid to go on this little excursion goofs up the head count and takes off while our loving couple is well beneath the surface enjoying some aquatic wildlife. When they come up, they discover what we already know and try to come to grips with the situation. Obviously, they also attempt to hang on until someone grows a brain and comes back for them or someone else happens to sail by and pick them up.

Watching our two lovebirds try to cope and their relationship deteriorate while disruptive sea creatures swirl about and nibble at them is fascinating theater. The sense of abandonment and isolation creates tension and hopelessness which serve the film well. The lack of budget also works to its advantage. Instead of animatronics and CGI, we get creative shots and patient storytelling that gets better as it goes along.

It can be a bit tedious because the camera spends so much time trained on our stranded couple. Just as they find themselves hopelessly drifting, your attention may occasionally do the same. What’s happening back on land is thrown in every now and again. However, until we get near the end, it’s completely pointless so it doesn’t give us anything else to mull over. Thankfully, this is combated by a very short 79 minute runtime.

Full disclosure: I was so ready to hate this movie. Over the handful of years since it came out I’d heard so much about how great it was I’d automatically started to bristle at the notion that it could even be good. There’s just way too much hype surrounding it. I mean, how great could watching two people float around in the water be? As it turns out, it’s not bad. It’s not the greatest thing since Atari 2600, like some have claimed, but pretty good, nonetheless.

MY SCORE: 6.5/10

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Slumber Party Massacre III


Directed by Sally Mattison.
1990. Rated R, 87 minutes.
Cast:
Brandi Burkett
Hope Marie Carlton
Maria Ford
Brittain Frye


A group of high school girls have a slumber party at the house of the one who's parents are out of town. A couple of horny guys who know about the affair try to crash the party. Of course guys and gals getting all sorts of dead, mostly at the end of a giant drill bit, ensues. This is just pure trashy fun. The writing is bad, the acting is worse, there's gratuitous nudity, and our killer's weapon of choice is so undeniably phallic its ridiculous. It's just a blood-splattering good time that's so bad it's awesome.

MY SCORE: -10/10

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Orphan


Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra.
2009. Rated R, 123 minutes.
Cast:
Vera Farmiga
Isabelle Fuhrman
Peter Sarsgaard
Aryana Engineer


Plot: After the pregancy of what would've been their third child ends in miscarriage, the Coleman family decides to adopt. They settle on nine year old Esther (Fuhrman) and get a lot more than they bargained for.

The Good: It does a great job creating atmosphere. The whole thing has a dark, brooding temperament. As our adoptive mom Kate, Vera Farmiga is perfectly fragile while hubby John (Sarsgaard) is perfectly oblivious. We can see the two effectively being played against one another by the evil Esther. Speaking of Esther, the movie pulls no punches when it comes to her dastardly deeds and creepiness. At first, the coming and going of her Russian accent bothers you but trust me, there's reason for that. Its all part of a great setup for a wonderfully silly twist that might make you shake your head but works well, regardless, given what happens to that point and enables the movie to give us a really creepy scene involving a lot of makeup towards the end.

The Bad: There are a few plotholes to be found and liberties taken with the legal process (Social Services should've intervened several times). More bothersome is how quickly John is ready to put his wife out, given the circumstances, and also how much of a wuss their son is. If he had manned up like we thought he would this might've been a very different and much shorter movie. For us folks over thirty, the whole thing is very reminiscent of The Good Son which starred Macauley Culkin in the evil kid role.

The Ugly: There's a disclaimer at the start of the movie basically begging us to adopt. Of course in the movie that follows, the orphan lies, steals, commits murder and all out terrorizes the family that adopts her.

Recommendation: Its a fun, over the top thriller that builds nicely until we get a twist you can't see coming. It absolutely works within the context of the film. Some may find it a bit silly. Those people will insist its a terrible movie and compare it to the worst of M. Night Shyamalan. For the rest of us, its an exciting ride that will keep us far away from the orphanage.

MY SCORE: 7/10

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Haunting in Connecticut


Directed by Peter Cornwell.
2009. Rated PG-13, 102 minutes.
Cast:
Virginia Madsen
Kyle Gallner
Elias Koteas
Martin Donovan


Plot: When Sara's (Madsen) teenage son Matt (Gallner) is stricken with cancer, the only treatment facility for him is hours away. She moves the family closer, into a house going for cheap because "it has a bit of a history." Strange happenings ensue. Based on "the" true story, we're told. Uh-huh.

The Good: It's just an old-fashioned haunted house tale. Lots of things go bump in the night. Cabinet doors click and clack, dishes move by themselves and things besides reflections show up in the mirrors. Back in horror for the first time since her Candyman days, I think, Virginia Madsen turns in a solid performance as our courageous matriarch. The story also moves along at a brisk pace which helps maintain its spookiness.

The Bad: It's just an old-fasioned haunted house tale. Though its said to be based on "the" true story, there is even a documentary that inspired it (A Haunting in Connecticut), it feels overly derivative of The Amityville Horror and through its use of a random reverend, Poltergeist. In fact, said religious-guy is only there as a replacement of the people that were used in the documentary, the folks that initially investigated the happenings in Amityville. I guess my main point here is that it seems only so much can be done with the genre, plot-wise, so the directors of these films are left to try and out-spook the last popular haunted house flick in terms of visuals without much substance. Finally, the way our resident evil spirit is suddenly able to jump around doesn't seem to match what we've been told up to that point.

The Ugly: Scissors, meet eyelids.

Recommendation: This is an OK, if unexceptional entry into the haunted house genre that works better, the fewer of these types of movies you've seen. Still, if you're going to watch it, it works best when watched at home, at night, with the lights off, then trying to go to sleep immediately after its over.

The Opposite View: Marc Savlov, Austin Chronicle

What the Internet Says: 5.8/10 on imdb.com, 18% on rottentomatoes.com, 33/100 on metacritic.com

MY SCORE: 6/10

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street


Directed by Tim Burton.
2007. Rated R, 117 minutes.
Cast:
Johnny Depp
Helena Bonham Carter
Timothy Spall
Alan Rickman
Sacha Baron Cohen
Jamie Bower Campbell
Jayne Wisener
Laura Michelle Kelly


Plot: When he returns home to London, Sweeney Todd (Depp) vows vengeance upon the judge who not only had him wrongfully imprisoned for 15 years but has apparently also caused the death of his wife and stolen his daughter.

The Good: This is probably the bloodiest and most morbid musical ever. Yes, sometimes I like my movies bloody and morbid. It also manages to be very darkly funny. The songs serve to add to its twisted sense of humor more than anything else. This makes it a musical for people who generally don’t like musicals, are a bit cynical and don’t mind a gore-fest. In short, it’s exactly what you think a live-action musical directed by Tim Burton would be. Remember, this is the same guy behind Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride. Of course, his direction is terrifically executed by the two actors he seems to trust most, Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. They continue to be perfect manifestations of his gothic vision.

