Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Host

Directed by Joon-ho Bong.
2007. Rated R, 119 minutes.
Kang-ho Song
Hie-bong Byeon
Hae-il Park
Doona Bae
Ah-sung Ko
Dal-su Oh
Jae-eung Lee

After being ordered to do so by his American supervisor, a young doctor pours numerous bottles of toxic chemicals down the drain which come out on the other end in the Han River. As a result, a rather large creature is formed that likes to spend its time eating and/or collecting human beings. As you may have heard, this movie has a bit of an Anti-American agenda but its easily enough ignored if you like your creatures sans politics. The special fx are solid as the creature looks believable. There is plenty of depth here. However, it can be enjoyed by skimming along the surface as the movie periodically throws things at you trying to get a reaction. So it's a fairly fun monster flick that doesn't mind trying to make a statement but forgets that just because its monster is grotesque doesn't automatically mean its scary.

MY SCORE: 7/10

Monday, October 29, 2012

Cat People (1982)

Directed by Paul Schrader.
1982. Rated R, 119 minutes.
Nastassja Kinski
John Heard
Annette O’Toole
Ruby Dee
Ed Begley Jr.
Frankie Faison
John Larroquette
Scott Paulin
Tessa Richarde

As a teenage boy I loved this movie. Even then, I watched as many flicks as I could get my eyeballs on. Summer trips from my native Queens to visit my grandparents in North Carolina meant an escape from the confines of VHF and UHF viewing (google it, young’uns) and a couple months with the infant known as cable television. This included HBO. During the hottest months of either 1983 and/or ’84, I forget which, they ran Cat People at least three late nights a week. I watched it as often as possible. It’s lack of explosions, somber mood and exotic looking leading lady made it seem artsy, to me. Watching it made me feel sophisticated as if this were somehow too snooty for my friends. Still, it has heavy doses of what budding bags of he-hormones crave: blood and boobs. I thought I discovered truly high caliber cinema.

Thirty years later, I realize I have no idea what I was watching, yet I love it just the same. I must say that today my reasoning is much different. What I took for bold artistic choices are simply misguided filmmaking decisions. The storytelling is strongly of the “maybe no one will notice this plot hole” variety. Malcolm McDowell gives a typically unhinged performance while John Heard resides at the wooden end of the spectrum. Leading lady Natassja Kinski is still an exotic beauty, but her acting is more in line with Heard’s than McDowell’s. Superman’s mom and girlfriend (figure that one out) Annette O’Toole is somewhere in the middle but is more than reason enough to watch if you’re into redheads and maybe even if you’re not. The great Ruby Dee gets her Miss Cleo on while my boy Dan from Night Court (John Larroquette) has a small role. And I haven’t even mentioned how bizarre it all is. Unintentional humor, WTF moments and some surprisingly still effective special fx abound.

If you don’t believe that this is one strange trip, let me fill you in on our plot. It seems that some tribal people in the most backwards part of some third world country have sacrificed so many of their own children to the local black leopards over the centuries that the cats have evolved into a human/feline hybrid. They’re usually in human form. However, when they become sexually aroused they transform into black leopards. The only way they can turn back human is to kill. Nice. There’s a kicker. Paul (McDowell) has been living with this curse for quite a while. His sister Irena (Kinski) doesn’t yet know either of them have this affliction. She’s has just flown out to New Orleans to stay with her brother whom she hasn’t seen since she was four. Paul knows something else Irena doesn’t: the only way to get your groove on and not turn into a big black cat is by doing the oochie-coochie with a sibling. Ewww. Imagine Irena’s dismay and disgust when her big bro starts puttin’ the moves on her. I don’t mean the smooth player moves, either. I mean the overly forward desperate, sweaty, wide-eyed, screaming ‘I really need to get in your pants right now’ type of moves. Double ewww. Since sis won’t give him any, Paul continues dining on the local population of loose women. Meanwhile, Irena slowly comes to the realization of what she is and simultaneously falls for Oliver (Heard), the zoo curator. Yup.

By the way, this is a remake of a 1942 movie which I haven’t worked up the courage to watch. Somehow, I’m doubting the 1942 version is quite this bonkers. There were codes and restrictions and whatnot. This newer version dispenses with any notion of restraint and just goes for the full-on ridiculous. It’s saving grace, if it wants to be taken seriously are the special fx. Cat People isn’t loaded with them, but they’re effective. In particular, Nastassja Kinski’s transformation scene is among the best I’ve ever seen considering the era in which it was made. It even blows away stuff I’ve only seen recently. Unfortunately, nothing else here is nearly on that level. If you’ve seen this movie, you’re probably nodding your head in agreement right now. If not, you must understand the big lesson the movie teaches us. Suffice it to say, it shuns incest by extolling the virtues of bondage and bestiality. For that, it’s so bad it’s awesome!

MY SCORE: -10/10

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Dr. Giggles

Directed by Manny Coto.
1992. Rated R, 95 minutes.
Larry Drake
Holly Marie Combs
Cliff De Young
Glenn Quinn
Keith Diamond
Richard Bradford
Michelle Johnson
Doug E. Doug
Deborah Tucker

Evan Rendell, Jr. (Drake) doesn’t just escape from the mental institution, he leaves a pile of dead and mutilated bodies in his wake. He fancies himself a physician and the nuthouse has been keeping him from the patients he so desperately wants to see. They don’t want to see him, but that’s beside the point. After so many years away, the doctor is in.

‘In’ means he’s made it back to his hometown of Moorehigh to settle the score with the good citizens who joined forces and killed his dad, naturally named Evan Sr., who was actually a real doctor. Unfortunately, dad snapped when his wife came down with severe heart problems. To find her a new one, he started taking the hearts out of patients who not only weren’t donors, they weren’t even dead yet. Judging by the town folks’ reaction, this practice was highly frowned upon. Junior trying to kill everyone in Moorehigh ensues.

Not only is the story typical slasher fare, it absolutely rips off both Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street (this includes having the local children sing a disturbing song about the doc). Dr. Giggles simply combines the plots of those movies and repurposes them to fit its villain. This was particularly problematic in 1992 since both movies were fresh in our collective mind as the brilliant originals of still-going franchises. Dr. Giggles neatly sidesteps this short-coming with a heaping dollop of morbid humor.

