Sunday, October 31, 2010

How to Train Your Dragon

Here is the latest solid yet unimaginative effort from Dreamworks, made by a directing duo with a pedigree that indicates to me that the lack of inspiration found within is more of a directive from the corporate executives rather than being a result of the talent being unable to reach any farther. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The film stars Jay Baruchel as Hiccup, a young Viking that finds that he completely doesn’t belong in a society that’s based entirely around killing dragons. Going off into the countryside on his own, he accidentally befriends Toothless, a type of ultra-feared dragon that no Viking has ever before seen and survived. With the knowledge that dragons aren’t as dangerous as his people believe them to be, he quickly rises to the top of his class in dragon training, until his father, village chieftain Stoick (Gerard Butler) puts an end to his friendship with the dragons and decides to capture Toothless and use him to lead the village in an assault on the main dragon hive that Hiccup had unwittingly tipped him off to. Of course, the assault all goes horribly wrong, and it’s up to Hiccup, his fellow students, and their new dragon friends to save the day and revolutionize Viking society in the process.

So yeah, an animated story about a societal outcast who constantly butts heads with an authoritarian figure and yet overcomes adversity, revolutionizing his society in the process? Just off the top of my head, that not only describes this plot, but also the plots of Sony’s Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Pixar’s Monsters Inc. and Ratatouille, and Dreamworks’ own earlier film Antz. Given that I’ve missed a good deal of animated films from the past ten years or so, I can only assume there are several more that I missed. Point is, this is as by-the-numbers a story as an animated film can have without including a young princess, a dashing prince, and an evil witch. The music is fittingly generic, sounding like everything you’ve heard before in such films, to the point where I’m half convinced that composer John Powell just directly took the score from one of his earlier films, rearranged it to fit the new scenes, and called it a day.

Which is all curious, as aside from the script and music, this movie has a good deal to offer. Made by co-writers-and-directors Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders (whose first film, Lilo & Stitch, was arguably Disney’s best movie of the last decade that wasn’t made by Pixar), it has a great deal of visual flair, frequently looking a good deal darker and more sinister than most children’s movies I’ve seen (the main exceptions being Nightmare Before Christmas and Coraline, of course). The fight scenes and flying episodes all look really well animated, and show that Dreamworks’ animators are some of the best in the business (though I do take issue with them deciding so many of the dragons should have rounded faces -- I like my dragons Dungeons & Dragons style, filled with angles and sharp edges, not looking like the kraken from the Clash of the Titans remake). They also mostly did a good job in hiring the voice actors: as has become the norm with these kinds of films, they filled up the supporting cast with great comedic talents like Craig Ferguson and Jonah Hill so that there can be a proper amount of unscripted jokes to help improve the film. The pedigree of these people, when combined with Dreamworks’ backlog of animated films like Over the Hedge, Madagascar, Open Season, and Kung Fu Panda, leads me to assume that the seemingly intentional generic story was forced on the filmmakers to try to ensure that the film kept as wide an audience as possible. Given that the film did incredibly well in theaters (making $217 million, which ranks it as currently the eighth highest grossing movie of 2010, right behind Dreamworks’ other big release Shrek Forever After), they may well have been correct to do so.

I don’t want you all to get the wrong impression here. This is indeed an entertaining movie. It’s funny, fast-paced, and frequently rather beautiful. That it’s got a plot you’ve seen enough times that you can probably set your watch to all the story’s turns isn’t likely to matter to your children one bit, assuming of course that you aren’t like me and actually buy children’s movies for your children to watch.

Rating: ***


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Black Devil Doll

So what’s better than a modern-day blaxploitation parody horror movie featuring an evil Negro devil doll that goes around raping and killing white women? Well, quite a few things, honestly, but none that can allow me to use both an “evil puppet” tag and a “porn” tag. I think this film has indeed cornered the market on this connection.

The film follows Heather (Heather Murphy, who presumably got to use her real first name because it took her too long to react when they tried calling her by anything different), who decides to play around with a Ouija board at the same time convincted rapist-murder Mubia Abu-Jamal is being executed, and winds up transporting his soul into one of her dolls (which promptly turns black and sports a ‘fro). They immediately develop an intense sexual relationship, but it all turns to tragedy when she invites all of her female friends over and he falls back into old habits.

There’s two main things this film has going for it: there’s the constant, unceasing nudity, and there’s the 72 minute running time, allowing it to get in and out (much like the titular puppet) before it starts to get boring. Most of the female actresses don’t seem to have acted in anything besides this film, at least according to IMDB, but since two of them are named Natasha Talonz and Precious Cox, I have to assume that they all act like they’re porn stars because that’s exactly what they are (or at least what they’re hoping to become). Regardless, they’re all about as attractive as your average porn star as well, so take that however you will.

The humor is fairly hit or miss in the film. The doll himself gets off some nice lines, and just the concept of a puppet getting so excited over seeing a bunch of naked women around that he starts masturbating (complete with him finishing and a surprising amount of white cream shooting onto the window) is pretty damn clever (Also, the tagline -- “Rated X by an all-white jury!” -- is quality). Unfortunately, it also devolves into Kevin Smith Lite mode at times, with far too many poop and fart jokes for such a short film. The violence is also pretty basic, with usually just fake blood splattering everywhere (the main exception being when a girl has her throat cut and we get a lingering shot of the wound spurting blood), so those who would want to get this specifically for its violence will be disappointed. Also, what’s the deal with that damn red filter they keep putting over everything? Stop that already!

This movie obviously should not be watched by most of the people reading this blog. It’s visibly cheap (though not quite as cheap as the blaxploitation film it took its name from, Black Devil Doll From Hell), really juvenile, and basically functions as a cheap excuse to watch a bunch of would-be porn stars stripping naked, playing with each other’s boobs, and then being killed. If that’s not your thing, then don’t watch it and start whining because I gave it three stars and you just looked at that and Netflixed the movie without reading the review. I have limited sympathy.

Rating: ***


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Blood Night

Blood Night: The Legend of Mary Hatchet is one of several recent attempts at creating a new slasher franchise, as were such films as Hatchet (no relation) and Laid to Rest. Like those two, it presents a fairly interesting killer that seems supernaturally powerful and unkillable, gives the killer a fairly involved backstory, and throws in a lot of gruesome kills and nudity (actually, I don’t recall Laid to Rest having any nudity, but that one’s the exception) to make up for the fairly cookie-cutter stories.

This film accomplishes the goal of being a potential new slasher franchise fairly capably, even if it’s not a wild success. As a young girl, Mary Hatchet went on a lovely little killing spree against her family, and was promptly locked up in an asylum, raped, knocked up, had her kid taken from her, broke free (by way of murder) to find her kid, and was promptly gunned down by the police after throwing a severed head into their windshield. We jump forward a great many years, where Blood Night is now a famous local holiday celebrated by the teen crowd (at one point, we even get to see a computer game where Mary jumps out from behind gravestones to throw knives at you and you have to block them by throwing bloody tampons at her), and we get a group of college kids that decide to have a wild party night to celebrate the 20th anniversary. They quickly get down to drinking, telling sexy stories, having sex, and half-assedly stripping down to their underwear and performing lap dances (girl on guy only -- sorry, ladies), and being brutally murdered whenever any of them wanders off alone. Could the ghost of Mary Hatchet have returned to continue her killing spree, or could it very obviously be someone else entirely, since the killer never wanders into frame during any of the murders?

This film does have quite a few nice things going for it. The kills are nice and bloody (though there is one where a person’s head is cut in half vertically that’s a little too blatantly CG to work), and almost every female character at least gets topless (my favorite being Mary Hatchet herself, played by Samantha Facchi, who at one point walks around completely naked, but covers up her pubic region with a strategically placed severed head), and let’s be honest with ourselves here: in a slasher movie, the violence and the nudity are the two single most important factors as to whether or not the film is entertaining.