The Bad: The actual singing is perfunctory at best. Let’s be honest, I don’t know if there’s one person in the cast who would get invited to Hollywood on "American Idol". If you’re looking for powerhouse ballads, show-stopping vocals or Broadway style numbers that light up the screen skip this and pop in Dreamgirls or Chicago.

The Ugly: What’s in the meat pies, both early and late in the movie.

Recommendation: If you fit the description I gave above: cynical, twisted sense of humor, likes gore, then this is the musical for you. Obviously, if you’re a fan of Tim Burton it’s right up your alley. Steer clear if you equate musicals to Julie Andrews, Beyonce, or Disney.

MY SCORE: 8.5/10

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Blood of Dracula's Castle


Directed by Al Adamson and Jean Hewitt.
1969. Rated R, 84 minutes.
Cast:
John Carradine
Paula Raymond
Alexander D'Arcy
Gene Otis Shayne
Jennifer Bishop
Robert Dix
Vicki Volante
Ray Young


Glen (Shayne) inherits a castle when his 108 year old uncle dies. He wants to move in with his fiance/model Liz (Bishop) but first, he has to evict the elderly couple that rents the place. What he doesn't know is that they're really vampires who keep girls chained up in the basement to supply them with blood. That really sounds interesting, but it's not, in the least. This version of Count Dracula (D'Arcy), who now prefers to go by Count Charles Townsend (what the _?) and his bride Countess Townsend (Raymond) are full-fledged members of the bourgeoisie. No neck biting or villainously sexy seductions for these two. Instead, they have mute deformed giant Mango (Young) round up any young hotties that find themselves in the woods on the castle's property. By the way, despite a number of scenes in these woods, whenever we see exterior shots of the castle they're nowhere to be found. In fact, in these shots the castle appears to be in a desert. Anyhoo, Mango brings the ladies back to the house, chains them in the dungeon...er...basement, then drains just enough blood from them to fill the two wine glasses our blood suckers are fond of drinking from. They sip with delight and inquire about what "vintage" it is. For the most part, that's all they do. No, we don't even get to see the blood draining. There's also their butler/cultist George (Carradine) who worships the moon god Luna and the Townsend's buddy Johnny (Dix), who is a hoimicidal maniac. Johnny is crazy under normal conditions but keeps telling us he's so much worse when there's a full moon. Foreshadowing be damned, we never actually find out if this is the case. The dialogue is hokey when it's at it's very best but mostly cringe-inducing. My thirteen year old son could choreograph far better fight scenes and don't even get me started on the copy and paste job they tried to pass off as someone being on fire. I'll admit, some allowances have to be made for it being over 40 years old. However, this was released the same year as Rosemary's Baby and the year after Night of the Living Dead, two horror classics. This steaming pile holds no frights, provokes no thought and may indeed cure insomnia. It's quite possibly the lamest vampire movie ever made, including the Twilight movies. At least those have enough charm and melodrama to appeal to millions of teenage girls. This might only appeal to those involved in making it. Maybe. And why the hell does Dracula rent, anyway?


MY SCORE: 0/10

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Zombieland


Directed by Ruben Fleischer.
2009. Rated R, 88 minutes.
Cast:
Jesse Eisenberg
Woody Harrelson
Emma Stone
Abigail Breslin
Bill Murray


Plot: A virus that transforms people into zombies has infected most of Earth's population. Columbus (Eisenberg) is among a handful of survivors and tries to survive and wants to make it back to his hometown in hopes of reuniting with his estranged family. Strangely enough, love intervenes.

The Good: It's downright hilarious. It perfectly spoofs zombie flicks and road movies, alike. A little commentary on society is thrown in for good measure. Woody Harrelson give his best performance in years, getting back to his roots as a comedic actor. His never-ending search for what remains of the world's supply of Twinkies is way funnier than it should be. Even better is the cameo by Bill Murray (playing himself). His time on screen is hysterical and some of his best work in a few years, as well. Story-wise, it moves along at a nice pace and includes some really well done flashbacks. There are also some very fun and funny action sequences.

The Bad: Our two females are rather bland. They're both serviceable characters but not particularly memorable. In a movie where there are only four humans, the two ladies (one of whom is a preteen) should do more than just be chased (including by our heroes). So other than just being really horny due to a dearth of women, I've no clue why Columbus is head-over-heels for Wichita (Stone), the older girl. Speaking of Columbus, I have the same problem with him as I did James in Adventureland: he's played by Jesse Eisenberg. I don't necessarily dislike him, he just reminds me so much of Michael Cera, its distracting. Finally, we needed more zombie stuff.

The Ugly: How Bill Murray's scene ends. Comedy gold.

Recommendation: My faith in the future of spoofs has been revived. It was trampled nearly to death by the unrelenting crappiness of Dance Flick. Thankfully, this one's actually funny. As far as zombie spoofs go, it's not quite as over-the-top or gory as the recent Planet Terror half of Grindhouse but its even more tongue-in-cheek and delivers more consistent laughter.

The Opposite View: Scott Foundas, Village Voice

What the Internet Says: 8.1/10 (#233 all time) on imdb.com (11/14/09), 89% on rottentomatoes.com, 73/100 on metacritic.com

MY SCORE: 9/10

Monday, October 18, 2010

Audition


Directed by Takashi Miike.
1999. Rated R, 115 minutes.
Cast:
Ryo Ishibashi
Eihi Shiina
Jun Kunimura
Tetsu Sawaki
Miyuki Matsuda
Renji Ishibashi


Seven years after his wife has died, Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) wants to marry again. When he tells this to his friend Yoshikawa (Kunimura), who happens to be a flimmaker, the two decide to hold a fake movie audition to help him find his very own leading lady. Of course, the woman he falls head over heels for, Asami (Shiina), has some serious issues. Occasionally, a great ending can elevate a movie beyond the sum of it's parts. Such is the case, here. What happens over the last thirty minutes or so has to be seen to be believed, though you'd find yourself brave for stomaching certain portions of it. It's both psychological and gory, making it all sorts of unsettling. And you will come to fear "this wire". On the surface, it's reminiscent of but even more twisted than Misery. Dig deeper and it proves to be more complex, as well. That's because it can strangely be seen as both a feminist and anti-feminist film. On the pro side of that ledger, it might be construed as a warning for all us simplistic, hedonistic guys given to objectifying and/or idealizing women. Conversely, our villain is a female completely dependent on the singularly focused love of men to determine her self-worth. The two sides of this coin create an intriguing horror flick.

However, Audition is not without problems. The first deterrent for many will be how slow the first two-thirds of the film move. Secondly, there seems to be no solid basis for our hero's instantaneous love. To be fair, he actually becomes smitten with her even before meeting her in person, which is fine. The problem is she's undeniably creepy the first time he lays eyes on her and behaves oddly and depressed throughout, doing nothing to sustain his initial infatuation. The effect is we don't get what it is about her that he likes so much. Of course, he may be into withdrawn, fragile emo chicks but we never get that indication. Then, we get to that finale and most of that is forgiven, so there.