To call it a twisted comedy doesn’t quite do it justice. In fact, Dr. Giggles uses it’s jaded funny bone to do the impossible. It takes a string of doctor-speak clichés, uses them as blatantly corny one-liners and it’s somehow hilarious. For instance, take the scene in which he bludgeons someone to death. After they go flying across the room, he quips “Average reflexes.” Reading it here, you’re probably rolling your eyes at how bad that is. When you see it, you’ll be cracking up. The killer is (ha, I’m punny) Larry Drake delivers each line with a perfectly straight face, not even a hint of knowing how silly the words are coming from his mouth. At other times, his warped giggle causes our own uneasy chuckles. He’s simultaneously menacing and ridiculous, no easy feat.

Dr. Giggles is an underappreciated gem of a slasher flick that anyone not a fan of the genre might immediately dismiss. The rest of us won’t be able to contain our laughter even as bodies are sliced open. Speaking of bodies being sliced open, I haven’t even mentioned the morgue scene. That alone makes this worthy of a portion of the time you’ve allotted for watching DTMs (dead teenager movies), if you’re into that sort of thing.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Mr. Brooks

Directed by Bruce A. Evans.

2007. Rated R, 120 minutes.
Danielle Panabaker
Dane Cook
Marg Helgenberger
Ruben Santiago-Hudson
Aisha Hinds

Serial killer Earl Brooks (Costner) gets the urge to kill again after two years of inactivity. He follows the urge, tries to maintain his successful business and his family but things aren't quite working the way he wants.

In a welcome change, this movie foregoes any notion of it being a 'whodunit' right away. Its not interested in discovering who the killer is, that's established fairly early. It's more interested in how Mr. Brooks copes with all that's going on in his life. Often, it involves talking things over with Marshall, the walking talking persona of his conscioence played by William Hurt. Admittedly, its a gimmick but these two actors make it work extremely well showing off a mutual morbid sense of humor. As the police officer trying to capture "The Thumbprint Killer," Demi Moore goes into tough-chick mode and delivers as well. The writers did well to give her three story-lines of her own that all work even if they're a bit over the top. Even Dane Cook is adequate in his role.

Story-wise, twists in the plot are presented more as complications Brooks has to deal with and you become interested in how he's going to take care of the various problems that arise. Between he and Marshall they come up with some pretty good stuff. Though there are a good number of tense and even a few gory moments, this is more of a psychological thriller than a true horror film, but one that takes the odd approach of presenting the killer not as a raving lunatic but as a normal guy with an unusual addiction.

With the number of story-lines going on, at least six off the top of my head, some things just fall by the wayside. Namely, how Mr. Brooks came to be a serial killer is ignored. Though, the suggestion is there that homicidal urges are hereditary. Also Brooks' wife (Russo) is also ignored. She's pretty much there just for reaction shots. She could've been developed a lot more. Through her action scenes we discover that Demi Moore's character is a superhero or at least related to John McLane from the Die Hard series. This character made her G.I. Jane look like her character from Ghost.

Mr. Brooks is for fans of movies like Silence of the Lambs and Seven. It's not quite in their league but I think it is terribly underrated. Far better with far less hype than 2007's other big thriller, Perfect Stranger. It was fun to see Costner playing way against type and like I said earlier it was fun watching the back and forth between he and William Hurt. Stay away if you think there have to be likeable characters in a movie. I honestly don't think there are any.

MY SCORE: 8/10

Friday, October 26, 2012

Zombie Strippers!

Directed by Jay Lee.
2008. Rated R, 94 minutes (unrated DVD version)
Jenna Jameson
Shamron Moore
Roxy Saint
Jeannette Sousa
Penny Drake

The W Corporation, as in George W. Bush, develops a way to reanimate dead soldiers so they can continue fighting in the war. Of course, the test subjects are uncontrollable zombies and have overrun the lab where they were created. A special forces unit is brought in to wipe them out. In the process, one of the soldiers is bitten by a zombie, subsequently infecting him. Bada boom, bada bing he stumbles into the nearest underground strip joint. By the way, it's underground because all public nudity has been completely banned. Anyhoo, he infects Kat (Jameson), the star dancer. Zombie stripping, blood, guts and all manner of ridiculousness ensues. Long story short, how could you expect anything other than "so-bad-it's-awesome!" from a movie titled Zombie Strippers! and starring the world's most famous porn star in a "legit" role. Oh, a little FYI, she's had way too much plastic surgery done to her real face, never mind the zombie makeup that was applied. To the movie's credit, it knows it's ridiculous but still fancies itself a sharp political satire in the tradition of George A. Romero's best work. Though its unquestionably ridiculous and certainly a satire, sharp is the absolute last thing I would call it.

MY SCORE: -10/10

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Jason X

Directed by James Isaac.
2001. Rated R, 91 minutes.

Kane Hodder
Lexa Doig
Jeff Geddis

David Cronenburg
Lisa Ryder
Chuck Campbell

Our favorite hockey-masked killer, Jason Vorhees (Hodder) is lured onto a spaceship & into a chamber where he and his last near-victim are cryogenically frozen and launched into space. Fast-forward a few hundred of years where a ship full of people who supposedly have brains in their heads retrieve the vessel containing the psycho and last girl. Of course, they thaw the two of them out in hopes of studying them, Jason in particular. Needless to say, mayhem ensues.

All of the pre-requisite schlock of a Jason-flick is there: campiness, stupidity, implausibility, bad acting, bad dialogue and a sprinkle of nudity. And those are the good things. Listen folks, you don't go into this one expecting Casablanca. Another good thing is it purposely pokes fun at earlier entries in the series.

The problem is that Jason X contains the most uninspired kill scenes in the Friday the 13th canon. A large part of the series' charm is the sheer creativity of the death scenes. They're simultaneously graphic and morbidly funny. They're the reason this franchise was once a cash cow. Every movie in the series was a major theater release and there are now 12 of them including Freddy vs. Jason and the recent remake of the original. I believe they all made a good deal of money, including this one which I think is the worst in the series. Only James Bond has that kind of staying power. The problem with those kills is that, with a few notable exceptions (for instance, the frozen head being smashed was quite nice), Jason just walks up and gives the victim a quick slash that the camera often cuts away from before there's any gore to be seen or morbid laughs to be had. Jason's rather large cutlery sports a dull blade in this one.