Which is good, as it falters in most other regards. The acting quality is pretty varied, as one might expect from a low budget production (IMDB has it pegged at having cost $3 million, which is a good deal more than I would have expected), ranging from acceptable (Bill Moseley and Danielle Harris, though neither gives one of their best performances) to pretty lame (most of the rest of the cast). To be fair, the script doesn’t help them much, with fairly obvious twists and turns, and a group of teens that seems to have been specifically designed to be unpleasant in the hopes that we’ll then enjoy it more when they die. Also, while director and co-writer Frank Sabatella does a solid enough job of just keeping everything important in frame, resisting the urge a lot of young horror directors have to be overly flashy and annoy the shit out of the audience (see Laid to Rest -- actually, don’t), he also doesn’t really do much of anything to stand out from the pack, making a film that is perfectly acceptable entertainment that doesn’t really try to excel at all.

I suppose I should be pleased with good, considering how many of the horror movies I’ve seen this month have been straight up horrible, but with all the buildup I’d heard from people online I was expecting something really special. Still, for all you slasher fans out there, it’s absolutely one of the better ones to come out in the past decade, so just don’t get your hopes up too high and you should easily enjoy it.

Rating: ***


Tuesday, October 26, 2010


What a curious film this is. It’s ostensibly a vampire film, except that since most of the world’s population has already been transformed, it plays more like some government conspiracy thriller instead, complete with frequent car chases and gun battles (you know, all the things that a person goes to see a vampire movie for). We wind up with a bit of a confused genre-bending mess, though admittedly a very nice-looking one.

The film is set ten years from now, after a virus has transformed most of the human population into vampires, and the remaining humans have mostly been eaten, leading to severe blood rationing and a great amount of starvation among the vampire population. Enter Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke), a researcher who is trying to find a way to synthesize fake blood in a lab for his vampire brethren to drink so that the human race doesn’t go extinct, but faces strong opposition from more mainstream vampires, who feel that if it doesn’t come from a human, then it’s completely worthless. We also get Willem Dafoe, rocking a completely ridiculous attempt at a Southern accent (which fades in and out depending on how he‘s feeling at the moment), who has found a cure for the vampiric virus. But will he be allowed to enact it???

The main problem I have with this movie is pretty much the same one I had with writer-directors Michael and Peter Spierig’s previous film Undead, in that they don’t seem to know what kind of movie they want to make, so they just threw in everything they possibly could. Is it a vampire movie? Is it a thriller? Is it an action movie? The filmmakers don’t seem to know, and so they jump from genre to genre, not really committing to any of them enough for us to build up a real interest in the movie.

The film does have a strong visual sense (the one real strength of Undead), with some top-notch special effects, and unlike Undead, they have enough of a budget that they can afford quality actors. Granted, they then have the actors doing completely absurd things, like Dafoe half-assedly trying to convince us he’s from the South, but the effort was there. It’s a more polished effort all around, and shows the brothers are capable of making a major motion picture.

Of course, if they’re going to continue in Hollywood, they may want to consider hiring a script polisher to hone their next few projects. Right now the only thing keeping them from a major hit (this film made about $30 million in theaters, enough for a tiny profit) is how confused and formless their scripts are. If they can fix that, they’re really going to start going places.

Rating: **


Monday, October 25, 2010

The Crazies

Out of all the “major” horror movies I saw all year (which is just about all of them except Piranha and Saw 7), this was second only to Splice for my favorite. That’s not to mean that this was all that great -- indeed, it straddles the line of “pretty good” quite impressively -- so much as that, like most years in recent memory, all of the best horror movies either got limited theatrical releases, or went straight to DVD and Blu-Ray. Of course, it’s also reminiscent of a great deal of mainstream horror movies from the past decade, in that it’s a remake of an older, better horror movie.

The film follows Sheriff Dutten (Timothy Olyphant) and his wife (Radha Mitchell), a doctor in a small town in Iowa, who find that the citizens of their community are all beginning to turn insane. The sheriff and his deputy (Joe Anderson) soon discover that a military plane crashed into the river that gives the town its water supply, and since the people are going crazy in the order that the water supply reaches them, he immediately rushes to the mayor and demands the water be shut off everywhere (and in a nice moment, when the mayor decides to be a movie stereotype and refuses, claiming it would kill the town to do so with planting season starting up, Olyphant ignores him and shuts off the water anyway). Unfortunately, it’s a bit late, as most of the town is going crazy, and the military has shown up to arrest everyone and enact some confused efforts where they seem to alternate between separating everyone by infected or uninfected, tying people to beds and then abandoning them to being victims of the infected, and just nuking the site from orbit. It’s just a mad dash to the end for sheriff and company to escape the town without being killed by the crazies or the military.

First, let me mention where things went right for this movie. Director Breck Eisner (whose previous film Sahara I also thought was fun fluff) prudently decided that he probably couldn’t match George Romero’s original film when it came to the social commentary, so he stripped most of it out and just filled the film with a shit-ton (yes, this is an industry term) more action scenes, making the remake much faster-paced to boot. This actually seems to be a pattern with remakes of Romero films, as Zack Snyder’s remake of Dawn of the Dead did the same thing (though the less said about Tom Savini’s remake of Night of the Living Dead, the better). In keeping with the increased action, the blood is also ramped up a bit (though the original was plenty bloody as well), and the benefits of having an actual budget meant they could hire actual quality actors for once, which was always a bit of a rarity with Romero’s old films. Indeed, the whole effort is much more polished than the original.

So where does it go wrong? Well, in a way, it becomes a little bit too slick and polished for its own good. For whatever flaws the original had, the cheap roughness of it perfectly matched a story about people getting a virus that turns them into borderline zombies (not the undead kind, the 28 Days Later kind that I’m sure someone is going to tell me don’t count), whereas this remake is so busy showing off how many camera and editing tricks it can do that it frequently dulls the edge of the story. Another big flaw is the screenplay by Scott Kosar and Ray Wright -- while parts of the film work very well, there’s also quite a few plot holes, especially where the military is concerned. With all of the rapidly changing behavior on the part of the soldiers (Are they rounding everyone up? Are they killing everyone? Are they quarantining the town? What?) it seems less like the military is changing its plans to deal with new circumstances than it feels like the plans are being changed depending on what the story needs to be doing right that moment to be most menacing to our heroes. Quite frankly, it’s lazy writing. I won’t spoil what nonsense happens at the end (though the trailer has no such qualms), but I will say that if you loved the film version of The Sum of All Fears, then you may well enjoy the ending more than I did.

Of course, this really isn’t the kind of film that one goes to because they’re hoping it will be really smart and clever, is it? If all you’re looking for is a little of that nice ultraviolence, You won’t be disappointed here. It’s a perfectly agreeable way to sit around and watch people die in various set pieces (my favorites being at the morgue, where a bonesaw comes into play, and at a car wash, where we get one of the most wonderfully ridiculous zombie attacks in film, where we can’t actually see any of them because of all the soap and fabric strips moving over the car). It just unfortunately doesn’t seem to want to try to be anything more than that, when with just a couple more script revisions it could have really been something special.

Rating: ** ½


Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Wolfman

When this long-delayed film finally stumbled into theaters early this year, I had found it to be a really great-looking mess of a film, as would befit a movie that had gone through such a large number of writers and directors. The unrated DVD has a surprising extra sixteen minutes of the film, mostly in the form of additional plot, so I felt an urge to see the film with the extra material and see if it was any better.

In case you were wondering, no, it wasn’t. Almost all of the additions came at the beginning of the film, where a quick, inscrutable montage was expanded to where each of the quick clips was expanded into a full scene (the most notable of which was a scene of Benicio Del Toro sleepwalking his way through a stage portrayal of Hamlet). This has a troubling dual effect: it makes the confused, rushed early scenes of the film more comprehensible, at the price of slowing the movie down so much that it seems to outright crawl at the start. It’s a bit of a wash either way, though I suppose I’d give the slight edge to the theatrical version, just for getting the film over with sooner.

