Death Knows Your Name (2006)

FEBRUARY 29, 2008

GENRE: SUPERNATURAL, WEIRD
SOURCE: DVD (STORE RENTAL)

Is there anyone besides me who has seen Death Knows Your Name? I went on the film’s IMDb page – there isn’t a single user comment, the messageboard only has one post from a guy who liked the trailer, and the external reviews page had precisely two links – one from a guy who just goes on and on about the studio tampering with it (it’s an independent film – what studio???) and another who admits he watched the Yankee game and his daughter playing half the time the film was on. Come on! I can’t do this shit alone, I need backup! And Yankees suck!

I especially need fellow sufferers for movies like this, which fall in that narrow category of being bad but not fun. I can’t really think of anything to make fun of, and no one thing in the film sticks out as being particularly bad (other than the film’s audio, which is often distorted), but yet I didn’t actually LIKE anything in it, and after 20 minutes or so, couldn’t wait for it to end. The concept was interesting, at least the concept on the back of the DVD was – it makes it sound like there is a huge outbreak at a hospital, but this ‘outbreak’ is limited to a few shots of guys in hazmat suits. I was hoping for a film like Infection (aka Kansen), but instead I just got a very plodding Spanish version of "Dorian Gray" crossed with any random (bad) movie about an insane asylum.

It’s also a movie that explains its own one-liners. There’s some nonsense about a mirror being the root of all the evil in the film, and at one point the hero says to his dad (2nd movie in a row that featured a father-son team!) “Are you afraid of having seven years of bad luck?” Now, who the fuck doesn’t know that this is referring to a broken mirror? Apparently: the intended audience for this film, because the movie stops cold to let the guy add “Let’s go break a mirror!” Thanks pal. It reminded me of an SNL sketch where John Goodman felt the need to improvise a line that “explained” a reference to Close Encounters From The Third Kind (the other guy in the skit said “Close Encounters Of The Bat Kind”, because he had just hit Richard Dreyfuss with a bat). I hate shit like this, it’s like they think the audience is too stupid to get a bad joke. In SNL’s case Goodman probably just thought no one got it because they didn’t laugh during the live broadcast – but what the hell was Death writer Demian Rugna’s excuse?

On a visual level the film is decent enough. They go out of their way to make the digital video look like film, and the occasional makeup effects are quite good. Also, the framing of this shot is awesome:

Hahaha. Skull Man! But that’s 23 minutes into the film, and there’s still another 60 to go. Perhaps if every other scene in the film featured a character partially obscured by a perfectly lined up portion of a skeleton, this one would be good. It’s worth investigating... someone remake this with a cast of medical school skeletons and get back to me!

This review is short(er than usual - anyone want to work as an editor? I pay in ginger ale) because no one has seen the film and thus won't have anything to add. Is anyone even reading this review? Who’s Googling “Death Knows Your Name” anyway? Oh, the hero looks like Barry Watson and Tim Olyphant. There, that’ll get me a few search engine hits.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Mangler Reborn (2005)

FEBRUARY 28, 2008

GENRE: POSSESSION, TECHNOLOGY
SOURCE: DVD (ONLINE RENTAL)

3rd time’s the charm, I guess. Well, sort of.

While hardly a good movie, Mangler Reborn managed to do something that neither of the previous films in the series ever could: be professionally made, and even watchable. Thankfully ignoring the nonsensical storyline of the 2nd film, this one quickly acknowledges the existence of the first (and never mentions it again) and tells its own story. Luckily, the influences for this film seem to be Little Shop Of Horrors and maybe People Under The Stairs, and not the other Mangler movies.

Yes, like Stairs, this film takes place almost entirely in a single house in Los Angeles. Some folks (a father and son burglar team!) break in but can’t get out, find a girl trapped in there with them, and bad shit goes down. The bad shit is where the Little Shop allusion comes from – the villain of the film isn’t so much the machine, but a guy who is possessed by it (sure, why not) and feeds random folks to it. It also apparently gives him the power of invincibility, which is never quite explained (it results in a truly stupid and strangely inert epilogue), but again, why not? I’d rather watch any one plot element in this film than see the damn thing run down the street, or string poor Lance Henriksen up by cables and make him recite rap lyrics.

Unfortunately, the film’s low budget ultimately cripples the pace, as the lack of locations (and the fact that it’s not exactly a sprawling mansion) results in a movie that has a lot of padding; they could have easily cut about ten minutes out of the running time. Writer/directors Matt Cunningham and Eric Gardner will tell you they are building suspense, and to their credit, some of the film DOES have a bit of tension (particularly a scene when our would be heroine re-enacts the laundry chute scene from Halloween 5), but for every good suspense sequence, there’s yet another scene of someone walking as slowly as they possibly can around the hallways and bedrooms that the previous character(s) already walked through. It’s like watching one of those real estate walkthrough videos, only in 2.35:1 scope and occasional gore.

Speaking of the ratio – how sad is this? Since literally EVERY movie I have watched this week has been either full frame or non-anamorphic (a trend that will continue with tomorrow’s movie), when I first began watching this film I thought for sure that the 2.35 image I was seeing was incorrect, and used the “zoom” function on my TV to “fix” it, displaying a 1.78:1 image to fit my HDTV. But during the credits I noticed that the sides were being cut off, so I checked, and sure enough – it was a legitimate scope image! Granted, this sort of thing goes unnoticed by many, but trust me – there are so few horror movies (particularly DTV ones) that are shot with a wide lens, it’s like an instant stamp of “The filmmakers actually gave a shit”, so kudos.

Listening to the commentary track certainly confirmed this. While they seem to think the film works as a whole better than it actually does, it’s easy to see (hear?) that they were hardly just phoning in their work here, and despite the fact that they were making a 3rd film in a series absolutely no one liked, they put far more effort into making the film than anyone expected (certainly surprised me, I was expecting “worst of the week” levels here, and sadly it’s probably the week’s best*.), so I laud them for that. I also like that they put Jeff Burr, the patron saint of horror sequels, in a small role as, and this HAS to be a vague wink at the source material, “Lawnmower Man”.

I wish I could sweat Nesquik.

With some tighter editing (or maybe just a plot complication or two), and maybe some more convincing violence (whenever the possessed guy hits someone with his hammer or whatever, it looks and sounds like he’s merely tapping them on the shoulder), this could have been a really solid little movie. The gore is fantastic, the acting is decent (Reggie Bannister plays the Marion Crane role), and the technical aspects are quite impressive. The opening credits sequence is also pretty well done, though it features a pet peeve of mine (obviously fake “headlines” mixed in with real newspapers), and the score (by the same guys who did the incredible Session 9) is again, much better than one would expect. And since it was released a few years ago, before Lionsgate up and forgot about putting any sort of effort into their DVD releases, it has a fantastic transfer (the menu is a bit nonsensical though, as scene selection and Spanish subtitles are hidden in the “Special Features” submenu). I am curious what these guys (this is also the 3rd movie this week to have two directors!) can do with more money and an original, non-completely stupid concept.

What say you?

*I need to find better movies.

PLEASE, GO ON...

