Dark Harvest 2: The Maize (2004)

SEPTEMBER 30, 2008


The original Dark Harvest was one of my unofficial trilogy of “Dark” films (Harvest, Fields, Ride) that pretty much epitomize what is wrong with horror movies nowadays. But it’s the only one that has a sequel (though a Dark Ride 2 has been threatened), and I figured it couldn’t possibly be worse. However, Dark Harvest 2: The Maize is not really a sequel, just possibly the most blatant ripoff in Lionsgate history.

It’s actually a movie simply called The Maize: The Movie (LOL), without even the slightest resemblance to Dark Harvest (it’s not even the same subgenre). What happened was, Lionsgate bought the film and renamed it, and even put the scarecrow killer guy from the “first” movie on the cover, which is the icing on the douchecake. Making matters even more confusing (for me anyway), The Maize has its own (legit) sequel, but I can’t find any evidence of it being released on DVD, by Lionsgate or anyone else. I DID discover that Dark Harvest 3 is another unrelated film, so I look forward to watching that one soon. And people bitch about Halloween III not having Michael Myers...

But it’s easy to see how it could be sold as a sequel, as it is also a completely inept and overlong bore, like the original, and it also has a cornfield. But instead of a kid with variant hair seeking retribution against the killer scarecrows who dare to believe he has a different last name, this one’s about a dad who spends the entire movie looking for his daughters inside a corn maze. And he has ESP.

And it’s an hour and forty five minutes long.

Now, it’s a terrible movie, and nothing could save it, but while the length is unforgivable, it also adds to what makes it such a trainwreck delight. I spent more time laughing at this movie than I have at any other film in recent memory, and a lot of it was due to my disbelief at just how long certain scenes go on. For example, there’s a bit where the two girls, who are for some reason filming a movie about them getting lost (using the same camera that I suspect was used to shoot a good chunk of this actual film. It’s meta-low-budget!). One of them tells the other to keep screaming into the camera. We watch this, not exaggerating here, for 3 straight minutes. Director Bill Cowell (who also wrote, produced, and starred) occasionally has editor Robert Imbs cut in some shots of birds flying in a V formation (Gordon Bombay, are you out there?) to break it up a bit, but it doesn’t diffuse the sheer non-energy that this scene delivers. The fact that the little girls (one of whom is Cowell’s daughter) can’t act worth a shit just adds to the greatness.

Random cutaways and inserts actually make up what seems like half (or more) of the movie. Shoes, shovels, clocks, birds, pumpkins, hands... if it’s a noun, chances are at some point it gets a jarring closeup in the film. It’s actually kind of impressive how many cuts there are in this movie. A lot of these no budget indies suffer from “Master Shot-itis”, in which entire scenes are filmed from one stationary angle, but not The Maize! There’s a cut every couple seconds or so, and some of them even match.

Another wonderful element of this film is the fact that Imbs apparently just learned how to use Adobe After Effects, and by golly he wanted to prove it. So whenever the dad (Cowell again) uses his ESP, we get concentric circles emanating from his head, courtesy of AE’s ripple effect, set at about 100 radius, 40 width (for those of you at home who want to make your very own Dark Harvest 2 homage film). Another thing he likes to do is get use out of extra footage by having it float around the screen in little windows:

I am guessing he had a vague memory of the double/triple/quadruple type images you see on 24 and was trying to replicate it. It’s a shame though, I really cannot do the effect justice by describing it. You just have to see it, over and over throughout the film. But hey, anything that breaks up the hour or so of footage in the film that is simply Cowell wandering through rows of corn yelling “Girls!?” over and over is fine by me.

There is also a supernatural element of some sort. The reason the two girls can’t escape the corn maze is because they are being trapped by the ghosts of two OTHER little girls who were killed there a year before. They need to do this so that the dad will come looking for his daughters and help the ghosts solve their murder, or something. I didn’t care much once it became apparent that the only real reason that they were in the movie was to rip off the little girls in The Shining (possibly the reason for the ESP nonsense as well).

Also, the first half of the movie takes place in the daytime, and that’s fine. But when night falls, Cowell apparently didn’t take on a 6th role as “Guy who rents a generator and some lights”, so the scenes are all lit by a light on the camera. This wouldn’t be as big of a problem if the camera wasn’t constantly moving around, or if they had some sort of narrative reason for a small circular light that shines on our actor’s face and upper torso and nothing else, but nothing is offered in that department. More than once I thought I was watching a “found footage” type film as a result.

