2001 Maniacs (2005)

MARCH 31, 2008

GENRE: COMEDIC, REMAKE, SPLATTER
SOURCE: CABLE (SHOWTIME)

One of the first movies watched for Horror Movie A Day (in the pre-writing reviews days, though I will try to eventually write one up for all of those forgotten little movies) was Two Thousand Maniacs, which is one of Hershell Gordon Lewis’ best-known movies. I didn’t care for it much, though I liked the ridiculous death scenes (my favorite – the barrel roll) and the delightfully awful songs. So I was a bit hesitant for the remake, retitled 2001 Maniacs, since rule of thumb is that a remake pales in comparison. Also, another rule of thumb is to never get your hopes too high for a movie made by anyone involved with Snoop Dogg’s Hood Of Horror. Well, I’m happy to say that this version breaks the mold!

Tim Sullivan and Chris Kobin (Sullivan directed, both scripted) did exactly what a remake of a bad movie SHOULD do: improve on the weak areas while retaining the spirit of the original. The biggest problem with the first movie, for me anyway, was how completely fucking stupid the characters were. They practically deserve to die for entering such obvious traps so willingly. Here, the townsfolk are a bit trickier, and the victims are much smarter (though still atypically horror movie dumb), so that the death scenes are not only more interesting, but even a bit more suspenseful. Whereas before, the entire method of the trap was obvious from the start, here we are allowed to sort of be surprised when the death trap comes out. For example, the “Milk Maiden” scene, in which Day of the Dead’s Christa Campbell (boyoyoyoyong) seduces a dude. We know that he’s gonna be a goner, but it’s not entirely obvious when and how.

Also, the traps are pretty much all new (my memory sucks – didn’t someone get ripped apart by runaway horses in the original as well?). For example, the aforementioned Maiden scene – she forces acid down the kid’s throat, which melts him from the inside out. It’s a fucking great scene. Like the Final Destination movies, you can almost imagine the creative team sitting around thinking of different ways to kill everyone and then writing the movie around that. Which is fine by me.

Also fine by me? Casting Peter Stormare! I love this guy, and had no idea he was even in the film. Sure, his role is brief, but his purpose is a good one, as his scenes help develop the main characters before they head off on their ill-fated journey, unlike the original film, which pretty much began with four people that we didn’t know about to enter the town. Eli Roth also pops up, playing the same guy he did in Cabin Fever. The rest of the cast is pretty genre friendly as well: in addition to Robert Englund and Lin Shaye as the main heavies, Kane Hodder, Scott Spiegel, Johnny Legend, and Sullivan himself pop up in cameos.

The main cast is decent, if not really memorable. I’m hardpressed to remember any of their names, but since the villains are the real draw for this film, I guess that’s not really an issue. Still, their relative blandness makes it difficult to peg the survivors (if any), which also adds a touch of suspense to the proceedings. Again, it’s all about improving the original, which had an obvious hero right from the start.

One thing I was a bit disappointed by was the lack of the original music. The theme “South Will Rise Again” is sort of in it (they pretty much just sing the chorus over and over), but there isn’t much else in the way of non-score music. I would have liked to see one or two of the other songs pop up somewhere. Also, the juvenile humor of the hicks fucking farm animals doesn’t really work, especially once you get to the sort-of twist ending.

All in all, if you are like me, and felt that the concept was somewhat wasted on Lewis’ super cheap, super stupid original, the remake should be refreshing to you. It’s not exactly my favorite movie of the year or anything, but it certainly makes for a good example of how to effectively remake a film (provided the film warranted a remake in the first place, which of course isn’t the case 90% of the time).

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986)

MARCH 30, 2008

GENRE: HAUNTED HOUSE, SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: DVD (OWN COLLECTION)

Ah, I remember it like it was only 22 years ago. Poltergeist II: The Other Side was the first horror movie I saw in theaters (for the record, of which no one is keeping, the first R rated one was Child’s Play 3). I don’t know for sure if I had seen the entire thing again since; while some sequences (such as the chainsaw to the car) seemed very familiar, others I had zero recollection of whatsoever, such as that baffling and ridiculous finale.

For a movie in which the original director(s?) and producers did not return (though the script has the same non-Spielberg guys credited), it’s not really all that bad. The original Poltergeist is the best haunted house movie ever, as far as I’m concerned, so it’s not like I was expecting a film equally as good (even as a kid I probably knew better). A couple of the scare scenes work well (the braces attack and Kane’s LET! ME! IN! sequence), and the ties to the original are thorough without rewriting things. It seems strange that a movie in which the message is “Family must stick together” would completely ignore the Dominique Dunne character (apparently she was written off as being away at school, but this scene was cut), but otherwise, it FEELS like a continuation, despite a mostly-new creative team.

Speaking of Dunne, this movie seems to be the most plagued by the so-called Poltergeist curse. Kane, Diane’s mother, Taylor, and obviously Carol Anne have all since passed on (Kane, aka Julian Beck, actually died during production), as have Goldsmith and director Brian Gibson. It also suffers the absolute worst effects in the entire series, and in pretty much any theatrically released, fairly big-budgeted (20 million) horror movie of the past 25 years. I don’t know who the hell did the compositing on here, but for the love of Christ not a single effect in the entire movie (except the braces) looks even remotely natural. Some of the matte effects even have plainly visible lines where different elements were placed over others. Worse, the chainsaw scene for some reason looks better on the trailer than in the finished film:



As you can see, the trailer version (2nd pic) has a blue tint to it, which suggests they knew their effects sucked and tried to hide it for marketing, but why not just do that for the film itself? It’s dark, it should be blue! I don’t know how Hooper/Spielberg/et al were able to sell an entire room full of toys flying around, 4 years prior and on a lower budget, better than these guys were able to pull off a (should be) simple monster in the same room as our characters, but it’s borderline embarrassing.

There are also a few times in the film where some editing (rumor has it that nearly 40 minutes were cut from the film) is painfully obvious. Craig The Nelson’s hair is long at the start of the film, suddenly it’s short for the rest. Tangina completely disappears from the finale. Carol Anne at one point startles Robby in the bathroom. His mouthwash disappears, and then Carol Anne walks away without ever explaining what the hell she wanted in the first place. Etc. By themselves, it doesn’t mean much, but altogether, it’s very distracting. Plus a lot of things seem very abrupt, such as the battle with the worm-monster, and the “Other Side” sequence. You’d think that the section of the film that dealt with the film’s subtitle would last more than 75 seconds, but you’d be wrong!

One thing they did get right was the dry humor from the first film. I love the two old broads at the restaurant, discussing one of them having an affair. And Carol Anne’s suggestion that they live at Dunkin Donuts ensures that I would be in love with her if she was still alive today. Speaking of which, if you have a Dunkin’s near you, feel free to mail me an apple n’ spice donut or two. Or twelve. And even though it’s been four years in between productions, the film claims it was only a year ago, and other than Jo Beth Williams’ severe drop in hotness (I blame her awful hair), the aging seems right. Then again, Oliver Robins looked the same age from 1980 (Airplane II) to this, so it’s not really a surprise.

