Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween (2007)

Directed by Rob Zombie.
2007. Rated R, 111 minutes.
Cast:
Malcolm McDowell
Daeg Faerch
Tyler Mane
Sheri Moon Zombie
William Forsythe
Scout Taylor-Compton
Hanna Hall
Danielle Harris
Danny Trejo

Brad Dourif 

John Carpenter’s Halloween is widely regarded as one of the greatest horror movies ever made. It is undeniably one of the most influential and imitated movies of all time. Every slasher flick that followed owes it a huge debt of gratitude. Without it, there may not have been a Friday the 13th or A Nightmare on Elm Street. That it would be remade was inevitable. Musician turned director Rob Zombie tackles the task.

To Zombie’s credit, he’s not content with merely doing a spot-on remake with updated wardrobes. He truly tries to make it his own. He does this by taking us deep into the world of the iconic slaughterer of teens. We first meet Mikey (Faerch) when he is just a wee lad, albeit one with a penchant for killing small animals. Very tired of how people treat him, he graduates from animals to humans. Through a startingly realistic series of events, he kills four people who make the error in judgment of pissing him off. We then spend some time with him in a mental institution, both at the beginning and end of his stay. Eventually, we get to the point that serves as the starting point for the original, his escape from the institution and subsequent return home. This constitutes the first half of our feature and it is spectacular film-making. It’s much more brutal, unflinching character study than true horror. Since it revolves around a child committing some hellacious acts, all of which are graphically depicted, it’s all sorts of unsettling. The magic of it is that through the mayhem of his life, we feel bad for Mikey. Like we do about most children who come from adverse circumstances, we feel his life could’ve been different. It could’ve been better. We see points where small changes my have made a world of difference.

During Michael’s escape, something happens that eats away at the movie. His humanity is quickly and completely stripped away. All of the empathy the film had been working so hard to build up comes tumbling down due to his final encounter with the guard played by Danny Trejo. This is an occasion where predictable would’ve been a good thing. Had the expected thing happened, basically the opposite of what actually does, it would’ve maintained our feelings for him going forward. Instead, the director’s nihilism got the best of him. From this point on Michael Myers (Mane) is once again a faceless monster we’ve no attachment to.

This brings us to the second half. From here we get a mechanical but truncated remake of the original. Things keep happening at a rapid rate so we’re never bored. The problem is our emotional involvement has taken a nosedive. The reason for this is two-fold. I’ve already explained the first part of it. The other part is this shortened second act. We meet the people of present day Haddonfield that Michael will shortly terrorize. However, we don’t know them. We don’t care about them. They are merely the bodies in various stages of undress that our killer will mutilate. Like all the best movies in the franchise, the original isn’t about Michael Myers. It is about Laurie Strode, the Jamie Lee Curtis character now played by Scout Taylor-Compton and the terror he cast upon her. We felt for her. We were scared with her. This time around we couldn’t give a flip about her. It wouldn’t be an issue if we still cared about Michael but we don’t. In the blink of an eye he went from a scarred, misguided and dangerous child to a superhuman behemoth who’s only function is viciously killing anyone in his path.

Rob Zombie’s Halloween is a hard movie to judge. The first hlf alone makes it worth seeing. It contains some of the best storytelling of any American horror flick perhaps of the 21st century. The second half is stilly visually exciting, but leaves us flat as the boogeyman coldly moves from victim to victim. Murder is a gruesome but clinical and joyless task he must continuously perform for our morbid pleasure. The director gave us Mikey and created a soft spot in our hearts for a child who can’t seem to help but lash out in ways fatal to others when he’s angered. Then, Mikey was snatched away. In his place, we were given the machine known as Michael Myers.

MY SCORE: 7.5/10

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Halloween (1978)

Directed by John Carpenter.
1978. Rated R, 91 minutes.
Cast:
Jamie Lee Curtis
Donald Pleasance
P. J. Soles
Charles Cyphers
Kyle Richards
Brian Andrews
John Michael Graham


As a youngster Michael Myers kills his older sister on Halloween night and is put into a mental institution. Fifteen years later, again on Halloween night, Michael escapes and heads back to his hometown.

This is one of those rare movies that helped create a genre. In this case, that genre is the modern-day slasher flick or more specifically DTMs or dead-teenager-movies. Yes, there were slasher flicks, even DTMs before this but this provided the template for not only a host of sequels but also a slew of imitators that are still being made over 30 years later. As far as the actual movie, it uses some effective tension building methods that maintain a creepy feel to the movie even though not much actually happens over the first half of the film. Most notably these include the now-you-see-him-now-you-don't moments of the killer himself and the use of what I believe is one of the most effective scores in the history of cinema. Of course, things get fun when the bodies start piling up over the latter part of the movie.

The script cuts alot of corners. Its done in part to tighten the movie by keeping the run-time down. It's also done in part to keep from explaining things. For instance, how does this doctor seem to know what Michael Myers is thinking even though we're told he hasn't spoken a word since the night he killed his sister? Because what he sees in Myers' eyes is "pure EVIL", of course. How very scientific of you doc. There are more things in a similar vein so I could see why a remake would want to flesh things out. Unfortunately, Halloween establishes one of the slasher genre's main weaknesses right off the bat: the acting is nothing to write home about. Then scream-queen Jamie Lee Curtis isn't bad, you can see why she went on to bigger and better things. The rest of the cast is functional at best. By functional I mean they're slightly better than sounding like they're reading, except for Donald Pleasance as the doctor who just over-acts. However, all of that is forgivable especially given the same things still occur in horror movies so it doesn't even seem dated. What is laughable though is the way our bad guy fails to kill Jamie Lee Curtis (seeing how she's appeared in a few of the sequels and the movie is over 30 years old I don't think I'm spoiling anything). Honestly, more than once Myers has Jamie Lee at point blank range without her even aware of him, yet he misses her with a knife that has a blade on it the size of my forearm.

If you're a fan of horror movies, see this one if you haven't already. It's a classic within the genre and deserves to be seen. Definitely take a look if you plan on seeing the remake. I always recommend seeing the original, preferably before the remake. If you've already seen the remake but not the original, go back and see what they working with. If you're not a horror fan then skip it. The truth is it's a great slasher flick, among the best ever but not really a great movie in the grand scheme of things. There is a big difference between the two.


Saturday, October 29, 2011

Trick 'r Treat


Directed by Michael Dougherty.
2007. Rated R, 82 minutes.
Cast:
Anna Paquin
Brian Cox
Dylan Baker
Rochelle Aytes
Quinn Lord
Lauren Lee Smith
Moneca Delain
Leslie Bibb


Our saga begins with Laurie (Bibb) and her husband arriving home from a night of Halloween fun. Their house has been decorated for the holiday and she wants to clean up. Horny hubby has other ideas. He throws a temper tantrum until the wife tells him to go upstairs and “put on the tape.” He happily jaunts up to the bedroom and pops in some porn while anxiously awaiting his lovely lady. Apparently needing to psych herself up, Laurie decides to stay downstairs and do some cleaning before giving her man a mercy-lay. As is often the case in horror movies, she hears a few strange noises and suddenly finds herself all sorts of murdered. That’s the end of story number one. Sorta.

After the opening credits, we’re told it’s “earlier.” Yeah, it’s one of those. Sometimes it’s earlier, sometimes later and pretty much impossible to keep up with. That doesn’t matter, we’re here for the killin’. To that end, a few more stories set themselves up. There’s the grade school principal who’s also a serial killer, a group of early teens in search of the truth behind a local urban legend, some college aged young ladies trying to get the one virgin among them laid and eventually, the principal’s neighbor meets a trick-or-treater. Other than happening in the same small town on the same night, the stories aren’t related. Well, two pairs do form as the stories intertwine somewhat. Even then, they aren’t really related, just sharing a character. Thankfully, they all end with that killin’ we’re here for.

Individually, each tale has a fair share of intrigue. They’re well told and all of them are twisted. However, the lack of cohesion works against it. Instead of watching a movie, it can occasionally feel like we have a severe case of ADD. We’re just jumping back and forth with no rhyme or reason. This creates the movie’s biggest problem. When it’s all said and done, it feels like a pointless affair. So, while it has lots of very interesting things going on, it never quite comes together.