So add all that together, and you have a modern Plan 9, a movie so inept and yet made so earnestly (if Cowell was just looking to make a buck, I’m sure he could have come up with a plot that was more marketable than “A guy runs around a cornfield”) that you can’t really hate it. There may not be a seconds’ worth of intentional entertainment in the entire film, but what it offers in unintentional hilarity is more than enough to make up for it, and a few other movies to boot. It currently ranks 5th on IMDb’s bottom 100 (1 being Disaster Movie), which is pretty good for a film that went DTV and was never featured on MST3k. Everyone involved should be proud of their non-achievements here.

And there are extras! There’s a trailer, in which I learned that the film was rated R (for what, I have no idea. Nude corn?), and it succeeds in making the film look exciting, though it gives away the non-sequel angle by having someone explain that it’s “been one year” since an event that wasn’t in the first movie. Then there’s a “making of” that’s really just a blooper reel. And even that rips off The Shining, as Cowell (presumably) jokes that it took 127 takes to get a simple “walk and talk” down correctly. Hey, we read that trivia on the IMDb too, pal. And while they may find it amusing, it’s kind of sad how many takes are blown by tripods and microphones in the shot (and not like “oh I didn’t realize the camera would catch that on the side of the frame” type mistakes; some of the damn things are dead center in the image).

I can only hope Dark Harvest 3 (aka Scarecrow, but not the Scarecrow I already watched) lives up to this non-franchise’s promise of inept nonsense, corn, and false advertising. If anything on the cover of the film is actually IN the film, I will feel ripped off.

What say you?


Candyman: Day Of The Dead (1999)

SEPTEMBER 29, 2008


On the DVD for the first Candyman, Tony Todd discusses the franchise as a whole, and while he talks about Farewell to the Flesh for a few minutes, when it came to Candyman: Day Of The Dead (the DVD art has a "3" in the title but the film itself does not) he pretty much just pointed out that it exists. But since it was written by the same guys who wrote Wrong Turn 2, and featured Nick Corri, I figured it might be reasonably entertaining. And, well, it sort of is. But it’s like a vacuum; I already forget most of what happened in it. This may be the first movie in history in which both the creators and audience are in agreement that the movie is in fact, well, THERE, and that’s about it.

Really though, at no point during the film was I angry at any dialogue or idiotic character decision, nor was I particularly engaged by anything on screen either. It could have ended twenty minutes earlier or twenty minutes later and it wouldn’t have any effect on how I felt about the movie as a whole. Even some of my notes are pretty vague: “Tree”. The fuck does that mean?

There were occasional moments that got a rise out of me, good or bad. One was the delight in seeing that Nick Corri is basically playing the same guy he played in Nightmare on Elm St, that of a suspect in a murder that we know he didn’t commit, but no one will believe who the real killer is because “it’s just an urban legend”. Also, in my review for the first film, I pointed out that some of Candyman’s dialogue sounded like bad goth poetry. The line I used as an example is repeated here... by a goth kid! I had a nice chuckle at that.

Also, Wade Williams is in it. You might know him as Bellick on Prison Break. And if you don’t, that means you are missing the finest ridiculous hour of television to air since the heyday of Melrose Place. One recent episode found Michael Schofield (the show's hero) getting all night laser surgery to remove his full torso (front and back) tattoo, a process that took a few hours and didn’t leave him in the slightest bit of pain. Seriously, watch it, it’s amazing.

There are a couple of minor concerns though. One is that our heroine, a beautiful blonde woman, takes the subway out of East LA. Uh, no. No one uses the subway in LA at all anyway, especially not in that situation. Another is that the music sucks. I guess they couldn’t afford or just didn’t want to use Philip Glass’ amazing theme, so they just have a generic ripoff and some hiphop beats instead. Not the best substitution.

But the only real issue is that the film is more or less a remake of the first two, as it concerns yet another blonde woman who is investigating the Candyman legend. At least in the 2nd movie the girl had reasonable doubt on her side, but this broad is the daughter of that character, so she should know better than to go poking around “trying to learn more” (even dumber, she doesn’t really believe in the guy, even though her mother’s entire family was killed by him). I’m not sure why after two other movies with this scenario that no one thought to try a different approach. If nothing else, at least the Hellraiser films were constantly doing something new.

But I mean, if you’ve never seen the other films, or even if you just skipped the 2nd one, this wouldn’t be an issue, and you could enjoy the movie for what it is. It’s hardly great, but it does its job – there are gory kills, some nudity, a memorable killer (though Todd seems a bit bored this time around), and, as usual, an interesting backdrop not often used in horror movies (Day of the Dead in Los Angeles... I think the last one I saw with this setting was The Dead One, and this movie, flat as it may be, is much better).