Anyway, for those of you that require a plot description, here goes: Del Toro plays Lawrence Talbot, a famous stage actor who is summoned back to his ancestral home after his brother disappears. He arrives only to find that his brother’s body has been found, torn apart as if some wild animal had savaged him. He soon discovers that the locals live in fear of the werewolf, which they feel is responsible for the recent attacks on people, and they feel his family is also at the root of the curse. He is, of course, promptly bitten in an attack, and his father (Anthony Hopkins) first frees him to attack some more locals trying to hunt the beast down, then helps the law arrest him, for what appears to be no reason other than so we can get scenes of him in a mental hospital, before breaking out and tearing people apart in London, which is admittedly a good reason indeed. This it’s off to the final showdown between father and son (I hope I’m not really spoiling anything by saying the father was the original werewolf, because it’s pretty obvious while watching long before that point).

The problems with the film are numerous. The story, as a result of having been written and re-written so many times, is a complete mess, with incredibly clunky dialogue, frequently nonexistent characterization, and a plot that tends to leap from action sequence to action sequence without any serious attempt at added coherency (the exception being the expanded beginning, which in contrast to the rest of the film just moves appallingly slowly). The acting is appalling: Del Toro, Hopkins, Hugo Weaving, and Emily Blunt are all talented actors, and they all give some of the worst performances of their careers here, alternating between hamming it up and standing there visibly weary at the thought of the mess they signed on for. Del Toro in particular spends the entire film just looking sad and broken, as though he can’t quite figure out how his childhood dream of playing the wolfman could have turned out so wrong. The bulk of these problems can be attributed to director Joe Johnston, who was hired specifically because of his reputation for finishing films quickly and cheaply, without worrying overly much about actual quality. Universal, after watching the film languish in development hell for three years, evidently felt that what was most important was getting any movie into theaters, not necessarily a good one.

Of course, there are a few good parts of the film, the main one being the frankly magnificent set design. The film looks incredible, like the old Universal gothic settings cranked up to 11 (the film looks incredible, that is, with the exception of the CG of the werewolves and fire, which looks like the effects department whipped up a quick first draft and Johnston just figured “Good enough, we need this in theaters next week“). The Talbot mansion is just massive and run down, lit only by candles strategically placed every twenty or so yards to ensure that every scene inside it is bathed in shadow. There is also the section when he is captured and sent to London, which is the single best portion of the film, as he transforms and rips apart a group of psychiatrists and colleagues who are convinced the problem is all in his head, before busting out and ripping through people in a steam-powered trolley. It’s one of the all-too-few entertaining action scenes in the film, but it’s a good one.

Unfortunately, that’s really not enough to give the film anything approaching a recommendation. It’s just sloppily made, visibly rushed, and leaves us with a film where everyone involved just looks like they’d rather be anywhere else. As a bad movie, there’s enough goofy material in it to make a viewing somewhat entertaining, but don’t be expecting anything more than that. According to IMDB, the film wound up costing an estimated 150 million dollars and made back about 62. Sometimes it pays to wait for quality.

Rating: * ½


Thursday, October 21, 2010

House of the Wolf Man

Before I get into my review proper, I just wanted to give a shout-out to the surprise influx of new readers brought here by Red Letter Media. I hope you’re all enjoying the site, and I trust at least some of you will become permanent readers here. Also, those of you who don’t stay are jerks and I didn’t want you around anyway, jerks.

But onto House of the Wolf Man. For those that are unfamiliar with the film, this is a new movie intended as a comedic tribute to the old Universal horror movies like House of Dracula and House of Frankenstein. Now, we’ve recently seen how that could be pulled off really well, with Larry Blamire’s The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra (and, I have to assume, The Lost Skeleton Returns Again). Unfortunately, writer-director Eben McGarr’s effort here is not done as well.

The film follows a gathering of relatives and other relations that are invited to the castle of Bela Reinhardt (Ron Chaney, grandson of the late Lon Chaney Jr., the original Wolf Man) in the hopes of determining which of them will be inheriting the castle from him. Of course, strange things are afoot in the castle, from an old gypsy woman that dispenses cryptic advice, to paintings that seem to stare a little too intently at passers-by, to ghoulish servants that seem to leer a little too knowingly at the guests. It all leads up to the following nightfall, when old Reinhardt’s dark secret will be revealed with the rise of the full moon.

There’s two main problems with the film, and both are connected to how McGarr seemed to be spending most of his efforts trying to capture the proper feel of the period rather than focusing on creating a quality film. The first of these problems is the acting, which tries to be intentionally stiff and hokey in an effort to mimic the old horror films, but winds up going so far that I was reminded more of particularly bad soap opera acting than anything from the time period its aiming for. I have to assume this was mainly because the low budget kept away any actors talented enough to pull such a thing off (and no, Chaney was no better -- he unfortunately does not have the acting chops of his grandfather or great grandfather), which is a shame, because it’s a distraction throughout the entire film.

The other main problem is the pacing. I’m all for a nice slow burn at times, but when the movie’s only 75 minutes long to begin with, you may want to actually throw the monsters in before the one hour mark. The name (as I mentioned above) is taken from House of Dracula and House of Frankenstein, which were both designed as a means of injecting some extra life into franchises that were winding down by throwing all of their major monsters into one movie, and that method is included here. Unfortunately, when the Wolf Man, Frankenstein’s Monster, and Dracula all make their first appearances with less than fifteen minutes to go, it’s impossible not to feel a little bit cheated.

The film isn’t terrible, of course, and it gets enough things right (mainly the visual look of everything, from the creepy look of the castle and its denizens to the movie being done full screen) that it’s thoroughly watchable right up to when the big end brawl starts and it goes from watchable to entertaining. It’s a film of largely wasted potential, yes, but at least I can honestly say I’ve seen worse films earlier this very week.

Rating: **


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Twice Dead

As a double feature (they’re both on the same DVD), Twice Dead works pretty well with The Evil. Not only do they both have plots about people moving into old houses that are being haunted (a demon in The Evil, as opposed to a more standard ghost here), but between the two of them they have about enough good parts to make one good movie. Unfortunately for people like myself that watch the two in the DVD’s suggested order, today’s movie is easily the weaker of the two, leaving this double feature to fizzle out pretty harshly.

The film opens in the past with legendary stage actor Tyler Walker (Jonathan Chapin), a very dapper-dressed man who barricades himself in his bedroom from the police, before killing his blatant mannequin girlfriend and hanging himself. We then cut ahead to the present day of the late 80s, where Scott (Tom Bresnahan) and his family are overjoyed to move into the old mansion, only to find that Walker’s ghost does not exactly appreciate them being there. Also unappreciative is the local gang of high school bullies, who look and act as though they’ve just wandered out of an astonishingly 80s post-apocalyptic film, beginning with their leader sitting in a chair that everyone treats as if it were a throne, and ending with the gang deciding it has no alternative but to invade Scott’s home and try to kill him for his imagined slights against them.

Not only is this movie mostly really boring, with long, loooong stretches where seemingly nothing happens, when something does happen it’s pretty goddamn stupid. The villainous gang is so over the top that they stop being fun and start being irritating, and the ghost seems to keep switching whether he wants to kill Scott and his family, or protect them from the gang. The kills are alright, though not exactly memorable, with the most standout moments being due to hilarious incompetence in filmmaking. Perfect example: at one point a girl is in her room alone, and the camera freezes on the light switch, frantic music suddenly starts playing, and…..THE LIGHT SHUTS ITSELF OFF!!!!! NOOOOOOO!!!!!

This movie really is the pits. If you bought this DVD set, and feel you need to watch both movies to justify your purchase like I did, then I would recommend that as a favor to yourself, you watch the movie on fast forward, only watching it at normal speed when you see something potentially interesting, which shouldn’t be too frequent. You’ll have a much more pleasant time than I did.