MY SCORE: 6/10

Friday, October 28, 2011

Insidious

Directed by James Wan.
2010. Rated PG-13, 103 minutes.
Cast:
Rose Byrne
Patrick Wilson
Ty Simpkins
Barbara Hershey
Lin Shaye
Leigh Whannell
Angus Sampson
Andrew Astor
Ruben Pla

Meet the Lamberts. They’ve just moved into a big pretty house. Almost immediately things start going bump in the night…and sometimes during the day, too. Mom Renai (Byrne) notices things the most. She whimpers and cries a lot. Dad Josh (Wilson) is almost perpetually on his way out the door and sleeps fairly hard do he doesn’t notice anything at all. Their oldest son Foster (Astor) says he’s scared once then we hardly ever see him again. I guess Hollywood is compliant with child labor laws after all. Speaking of which, there is an infant who’s name I can’t recall. She’s also sensitive to the strange happenings and cries almost as much as her mother. Finally, there’s middle-child Dalton (Simpkins). He seems to be the target of all this paranormal activity. See what I did there? Smooth, huh? He bumps his head, sees something scary and a day or two later slips into a coma. The doctor says it’s not really a coma. He doesn’t know what it is, but whatever. Mom and Dad bring Dalton home so he can be in his own bed during his not-coma and weird things keep going on.

Before I go any further, let’s talk about this house. It’s a gorgeous house with at least two floors of living space plus an attic. All of the rooms are huge including a living room in which their piano looks small. For a family of five, with the parents presumably in their thirties, it’s pretty much a dream house. Mom is an aspiring but non-paycheck earning songwriter. What does Dad do? He’s gotta be a young hotshot exec at some highly successful company, right? No. maybe he’s a lawyer or a doctor? Try again. Pat yourself on the back if you said school teacher. I’m not talking professor at a prestigious university. I’m talking middle-school. Uh-huh. Let’s move on.

As they tend to do in such movies, the noises and sightings intensify. Unable to take it any longer, Mom demands the family move immediately. The very next day, or so it appears, the Lamberts are moving into a smaller but still very nice house they’re leasing according to the sign on the lawn. Seriously, what district does this dude teach in? Anyhoo, in their new-new home there’s more random noises and sightings of grumpy looking dudes stomping around. Who ya gonna call? Momma-in-law (Hershey) has been hanging around the new-new place and is seeing stuff, too. She calls Ghostbusters, sort of. It’s really Elise (Shaye) who is a friend of hers who has a pair of geeky employees with lots of equipment. Long story short, we get the revelation we either figured out on our own or already knew because it’s in the trailer. Lady, it ain’t the house. It’s that little snot-nose that’s been lying in bed for the last 40 minutes of this flick. I won’t tell what happens after that because then we’d be getting into spoilers. It’s far beyond me to totally ruin a movie watching experience for you. Maybe.

I will do what I’m here for. I’ll tell you how I feel about all this. If you’ve ever seen a haunted house movie, this one will be less than thrilling. It is even more derivative than most. It feels like a mashup of Paranormal Activity and The Amityville Horror with a heaping helping of Poltergeist thrown in. At this point, the entire sub-genre can only be so creative. This one merely regurgitates what it got from those others without the tension carrying over. It never grabs you. The whole thing feels more hokey than scary. It doesn’t help that this set of apparitions is comparatively impotent. They pace back and forth, hide in corners and occasionally reach for someone. Sadly, it’s painfully obvious they’ll never get there. Worse, they look like they know they’ll never get there. The last scenes provide some intrigue and is a decent setup for a sequel. It’s just not a sequel I’m particularly anxious for.

MY SCORE: 5/10

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Bug

Directed by William Friedkin.
2007. Rated R, 102 minutes.
Cast:
Ashley Judd
Michael Shannon
Harry Connick, Jr.
Lynn Collins

Lonely lady Agnes (Judd) is a chain smokin’, hard drinkin’ coke-snortin’ woman who’s scared of her abusive ex-husband, who’s just got out of jail, lives alone and has apparently become a lesbian. Maybe. Her kinda-sorta girlfriend, RC (Collins) introduces her to Peter (Shannon) who’s a bit of a weirdo but seems harmless. Well, Agnes takes him in and falls for him and then they discover a bug infestation in the motel room she uses as an apartment. It wants to blur the line between sanity and insanity, like Michael Clayton does a nice job of, and maybe make a statement about that but it just comes across as bazaar and a hard movie to watch. Being bazaar isn’t necessarily a bad thing, if you use what you have for some sort of graspable metaphor or thoughtful satire. Being bazaar just to be that way is just annoying. Sadly, the excellent work turned in by stars Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon are wasted on horrible material. Having seen it, it’s shocking that this was directed by the same man who directed The French Connection, The Exorcist and Rules of Engagement. Well, he also did Deal of the Century and Jade so I guess it’s not that big a deal. Anyway, unless you just have to see what Ashley Judd looks like naked while carrying 10 or 15 pounds more than you’re used to seeing on her, don’t bother.

MY SCORE: 3/10

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Willard

Directed by Glen Morgan.
2003. Rated PG-13, 100 minutes.
Cast:
Crispin Glover
R. Lee Ermey
Laura Harring
Jackie Burroughs
Laura Harring

Loner and incompetent worker Willared (Glover) befriends the pack of rats that have congregated in his basement and trains them to do his dirty deeds. Remake of the 1971 film starring Ernest Borgnine which I haven't seen, yet. Crispin Glover is absolutely perfect in the title role. In fact, he might be too perfect as his career hasn't exactly taken off since this came out. It's a delightfully odd movie that has many of the elements of a horror movie but really isn't one. That is, unless you're one of those people who completely freak out at the sight of rats. It's more of a bazaar revenge flick. The way the rodents, in particular Ben and Socrates, are portrayed is outstanding. The audience is never really sure either of them are capable of the things Willard thinks they are but we can't rule out the possibility. As a result, we can simultaneously pity Willard for losing his mind and disdain him for the heinous things he has the rats do. It's one of the stranger movies I've seen, but it's deftly directed and maintains enough camp to keep things just off-kilter.

MY SCORE: 7.5/10

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Die Hard Dracula


Directed by Peter Horak.
1998. Not Rated, 90 minutes.
Cast:
Bruce Glover
Denny Sachen
Kerry Dustin
Ernest M. Garcia
Chaba Hrotko
Tom McGowan
Nathalie Huot
Talia Botane
Peter Horak
John Slavic
Art Vanik

In case you didn’t get the full impact, let’s start by talking about that title. Die Hard is one of the most beloved action franchises of all time. Bruce Willis built an entire career on the success of that series. Without doing any research to substantiate this, I believe there have been more incarnations of Dracula than any other character in cinematic history. Even if you’ve somehow never seen a Die Hard movie or a vampire flick you still can’t possibly go into a movie named Die Hard Dracula expecting it will be any good. I didn’t. I went in wanting to see just how bad it would be.

To kick things off we’re given a brief history of Vlad Dracul AKA Vlad the Impaler. This little portion ends with fast forwarding 300 years from his death late in the 16th century. Here’s where we get our first hilariously bad moment. Vlad…ahem…Dracula wakes up, grumbles about not being able to take it anymore and his coffin lifts off the floor, busts out of his tomb and takes off flying across the countryside while “Ride of the Valkyries” blares from the speakers. Oh my, this might even be worse than I’d imagined. Yes!


The coffin lands in a vacant castle in Moravia. The king chase some random chick there and stabs her right on top of the coffin. Dracula wakes up again, kills the guy and brings the girl back by turning her into a vampire. We fast forward again to “present day” California. We meet Steve. The first thing we realize it that he’s played by a really bad actor (Denny Sachen). He’s the worst of the three very bad actors in this scene. Of course, this means he has the biggest part of the trio. Anyhoo, Steve loses his girlfriend to a water-skiiing accident. Distraught over her death, he decides to go to Europe on a little vacay. After a few drunken nights he wanders around and somehow finds himself in…Dun dun dun DUUUNNNN...Moravia. He meets Carla (Dustin) which totally freaks him out because she looks exactly like his dead girlfriend. Even creepier, Carla also drowned. It just so happens that the falling star Steve saw and wished upon when he was back home struck Carla’s casket and brought her back to life. Uh-huh. This has nothing to do with anything else in the movie, but I’d thought I’d mention it. Well, it has a little relevance. Apparently, her resemblance to his girlfriend helps the two fall quickly and madly in love.

So the locals have figured out that Dracula is slinking around, munching on peasant girls. I almost forgot to mention that for some unexplained reason he appears in three different guises in human form. One is normal looking, one like a walking corpse and one even worse than that. No, there is no rhyme or reason for which way he’ll look during a given scene. Of course, they do the same thing everyone else in movies seems to do. They call in Dr. Van Helsing (Glover). Since the actual locals are too chicken to help the doc out, he recruits Steve. What follows is Van Helsing and Steve making repeated attempts to kill the vampire and failing miserably.