In all, it's a solidly creepy movie we think is a bit more reserved than the director's other movies (Takashi Miike is best known for directing what's basically a live-action and ultra-gory anime, Ichi the Killer). Of course, in the end it really isn't...well, maybe a little. Subtitleophobes beware: we're speaking Japanese.


MY SCORE: 8.5/10

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Orphanage


Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona.
2008. Rated R, 105 minutes.
Cast:
Belen Rueda
Fernando Cayo
Roger Princep
Mabel Rivera


Plot: Laura (Rueda) is a former orphan who now has an adopted son of her own, Simon (Princep). Together, with her husband Carlos (Cayo), they now live in a mansion that happens to have once been the orphanage where Laura spent much of her childhood. Simon seems to have lots of imaginary friends. When Simon goes missing, Laura suspects these "friends."

The Good: Director Juan Antonio Bayona shows great restraint. It would've been easy to ramp up the horror angles of the story and throw lots of cheap thrills on the screen. Instead, he focuses more on Laura's loosening grip on reality and the effect of Simon's disappearance on her and Carlos' relationship. This makes it a creepier film and adds power to its ending. To pull this off, Bayona needed a really strong performance out of lead actress Belen Rueda and he got it.

The Bad: The movie moves a bit too slow, dragging in places. Husband Carlos is not involved enough in the proceedings. He gets to a point we expect him to but he seems to get there too easily. It's almost like it's not really "that" big a deal to him Simon is missing. People that go into this expecting a straight horror flick might be disappointed.

The Ugly: Carlos tries to give someone in need mouth-to-mouth...but...um...half their mouth is missing.

Recommendation: This is a solid supernatural flick. It's got a creepy vibe to it and actually feels like a mix of Poltergeist and 1408. It's a little slow in spots but its ending makes up for it. It's probably the best horror movie of 2008. Warning to subtitleophobes: This one is "presented by" (I hate that term in movies) Pan's Labyrinth director Guillermo del Toro and like that one is in Spanish.

The Opposite View: Ben Kenigsberg, Time Out New York

What the Internet Says: 7.7/10 on imdb.com (10/20/10), 86% on rottentomatoes.com, 74/100 on metacritic.com

MY SCORE: 7/10

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Monster Squad

Directed by Fred Dekker.
1987. Rated PG, 82 minutes.
Cast:
Andre Gower
Robby Kiger
Stephen Macht
Duncan Regehr
Tom Noonan
Ashley Bank
Leonardo Cimino
Lisa Fuller


Precisely every 100 years at midnight the amulet that controls the balance of power between good and evil becomes vulnerable enough to be destroyed, but only for a few moments. If it is, evil will have free reign. Count Dracula (Regehr) knows this and knows that the fateful day is coming up. He recruits Frankenstein’s monster, the Wolfman, the Mummy and the Creature from the Black Lagoon to help find and obliterate said amulet. A group of kids who are totally immersed in monster lore have discovered this and after dubbing themselves “The Monster Squad,” have set out to save the day.

This is a wonderful blend of pre/early teen comedy, the cheesiest elements of monster movies and, for some younger viewers, tension and possibly horror. Our bad guys are represented in their most classical forms, i.e. Dracula sports a black tux and flowing black cape with a silky red lining and the collar up, of course. This comes off as a nod to us that this is more of an elaborate Halloween prank than actually trying to add anything to vampire mythology. In other words, it puts its tongue firmly in its cheek and it works. We sit back and have fun with kids we either were (or are depending on your age) or wouldn’t normally have hung out with.

Let’s be honest, the squad is largely made up of geeks. As it so often turns out in real life, the geeks are right. Monsters are real. There’s also one set of parents on the verge of a divorce which adds some reality to the proceedings. Though things wrap up in a predictably corny manner, it’s still very enjoyable.

Most of us who grew up in the eighties have fond memories of TMS. Since it’s always been unabashed in its cheesiness, it’s held up surprisingly well. A warning to parents: though its rated PG, a number of four-letter words fly; decide accordingly. If you decide to let the kiddies indulge you’ll find it one of the better horror flicks aimed at young’uns. And yes, the Wolfman still has nards.

MY SCORE: 7.5/10

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Unborn


Directed by David S. Goyer.
2009. Rated PG-13, 89 minutes.
Cast:
Odette Yustman
Meagan Good
Jane Alexander
Gary Oldman
Carla Gugino
Idris Elba
James Remar
Ethan Cutkosky


Plot: After a succession of nightmares, ghastly visions and strange occurrences, Casey (Yustman) tries to find out what's after her, before it's too late.

The Good: As with a few other of 2009's scare flicks, Drag Me to Hell and The Uninvited, in particular, we get some excellently horrific visuals. These, along with the overall dark mood keeps us interested. The story efficiently moves us along until we get to a nice twist and a solid ending.

The Bad: Cliches abound, making it fairly predictable. It doesn't help that it's essentially a mish-mash of at least a dozen other horror movies, The Exorcist and The Grudge, most recognizably. Also, the closer we get to the end, the more silliness it indulges in. Finally, it's got a pretty good cast, but forgets to use them relegating players like Gary Oldman, Carla Gugino and Idris Elba to parts not necessarily requiring great talent.

The Ugly: I spent too much time amazed how much our star, Odette Yustman, resembles Megan Fox.

Recommendation: If you're into horror flicks, this isn't a bad choice. It's not great, but not terrible, either. In fact, it's pretty much average in every way. Sadly, even that is better than most movies in the genre. If you're not into horror movies, skip it.

The Opposite View: David Stratton, The Australian

What the Internet Says: 4.5/10 on imdb.com (1/27/10), 12% on rottentomatoes.com, 30/100 on metacritic.com

MY SCORE: 5.5/10

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Kaw


Directed by Sheldon Wilson.
2007. Rated R, 85 minutes.
Cast:
Sean Patrick Flanery
Stephen McHattie
Kristin Booth
John Ralston
Megan Park
Vladimir Bondarenko
Ashley Newbrough
Rod Taylor
Michelle Duquet


Ravens have long been foreboding, even gothic creatures. The sight of one can give you that uneasy feeling something bad is about to happen. Think about it. The vision of Baltimore Ravens star linebacker Ray Lewis coming out of the tunnel doing his ridiculous, rhythmless war-dance makes you think he’s about to do something horrible to someone in a different color jersey. The rise to prominence of Raven Symone was an ominous warning that we were all about to be subjects under the iron thumb of Hannah Montana. Of course, there’s also one of the most famous and unsettling poems in the history of the written word, “The Raven” by one of my favorite writers of all time, Edgar Allan Poe.