Rating: *


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Evil

Haunted house stories are rather notorious for being nearly impossible to film properly*. So much of what makes a haunted house story so creepy is going on in the minds and psyches of the people residing within, that there’s really only two options for filmmakers. Either they can do their best to maintain a slow pace and try to focus more on quiet dread than the actual scares the horror genre is more known for, which usually gives us pretty lame films like Burnt Offerings or The Amityville Horror, or they can just go all out on crazy spectacle, completely doing away with the main point of a haunted house story. This second path, while frequently giving us such lousy movies as the remake of The Haunting or The Amityville Horror 2, tends to be the more successful in film simply because it’s a lot easier to manage. Director Gus Trikonis, whose greatest claim to fame outside of this movie has been to direct twenty-some episodes of Baywatch, thankfully was aware enough of his limits as a filmmaker to choose the latter path.

I realize that just came off, if in an overly backhanded way, as an endorsement of the film, and I don’t wish to give that impression. Let me be clear by saying that this is a bad movie, it merely happens to be a frequently entertaining bad movie, which makes me feel a bit better about having purchased it. For what it’s worth, it gets better the longer it continues, so while the first half tends to err on the side of tedium, once the demon (Satan?) gets unleashed it manages to get fun pretty quick.

The film stars Richard Crenna as a psychologist who buys an old mansion in the hopes of converting it into a drug rehab clinic, and ropes some of his students and patients into helping him clean it up. Unfortunately, during the cleanup, he finds a secret door in the basement with a white cross on it, makes the mistake of removing the cross, and chaos ensues. There’s a massive earthquake that shakes the whole house, and now nobody is able to leave (all the doors and windows are shut tight, and whenever the characters try to break a window with something heavy the object goes flying away like it hit an invisible barrier). After that, it’s just a matter of them being picked off one by one in a variety of ways until enough time has passed for the movie to end.

Like I said, it’s a very over the top movie, and that generally works in its favor, as the movie is just beyond boring when it slows down for the characters to talk to each other (the big exception being shortly after the earthquake, when one character has been electrocuted in a rather implausible manner and nobody is able to leave, and they theorize that it must be static electricity caused by the lightning storm). Electrocutions, people catching on fire while climbing down ropes, and invisible sexual assault (this predated The Entity by three years, making it possibly the first movie where a woman had her clothes torn off by an invisible assailant), all do their part to keep the latter half plugging along as a delightfully semi-coherent mess, and the climax where the demon (Emory Souza) shows up provides a nice capper to the events.

I will say, in The Evil’s defense, that while it’s a bad film, there really aren’t many haunted hosue movies I can name that I actually like more. It’s a genre where actual quality releases are few and far between, so fans are largely going to have to take what they can get.

Rating: **

* Well, I assume they’re notorious for it at least, having never actually bothered to check anyone else’s opinions on the subject.


Monday, October 18, 2010

Feeding Frenzy

This is exactly what a low budget horror movie should be like. It’s the newest film by the guys at Red Letter Media, who have risen to some measure of internet fame from their video series critiquing the Star Wars prequels. With Feeding Frenzy, they have shown that, given a budget less than 1% of the first half of Phantom Menace, they can make a much better movie.

The film, which cheerfully advertises itself as an homage to “Critters, Ghoulies, and all the other films that ripped off Gremlins,” features the villainous Mr. Plinkett (Rich Evans) of the Star Wars reviews as the owner of a hardware store that also has a side gig killing hookers. His employees have begun to suspect something is the matter, particularly after he destroys the security tape from Monday night. Refusing to bow down to any of their demands for answers, he instead unleashes an army of little rubber monsters he’d been keeping locked up in the store’s basement. The monsters, well-trained little scamps that they are, immediately begin hunting down all the store’s customers and eating them, which any retail employee can agree is only a good thing.

The main thing one notices about the movie is that it’s so damn funny. Much like Gremlins 2, it focuses on the comedy first and the blood second (though frequently both at once), which anyone who’s seen their videos on Youtube can agree was a good choice. I would compare the film to the works of Broken Lizard, except this is a great deal more successful than their horror comedy Club Dread. It’s the sort of film where girls find they are in serious need of some caulk, where hardware employees need to wear Hazmat gear when cleaning “tomato sauce” off of the floor, because it’s probably contaminated with AIDS, and where a middle aged Russian woman goes off to fist herself in celebration at her husband being eaten.

The movie moves along at a pretty fast clip, too. It makes the mistake of letting its only weak scene open the film (when Plinkett has his fun with a prostitute, who lets him know she charges extra for the handicapped), but once the rest of the cast arrives it doesn’t stop zipping along until the end credits. Which is not to say that everything’s rushed, mind you; there are, after all, a few scenes where characters just stare at each other in uncomfortable silence just to sell a joke. There’s simply no part in which the film stops being interesting, which is generally something of a rarity for a zero-budget horror movie (So Mort It Be is the only thing close out of the thirty-some movies I’ve so far seen in the Tomb of Terrors collection, and even it drags a bit at times), even one that’s mainly a comedy.

This holiday season, horror fans should be happy to find a movie this entertaining showing up. The past month has seen several quality horror titles getting DVD releases, and while the bigger theatrical releases like The Wolfman, The Crazies, and A Nightmare on Elm Street may not have been all that good, at least the less famous titles this year seem to have largely kicked ass. I can’t recommend strongly enough that you order yourself a copy of this.

Rating: *** ½

P.S. While Amazon does not have the film available for purchase, you can order yourself a copy here.


Sunday, October 17, 2010


One of the side benefits of this blog is that I have a means of somewhat justifying the absurd amount of money I spend each year on horror movies. It’s a justification that’s worked out well for me over the years, in my ongoing efforts to slowly acquire every horror movie of note, such as this little 80s gem, which is mainly famous for being Robert “Freddy Krueger” Englund’s directorial debut.

The film stars Stephen Geoffreys as a teenage loser who gets bullied by just about everyone, from the school’s criminal element, to girls, to his domineering religious fanatic mother. All of this begins to change, however, when he discovers an ad for 976-EVIL, a phone hotline where he can hear his horrorscope, which gives him advice on how to change his life for the more evil, as well as granting him unholy powers to deal with all of the enemies in his life.

Englund’s first outing as a director is pretty uneven, it must be said, with more than its fair share of dull moments. Really, virtually all of the scenes without anything horror-oriented tend to fall flat, so it’s rather obviously where his head was at while making the movie. He does make up for that with the actual horror scenes, which he does a much better job with, and he has the wisdom to make sure that all the dull scenes are in the middle of the film, making sure the opening and climax are just awesome.

Seriously, the film opens with a guy answering a public phone at night, and being promptly electrocuted and set on fire before being sent flying as the entire damn phone booth explodes (you can see part of this in the trailer below). It’s masterful in its ridiculousness, and even it is blown away by the climax, when Geoffreys is in full demonic possession mode, making snow and flames appear everywhere, slashing people’s faces off with his clawed demon hand, and just hamming it up as much as someone should when possessed by a demon. There’s also a great scene about halfway through where he gets his revenge on a girl by utilizing her fear of spiders to cast a spell that summons an army of tarantulas to her house to kill her. It’s a bit of a dick move, but I always appreciate the extra effort involved in crafting suitable ironic deaths, rather than the more standard knife or axe kill.

If someone were to ask me what the best horror movies of the 1980s were, this would not even make my list (unless it was like a Top 200 or something, in which case expect a whole lot of filler). However, overall it’s a pretty enjoyable film, one that was popular enough to warrant a sequel in the early 90s. It’s hardly anything you need to go out of your way to seek, but if it happens to be on TV, I can think of a great many worse movies you could be watching instead, several of which you probably already have.

Rating: ***


Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Human Centipede (First Sequence)

Well, it seems that my shift away from New Jersey-based horror to Germany-based was a resounding success, as it let me finally see what has got to be the single most original horror movie to come out in my lifetime. In a time filled with lame remake after lame remake, it may not be the movie we want, but it is absolutely the movie we need.