We have to forgive our would-be heroes for their lack of success. These boys have a lot to overcome. We’re told Dracula can go out in daytime so long as he’s not struck by direct sunlight, but we find out the sun seems to have no effect on him at all. We’re told he can be killed by silver bullets, but we find out that doesn’t actually work (I thought that was werewolves, anyway). Anytime they stick something in his chest he just pulls it out and keeps going. The thing that seems to hurt him the most is the dentist yanking out one of his fangs. Yup, Dracula actually makes and goes to an appointment with the dentist just like us regular folk. I wish I was making this up. Well, yanking out a fang doesn’t kill him, only pisses him off. He’s invincible. They even chop his head off, which we’re also told will kill him. No problem. He just screws the damn thing back on. I guess Die Hard Dracula is a good title after all.


Through all the shenanigans we’re blessed with some of the worst dialogue you’ll ever hear. To say it’s cheesy is an insult to cheesy dialogue. I’m talking stuff my 11 year old daughter would write then ball up the paper and throw it in the trash for being too corny. It doesn’t help that the acting is all over the place. Glover as Van Helsing and the three guys that play Dracula ham it up pretty good, delightfully overacting. Yes, they actually use a different guy for each of Dracula’s looks. Why? Who knows. I’m pretty sure it has nothing to do with anything you actually see on the screen. Oops. It’s actually four guys. They have another guy that does the voice. One more thing: Glover is actually the father of Crispin Glover. He’s got a list of credits longer than my arm that includes some of the most beloved TV shows of all time (The Six Million Dollar Man, The Dukes of Hazard, Mission: Impossible and Kojak to name a few) and a few well known movies (Chinatown and Diamonds Are Forever among them). I’m not sure how he ended up here. I have three theories I’m deciding between: 1) he was desperately in need of money (but can’t imagine he made any on this) 2) he was friends with the director and 3) someone had pictures of him naked with farm animals.


The rest of the cast ranges from really bad to Steve’s nearly catatonic reading of lines. He makes Keanu Reeves look like James Cagney. As far as other production values go, well, I’ll just say that I could tell they used several different types of cameras during camcording…er…filming. If you’re a lover of bad movies this one should be on your must-see list. It’s so bad, it’s awesome!

Monday, October 24, 2011

I Spit on Your Grave (2010)

Directed by Steven R. Monroe.
2010. Not Rated, 108 minutes.
Cast:
Sarah Butler
Jeff Branson
Andrew Howard
Daniel Franzese
Rodney Eastman
Chad Lindberg
Tracy Walter
Mollie Milligan
Saxon Sharbino

Jennifer Hills (Butler) is a novelist about to begin to working on her next book. She looks a little young to be on a “next” book but nevermind my ignorant biases. To get some solitude in which to work she rents a cabin way out in the middle of nowhere. She plans on staying there for several months…all alone…dun dun dun duuuunnnnn. Lost, she stops for gas and directions. While there she laughingly dismisses Johnny (Branson), the local yokel who hits on her. Over the next few days, Ms. Hills writes a little, drinks a lot and here’s plenty of things go bump in the night. Meanwhile, Johnny stews over being rejected thanks in no small part to lots of teasing from his buddies. At some point during all this one of them sneaks up to the cabin and gets some footage of our girl in her undies. After getting a look at this Johnny and the boys spring into far more deplorable action. Just so you’re up to speed, this ragtag bunch is made up of Johnny, the big guy who always has his video camera rolling (Eastman), the guy who thinks he’s handsome (Franzese) plus the mentally challenged and constantly reluctant Matthew (Lindberg). Much to Jennifer’s chagrin, they are soon joined by the town sheriff (Howard). A gang-rape ensues. Make that two gang-rapes.

Horror and revenge movie buffs are keenly aware that this is a remake of the cult-classic 1978 flick sometimes known by the same name. It also goes by its original title Day of the Woman. It might be one of the earliest entries into the genre that would eventually come to be called torture porn. The plots of the two films are identical. What the choose to emphasize is not. The three acts of both are as follows: 1) spend a little time with the heroine in and around the cabin while the boys work themselves into a lather 2) gang-rape and 3) revenge. Where the original loses people, and perhaps gains others, is the excruciating detail and protracted length of the rape scenes. We watch this poor girl being brutalized in uncomfortably realistic fashion for an overwhelmingly large chunk of the movie. Though the whole movie is fairly short, her dehumanization seems to go on for hours. This is why many have labeled the original one of the most depraved films ever made.

The remake takes a different path. We still get the rape scenes and they’re still plenty unsettling. However, they feel shorter in this version and certainly more stylized with fadeouts, echoing voices and the such. They’re enough to make the point and access our appetite for blood. The real emphasis is not only on her revenge, but how she gets it. By the way, I don’t consider anything I’ve written a spoiler. Knowing what happens is irrelevant to this movie. The question is: Do you want to see how it happens. To this end, each of her assailants is made to suffer mightily before their demise. In an interesting twist, the way she disposes of them has something do with either their personality or their role during the rape. Gore hounds will love it since we get into some pretty gross territory, here.

This brings me to my biggest technical gripe with I Spit. I’ll only speak of the technical side because the debating the morals and ethics of this movie could take several days with no resolution. A lot of what Jennifer does obviously required lots of moving unconscious men around over various distances. All of them are heavier than her, by quite a bit in some cases. In at least one instance, probably two, lifting appears to be involve. Unless she has the help of a movie crew (wink), it seems highly improbable, if not impossible she’d be able to do these things. I know, it’s a movie so roll with it, right?

After we’ve been disturbed to our core, the question remains. Is it any good? That depends on your tolerance for the sheer sadism of the acts depicted. Like the original, it fancies itself a “girl-power” movie. However, I can’t imagine either appealing to the majority of women. Is it better than its predecessor? I’d say they’re roughly the same, giving a slight edge to the original. Taken for what they try to be, I enjoy both. For exactly the same reason you may hate them.

MY SCORE: 7/10

Sunday, October 23, 2011

I Spit on Your Grave (1978)

Directed by Meir Zarchi
1978. Not Rated (originally Rated X), 100 minutes.
Cast:
Camille Keaton
Eron Tabor
Richard Pace
Anthony Nichols
Gunter Kleeman


Young novelist Jennifer (Keaton) seeks revenge against the men who gang-rape her while she's on vacation. This is a very difficult movie to watch. In most gore flicks, the brutality and blood resulting from it are so overblown it's not to be believed. When we watch a Saw flick, for instance, and see some contraption that obviously took an entire crew to build obliterate someone's head and blood splattering in all directions it's shocking and disgusting but so over the top it feels like we're watching a movie. Here, the rape scenes are not only explicit in their viciousness but depicted in a way that makes us feel like we're watching, well, rape. This is far more unsettling and frankly, repulsive, especially since we get three rather lengthy scenes of it. Many people have stopped watching in the middle of one or the other and never finished the movie and I can't say that I blame them. However, there are a couple payoffs if you manage to make it through this part of the film, one for the film itself and one for the viewer. For the film, its reward is your unwavering support for the victim regardless of what she plans to do to these guys. You can even dismiss the fact that our villains are beyond stupid and simply fall for whatever she throws their way. For you, I won't completely spoil the reward but I'm sure you can guess. Let's just say it becomes a "girl power" film of the highest, and perhaps most disturbing order. Not surprisingly, it's one of the most polarizing movies ever because many see it as misogynist and dismiss it as a vile piece of cinema. Even Roger Ebert once called it "the worst movie ever made." I have quite the opposite viewpoint. Much the way many anti-war movies use graphic combat scenes to help make its point, this uses decidedly anti-woman occurrences to achieve a remarkably unrestrained brand of feminism. Oh, and you may never...ever...ever get the bathtub scene out of your head.

MY SCORE: 7.5/10

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Strangers

Directed by Bryan Bertino.
2008. Rated R, 88 minutes
Cast:
Liv Tyler
Scott Speedman
Gemma Ward
Kip Weeks

A group of masked strangers terrorize a young couple at their summer home in the woods. The movie works hard to extract fear and dread from the tension of the situation and resists the urge to compile a bunch of cheap jump-scares or use a lot of gore. Liv Tyler proves to be a capable scream queen. Unlike much of his other work, Scott Speedman actually appears lifelike.

Our bad guys can get in and out of the house apparently at will yet still resort to cheap "scary" tactics like axing the front door. They can also control sound, I guess. They make extremely loud noises sometimes, which I get. What I don't get is they also do some things in silence that should be audible for at least half a mile. This gives them a superhuman quality that isn't needed. It makes the grave mistake of telling us the ending at the beginning. That has worked in lots of movies but in this instance it renders the whole thing pointless. It tells you what's going to happen and then spends the next hour and a half barrelling towards that inevitable conclusion without any mystery as to how we're going to arrive there. Therefore, an ending that could've been shocking, disturbing or some other awesome -ing is left impotent, or more accurately limp from its pre-mature activity.