MY SCORE: 3.5/10 

MY SCORE vs. other Jason flicks: 5.5/10

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


Directed by Mikael Hafstrom.
2007. Rated PG-13, 104 minutes.
John Cusack
Samuel L. Jackson
Mary McCormack
Tony Shalhoub

Author Mike Enslin (Cusack) makes his living writing about places that are supposedly haunted. After numerous stays in numerous "haunted" locations he's never seen anything remotely supernatural. All of that changes once he checks into room 1408 at the Dolphin Hotel. Cusack delivers his usual excellent performance. Only this time, he's not the extremely quirky type he normally plays, just a guy who is genuinely freaked out. There aren't many 'gotcha' moments but the tension is amped up from the moment Samuel L. Jackson appears on screen (though he really has a small part) and rarely lets up. Its just well executed with a creepy ending.

MY SCORE: 7.5/10

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Car

Directed by Elliot Silverstein.
1977. Rated PG, 96 minutes.
James Brolin
Kathleen Lloyd
John Marley
R. G. Armstrong
Ronny Cox
John Rubinstein
Kim Richards
Elizabeth Thompson
Kate Murtagh

The Lincoln Continental Mark III is a marvel of 1970s engineering. Sure, I could wax poetic about its classic look and sturdy construction, but suffice it to say what the people of Santa Ynez say about it: it’s big and black. Heeeeyyyy, that’s what she…nevermind. The most important feature of the particular vehicle we focus on is that it’s driven by Satan, himself. No silly, he’s not actually sitting in the driver’s seat. No one is. The townspeople of Santa Ynez can’t tell this from the outside, however. The windows are tinted an incredibly dense red. Red, Satan, get it? All they know is that this behemoth of a car is mowing down any pedestrians it comes across. Man, there are days I wish I could do this! Does that make me evil? Anyhoo, the race is on to keep The Car from running over the whole town.

Our hero is Captain Wade Parent (Brolin). The responsibility of stopping The Car falls to him after the town sheriff finds himself all killed and stuff. There is a subplot about Wade trying to get his two daughters to accept his girlfriend Lauren (Lloyd), who happens to be their teacher. However, this is about as important to the movie as you are. There is another slightly more relevant one about one of the deputies who is an alcoholic being so shaken he goes back to the bottle. I only mention it because he’s played by Ronny Cox, or as I like to refer to him, Lt. Bogomil from Beverly Hills Cop. Yes, I know he’s done plenty of other stuff. Sue me. Actually, you’re more important than either of those storylines because the movie needs you to watch and not ask silly questions. Why did the devil choose this particular town? Don’t worry about it. Just know that’s he’s there and be glad you’re not. How does ramming a bicycle directly from the back send it and the rider careening over the side of a bridge? Unimportant. How come no one tries any evasive maneuvers aside from waiting until the very last possible second to jump out of the way? Never you mind. How exactly does Lt. Bogomil’s, er – I mean the deputy’s wife get those into that top? Accept that some mysteries will never be solved.

There are some questions you might persist on asking. What can this car do that others can’t? You mean, aside from drive itself? For starters, it can turn sideways, flip itself and/or leap off the ground whenever it wants. Nice. Think you’re safe in your living room? Nope. Here comes the Car flying through your window, somehow landing back on the street despite driving straight through your house. Huh? Yes, that really happens. It can also flick open its doors with enough force to hospitalize a grown man and occasionally gale force winds kick up when it comes around.

Okay, what have we learned today? We’ve learned that Satan likes Lincolns and is pissed off at the (mostly) good people of the fictional desert town of Santa Ynez. We’ve learned that His Lincoln can routinely defy the laws of physics. We’ve also learned that this is a grade Z unintentionally funny, cheesy hunk of 70s horror. Believe me, I mean this in the most endearing terms possible. In other words, it’s so bad it’s awesome!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Mother's Day

Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman.
2010. Rated R, 112 minutes. 
Rebecca De Mornay 
Jaime King 
Frank Grillo 
Patrick John Flueger 
Shawn Ashmore
 Lyriq Bent 
Briana Evigan 
Deborah Ann Woll 
Warren Kole 
Kandyse McClure 
Tony Nappo 
Lisa Marcos

Group A is a friendly crowd. They’re having a boozy fun time at the house of Daniel (Grillo) and Beth (King) to celebrate his birthday. There are nine, in all. Aside from our hosts, there is the young couple, the black couple, the middle aged guy/early 20s chick couple and random single female friend. Everyone is hanging out in the basement. It’s a nice setup: pool table, bar, music on blast – you know the deal.

Group B is not so friendly. Even though they’re very big on family, actually they are family, they’re not the kind you want to hang around. In fact, they’ve just finished robbing a bank. Well, it was a job gone horribly wrong. Johnny (O’ Leary), the youngest of the three brothers is dying in the back seat of the getaway car from a gunshot wound. Ike (Flueger) is the eldest. He controls the other two, somewhat, but the current situation has him a bit frazzled. The middle brother Addley (Kole) is always frazzled. It quickly becomes evident that their mother is the one who really pulls the strings. So it only makes sense that the boys head home to Mother’s (De Mornay) house. They come screeching into the driveway, burst in through the door and shout loudly for their mom. Lo and behold, the boys haven’t been in contact with her in a few months and are unaware that she lost the house due to foreclosure. That’s right, this is where Daniel and Beth live and Group A is hanging out downstairs. Not surprisingly, a hostage situation breaks out and luckily for the boys, there is a doctor is in the house. When they finally get a hold of mom on the phone, she fills the boys in on the house situation and hurries over to get things under control. Of course, Group A realizes that once she walks into the door, things have gotten considerably worse for their chances of survival.

From the moment Rebecca De Mornay appears on the screen we’re pretty much mesmerized. As our main protagonist, she gives a brilliantly odd performance that makes us believe we’re finding out what it would be like if June Cleaver (google her, young’uns) were a homicidal sociopath. She plays the role with unwavering assertion and drops the clichés our own mothers said to us in between giving her boys orders to do some heinous things. It’s a deliciously over the top and wicked performance that transcends many of the film’s weaker qualities.