Oh now I remember what “tree” meant – in the obligatory origin flashback, Daniel Robitaille is seen tied to a tree as he is covered in bees and being be-handed. But in the last movie, he was on the ground, right? Then again, if our heroine is the daughter of the woman in the last movie, then this movie should be taking place in like 2020, not 1999, so whatever.

The DVD, like the movie itself, is pretty lazy. The main menu is one of the messiest I have ever seen, and the only extras are the trailer and some production notes. Also, the back tells us that it’s a full frame version when it is in fact presented in widescreen. Since I almost skipped buying it due to the “full frame” transfer, it’s kind of a silly mistake to make. Artisan is risking a loss of the lucrative “anal retentive bastard” crowd.

What say you?


Tragic Ceremony (1972)

SEPTEMBER 27, 2008


Both Rue Morgue and Screem magazine carried reviews of Tragic Ceremony (aka Estratto Dagli Archivi Segreti Della Polizia Di Una Capitale Europea*) in their most recent-ish issues, and thus I queued it up so I wouldn’t feel left out. I had never heard of it, but I was surprised to discover a couple of things in it that pre-date the films I always thought originated certain horror movie clichés.

For example, there is a gas station attendant who leads our heroes to their doom. I thought this was an invention of Texas Chain Saw Massacre, but nope, it was the trinity of screenwriters Mario Bianchi, José Gutiérrez Maesso, and Leonardo Martín, a year or so earlier. I also thought that the rapid fire edited montage of previous footage to help explain a twist in the finale was a relatively new technique, but Tragic Ceremony, from 1972, has one (and it’s even more impressive when you consider that they didn’t have an Avid with copy/paste shortcuts back then). Rock on you crazy Italians!

Alas, it is not the first or the last film to be a bit unclear as to what exactly is going on during key points of the film. It’s kind of a slow burn, with a strange structure to boot (the “breakdown” segment is only the first half of the film, the 2nd half takes place in one of our heroes’ own home), so it’s not like its wall to wall death and dismemberment without any time to stop for plot. Quite the contrary, there is relatively little violence (a lot of the deaths are offscreen) and 90% of it is limited to a single sequence. So you’re left with a lot of talk, but for some reason, they never find the time to talk about WHY any of this stuff is happening. Like Psycho, there is a shrink at the end to explain things, but how exactly he knows any of this stuff (involving family curses, ghosts, possession, etc) is beyond me. Also, the gas station attendant seems to be a ghost himself, but again, this isn’t really explained.

Damned if it’s not entertaining though. Even when there’s no real horror stuff going on, I was being delighted left and right. There’s an ancient organist who keeps looking directly into the camera, a guy who seems to be trying to nail his mom, and one of the finest news reports I have ever seen in a film. The newscaster first guesses that the massacre was the result of either “a monster or a steamroller” (hell of a range there), and then he points out that a guitar found at the scene of the crime could be explained by the presence of hippies.

And the horror stuff is great too. Carlo Rambaldi (ET!) did the makeup effects, and they are pretty impressive, particularly a 99% accurate dummy head being split in half. There is also a pretty great mangled jaw during the finale to enjoy. Like I said, the gore is pretty limited (then again, this predates the sort of late 70s early 80s “splatter craze”, so I wasn’t expecting much), but then it’s onscreen, it delivers.

Another thing I dug is how much they milk the breakdown angle. The car runs out of gas, so they push it to the gas station. He gives them like half a gallon of gas to get them to the next town, but it doesn’t get them there. So they push it again and find a house (the house with the villains, obviously), and look for gas in the numerous cars that are there. When the lady of the house finds these four strangers in her home, looking to steal their gas, she doesn’t seem to mind much. If anything, she acts like its pretty common that folks are breaking down. For an early breakdown film, it definitely sets the bar pretty high in terms of setting up just how incapacitated the car is.

I also learned that the Italian for Bill is “Bill”. Actually, for an Italian movie, they all have pretty generic, more American-y names: Bill, Jane, Tom... not a single Romeo or Antonio in the bunch.

The DVD only has one extra, an interview with the female star, one Camille Keaton, who is more infamous for her turn in I Spit On Your Grave. She just sort of rambles about her career, and doesn’t spend too much time discussing the film at all, really. Still, a nice little piece, and since these obscure 70s Italian flicks often have nothing of note, it’s nice to have.

What say you?

*Which translates to Taken From The Secret Police Files Of A European Capital, which manages to be the longest and yet least informative title of all time.