Uneven. That’s the best way to describe the film. It's not particularly good, but not particularly bad either. For everything that works, something else doesn’t. It’s just a shame that the best haunted house movie ever was sullied by two sort of lazy sequels. Oh, and that pretty much everyone involved with the damn thing is now dead, which results in a REALLY lousy DVD.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Non Canon Review: Day Of The Dead (2008)

MARCH 30, 2008

GENRE: REMAKE, ZOMBIE
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (SPECIAL SCREENING)

You might wonder why this is a Non-Canon Review... that’s because I saw the Day of the Dead remake last fall at a test screening, and didn’t review it on the basis that A. I already had a review for that day and B. it wasn’t finished. My rule is, unless I love the movie almost completely (such as Repo), or it’s a complete, un-savable abomination (like Invasion), I wait for the final cut out of respect for the filmmakers. Plus, one or two scenes I like may be removed, thus making the film weaker, or one or two scenes I really hate might also be removed, making the film better.

And that was exactly the case with Day. This cut was much improved, even though only minor things were changed. More importantly, and this is the same way I felt when I saw it before, I really don’t get why this movie is being ripped to shreds on Aintitcool and such. I have watched at LEAST three zombie movies that are far worse just for HMAD, not to mention all of the ones I had seen before that were far more worthy of being raked over the coals. It’s certainly not a perfect film, but I don’t think anyone involved with this version of Day set out to make anything but a goofy, fun, action-zombie movie. Which is exactly what it is.

The irony is, Romero’s original is hardly beloved by the general horror fanbase, many of whom consider it boring and cheap. I happen to really like it (though not as much as Night or Dawn), but after I learned my lesson with the Dawn remake, I knew not to damn this one before I saw it. Sadly, it seems others don’t feel the same; even those who liked the Dawn remake seem to hate on this one for the same types of things that film had in spades (fast zombies, emphasis on action, younger cast, etc). It baffles me when people hate a remake for simply being a remake to begin with, but even moreso when it’s a film relatively few people defend anyway (though to be fair it’s been thankfully re-evalauted in recent years). It seems like people just wanted to hate this movie for the hell of it, regardless of reason. I even read a review from guy who seemed to primarily hate the movie because a lot of it didn’t take place during the day. Oh yeah, genius? Night takes place over 24 hrs, and Dawn takes place over several months. And the original Day takes place over the course of a week or so. So go fuck yourself!

Screenwriter Jeffrey Reddick did a Q&A after the screening, and revealed that originally his script had more in common with the original film, but due to rights issues, producer/director wishes, etc, pretty much all of those things were lost (he also dislikes the ceiling zombie as much as everyone else – “not my idea”). So, like Dawn 04, this is basically the same concept as the original (military, zombies, quarantine), but is otherwise its own movie, and it should be judged as such. Unlike other remakes, you certainly can’t accuse Reddick or Steve Miner for plagiarizing the original – there’s literally nothing repeated other than a few character names.

(Speaking of which, Ving Rhames plays Rhodes. He is NOT playing his Dawn character. However, Joe Pilato, who played Rhodes in the original Day, also appeared in the original Dawn as a different character, so in a strange sort of way, it’s fitting).

So what works, and what doesn’t? Well, there are some fantastic zombie gags, particularly the demise of Mena Suvari’s mother, which had the entire crowd cheering. And it’s certainly a step up from the original in action; once people begin turning into zombies, the film is almost nonstop action until the end. And the ensemble cast is good, a nice mixture of teens, adults, and older folks (Ian McNeice is a hoot as a radio DJ). Christa Campbell is a bit oddly cast as a mother (with a husband that looks twice her age), but who the fuck cares? She’s in the movie, which is good enough for me.

As for the humor itself, it’s pretty hit or miss. “I’ll give you some money...” (see the movie for context) is possibly the funniest line of the year, and McNeice also gets in a few good lines. Sadly, Nick Cannon is given the bulk of the ‘jokes’, and his racially tinged (and mostly improvised, according to Reddick) one-liners grow tiresome after a while (“Why do white people always want to split up?” is the biggest groaner – don’t ALL dumb horror movie characters always split up, regardless of race?). But he gets eaten, so it works out. Also, the editing is a bit too Halloween 6-y for my tastes - every time the action cuts to a radio station (where a few characters have holed up), we are given flash edits and Avid farts. They also crank the film speed on a lot of the zombie attack scenes, not always to a successful degree. It’s nowhere near as annoying as House of the Dead, lest you start to get the wrong idea.

Most importantly, the movie is just fun. I had a blast watching it with a big crowd, and it will play best when you have your buddies with you (and maybe a beer or two), even at home. It’s fast paced without being incoherent, most of the CG is good (it’s about a 50/50 split between CG and practical effects), the characters are likable (even Cannon is somewhat endearing), and best of all, it’s its own movie. Is Romero’s better? No (well, YES, but that’s not the point), it’s just different. Had they intended to make a film as serious and thought-provoking as Romero’s original, then this would be a colossal failure. But they wanted to make the movie fun, action packed, and a sort of roller coaster ride. And in that regard, the film is a success. Like Black Xmas, it’s OK to dislike it, but comparing it to a film that shares only a title is insulting to both films, if you ask me.

At the end of the screening we all got a DVD of the movie (with a lenticular cover!). Since I got two (who said being married isn’t beneficial?), I will give away one to a lucky reader! Just write in the comments why you would like a copy, and I’ll pick the winner (considering the abysmal number of entries for previous contests, I’m guessing it won’t be hard). Contest ends in 10 days (when this review is no longer on the main page). Good luck!

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

The Cook (2008)

MARCH 29, 2008

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

Sometimes, you just wanna turn your brain off and be visually entertained for 80 minutes. And that is precisely what The Cook does. It’s not scary, and it’s not particularly funny, but for some reason it worked for me. It moves along nicely, it’s got a cast of incredibly cute girls (even the two nerdy ones are hot), the gore is plentiful, and the film’s sole primary male member (besides the killer) has a name for AND a conversation with his penis. What’s not to begrudgingly like?

The weirdest thing about the movie is how cheap it is in certain areas, but not in others. The actors aren’t the best, the audio seems to be recorded with the camera’s mike in a few scenes, even the (brief, contrary to what they try to make you believe) nudity is kind of half-assed (pun not intended, sadly). Plus they clearly didn’t bother hiring a proofreader:


And yet it’s also shot in the 2.35:1 ratio. I have no idea why, the frame is never filled, and it just looks awkward for such a small movie (the entire thing takes place in the house, except for the epilogue which was filmed in the Scrubs hospital, which ALSO looks strange in widescreen since Scrubs is pretty much the only non-reality show on TV that is still shot fullframe). Weird.