Non Canon Review: Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

FEBRUARY 27, 2008

GENRE: CANNIBAL, MOCKUMENTARY
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REVIVAL SCREENING)

One of the first times (possibly THE first; my memory is for shit) I went to the New Beverly was for a screening of Cannibal Holocaust, which if memory serves screened with a Fulci film. This was in like March of 2006, a few months after I moved to LA (and right around the time I finally had some sort of income that would allow me to go to the movies at all). The next month they showed Cannibal Ferox, another one I had never seen. So now, with like 600 movies seen since then, I had a lot of trouble remembering which was which. This is the one that DOESN’T have Giovanni Lombardo Radice, so therefore it’s not as good.

Sadly the crowd was pretty thin (and abnormally quiet – other than mimicking the legendary “Bwyoooooooo!” sound effect from the soundtrack, there was hardly a peep from anyone). And that's a real bummer for this movie in particular, because it’s so goddamn reprehensible, you need a big crowd (preferably a bit drunk) laughing at certain parts in order to enjoy it. Otherwise it’s just sort of an endurance test: can you watch the poor turtle get hacked up without looking away? Or any of the 2 or 3 rapes in the film? How bout the “pregnancy” scene? Etc. In short, it’s far from an enjoyable viewing experience for the most part.

Not that the film is entirely without levity. “He’s just switching reels” is an odd gutbuster, and the little kid running around in the park while our leads discuss the footage is also hilarious. The hauntingly beautiful “love theme” from the film also elicits a few chuckles, but you’re never more than 5 minutes away from another scene that’s just sort of awful.

Granted, the film is loaded with social commentary and the like, so we are supposed to be outraged or repulsed by certain parts of the film (mainly in the final half hour), but there’s little to enjoy alongside of it. Dawn of the Dead (or for a closer example – Diary) certainly have their share of commentary, but the films are still quite fun to watch at the same time. Not the case here – the characters are mostly despicable, the violence is too believable to be “fun”, and the nonstop animal killing is hardly entertainment.

This isn’t to say I dislike the film, in fact I think it’s quite good. But the New Bev is all about having a good time, so having this particular film play to an unusually subdued crowd (which wasn’t the case when I first saw it) had the opposite effect. Bummer.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Equinox (1970)

FEBRUARY 27, 2008

GENRE: INDEPENDENT, MONSTER, SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: CABLE (FLIX)

The program info for Equinox seemed to be written specifically for me. As you know, I don’t have any sort of criteria for horror movie watching – no specific sub-genre, no era, no discerning of “backyard” indies from Hollywood blockbusters... you get the gist. Anyway, the description for the film simply read “Devil worshipers and monsters” or something to that effect. This is certainly enough for me, but can you at least TRY to entice casual movie fans who aren’t sworn to an insane duty of watching every friggin one of these damn things regardless of actual interest in their plot or relevance (on that note - watch for a review of Mangler 3 in the next week!)?

Luckily, I knew a bit more about the film than that, and actually had been curious to check it out. Rue Morgue once wrote an article about its (then) impending DVD release from Criterion, which was the first I ever heard of it. Essentially, the same spirit that Sam Raimi and crew had from Evil Dead was evident in Equinox, as it was also a VERY low budget, wholly independent film with ambitious effects work and a persistent charm that more than made up for its shortcomings.

Like Dead, the film’s plotting isn’t very complex – and in fact on a surface level they are identical (a group of kids accidentally unleash supernatural forces after reading passages from a mysterious book found in the woods). The main difference is, while Dead was a splatter flick, with more than a couple of legit scares, Equinox is more like a typical 50’s fun monster movie, with lots of forced perspective shots of the monster rampaging around the forest and desert and such. The stop motion monster effects are pretty impressive, as are the split screen effects. Obviously they don’t hold up to say, 300 or whatever, but keeping it in perspective, it’s truly an award worthy effort for such a small crew of amateurs.

One of those “amateurs” is in fact Dennis Muren (who wrote and directed most of the film, though is only credited as producer), who anyone well versed in modern effects knowledge will be quite familiar with. Sadly, the other guys on the crew haven’t been as successful as he (excepting an assistant cameraman, one Ed Begley Jr (!!) ), but they’ve all still managed to make a name for themselves in one way or another. The actors, on the other hand, are now forgotten, and for the most part, for good reason. The main guy isn’t too bad (though he sounds exactly like Robert Reed, which never stopped distracting me, not to mention giving me Bloodlust flashbacks), but his girlfriend is atrocious, as are many of the supporting characters. It’s kind of ironic that I had an easier time believing a giant caveman walking around than I did buying (director) Jack Woods as a park ranger.

I have to point out an early scene involving a reporter and a cop and a doctor (I can’t tell which one is which, most of their dialogue is voiceover). One of them is driving around, and it APPEARS that he’s listening to something on the radio. It might just have been editing (playing audio from another scene), but if it IS the radio, it’s the best damn news reporter ever, as he describes people like “Some kind of weird old professor from the University...” Hahaha it killed me.

Apparently the DVD has a different version from three years prior, which focuses more on the adventure than the horror. As the DVD is from Criterion, I will have to wait until I win the lottery before I can afford to purchase it, but I am interested in checking it out. I love this spirit of “do it yourself” filmmaking, particularly for big effects movies, and wish we saw more of it (instead of the more common “We know what we’re doing, but we don’t care how it looks so long as we make some money” practice that is woefully apparent in about 50% of the movies I end up watching).

Oh and the ending is awesome. Not really a downer, but it still kind of surprised me. Well played!

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Catacombs (2007)

FEBRUARY 26, 2008

GENRE: CRAP, SURVIVAL
SOURCE: DVD (STORE RENTAL)

Let me begin my review by offering one half of an apology to one Ryan Rotten*, who writes for Shocktillyoudrop.com. Last week, he expressed his distaste for two films: Wrestlemaniac and Catacombs. As I had just gotten Wrestlemaniac, I checked it out the next night, and as you know, I thought it was a lot of fun. So I assumed I’d feel the same about Catacombs, and thus rented it the next day (yes, I rent movies often days before I have time to watch them – something that probably only makes sense to me). But now that I’ve seen it, Rotten was not only right, but he was almost too kind. This movie isn’t just bad; it’s a colossal piece of shit.

Just a heads up, I will be spoiling the (idiotic) ending in the review. But really, as stupid and inane as it is, it’s actually not just foreshadowed, but practically sledgehammered into the film, so you might figure it out before the big reveal. If not, well, all the more power to you.

So throughout the whole film, Shannyn Sossamon (between this, The Order, and One Missed Call, I’m gonna go ahead and hope I never see a single horror film with this woman again) is running from a guy in a goat mask. Literally 80% of the film is just her, running, screaming “Fuck!”, falling down, etc. Every now and then you see the guy chasing her, but he sort of disappears for a while and she just keeps running anyway. Right from the start of this abortion, she tells you that her sister and friends are all dead (the film is her flashback). So A. we have a film in which only one person is ever shown in danger, yet we know she survives (even without the flashback structure spoiling it, how would our only character die?), and B. we have a film in which supposedly all of her friends are killed, yet as time goes on, you will notice that other than her sister, no one is dying (or even present). Oh, and her sister keeps mocking Sossamon for being afraid of danger. And the friends play pranks. And one of the guys tells this wholly idiotic story about a killer in the tunnels, apropos of nothing. And again, nothing much is happening. Hmm... figure it out yet?