The film begins with Lindsay and Jenny (Ashley C. Williams and Ashlynn Yennie), two American girls on vacation in Germany, as they go driving one night, get lost, and then get a flat tire. Going for help, they stumble across a mansion in the woods that belongs to Dr. Heiter (Dieter Laser), a surgeon that’s just a little bit tightly wound, and who winds up drugging the two of them and tying them up in his basement laboratory. His goal, as anyone who has heard of the film already knows, is to create the ultimate life form: a human centipede made of several people surgically connected mouth to anus. He already had a Japanese man that he had kidnapped, and is overjoyed to discover that the two girls are a match with him.

The film is fairly slow-paced, though it does manage to throw in a few surprises, as when one of the girls tries to make a break for it pre-op. With such a small cast, all the characters are allowed to be fairly intelligent, and her attempted escape from the mad doctor was rather refreshing in how both characters tried to outsmart each other instead of, just as an example, having her run as fast as she could in a straight line through the woods only to have the doctor magically standing by the street when she emerges. A smart character is always more interesting than a dumb one.

That was a nice surprise, but what was a nice non-surprise was in how they actually pull the trigger and have him complete the surgery, and one that will hopefully lead to many more films based around anus-to-mouth human centipedes (a sequel is already being worked on, so there‘s at least one). It’s infrequent at best for a horror movie to even come up with such an insane idea, let alone have the nerve to go through with such a thing. Maybe Takashi Miike could have come up with something like this, but I can think of few others. Writer-director Tom Six should be commended for his dedication to such an utterly horrible idea.

The climax, while ending a teeny bit on the cliché side for me, is mostly pretty great as well. The doctor has to deal with the dual threat of two detectives that suspect him of making off with the girls and the trouble of a rebellious human centipede. This leads to one of the best and funniest scenes in the movie, which I believe is the slowest, most agonizing chase scene that has ever been filmed. It unfortunately devolves into a gunfight afterwards, but it’s still awesome right up until it falls apart.

This is honestly one of the oddest reviews I’ve ever had to write, as I’m fairly certain that everyone that hears the premise already knows whether or not they will see this, and any real argument I try to make for or against will be going unheeded. I will say that this wound up being quite a fun movie, and definitely one of the best we got this year (as evidenced by how it was released on a massive 19 theater screens here), and I’m trusting all of you to hunt it down. Don’t fail me on this.

Rating: *** ½


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

13th Child

I really have no one but myself to blame for this one. I knew going in that this was going to be fairly dreadful, but I simply felt that Jersey pride necessitated that my horror collection include what is, to my knowledge, the only film yet made about the Jersey Devil. Between this and The Undertaker, it has clearly not been a very good week for me to watch horror movies set in my home state. Perhaps tomorrow it will go a bit better for me if I watch a horror movie set in, say, Germany.

Anyway, the film is set in southern New Jersey, and follows an assistant D.A. (Lesley-Anne Down) as she investigates a series of murders in the area that have been attributed to a seven foot tall monster that’s been seen in the Pine Barrens since the 1700s. Just from that sentence alone, an observant reader well versed in low budget horror may already have figured out the main problem with this movie. No, it’s not that Down is a fairly dull actress mainly known for her soap opera work. It’s that we have a horror movie that has made the cost-cutting decision to not show the monster until we’re about ninety minutes into the film, instead giving us a police investigation for the rest of the film, ensuring that the pacing is as plodding as possible.

It’s entirely possible that directors Thomas Ashley and Steven Stockage simply didn’t have enough confidence in their monster costume (it looks sort of like a blend between a minotaur, a skeleton, and cheap CG), and so they decided to hide it as much as possible, but that explanation doesn’t really wash with me. I would personally much rather have a cheesy looking monster that frequently shows up than a cheesy looking monster that we almost don’t get to see at all. To do otherwise is to simply deny the film’s very essence, and when one does that, all we wind up with is boredom and tedium. You know, like we do here.

The film’s structure is pretty critically flawed beyond that, as it’s set on Halloween night with an old black man locked up in an insane asylum screaming to himself about the Devil and how it was already too late for his friends, and then we flash back to his doomed friends like the assistant D.A., though repeatedly cutting back to the asylum because we clearly haven’t suffered enough yet for our past misdeeds. There’s also quite a bit of ridiculous backstory, bringing together everything from Lenni Lenape Indians to CG tarantulas that bleed from their feet to mad statements like how Einstein apparently once said “music was the 4th dimension of science!” If this doesn’t sound incredibly exciting to you, then that’s probably because it sounds exactly like what it is: an effort to try to throw additional plot points at us not because they work organically within the story, but because it was decided that the film needed to be at least ninety minutes long.

This is another movie that simply didn’t have enough worthwhile material to justify being feature length. Perhaps with some retooling (and a time machine) it would have been a good episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark? (though probably without the brief nudity and blood), but as a full length movie this is just intolerable. My state clearly needs better representation in the horror community.

Rating: *


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Undertaker

I’m going to miss Code Red when they close up shop next year. There aren’t exactly a lot of DVD companies out there that specialize in restoring rare horror movies, and while the overall quality of the movies they choose is somewhat hit or miss, without them it’s extremely unlikely that we would ever have gotten a release of this delightfully goofy mess.

The Undertaker is mostly known (by those rather few people that know it at all) as Joe Spinell’s (Maniac, The Last Horror Film) final movie. Indeed, a great deal of its overall weirdness comes from how the film was never truly finished due to Spinell’s death during filming, leading to a great many awkward stand-ins, new characters seemingly thrown in just to add padding and confusion, several musical montages (often to gym workouts), frequent clips of the old Bela Lugosi film The Corpse Vanishes, and quite a few breast shots, all in a thoroughly failing effort to distract us from how infrequently the film’s star actually appears.

The film doesn’t really have much of a plot, really, and what plot there is frequently doesn’t make much sense. Essentially Spinell is the undertaker (Hey! Like the title!) of a small town in New Jersey that also happens to be a necrophiliac. Upset by the lack of deaths recently (in a fairly inspired monologue where he bemoans Surgeon General warnings and drunk driving laws), he decides he’s going to have to drum up some business himself. For reasons beyond me*, he decides to make the local movie theater’s extended run of an obscure horror movie from 1942 his place to locate victims, picking out a new one each night for his dark lusts. Also, his nephew, the nephew’s teacher, the police, and a swarm of others are all trying to figure out who’s behind these disappearances, and despite the police knowing all the victims had gone to see the movie, and the one theater worker directly stating Spinell’s been there five or six times, and he’s probably the one behind all the disappearances, nobody can figure out what’s going on.

Now, while it’s always fun to see Spinell in a movie, and the film does earn some points for sheer nerve and absurdity, there are quite a few problems with the movie, and not all due to Spinell dying. Director Franco Steffanino (whose IMDB page lists this as his only credit) does a fairly terrible job, particularly with the editing. In the proud tradition of Ed Wood, several shots that have Spinell looking creepy and don’t have any dialogue are reused throughout the film, just to try to keep him onscreen as much as possible. There’s also a major issue with the cuts in the film, particularly in scenes where two characters are talking, as he employs the standard method of putting a camera on each actor and cutting between them while talking, but he starts each cut at the precise moment each character starts talking. The end result of this is that it makes each character look like a total prima donna, trying to talk over everyone else because they’re so much more important.

This really isn’t much of a film so much as it is a curiosity. Spinell is visibly in bad shape in the scenes he’s in, slurring half of his lines like he had had a recent stroke or something, and the efforts at padding are more shameless than nearly anything I’ve ever seen. Watching it, one can kind of see a decent movie buried in there, but there clearly was not enough worthwhile material to justify a full 90 minutes. Had Steffanino bit the bullet and trimmed the movie down to an hour, I think it would have been a much better movie.

Rating: * ½

* Okay, it’s not really beyond me. Obviously The Corpse Vanishes was chosen because it’s public domain so the filmmakers wouldn’t have to pay for it, and I’m pretty much 100% certain that all the footage of Spinell at the theater was intended for just the first kill, and they decided to stretch it all out when he died, figuring nobody would care.

Also, for those of you at work, watch out for the nudity in the trailer.