In this cinematic offering, I mean SyFy original, the dreaded birds have evolved from foreshadowers of gloom and doom to a flock of vengeful and homicidal fowls. The poor old guy at the beginning makes the unfortunate mistake of backing over one with his tractor. Next thing you know, he’s surrounded by more ravens than he can count and they proceed to peck him to death. Seriously. Whatever, the important part is more mayhem involving wild birds ensues.

As is always the case in movies like this, it’s up to the local sheriff to figure things out. In this case, the sheriff is played by Sean Patrick Flanery of the Boondock Saints movies. Talk about your ominous signs. Of course, he acts as our thought process, thinking out loud for us. Sadly, the only thing he actually figures out is that these are indeed ravens, not crows, of which he dutifully informs the townfolk, the whole dozen. By the way, I find it hilarious that no one in this place, presumably set during the present, has a cell phone. Don’t they issue those at birth, nowadays? I mean, the whole town is shut down because “the phone lines are down.” Really?

True, certain people aren’t supposed to have cell phones. In this case, those people are the Mennonites who also share the community. Apparently, there are only three of them, but whatever. If you’re unfamiliar with Mennonites, suffice it to say they’re similar to the Amish. Of course, that’s at the risk of insulting both groups, but you get the point. So against modernization are the Mennonites, at least in this movie, they refer to the other people in town as “the children of the English.” If that reference floats over your dome, think the children of the original colonists in “the New World”, a few centuries ago. The Mennonites are important here because they made a little boo boo that may have led to making the local ravens, um, ravenous. Okay, I couldn’t resist. Anyhoo, the question becomes is this some sort of punishment from God, or is something else going on?

That sounds interesting. However, it is executed poorly. The writing isn’t strong enough to overcome the inherent silliness of the plot. It’s definitely not Hitchcock. The acting is only passable and save for one tiny moment, a throwaway jump-scare, it never even threatens to frighten us. Instead, we simply sit back and peck at its flaws. Did I do that, again? Sorry. Strangely enough, the town doctor (Taylor) is somehow exempt from all the incompetence. During each of his brief moments, he seems to have dropped in from a much better movie to impart some wisdom through insightful dialogue delivered by good acting. Weird. Oh, almost forgot, did you know that ravens are evidently man-eating? And canine-eating, too? Me, neither! Amazing. As you can see, the unintentional humor factor is fairly high, but it never gets to “so bad, it’s awesome.” It’s just bad.

Let's get back to Poe for a moment because I can’t bear to think anymore about this movie. However, it did help me better interpret the master’s poem. Since most of us haven’t read it since high school and have forgotten it, or haven’t reached high school and haven’t read it yet, I’ll give you a quick recap. Edgar…er…the speaker is up late one night trying to get some reading done, but he keeps dozing off. Seeing how we’re talking Poe, there’s a coin flip’s chance there are some narcotics involved, but I digress. He hears some strange noises coming from outside and decides to investigate. He finds a raven perched above his door and pretty much drops a load in his britches, fretting over what possible news the bird could be bringing. He asks the bird a bunch of questions, mostly about his beloved Lenore. The raven answers each inquiry with a single word, nevermore. Of course, this makes him assume the worst and totally blows his high…er…wrecks his night. After dozens of reads, the aforementioned knowledge of Poe’s recreational habits and watching this film, I finally get it. Poe was standing outside his door at midnight talking to a bird and hoping for a proper response, but the raven kept saying the only thing a raven could say, “kaw!”

MY SCORE: 2/10

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Greatest Slasher Flicks




If you've been here since the first of the month, you know that every October, horror flicks reign supreme for me. That makes this a perfect time to take on the slasher genre. What the hell is a slasher flick, anyway? For me, a slasher flick is a movie in which a deranged, homicidal, often masked and/or disfigured and possibly supernatural maniac leaves a trail of dead co-eds through a series of increasingly grisly murders that we get to watch. So borderline stuff that might make my greatest horror movie list like Psycho, Se7en, Silence of the Lambs, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and Saw don’t make the cut, pardon the pun. However, there are exceptions. The victims don’t always have to be teenagers.

With that in mind, let’s get down to bloody business…

Dell's Top 13 Slasher Flicks

13. I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)
Julie (Jennifer Love Hewitt) and her buddies run over and kill a man on the night of their high school graduation. Of course, they do what any of us would do: dump the body in the ocean and agree to never speak of what happened. Well, whaddya know? A year later and they all receive ominous notes warning them “I know what you did last summer” before being bumped off one by one by a pissed off version of the Gorton’s fisherman.

12. Final Destination (2000)
Yes, I’m counting FD as a slasher flick. After all, a supernatural killer leaves a trail of dead co-eds (and a teacher) through a series of grisly murders. Sure, its over the top, even for a DTM (dead teenager movie in Roger Ebert lexicon), but it’s so damn fun. Oh, the plot? Just before his senior class boards a flight to Paris for their graduation trip, Alex (Devon Sawa) has a vision that the plane goes up in flames. He causes a big fuss and he, along with a number of his classmates and one very sexy teacher, are kicked off the plane. Said plane does indeed blow up. Death…as in the actual entity Death…feels cheated and hunts them down in the order in which they were to be seated on the doomed flight.

11. Prom Night (1980)
A little girl is accidentally killed during a particularly vicious game of hide & seek. Six years later, on their prom night, the kids responsible begin dying one by one during the big event. This is Jamie Lee Curtis during her "scream queen" days and has grown into one of the more beloved slasher flicks ever made. Oh, and it gets extra points for the full-blown disco routine plopped into the middle of the movie when Jamie Lee and her boyfriend want to show his ex-girlfriend, of plunging neckline and ample cleavage, "what we can do". John Travolta, eat your heart out.

10. Freddy vs. Jason (2003)
My, oh my, what do you do when the kids are no longer afraid of you? If you’re child-killer Freddy Krueger, you go and draft another homicidal maniac to be your accomplice. In this case, that would be Jason Voorhees of the Friday the 13th series. However, there is a serious problem: Jason ain’t really the strategizing kind. He’s not the sharpest chainsaw in the massacre, if you get what I’m saying. So, of course, old Freddy has to try and put this dog down the old fashioned way. Is it ridiculously over-the-top? Sure. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

9. Child's Play (1988)
Okay, this stretches the definition of a slasher flick just a bit. But hey, it’s my list so shut up. Anyhoo, in this one Charles Lee Ray, AKA Chucky, is a serial killer who is shot by the cops and apparently dies from his wounds after running into a toy store. What they don’t know is that just before he died he performed a voodoo ritual to transfer his soul into a Good Guys doll. One thing leads to another and he winds up as the property of 6-year-old Andy. Why, yes, lots of people do wind up dead.