Yes, there is no “killer”. The sister and her friends just played a prank on Sossamon, in order to get her to “live a little” and "face her fear". In addition to simply being totally fucking lame, it’s yet another movie prank that would fall apart with any number of fairly simple actions. What if she stopped to take her "dead" sister’s pulse? What if she actually killed the guy playing the killer when trying to defend herself (which she actually does, but only at the end)? Etc. To its credit, the film actually DOES regain some semblance of sense halfway through, when the party everyone is attending is broken up by the cops and she is knocked out in the ensuing panic, leaving her down there all alone. As we learn in the big reveal, at this point her friends began looking for her, but their attempts to contact her were mistaken as screams from the killer by a now quite crazy and upset Sossamon. Fine. Still stupid, but fine.

But it’s not over. After the big reveal, which is presented like those in the Saw films (same producers after all), i.e. lots of flashbacks to things we just saw, all edited together in case we didn’t "get it" (there’s even a Charlie Clouser-esque instrumental here), the sister (who is played by Pink, for the hell of it) notices that Sossamon has just “stupidly” killed the guy who was attacking her. Pink then screams at Sossamon, as if SHE'S in the wrong for defending herself against a guy who for all intents and purposes was trying to kill her, and begins smacking her around. So what does Sossamon do? Swings a pickaxe at Pink, and then everyone else. In the end, our “hero” is the only one who actually kills anyone in the entire film.

To be honest, had the entire movie before it not been so goddamn wretched, this wouldn’t have bothered me. In fact I almost think it’s kind of ballsy to have the heroine go batshit and wipe out all of her friends in 30 seconds. But by that point, I hated the movie so much, it wasn’t nearly enough to save it.

Making matters even more excruciating, Sossamon isn’t even remotely likable. Hot, yes, but not likable. She’s presented as a dour, whiny, mousy party pooper (why she’s like this is never explained). So let’s recap – it’s a horror movie with only one unlikable character spending 75% of the movie trying to escape when she tells us right from the start that she is the only survivor of the night, thus rendering any and all scenes of her in danger automatically un-suspenseful and un-scary. OK, movie.

On a technical level the film is a total waste as well. Do you know any epileptics you want to die? Make them watch this movie, which is about 50% strobe lights (even the goddamn flashlights blink on and off in a rapid manner in several scenes). The other 50% is, I’m not joking, just TOTAL fucking black screens. Unlike The Descent, which sold the dark empty caves brilliantly by usually showing one of the girls against an entirely dark background, these geniuses just chose to make the film just total blackness in several scenes, not realizing that this doesn’t make it scary – for all I know they are just cutting to a credit sequence or a commercial. You need to contrast the smallish bit of light around the character with the total blackness of the rest of the area, otherwise it’s not a BLACK screen, it’s a BLANK screen. You know, like the 5 seconds before the FBI warning.



OK, quick, which one of those is a still from the movie, and which is something I made in MS Paint? Correct! The more rectangular one is from Paint. How can you tell? Because it’s a rectangle and not a fucking square!

Yes, Lionsgate apparently hired a blind newborn baby to master the DVD, resulting in not only a non-anamorphic transfer (despite the fact that the goddamn menu IS 16x9 enhanced), but an image that looks like a full screen Youtube video (complete with black smearing and pixels in just about every scene), with the added bonus of a strange blue line running vertically on the side of the image. They also botched the setup of the DVD, and as a result the film wouldn’t even play at all on my DVD player, instead just looping the traditional 59 hours of LG trailers for infinity (I had to watch it on my PS3 instead). Funnily enough, when I noticed this error I thought it might have been my player that was malfunctioning, so I decided to grab another DVD to make sure it was working right. I purposely chose another LG DVD, knowing it would have a similar setup (i.e. 59 hours of trailers, plus the commentary warning). Anyway, the title I chose was High Tension, so it was fitting that this film turned out to have a similar (but far, far worse) “copout” ending.

The commentary is equally repulsive, as the directors seemingly have no idea that they have made the dumbest fucking horror movie in ages, and instead tell us how much people liked the shot of the Eiffel Tower (never seen it before in a Paris set film, thanks guys!) and inadvertently not only revealing how long this filth has been on the shelf, but also how little they understand about the concept of time:

Director 1: “We shot this right after 9/11...”
Director 2: “2005?”

Nice work. Not only does one of these schmucks think 4 years is “right after” a tragedy that has ZERO fucking relation to the movie (he brought it up because there’s an airport scene), but we also know that it took at least 2 years (giving them a generous amount of time to edit) for even Lionsgate, who will distribute home movies of your kid’s birthday if anyone with a mask appears in it, to finally toss this one out to the masses. Later on the track, they blame the death of producer Gregg Hoffman (which was in 2005) and the studio’s focus on the Saw films for a good chunk of the delays, but they also boast that because of the latter, they were able to take their time to edit the film, without interference from anyone. I was considering maybe the studio re-edited this into the mess that it is, but nope! They also contradict themselves on this matter, claiming at another point that they were “rushed” in the post production process regarding the sound mix.

I really fucking hate this movie.

What say you?

*Ryan also just informed me that heavy profanity will result in your website not being tracked by certain search engines. So uh... yeah I'm pretty fucked I guess.


PLEASE, GO ON...

Motor Home Massacre (2005)

FEBRUARY 25, 2008

GENRE: COMEDIC (?), INDEPENDENT, SLASHER
SOURCE: DVD (STORE RENTAL)

Part of my post-viewing ritual is to check the film’s IMDb and Wikipedia pages for some random trivia or otherwise useless information that I can use in my writeup. Usually, when it comes to no-budget indies like Motor Home Massacre, there is absolutely none. Sometimes it appears as if I am the only person who has even SEEN the damn movie. So imagine my surprise to find that on the IMDb board for this particular “gem”, the director, one Allen Wilbanks (who also wrote and edited), had taken to responding to pretty much every post anyone else had made about the film. He seems to be a nice enough fellow, and a few of his posts made me chuckle (he occasionally feigns confusion over what some of the more grammatically challenged posters were even talking about). But unfortunately, and I read just about every single one of his 50+ posts on the matter, he seems to be unable to admit that his film just isn’t very good.

As with many horror movies that try to work as a comedy as well, Massacre ends up being neither scary nor funny. The actors are dismal across the board, so almost instantly the opportunity is blown, because in order for this type of humor to work, you need actors who CAN act and are skilled enough to let the audience know that they are in on the joke. Otherwise, it just comes off as bad acting in a bad movie. If the film is supposed to be funny, why am I only laughing at inept camerawork and dialogue that just simply doesn’t make any sense? Take for example the requisite gas station scene. The stereotypical redneck store clerk tells our heroes the “legend” of a pair of murders that took place the night before. We can assume that the idea that this guy somehow knows the entire story, right down to things that happened inside the victims’ tent, and that our teens are THAT stupid to willingly go into the woods when they were just told about a murder there not even 24 hrs ago is just part of the joke, but the only thing that made me laugh was when the clerk claims that “they never did figure out who did it”. Now, if that was an intentional joke, it sure as hell wasn’t presented as one. Just one of many examples of the botched attempts at humor throughout the film.