Blood Angels (2004)

SEPTEMBER 26, 2008


I must hunt down and kill (or at least mock) whoever told me that Blood Angels (aka Thralls) was a lesbian vampire movie. Because not only are there absolutely NO lesbian scenes in the entire film, there is hardly any straight sex either. Titanic had more nudity, for Christ's sake (and felt shorter than this interminable bore). Why bother having a movie about a team of slutty vampire women and then not bother having them fuck anyone?

Worse, none of them can act, which makes the lack of skin even more baffling. It's like, if you need women to bare their bodies for a film, you take the ones who would be willing to do it, regardless of acting ability. But if they are NOT required to do any such thing, then why cast these vacuums of screen presence? These broads can't seriously be the pick of the litter, right? If so, how bad were the girls director Ron Oliver actually turned down?

But even if I had cast this film (for the record, that would be Rachel Nichols, Sophia Bush, Michelle Monaghan, Amanda Righetti, and Evangeline Lilly, with Jordan Ladd as the random 6th girl who disappears from the film after a few minutes), it wouldn't improve matters. The real problem is the mind numbingly boring plot. Or the horrendous attempt at campy comedy. Or the CG that makes the fake vent in Doomed look good in comparison. Or the fact that no one told the writers that a nerdy Asian dude trying to pass himself off as "gangsta" hasn't been funny since the moment it was created, 10+ years ago. Take your pick.

Oh, and the fucking head vampire is Lorenzo Goddamn Lamas. Unless he's got a laser pointer in his hand, he's the least threatening (or interesting) "tough guy" actor of all time, yet for the movie to work we have to accept him as some sort of suave Dracula wannabe (he even has a Renfield, who is even more annoying). What, was Jeff Speakman unavailable? Mark Dascascos too expensive?

OK, let's just point out what is good. Shawn Roberts (from Diary of the Dead) is the only one in the cast who seems to be even trying, and he manages to exude some charm, despite the script's best efforts. And the fighting is more or less well-staged (as it should be, since a fight breaks out every 4-5 minutes in this movie), which is perhaps what the girls were really cast for:

"Will you do nudity?"
"Can you kick a guy?"
"OK, we'll rewrite. Welcome aboard!"

And, boring as it may be, I liked that the movie all took place in one location (a club), in one night, but it wasn't a siege/From Dusk Till Dawn type thing. It kept me from thinking about better movies the whole time. That's about it though. Otherwise, it's so bland I've already forgotten half of the movie (and I actually stayed awake for the whole thing!).

Here's something kind of interesting (much more so than anything in the movie anyway). When I hit "play movie" on the main menu, I was treated to a bunch of trailers, something that should be BEFORE the main menu (if at all), and the MPAA logo was missing all the usual text. "Wait, I've rented from this company before!" I thought, but couldn't remember what movie it was. Then later, when I opened up HMAD to post the review, I clicked on a random old review to read (which I do every now and then to look for mistakes, edit Amazon links if necessary, etc). The review was Satan's Little Helper, and that was the movie I was trying to think of! Weird, huh?

Again: that is much more interesting than anything in Blood Angels.

What say you?


The Phantom of Soho (1964)

SEPTEMBER 25, 2008


One of my favorite movies since I started HMAD was Raw Meat (aka Death Line), a delightful British monster movie that featured Donald Pleasence in one of his best roles ever that didn’t once require him to talk about “it as if he were a human being” or something along those lines. Since then, I have sought a British film that would equal that film in terms of sheer bliss and dry humor, but unfortunately The Phantom Of Soho did not fit the bill.

Actually, it's a German movie, but it takes place in London, so I hoped it would be more like a British film (fun) than a German one (depressing). But it's not really funny (or depressing, for that matter). It's just sort of there, for the most part.

Not that it’s entirely humorless. I don’t think it’s possible for a movie with two London based detectives to not have any dry humor, just as it is impossible for me to write a review that didn’t have profanity. And it's clear that the Germans were obviously trying to emulate typical British humor, but something was apparently lost in the translation.

And translation is the best way to describe it, because it has been (poorly) dubbed. While a few lines here and there deliver, many of them just sound a bit awkward, due to the bored guy or gal dubbing in the lines. So unfortunately, you’re left with the actual plot, which is pretty ho-hum. Worse, the killer’s identity is painfully obvious from the start, which leaves all the investigation scenes feeling a bit useless.

That said, some of the kill scenes are pretty cool, with a surprising number of POV shots from the killer (so Halloween stole from Black Christmas, and Black Christmas stole from Phantom of Soho?). And despite the dubber’s best efforts, some of the humor shines through. There’s a great bit where the rookie inspector guy pulls out not one, not two, but three magnifying glasses from his jacket so he and the other two cops can inspect a photo. I know that doesn’t sound particularly funny, but trust me, it is. And even though I figured out the killer’s identity pretty early on, it was still a pretty interesting story, much better than most serial killer movies anyway (i.e. it has nothing to do with religious beliefs or being abused as a kid).