8. Haute Tension (2003)
Instead of going out partying for the weekend, Alex and her best friend Marie, head off to Alex’s parents’ house where it’s safe. That is, until a stranger barges in and starts killing folks. Thinking Alex is the last one alive in the house, the killer spares her life, at least for the time being, but loads her up in the back of his truck and takes off. Marie takes off in hot pursuit to try and save her friend. Lots of blood and lots of tension yank you to the edge of your seat. What’s that? One of the biggest plot-holes in cinematic history? Yeah, it’s got that, too. No matter, the rest of the movie is so damn terrific.

7. Candyman (1992)
While doing research for her thesis on urban legends, Helen (Virginia Madsen) learns of Candyman. Further investigation leads her to the Cabrini Green Projects where the Handy…er…Candyman is said to do most of his work. She also learns that no matter where you are, you can conjure this dude up by looking into a mirror and saying his name five times. Because of this, it’s a miracle that I, and most people I know who have seen this movie are alive. Why? Because right after seeing it every one of our dumb asses tried to make him appear the first time we were alone with a mirror. Hell, I’m still kinda thinking he’s gonna pop up and get me one day.

6. April Fool's Day (1986)
Rich kid Muffy St. John (Deborah Foreman) invites a bunch of her friends to her island mansion for the weekend to celebrate their final year of college. As luck would have it, they start turning up dead one by one. Not only do the remaining few have to survive but they can’t trust each other since one of them is obviously the killer. Before a certain other movie on this list, AFD spoofed slasher flicks while still being a pretty good one, in its own right. There’s also a very nice twist at the end that fits the title.

5. Friday the 13th (1980)
Twenty-plus years after Jason drowns at Camp Crystal Lake, the camp is getting ready to re-open. Seeing how, the counselors who were supposed to watching the kid were off somewhere having sex, Mrs. Voorhees has never forgiven camp counselors. It doesn’t help that this new batch of brat-watchers is all about partying and sex. So, of course, they start turning up dead…one by one. A young Kevin Bacon suffers a particularly nasty fate. Anyhoo, after 10 sequels and a remake, this one still stands up as the gold standard of the franchise. What’s curious about this particular series is that it’s most popular character, Jason, is not even in the franchise’s first and best movie. Well, he’s in it but not as the Jason we’ve come to know and loathe…er…love.

4. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Perhaps no movie in history has been ripped off more than this one. Its very basic plot construction has been reproduced in countless horror flicks over the years. It goes, a group of people either investigating something or just plain lost happen upon a peculiar group of locals and get all sorts of kidnapped and killed. That’s pretty much it. However, none of them did it as effectively as this ultra-low budget hack-flick. In fact, the low budget adds to the grit and helps make this all sorts of unsettling. Still.

3. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
So you thought it was over when you and the rest of the neighborhood watch chased down the local child-killer and literally fried him in his own boiler room? Not so fast. Now he’s haunting your kids through their dreams and killing them while they sleep. Nice. Okay, on paper it sounds kind of goofy. However, what’s more terrifying than not being able to sleep, ever? Like, Jason before him and Chucky after, a string of sequels would leave Freddy a mere caricature of the monster we loved to hate. Regardless, this movie remains as one of the genre’s true masterpieces. Oh, and even better than Kevin Bacon, a young Johnny Depp gets it in this one.

2. Halloween (1978)
Michael Myers gets his start early, killing his 17-year-old sister when he, himself, is a mere 6 years of age. Fast forward 15 years and he escapes from the looney bin he’s been kept in, returns to his hometown and starts hacking up babysitters. This is also known for being another of Jamie Lee Curtis’ scream-queen roles. Yes, she handles that quite well, as a matter of fact. This is the movie credited with creating the genre. It’s technically not the first slasher flick but it is the one that started the craze and a rush to emulate it (cough…cough…Friday the 13th…cough…cough). By most aficionados, this is considered the greatest slasher flick of all time. I tried really hard to put it as my number one. Oh well, I’m not most people. Forgive my blasphemy.


1. Scream (1996)
Sidney (Neve Campbell) is trying to cope with the loss of her mom due to a rape/murder only a year ago. Well, there’s also the fact that a couple of her classmates are brutally murdered and someone seems to be hunting down her friends. It’s a perfect deconstruction of the slasher genre while remaining faithful enough to its conventions and having a strong enough narrative to be a great one, on its own. Humor and horror are perfectly blended. It’s also a masterful whodunit. Unlike most other chop ‘em ups there is a real sense of suspense as we try to figure who is behind the mask. And that opening is just a brilliant piece of filmmaking. Setting aside what happens, it’s remarkable simply for who’s in it. With a cast full of nobodies plus that chick from Friends, Drew Barrymore is easily the biggest name on the bill. It only makes sense that before the film opened her name and likeness was used to hype it. She’s even on the movie poster. And that’s who you kill off first? Now, add back in what happened and it’s easy to see why her few minutes of screen time is among the most iconic scenes ever. Sorry for rambling. Go back through the first few sentences to see why the rest of it is great, as well.


Just Missed the Cut...
Happy Birthday to Me (1980)

Sleepaway Camp (1983)

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)

Scream 2 (1997)

Urban Legend (1998)

Wrong Turn (2003)

House of Wax (2005)

My Bloody Valentine 3D (2009)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Prom Night (1980)


Directed by Paul Lynch.
1980. Rated R, 94 minutes.
Cast:
Jamie Lee Curtis
Leslie Nielsen
Antoinette Bower
Casey Stevens


A little girl is accidentally killed during a particularly vicious game of hide & seek. Six years later, on their prom night, the kids responsible begin dying one by one during the big event. This is Jamie Lee Curtis during her "scream queen" days and has grown into one of the more beloved slasher flicks ever made. Even though it only runs a little longer than 90 minutes, it takes a while to get going after that outstanding opening. However, it finishes with a bang and is all sorts of fun towards the end. Even though our killer has a bad case of occasional teleportation ability, who it is and why is well executed. Oh, and it gets extra points for the full-blown disco routine plopped into the middle of the movie when Jamie Lee and her boyfriend want to show his ex-girlfriend, of plunging neckline and ample cleavage, "what we can do". John Travolta, eat your heart out.

Real Movie Score: 5.5/10

Slasher Movie Score: 8/10

Prom Night (2008)


Directed by Nelson McCormick.
2008. Rated PG-13, 88 minutes.
Cast:
Brittany Snow
Idris Elba
Dana Davis
Johnathon Schaech


Several years earlier, Donna's (Snow) entire family was murdered by a high school teacher (Schaech) who became obsessed with her. Now, on her prom night he has escaped from prison and shows up as an uninvited guest to the big event. This is a remake of the 1980 movie starring Jamie Lee Curtis. Sort of. The acting is actually pretty good for the genre by the pre-requisitely gorgeous cast. The movie as a whole is a shiny, good looking affair. It's actually too shiny. Slasher flicks should resemble the dingy things with frayed edges that hide deep within your dresser drawers. This movie has the pristine look of, well, a prom dress. Still, it manages to build a decent amount of tension through a number of false scares. However, this can't overcome the hack job of a script that renders this nothing more than a paint-by-numbers dead teenager movie. That wouldn't be so bad but by making it PG-13, the blood and guts people watch these movies for are almost completely absent.