It's actually a pretty good watch at home, at night, in the dark because the possibility of the situation is one most of us have at least thought about once or twice. However, it's not as good as it should be. Horror fans give it a look but don't expect the next great thing.

MY SCORE: 5.5/10

Friday, October 21, 2011

Scream 4

Directed by Wes Craven.
2011. Rated R, 111 minutes.
Cast:
Neve Campbell
Courteney Cox
David Arquette
Emma Roberts
Hayden Panettiere
Britt Robertson
Marielle Jaffe
Marley Shelton
Rory Culkin
Mary McDonnell
Anna Paquin
Kristen Bell

After so many years and so many of her friends being butchered around her, Sidney Prescott (Campbell) returns to Woodsboro. It’s the last stop on her book tour promoting the best-seller she’s penned about overcoming her ordeals. For those of you not in the know, she’s the ultimate “last girl” having survived the first three movies despite being the target of various killers. This grand event coincides with the anniversary of the first set of murders that she lived through along with Dewey (Arquette) and Gail (Cox) who were also fortunate enough to survive the massacres. With no teenage friends of her own, attentions turn to Sid’s young cousin Jill (Roberts) and her pals. In true slasher fashion, they start getting hacked up one by one.

This set of killings mirrors that original set. This is a fact not lost on any of our potential victims and killers. Like all of the previous movies in the series everyone is fully aware they are living through a horror movie. True to the Scream formula, they even understand that not only are they in a sequel, but a franchise reboot. Between slayings there’s lots of talk about horror movies and their rules. There’s also a jab at the Saw franchise and a narcissistic nod to director Wes Craven’s own greatness as a number of the films in his catalog are lovingly referenced. From all of this, enough humor is derived to help keep things moving at a pretty rapid rate. I have two gripes with it, though. First, any dialogue not about horror movies is wooden, perfunctory at best. Second, its saturated with gripes about the current state of the genre. Horror flicks aren’t as good as they used to be, we get it. Move on.

The ace-in-the-hole of the Scream series is actually not the scares, but the suspense. I’m usually quick to point out that for slasher fare creative kills are a must to satisfy the sadism of its audience. This group of films refutes this idea. Throughout the first three movies, and now a fourth, the vast majority of murders depicted are very bloody, but not particularly memorable, other than the opening scenes. Part 4, and the franchise as a whole understands that the boogeyman is much more powerful when you don’t know who it is. Instinctively, we begin trying to solve the mystery. This locks us in. We’re trapped, unable to wane because we must know who it is that dons the mask of the ghostface killer (Wu-Tang fans, that was for you). We keep guessing even if we think we have it right. That’s because enough things happen to make us question our own judgement. Besides that, if you’re familiar with the franchise then you know we have two identities to guess. For the record, I was slightly off on one and completely wrong on the other. By the way, that one I was way off on is a wonderful twist with some logic behind that’s somehow simultaneously brilliant and stupid. That’s a compliment.

Before returning to Woodsboro himself, Wes Craven dropped the dreadful My Soul to Take on us. It was his first directorial effort in a few years. It now feels like he used that to get in a few practice swings before really coming back. Methinks the gentleman doth protest too much with regards to the genre that made him famous. His latest might even be a little too self-aware, evidenced by no less than three opening scenes, one featuring Anna Paquin and Kristen Bell. However, he can still spin a tale that intrigues us and makes us laugh without either feeling forced. It doesn’t come near the magic of the original, which it even acknowledges. It doesn’t quite measure up to the excellent Scream 2, either. Still, it’s a huge step up from part 3 and is a very good slasher flick.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

I Married a Monster from Outer Space



Directed by Gene Fowler.
1958. Not Rated, 77 minutes.
Cast:
Gloria Talbott
Tom Tryon
Robert Ivers
Chuck Wassil

Marge (Talbott) marries her sweetheart Bill (Tryon) and notices he's acting really strange. She soon discovers that the man she married is...wait for it...wait for it...a monster from outer space. Well, actually his body has been taken over by a monster...from outer space. One by one, this starts happening to all the men in town as Marge frantically tries to find help in stopping them. Yup, this is 50s B-movieism at its finest...or worst depending on your point of view. The aliens use screwy logic but hilariously enough, they're better husbands than the humans they've taken over. The human men, married or not, are all heavy drinkers who spend every night at the local pub. When we get to the "exciting conclusion" it's because a) people suddenly know things they shouldn't, but don't know things they should and b) ...well, there's a lot of stupid stuff. Think Invasion of the Body Snatchers mixed with Plan 9 from Outer Space and a dash of Signs thrown in. The unintentional humor is high, the special fx are shoddy, even for the 50s, and one particular fact about our alien friends renders the whole thing impossible. That's why it's so bad, it's awesome!

MY SCORE: -10/10


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Satanic Rites of Dracula

Directed by Alan Gibson.
1973. Rated R, 87 minutes.
Cast:
Christopher Lee
Peter Cushing
Michael Coles
William Franklyn
Joanna Lumley
Freddie Jones


Some powerful people in British politics are being investigated under the suspicion that they belong to a satanic cult. It soon becomes apparent this is no ordinary cult but they are, in fact, working for Count Dracula. The first problem is that Christopher Lee’s Dracula is one of the lamest incarnations of the character I’ve ever seen. He has nowhere near the mental capacity of the other movie vampires and seems to possess none of their supernatural powers save for transforming people into vampires and immortality provided he avoids the sun and wooden stakes through the heart. Well, this guy can also be killed by silver bullets. Hmmm, I always thought that was for werewolves. Whatever. Forgetting that he needs at least some humans to sustain his own life, he’s bent on getting the humans working for him to create a suped up version of the Bubonic Plague that will wipe out the entire species. And for some unexplained reason he keeps all the ladies he’s transformed chained up in the basement. With a good deal of cheesy dialogue, lame action scenes, nudity and Lee’s poor Bela Lugosi impersonation it definitely finds it’s way into the so-bad-it’s-awesome category.

MY SCORE: -10/10

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Silent Hill

Directed by Christophe Gans.
2006. Rated R, 125 minutes.
Cast:
Radha Mitchell
Laurie Holden
Sean Bean
Deborah Kara Unger
Kim Coates
Tanya Allen
Alice Krige
Jodelle Ferland

Little Sharon (Ferland) often has nightmares and sleepwalks. One night, she’s just about to jump off a cliff when mommy Rose (Mitchell) grabs her in a nick of time. All the while, she keeps screaming “Silent Hill!” over and over. Rose does a little research and finds out that Silent Hill is a town not too far from them right there in West Virginia. Forget about all that therapy crap. This mom is a bit more proactive. She quickly deduces that the only way to solve her daughter’s problems is by taking a drive to this place of which the little girl unconsciously howls at the moon. You see that? I wrote howl to suggest this is a werewolf movie when it’s not. My sleight of hand is spectacularly lame. I’m like a magician that says “Look over there” and then tries to peek at the card you picked. Let’s move on. With Sharon in tow, Rose gets in her SUV and heads for the apparently deserted town. On the way, she avoids a ticket by speeding away from a motorcycle cop, nearly runs over an ominous pedestrian, crashes and gets knocked out. When she comes to, she discovers she’s reached her destination, which is definitely the strangest place she’s ever been. More importantly, Sharon is missing. Rose and eventually Officer Bennett (Holden), the cop that chased her donw, running all over Silent Hill trying not to be killed by the town’s very weird creatures while looking for Sharon ensues. Based on a true…oh, wait…it’s based on a video game.

Like any movie based on a video game probably should be, Silent Hill relies heavily on its visuals. Once in this God forsaken place, we get scene after scene of amazing imagery. All sorts of creatures of the damned parade themselves across the screen. Those are just the ones that are moving. There are also a number of gross looking corpses lying or hanging around. Not to be deterred, our heroine’s press on through all the ghosts and goblins in their path facing death at every turn. Periodically, the screen goes completely black. Things get really hairy whenever we’re able to see again. As interesting as it is to look at, SH never really frightens us. The tension simply isn’t there. We’re fascinated by what we see, but not afraid of other. What we have is a movie that’s not scary, but grotesque enough for us to be unable to avert our eyes. This is its sleight of hand. Like mine, it is far too obvious. It screams “Look over there!” at the top of its lungs.

For a long stretch, the movie seems to meander along a general path without developing its tale. When it finally decides to saw the woman in half, so to speak, we can see through the box and see her feet tucked safely beneath her. In other words, instead of a revelation, we get an explanation. In what amounts to a cut scene from the game, one of the characters simply tells us everything we need to know. It feels like its source material was merely regurgitated rather than built upon. For fans of the franchise and of horror it’s an entertaining watch filled with visual treats. It’s in the argument for best movie ever made based on a video game. I know that’s not saying much, but it is what it is. That said, it still feels like not only could it be better, it should be.