Yes, there are some weaker qualities. For characters other than Mother, the dialogue is pretty much recycled from just about every other home invasion flick. Once you know the tropes the various characters represent, what’s going to come out of their mouths is fairly predictable. This bleeds into the rest of the movie, rendering it a bit easy to figure. Most figurable of all is the trite horror movie ending/set up for a sequel.

Thankfully, the movie creates plenty of tension and draws us to the edge of our seats with one outrageous scenario after another. As the movie goes on, the craziness gradually increases until we’re very near the breaking point. The stakes continuously grow as does the violence. Yes, it’s plenty violent and graphically so. Nothing less is to be expected from the same people heavily involved in the Saw franchise. So yeah, this isn’t for everyone.

Mother’s Day also manages to be fun. That’s because there is a thread of very dark comedy running all the way through the movie. It displays the kind of twisted sense of humor that only people with a twisted sense of humor will appreciate. This includes it functioning as a nasty little slice of recession era angst. It’s a remake of an old Troma movie from 1980 of the same name. I haven’t seen that one, but this may make me seek it out.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Fright Night (2011)

Directed by Craig Gillespie.
2011. Rated R, 106 minutes. 
Anton Yelchin 
Colin Farrell 
Christopher Mintz-Plasse 
David Tennant 
Imogen Poots 
Toni Collette 
Dave Franco 
Reid Ewing 
Sandra Vergara 
Will Denton 
Lisa Loeb 
Chris Sarandon

In a small Las Vegas suburb things are going pretty well for Charlie (Yelchin). He has a good relationship with his single mom. Not only has he recently become one of the cool kids at his school, he’s also dating Amy (Poots), one of its hottest girls. There are some minor irritations in his otherwise perfect life. His neighbor Jerry Dandridge (Farrell) has been moved in for a while but still hasn’t had the dumpster removed from his front lawn. How dare he? Apparently, Jerry doesn’t realize how much of an eyesore this thing is. Charlie’s bigger issue is Ed (Mintz-Plasse). The two were once bestest buddies but Charlie has moved on. Ed hasn’t. He basically throws very public temper tantrums because Charlie won’t play with him anymore and blackmails him into doing so. It’s complicated.

Neighbor Jerry further complicates things. Aside from taking his sweet time getting rid of the dumpster, he flirts with Charlie’s mom. Even worse, Charlie soon discovers Jerry is a real live vampire. He’s not the type that Peter Vincent (Tennant) slays in his Las Vegas show, but an actual, homicidal bloodsucker. Jerry is also fond of apples and beer, but it’s the blood that’s most troublesome.

Troublesome also describes the way our tale is constructed. In case you didn’t know, this is a remake of the 1985 hit. That movie begins with Jerry moving in next door to Charlie. Everyone in the movie becomes aware of him as we do. Here, he’s been around for a while. It may not sound like much, but this little change to our entry point is enough to set the entire movie off-kilter.

Our view of those involved is off-kilter, as well. We don’t like any of them. In the original, Jerry is a debonair devil. We know he’s a killer, but he’s awfully charming. This version is more the sweaty, creepy type. He just happens to be as handsome as Colin Farrell. Farrell does a good job with the role, but it is what it is. Our new Ed is a jerk. We start actively rooting against him within thirty seconds of meeting him. Amy is just kinda there most of the time. Her subplot from the first film is not used. Peter Vincent is no longer a once-great facing the end of his career. This time around he’s at the height of his popularity. Instead of being insecure and incredulous of the events surrounding him, he’s a self-centered jackass we’d rather punch in the face than go vampire hunting with. He also seems like he was written for Russell Brand or David Tennant is just doing his darndest impression, but that’s beside the point. Charlie is pretty bland in both movies. However, when surrounded by unlikeable characters he also becomes hard to really care for. At best, we’re not aching for him to be brutally murdered.

The vocation of screenplay writing has been brutally murdered. Well, probably not. It has been severely injured, at least. The various strands are haphazardly slapped together. The comic relief isn’t funny and the horror isn’t horrifying. That nice bit of self-awareness the original had is almost completely gone. The make up for these lapses in execution we get the trusted method of multiplying the body count. Yawn. Since most of the killings are of the loud noise, look of fear, camera cuts away variety, double yawn.

I did a lot of double yawning while watching the Fright Night remake. Strangely enough, going into this it was the rare case where I didn’t mind something from my youth being remade. The original is pretty good, but there is room for improvement and the basic premise welcomes updating. Unfortunately, this movie did none of the things that would’ve made it better.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Fright Night (1985)

Directed by Tom Holland.
1985. Rated R, 106 minutes. 
Chris Sarandon 
William Ragsdale 
Amanda Bearse 
Stephen Geoffreys 
Roddy McDowall 
Jonathan Stark 
Dorothy Fielding 
Art J. Evans

Charlie (Ragsdale) is a fairly average high school kid. He’s been dating Amy (Bearse) for about a year, but hasn’t quite managed to get in her pants despite his near constant efforts. His best pal is Eddie, aka Evil (Geoffreys), is more awkward. We’re never told why he’s called Evil, but it probably has something to do with the fact that after most sentences he cackles maniacally like an old school Disney villain. The three of them share a love for a weekly TV horror series called “Fright Night.” It is hosted by Peter Vincent (McDowall) who claims to be the world’s foremost vampire killer. Jerry Dandridge (Sarandon) is Charlie’s new neighbor. Pretty quickly, Charlie surmises that Jerry is a real live vampire and is responsible for the string of murders that have been taking place around town.

Back in 1985, Fright Night became a surprise hit at a time when vampire flicks had gone out of vogue. As Peter Vincent so eloquently put it, all we wanted was “demented men in ski masks hacking up young virgins.” Still, there were good reasons FN was able to succeed. They start with Jerry Dandridge. With a sweater and pleated khakis in place of a tuxedo and a trench coat substituting for a cape, he’s a much more contemporary vampire than we were used to seeing. He helped reestablish this particular monster as a seductive villain. His murderous side is usually smooth. We’re drawn to him. For this reason, Fright Night isn’t really frightening. I remember going to the theater to see this on its opening weekend. Even then it wasn’t scary. However, the coolness of it all still sucked us in.

The cool factor has diminished a bit with the passing of time. Other aspects hold up better. By being pretty self-aware, it serves a precursor to all those films to follow in which the characters know all about the movies and suspect they are actually involved in one. Evil plays the role of the guy who informs everyone else of genre protocol.