Monday, October 11, 2010


Between Frozen and Splice, it’s beginning to look to me as though 2010 has actually been a good year so far for horror movies, merely with the caveat that all the ones worth seeing were the ones nobody actually saw (for those keeping track, the three highest grossing horror movies of the year so far -- not counting Twilight: Eclipse, which you shouldn’t -- have been the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street, the remake of The Wolf Man, and the fifth Resident Evil movie, and no doubt at least one of these will soon be outdone by Saw 7). In fairness, though, in Splice’s case, a large part of the problem came from its story, which -- in order to maintain the film’s surprises -- meant that the trailer only showed footage from the first half hour of the film, leaving potential audiences to assume the film was some lame Species ripoff.

It is a shame too, as aside from some surface similarities -- the film’s plot involves Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley as scientists that specialize in splicing the DNA of various animals, and decide one day to flout anti-cloning laws and make a human hybrid that rapidly develops into a seemingly intelligent adult (played by Delphine Chaneac as an adult, and CG as a creepy baby and toddler). It’s at this point that the movie begins to move in some unexpected directions, and it’s really not fair of me to spoil them, so I’ll have to move on to somewhat vaguer comments.

First, there is the subplot of the two spliced together creatures the couple make before creating Dren, their semi-human test tube baby. Named Fred and Ginger after…well, you should know who, the demonstration showing them to the scientific community goes awry in a brilliantly Gallagher-ish way. It’s a bit out of place with the rest of the film, but it was such a funny scene that I simply don’t care. Also, while the acting is surprisingly good all around (yes, that is always a nice surprise in a horror movie), special mention has to be made of Adrien Brody, who is just an unrepentant creep throughout the whole film. He’s smug, judgmental, quick to anger, and about as quick to make bad decisions as the average cast member of the Jersey Shore. He’s the kind of wonderfully awful character that really should be popping up in every film.

The film isn’t without its flaws, however, and like a great many movies its main weakness is at the climax, where it feels the need to devolve into a standard monster movie instead of the intelligent moral quandary we’ve been enjoying up to that point. Sure, for what it is, it’s well done, but I’m kind of tired of movies continually luring me in with an interesting and unique first and second act, and then turning into a hundred movies I’ve already seen before when it comes time to try to wrap everything up. Not only is it completely unnecessary, it’s also rather insulting to assume that nobody in the audience will be satisfied unless the film completely shifts gears and becomes a different, less imaginative movie for us.

Still, while that is aggravating, the bulk of the movie is really good, and well worth watching. It’s certainly a great deal better than most of the theatrically-released efforts this year, and while that may be somewhat faint praise, it should really take what it can get. In this troubled economy, movies shouldn’t really be so damned picky.

Rating: ***


Sunday, October 10, 2010


After the string of terrible horror movies I’ve been reviewing all month, I felt I needed a bit of a palette cleanser, so to speak, by choosing one that I actually had a lot of confidence in. I therefore decided on writer-director Adam Green’s first of two movies he released this year (the second being Hatchet 2, which I unfortunately didn’t manage to see in theaters the day it was around), which turned out quite well for me, as it’s easily the best horror movie of the year (possible contenders I haven‘t seen yet notwithstanding).

The film follows a trio of friends (Kevin Zegers, Emma Bell, and Shawn Ashmore) going on a skiing trip, convince the guy running the ski lift to let them on one last time when the resort’s trying to close up, and wind up being stuck on the lift in mid-air as the resort closes down and everyone else leaves until the next weekend. The rest of the movie is just the three of them stuck there, with a storm coming, frostbite setting in, and wolves prowling below, trying to figure out a way to free themselves.

So yes, for the most part it’s one of those “one location” horror movies, much like the film Buried currently in theaters, which, depending on the skill of everyone involved, can either make for an incredibly tense film, or an unbearably dull one. Fortunately, everyone really brings their A game to this, giving us what is arguably Adam Green’s best film to date (again, with the caveat that I have not yet seen Hatchet 2), and all with surprisingly little blood for an R rated movie.

The main trio of actors do their jobs well, really nailing the emotional portions of the film. The highlight for me was when they began discussing the things they had left at home, and Parker (Bell) starts crying because she had left her new puppy at home, and without anyone to care for it it was just going to starve thinking she had abandoned it. I know I certainly would be pretty upset about leaving any pets behind when I die, that’s why I plan on killing them first.

Some will no doubt compare this with the film Open Water, which is probably the most famous recent example of a “one location” horror. In that one, of course, a couple that went scuba diving gets left behind by their cruise ship, and they spend the next 70 minutes floating there and bitching at each other until they die. Here the characters behave a bit more intelligently, terrified yet willing to try to do whatever they can to avert their fate, whether it be attempting to jump down to the ground below or attempting to shimmy across the wire holding the lifts up to get to an emergency ladder. That these efforts frequently turn to disaster is beside the point; what we have is a bit of a rarity in a horror movie -- characters that, when faced with a terrible situation, actually behave intelligently in trying to save themselves. This is a far cry from, say, the characters in Skeeter, whose primary means of defending themselves tend to be getting locked in cars and screaming a lot.

I really can’t say enough good things about this film. It’s the sort of movie even non-horror fans can get into (though die-hard wolf apologists may take issue). It’s exciting, clever, oozing with tension, and just straight up looks beautiful. You all owe it to yourselves to check this one out.

Rating: ****


Thursday, October 7, 2010

Day of the Animals

Since Skeeter was so damned unsatisfying, I felt I owed it to myself to close out the week with a different, better animals attack film, and made the questionable choice of choosing this film by director William Girdler, whose filmography is, shall we say, a tad sketchy. While I will fight anyone who tries to claim The Manitou is anything but incredible, the other three films of his that I had seen, Three on a Meathook, Asylum of Satan, and Grizzly, were all dreadfully bad. Still, hope springs eternal.

Honestly, while it’s no great shakes, it’s really not half bad. We get an opening text crawl about flourocarbons being released into the atmosphere by aerosol sprays and how they’re destroying the ozone layer, and how we don’t know what effect the increasing amount of solar radiation will have on our world. This is one possible outcome! Of course, with our modern science, we know that holes in the ozone layer means an increased risk of cancer, but I suppose it’s totally plausible that back in the 70s people honestly believed losing the ozone might mean animals all turn vicious and team up to attack humans. After all, virtually everything we did to the environment in the 70s, from pesticides to toxic dumping to poisoning frogs, led people to assume that the end result would be an animal uprising against man, so why wouldn’t aerosol cans do the same?

Anyway, the bulk of our film follows a group of people going on a nature hike up a mountain, and are subsequently attacked by numerous animals, while we get frequent cuts back to a neighboring town, where we learn that solar radiation is at dangerous levels and everyone needs to be evacuated to below five thousand feet, because we’re now suddenly under martial law. You see, people? Everyone calls the Tea Partiers a bunch of crazy people, and yet the government could do something like declare martial law just like that! Anyway, the hikers get the warning to evacuate downhill, but after several more attacks, they come to the point in all of these films where man is revealed to be the real villain, as an egotistical advertising executive (played with gusto by Leslie Neilsen, five years before becoming a legend as Lt. Frank Drebin) decides they’ll be more easily spotted if they instead head for the peak and try to flag down a helicopter, taking along half of the hikers, who he later tries to rape and/or kill. Because hey, why not?

This film is admittedly a pretty flawed one. While the animal attacks come pretty frequently, the film is normally pretty tedious when it’s just the humans on screen, with Neilsen being the only actor in the entire film that makes you care about him one way or the other. The ending is pretty lame too, just king of sitting there with no proper climax (though I guess there really couldn’t be an appropriate one with a movie like this). However, unlike Skeeter, we actually get animal attacks that don’t just look like immovable rubber Halloween bugs flying around on strings: the people here get it from wolves, dogs, rattlesnakes (who have the foresight to stake out an abandoned car so they can kill whoever tries to use it), a mountain lion, and eagles (who kill a woman in the funniest horrible special effect I have seen in a long time). It’s not something I can give an unreserved recommendation to, but I am hardly the only person who enjoys movies like this, so you should hopefully already know by now whether or not this material speaks to you.