There’s also a scene that is bound to irk horror nerds. The two nicest girls and the penis talker are playing an extremely confusing trivia game, and one of the questions is about Friday the 13th part 4. At this point, they begin describing a scene from the film, and its intercut with the same thing happening downstairs to one of their friends. The problem is, the scene they are describing is not in Friday the 13th 4! You have offended my otherwise useless knowledge of horror movies, writer Nicholas Bonomo! Or Francisco Rodriguez.... or Dirk Van Fleet- why the FUCK did it take three people to write this movie?!?!?

Still, it’s endearing. The killer looks like a demented William H Macy/Greg Kinnear, and he’s chewing up the scenery with the best of them. And the cop at the end is so delightfully deadpan it made me a bit sad that he wasn’t in the movie for the entire time. You can tell everyone was having a blast, and taking any of it seriously even for a second would be your loss. And there’s even a rare Sling Blade reference! Besides, who can hate a movie in which the good Catholic girl stereotype is tied up and licked by another woman (however briefly)? Plus, the ending has a nice twist on who the Final Girl is, which is always welcome. So long as you’re drunk and/or can appreciate a completely cheapo slasher/comedy every now and then, you should have fun.

The commentary is OK, but nothing you’ll miss. They point out a few of the more ridiculous plot holes and laugh at the bad dialogue, but the guy playing the Cook seems to not be in on the joke, talking about lenses and shit. No one watching this cares, pal. Also, the director is not only absent, but its hinted that he didn’t get along with the producer/writers (like Poltergeist, it’s interesting to note how many of the same names pop up among the producers, writers, editors, etc, but the director isn’t listed anywhere else). There is also a making of (which is just random behind the scenes footage set to music), which is once again (for Anchor Bay) full frame but also anamorphic. So while widescreen owners have no problem, this makes the video seem windowboxed on a standard TV. How does one solve such a problem? I dunno, maybe frame the goddamn thing at the 1.78:1 ratio to begin with? The movie is 2.35:1, why go full frame to show a presumably interested audience how it was made?

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Cut And Run/American Gothic

MARCH 28, 2008

GENRE: HORROR?, INDEPENDENT, SURVIVAL
SOURCE: DVD (ONLINE RENTALS)

Here’s a first for Horror Movie A Day – A dual review! Why, you may ask?

As has happened a few times before, Blockbuster sent me the wrong movie. I had asked for American Gothic, which is a late 80s inbred horror thing with Rod Steiger. They sent me American Gothic, a short film by some guy named Carlos Batts. “Fine, whatever,” I said to no one in particular, and put in Cut And Run (aka Inferno in Diretta), a Ruggero Deodato film that had a plot similar to that of his Cannibal Holocaust, only it was a conventionally filmed movie, not a ‘mockumentary’. Except the problem is, despite what IMDb claims, it wasn’t really a horror movie at all. But after doing some research, I discovered that the short film WAS horror, so I will combine: Horror (short film), and (full length) Movie A Day!

The horror angle of Cut comes from Michael Berryman, playing a guy who seemingly lives in the river and seeks to murder drug dealers (and pretty much anyone else). His scenes, largely inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, are gory and violent, and could be mistaken for a Hills Have Eyes sequel. And being a Deodato film, the gore is over the top (beheadings, guttings, etc), something you certainly don’t find in many non-horror films. However, the rest of the film is basically an action movie a la Rambo II, in which a couple of folks (including that hot blond from Prince of Darkness) go into the jungle to rescue their friend, and kill a bunch of “bad guys” with automatic weapons and such. Not exactly horror, right?

The cast is also very HMAD friendly. In addition to Berryman and the Prince of Darkness woman (Lisa Blount, for the unnecessary record), we get Karen Black (Burnt Offerings), Leonard Mann (Flowers In The Attic), and Richard Lynch (Halloween remake). Plus the score is by Claudio Simonetti, aka Goblin.

As for the movie itself, well, whatever. 80s action movies of this type sort of just run along on rails, and if you take away the random gore (and Willie Aames’ ridiculous character) you’re left with any old Chuck Norris/Michael Dudikoff movie; the type that I can only appreciate if I grew up with it. Or I’m at the New Bev (this movie would be ideal for that place, actually). The idea of a group of natives going out of their way to kill drug dealers is pretty awesome, but the movie is kind of dull. There’s a lot of stuff that we really don’t need to watch, like Aames and some broad laying out and then lighting a bunch of flimsy runway lights. And for the life of me I can’t figure out what Eric LaSalle’s strip club owner character has to do with anything, or why he is tossed off a platform into a train by two guys we never see again.

Strangely, the end of the film seems to have influenced the execrable Welcome To The Jungle more than Holocaust did. Our heroes are kidnapped and then held hostage by the very man they were seeking (Lynch), who has now become a sort of Kurtz like madman, and the natives all serve under him. The only difference is, this movie had something fucking happen previously, so there wasn’t any need for him to kill off the heroes like in Jungle (which saved any sort of action or violence for this final minute of the film, and even that was mainly offscreen).

Anyway, not too great, but it was a fucking masterpiece compared to American Gothic. While it was certainly more of an actual horror movie than Cut (what with zombies, a guy covered in blood, etc), it was also an utterly awful and pretentious pile of crap.

The thing about experimental films like this that I don’t get is why anyone besides the filmmaker is watching them. They are experiments! Do scientists hold press conferences and then say “OK, we’re gonna try something”? Of course not. They do their experiments in private, and then show us the finish results. Why can’t these films work the same way? No matter, this experiment certainly failed. The idea is fine (the psychological horror behind the creation of Grant Wood’s eponymous painting) but the execution is as botched as anything can possibly be.

Here is the entire 25 minute movie: An old guy talks to himself, a montage of moving images animated with After Effects, a zombie lies on the ground, two zombies dance, three dead chicks play with children’s letter blocks, the old guy begins stabbing himself with his paintbrush while saying “I wandered aimlessly among the living” over and over, more After Effects, credits. Throughout this nonsense we hear some metal songs. In fact the imagery often resembles a Matt Mahurin music video (think "Unforgiven") but without a. the entire song (the metal songs fade in and out at random, or to allow the guy to say “I wandered aimlessly among the living” again) or b. a point being made in a timely manner. Why this needed to be 25 minutes, I have no idea. It’s pretty sad when a short film is padded and overlong.

Oh fuck you, movie.

There was a kid in my film school who made shit like this. Any time we’d have to present our stuff to the class, he’d show his and there would be utter silence (everyone else in the program made films that were more or less accessible). When the teacher asked about it, he wouldn’t even be able to explain it himself. I’m all for being weird or whatever, but the problem is that shit like this can literally be made by anyone. Film a bunch of random shit, edit it with a blender, throw in some “film damage” filters, and viola! Instant art film! And when someone questions it, you can just say “look, you don’t GET IT.” Oh blow it out your ass. If we’re too dumb to understand your masterpiece why’d you show it to us? And in this case, I got the point of it, I just didn’t get why it had to be so long and obtuse. Like the film Gothic, it’s a fascinating idea to me to show the “real” horror behind a well-known work of art, but I don’t see why it’s apparently so difficult to tell this type of story without being a pretentious windbag. I may not have the slightest clue what’s going on at times, but at least David Lynch’s films are nice to look at (save Inland Empire) and reasonably entertaining. This crap is ugly and boring to boot.