We’re also treated to a wonderful performance by Roddy McDowall. His Peter Vincent is a man who totally defines himself by his public persona. That persona is fading in both popularity and profitability. In fact, he only agrees to meet Jerry because will pay him fifty bucks to do so and convince Charlie that Jerry couldn’t possibly be a vampire. Purely by accident, Peter realizes he’s in the midst of the real thing and is immediately petrified. He doesn’t seem able or willing to save the day. As such, McDowall strikes the perfect balance to give us both reluctant participant and comic relief.

Fright Night is not without flaws. Predictably, some of the special fx and makeup jobs haven’t aged so well. The same goes for the score, too synthesized to be menacing. It sounds more like the prelude to an 80s R & B ballad than what should be playing when The Prince of Darkness is lurking about. More troubling is the inconsistency in Peter Vincent’s faith. Since it is mentioned quite a bit and is integral to the plot, it should be handled more cleanly.

Despite it being a little long in the fangs, FN is still an entertaining romp. It’s also more important than given credit for being. Along with The Lost Boys, which came out two years later, it helped bring the vampire out of the Victorian era with the fresh out of Transylvania accent and drop him into modern times. It understands that the idea of such a creature terrorizing suburbia is silly without making a mockery of the genre, remaining faithful to much of the monster’s traditional lore. For this, FN is one of my favorite vampire flicks of all time.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark

Directed by Troy Nixey.
2011. Rated R, 99 minutes.

Bailee Madison
Jack Thompson
Julia Blake
Alan Dale
Trudy Hellier
Garry McDonald

Sally (Madison) is a tween who, according to her, was perfectly happy living with her mother. However, mom thinks the girl is a few Barbie dolls short of a complete set, if you know what I mean, medicates her and ships her off to live with her dad Alex (Pearce) and his girlfriend Kim (Holmes). Sure enough, soon after arriving at the mansion dad and Kim are not only living in, but renovating, she starts hearing voices coming from a basement no one knew existed. Dad busts open the basement, pleased he has more house to fix up. He doesn’t buy the voices so naturally he and Kim also think the girl is nuts but don’t know what to do with her since sending her back is not an option. On the other hand, we know she is completely sane and the things she hears and sees are quite real. What she sees are a bunch of tiny, evil creatures with a liking for sharp objects and a peculiar appetite. This is a remake of a made-for-TV movie from the 1970s starring Kim Darby. Almost forgot: PG-13 horror that somehow earned an ‘R’ rating ensues.

Okay, the prior sentence takes an unnecessary shot at Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. It is better than that line implies. The creatures themselves are immediately reminiscent of those from The People Under the Stairs, at least to a person like me who hasn’t seen that movie in well over a decade. They are a particularly vicious lot when given the opportunity and prone to pop up suddenly, giving us a few jump scares.

Director Troy Nixey acts as an extension of Guillermo del Toro (director of Pan’s Labyrinth, both Hellboy movies) who hatched the idea to do this remake and serves as producer. Nixey gives us a sufficiently spooky tone, those aforementioned jump scares and a couple of truly harrowing scenes. He wrings what he can from a clichéd screenplay. As is often the case in haunted house flicks, dad is oblivious to what’s going on, while (step)mom is at first skeptical but slowly comes around. There’s also the old man who doles out ominous warnings and always looks nervous, obviously knowing more than he’s telling. Finally, we eventually discover some of the house’s dark secrets. These are not explained in nearly enough of a coherent manner, but still move the plot forward.

Speaking of the plot and things unexplained, we’re left with a number of holes and a blatant setup for a sequel. Given what happens in the beginning, the last scene doesn’t make sense other than to give those already frightened one last chill. This makes it a decent watch that falls apart under even rudimentary scrutiny. Therefore, it’s best if you don’t think about it too much. This includes not trying to figure out that ‘R’ rating I mentioned earlier. I get it, I guess. The opening scene is truly squirm inducing and one other scene is a bit on the bloody side. Still, it wouldn’t bother me one bit if this garnered a PG-13 especially since that’s the crowd likely to get the most enjoyment out of this. Either way, it’s best if watched in the dark you shouldn’t be afraid of with some jumpy people who are.

MY SCORE: 6/10

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Troll Hunter

Directed by André Øvredal.
2010. Rated PG-13, 103 minutes.

Otto Jespersen
Glenn Erland Tosterud
Johanna Mǿrck
Tomas Alf Larsen
Urmila Berg-Domaas
Hans Morten-Hansen
Robert Stoltenberg

We’re told immediately that we’re watching a film that was made by selecting the scenes to follow from 283 hours of video. Not only that, but the people who pored over it also spent over a year trying to figure if this was genuine or all part of some elaborate hoax. They have determined it to be authentic. Yay, more found footage horror. Sarcasm.

The folks that left behind this particular footage are a small group of Norwegian college students filming a documentary about the havoc that bears are wreaking in the counry’s forest and mountain areas and the people who hunt them. We learn the government only licenses a select few to target bears and, as you might imagine, they are a tight knit group. They’re also pretty pissed that bears are being gunned down with none of them behind the trigger. A mysterious guy who lives in a smelly camper and only goes out at night is the main suspect. They all believe he’s a poacher. Of course, the college kids start hounding him for an interview and following him after dark. Pretty soon they find out it isn’t bears that are causing all the trouble or that the bearded man is hunting. It’s trolls.

Hans (Jespersen) is the bearded man’s name and he quickly tells us that these trolls aren’t like the ones we’ve read about in fairy tales. These are huge, snarling, not very intelligent beasts that eat whatever they can get their hands on. They’ve been quarantined to certain sections around the country. Hans’ task is to find out why so many are leaving these areas and to kill any wayward trolls. He’s been doing this job for a really long time and doesn’t like it much these days. He invites the kids to tag along, so long as none of them are Christians. This part of the fairy tale is true: trolls can smell the blood of Christian men and it sends them into a frenzy. They assure him they aren’t and away we go.