I was also happy to discover that this is the rare horror film with a title that begins Phantom of ____ and yet it is NOT a modern/alternate/whatever version of Phantom of the Opera. Once I read that the film revolved around a club in London called Zanzibar (where one would order his lady’s favorite dish, I presume), I assumed it would have a swinging disfigured killer hacking up dancers and cokeheads that threatened to undermine some mod chick he was particularly fond of, so discovering that it was more like a Jack the Ripper story by way of Agatha Christie was pretty sweet.

Mill Creek once again provided a widescreen transfer (though it’s a bit off, the left side is partially cut off while the right has a black spot), but it’s far from their best work. The picture seems to be recorded off of a fuzzy cable station, and for some reason, the sound has an echo. When someone speaks and there is silence after, you can hear the line again, sounding like it was coming from the next room. But I dunno, maybe the guy in the office next to mine is also a Mill Creek enthusiast and coincidentally happened to be watching the film today. Either or.

What say you?


This Darkness (2003)

SEPTEMBER 24, 2008


You know my situation is dire if I am dipping into the incredibly aptly named Decrepit Crypt set. Since I had no time to watch a film before work, and as of this writing (10:30 pm) I am still AT work, I had no choice but This Darkness. Usually I can’t watch Decrepit movies at work due to the nudity they always revel in, but it’s so late that everyone else has gone home (except of course, for the people who are slacking and thus keeping me here, but they work in a different office), I figured I'd be OK. And I had nothing else that I would even consider horror.

While slightly more competent on a technical level than most of the other DC movies, this one is ultimately just as bad as the others. There are a couple reasons for this. One is the insane length. 107 minutes is fine if it’s wall to wall action, or a complex story, but this is just yet another “science makes vampires” story, and a very boring one at that. Our hero is a descendant of Van Helsing (somehow I don’t think they cleared those rights) who has people call him “Van” (fuck you) who has accidentally created a new vampire strand that allows them to be in the sunlight. Fine, but around 90 minutes of the movie is about other crap, like a kid who wants to buy a surfboard, a drummer at odds with his former band, a little girl learning her multiplication tables, etc. There are also long extensions to scenes that seem more like the actors goofing off than the characters improvising, such as during an already lengthy “training” montage when our hero begins whacking a training dummy with a broom over and over. If anyone with any sort of sense had edited this film, it would be roughly 34 minutes long at best.

Another problem is the atrocious acting of the lead, one Dylan O’Leary. Normally I wouldn’t care too much, but since he’s also the writer/director, I think it’s just an ego trip. There are about 3 too many good guys anyway, why not just take one out of the script, use that actor as the lead, and focus more on the directing? You’d be taking care of three problems at once: the length, the terrible lead, and the direction that made it incredibly hard to tell how much time had passed in between scenes.

Not helping matters in this department is the abysmal continuity. Either the main character is an obsessive compulsive who needs to change his clothes every 5 minutes, or O’Leary wasn’t paying any goddamn attention. I was under the impression that a couple weeks had gone by, and then halfway through the film a character points out that his friend, killed in the opening scene, has only been missing a day.

Luckily, there is the occasional terrible line of dialogue to amuse you. When flirting with the hero, a fellow scientist says “Oh, I love chains... DNA and all!” Another howler comes during the finale, when the villain reveals “I’ve killed dinosaurs....” Yay for Creationism!

Oh, and the hero fucks a woman half his age who somehow turns out to be his mom. It’s too baffling to be hot, but it’s better than nothing.

Like I said early on, it’s technically OK at least. DP John McLeod clearly has at least a basic understanding of blocking and things like that, and the audio is never muffled or coming out in wildly different levels. The gore, while pretty rare (as is the nudity – it’s the least gratuitous of the DC films yet, which is ironic because it’s the one that could have benefited the most from those elements), is also decent. The blood looks like blood, not Kool-Aid, so they got something on Zombie Town anyway.

Unlike the last DC movie I watched (Burning Dead), this one has an IMDb page. Like all indies, half of the comments come from friends and family (and O’Leary himself), praising the film and neglecting to point out any of its flaws. However, 2 of them are from angry crew members who apparently weren’t credited, which is pretty unique. One woman is particularly bitter about not having her name alongside all the other names no one will actually care about besides the other people in the movie. It reminded me of this time in college when I was a featured extra in a student film, and before I watched it, the director told me he forgot to put my name in with all the others. I was initially bummed, but then I watched it, and instead thanked Christ that my good (pfft) name wasn’t sullied by that piece of crap. Thus, I remain proud of my entire IMDb filmography (another student film).