Whatever I watch tomorrow better be a full length horror movie or else there will be hell to pay! I’ll grab Michael Berryman and a few machetes and begin wiping out anyone who ever said “Well, my film is CEREBRAL...” in a dismissive manner.

What say you?


PLEASE, GO ON...

The Deaths Of Ian Stone (2007)

MARCH 27, 2008

GENRE: SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: DVD (STORE RENTAL)

This year’s After Dark festival titles have hit DVD, so I can begin the likely burden (as opposed to joy) of watching all eight before the next one comes around. Luckily, Unearthed and Tooth and Nail are long since out of the way, and I hope to hell they are among the worst, and not the best of the bunch. Hopefully, more of them are like The Deaths Of Ian Stone, which is well-made, occasionally interesting, but ultimately “meh”.

(It’s too much to ask at this point that any of them are actually GOOD).

Ironically, Ian Stone works best when it’s not really a horror movie. Ian (Cloverfield’s Mike Vogel) gets killed, then wakes up in a different life. Every hour so he is killed again, and each time he wakes up in a different persona: college student, office lackey, taxi driver, junkie... After a while, Déjà vu sets in and he begins to put the pieces together, with a little help from a mysterious stranger. And this is where the movie begins to fall apart, as the back-story is nonsensical, not to mention full of plot holes. It’s probably the first movie in which once things start to make sense for the main character, they make less sense to the audience.

Luckily, the CG is pretty good (Stan Winston designs!), so when we get to the finale, which consists of a few of the Dementor-ish spirit monster things whaling on each other, it’s at least visually impressive. And the main girl reminded me of Alexandra Holden, so that’s always a plus. However, the last act also introduces a few character who inexplicably dress in Matrix leftovers, and the sight of them is not only distracting (I actually had to rewind the movie to hear some dialogue because I was so amused by the sudden appearance of Trinity’s outfit), but laughable.

In theory, combining Dark City, The Matrix, They, and Groundhog Day could turn out OK, and for a while it works. There’s a great sequence early on when Ian witnesses another guy who is being stalked by the monsters dying on the street, and then being chased himself. And I always like seeing characters put things together. Plus, as a man who once got paid to sing Jim Steinman songs (in MTV’s Wuthering Heights), Mike Vogel is aces in my book. I just wish they could have come up with something better than “Matrix wannabes who live on fear” as the ultimate antagonist.

The DVD is strangely lacking in extras. Usually the After Darks have a commentary and/or a making of, but the only thing Ian gets is a group of Miss Horrorfest webisodes (which have nothing to do with the movie) and the usual 4505 trailers. The final Horrorfest webisode, where the Miss is announced, was filmed entirely at a party that yours truly attended last fall. If you watch the video in slow-motion and zoomed in, you can still not see me at all! Probably because I spent the entire night hovering near the crew door so I could get first pick on whatever was being put on a tray. Hardly the stuff of interesting video footage. “Hey, stop filming the half naked girls, there’s a guy in a Hatchet shirt eating a cracker dipped in hummus!”

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

The Ruins (2008)

MARCH 26, 2008

GENRE: SUPERNATURAL, SURVIVAL
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (PRESS SCREENING)

If there is one plotline that doesn’t hold much promise, it’s “Four college kids are attacked by killer vines. That talk.” And if you want to sell it extremely short, that’s exactly what The Ruins is. But as it turns out, not only is it much better than expected, it’s the best horror movie of the year so far. Take THAT, One Missed Call!

The movie is based on a book (by Scott Smith, who also wrote the screenplay) that I haven’t read, and is directed by a guy I’ve never heard of (Carter Smith), and stars some folks who don’t often star in anything. And like I said, the plot didn’t really hold much promise. But everyone involved gave it their all; an A-Game approach to a B-Movie. The surprising R rating is well-earned, with some truly brutal and shocking moments (such as the first onscreen child killing in a horror movie in ages! YEAH! The movie’s got some goddamn balls!), and some truly impressive (but thankfully sparse) gore as well.

It’s also the rare survival horror film in which actual survival elements are implemented. 30 Days Of Night completely botched this part up, with a 30 day time window seeming more like 30 hours, partially due to the fact that getting food/water was never once an issue in the film. Not the case here; we see them rationing their limited food, crafting stretchers and such out of what they have on hand, etc. The main character, Jeff (well played by Jonathan Tucker, making up for his annoying performance in Bruce’s Hostage) is the most practical of the four, and watching him use his head and think things through was very refreshing.

The other three are good too. Jena Malone starts off as an annoying and whiny drunk, but comes into her own as things get worse for the group. Shawn Ashmore (Iceman!) and Laura Ramsey are the other two, also impressively more than just attractive kids in a horror movie. There are no stereotypes – they are all intelligent (and about equally “famous”), which makes it far more difficult than usual to peg which ones are going to be goners.

Smith also did a fine job of translating what has to be the silliest part of the book (besides the concept itself) onto the screen – the talking vines. Like I said, I haven’t read it, but those who did have told me that this was something that wouldn’t work onscreen. But I think it does, to a degree. The vines don’t talk in a traditional sense, like Audrey II or whatever, but instead mimic the sounds they hear, which include human voices. Apparently it was a bit streamlined from the book, but it seems natural, and is only used twice (to disturbing effect) in the film to boot. It’s nowhere near as disastrous as William Goldman’s attempts to visualize the “memory warehouse” in Dreamcatcher, something that was actually pretty awesome in the book but wholly idiotic when seen on screen.

The movie also contains one of my favorite lines in recent memory. When the kids are all despairing that they will die out there, Jeff tries to calm them by exclaiming “Four American tourists don’t just disappear!” Oh man. I lost it. Of course, the film had already reminded me of the sadly underrated Turistas (during the opening 20 minutes), and anyone familiar with these types of movies should enjoy the line as much as I did.

I should also point out that I saw the film on the Paramount lot. On the way to the screening room, I saw a building with a sign reading “Film Vault”. You can bet your sweet bippy that I wanted nothing more than to bust my way into that place, find the My Bloody Valentine footage that they cut for MPAA, and run off into the night, armed with the knowledge that I was doing the entire horror community a giant favor. BUT, I didn’t.

Please go see this movie, and not Prom Night. They are opening around the same time, and I would really really hate for Hollywood to get the message (again) that an unnecessary PG-13 remake is somehow a better financial investment than an intelligent, suspenseful, and at times downright disturbing horror movie. Come on now.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Isle Of The Dead (1945)

MARCH 25, 2008

GENRE: SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: CABLE (TURNER CLASSIC)

You know, I love TCM, but they gotta start airing movies on a normal schedule. Because of their insistence of showing movies with start times that a DVR doesn’t understand, I missed the ending of Isle Of The Dead. Luckily, a very specific “plot summary” on IMDb told me what happened, but still, I like to see these things for myself. It’s not “Read The Cliff’s Notes For A Horror Movie A Day”, after all.