MY SCORE: 5.5/10

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Ruins

Directed by Carter Smith
2008. Rated R, 93 minutes.
Cast: 
Jena Malone
Jonathan Tucker
Shawn Ashmore
Laura Ramsey
Joe Anderson
Sergio Calderon
Dmitri Baveas

Two young couples on vacation in Cancun decide to spend their last day in town with a fellow tourist at an archeological dig of an ancient Mayan site. Weirdness and bloodiness ensues.

It does a nice job building momentum as the situation gets more and more desperate. Having one of our heroes as a med student (Tucker) is a stroke of genius. He quickly tries to grab the mantle of leadership and often imposes his will on others as his "skill" is sorely needed for their survival. However, the others attempt to rebel giving us a nice Lord of the Flies type friction amongst them. Gore is used sparingly but very effectively. We also get a pretty nice ending.

How and why this particular place got to be this particular way is a completely unexplained mystery. Since we're talking about killer plants here, I don't think a scene of one of the local yokels explaining the history would be too much to ask. Instead, we get a faceless group that seems to be a tribe guarding the outskirts of the site. None of them speak the least bit of English and none of our heroes speak Spanish. Therefore, the disconnect meant to add to the horror is merely an inconvenience for the audience.

Horror fans should have a look because it's a solid entry into the genre. That's not to say it's a classic or even remotely close to being one but I found it enjoyable.

MY SCORE: 6.5/10

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Mist

Directed by Frank Darabont.
2007. Rated R, 125 minutes.
Cast:
Thomas Jane
Marcia Gay Harden
Laurie Holden
Andre Braugher


A thick, ominous mist rolls into a small-town carrying with it some strange and vicious creatures. We, the viewers, get to hang out with some of the local yokels who are trapped in the supermarket. Based on a Stephen King novella.

It’s well-written horror as it pertains to the humans. When the cast inevitably starts dying off it is with believable, though not always good, reasoning they venture out into the forbidding mist. The opposition between religious resignation to one’s fate and survivalist pragmatism is well done. As the suddenly crowned prophetess, Marcia Gay Harden does a fabulous job in a thankless role. It’s thankless because the movie itself is definitely not on her character’s side. Finally, even though I correctly predicted the ending well before it happened it still manages to work.

It’s poorly written crap with regards to the mist and its inhabitants. In Cloverfield it was okay to not find out anything about the giant creature destroying Manhattan because no one in the movie knew anything to tell. Here, there are clearly people who know what caused the problem. Before they can tell us anything we get the long ago played out tactic of them inexplicably dying or being found dead just as they were either about to tell us what’s going on or when it becomes apparent they know what’s going on. These people are military personnel and in fairness to them, and maybe an indictment of the screenwriters, it’s hardly likely that soldiers of their rank (mostly privates) would really know anything anyway. The creatures themselves are numerous. The smaller ones are fine and do some dastardly things. The larger ones do as well but they’re poorly rendered. They either move mechanically or are made up of easy to spot cartoonish looking CGI. The latter is true for the first monster we “see”. It appears to be a giant land-walking octopus but all we see are its enormous but very fake tentacles causing all sorts of mayhem. This happens very early in the movie but we never again hear a peep out of this particular menace. None of these monsters seem to have any rhyme or reason for their actions and are all powerful and deadly. Our heroes are trapped in a store that we’re explicitly told has a front made up of 100% plate glass. Yet somehow, this movie runs longer than two hours and covers several days. Um…yeah.

This is a frustrating movie to watch. During all the human to human tension-building scenes, the writing is exceptional for horror movies. However, when the focus is on the things that make it a horror movie we get nothing even remotely original and our big bad monsters look like crap. On top of that, if these monsters were as bad as they’re supposed to be then these people have been allowed to live for far too long. If you’re a horror fan or a Stephen King fan give it a shot and you might like it more than I. If creature-features aren’t your thing, skip it and rest easy with the knowledge you’re only missing okayness, not greatness.

MY SCORE: 5/10

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla

Directed by William Beaudine.
1952.
Not Rated, 74 minutes.
Cast:
Bela Lugosi
Duke Mitchell
Sammy Petrillo
Charlita
Al Kikume
Milton Newberger

Two nightclub performers, Duke Mitchell and Sammy Petrillo playing themselves, had to jump from their plane during an emergency. They crash-land on a tiny island with a small native tribe and Bela Lugosi as the doctor who has made the island his home while he does animal research. The movie starts bad and gets progressively worse. Petrillo bears an uncanny resemblance to Jerry Lewis and spends most of the movie doing an impersonation of him. Mitchell tries to be the Dean Martin of the act but is just a god-awful actor. Unfortunately, or humorously depending on your point of view, Mitchell is given a few musical numbers to perform. He delivers these songs with all the charisma of a fence-post. As if that weren’t bad enough, when Lugosi appears on screen, our heroes continuously try to make jokes by referencing the fact Lugosi is most famous for playing Count Dracula. The movie officially jumps the shark when, in a fit of jealousy, Lugosi transforms Mitchell into a gorilla. We also get some really unintentional humor by noticing that practically the whole native tribe is played by White actors while Lugosi’s character is referred to as “the only White man on the island.” Definitely so bad it’s awesome. Unless you’re a lover of bad movies, stay away.

MY SCORE: -10/10

Friday, October 14, 2011

Cloverfield

Directed by Matt Reeves.
2008. Rated PG-13, 84 minutes.
Cast:

Mike Vogel
Jessica Lucas
Lizzy Caplan
Odette Yustman
TJ Miller
Michael Stahl-David
Margot Fairley

New York City is under siege by a giant monster. Again.

In the old Godzilla movies we always saw people running and screaming. However, the stories always focused on a few people who were tasked to stop or help Godzilla. The basic idea here is to focus on a random group of people among those running and screaming who essentially have nothing to do with what would normally be the main plot. They aren’t out to stop this menace. They’re really just trying to keep from getting killed by it as they move about the city in hopes of saving a friend. This approach works very well. It accomplishes several things: It keeps the monster from being overexposed, gives it an air of originality and of course, keeps the budget down. Speaking of budget, what they did with theirs is spectacular. The monster is beautifully rendered, as are the parasites that fall from it. Still, the real success of the special fx team is the city itself. If you rent this, watch the special features on the DVD. You will be amazed at just how much of this movie was made on a computer.

The cast of characters are some of the dumbest people in cinematic history. Hud (Miller), who’s holding the handheld camera for most of the movie is seen through, is the worst offender. Nearly every time he opens his mouth he gives a new answer to the question “How stupid can you be?” These people put hate in my heart. I was rooting for the monster. Well, except for in the case of Jessica Lucas who plays Lilly but only because she’s…uh…fine. Forget I said that. Anyhoo, they also left the door wide open for a sequel that will likely be far worse. My reasoning is since nothing is explained here, they’ll spend much of the second movie developing some cockamamie story to satisfy the internet fanboys who feverishly debate where the monster came from. It will simply be a run-of-the-mill creature-feature with a Hollywood ending. Seriously, once you’ve shot your wad with all this “mysterious monster” business what else can you do? Once the gimmick is successful, leave well enough alone and just count the millions you’ve made.

This is for people who want to see a different kind of monster movie. Basically, it’s the Blair Witch Project of the genre. Thankfully, I haven’t had a bunch of morons trying to convince me it was real like they did when Blair Witch came out. However, I have had people telling me about all kinds of stuff they read online that supposedly fills in the back story for both the monster and the inane people we’re stuck with. Enough already. It wasn’t in the actual movie so I don’t really care. If you can manage to turn your brain off for an hour and a half, you’ll enjoy the ride. If not, skip it.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Nosferatu (1922)


Directed by F.W. Murnau.
1922. Not Rated, 81 minutes.
Cast:
Max Schrek
Gustav von Wangenheim
Greta Schroder
Alexander Granach
Georg H. Schnell
Ruth Landshoff


Real-estate agent Thomas Harker (Wangenheim) is summonsed to Transylvania to bring back Count Orlock (Schrek), a potential customer. Once there, strange things occur every evening after dark. Harker then discovers that his host is a vampire. Loosely based on Bram Stoker’s legendary Dracula novel. It’s the first vampire movie ever made and generally credited with being the first horror movie as well. It’s still an intriguing watch but lacks the technical pop and sizzle to hold any real tension for most modern audiences. Still, for the time the movie was made, the makeup job on our vampire is phenomenal. The story still moves along nicely but the end seems a tad too easy. Fans of vampire movies should probably take a look if for no other reason than to see where many of the tenets of the genre started. You can also see some that have fallen by the wayside for being too impractical. For instance, Nosferatu has to carry mounds of dirt, filling a number of coffins, everywhere he goes because he has to sleep in the same grounds he was originally buried in to preserve his power. This is good stuff for us wannabe film buffs but I’ll admit throwing on a 86 year old silent movie isn’t generally a crowd pleaser. For that reason, I won’t give it a score. It’s from the infancy of movie-making and was made for viewers equally new to motion pictures.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Saw: The Final Chapter