But even if the actors WERE pulling off their “spoof” roles correctly, or even competently, the film would STILL be a mess, mainly due to the god awful filters that Wilbanks throws over every other scene, and the atrocious editing that even a kid sitting at an Avid for the first time would scoff at. The filters are merely a distraction (one scene will be overly blue, the next overly red, and the killer has a green ‘night vision’ mask for his POV shots. Not to mention the worst attempts at “day for night” I’ve ever seen), but the editing has to be seen to be believed. Surely more than a couple of the people who read this site have made their own backyard films in their youth, and learned the concept of editing in camera. What this means is, you don’t have editing equipment, so you have to film in sequence, and the results will have a lot of pauses in between lines of dialogue. But what’s this movie’s excuse for the exact same result? So it’s like: “Are you OK?” (brief pause, cut, another brief pause) “Yeah, fine. You?” (brief pause, cut, another brief pause). “I’m OK.” This happens throughout the entire film. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that the awful dialogue and bad acting were intentional, but the editing? Anyone will tell you that timing is everything when trying to sell a joke - I doubt it would help much, but a competent editing job could have at least made the film seem a bit more professional.

Plus all of the usual cons are on display – boring gore, nonsensical ending, extraneous padding (an entire fucking scene replays not 20 minutes after the first time we saw it), a total disregard for lighting continuity and the 180 rule, etc. Adding to the mix is Lions Gate’s now standard false advertising – the cover would have you believe that the film is a dark survival style horror movie (they make it look like a sequel to the original Wrong Turn), with the added bonus of a killer who doesn’t resemble the movie’s killer at all, brandishing a chainsaw (a weapon never even shown in the film, let alone used). I don’t blame anyone but the studio for this shit, and in fact I’ve learned by now that any film distributed by LG but not actually produced by them will be sold as a hard dark horror film, regardless of its actual content. They are liars and borderline thieves – but that’s a given. Sometimes the film turns out good anyway (such as Rise Of The Dead, sold as a zombie movie), but this is not one of those cases.

Surprisingly, it’s not a total loss (damn close though). One unexpected “bonus”, if you could call it that, is that when you’re dealing with a film this amateur, the intentionally fake scenes come off just as bad as the ones that are supposed to be real. As our teens are all obnoxious jerks, of course one plays a prank that makes it look like he has cut his own throat with a machete. The effect of his throat bleeding looks just as phony as it does when someone is legitimately killed with the thing later on. I found this kind of endearing in a sad way. There's also a pretty original kill (the killer somehow manages to get a whole tent connected to this pulley thing, and raises the tent into the air then stabs the occupant as she is suspended a few feet from the ground). There is also one (ONE!) moment when the comedy actually works – a guy and a girl are tied together and their dialogue is laced with innuendo. At first it’s standard stuff (“I can’t put it in!”), but then they end up with a full blown incest joke (“I used to do this with my brother” or something like that). Incest is funny, and it’s pretty much the only thing that kept the film from a “Crap” tagging.

Sadly, there’s no commentary track (kind of surprising, since Wilbanks is obviously willing to defend his film to the death, even going so far as to writing a glowing review for it himself on the IMDb), but there is a wholly bizarre “Alternate Opening” (as well as an alternate ending that is pretty much the same, only a tad bit stupider). What makes it bizarre is that the clip begins with a girl saying “I’m sorry, did you say something?” So if this was indeed the original opening, the film would have begun in the middle of a conversation. In my opinion, they totally should have gone with it. This alleged comedy would have at least started with a laugh.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Headspace (2005)

FEBRUARY 24, 2008

GENRE: PSYCHOLOGICAL
SOURCE: CABLE (SHOWTIME)

The other day I watched Wrestlemaniac, which gave Irwin Keyes top billing for one scene. Well he’s got nothing on the cast of Headspace, which gives the first four starring credits to Olivia Hussey, William Atherton, Larry Fessenden, and Sean Young, despite the fact that all of their scenes combined make up less than 20% of the 90 minute film. Come on, there’s not a lot of Atherton movies to begin with, at least don’t promise a wealth of his presence in one and then kill him off 20 minutes in!

One thing I will NOT complain about is how small Sean Young’s role is. In fact, she’s dead before her credit even appears. I can’t stand the woman, and beginning a film by having half her fucking head blown off is a surefire way to win me over, lack of Atherton or not.

Unfortunately the film never quite comes together as well as I’d hoped, and more or less squanders a lot of its opportunities to be really good. The plot is interesting, but it’s never really fleshed out or explained either. The ending is baffling, the kill scenes are drenched in ambiguity (did the guy kill everyone himself, or just use his mind to make them kill themselves?), etc. For every plus the movie has, there are just many (if not more) minuses, which results in a movie that just sort of cancels itself out.

Some of those pluses include the acting. In addition to the aforementioned “stars”, there are also small roles by Udo Kier and Dee Wallace Stone (honestly billed via “with” and “and” titles). And the REAL leads of the film are good as well, whoever the hell they are (the main dude looks kind of like the guy playing John Connor on that Terminator show, but it’s not him). And the gore/makeup is highly impressive as well – in addition to the Young’s head blast I already praised, there is a nice face ripping for Udo, some impressive full bodied monsters (only seen in glimpses, sadly), and other nasty bits that look far better than one might expect from a film with such an obvious low budget.

Unfortunately, it’s one of the few technical aspects I can give any praise to. The editing is atrocious at times, not to mention sort of pointless – at one point they flashback and show a suicide when we already know the results, so it’s only there for shock value. Since the editing is so bad I can assume that some of the questions I have were once answered in a longer cut (I watched the film on cable, apparently the DVD has 40 min of deleted scenes). The film is also needlessly dark at times, though that may be a result of poor transfer for cable (it's certainly a bad cropping job - the director of photography credit reads "irector of photograph").

In the end, it’s certainly well meaning, and I appreciate the idea of doing a psychological gore movie (it almost comes off as Jacob’s Ladder as directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis), but it never quite gels into a cohesive whole. This is the type of movie that should be remade with competent post production people and better resources, but I’m sure it will just eventually be forgotten about entirely, which I am pretty sure is a shame. Then again, for all I know, the writer might just be some Richard Kelly wannabe who writes shit even he himself doesn’t understand in an attempt to look smart.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Carrie (1976)

FEBRUARY 23, 2008

GENRE: HERO KILLER, SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REVIVAL SCREENING)

For some reason, even though I've never seen the sequel to Carrie, I always think of it whenever I see a veterinarian office. This is because my friend called me after he saw it (I had better things to do I guess), laughing about how the movie featured a 24 hr veterinarian place. He thought it was funny, but I think it's pretty awesome! If one of my cats eats a damn nail and begins choking or bleeding at 2 am, I would like to think that I didn't have to wait 6 hrs to get him looked at.

Anyway, that has nothing to do with the first film, which doesn't even HAVE pets of any kind. I saw the film once, when I was like 16 or 17, and on TV to boot. I remember not being particularly impressed by it, though that opinion has changed. I still think it's a bit oddly structured (I've never read the book, so I'm not sure if it plays better in written form, or if it's even the same), but I can't deny that it's a solid piece of filmmaking from one of the best technically inclined directors (Brian DePalma) of all time. Back in the 70s and early 80s, DePalma was in his prime, so Carrie benefits quite a bit from his standard "gimmicks" - the long unbroken shots, use of bifocal lenses, and of course, the split screen sequence. Not to say that the film wouldn't work without them, but even if you're sort of blasé on the story, you can still admire the craft (something probably not likely with Carrie 2).