Based on the writeup, it seems the ending was just as good as the rest of the movie. Boris Karloff is fantastic as the possibly psychotic Army colonel who declares quarantine for the inhabitants of an island after someone falls victim to the Plague (2nd Plague movie this month, wooo!), and the rest of the cast is quite good too (Jason Robards’ dad is in it!). I particularly liked the woman who was susceptible to fainting spells and has premonitions of being buried alive. She reminded me of one of my aunts. Also she totally kills some folks near the end. Like my aunt.

Like all of the Val Lewton movies, Isle is all atmosphere, but it works better here than usual. Even though it’s about 10 minutes longer than the average Lewton flick, and doesn’t have nearly as much “action”, it flies by, mainly on the strength of the mystery (is it the plague or a murderer?) and the acting. Like The Seventh Victim, the horror elements are relatively toned down, but it’s still compelling.

I also like how thorough the movie’s doctor is when someone dies. First he places a feather under the person’s nose, to see if they laugh or sneeze. When that doesn’t work, he places a mirror under their nostrils to see if their breath fogs the glass. And he does it for a few people! If this guy was around for April Fool’s Day or Catacombs, he could have spared me the rest of those god awful movies.

This one’s up for a remake (as are all Lewton films, part of some weird deal with RKO). Hopefully they find a way to make the plague and the vorvolka (sp? – a mythological demon that the Greeks believe in, at any rate) storylines tied together a bit, as it often seems one is forgotten in favor of the other. And it’s not quite as good as the other Lewton movies I’ve seen lately (except maybe Leopard Man). But still, compared to all of the 30s and 40s nonsense I usually watch (via my budget pack), it’s a masterpiece.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Slugs (1988)

MARCH 24, 2008

GENRE: MONSTER
SOURCE: DVD (BORROWED)

A friend practically forced me to watch Slugs, on the grounds that it was directed by the same guy who directed Pieces, a film apparently no one besides me owns on DVD (Eli Roth kept claiming it was never even made available. I bought it at Best Buy for Christ’s sake!). Needless to say, I was curious to see what else this guy had up his pseudonymous sleeve (his name is Juan Piquer Simón, credited as the more American sounding JP Simon).

While not as batshit insane (and thus awesome) as Pieces, Slugs is still a lot of fun. It’s structured like The Blob or any other old 50s movie, in which a monster is loose and cutting a very random path through a town (of course, starting with a derelict dog owner) while a rogue scientist or two try to figure out a way to stop it and prevent further death/destruction. But being a Simón film, when the monster (thousands of slugs) attacks someone, it is gory as hell and sometimes accompanied by gratuitous nudity. It’s also impressive how much damage the things inadvertently cause. My favorite bit is when just a few slugs inside a guy’s work glove results in the guy chopping off his own hand, knocking over every plant inside his greenhouse, and eventually blowing himself and his wife to smithereens. The entire sequence is like a precursor to the Rube Goldberg-y death scenes in the Final Destination films. Just squish the damn things in your fist, dude!

There is also a hefty dose of what I assume is a Simón tradition: hilariously odd dialogue! After the aforementioned couple is killed, our hero shouts “They were nice people... and I liked them A LOT!” His delivery is beyond the necessary level of anger, to the point where he seems to blame the slugs, the people, his wife, and everyone else in the world for their deaths. I didn’t think anything would top that, but I was so delightfully wrong. In the third act, he tells the zoning commissioner that he is declaring a state of emergency, to which the commissioner guy shouts “You ain’t got the authority to declare happy birthday!” Holy shit, what? And someone else scoffs at the idea of killer slugs by wondering “What’s next? Demented crickets?” (goldmine plot for a film if there ever was one).

Speaking of the commissioner, this movie tops your average real estate horror movie in terms of the boring jobs everyone has. Our lead characters are public health inspectors, sewer management officials, zoning commissioners, real estate barons, land developers... it’s like the cast of a public access town meeting putting a gory, hilarious spin on things.

The movie also has a peculiar hatred of alcohol. Early on, a woman asks her husband if he thought another woman was attractive, and his reply is simply “She DRINKS too much!” The same woman later discusses her growing dependence on the drink after her boyfriend berates her for drinking a bit of wine. And then our resident horny teens have a fight over the guy’s desire to dip into her dad’s scotch. “Why do you have to drink!” she yells. It seems very out of place in a movie that will likely be watched with alcohol 99% of the time. Hell, the only reason I WASN’T drinking was because I watched it at 11 am and had to go to work after (more the latter than the former).

Slugs also has one of my favorite all time screen continuity errors. Our hero and the chief are riding in the chief’s car, and the hero lights a smoke. He then asks if it’s OK to smoke, and the chief says “No”. So the guy throws his cigarette out the window. Then he gets the chief back by claiming that the hard candy he was eating was made from insects. The chief in turn spits the candy out of HIS window. Both occasions are followed by comments about a fine for littering.

...and both windows are completely shut.

I also lost my shit at the film’s climax, in which our heroes unload some sort of chemical into the sewer that will explode when it comes in contact with moisture, such as the slime on the slugs. This is done to save the town, right? Look at the results:




Couldn’t they have just given everyone a big bag of salt?

They also hint at a sequel by showing one of the slugs surviving the explosion. But this is sort of obvious – despite how big the explosion was, you gotta figure a few slugs weren’t even in the sewer at all (all of the people they kill are killed above ground). It’s not like a regular monster movie where the monster dies and that’s that – there are like 20 million of the goddamn things around town! Surely more than just the one survived.

Doesn’t matter. Fun movie. Hopefully it will show at the New Beverly someday so I can raise my beer and salute all of the anti-alcohol characters in an appropriate manner.

Oh, and supposedly it’s based on a book. Why would anyone want to read a book about killer slugs when you can’t see the surprisingly gory aftermath of their unprovoked, random attacks on bit players?

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Shutter (2008)

MARCH 23, 2008

GENRE: GHOST, REMAKE, TECHNOLOGY
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

I’m about at the point where not only can I not tell the Asian movies apart, I also can’t tell their respective remakes apart from one another (or the other originals). In short: they really need to stop fucking making any version in any language of a movie where a ghost haunts someone until they are properly buried. Shutter is the latest in a long line of films that are so formulaic and redundant, it’s a wonder they even bother shooting a new movie at all, rather than just release one of the others under a new title.