Directed by Kevin Greutert.
2010. Rated R, 90 minutes.
Cast:
Tobin Bell
Costas Mandylor
Betsy Russell

Cary Elwes
Sean Patrick Flanery
Gina Holden
Laurence Anthony
Chad Donella

Jigsaw (Bell) is back! Well, sorta. He’s actually been dead for several movies now. To be sure, this is America’s favorite torture-porn franchise and it’s back for a seventh installment. We still get to see our twisted game master through flashbacks and hear his voice on all those ominous tapes that explain those games. I swear, this guy has left behind more recordings than Tupac. As has been the case for the  last couple movies, Jigsaw’s work is carried on by Det. Hoffman (Mandylor) who finds himself in a war with Jigsaw’s widow Jill Tuck (Russell). You may remember she ended Saw VI by  trying to kill him. She enlists the help of Det. Gibson (Donella) who apparently knows and has a beef with Hoffman. Finally, there’s Bobby (Flanery of Boondock Saints fame). He’s a Jigsaw survivor who’s written a best-seller about his ordeal.

As you can see there are a lot of pieces to this jigsaw puzzle. Unfortunately, when they’re put together they still don’t make any sense. The biggest problem is we have two different movies going on at the same time. On one hand, we have the Hoffman/Jill fued. This tries to advance the plot from the better than expected part VI, but it hardly feels like a Saw flick. On  the other hand, the story of Bobby, along with brief but gruesome asides involving a love triangle and a group of racists, seems to fit the franchise motif. Sadly, neither storyline seems to have anything to do with the other. Helping to fog things up even more, the movie itself appears to have no idea who’s doing what. Rhyme and reason are this chapter’s real casualties. They are left for dead as we rush along to see how the next person will die.

Many a horror flick has been guilty of that same exact sin. For various reasons, I’ve enjoyed lots of them. One of those reasons is the morbid sense of humor on display. The Final Chapter has no sense of humor whatsoever. Like the rest of the franchise, it takes itself dreadfully serious. Our dueling plots joylessly lurch forward dragging our butchered carcass through the murderous traps until we rach perhaps the most eye-rollingly bad climax of the series.

There are plenty of disgusting moments for gore-hounds. The human body is cut, impaled, squashed and ripped apart. More accurately, a number of painfully obvious dummies and rubber body parts are mutilated. This is a sad step down from the rest of the series which got the gore part right in even the worst of the series. Still, these scenes are what people come for and are easily the highlight of the film. The rest of it lacks both cohesion and a funny bone, making us feel like the ones in an inescapable trap. The makers have claimed this will be the last of the Saw movies. If this is the best they could muster for then I hope it truly is “game over.”

MY SCORE: 2/10

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Cabin Fever

Directed by Eli Roth
2002. Rated R, 92 minutes.
Cast:
Rider Strong
Jordan Ladd
James Debello
Cerina Vincent
Joey Kern
Arie Verveen
Robert Harris
Hal Courtney

A group of friends go out to a cabin in the woods to blow off some steam. A strange, rather quick working virus starts infecting everyone. Mayhem ensues. It's a weird watch because it starts dumb, even stays that way, but still manages to gather tremendous momentum as it goes along. The increasing frequency of gore with the passage of time helps. To seal the deal it gives us a very impressive ending. It's not a scary one but it's delivered with such a sharp, twisted sense of humor the whole thing is transformed into a satire. In my opinion, it's one of the best endings I've ever seen in a horror movie. YES, I already know everyone else seems to think this movie sucks. YES, I hated Roth's Hostel so much I didn't even bother with the sequel. I still liked this one.

MY SCORE: 7/10

Monday, October 10, 2011

Blood Mania

Directed by Robert Vincent O'Neill.
1970. Rated R, 88 minutes.
Cast:
Peter Carpenter
Maria De Aragon
Vicki Peters
Leslie Simms


In order to speed up getting her inheritance Victoria (De Aragon) enlists the aid of her sick father's physician to put the old man out of his misery. It's billed as a horror flick but is hardly anything of the sort. Not too mention the startling lack of blood for a movie named Blood Mania. However, it is a pre-cursor to the infamously bad and lurid "skinemax" movies of the 80s and 90s. The script is terrible, there's loads of gratuitous nudity and the acting is so-so, at best. Despite this, save for a few random scenes, it never quite gets into "so bad its awesome" territory as the vast majority of it is too dull and predictable. Its only worth viewing, and/or re-viewing, if you're fond of the bods on display and don't mind a little, make that a lot of sleaze. Otherwise, skip it and don't think twice about it.

MY SCORE: 2.5/10

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Sunshine

Directed by Danny Boyle.
2007. Rated PG-13, 107 minutes.
Cast:
Cilian Murphy
Chris Evans
Rose Byrne
Michelle Yeoh


Fifty years into the future the great sustainer of life, the sun, has started dying. Eight scientists/astronauts are on their way to the fading star with a giant nuclear bomb strapped to their ship, the ominously named Icarus II. They hope to release the bomb into the sun, then detonate it in hopes of reigniting it and save mankind from freezing to death. We learn that seven years earlier the same thing was attempted by a crew aboard what else? The Icarus I. No one involved was ever heard from until our heroes pick up their distress signal. There are decisions to make, tempers to calm, emergencies to quell and consequences to deal with. All of this is handled well as the opposing forces of selfishness and selflessness. In the bigger picture, there’s also man’s will to survive vs. God’s plan. However, if you’re paying attention and have seen the Ridley Scott classic you’ll notice a number of references to [i]Alien[/i]. It feels like a nice homage at first. I was hoping it was just that and not a sign of things to come. After all, the tension from such an inherently dangerous and important mission is more than enough to carry the movie. Alas, directory Danny Boyle can’t control himself and we find ourselves suddenly thrust into a very weird space-monster movie. Lame.

SCORE: 5/10

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Red Riding Hood

Directed by Catherine Hardwicke.
2011. Rated PG-13, 100 minutes.
Cast:
Amanda Seyfried
Gary Oldman
Shiloh Fernandez
Virginia Madsen
Billy Burke
Max Irons
Julie Christie
Lukas Haas
Shauna Kain
Adrian Holmes
Michael Hogan

The gang’s all here. We have a not-so-little Red Riding Hood (Seyfried), Grandma (Christie) and the woodcutter (Fernandez). It should go without saying that we have a big bad wolf. In this case we don’t just follow Red, er, Valerie on her trip to Grandma’s. The wolf is not quite the same as we’ve been reading all these years. It’s a werewolf and it is terrorizing the entire village. Understandably, the villagers are on edge because it has decided to attack for the first time in twenty years. Apparently, the animal sacrifices they’ve continuously given over that period are no longer enough. Even more disconcerting, no one know its human identity. Any one of them could be the big bad wolf. Reluctantly, they hire Solomon (Oldman), who specializes in this sort of thing, and his band of unmerry men to find and kill this evil creature.

It’s an interesting premise. Though its know the world over as a children’s story, the original tale is actually violent and dark. Therefore, reimagining it as a horror flick is not quite the leap many believe it is. In that story, the wolf eats Grandma and would do the same to Little Red Riding Hood if not for the Woodcutter taking an axe to him. See? And I haven’t even mentioned the pedophilic and cross-dressing aspects. Honestly, this removes those particular subtexts and adds some of its own. Freedom of religion, adultery and uncomfortably implied incest all figure into the proceedings. Add in some werewolf attacks and bouts of mob mentality and you get a wild ride through an ancient village.

With all of these things swirling about, Red Riding Hood should be an infinitely more enjoyable watch. Sadly, it botches the one thing at which it tries hardest: the love story. We all knew there would be one. It seems you can hardly make a movie without that element. Our Red…Valerie...is sort of engaged in a love triangle. She’s been in love with the Woodcutter, er Peter, her entire life. However, due to her family’s lack of funds it’s been arranged without her consent for her to marry Henry (Irons). The whole thing is way too reminiscent of Twilight. That should be no surprise since director Catherine Hardwicke helmed the first film in that franchise. Even if you don’t like those movies (or books) you have to admit the Edward vs. Jacob dynamic provides some sparks. Here, there is no such excitement because both guys seem to have Edward’s demeanor and personality. Not to mention that I’m not so sure either guy can give Robert Pattinson a run for his money in the acting department, as bad as that is. The portions of RRH that focus on this are tedious work to sift through.