The cast in this one is pretty impressive. Most of them were no names at the time, but it's great to see future stars (or at least, 80s icons) like John Travolta, PJ Soles, Nancy Allen, Amy Irving, and William Katt all in one movie. Also, the only friend Carrie has is named Collins! Yeah! Collins is a common name in real life, but not often used in films for whatever reason. Also, Pino Donaggio's score is fan-fucking-tastic (not a big surprise), and even though I knew it was coming (thanks to myriad "50 best scary moments" type TV specials, that final scare is STILL capable of providing a bit of a jolt.

The effects are minimal, but impressive (and more importantly - believable). One thing I liked about the movie (again, not sure if this is the case in the book) is that it spares us from scenes of Carrie moving shit around for no reason. The idea that it's almost out of her control entirely is much more interesting. Incidentally, the movie screened with Zapped, an 80s comedy with Scott Baio as a kid with telekinesis. That film DID suffer due to such superfluous scenes, and ironically kind of made Baio less sympathetic than Carrie. Carrie couldn't really help freaking out and breaking mirrors and shit when people insulted her, but Baio used his own free will to terrorize a total stranger (who wasn't bothering him) with a model airplane. Asshole.

The print was quite nice too, though the sound was a bit muffled. DePalma's films deserve big screen (and more importantly, widescreen) viewing, so even though it's not exactly my favorite film of the subgenre or the King adaptations, I loved seeing it "again" in this manner. There's another week to go of the Eli Roth festival, and I for one couldn't be more... well, broke. But also sad, it's been a great lineup so far. Luckily the New Bev shows good stuff more than just once or twice a month, so Roth or not I'm sure I'll be back there enough until the next festival comes along.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Wrestlemaniac (2006)

FEBRUARY 22, 2008

GENRE: BREAKDOWN, SLASHER
SOURCE: DVD (OWN COLLECTION)

One of my more scathing reviews is for Drive Thru, a wholly worthless piece of shit that came out last year. I thought about it a lot while watching Wrestlemaniac, because both films attempt to do similar things: making an “old school” slasher movie with intentional comedy. The difference is, Drive Thru failed miserably, and Wrestlemaniac pretty much succeeds.

During the film I had exactly three problems. One: the endless opening credit sequence (nearly four minutes, and not over part of the actual film. Two: one character gets sick and goes outside to puke, but she walks about a half mile before finally stopping even though they are in a ghost town. And Three: they spell “Voorhees” wrong in what I assume is a shout out to Friday the 13th. None of these things really bugged me enough to dislike the film as a result, but the funny thing is, the first two are totally explained in the commentary track.

On the track, the director reveals that literally two days before shooting was scheduled to begin, they lost their primary location (an insane asylum) and had to relocate to the only other location they could get in the short amount of time – a ghost town. This resulted in many scenes having to be cut, because they no longer made any sense in the context of the location. In turn, this left the finished film running short, so the credits were lengthened for padding. This also meant that some of the necessary plot devices, such as getting the first victim separated from the group, had to be shot as if they WERE in the same location, which is why the girl goes so far for a “bathroom” that no longer actually exists.

(The "Vorhees" thing is unexplained. They don’t even mention it. It’s two “O”s, jerks!)

Knowing how many problems plagued them on the eve of shooting makes the film even more impressive. While the movie won’t win any awards or even give other modern “throwback” slashers like Hatchet any real competition, it’s still a lot of fun, and the last 20 minutes are top notch “chase n’ slash” fare. With one exception, the actors seem to know exactly what kind of movie they are making, and thus their performances are perfect for this type of horror (campy, but not an actual spoof). The one exception is sadly one of the primary characters – she doesn’t do nearly as well as the others of selling the ridiculousness of it all, and instead just comes off as a bad actress.

Luckily, the fact that all of the characters are pretty stupid gives the film an unexpected edge – it’s actually kind of suspenseful, because you won’t know right from the start who our Final Girl is going to be. This was a highlight of See No Evil as well (coincidentally, that film was written by Dan Madigan, who literally wrote the book on the type of Mexican wrestlers the killer in this film emulates) – though in that film they were just all unlikeable jerks (the biggest asshole of the bunch was in fact the hero!), whereas here they are a bit obnoxious, but generally likeable. You won’t care much that they die (that’s what we’re here for, after all), but you won’t want them dead within seconds of their introduction either. I would have liked to see Irwin Keyes (top billed for one scene) show up again near the end, or at least have a second scene to warrant his paycheck, but oh well. Again, it kinds of provides the film with some suspense – you keep expecting him to show up again, but he never does, making the somewhat downer ending even more effective.

And fuck you if you don't think this is awesome.

The gore in the film is also pretty impressive. At first I was worried there wouldn’t be any at all, as the first two victims are killed offscreen entirely. But then in the 2nd half the gore is ramped up to 11, with generous faceripping and impalements to enjoy. I won’t deny that the film is a bit slow in parts (again, this makes more sense when you realize they were supposed to be walking around a “dark and scary” asylum instead of a Mexican village in broad daylight), but there is certainly enough gore (and yes, even some nudity) to make up for it, and at 75 minutes (barely more than 65 without opening and end credits), you don’t have to wait too long for it to get going. Also, while not without its share of eye-rollers, some of the attempts at humor work, which is nice.

It’s also pretty good looking. The Panavision HD system they used impressively simulates film, with only a few shots giving its digital origins away (most occur at night). The score is also above average, if a bit stolen from Halloween (near the end there’s an honest to God “scary mariachi” version of the synth-y Halloween II theme).

The DVD also has a making of, but it’s wholly worthless. However, the commentary is a must, and the film itself is far better than I expected. This could have been damn near unwatchable (indeed, the title is funnier than anything in the movie), but if nothing else it proves once again that no matter what the budgetary and resource limitations are, guys who genuinely want to make a film and not just a few bucks will always end up with a more enjoyable film than those who make a film without a single shred of respect for an audience or filmmaking in general (which is precisely what that piece of shit Drive Thru was). I know a lot of folks will probably hate it (some people even hate Hatchet for “trying to be funny”), but damned if I didn’t have a blast watching it, and I say thank you to writer/director Jesse Baget for getting it done right.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Xtro (1983)

FEBRUARY 21, 2008

GENRE: ALIEN, BRITISH, MONSTER
SOURCE: DVD (ONLINE RENTAL)

I really have to start watching more British monster movies. Raw Meat was a total delight (mainly thanks to Donald Pleasence) and now Xtro follows suit. No one is as good as Pleasence, but the over smugness of the two male leads, coupled with the general batshittedness of the whole thing, makes for one of the most fun times I’ve had watching a movie by myself in ages.

Again, it’s almost always better to go into a horror movie knowing pretty much nothing other than the fact that it’s a horror movie. Such was the case with this; I thought it was about a monster loose in Los Angeles for some reason. Without any expectations or the slightest idea of what I was in for, I was able to judge the film without any bias or prejudice. Plus it was really short, so I had time to play some Rock Band after it was done, which added to my Xtro appreciation.