Like the original, we have a very unlikable “hero” (he broke up with a girl simply because he didn’t want to deal with her problems, and then had his friends rape her while he photographed them), except here this is revealed as a twist, so as to delay our hating the main character for a bit. The fact that the original dared to introduce this only about halfway through or so was pretty much the only original thing about it, so now we’re left with absolutely nothing. Other than the fact that Pacey manages to utter two “Fucks!” in a PG-13 film, there is zero here that can possibly entice an audience unless they have never seen The Ring, The Grudge, Pulse, Dark Water, One Missed Call, The Eye, and/or any of the original versions and/or any of the sequels (either language). And if you’ve seen them ALL (man, when I list them all and realize that... Christ), it can almost be considered rude of Fox to ask someone to pay for the damn thing. The least the studios could have done would be to offer a buy two get one free deal for this year’s 3 remakes, where if you paid for One Missed Call and The Eye, you get Shutter for free.

And yet Shutter is probably the best of the three. Like Moe, it’s still stupid, just not AS stupid as Larry and Curly over there. Keeping the locale out of generic America (though strangely in Japan and not Thailand, like the original) certainly helps, and there IS one sort of effective scare scene (dark apartment with camera flashes being the only light source). Plus it’s shorter, so that’s nice of them.

Still, you can’t take that as a sign of the movie achieving “maybe it’s not all that bad” levels. The flash/light scene might be good, but the subway scene (the scariest part of the original) is completely botched, even worse than Alba’s Eye remake botched its respective elevator scene. They also use completely ludicrous cinematic shortcuts: at one point the lead girl (Rachael Taylor) figures out that the ‘ghost’ in Pacey’s photos is pointing at a certain level of a building. She goes to the building, and instead of spending, I dunno, 12 whole seconds just counting floors to figure out where she needs to go, she looks at a GIANT DIAGRAM of the building, which conveniently shows each floor number in relation to the building’s logo, allowing her to quickly understand it’s the 17th floor she wants. And this is a shame, because director Masayuki Ochiai was the director of Infection (aka Kansen), a movie that a. I really liked and b. would be much better suited for the remake treatment than Shutter, since it wasn’t about another goddamn ghost haunting another goddamn electronic device.

It’s also wildly inconsistent. Throughout the movie they keep seeing/hearing weird things, and yet over an hour into the film, when Pacey sees the ghost in the bedroom and screams, she wakes up and asks “What’s wrong?”, as if by then she couldn’t have just assumed that he once again saw the ghost that had been plaguing the both of them for a week or so.

Speaking of the ghost, when her “plan” is revealed, I almost laughed out loud. “She was trying to HELP me!” says Taylor, when Pacey tells her about his rape photography past. But it’s already been established that the ghost had been there for a while, so why the fuck did the damn thing wait until they were MARRIED to “help” her? Since the girl was long dead, and Taylor didn’t know anything about Pacey’s relationship with her (they are seen dating for quite a while in the flashbacks), you gotta figure there was at LEAST two years in between her death and the wedding that opens the film. And why wait until they got to Japan (the film begins and ends in New York) to make her presence known, when it’s also established that the ghost doesn’t exactly need a passport to get around? Of course, none of these movies make any damn sense, but at least some of them carry a bit of dread and even the occasional scare to make up for it (or keep you from noticing the plot holes at all). When they are going this by the numbers, these things become all the more apparent, and you would THINK that after half a dozen tries, they’d start to get it right, or at least try something different. Sadly, no.

The good news is that the movie didn’t make all that much money this weekend, and will probably sink like a stone. Maybe after another 6 or 7 failures, the studios will start to consider whether or not remaking every goddamn J-horror film ever made is still a financially sound idea. Here’s hoping!

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Carver (2008)

MARCH 22, 2008

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

Attn: Whoever sent me Carver for review – thanks! I wish I could remember who you were or what site I was supposed to review the movie for, but I don’t even recall receiving the damn thing! I was looking for another movie on my shelf and spied the film nested properly in between Candyman and The Cave. No recollection of it at all. It’s as if the Direct to DVD Fairy entered my home, took careful note of my how I sort my DVDs (an impressive feat, to be sure), and filed it away for me to find at my own leisure.

And I was even more surprised to discover that it wasn’t bad! On a surface level, it’s the umpteenth Saw/Hostel wannabe to come along in the past few years, albeit fused to a standard woods-set slasher, but there are just enough fairly unique touches to warrant giving it a pass.

For starters, our hero is the angriest man in horror movie history. He gets so frustrated at the simplest things, and it delighted me every single time. When his brother mocks him for asking him “how far?” one too many times during their road trip, he launches into a sarcastic, seemingly endless rant about how his brother’s non-answer was “exactly what he was looking for”. Later in the film, he shouts about how much he hates “stupid” wine glasses. There are a couple of other moments like this as well. Man, chill out!

He also has the film’s best line by far. He enters a stall, and the toilet is kind of dirty. He makes a disgusted sigh and opens the adjacent stall, which is ten times WORSE. He retches, and then notices a large pile of poop on the wall. “How do you shit on the wall?!” he asks no one in particular. It’s hilarious.

I should note at this time that the film has a particular fascination with bodily functions, particularly poop. After this sequence, another guy walks into another outhouse that is even MORE disgusting than the one with the wall-shit. The guy shrugs and sits down on the toilet anyway, and then the disgusting bowl is used as a weapon against him a bit later. We are also treated to the sight of a girl puking, and in the film’s most memorable kill, a testicle being plied, which results in blood and whatever the fuck else is inside a testicle to explode over the camera lens. Christ.

See, there are only two types of scenes I can’t handle: seeing someone get their teeth damaged (American History X – holy FUCK) and seeing dudes lose their genitalia. Everything else I am fine with, but if your movie has either one of those two types of scenes, you can guarantee that I’ll be squirming (or even looking away entirely). And since I guess that’s one of the reactions one SHOULD have when watching a horror movie, I guess in that respect the movie is a success.

The movie also has a fantastic soundtrack. And by that I mean there is a really weird and annoying (but ultimately catchy) song that plays throughout the movie. The chorus goes “Turkey in the straw, hee hee haw; Turkey in the hay, hey hee hey!” I defy anyone to watch this movie and not sing along with it by the 6th or 7th time it plays over a kill scene. Apparently, it’s an old ‘traditional’ song, much like your "Goin’ Round The Mountain When She Comes" and such, but for some reason it took a low budget slasher movie that mysteriously appeared on my DVD shelf for me to become aware of it.

It’s also a downer. Our Final Girl blows her goddamn head off, and our would-be hero gets HIS head caved in with a sledgehammer. And yet for some reason, the over the top gore/poop humor actually works well with the rather dark final act. Usually I abhor such things (Cabin Fever lost me on several occasions because of this imbalance) but it didn’t bother me here.