Fortunately, what’s going on with Red’s family is far more intriguing and keeps the movie somewhat afloat. The same can be said for Solomon, his hunting of the werewolf and his interactions with the villagers. Gary Oldman plays it to the hilt, as always. Though his character is here to do a good thing, we’re not sure whether we like him or not. That’s a good thing. On the other hand, it never scares us and judging by the less than thrilling werewolf attacks, it doesn’t really try to. Still, combine this with a lame love story and RRH has a very uneven feel. It vacillates between intriguing and boring without ever settling on either.

MY SCORE: 5.5/10

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Batman vs. Dracula

Directed by Michael Goguen.
2005 . Not Rated, 84 minutes.
Cast:
Rino Romano
Peter Stormare
Tara Strong
Tom Kenny

While trying to beat the Joker (Kevin Michael Richardson) to a treasure buried in Gotham Cemetery, the Penguin (Kenny) accidentally awakens the legendary Dracula (Stormore). The Prince of Darkness then tries to take over Gotham by creating an army of undead. Of course, none of this sits well with the Batman. It’s a little strange seeing the Dark Knight battle a supernatural villain but it’s well done like most of the animated fare concerning Batman. However, I will admit the reason Dracula came to be buried in Gotham City is completely contrived. Other than that, the action comes fast, Batsy does some serious detective work and even whips out the garlic-tipped weaponry. It’s a little more graphic than I was expecting but it fits the plot since we are dealing with vampires here. All in all, good stuff but I may be a bit biased being a big Batman fan.

MY SCORE: 7/10

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Piranha (2010)

Directed by Alexandre Aja.
2010.
Rated R, 88 minutes.
Cast:
Elisabeth Shue
Steven R. McQueen
Jerry O’Connell
Jessica Szohr
Kelly Brook

Brooklynn Proulx
Paul Scheer
Ving Rhames
Christopher Lloyd
Richard Dreyfuss
Eli Roth
Gianna Michaels

Boobie and butts, blood and guts. I could probably stop there and you’d have all t he information you need about the 2010 version of Piranha. Just in case you somehow need more, I’ll tell you just a bit. Its set during spring break at a very popular lake. Let that marinate for a minute and you’ll probably get the idea. Is there a plot? Sure. Who cares, though? It’s only a dumb horror flick, right? Yup. What? You thought I was gonna get all deep and philosophical? Nope. What it all boils down to is this: there are coeds all over the lake as far as the eye can see, seemingly thousands…with a porn star or two mixed in for good measure…all in bikinis or less (long shorts, no shirt for the guys) and a rather large percentage of them get eaten by a school of piranha in graphic fashion. Basically, if you watch Piranha, you get exactly what you ask for. Don’t get the wrong idea, this is a good thing. A very good thing.

We move along rather swiftly, never going too long without an attack or a bare breast. The latter keeps the young male target audience engaged between episodes of the former. The former is comprised of screaming, flailing around in the water, more naked boobs and some truly spectacular gore. People are eaten down to and sometimes including their skeleton. Spring breakers often emerge from the lake having left parts of themselves behind. This is all rendered in wonderfully gruesome fashion. It’s a visual buffet of human carnage.

The relentless insanity of it all gives this remake and advantage over the thirty-plus year old original. That movie has its fair share of blood in the water. It even went so far as to make a number of its victims small children. However, it was far more concerned with being a parody of Jaws and other killer fish movies. Unfortunately, it isn’t particularly funny or clever. This new version pursues much simpler pleasures. It is only concerned with the exposing and mutilating of the human body. Judged on those terms it is an unmitigated success. The only bit of cleverness attempted is in some stunt casting. To that end, be on the lookout for Richard Dreyfuss, Christopher Lloyd and Eli Roth in bit parts.

Piranha is not a movie that’s going to transcend its genre. It’s dumb. It’s perverse. It’s gross. It’s simply one of “those” movies. There is nothing here for people who aren’t fans of gory horror flicks. For those that are, it’s a gold mine. It is what it is: so bad it’s awesome!

MY SCORE: -10/10

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Piranha (1978)

Directed by Joe Dante.
1978.
Rated R, 92 minutes.
Cast:
Heather Menzies-Urich
Bradford Dillman
Dick Miller
Kevin McCarthy
Keenan Wynn
Barbara Steele
Melody Thomas
Scott Bruce Gordon
Barry Brown

Maggie (Menzies-Urich) has been sent to find a missing couple. She locates the abandoned military test site where we know they stopped to take a dip in a pool filled with some murky water. Along with Paul (Dillman), the local she’s recruited, they drain the pool to see if our lovebirds have drowned. This sounds like a good idea except mad scientist guy who still works there all by himself informs them they’ve just let a school of genetically mutated piranha out into the surrounding rivers and lakes. Oops. Our heroes trying to make their way over to the very busy summer camp ensues. After all, the kids can’t come back next year if they get eaten.

The Steven Spielberg classic Jaws truly terrified the nation as has been extremely well documented. Like any other film that captures the imagination of an entire country it inspired plenty of knockoffs. The problem with knockoffs is they’re never as good as the genuine article. It usually isn’t even close. Sure that watch you bought from that guy behind the restaurant next to the dumpster looks like a Rolex, but the craftsmanship is obviously inferior. Piranha is that watch.

Everything about this movie is beyond cheesy. Its bad dialogue delivered by bad actors. Its one horror cliché after another. Worst of all, its bad special fx coupled with irritating sound fx. I vaguely remember seeing at least parts of this way back in the day, so I was somewhat prepared going into this viewing. However, I was hoping for enjoyably bad. Instead, I got an annoyingly bad flick with both too little and too much of its monsters, simultaneously. I say too little because the scenes between their attacks are brutal to sit through. Their tone is never quite right. At some points, it’s obviously going for humor. More of this might’ve propelled it into the “so bad its awesome” stratosphere but it doesn’t quite do that. The rest of the time its trying to be a serious horror movie. It tries to build dread through the creation of tension, but fails miserably. Some of the blame for that falls back on us getting too much of the piranhas. There are way too many shots of them supposedly devouring people. They hardly look like man-eating fish and don’t seem to move like fish at all. They still could’ve worked if the filmmakers kept the tongue-in-cheek going all the way through, a la Snakes on a Plane. In that movie, horribly rendered cgi snakes were a perfect fit for what we were watching. Here, poor models add to our disdain.

Eventually, we get to a finale. Thankfully, its filled with piranha attacks, screaming and bloody water. It’s a little surprising who gets attacked at this point just because this particular group is usually not explicitly attacked on screen. It’s a little distasteful but still the most exciting part of the movie. Though we morbidly enjoy this portion of the film, its hardly enough to save it. Its just another copy not quite as sharp as the original. It’s yet another Faux-lex watch.

MY SCORE: 4/10

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Fourth Kind

Directed by Olatunde Osunsanmi.
2009. Rated PG-13, 98 minutes.
Cast:
Milla Jovovich
Will Patton
Hakeem Kae-Kazim
Elias Koteas
Raphael Coleman
Mia Mckenna-Bruce
Eric Loren
Corey Johnson
Enzo Cilenti
Daphne Alexander


Dr. Abigail Tyler (Jovovich…and the actual Dr. Tyler) suspects that the abnormal amount of unexplained disappearances in Nome, Alaska are due to alien abductions. This is supposedly based on “actual case studies” and interviews with Dr. Tyler.

It’s a fascinating subject. Though many of the dramatic events can’t quite be called evidence, they are compelling side-effects, allegedly. During these scenes, the energy level is ramped up and much of what we see is disturbing. Will Patton gives us the film’s best performance as Sheriff August. His skepticism grounds the movie, keeping it from completely coming apart at the seams.

Director Olatunde Osunsanmi made a decision that absolutely sinks his movie. He tries to make a documentary and a dramatization about the same story, simultaneously. We’re often shown video footage, reportedly of actual events, alongside scenes of actors re-enacting the exact same occurrences in split-screen. It’s a distracting style in which each half of the screen subtracts from the other. Why do we need Milla Jovovich when we have the real Dr. Tyler? Instead of being taken in, maybe even persuaded by what’s going on, we’re busy picking out differences in the actor’s performance and the real thing. Incidentally, this is why I believe Will Patton’s performance is the movie’s best. His is one of the few not repeatedly juxtaposed with the genuine article. The bottom line is this should’ve been either a documentary or a dramatization, not both.

If you’re a conspiracy theorist who not only believes in alien abductions but also that the government is going out of its way to cover them up, you will find plenty of fodder for your cannon, here. The “actual” footage we see is interesting, though some of it is of questionable validity. It suddenly becomes too grainy or otherwise unwatchable at appropriate moments. However, the style makes it a frustrating watch. We can never get settled into what we’re watching and therefore can’t feel the horror it wants us to. Nor can we reach the conclusion it wants us to. Nothing here will change your mind, one way or another.