Let’s get the minor quibbles out of the way first. The direction (or editing) is really odd at times during the non-horror scenes, resulting in more than a couple occasions of people talking before they were introduced or placed in the scene. “Who’s talking?” will be a common utterance for viewers who like to talk to their TV. Also, the transfer for the DVD was pretty bad; in addition to lots of dirt and “flecks” throughout the film, there were also some unforgivable compression artifacts during fades and the like. Any movie that features a man who is really an alien sucking on his son’s shoulder in order to “impregnate” the lad with his own alien deserves a lot better!

Otherwise the movie is perfect (as perfect as British low-budgeters about aliens that can create circus folk out of nothing and use them to kill nosy neighbors can be anyway). There’s a birthing scene that is probably one of the all time best in these type of movies, and some other pretty nasty effects as well. Plus, as mentioned, the aliens have some sort of advanced mental abilities that allow them to just think of something and make it appear. Naturally, this means that the alien kid makes a circus midget, a panther, and a giant toy soldier appear and take out some kindly supporting characters, including his super hot babysitter.

The female lead is that unconventionally hot broad from Macabre. She kind of looks like a hot (and female, obviously) Tim Curry. Her character is the closest thing to ‘normal’ that appears in the movie, as she’s not an alien, a wholly unnecessary babysitter, or a doctor who doesn’t seem very concerned that a child would be covered in blood when he appeared to have no wound. This bit is one of several in the film that don’t quite make sense (or ever get resolved), but it’s also part of its kitchen sink charm.

Nothing can explain why the kid and his alien dad are so bad at Connect Four though:

Now, as you can see, I have highlighted three examples of the game already having been won. And when the kid finishes putting in the piece seen in the picture, the alien dad instantly knows he has lost, so it’s obvious that his alien world taught him how to play the game, or at least left that part of his human brain intact. This was wholly unacceptable! If you’re going to distract me with a famous board game, goddammit make sure that the prop guy has set the thing up in a reasonable manner!!! And I don’t buy that “his dad was letting him win” bullshit – not only did the kid himself already have a four-line, but he’s a goddamn alien! They know no mercy!

The DVD extras are pretty thin, but the interview with director Harry Bromley Davenport more than makes up for it. He’s British, and thus quite unrestrained. He goes off on the ending, the lack of resources, and particularly the Canadians and star of the 2nd film (there are 3 total, and he directed them all). He also seems merely annoyed that the star of the film is no longer with us, muttering “He’s DEAD now, amazingly...” and pretty much sighing in annoyance. Oddly, this makes the 2nd example of this type of non-sentiment this week, as the uncle in The Innocents touched upon the memory of the former governess by complaining that “the confounded woman DIED” at a really bad time for him. Ah, death, such an inconvenience to everyone else. The other extras are just alternate endings (one of which is the same as the theatrical ending, best I can tell?), and a deleted scene without audio – wholly useless since the scene is the mother and kid talking over breakfast.

Not sure why this one doesn’t have a bigger following, it’s the type of bad movie that almost anyone can love, and the effects are superb to boot. Highly recommended!

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

The Mad Monster (1942)

FEBRUARY 20, 2008

GENRE: MAD SCIENTIST, WEREWOLF
SOURCE: DVD (BUDGET PACK 2!!!)

One thing I tend to forget about when I am watching older movies like The Mad Monster is the Production Code, only to have an implementation of one of its "rules" completely take you out of a scene. It’s pretty fascinating when you think about it, and if you’re unfamiliar with it I urge you to check out the Wikipedia for it (or even a real encyclopedia, if that’s your bag). Sometimes I wonder how the film industry would be had the code never been (rightfully) abolished. The Saw films would certainly be interesting... the damn Code wouldn’t have allowed the friggin SETTING (a bathroom) for half the time!

Anyway, I was reminded of it late in the film when a guy goes to give our requisite guinea pig (a guy who ironically looks a bit like future Wolf Man Benicio Del Toro) a shot. He walks over, and then there’s a fade to probably 20 seconds later once the shot has been given and the needle withdrawn. Because, even though it was technically being used for a medical purpose (as opposed to heroin), it apparently still fell under “illegal drug use”, something forbidden by the Code. So poorly thought out the thing was, that narrative flow was ruined in this and dog knows how many other films just to spare the audience the sight of something that they had all seen (and probably used) in their life. Nice work. Shit makes the nonsense of Joe Lieberman look reasonable.

The Code cannot be entirely blamed for the (still chilling) scene where the wolf kills a little girl. Naturally, we don’t see the act, but instead the poor kid’s ball rolling out of her bedroom, following by her mother’s panicked screaming. Great scene, rivaling any of the similar kid killings in the old Universal movies. I assume that even if such a thing were allowed to be seen in a film, it would still be filmed the way it was (and the scene would probably have been weakened had actual violence been shown).

Also, this movie may have the earliest appearance of the monster in mad scientist history. The movie’s not even 5 minutes old by the time we get our first transformation scene! Naturally, it slows down considerably afterwards, but at least they got things started on the right note. This is even more important when you consider the rather weak plot, which is just yet another variation on the “Scientist gets revenge on the other scientists who doubted him” plot. Look, if any scientists are reading this, listen up: if a colleague says he’s developing some ridiculous new formula, BACK HIM! Even if it’s just a “Well good luck, buddy!”, it’s a hell of a lot better than telling him he’s insane and then getting yourself mauled to death later when the formula turns out to work after all.

Like last week’s Dead Men Walk, this one stars George Zucco. I must admit I never heard of the gent prior to watching these films, but I’m quickly becoming a fan. In addition to his lovably demented demeanor in both films (did he ALWAYS play a guy seeking revenge?), both of his roles required him to be probably the first actor to talk to empty sets for future effects scenes. In Walk he had to do some split screen stuff to play both roles of twin brothers, and here he has a rather odd scene where he talks to four ghosts, all of whom are opaque. It’s a really well done scene.

At 76 minutes, this is one of the longest movies on the Horror Classics set (and according to the IMDb, the longest B-film from the 1940’s “poverty row” line), and I would just like to point out again that I really hate the Creek for not putting all of the running times next to the titles on this set, as they have for all of the others. Jerks.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

The Innocents (1961)

FEBRUARY 19, 2008

GENRE: GHOST, PSYCHOLOGICAL
SOURCE: DVD (ONLINE RENTAL)

One movie I never quite understood why people liked it was The Others, the 2001 Nicole Kidman movie. It wasn’t bad, but it certainly wasn’t scary/suspenseful (to me anyway), and the twist wasn’t all that surprising either. I thought about that movie a lot while watching The Innocents, because it had a similar premise/setting, that of two annoying kids in a giant house and the beautiful woman who takes care of them. And some ghosts.

I liked Innocents a lot more though, because the ending wasn’t necessarily a twist, but a downer nonetheless, and there were a few good scare scenes. Like many an old film, I’ve seen so many of the movies that have ripped it off over the years that it felt like I had already seen it, but I was able to put that aside and enjoy the movie anyway.

Adding to that enjoyment immensely was the lush black and white photography by Freddie Francis. This is easily one of the best looking B&W movies I have seen in ages. Lots of times the lack of color (and often poor transfers) results in a somewhat flat image, but this one seemed practically 3D at times, due to the deep focus and sharp detail in the transfer. Thanks, FOX! I can almost forgive you for putting the widescreen version on side B instead of A. A = better, and thus should be the widescreen side! Savages!!