One thing that DID bother me was how poor the direction was. It seems like Captain John Tripod, ASC was the primary cameraman here, and several scenes have confusing and awkward blocking (particularly the scenes inside the bar). I wish writer/director Franklin Guerrero, Jr. had left the direction to someone else, as the lazy camerawork makes the film feel overly inert (DP Ryan Bedell can also be blamed). Ironically, the most frenetic camerawork we see in the film is in the snuff films that the killers are making. And this is a problem, because they seem to have been shot by at LEAST two people, when there should only be one (the hero doesn’t even figure this part of it out until the very end of the film). Things like that I am able to forgive, but other people are more stubborn, which is a shame, because Carver is much better (even at 100 minutes and only a few kills it feels fast paced) than I expected.

The DVD also has more extras than I was expecting. Two commentary tracks? I began listening to one with Guerrero and one of the producers, but he claimed that the track would be dry, technical, and “pretentious”, and that the other one would be more fun. So I switched it. On this track (which is Guerrero again, with a different producer), they get drunk, however they are annoying drunks. If you want to know how to do a REAL drunken commentary, listen to Cannibal: The Musical’s track. That thing is fucking amazing. There are a few tidbits to learn along the way, but someone needs to inform them that mispronouncing words and trying to ‘bring back’ forgotten insults is NOT the stuff of comic gold. There are also deleted scenes and a behind the scenes, nothing you’ll miss.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Non Canon Review: Night Of The Creeps (1986)

MARCH 21, 2008

GENRE: ALIEN, COMEDIC, ZOMBIE
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REVIVAL SCREENING)

As much as I love James Gunn for Dawn of the Dead and Slither, I can’t say I really believe him when he says that he never saw Night of the Creeps before he wrote Slither. There are too many similarities to chalk it up to coincidence: the arrival of the parasite, the manner in which they ‘infiltrate’ humans, the way that infected humans look... come on now. He at least read the IMDb synopsis.

Doesn’t matter, because both movies are a blast, and I’m happy to have both. Creeps only has one major problem – the acting of Jason “Worst Rusty Ever” Lively, but it’s not even nearly enough to cripple the film, and you can even pretend it was intentionally bad acting to fit in with the corniness of old 50s movies (his appearance as Rusty confirms that no, he just can’t act worth a shit).

Otherwise this is a perfect B horror-comedy. Tom Atkins is possibly more awesome here than he is in Halloween III, which is saying quite a lot. His default phone greeting (“Thrill me”) is amazing enough for me to use it in real life on occasion (though I often reverse the way Rusty says it, and go“Thrill me, detective” instead. It’s less awkward.). The tagline is of course the stuff of legend (“The good news is....”). There’s another line that I think is just as good, involving a flamethrower. It’s the type of movie you will quote over and over.

It’s also a batshit movie. The first 20 minutes have alien wars, rotted zombies, a science project that requires a bunch of brains to be stored in the cellar, David Paymer running another science experiment in a college lab, a serial killer... holy shit!

The movie also features a guy named Steve Marshall, playing JC, Rusty’s best friend. However, until now I thought he was the guy from Nightmare on Elm St 3 who was in a wheelchair. He’s not. That guy’s name is Ira Heiden. I apologize to both unknown 80s actors.

Like Monster Squad, the movie is essentially over before you know it (the structure is much better though), but it’s fun from start to finish, and it’s a real shame that it’s STILL not on DVD, because there’s probably a lot of kids who have never seen it (even more of a shame when you consider they probably love Slither to death). I’ll scream like a banshee the day Anchor Bay or one of those guys manages to get this one a nice special edition a la Squad, because in my opinion it’s even more deserving of one.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

The Monster Squad (1987)

MARCH 21, 2008

GENRE: MONSTER
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REVIVAL SCREENING)

There’s a certain risk involved when re-watching movies as an adult that you really liked as a kid. The risk being that they don’t hold up to your memory, and as a result you no longer like the film at all. It happened with Critters last year, and pretty much all of the Nightmare On Elm St sequels (except 3. Dream Warriors fucking owns). So even though I bought the Monster Squad DVD when it came out last year, I never opened it, because I was afraid of it happening again. I had only seen the movie once, when I was like 8, so I didn’t remember ANYTHING except liking it. However, when the New Beverly announced they would be screening the film with Fred Dekker in attendance, I couldn’t pass it up. Plus, if there was any hope for enjoying the movie as an adult, it would be at the Bev, with 300 of my closest friends (and of course, a few smuggled in beers).

Luckily, the gamble worked. I had a blast. It reeks of 80s at every turn (having Mary Ellen Trainor, patron saint of 80s action movies, doesn’t help, as MILF-y as she may be), but it’s fun all the way through, and a far better way for a modern audience to be introduced to Wolf Man, Dracula, and Frankenstein than that piece of shit Stephen Sommers movie.

One thing I never realized as a kid was how the movie was essentially missing a middle. The monsters come, their plan is revealed, and they are stopped. Instantly. The first time half of our characters even SEE the monsters is when they are having their big showdown. Men In Black was the same way; they spend a good hour introducing us to everyone on both sides of the conflict, and then less than 20 wrapping it up. It’s a short movie anyway (82 minutes with credits), but this odd structure makes it feel like 60.

Still, as a kid I didn’t get why all of the kids were trying so hard to get the photo that Frankie took, so it evens out.

Anyway, now that I felt “safe” to do so, I went home and opened the DVD, finally. I wasn’t aware that the documentary on the disc was longer than the film itself, but it was quite good. I wish they had assembled more of the actors (where’s Eugene?), and that they had spent more time on the film’s reception, however. Still, a must for fans, and very well put together. I was saddened to learn of Horace’s passing 10 years ago (of pneumonia), but not really surprised – for some reason I find that whenever I watch a movie from the 70s or 80s, I later discover that one of the actors died at an early age. It’s depressing.

Maybe Riggs and Murtaugh can help them fight off Dracula.

There are also two commentary tracks. I listened to the one with Dekker and the kids, but not the one with Dekker and the DP. Why? Well, DPs are 99% of the time the boringest people in the world to listen to, and between the doc, the commentary, an Dekker’s Q&A at the screening, I highly doubt there’s a lot more I need to know about this movie. Still, it’s a great package (there are also deleted scenes, storyboards, etc), the type of set I wish all movies would get eventually. Three Amigos! is similarly beloved, despite a less than impressive original box office take, and that movie doesn’t even have a goddamn widescreen transfer!

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

The Amazing Mr. X (1948)

MARCH 20, 2008

GENRE: GHOST, MAGICIAN
SOURCE: DVD (BUDGET PACK 2!!!)

With a title like The Amazing Mr. X, I thought this was going to be some sort of sci-fi heavy monster movie. But no, it’s a movie about an inordinate amount of magicians (both professionals and hobbyists) doing their thing for little reason other than to nail one of two sisters. In theory, not a bad idea!

Like a lot of the budget pack movies, this one is a. so short and b. has just enough laughable moments to warrant giving it an OK mark. For example, within 3 minutes of the film’s beginning, we hear a woman say: “If a man ever chased me into the ocean in the middle of the night, I’d shoot him!” If you had a gun, why did you let this theoretical attacker chase you all the way into the ocean? And does the time matter? Is it more acceptable to be chased into the Pacific during broad daylight?