Like me, O’Leary has no other credits to his name as of yet, but there is some hope for him. As long as he stays behind the camera and hires a better editor, I think he could definitely make a worthwhile no-budgeter on the level of Dead 7 at least. I only ask that if his sophomore film once again involves incest that he takes the time to make it A. hot and B. an actual plot point. His character never seems even weirded out by the fact that he totally fucked his mom. Come on man, it’s not like you have an aversion to slowing the movie down.

What say you?


The Eye 3 (2005)

SEPTEMBER 23, 2008


Since The Eye 2 was so good, I figured The Eye 3 (aka Eye Infinity; Chinese: Gin gwai 10) would be a safe “blind buy”, but I was wrong. While not terrible, it’s certainly nothing I’d ever want to watch again, and it’s a damn shame that they couldn’t sustain the level of quality from the previous films (the original Eye being one of the better of the ones that got American remakes).

I guess I should have been more suspicious about the film’s quality when I read the description on the back of the DVD, which is one of the most vague synopsii I have ever read. “Some believe that our world is one of many, that our existence is merely an intersection between countless dimensions – known and unknown. We run into strangers we don’t see, hear tunes we don’t hear. Most of us remain ignorant. But there are always those who are a little different, they would risk everything to find the truth if not the thrill – that is, to see the other side – just once in their lives.” Oh yeah? So who is the main character? Existence? The tunes we don’t hear?

But I can’t blame the back of the DVD guy (or gal, it’s an equal opportunity shit job) for not putting much effort into trying to explain this thing, as there isn’t really much of a narrative. Some kids bang chopsticks on bowls in order to make some ghosts appear, and then spend the rest of the movie wondering why ghosts are bothering them. It eventually just becomes a collection of setpieces, some of which are pretty entertaining, others not. However, none of them are suspenseful or scary, which is kind of a problem.

A big reason why the film lacks any tension whatsoever is that the kids never really seem scared about the ghosts after their initial encounter. At one point, two of them are in the land of the dead, trying to escape (I think; maybe they are just looking for a summer place there), and they discover that their breath will scare the ghosts away. As they breathe over and over (exciting!) they begin laughing and making fun of each other’s stinky breath. Then they fart at the ghosts. Granted, it’s supposed to be a funny movie (it borders parody at one point, when a kid asks about his report card, a la the original movie, but with a pretty hilarious punchline), but it should be suspenseful as well. Even the kids in Scary Movie seemed a bit more concerned about their predicaments.

Plus, the tone is all over the place. It’s funny one minute, then they attempt to scare you, then back to funny again; never blending together seamlessly like the more successful comedic horror films. Also, the end is just a downer, which is about the only thing it has in common with the (superior) first two films other than the rather general concept of ghosts.

That said, there are some great bits. Right after the awesome report card scene (and yet another elevator scene, the weakest yet), one of our guys inexplicably gets into a dance off with two street kids. It makes absolutely no sense at all, but it’s fucking hilarious. And in one of the few good horror bits, a kid is lost in the woods and a ghost begins shadowing his movements. Good stuff.

And to the Pang brothers’ credit, they make their intentions known right from the start. The opening credits seem like they are lifted from the Chinese version of 90210 or something, and the events of the first two films are dismissed as “scary stories”. Speaking of the credits, they are entirely in English, which is strange. Especially since the subtitles seem to think otherwise:

For those who are hard of hearing and
of reading the middle of the screen.

There is also a guy who appears to be speaking English, as his voice is quite clearly dubbed. It’s funny to see it the other way around for once, but the guy doing the dub is obviously like 20 years older than the actor. Luckily, he’s barely in the movie.

The DVD comes with a pair of extras, making of type stuff that isn’t particularly interesting, other than the Pangs explaining that they didn’t want to keep telling the same story (this coming from the guys who just remade their own movie, and quite badly, with Bangkok Dangerous), hence the complete change in tone from the first two films. They also point out that there is a fourth film, but that one does not have the Pangs’ involvement, so maybe the new team (Tsui Hark is directing) can either revive the franchise or kill it off for good.

What say you?


Soul Survivors (2001)

SEPTEMBER 22, 2008


I hate when I watch a movie like Soul Survivors, which takes place on a college campus, because it makes me think my college experience sucked in comparison. First of all, movie college kids always have their own rooms (or room with their best friend) and the place is huge. I, on the other hand, shared my 10x10 room with a guy who listened to Hello Nasty on a continuous loop and wouldn’t answer the buzzer the night I lost my keys and was stuck outside in the freezing cold for like 2 hrs until someone who lived in a different room came back from a party. Also, movie college kids tend to get into a lot of car crashes, chases around the campus, see lesbian trysts in the library, etc. The most excitement I had in college was probably the time... I lost my keys and got stuck outside for like 2 hrs in the freezing cold.