Real Movie Score: 3.5/10

Slasher Movie Score: 5.5/10

Monday, October 11, 2010

Teeth


Directed by Mitchell Lichtenstein.
2007. Rated R, 94 minutes.
Cast:
Jess Weixler
John Hensley
Hale Appleman
Lenny von Dohlen
Josh Pais
Vivienne Benesch
Ashley Springer


If you buy the argument that the moral of many horror films, particularly slasher flicks, is that teenage and premarital sex is bad, you are already part of the foundation upon which Teeth is built. As it was explained to us in Wes Craven’s Scream, the characters that have sex die horrible deaths, leaving only the virginal heroine to save the day. This movie not only subscribes to that philosophy, it rubs your nose in it like you were a puppy whose unfortunate error ended up on the carpet.

Dawn (Weixler) is our virginal heroine. In most horror flicks, that would be divulging too much information. Here, not so much. See, she’s also the villain. Dawn is a high school student who fights on the frontline of the war between abstinence and promiscuity. She has taken a sacred vow to save herself for marriage, even forgoing masturbation, and gives lectures to fellow teens and preteens, encouraging them to do the same. Of course, there may be something she’s not even aware of driving her decision to maintain her purity.

Shortly after we meet Dawn, she meets a boy, Toby (Appleman). She likes him so much she begins to reevaluate her ideals. He’s not as strong as she is, having indulged once before. As things really heat up between the two, she remembers her vow and pleads with him to stop. Since he can’t control himself, an attempted rape ensues. This is when she discovers something about herself we’ve suspected since first reading the title, then watching the opening scene. Her vagina is not like other vaginas. Hers contains a very powerful set of teeth. Let’s just say men who dare enter, exit a digit short, a few digits in one case.


After this, we watch Dawn try to understand and come to grips with her own body and finds herself in some odd situations that lead to graphically bloody messes. Yes gore fans, we’re treated to the sight of a few lopped off penises and freshly castrated males gushing blood from the space where the wrong brain used to be. How we arrive at those scenes, I won’t tell. I will say that the last of them is jaw-dropping and even more cringe inducing than its predecessors.

By the time Teeth ends, we have a girl-power movie unlike any other. It’s undeniably feminist because the woman we focus on is absolutely empowered. She dominates men not with brawn like so many female action heroes, but by directly using the one thing all straight men covet against them. It lends credence to the theory women rule the world because almost everything we men do is designed to help us get in their pants.

Since Dawn is absolutely empowered, she falls victim to an old cliché. Eventually, she becomes corrupted, absolutely. How this is handled is key to the movie. She’s likeable and even as she becomes more and more comfortable with her peculiar style of vigilante justice we still see the victim fighting back. We understand her. Besides, what better incentive is there for young men to keep it zipped than the potential for their most valuable possession to be chopped off? The movie keeps from turning us totally off by making the whole thing with a wonderfully twisted sense of humor. In addition to being a horror flick, it’s a very dark comedy. The two genres blend and help the movie work on several levels.

As much as I like Teeth, it is not without its faults. Dawn’s mother has a mysterious illness that’s made a big deal of, but is completely irrelevant. The police are shown, but never really involved though they obviously should be. The men, save for her dad, are all one-note morons hardly worthy of conquering. However, they definitely warrant punishing which drives the movie. All in all, I enjoyed it immensely. Some may dismiss it as silly and disgusting. Some, like myself, will find this to be a low-budget gem. It’s a reminder that horror is as much about what you feel as it is what you see.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

3 Extremes


2004. Rated R, 126 minutes.
Note: 3 Extremes is made up of 3 short movies by 3 different directors which I will review separately. This is different than Snoop Dogg's Hood of Horrors which I reviewed as one movie because these are not only by different directors but don't claim in any way to be connected with the others. In SD's HOH the shorts were all by the same director & connected to the story of Snoop's character who played host. Finally, I cheated a bit and actually watched the full-length feature for Dumplings (included on a separate disc) so that will get the full review while the others get shorter reviews.


Cut
Directed by Chan-Wook Park.
Cast
Byung-hun Lee
Won-hie Lim
Hye-jeong Kang


A big-time movie director (Lee) comes home from a long day at work to what he thinks is an empty house. However, an intruder (Lim) surprises him & knocks him out cold. When he comes to he has his hands cuffed & is tethered to the wall by a bungee cord. Across the room his wife (Kang), a professional pianist, is elaborately restrained to her seat with her mouth gagged & fingers superglued to the keys of a piano. The intruder then begins to give the director ultimatums with the hacking off of his wife's fingers one at a time serving as the consequences for not making the desired decision. The story takes place almost entirely in one room (except for a few minutes). Even though its very brightly lit & glossy looking the setting & subtle camera work still gives it a claustrophobic feel. The tale contains enough of the director's trademark unsettling twists to keep you somewhat guessing but mostly disturbing you. For those unaware of those twists, Park also directed the Trilogy of Vengeance: Oldboy, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance & Lady Vengeance. See those for a lesson in twists that screw with your head (I'm talking to YOU M. Night I'masham). Back to this movie, its a wild watch thats at times funny, at times seems reflective (I'm sure the director in the film represents, in some measure, the director of the film) and all the time twisted.

SCORE: 8/10


BoxDirected by Takashi Miike.
Cast:
Kyoko Hasegawa
Yuu Suzuki
Atsuro Watabe


A novelist (Hasegawa) has recurring nightmares of being buried alive. That simple premise has been done before but this takes things in a whole new direction. Its a winding road that deals extensively with sibling rivalry & touches on insanity, hints at pedophilia & dwells on a plain old guilty conscious. It moves at a methodic pace perfectly complemented by Hasegawa's somber performance. Among the three it seems the least suited to be stretched into a full-length feature but for a short it works well and has an Edgar Allan Poe feel to it. However, since its not nearly as violent or manic in nature like Cut or Miike's most famous work, the live-action anime Ichi the Killer, its strangeness is more likely to turn people off. For those that stick with it we get the sort of delightfully weird ending that we would watch such a movie for.

SCORE: 7.5/10



Dumplings
Directed by Fruit Chan.
Cast:
Bai Ling
Miriam Yeung
Tony Leung


Plot: After 15 years of marriage, Mrs. Lei (Yeung) has lost her husband's attention to younger women. In hopes of regaining it she seeks out Aunt Mei (Ling) who makes youth-restoring dumplings. Of course, these dumplings have a rather peculiar ingredient.