The trolls themselves are what makes this different from most movies in the found-footage sub-genre. There is really no attempt to hide them and build suspense from the wait. Instead, we see them pretty clearly throughout the picture. The key is that there are a number of different types. That way, we’re consistently seeing something new as the movie progresses. Additionally, they’re also mindlessly aggressive toward whatever is in their path. Often enough, it’s our cast in harm’s way creating a palpable sense of danger. With all of the troll action taking place at night, the special fx work beautifully, adding to the idea that we’re really seeing gigantic monsters rampaging in the woods, or in caves.

Another big plus is our troll hunter. Otto Jespersen plays Hans perfectly straight. He exudes the weariness he professes. We really feel like he’s a guy that’s been doing a thankless job forever and is desperately searching for a way out. It’s a subtle, yet effective performance. The rest of the cast is adequate, but not enthralling. Mǿrck who plays Johanna is a possible exception as she is a shade better than the others.

As found footage flicks go, Troll Hunter is a solid adventure. A few very tense scenes help it live up to the horror label. Truthfully though, it’s more fun than it is scary. That in itself isn’t really a problem. The problem is by now we’ve seen more than a few of these types of movies. The ending feels pre-ordained within a few moments of the start. This makes it hard for us to generate the empathy necessary to really get us vested in these people. We already know how they end up. Thankfully, watching them get there is a good time.

MY SCORE: 7/10

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Scream Blacula Scream

Directed by Bob Kelljan.
1973. Rated PG, 96 minutes.
William Marshall
Pam Grier
Don Mitchell
Richard Lawson
Michael Conrad
Lynne Moody
Janee Michelle
Barbara Rhoades

Willis Daniels (Lawson) isn’t grieving even though his mother has just passed away and, for some reason, is still lying on the couch in a room full of people. He’s too busy whining that she didn’t name him as her successor to become the high priest of their little voodoo cult. There will be a vote to see who gets the post and all the members assure him they won’t be voting for him, they’ll be voting for Lisa. Lisa is played by…Pam Grier. I love Pam Grier. Willis storms out. Not done with the affair, though, he goes to visit an old man who himself was once ousted from the very same position in the same group to get some help plotting revenge. The old man gives Willis a pile of bones (complete with skull) and an instruction manual, tells him this will help him get revenge and warns him of the immense power he’s about to unleash. Undeterred, Willis uses the instructions to resurrect whoever this heap of bones used to be. Of course, we know from the title that it is none other than our favorite non-Anglo vampire: Prince Mamuwalde, AKA Blacula. Our boy comes back to (un)life and bites Willis which sends us into the opening credits. When they stop rolling, Willis is a vampire and his storyline is largely forgotten. Did I mention that Pam Grier is in this movie?

Honestly, it’s probably a good idea we move on from Willis. Blacula is a far more intriguing character. If you saw the first movie then you know that right at the end, he becomes a strangely sympathetic character. When he shows up on the screen this time around, that’s gone and we’re right back into the horror. Like most sequels, the body count is amped up a bit. The story also takes a little while longer to take shape. Blacula spends much time hanging around the cult after he learns that the beautiful Pam Grier, I mean Lisa, is naturally gifted when it comes to voodoo. In between conversations with her and her boyfriend Justin (Mitchell) who collects ancient African artifacts, Mamuwalde chows down on random cultists plus a couple muggers that can’t take a hint. Of course, with all the bodies piling up and then disappearing Justin gets suspicious and tries desperately to convince the cops that a vampire is responsible. Meanwhile, I get increasingly jealous of the two men who get to sit very near Pam Grier.

As a whole, the visuals haven’t aged well which detracts from the fright factor. Still, the makeup is a bit better than it was in the original and there are a few very effective scenes based on tone and tension. The dialogue ranges from pretty good in spots to terrible in others. Most of the acting is nothing to write home about, either. Yet in the title role William Marshall, a Shakespearian trained actor and you can tell it, rises above his cast mates and endows Mamuwalde with the dignity and formalism befitting a prince. And yes, leading lady Pam Grier is mesmerizing. Hmmm…if I didn’t know any better, I’d say I was creepier than the movie.

Through it all, we get a fun, occasionally campy horror flick that manages to turn the same trick as its predecessor by making us feel bad for the bad guy. We don’t develop the same level of empathy we did the first time around but we don’t loathe him and look at him like an unfeeling monster, either. It’s these touches that mark the franchise as better than expected. Neither title leads you to believe the films will be any good at all. While they aren’t great, they’re both enjoyable. And this one has Pam Grier.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


Directed by William Crain.

1972. Rated PG, 93 minutes.

Vonetta McGee
Thalmus Rasulala
Denise Nicholas
Gordon Pinsent
Charles Macaulay
Emily Yancy
Lance Taylor Sr.

This particular chunk of 70s goodness actually starts in the 18th century. African Prince Mamuwalde (Marshall) and his lovely wife Luva (McGee) are in the land of Transylvania. Where else would a vampire flick start? They are visiting the castle of Count Dracula (Macaulay), duh. For some reason, the prince asks the Count to help put a stop to the slave trade. Wait…what does Dracula have to do with…never mind. Drac laughs him off and drops a few racial epithets on Mamuwalde and his lady. Understandably, the prince gets indignant and announces that he and his wife are leaving this instant. We cut away to the door 1) to see a bunch of Drac’s minions strolling into the room and 2) to give the Count a moment to put in his fangs. Long story short, Count Dracula and company overcome the prince and his wife. Luva gets killed, but death isn’t punishment enough for Mamuwalde. The Count bites him, re-names him Blacula and locks him in a coffin. Roll opening credits.

Fast forward to “the present” in 1972 Los Angeles. A couple guys swindle some dude out of Count Dracula’s ancient artifacts for a low low price. Too bad for them, there was no ebay back then. Even worse, Blacula’s coffin is included in their catch. By the way, if you think anyone in the movie ever calls him Blacula you’d be sadly mistaken. Anyhoo, these two fools pop open the coffin, wind up as vampires and let loose Mamuwalde on an unsuspecting public.

Shortly after breathing some 20th century smog for the first time, our new favorite vampire runs into Tina who happens to look exactly like his wife. How did you know she’s played by the same person? Of course, he just has to have her, but he tells her he can’t take her by force. While waiting on her to make a decision, he nibbles on the local population.