I also hate when I watch a movie that is as fucking pointless as Soul Survivors.

I have never heard anything good about the film, but I was still pretty curious about it, and even hopeful I might be one of the few who liked it. After all, it is one of two movies Casey Affleck says he leaves off his résumé, and the other is Drowning Mona, which I consider to be one of the most underrated films of all time (look for my review next month, when I dive into October Extras 2: The Non Horror Version!). And, along with Casey, Luke Wilson also appeared in the film. That’s two brothers of cast members from Armageddon for the price of one! But sadly, Casey was right to disown this piece of crap. Not sure how Luke feels about it.

Like Wind Chill, it’s a movie that tries to trick you into thinking you’re watching a Carnival of Souls ripoff, but is actually just pointless and seemingly made up as they went along. We learn at the end that the entire film is just the coma-dream of our lead, but why survivor guilt would lead her to imagining that her best friend has become a lesbian, I have no idea. The traditional end of the film flashback sequence is also intercut with new footage, dream footage, flashbacks within flashbacks... it’s possibly the least helpful “answers montage” in cinematic history. Also, there are two killers in the movie, but I never even came close to understanding what their objective was. All I know is that the entire film was consistently boring, annoying, and incredibly light on horror.

And this is the “killer cut” version, with “More blood, more sex, more terror!” than the theatrical version. According to the IMDb, a lot of the things that were edited back into the film were the scarce horror elements, such as the opening scene, where a girl is walking home alone before being killed by what looks like a metalhead and another guy dressed as the killer from Valentine. And the movie is only 85 minutes, so I can’t imagine how short (and even more boring) the theatrical cut was. I feel bad for the 19 or 20 people who went to see it.

So what’s worth seeing? Well, it’s kind of funny seeing Wes Bentley playing a somewhat normal guy for once. He’s kind of a douchebag, but at least he’s not locking up beautiful women so they will eat leftover turkey with him (oddly, his co-star, Melissa Sagemiller, looks a bit like my beloved Rachel Nichols), or pontificating about the beauty of plastic bags. And Eliza Dushku has a lesbian scene with Angela Featherstone (best known to normal people as Sandler’s ex in Wedding Singer; best known to me as Cusack’s assistant in Con Air), which is kind of hot. It would be hotter if Featherstone looked normal instead of like k.d. lang, but whatever, take what you can get. Also, and this is more of a general observation, I was happy to learn that I’ve seen enough movies shot in Chicago that I can instantly recognize it from a suburban house or two, without needing a title card or a shot of the Sears or whatever.

The DVD comes packed with worthlessness. Right from the start, the DVD offers us 3 different animated menus (this is actually listed as an extra feature). What this means is, you get a different shitty song and a different shitty overlong clip montage that plays before you are able to select anything. Thanks, Artisan. And you’re bankrupt, you say? Then there are some pointless deleted scenes (including an alternate epilogue, which is kind of hilarious because it shows that Dushku and Bentley’s characters are buried together, despite the fact that they were a pretty casual couple who were only together for a few months before they died), a typical featurette about the making of (you can see how Affleck already regrets taking the role in this), and some animated storyboards. There are also a few scenes with Sagemiller commentary, in which she explains some of the things that the movie never bothered to make clear, so it’s actually sort of helpful. Oh, and for no real reason, a piece about Harvey Danger. Since the song in the film (and in turn, the piece itself) isn’t the “Paranoia, paranoia, everybody’s coming to get meeeeeee” one, I have no idea why anyone would care about this. But since I can’t fathom why anyone would care about a goddamn thing on this disc, I’m sure there is an audience for it somewhere.

This movie was written and directed by Steve Carpenter, who made one of the few slashers I ever got so bored by that I just shut it off and never finished (Dorm that Dripped Blood, which, even though I wasn’t aware it was the same guy, I tried to watch right around the time Soul Survivors was stinking up empty theaters). But if I made it all the way to the end of this rubbish, I’m sure I can finish that one someday.

I should note that I can keep my rental for 1.99. That’s about 2.08 more than it’s worth.

What say you?