One really sweet thing I dug was how the first 50 seconds of the film are black. The FOX logo THEN comes into frame, and fades out for some more black. I like that, it makes you feel uneasy (actually it made me check my HDMI cabling) right from the start. Also I liked when the little kid kissed the woman on the lips and for a split second she kisses him back. Creepy, vaguely incestuous overtones? Awesome.

However, one thing I DIDN’T like so much was how the script (by Truman Capote, of all people, working from Henry James’ “Turn of the Screw”*) was written in “Interrupto-plotting”. What this means is, rather than get all of the exposition at once, they simply have a character start to tell a story, providing SOME of the information, and then they are interrupted by someone else at the worst possible time. So if the characters weren’t rude, and instead waited to speak, lots of the movie could have been avoided. Using this device once or twice is fine, but they use it for pretty much every scene involving the backstory.

Another blemish is the rather odd fact that the house supposedly has a gardener, a cook, another maid, etc. and yet we never see any of them, resulting in a rather laughable scene where the heroine thinks she sees a man on the roof. She then asks the maid if anyone else works there besides the people she’s met, and proceeds to rattle off about a dozen house employees that WE have never met, nor were they ever previously mentioned. It kind of ruins the scare – we only think there are 4 people in the house, which is why the sight of another is unsettling. But why is she scared when there is apparently a busload of folks walking around the house at any given time?

Regardless, it’s a nice bit of uneasy horror. Patience is required, but it’s worth the effort, and far better than The Others.

What say you?

*Incidentally, I had rented this DVD a month ago and couldn’t find it, only to finally uncover it under my Lost episode guide. Lost fans will know why this is freaky.

PLEASE, GO ON...

Them! (1954)

FEBRUARY 18, 2008

GENRE: MONSTER
SOURCE: CABLE (TURNER CLASSIC)

One sort of nice thing about owning a 16:9 TV is you see EXACTLY how much movie you are missing (at least, for non scope/2.35:1 films) when you watch a full frame transfer. Basically, where there's black on the left and right, there should be image. So it was kind of a bummer that TCM aired Them! in a full frame version, when they usually air letterboxed prints. While not as crippling as say, watching Halloween on a cropped transfer, the film still felt cramped. The moral of the story is, whenever you hear someone complaining about the black bars on the top and bottom, remind them that the ones on the side are far more intrusive. And that they're stupid.

In a way it's actually kind of fitting for this film, which was originally supposed to be a full color 3D film, but last minute budget cuts forced them to strip away these frivolous expenses. But I'm glad they chose to make the same movie rather than lose action scenes/effects to cover the budget cuts, because for a film of the era, this one has a lot more action than I expected. In the first half hour, there's already like 3 attack scenes, with a few explosions (mainly caused by a bazooka that apparently never needs to be reloaded, nor does it have a recoil) and more than a couple dead giant ants. Yeah! Usually with these old monster movies, it's just folks talking for a good hour and then finally some shit happens.

On the flipside, the middle of the film is... well, folks talking. After the initial burst of ant action, there's a long spell where they try to find the remaining queen. While not as stupid as Godzilla 98's "we lost him!" portion, it's still a bit odd to see our heroes talk to a few drunks and some guy's mistress to get information on a giant ant's whereabouts. But then it picks up again, and even has a surprising death of a major character.

My only real disappointment with the film was, again, a description that is only about the film's finale. "Giant ants terrorize Los Angeles", explains the cable synopsis. This is, of course, a lie, as the ants don't even get to LA until the final half hour, and they don't terrorize a goddamn thing, just two kids in the sewer. I was hoping to see some assholes get mawed on La Brea or something, but other than a few establishing shots, the entire Los Angeles section of the film is kept to the river (the one seen in EVERY LOS ANGELES MOVIE EVER) and adjoining sewer tunnels. Oh well.

There's also a bit of inadvertent hilarity when someone says "It's every scientist's dream come true" over a shot of giant ants about to go terrorizing. She's referring to the discovery and all that good stuff, but when you're an asshole like me, you take as many things out of context as humanly possible in order to amuse yourself.

Good cast in this one. In addition to James Arness (who sounds a lot like Charles Grodin, which is a bummer for one of them, just not sure which one), James Whitmore also appears as the most versatile beat cop in film history. You may know Whitmore from his role in the TNT original film Shawshank Redemption, where he played the guy who depresses the hell out of every viewer: Brooks, who can't find his bird so he hangs himself (this is a subplot made even MORE depressing in the script/deleted scenes, which include a scene where Andy finds the poor bird impaled on some barbed wire at the prison. Christ.). Also in a small role is Fess Parker, who went on to kill himself a "bar" when he was only three.

Of all the 50s "Let's make a monster movie about radiation fears" movies that I've seen, this is definitely one of the better ones. Good pace, good cast, and even good effects. Nice job all around!

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Torso (1973)

FEBRUARY 17, 2008

GENRE: GIALLO, ITALIAN
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REVIVAL SCREENING)

One of the more common complaints about Grindhouse was that the double feature may have worked better had Planet Terror come AFTER Death Proof instead of before. Since Planet was such an adrenaline rush, it made DP seem "slow" in comparison. So it was a good thing Eli Roth was wise enough to show Torso before Pieces, since Torso IS indeed a slow film and building up to the incredibility that is Pieces was the right thing to do.

Torso is similar to Pieces, in that it's kind of a terrible movie made incredibly good by the sheer batshittedness of it all. But whereas Pieces almost never slows down (when there's a lull in the killings they simply have an attack by the college's "Kung Fu professor"), Torso takes its time, offering very little action in the first hour before a rousing and even somewhat shocking final 20 minutes.

I'm not sure if this was a cut print or not (it was certainly in bad shape), but if not, Torso must be the least violent/gory Giallo film ever. Many of the kills are off-screen entirely, and even the on-screen ones are fairly tame compared to the other films of the era (even ones older than this, such as Bava's Kill Baby Kill). I meant to ask Eli Roth, but I opted to make Mother's Day references instead (I am SO EXCITED for Wednesday's screening of that film).

In fact, most of the movie is simply people leering at each other. Literally every 30 seconds there is a shot of someone looking at someone who is looking at them with a sinister face. Some are reasonable, but at one point a woman somehow senses a guy watching her from down a hill, seemingly a mile away. If you cut all of the looking out, the movie would be about 12 minutes long.

So what's good? Well, the batshit dialogue, as always. One scene begins with a bunch of guys sitting around talking about our heroines; one says "They don't seem to be very politically aware." His friend responds "So what, I'd like to get with all three of them!" Charming. The plot also relies on continual confusion between a scarf that is either red over black or black over red, and this difference is explained at least three times. There's also a guy who looks like David Copperfield, and a brief lesbian scene that comes and goes out of nowhere.