MY SCORE: 4/10

Monday, October 3, 2011

Cujo

Directed by Lewis Teague.
1983. Rated R, 93 minutes.
Cast:
Dee Wallace
Daniel Hugh Kelly
Danny Pintauro
Christopher Stone
Ed Lauter
Kaiulani Lee
Billy Jayne


A rabid St. Bernard terrorizes a woman (Wallace) and her son (Pintauro).

What?

That’s all I’ve got.

Oh alright, there is a little more to it than that. Namely, the woman is an adulterer who finds herself alone with the boy on the property where the crazed dog runs things because her hubby has just a little pimp in his blood. He drives a shiny new Jag while she putts around in a beatup Pinto that’s badly in need of repair. By the way, is there any other kind of Pinto? Anyhoo, after finding out about his wife’s indiscretions, hubby takes off in the Jag on a business trip and pretty much tells her to suck an egg when she asks about getting the Pinto fixed…ahem…worked on. I don’t think it’s actually possible to fix one. Though he doesn’t use the term “suck an egg”, he makes it clear she needs to cross her fingers and pray she makes it all the way to Joe Camber’s (Lauter) place for him to fix…er…work on it. Joe’s not only the local repairman, he’s also Cujo’s owner. Early on, we see that Cujo’s caught rabies. Unfortunately, Joe is neither terribly bright nor perceptive so the dog is far too gone by the time Joe picks up on it. Poor Joe.

This whole setup takes up half the movie. Basically, that means we watch a not-so-thrilling soap opera play out before the dog starts killing people. By that time, we’re kind of rooting for the dog because we don’t like the people. In particular, we don’t like the wife. That’s a bit of a problem when Cujo has her and the boy trapped in the rust-bucket. Do we really want her to live? I guess so, for the kid’s sake. Like most dads, self included, you just never really know if he can actually raise a child by himself. I mean, what the hell do you do after playing catch and going for ice cream?

The latter half is mostly Cujo slobbering, barking and doing further damage to the Pinto in an effort to make a Scooby-Snack out of mom and son. To give us breaks in the action, hubby gets all pissed because she’s not answering the phone and has to come all the way home to check up on her. That’s the house phone she’s not answering, for you young’uns. Before every teenager had a cell phone in their pocket, or purse, that’s used for everything up to and maybe including brushing your teeth (isn’t there an app for that?), the only phones 99.9% of the population had was this giant block of plastic either on an end table or screwed to the wall in their house. No silly, you couldn’t watch Cujo on it. It only made and received calls. You know what else? If you left home, no one could reach until you reached some other place that had a phone. Honestly though, a cell phone would’ve solved a lot of problems, here.

Alas, this is 1983 and there are no cell phones. This means we’re stuck with watching mom play hide and seek with this behemoth of a dog who’s coat grows more matted by the second. If you held a gun to my head and asked me which one were smarter I’d have to say the dog. He’s so smart, he doesn’t even ram the back of the Pinto. That would’ve blown up the car and him along with it. I swear. Google “exploding Ford Pinto”. Anyhoo, he seems to be a step or two ahead of her the whole time. He’s like Alonzo in Training Day. He’s playing chess while she’s struggling with checkers. Are we still sure we want her to live? I guess so. Again, for the kid’s sake. If Cujo manages to take her out, this little whiny brat ain’t gonna be much problem.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, the movie isn’t that great. The first part makes us dislike everyone except the dad, who isn’t in any danger. The second half provides the occasional thrill but mostly drones on and on and on. Woof woof woof drool drool growl growl woof woof. Of course, being based on a Stephen King novel has made this an overrated movie. Some see it as a classic of the genre. It’s okay. I suppose it’s the best picture ever made about a killer dog, but that’s not really saying much.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

My Soul to Take

Directed by Wes Craven.
2010. Rated R, 107 minutes.
Cast:
Max Thierot
John Magero
Denzel Whitaker
Zena Grey
Nick Lashaway
Paulina Olszynski
Emily Meade
Jeremy Chu

Sixteen years ago the local serial killer turned his attention on his own family. He’s rather lazily dubbed “The Ripper” and had been terrorizing the town by cutting up people with a rather large knife that has the word “VENGEANCE” scrawled across the blade. Don’t worry, that’s never actually explained. He seems to suffer from multiple personalities which we’re informed are really multiple souls. One of these kills his wife, while another calls his shrink. A battle with the police ensues which includes The Ripper being shot, presumed dead, waking up a few times to stab some more, get shot again, being rushed to the hospital, causing the ambulance to crash and disappearing.

Fast forward to the present and all the local kids born on that fateful night gather at the lake near the ambulance crash site every year on their birthday to ceremoniously drive The Ripper back into the water for another year. To do this , one of them has to push over a giant puppet representing the killer. This year it’s Bug’s turn. He’s so scared he botches the job. Yup, you guessed it. The kids start getting knocked off…one…by…one.

As slasher flicks go, this premise is okay even though its not terribly original. It reminds me of The Shocker. Not so coincidentally both movies were penned and directed by horror legend Wes Craven. While The Shocker is a gleeful dark comedy and revels in its own ridiculousness, My Soul to Take is an unfocused poser. It desperately wants to be something, it just can’t decide what. It’s attempts at cleverness are anything but. As a result, we get a lot of eye-rollingly bad jokes. It’s efforts at scaring us fail miserably. This is due in part to us trying to figure out if we’re watching comedy or horror and part because there is almost zero tension created. The best of Craven makes us both laugh and cower in fear because humor and horror blend seamlessly to form a potent mixture. Here, the two keep bouncing off one another after awkwardly smashing together. A couple plot twists here and there keep us very mildly interested but aren’t enough to save the film from itself.

What may have helped is better money shots. In slasher fare, money shots are the kill scenes. Even if a movie is awful as a whole, fans of this particular genre will still enjoy it if the grisly murders staged for our morbid pleasure are creative and memorable. In MStT they are neither. They are an incredibly boring succession of stabbings. While they would be undeniably heinous in real life, they’re unbelievably tame for its target audience. We never get what we came for. Imagine watching an action flick in which every fight consistent of just one punch and every shootout a single shot. We get the equivalent of those things.

Wes Craven deserves his lofty spot as a master of horror. He’s earned it through decades of scaring the crap out of us. Occasionally, he’s scared us while simultaneously making fun of how he does it. However, in a career longer than my life has been he’s made some missteps. This is one of them.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Thirst

Directed by Chan-wook Park
2009. Rated R, 133 minutes.
Cast:
Kung-ho Song
Ok-bin Kim
Hae-sook Kim
Ha-kyun Shin
In-hwan Park
Dal-su Oh
Young-chang Song

Sang-hyun (Kang-ho Song) is a priest who volunteers for a medical experiment in hopes of helping to find a cure for the fatal Emmanuel Virus. The experiment fails and infects him with the disease. An emergency blood transfusion saves his life but transforms him into a vampire. Director Chan-Wook’s gifts for telling twisted tales is on full display, here. The film never rushes, letting the story and the characters develop. As it becomes creepier and more incredible it slides in the story of a love forbidden in more ways than one. As the object of our priest’s desire Tae-ju, Ok-bin Kim is simply fantastic and steals every scene starting with the first time we meet her. The script calls for her to go from a stereotypically meek Asian housewife, albeit one not particularly in love with her husband, to domineering and bloodthirsty. She is perfect every step of the way and really adds “umph” to the bittersweet ending. Finally, the movie is beautifully shot. Like the best of Chan-Wook, it’s almost like looking at a series of elegant still shots occasionally splattered with magnificent gushes of blood.

Where did this vampiric blood come from? The priest wonders the same, aloud, once or twice but that’s all we get. The simple fact of his infection implies there are more vampires out there but we never see any. Showing us one, or more, could have set up an intriguing battle of good and evil, further tormenting our reluctant bloodsucker. The movie’s meticulous storytelling draws us into a fantastic world and works hard to ensure our suspension of disbelief. The problem is we’re snapped back to reality by some shoddy cgi whenever our vampires are shown performing great feats from a distance. It’s more than a bit jarring, especially considering there are shots of the priest jumping from a building with the camera really close to him that work much better.

It’s a wonderfully twisted entry into the vampire canon. Park Chan-Wook delivers another masterpiece of the macabre. Though there is plenty of disturbing imagery and somewhat masochistic sex, both help tell the story and don’t feel gratuitous. This makes it a decidedly adult venture into the world of the undead. That means while it is a love story involving vampires, don’t bother if you’re in the Twilight target audience. If you do, bring your reading glasses unless you’re fluent in Korean.