Surprisingly, but refreshingly, this movie dispenses with the idea of getting the ancient vampire used to his new surroundings and any forced comedy that might have come from that. He never even asks anyone the date or looks at a newspaper to figure it out like most other flicks would’ve. Come to think of it, no one ever bothers to ask this dude why he walks around wearing a cape. Then again, we are talking about the 70s. So it’s no surprise that one guy does ask if he can borrow it.

I’ve said too much. Just know that Blacula is a fun, campy ride that is far better than its title gives it any right to be. There are a few strong performances in the bunch, most notably from our main two adversaries: William Marshall as Blacula and Thalmus Rasulala as Dr. Gordon Thomas. These two along with Denise Nicholas as the doc’s wife balance out a bunch of flat ones. The dialogue is hammy but these three pull it off well. Admittedly, the vampire makeup ranges from “meh” to “Is that supposed to be a vampire or a zombie?” to “Where’s your makeup?” Even out of that mix, there is one genuine scare, for me at least. The crazed vampire woman running down a hallway in the morgue is a sight that can’t be unseen (pic above). I saw this movie several time, probably thirty years ago, if not more. That’s one of only two scenes I really remembered. The other is the unexpectedly touching conclusion. It all adds up to a surprisingly entertaining vampire flick. It’s far from a masterpiece, but it’s no blight on the genre either. Blacula sticks pretty close to traditional vampire lore and gives us a solid, if occasionally unintentionally humorous effort.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Woman in Black

Directed by James Watkins.
2012. Rated PG-13, 94 minutes.

Daniel Radcliffe
Sophie Stuckey
Jessica Raine
Roger Allam
Shaun Dooley
Mary Stockley

After one of his clients dies, it’s up to Harry Potter, um, I mean Arthur Kipps (Radcliffe) to make sure her affairs are in order. To do so he has to spend some time in her house. Of course, this is a dark secluded mansion no one town wants to go anywhere near. Rumor has it there’s a ghost, or ghosts, hanging around the place. It doesn’t help that the local children suffer violent, fatal and mysterious accidents at an alarming rate. Kinda kills the area tourism industry, you know? Anyhoo, this is all leading to our hero spending a night alone in the spooky abode. Yup, he sees stuff. You’re probably wondering where that title comes from. It seems whenever one of the local rugrats manages to get dead someone sees a woman in a black dress close by.

Our saga unfolds in the most uninteresting way possible. Things clunk along as Arthur receives ominous warnings and then is blamed for stirring things up as the kids keep dying. His one ally is Daily (Hinds), the one guy native to the town who is skeptical of the existence of ghosts. He provides the movie’s liveliest moments. Everyone else just trudges through the picture trying to look scared and/or scary, often failing on both fronts. Our leading man, Mr. Radcliffe, isn’t compelling enough to sufficiently draw us in, at least not here.

The alleged scares are pretty standard ghost story fare. Arthur sees things, gets spooked, takes off running, sees more things, runs some more until he “unexpectedly” runs into a real person. The apparitions he sees come off as innocuous because we know right from the get-go they’re only going after children. Therefore, our hero never seems to be in any real danger. Besides, any tension these scenes might generation is killed by the film’s leisurely pacing. A tale taking its time can be a good thing. That’s not the case here. This is like being stuck behind grandma doing 45 on the highway and no way for you to get around her. It makes the hour-and-a-half runtime feel more like a day and a half.

Thankfully, two scenes manage to drag the movie out of its self-imposed stagnation. Both are rather late in the proceedings, perking us up a bit if we’re still paying attention. One involves a mud pit our guy has to climb into and the other is the final scene. These keep The Woman in Black from becoming a complete travesty. They don’t save the film, but they’re at least interesting.

When it is all said and done, we’ve sat through a sub-standard ghost story with hardly any twists or turns in its narrative. Its visuals aren’t frightening enough to overcome its flaws. For the most part, we aren’t even afforded the cheap thrill of jump scares. Judging by the generally positive response this movie has gotten, I’m probably jaded. I just don’t get it. For me, TWiB is yet another PG-13 horror-less flick.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Repo! The Genetic Opera

Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman.
2008. Rated R, 98 minutes.
Alexa Vega
Anthony Stewart Head
Paul Sorvino
Paris Hilton

Organ transplants have become big business for GeneCo, a hugely powerful corporation run by Rotti Largo (Sorvino). They even offer financing. Of course, just like with anything else, if you default on your payments they send the repo man after you. Yup, they repossess whatever organ you purchased, no matter what it is - kidney, lung, heart - and not in a nice manner. They just chase you down and rip it from your body. Nice. GeneCo's top repo man, Nathan (Head) has a daughter with a potentially fatal blood disease and an old rivalry with his megalomaniacal boss, Largo. By the way, Largo's children spend almost the entire movie arguing over who gets the company when Dad kicks. Oh, I almost forgot to mention that it's a musical. Yes, a musical. Imagine an even more twisted and absurd Sweeney Todd. It's truly one of the most bazaar movie watching experiences I've ever had. It has "cult classic" written all over it. I can't stress enough how strange this is. And I loved every minute of it. You haven't lived until you've seen Paris Hilton's face literally slide off her skull while she's on stage crooning a morbid tune. Speaking of the famous heiress, I have to give her kudos for this one. I usually have no use for her but she's a great sport, here, obviously spoofing herself and being pretty funny about it. Those haters at "The Razzies," didn't agree and gave her "Worst Supporting Actress" for this role. For what this movie was trying to be however, I thought she was perfect. And it was everything it was trying to be. As a result, Repo! is easily my favorite "so bad its awesome!" movie of 2008.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Reaping

Directed by Stephen Hopkins.

2007. Rated PG-13, 99 minutes.
David Morrissey

Prof. Katherine Winter (Swank) specializes in finding scientific explanations for events people feel are miracles or punishments sent from God. She comes across a doozy in a swamp town where the locals are blaming a little girl (Robb) for the seemingly biblical things going on.

It forsakes the easy gore & goes for a more intriguing & suspenseful feel. It achieves this nicely. At a relatively short 99 minutes, it’s packed tightly & advances its plot in a manner that keeps you interested. In an era when studios are stretching comedies & kiddie-flicks out to 2 & a half hours, or about 45 minutes too long for comedies & kiddie-flicks, a movie that tells its story effectively in under 2 hours is refreshing. As usual, Hilary Swank turns in very good work. She continues to prove she is among the very best working actresses today. There are a few "gotcha" moments & enough creepy happenings to keep you guessing what the end will be.