As mentioned, the finale pretty much makes up for a lot of the film's shortcomings. After killing three of the female leads in one swoop (offscreen again, though at least this is used for shock reveal to the surviving girl), the Final Girl does the old "slide a newspaper under the door to catch the key" trick. But she misses, the key falls to the floor. Then, the killer reaches into frame and puts the key on the newspaper for her! It's so delightfully painful to watch it go from hope to despair to false hope... genius scene.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the "can scene". For reasons never explained, one scene is shot from the point of view of a tin can on the ground. We see the can, and hold on it, as a group of locals walk around talking about the girls. One guy kicks the can, and it rolls over near the killer. The killer walks off with his new information about the girls, and we stay with the can. It's hilarious.

Like I said, this was part of the Eli Roth festival, and I am pretty sure that if I watched this one by myself I would be bored even by the stuff I mentioned as good. It's amazing how much the crowd's spirit can add to the enjoyment of a film, and I would strongly urge anyone who thinks that they can replicate the theater experience in their home by spending thousands of dollars on a system to first fuck themselves and then head on over to their local revival house on a night that is showing a cheesy film like this (or even a genuine crowd-pleaser like SLither) and see how much they are missing. Plus, in addition to a sort of "Movie Internet Site Powerhouse" (my row included delegates from CHUD, Aintitcool, JoBlo, ShockTillYouDrop, and, obviously, Bloody-Disgusting), the crowd included John Gulager, Edgar Wright, Sage Stallone, and even the guy who plays Superman on Hollywood Boulevard. No special seating, no VIP treatment, everyone there just has a good time together. Pieces is too good to never watch again, but Torso? Watching it anywhere but a theater full of appreciative fans would just be pointless.

In short, the sound system and maybe even the size of the screen may be "better" at your home, but those things are nowhere near as important as the crowd factor of a real movie theater. Please support your independent theaters, because when it comes to these types of screenings, there is nothing in the world that is as stupid as saying "Why go see a movie I have at home?"

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

White Noise 2 (2007)

FEBRUARY 16, 2008

GENRE: GHOST, TECHNOLOGY
SOURCE: DVD (STORE RENTAL)

Assuming I ever got off my ass and finished writing/uploading all of the reviews from February of 2007 (this blog began in April or May of 2007), there would still be a missing entry for February 16th. I was traveling, and being new to the whole thing, I had yet to make seeing a daily movie an almost effortless occurrence. But anyway, that means that the second White Noise 2 reached its nonsensical conclusion, I had officially gone 365 days in a row of horror movie watching. Yay me!

White Noise 2 was surprisingly watchable, no worse (or better) than the original, so I’m not sure why they didn’t at least give it a chance in theaters. Then again, between One Missed Call and The Eye, everything WN2 covered was already bombing in theaters, so shipping it off to Blockbuster was probably a wise move. The film’s two stars are more known for their small screen efforts anyway. Strangely, they both have a lot in common – quick, which one is known for starring in a cult sci-fi show, having a brief villainous role on a revival TV show about a tough female fighter, and being in a really bad Dimension movie: Nathan Fillion or Katee Sackhoff?* And I must admit, it was nice to see a scene where a character uses the internet and he uses Yahoo!, not GenericWebSearch.com. Seems to me that it would make a lot more sense to just ask Yahoo or whoever to use their image in the film (possibly get a few bucks for the use while they are at it) rather than design a distracting and ridiculous fake one.

Unlike Boogeyman 2 and some other DTV sequels of late, this one doesn’t even try to tie itself to the original; they don’t even have the requisite newspaper article with a file photo of the original’s star accompanied by some helpful exposition (“this guy had the same problem as you. Now he’s dead!”) that is synonymous with these type of sequels. But I guess it sort of makes sense, since this movie doesn’t really follow the same themes as the original. Fillion sees EVP on living people and tries to prevent their deaths, instead of Keaton watching static for ghosts and solving mysteries. So, yeah, this movie doesn’t really feature a lot of “white noise”. But I guess “Goofy Light Ray Filters Surrounding People That Only Our Hero Can See 2” would be a really stupid title.

The one thing it DOES share in common with the original is the presence of an actor who can almost make anything interesting. I’ve long claimed that Fillion could be the next Harrison Ford, but the problem is no one is going to give him a Star Wars (well, they tried to) or an Indiana Jones to put him on that level. It’s a shame to see him more or less wasted on nonsense like this and in thankless guest starring roles on Desperate Housewives and Lost (where the lucky sod played Kate’s husband – and even that wasn’t enough for me to even slightly dislike the guy). Sackhoff, on the other hand, should stick to Battlestar, because between this and Halloween: Resurrection I think it’s safe to say that whenever she plays a perky girly girl, she simultaneously plays the most annoying person on the face of the planet.

Two hundred paragraphs or so I mentioned The Eye: a film that also featured someone with the ability to prevent death. They also share a director, one Patrick Lussier, who reshot half the fhe other film after Lionsgate had problems with the original cut. And watching this film makes his contributions to The Eye all the more apparent; the guy has a serious hardon for symmetric tracking shots like this:




There are probably a dozen others, and there are just as many in The Eye. Maybe it's just some sort of Kubrickian homage, but the problem is he uses them so often they become a distraction, and the bulk of the movie is otherwise pretty standard (no fancy camera tricks and such), so they stick out even more than they should. And, much like his film Dracula 2000 (which featured Fillion in a small role – see how this all comes full circle?), WN2 has a lot of ridiculous religious ties. Granted, nothing in this film (or any other film, really) could ever hope to be as gloriously stupid as the idea that Dracula was in fact Judas Iscariot, but Lussier’s peculiar obsession grinds this movie to a halt when Fillion begins reading the Bible (out loud to himself, of course) and making numerology connections to Latin phrases involving Lucifer. Apparently, in addition to being the root of all evil, the Devil really enjoys coded logic puzzles. And, like any movie that features spiritual deadlines (everyone dies on the 3rd day of their being saved), the process is far too exact – I would think both God AND the Devil have better things to do than ensure that someone dies exactly 72 hrs to the minute after they were saved. It’s not quite as ridiculous as the Devil’s need to impregnate a woman by midnight in End of Days (“is that Eastern time?”), but it's still pretty silly.

There are a bunch of extras, including the most spoiler-filled “Making of” featurette I’ve ever seen on a DVD. Usually these things are promotional, not informative, so it’s strange to see one that shows a major character’s demise from the end of the film alongside all of the usual “fun” fluffy bullshit. There are also 30 minutes of extended/deleted scenes (most of them are worthless extensions, and on two or three of them I couldn’t even tell the difference) and a goofy piece about Fillion and some super cute PA chick walking around the allegedly haunted hospital where part of the movie was filmed. Finally, there’s a 20 minute segment on “real life” near death victims, all of whom apparently live in Seattle (the movie was shot in Canada, so your guess is as good as mine).

Oh and then there’s this guy, the fake Zach Braff:


Well, whatever. No one rents White Noise 2 expecting to be blown away. Fillion’s inherent charm is enough to keep the film watchable, and it’s nice to see him play “dark” for a change, but beyond that it’s nothing that will change your mind about the White Noise franchise.. Someone get the guy a good script, please?

What say you?

*Fillion was in Firefly, Buffy (the show, not the movie), and Dimension's Dracula 2000, Sackhoff is in Battlestar Galactica, the short lived Bionic Woman revamp, and Dimension's Halloween: Resurrection. Reaching? Maybe. But I like to demonstrate my worthless ability to make such connections.

PLEASE, GO ON...

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