The Good: Since we can figure out fairly early what this strange ingredient is and it's made explicitly clear just in case you weren't sure (but I'm not telling), the whole thing just has an overwhelmingly morbid feel. That feeling just intensifies and will turn to pure disgust in some, as the type of this ingredient is escalated, for lack of a better word. What keeps you watching is seeing Mrs. Lei deal with her feelings on the matter and set or reset her priorities. What keeps you on the edge of your seat is wondering how well this stuff is going to work, what are the consequences and will it even be enough to get what she so desires. Nicely juxtaposed with all of this is how flippantly Aunt Mei handles things. In fact, the performances of the two female leads really make this movie tick. Overall, it’s just a well-done metaphor for how far some people will go in pursuit of achieving or regaining physical beauty.

The Bad: Mr. Lei (Leung) can stand to be fleshed out a bit more. As it stands, he's just a stereotypical rich guy who's only motivation is chasing young chicks with no discretion. It serves to make him sort of the villain of the film but it also makes you wonder why the Mrs. would go through so much trouble trying to keep him. It can at times get a little slow. Those looking for chase & torture scenes need to look elsewhere. Still, the pace may be a function of it being stretched from a short into a full-length feature.

The Ugly: The most potent stuff. Ewww.

Recommendation: This is the type of movie for people who want to watch something that's just way out there. The genius of it is it has one foot planted enough in reality to make it seem plausible. Not plausible to the point you think what Mrs. Lei is doing could work but to the point you could see someone believing it would work & being disillusioned enough to give it a shot. That adds to the overall creepiness & makes it the type of film that I could see as a cult favorite.

SCORE: 7.5/10


Overall View: Though 3 Extremes is billed as a set of horror-flicks they are really not in the American sense of the term. There are no moments inserted purely to make you jump, no unkillable boogey-man & no over-sexed teens to kill off. These movies are more along the lines of bazaar excursions that just freak you out. They're meant to make you feel uneasy & question yourself for liking. Cut is the most entertaining & even most plausible in the sense that Stephen King's Misery is plausible which makes it the best by a small margin. The others, particularly Box are a little more artsy & therefore not quite as accessible but are both very good. Bring your reading glasses: Dumplings is in Chinese, Cut in Korean & Box in Japanese.

The Opposite View: Kevin Crust, Los Angeles Times

What the Internet Says: 7.1/10 on imdb.com (10/10/10), 85% on rottentomatoes.com, 66/100 on metacritic.com

SCORE: 7.5/10

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Hills Run Red


Director: Dave Parker.
2009. Rated R, 81 minutes.
Cast:
Tad Hilgenbrink
Sophie Monk
William Sadler
Janet Montgomery


Plot: Avid horror movie buff Tyler (Hilgenbrink) convinces his girlfriend and best friend to go on a journey deep into the woods to find a long lost slasher flick from the 1980s.

The Good: It knows what it is and what its purpose is so it keeps the pedal to the metal right from the start. What that means is even during the early parts we would expect to be slow the director is doing everything he can to hold your attention. Every minute or two we get random shots, supposedly from the missing movie, of someone getting an axe to the head, or their body torn in half or otherwise mutilated. And of course, there's a fair amount of female bare-chestedness. Gratuitous isn't a strong enough word for what's going on here. Narratively, its actually pretty solid as meat grinders go, setting us up nicely for the twist at about the 2/3 mark.

The Bad: With that twist comes huge, gaping plotholes that are never closed. Worse than this is like most hack 'em ups, it never engages us on any intrinsic level so actually scaring its audience is out of the question. It just repeatedly tries to jolt and/or repulse you. The problem than becomes there's so much of it early on, we've already become numb to it by the time the movie wants to shift us into overdrive. Another issue is our hero, Tyler. The movie wants you to empathize with him but its hard to because he's both a moron and a jerk. About five minutes in, I started wishing hard for his not-so-swift and extremely bloody death.

The Ugly: How our homicidal maniac, Babyface (Danko Jordanov), gets his name is ugly. How he came to be born is far uglier. Ewww.

Recommendation: This is absolutely, positively strictly for slasher/gore fans. If you're the type of person who just has to see every Saw movie and got excited when you found out the remake to My Bloody Valentine was not only going to be indeed bloody, but in 3-D, this is for you. If you're not, don't even think about it.

The Opposite View: Slasher flicks get a pass, here.

What the Internet Says: 5.6/10 on imdb.com, 50% on rottentomatoes.com, NA on metacritic.com

MY SCORE: 4/10

SLASHER MOVIE SCORE: 7/10

Friday, October 8, 2010

Bride of Frankenstein

Directed by James Whale.
1935. Not Rated, 75 minutes.
Cast:
Boris Karloff
Colin Clive
Valerie Hobson
Ernest Thesiger
Elsa Lanchester
Gavin Gordon
Una O’Connor
O. P. Heggie


As soon as Bride of Frankenstein starts, it brazenly lets us know it’s pulling a fast one on us. It shows us “Frankenstein” novel author Mary Shelley (Lanchester, who also plays the bride) and some of her inner-circle chit-chatting about, and essentially recapping the events of her legendary story. Just when they’re wrapping it up, she basically says to forget all about that wonderfully Shakespearean ending. They ain’t dead. Normally, this is an early warning sign that you’re about to watch a sequel that shouldn’t even exist and of a quality that suggests the same. Luckily, we get a sequel that actually outdoes the original.

Our new villain, the even more brilliant and crazier Dr. Pretorius (Thesiger) recruits Dr. Frankenstein (Clive), against his will, to help him in creating a companion for Frankenstein’s original monster. By the way, the monster (Karloff) roams the countryside terrorizing, and occasionally killing folks until he stumbles into a lonely blind man. This plays out much better than it sounds.

As mentioned, this film has a clear cut villain, Pretorius, and reluctant accomplice in Dr. Frankenstein. However, instead of an actual hero, we get a victim in Frankenstein’s monster. This works incredibly well as we’re properly set up for another doozy of an ending which finally includes the unveiling of the bride. Without having watched it, the knowledge that the title character doesn’t appear until very near the end of our tale seems like a terrible idea. When you do see it, you’ll realize it works perfectly.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Saw VI


Directed by Kevin Greutert.
2009. Rated R, 92 minutes.
Cast:
Tobin Bell
Costas Mandylor
Betsy Russell
Mark Rolston
Peter Outerbridge
Athena Karkanis
Shawnee Smith
Samantha Lemole


Yeah!!! The crowning jewel of the torture porn empire gives us installment number six. Just in case you’ve no clue what the series is about, let me help. Jigsaw (Bell) is a twisted soul who borrows much from the philosophy of John Doe of the movie Seven. Jigsaw finds people he feels are evil or take life for granted, kidnaps them and puts them in “games” that are nearly impossible to survive in order to teach them a lesson. Of those that do manage to make it out with their lives are usually maimed for their efforts. He’s also stricken with an undeniably fatal form of cancer and has actually been dead for the last couple movies. However, being the Tupac of cinematic nutjobs, he keeps posthumously releasing previously unused material, commanding others to do his bidding from beyond the grave.