Rating: **


Wednesday, October 6, 2010


To give us a brief break from bad Michael Hoffman Jr. movies, today I decided to mix it up with a bad Clark Brandon movie. Really, I feel it’s the least I can do for all of you, when you’ve been waiting ever so patiently for another review of a movie with giant mutated animals and a preachy environmentalist message. It’s been over a month since Kingdom of the Spiders, after all.

Of course, the main difference between the two films is that Kingdom of the Spiders was actually a good movie, while this one is utter dogshit. Outside of that, both films are set in small towns in the American Southwest, both have preachy environmentalist messages (though in different veins -- Spiders was about how our overuse of pesticides had left spiders with no food source other than people, while this was a more standard one about greedy developers poisoning the water supply), both have giant bugs killing people, and both have the bugs start in on all the livestock before any people get offed. One might almost suspect that this was intended as a lazy ripoff under the assumption that since so much time had passed since the earlier film nobody would notice any such similarities.

And lazy is the perfect word for this film. There is such little effort put into the movie that one might almost think it was an early effort of 90s hipster irony, where the filmmakers were being intentionally lazy for an effect, but the only seeming effect on display here is that nobody wanted to work too hard. The plot is thoroughly by-the-numbers and repetitive (there are no less than three mosquito attacks that involve a character being inside a car while another character is killed outside), the acting is uniformly terrible (with the exception of Charles Napier, who plays the snarling bribe-taking sheriff as overtly hostile I have to assume he was channeling his own anger at having agreed to be in this), and the titular mosquitoes are an abomination. I am quite familiar with rubber monsters having limited mobility, but these (aside from being flown around on strings) have none at all for the most part, smacking into people, cars, and otherwise while looking as though they may as well have been wood carvings. There’s even a sex scene between the two leads that’s just as passionate and lifeless as any I’ve ever seen -- when your actors can’t even muster up the energy to pretend they want to sleep with each other, there is something critically wrong.

There’s also a gunfight near the end that’s mostly pretty terrible, like a particularly bad episode of Walker Texas Ranger, but I can’t completely hate it when it ended with a guy getting shot and doing a back flip through a corral fence. Was it bad? Certainly. Was it awesomely bad? Absolutely.

I do have to say, though, when something like that is one of the best parts of a movie, you get to wondering what direction your life has taken. Sadly, I was unable to find the film’s trailer despite checking a whole three pages on Youtube, but I did find the first mosquito attack, so you can all watch that and share a tiny fraction of my pain.

Rating: ½ *


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

ROT: Reunion of Terror

So those who read yesterday’s entry may recall me complaining that I blind bought this, not realizing that it’s by the same director that did such a terrible job on Spring Break Massacre. Despite that, I was quietly hopeful that he would do a better job with this film, released the same year, because after all, maybe he just put all his effort for the year into one, leaving him with no energy left for the other (yes, this had to be the better one, even with such a retarded name). It could happen, right?

Well, apparently my ridiculous theory is true, because it is a good deal better than its sister title. It’s still a good deal away from good, however, and I may be a little too generous here with the star rating, but it’s such a noticeable improvement over Spring Break Massacre that I felt it had earned it. I’m still not getting another movie by Michael Hoffman Jr. if I can help it, but he at least show he can make something that’s not outright aggravatingly bad. Or at least not completely aggravating.

The film starts extremely promisingly, with two topless lesbians fooling around in a tent in the woods for several minutes before they decide to leave the tent and are summarily killed. We then move on to a group of friends going off to a mini-high school reunion at a cabin in those same woods, who are retarded and unpleasant to listen to, and who all soon get stalked by a dangerous killer, though not before first encountering a slutty hitchhiker (who helpfully jerks off one of the guys for a ride) and an absurd game warden who talks like the writers (Bill Cassinelli, Hoffman, Meghan Jones, and Justin Powell) had just gotten done watching Reefer Madness before setting down to write this.

There’s several problems with the film, of course, and they’re mostly the same problems Spring Break Massacre had. There’s far too many flashbacks (sorry, but a film that’s less than 80 minutes long should never have a flashback to something from earlier in the film) and shaky cam, and while the lesbian scene was appreciated, the three main girls never get naked, aside from one quick nip slip (yes, breasts are an important part of my life), leaving it with even less nudity than Spring Break Massacre. Also, for those wondering who the killer could possibly be, here’s a little guide: the killer is not the person who disappears and everyone freaks out over the killer is the person who disappears for no reason and nobody notices at all. You’re welcome.

That said though, there are some improvements. The violence is a good deal better, and the killer has a more interesting (if completely ridiculous) motivation. Also, with the benefit of a woods setting instead of just a house, we get some more interesting stalk and chase scenes that, while hardly anything that would get Hoffman invited to make a new Friday the 13th movie, show at least some basic competence. The picture is also sharper, eschewing the fuzzy digital video that Spring Break Massacre had that kind of drove me nuts. I always like to think it’s important to actually be able to see the movie I’m trying to see, and any efforts to make that happen better are always appreciated by me.

It is, of course, still far from a good movie, but hey, if Hoffman can keep improving at this rate, then he may just make a damn good one sometime soon. Of course, IMDB is saying this was made first, so it’s actually possible he’s just on a steady downward slope. Hopefully the downward slope will also be inversely proportionate to the amount of nudity in his films. We can only hope, right?

Rating: **


Monday, October 4, 2010

Spring Break Massacre

I have to say, I feel like this movie let me down personally. Sure, I’m hardly the only person that loves the old Slumber Party Massacre and Sorority House Massacre films, and so feels the need to buy any new movie that makes an effort to copy those old classics, but quite frankly those other people aren’t me and I for one feel they suffer for it. That’s why I take it surprisingly personally when someone (in this case, Michael Hoffman Jr., who directed and co-wrote) comes along claiming to give us a similar film and then gives us this garbage instead.

The film starts in scratched-up flashback as two guys bust in on a girl who’s having a party with her female friends later, and when she tries to force them to leave, on of the guys kills her and leaves her to be found by the pizza delivery man, who is promptly arrested and sentenced to fifteen years for her murder. We then cut ahead ten years to the present day, where a college-or-something age girl and her girlfriends go to stay at her dad’s summer cabin, just in time for the news to come out that the pizza boy has just broken out of prison. Now someone is stalking the girls and killing them and their boyfriends, but is it the pizza boy, or someone else?

It’s theoretically a serviceable enough plot for a film like this, though any such movie requires three things to overcome such a weak story: it needs a good amount of violence, a good amount of humor, and quite a lot of nudity. This movie fails on all three counts. The majority of the kills occur off-camera, and while the bodies are always shown afterwards Friday the 13th-style, the blood is all pretty bland and uninspired (though to be fair it’s not as bloodless as a few of the MPAA-butchered late 80s slashers were). The humor is also pretty lame, with only two real points of humor for the entire film: a not-very-discreet lesbian girl whose solution to every situation is to try to convince all the girls to shower together (sadly, lesbian girl is the very first girl killed, and before she ever has a chance to molest any of the other girls, which is a terrible mistake), and a creepy neighbor who is trying so very hard to imitate the success of Sorority House Massacre 2’s Orville Ketchum, but completely lacks the charisma and good writing.

Then there’s the nudity. I hope I’m not painting myself as a creep when I reveal that naked girls are the primary reason to watch any of these films, but come on. When the cover of the DVD is just girls in lingerie being menaced by a guy with a knife, you should have some idea of what you’re getting into here. With that in mind, the nudity in this film is pretty damned sparse, I must say. While most of them do show their tits in the film, it’s a pretty brief effort, and the poor Digital Video leaves what we do get a bit blurry. Yes, like the joke Woody Allen tells at the start of Annie Hall, the food here is terrible, and the portions are too small! No, we get two brief nude scenes, and if we want more we can damn well go somewhere else, by gum! It leaves one wondering what the whole point of the film was.