The conversation even gets more puzzling as the two women begin discussing whether or not one of them will accept a man’s proposal later that night. We are given the impression he has asked her before, and their entire attitude about the possible engagement is impressively laid back; they might as well be discussing whether or not they will go to church on Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning. Later, during the actual proposal, the guy seems just as shruggish about it; you get the idea that if the phone rang or something that he might forget to ask entirely. The movie’s message seems to be: Marriage - eh, why not?

Later in the film, it seems as if the writer was just trying to be a wiseass, which results in scenes like this:

(A sinister guy opens a door into a house, where the good guy is already inside)
Good guy: “What are you doing here?”
Sinister Guy: “Right now? Opening this door.”

This is even topped in dry hilarity about 10 minutes later. The bad guy has one of the good guys at gunpoint, and the good guy seems to think the bad guy is out of bullets. So he begins, “I started with 7 shells... I have one in the chamber-“ – and then he is cut off by the cops, who riddle him with bullets before he gets a chance to finish his line. It’s fucking hilarious.

As for, you know, the actual MOVIE? Eh. It reminded me of a few other budget pack ones, including Tormented. Like I said, it’s hardly long enough to get boring, and it’s kind of cool to see so many magicians act snooty with one another, scoffing at the others’ knots and such. There isn’t much in the way of horror, especially when the ‘ghost’ is revealed to be a hoax around the halfway mark or so, but it still moves along nicely, and director Bernard Vorhaus and/or DP John Alton are much more inventive with their camerawork and lighting than many of their peers (there’s a lot of great use of single light sources illuminating just the face on a portrait in a wide shot of a room, and things like that).

Unfortunately, the transfer doesn’t do the film justice. It may be one of the worst on the set thus far, in fact. The usual frame skips are larger than usual (at one point it seems a good 5 seconds is missing) and there picture is off center.

Can YOU read any of this shit?

There’s also the strangest transfer flaw I’ve ever encountered; strange to the point where I am convinced I am imagining it. During several scenes I swear I heard a “TV in the next room” type sound. It certainly wasn’t coming from any defined source in the film itself. If anyone else has the Horror Classics pack, please check on this. I can hear it particularly in the scene where the heroine goes to the house and sees a bird before talking to one of the magician guys. You might need headphones, for it is very faint. And possibly non-existent.

What say you?


PLEASE, GO ON...

Burnt Offerings (1976)

MARCH 19, 2008

GENRE: HAUNTED HOUSE
SOURCE: DVD (ONLINE RENTAL)

What was with audiences in the 70s? Were they just too stoned to pay attention to anything? Let’s Scare Jessica To Death hinged on us not noticing that someone in a picture from 100 years ago was clearly the same person who had latched onto our heroine, and now Burnt Offerings expects us to be surprised that a mysterious old woman who no one ever sees doesn’t actually exist. Wow, really? A REAL twist would have the woman turn out to be real, since anyone with half a brain would know right from the start that the lass simply wasn’t there.

At least Jessica had the good sense to be nice and short (82 minutes vs Offerings’ 115), so the fact that not a lot was happening wasn’t too big of a problem. That’s not the case here, as until the batshit (and admittedly awesome) finale, the grand total of “things happening” in the first 100 minutes is 3: Oliver Reed smacks his kid around for no reason, an old woman dies, and some clocks speed ahead 25 minutes. The rest of the time, the movie just sort of hangs out in itself; we watch Reed and Karen Black do chores, look at photos, do other chores, and talk about doing chores. Black even spurns Reed’s advances at one point, despite telling him that he is “incredibly sexy” (drunk is the new hot, I guess), because making love would probably be considered too much action for this movie.

And it’s a bummer, because the first ten minutes had me believing I was in for some Manitou style hilarity (the trailer for the film certainly suggests a much more exciting ride, as it consists entirely of the 2-3 minutes’ worth of horror/action the film has). Burgess Meredith’s cameo (and it IS a cameo, despite his 3rd billing, since he never appears in the film again) is delightful, as he rolls around in his wheelchair, laughing at just about everything and watching the movie’s resident kid get seriously injured without telling his parents. But after he leaves, other than the occasional odd delivery that you come to expect from Reed, the movie becomes almost painfully dull. And the fact that it’s shot like a porno doesn’t help; when I see a soft focus bedroom, I certainly expect a scene that contains more than some minor disagreement over when one should wake up in the morning.

It’s also pretty repetitious. After the scene where Reed throttles the kid around, he talks to Black about how he’s afraid of “it happening again.” They proceed to have this EXACT SAME CONVERSATION in the next two scenes. Three times in a row we hear this, but then they make it even more annoying by never even explaining what the fuck they are referring to (unless they did so in the 30 seconds or so that it took me to go into the kitchen to grab a box of Peeps). But even if that is the case – the whole incident is never brought up again. From that point on, Reed seems to be relatively safe from the evil house’s influence, which I must admit was a relief; far too many haunted house movies have the father go nuts. No one really goes insane in this movie, but Black is certainly more “taken” by the house’s evil ways than anyone else. Women be crazy too!

Like I said a while before (hey, long movie = long review), the finale is what saves this movie. We get the traditional attempt to escape/”the house won’t let us leave” sequence, only with a nice twist (though this movie precedes many of the other haunted house movies I’ve seen, so I guess it’s not really a twist, just a forgotten “thing filmmakers should do”). Reed is driving away, and then the usual roadblock (a tree, in this case) appears. But rather than turn around or whatever, Reed just starts ramming the tree with his car. Finally! A proactive action against easily circumvented barriers! As a lifelong player of video games, where you are often kept from exploring by a box on the ground or a knee high fence, it’s nice to see a scene in any medium where the characters aren’t so easily foiled by these types of things.

The very end is also amazing. After 114 minutes, we deserve something, and Dan Curtis delivers – a near decapitation (and complete death) of one major character, and then another is crushed to death by a falling chimney. Yeah! Hilariously, on the commentary track, Curtis comments “Without that ending, the film wouldn’t have worked.” What a pointless thing to say. No movie works without its ending! And especially THIS movie, since the final 60 seconds contains the film’s only saving grace. Just as hilarious, he reveals that he chopped out the film’s original 15 minute opening because it was “too slow and boring.” Yeah, unlike the rollercoaster ride that is the rest of the movie. Nothing says excitement like Oliver Reed fixing a water pump!

The rest of the track is like the movie itself – just when you’re about to shut it off out of boredom, something interesting occurs, providing just enough good will to get you to the next instance (never courtesy of Karen Black, who comes off as someone pretty full of herself and constantly interrupts Curtis to point out something like her gray hair or visible pregnancy bump). Even shaving a half hour out of the film would barely help – they really needed to rethink the whole “woman in the room” angle and maybe add a gardener or someone who could be dispatched early on so that you wouldn’t forget you were watching a horror movie (instead, they just play creepy music over non-creepy imagery).

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

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