It does have a lot of the cliches of other movies dealing with biblical events in modern times. The little girl that is the focal-point of the story is a bit of a problem. While watching her I couldn't help thinking this is a role that should've been played by Dakota Fanning. Robb isn't a bad young actress (actually pretty good in the otherwise bland Bridge to Terabithia) but I'm kind of indifferent to her no matter how tattered they make her look or how many apocalyptic events are attributed to her. On the other hand, I'm not really a fan of Fanning but Fanning always creeps me out & that's what this role needed. Finally, Swank is head & shoulders above the rest of the cast in terms of ability. This includes her traveling lab-partner Ben played by Elba. He's not a bad actor, skill-wise. For some reason however, his words here are always slightly garbled and its a bit distracting.

This is a solid flick to watch for the horror crowd. It's not a gore-fest like all the torture-porn that's out there but it's more interesting than that stuff which only tries to shock you. At the same time, it doesn't drag along with a bunch of really lame fake-scary moments like a lot of other PG-13 horror movies. How much you like the ending will determine whether you like it slightly more or slightly less than I did.

MY SCORE: 6.5/10

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Paranormal Activity 3

Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman.
2011. Rated R, 84 minutes.
Chris Smith
Lauren Bittner
Chloe Csengery
Jessica Tyler Brown
Hallie Foote
Dustin Ingram
Johanna Braddy
Brian Boland
Sprague Grayden

As we’ve been warned, the events of Paranormal Activity and its sequel are only part of a lifetime dealing with things that go bump in the night. So it’s no surprise that the third installment in this haunted house franchise is a prequel. We journey back to 1988, in the midst of the troubled childhoods of Katie (Csengery) and Kristi (Brown). The two sisters share a room upstairs in a pretty open house; their room doesn’t have a full wall and looks out over the lower level of the house. As little girls are wont to do, Kristi has an imaginary friend named Toby. Well, at least everyone else in the house thinks he’s imaginary. After about 10 minutes of movie time, Katie and mom Julie (Bittner) still think so, but stepdad Dennis (Smith) isn’t so sure. See, like apparently every man that has ever come into contact with the girls, he’s set up cameras all over the house. Now, when the things in the night go bumping, he can watch it on video the next day.

Like with the first two movies in the series, the aim is to draw you in, piling up little scares along the way until you’re wholly unsettled then bombard you with a furious and creepy finish. The technique is actually solid and the climax is indeed fun in a twisted way. I suspect it may be enough for people to consider it a really good horror flick. After all, the franchise is known for and built upon its finales. They are what keeps us coming back for the next Paranormal Activity.

Unfortunately, each installment works best if you haven’t seen either of the others. Without automatically recalling the two films just like it, the one you’re watching can be more effective on you. This is because if you’re familiar with the franchise then the setup and execution are both overly familiar to you. During the day, people argue about whether or not they have ghosts as house guests. After everyone goes to bed, there are all sorts of strange noises, inanimate objects moving by themselves and odd behavior by one of the characters who, of course, is unaware of what they’re doing. It is an effective formula seen once, less so on the second go-round and a little less than that this time around. It’s simply a victim of the law of diminishing returns. This is why horror franchise often give up trying to scare us and become parodies of themselves. Being repeatedly manipulated in the same exact manner cannot continue to be scary. To its credit, Paranormal Activity 3 refuses to go down that road. However admirable sticking to its haunted guns might be, it fails to up the fright factor.

MY SCORE: 5/10

Monday, October 8, 2012


Directed by John Eric Dowdle.
2008. Rated R, 89 minutes.

Jennifer Carpenter
Steve Harris
Johnathon Schaech
Andrew Fiscella
Dania Ramirez

While following around the firefighters at a local station, young reporter Angela (Carpenter) and her cameraman Scott (Harris) find themselves trapped in an apartment building where some of the tenants seem to have contracted a disease that literally transforms them into homicidal maniacs.

It gives its intended audience what they came for. We get lots of gore, screaming and running. The one twist on this works out nicely. That twist is the last 10 or so minutes of the movie being shown via the camera's night vision setting. This heightens any tension the movie has because we realize the good guys can't see what's in the dark room with them.

What if Cloverfield were a zombie movie instead of a giant monster movie? The answer to that question is Quarantine. It follows that exact template. The entire thing is filmed through a handheld camera. The holder of the camera is heard much more often than seen. We start with 10 or so minutes of idiotic banter that̢۪s supposed to pass for character development. No one seems to know what's going on. None of the characters are particularly likeable. And, it wants to set you up for a sequel. In fact, if you've seen the trailer, you've seen the ending. To be fair, it's actually a remake of a Spanish horror movie entitled [Rec] (as in the "REC" button on your cam-corder) which was never released in the US. In any event, it felt like I had just watched almost the exact same movie just with a different bunch of people I couldn't care less for.

I'll just say again, it's almost exactly like Cloverfield just with zombies in a small apartment building instead of a giant monster in the city of New York. Fans of Cloverfield will either really love it or really hate it. For the rest of us, it'll be just a middle-of-the-road horror flick.

MY SCORE: 5/10

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Rosemary's Baby

Directed by Roman Polanski.
1968. Rated R, 136 minutes. 
Mia Farrow 
John Cassavetes 
Ruth Gordon 
Sidney Blackmer

Director Roman Planski's horror classic in which Rosemary believes there is a cult out to harm her and her unborn baby. Truth be told, it's more psychological thriller than horror. The movie's strength is predicated on the main character's mounting paranoia that we think is justified but aren't completely sure. This is due to some rather wicked dream sequences. They're so daring that even though the movie is over 40 years old it would still earn an an R rating and garner some outrage if it were made today. Mia Farrow's powerful performance makes the whole thing plausible. It's one of those performances that just gets better and better as the film goes along. During the first 15 or 20 minutes her work is nothing special. Her line deliveries are flat and everything about her suggest she's not up to the task of carrying a movie. By the end however, she has a commanding presence that you can't keep your eyes off. Most interesting is as Farrow's work grows stronger, her character is actually becoming weaker. Finally, the ambiguous ending and Polanski's great restraint just gives you an uneasy feeling as the final credits roll.