Hoffman does his best to try to lure in the cult horror fans too, even beyond just trying to evoke the image of the old Massacre movies. He brings in two horror veterans, Reggie Bannister (from the Phantasm series) and Linnea Quigley (from Return of the Living Dead, Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama, and a whole bunch of others) to try to get some known names on the box, but he doesn’t really give them much to do. Bannister plays the town sheriff, who we keep cutting to in order to try to pad the film’s length out a bit more (at 74 minutes, it still felt a bit long), and Quigley, as one of his deputies, gets even less screen time, being killed off-camera pretty early on.

This is a film that should have been an amazing movie, and instead is a dull, lifeless mess. I hope Hoffman’s film Reunion of Terror is somewhat better than this, as I unwittingly bought both not realizing they were by the same guy. I suppose that can be a review for another day, however.

Rating: *


Sunday, October 3, 2010

Matango: Attack of the Mushroom People

I’m not sure what I was really expecting when I bought this, aside from a goofy horror movie that would ideally have guys in rubber suits attacking each other Godzilla style. I don’t know that this was really a lot to ask of the film, given that it’s a 1960s Toho film with monsters portrayed by guys in rubber suits. Unfortunately, director Ishiro Honda (who, it should be noted directed several Godzilla films, including the original) felt somewhat differently, deciding instead to give us a monster movie where the monsters don’t show up until the end of the film.

The film is told in a flashback, as our main character is locked up in a psychiatric institution (cheerfully called a psychopathic institution by the subtitles, which I quickly switched off because they were actually worse than the dubbing) after being the sole survivor of a yacht voyage. We cut to the yachters in happier times, sailing along the sea and singing terrible songs, before a terrible storm shows up and destroys their ship. They eventually manage to land on a mysterious island with several other abandoned ships, where they find some delicious mushrooms and, when exploring another ship, a log warning not to eat the mushrooms. Of course, with food dwindling rapidly, one by one they start eating the mushrooms, and find themselves transforming into the giant mushroom people of the title, leaving only our main character to try to fight his way to safety (which, not to spoil it, but he obviously does, since he’s now in a psychopathic psychiatric institute).

If I had to come up with one main problem for the film, it’s that it’s incredibly dull. For whatever reason, Honda decided not to actually show anyone transforming into a mushroom until 75 minutes into a 90 minute film, and even then they don’t really attack anyone like the title implies, they just wave their arms around and occasionally hug the main character without actually hurting him at all. The movie does try to add some drama prior to this, with a brief gunfight, but it doesn’t really help.

It’s not even one of those so-bad-it’s-good efforts, either. That generally occurs due either to supreme incompetence, which doesn’t happen here, or because the director was trying to make an actual masterpiece and just completely failed, which (obviously) didn’t happen. Sadly, the film is competently made, or at least as competently as any Godzilla film from the time; instead it seems as though Honda simply didn’t have any passion for the material at all, and so made a fully workmanlike effort that achieved basic competence but didn’t try for anything beyond that.

It’s really the type of movie that I’d love to see remade, as it’s a nice amusing premise that simply executed really poorly. It’d be great to see something like this, except that the mushroom people start attacking right at the end of the first act, and y’know, actually attack people instead of just waving their arms around. That would be pretty nice.


Friday, October 1, 2010

Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus

My friend Rich sort of suggested this movie to me, presumably on the basis that my life has been going too cheerfully up to this point. I have to say though, that while this epic Sy-Fy Original match up between two ridiculously big prehistoric monsters is pretty damn far from what anyone would identify as good, it still managed to be the best horror movie of the three that I watched last night. I’m not certain what that says about me, but it can’t possibly be anything good.

The film starts, as you’ll agree such a film must, off the coast of Alaska, where Scientist Debbie Gibson (continuing a long proud line of such scientists as Scientist Tara Reid in Alone in the Dark and Scientist Penelope Cruz in Sahara) is in her little underwater craft that she’ll be riding in the whole movie testing out her new sonar equipment. The test goes awry, however, when half of the artic ice shelf suddenly breaks off, freeing a retardedly huge octopus that promptly starts killing all the whales in the area. Soon it rushes over to Japan to wipe out an entire drilling platform, while a massive shark also makes its appearance in one of the best moments of the entire film flying through the sky to eat a plane (not a low-flying one either, it’s in the middle of the clouds). Now it’s up to Scientist Debbie Gibson and her crack staff to find a way to stop these prehistoric monsters!

So there’s really two main parts to this movie: there’s the giant animal attacks, which are pretty awesome, and there’s the scenes where giant animals aren’t attacking, which are pretty terrible. In the latter, we are treated to seemingly endless scenes of Gibson arguing with a government higher-up (Lorenzo Lamas), whose only solution to these attacks is to launch nuclear missiles (in fairness, it’s not as though they hadn’t tried and failed already with conventional weapons -- at one point the shark takes three or four torpedoes to the face and doesn’t even start bleeding), and we get such “delights” as her Irish sidekick (Sean Lawlor) talking like a bad stereotype, tossing out lines like “you look like you need the luck of the Irish” pretty frequently. Lawlor died the same year this movie came out, I can only assume from shame.

The animal attacks, if not actually better-made, are at least a good deal more fun. We get the octopus swatting planes out of the air, the shark (identified as a megalodon, “the largest shark in history”, which Wikipedia foolishly claims grew to about 67 feet in length, although this movie proves that they were so much bigger than that that one of its’ teeth is twelve feet long) eating submarines, and just general craziness. The CG of course is uniformly terrible, with the animals rarely seeming to actually interact properly with their surroundings, and I’m fairly certain a few shots of the animals fighting each other (Scientist Gibson doesn’t get the idea to pit them against each other until the one hour mark, so don’t be thinking they fight for most of the film or anything -- so it’s like Freddy vs. Jason, I suppose) are straight up repeated in the assumption that nobody would notice. Still, it’s definitely a cut above the Sy-Fy original movies I’ve seen up to this point, and the animal attacks come often enough to keep the film from becoming boring. Make no mistake, it is quite a bad movie, but it’s one that certain people out there could easily have a pleasant evening watching with friends. You know who you are.

Rating: **

BONUS TIME: While September Q & A has ended, my friend Jason tossed a fun question my way, so I figured I’d entertain you all with one final effort: “What would you consider the more influential Horror movie is, both to you personally, and to the movie industry as a whole?”

The most influential for me personally is easy: A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, It’s the first horror movie I ever owned (I taped it off the TV when I was five years old), and given that Freddy has remained my all-time favorite horror monster, I’d have to say it’s had a pretty big influence on my life 9and probably my lifelong love of horror movies). As for the most influential of all time, there are a few major contenders. One could make the argument that Nosferatu is, simply by virtue of being the very first vampire movie of all time (and arguably the first horror movie, though The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari might beg to differ), but honestly, being first to the table doesn’t automatically make it the most influential effort, particularly when most of the horror movies of the 30s, 40s, and 50s were pretty heavily derived from another film: Todd Browning’s 1931 film Dracula. Not only were all the Universal horror movies based around its’ formula, all the way into the 50s with the Creature from the Black Lagoon series, but most of the horror films made by other companies around that time also based themselves around Dracula’s success.

Other contenders include Night of the Living Dead, which was so influential that virtually every zombie movie made since (and boy, have there been a lot of them) has been based off of it, or Friday the 13th, which, while not being the first slasher movie ever made, was the one that caused the genre to explode in popularity to the point where it seems as though roughly 25% of all movies made in the 1980s were slasher films. Honorable mentions should also go to Rosemary’s Baby for spawning all of the occult horror movies of the 70s, The Curse of Frankenstein for making the imprint upon which all of Hammer’s gothic horror movies of the 50s, 60s, and 70s were based, Scream, for spawning the thankfully fairly short-lived self-aware ironic horror movies of the late 90s, and the Mario Bava classics The Girl Who Knew Too Much and Blood & Black Lace, which, between the two of them, effectively invented the giallo genre.