At the risk of spoiling the previous entry, I have to tell you that Detective Hoffman (Mandylor) is now administering the games and carrying out Jig’s pre-death orders. Much to Hoffman’s chagrin, he has to work with Jill (Russell), the old man’s widow. Even worse, his co-workers seem painfully close to figuring this whole thing out.

This time around, the person Jigsaw decides is in need of a lesson is William Easton (Outerbridge). He’s one of the top dogs at a health insurance company. He also takes great pride and joy in denying as many claims as possible. Of course, this acquits both the government and corporate America in the fight over health care to some degree but, let’s move on.

Unlike most franchises that are fortunate, or unfortunate enough to make it to part six, the story is still fascinating. Better yet, it is a definite improvement over part five. Though it strains a bit and relies heavily on the use of flashbacks, the saga is still developing in an interesting manner. True, the flashbacks are a gimmicky way to keep the main character, and a few others involved, and they’ve added the never-really-slick trick of bringing someone back from the dead (not Jigsaw, thankfully). Still, both are done well and add to the proceedings. The prerequisite twist at the end also works and there are actually two of them. The one involving the insurance man is the much better of the two, but the other is solid. The latter is also more important to continuing the franchise. Yes, Saw VII…ahem…Saw 3D will hit theaters, shortly.

Then, there are the games. They are still the inventive, nasty and downright heinous affairs we’ve come to love. For instance, the game that opens the movie takes a quite literal interpretation of sacrificing a pound of flesh. Blood and guts is the calling card of the series and this version does not disappoint. It is certainly not for the squeamish.

Saw VI delivers what a Saw movie is supposed to. Just by doing that, it places the series among the greatest horror franchises of all time. By the time they reached this point, the Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Child’s Play franchises had become parodies of themselves, comedies built around a string of murders. The Halloween movies were just plain dreadful. And I haven’t even mentioned such dreck as Leprechaun and Police Academy. Wait, what? Police Academy 6: City Under Seige wasn’t a horror flick? Says you.

Anyhoo, each movie in the Saw series is still linked to the one before it, where the movies in those other franchises became stand alone entries that just happen to feature the same villain with the same M.O. It’s still well written, at least for the genre. It still gives us a twist we might not see coming. And believe it, or not, it can still make us cringe at the decisions characters are forced to make in the face of their own mortality as well what happens to them if they make the wrong choice.

The Opposite View: Bob Grimm, Tuscon Weekly

What the Internet Says: 6.2/10 on imdb.com (10/7/10), 42% on rottentomatoes.com, 30/100 on metacritic.com

MY SCORE: 6.5/10

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Jennifer's Body


Directed by Karyn Kasama.
2009. Rated R, 109 minutes.
Cast:
Megan Fox
Amanda Seyfried
Johnny Simmons
Adam Brody
Sal Cortez
Ryan Levine
Kyle Gallner
J. K. Simmons


Plot: Head cheerleader/hottest girl in school Jennifer (Fox) goes off with a rock band immediately after the club they were playing in burns to the ground. When she resurfaces later that night she's just a little different. By different, I mean she's now literally homicidal and cannibalistic.

The Good: There is something to be said for a movie not taking itself too seriously. This one doesn't and definitely tries to inject humor whenever possible. Occasionally, it succeeds. The emo-fused funeral scene is a thing of beauty and wraps up this movie's snipes at the Twilight franchise rather nicely (then again, I might be the only one who took it that way). It also establishes it's premise pretty quickly and maintains a nice pace. This is important because that premise is actually good, as horror movies go, offering the potential for a solid high school angst hack flick or even a girl-power gore-fest, which it tries. As our heroine, the aptly named Needy, Amanda Seyfried gives us a strong performance.

The Bad: The movie is written by Diablo Cody, who also penned Juno. In that flick, the dialogue was inventive and witty to most and grating to a few. Here, it is grating to most and only clever to a few. Instead of being cool, it comes off like it was written by an adult trying to invent slang terms on the fly that she thinks is cool. Fox's valley-girl style delivery of every line doesn't help. The story itself, while based on a strong premise, turns out to be a poorly executed metaphor. The movie fails visually, as well. The cgi is unconvincing, at best, and often worse than much of what can be seen on YouTube. There's also the strong hint of a very interesting story that could possibly lead to a showdown between Jenny and her one-handed teacher Mr. Worbloski. One of the great character actors, J. K. Simmons handles the role. However, the movie completely wastes him by setting him up to appear he's going to do something major then ignoring him before he actually does anything at all. And how is it we only meet Jennifer's mom once, and at "that" precise moment.

The Ugly: Why Jennifer had to sit on a bag of frozen peas.

Recommendation: It wants to be a horror movie with a dark sense of humor. From time to time, it manages the humor. However, it doesn't manage it nearly enough to make up for the total lack of horror. You may find it to be so bad, it's awesome, but it wasn't quite good/bad enough for me to grant it such lofty status. You may also be infatuated with Megan Fox. In that case, I say "enter at your own risk."

The Opposite View: Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

What the Internet Says: 5.3/10 on imdb.com (10/10/10), 42% on rottentomatoes.com, 47/100 on metacritic.com


MY SCORE: 3/10

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant

Directed by Paul Weitz.
2009. Rated PG-13, 109 minutes.
Cast:
Chris Massoglia
John C. Reilly
Josh Hutcherson
Michael Cerveris
Ray Stevenson
Salma Hayek
Jessica Carlson
Ken Watanabe
Patrick Fugit


Plot: In order to save his best friend's life, Darren (Massoglia) sacrifices himself by becoming a "half-vampire". He also finds himself in the middle of a war between the vampires and the "vampinese."

The Good: It adds some interesting new twists to vampire lore (like "super spit"). While doing so, it also forcefully removes some other traditional traits. For instance, there's no transforming into bats for these guys. Then again, do any vampires anymore? Anyhoo, this makes it fairly original and intriguing. There are also lots of interesting characters with quirky abilities.

The Bad: The tone is difficult to gauge. My first instinct is to say it's a comedy, played straight. However, other than the fact it looks like John C. Reilly is struggling mightily to not act goofy, it isn't funny. That would mean it's a serious vampire flick. The problem is it's too cheesy to engage us on a deeper level or offer up vampirism as a metaphor for anything relevant to viewers.

The Ugly: What happens to Madame Truska (Hayek) when she gets aroused.

Recommendation: Overall, it's an interesting watch that's sporadically entertaining. It's uneven tone make it a bit of a frustrating watch and give it the feel of a Disney Channel made-for-TV movie with a few four letter words sprinkled in.

The Opposite View: Marc Savlov, Austin Chronicle

What the Internet Says: 6.2/10 on imdb.com (10/1/10), 37% on rottentomatoes.com, 43/100 on metacritic.com


MY SCORE: 5/10