The Keep (1983)

SEPTEMBER 21, 2008


The first friend I made in LA was this guy Steve that I worked with at E! (the absolute worst job I’ve ever had in my life, by far). He was a fellow movie nerd, and when the subject of Michael Mann came up one day, I told him how I had never seen his film The Keep. Steve was kind enough to make a DVD copy for me, duped from his laserdisc. But then I discovered that the film was cut in half by Paramount, so I never watched it. When I know a film is truncated, I don’t bother to see it; I will wait until the full version is made available. However, I have another even nerdlier rule, and that is I prefer to see a film in theaters if possible, rather than at home on DVD. So when my beloved New Beverly scheduled The Keep for a midnight screening, I made an exception to the former rule.

(Plus, according to my traditional post-screening internet research, it seems as if the full version will never see the light of day, sadly).

I also wanted to go for the irony, as today is Peace Day, and the film concerns a ghost/force that is killing Nazis during WWII. I kind of like the idea of a horror movie in which the “victims” are despicable Nazis (the film is NOT sympathetic toward them at all). And their deaths are incredible; the ghost thing sucks their soul (?) out until their bodies harden and explode like mannequins.

Of course, at least that’s what I THINK is going on. This is the third movie in a row now that I spent a lot of it going “huh?” But at least with this film I know why; half of it is missing. Ironically, it’s actually not too incoherent. You can pretty easily see where chunks of the film were removed, but otherwise it’s not the hardest film to follow. It’s just the gaps make the action jump ahead at an awkward rate. For example, we first meet Ian McKellan’s character on a boat, as he is heading toward the keep (a cave/structure in the side of a mountain). But in his next scene, he’s already inside the damn thing, trying to keep the Nazis in check by decoding some of the symbols written on its walls. Obviously, there is at least one scene of him arriving in town and being brought up to speed that is missing, but you can sort of mentally fill in the blank.

One of these edits makes for a hilarious experience, especially at the Bev. Scott Glenn’s character (Glaeken; oddly enough in F. Paul Wilson’s book the character’s name was Glenn) meets McKellan’s daughter, and less than 5 minutes later in the film, they are fucking the shit out of each other. Either there’s some missing character stuff, or Glaeken went to the Dan Challis school of baiting women. Adding to the hilarity is the “pillow talk” which follows, as she begins asking him where he’s originally from and shit like that, and he just goes “Go to sleep...” and brushes his hand over her eyes, as if to shut them (and he has magic powers so maybe he actually DID knock her out, the movie cuts away right after).

Now, this was a midnight movie, so naturally I dozed a few times. So when I would wake up, it would seem like I missed a lot of stuff, but in reality I had only missed a few minutes (I finally watched Steve’s homemade DVD later on today to see what I missed, which turned out to be less than 20 minutes spread over 4 “naps”). There's a weird sort of charm in that that I need to come up with a nonsense term for.

Some stuff still doesn’t make sense though, such as when Robert Prosky’s character seemingly goes insane and eats a dog. The next time we see him, he’s normal. No idea what the fuck was up with that. Also, the daughter is supposedly taken away to be kept safe, but she’s like, a 30 second walk from where she was being kept before?

Speaking of Prosky, the cast is pretty awesome. McKellan is always a joy to watch (especially in his face off with the killer ghost thing; he tells it about what the Nazis have been doing and the thing shouts “I WILL DESTROY THEM!” – it’s awesome). Plus, Glenn is at his most Lance Henriksen-y, and Jurgen Prochnow plays a sympathetic German soldier (NOT a Nazi). And Gabriel Byrne is great as the most Irish Nazi of all time.

Also awesome is Tangerine Dream’s score. It didn’t help me stay awake any, because it’s so pretty and lulling, but it’s great nonetheless. The sound design is also pretty impressive, especially the final half hour, which has an overbearing wind howl over almost every scene. Some of the effects aren’t as impressive (a character is shot to death, his wounds keep changing color and somehow not a single bullet goes out the other side), but the makeup/design of the ghost thing is pretty great.

Sadly there is no DVD release (or even one planned, best as I can tell). There is obviously a wealth of lost material, a cast and crew that are pretty much all still alive, and Michael Mann’s name alone will generate interest from the non-horror crowd. I really hope it sees a proper release someday so people can check it out. It’s unintentionally goofy and not entirely coherent, but there is definitely some magic going on in there, and I would definitely recommend it to those among you who enjoy a trainwreck for its sheer audacity.

What say you?


The Other (1972)

SEPTEMBER 20, 2008


I didn’t know what The Other was when it came (Netflixnesia strikes again!), but since the DVD began with trailers for The Omen (both versions) and The Good Son, I assumed it was a killer kid movie (when HMAD reader Nonymouse recommended it, she pointed out how it's best to not know the plot, but oh well). I am pretty sure my assumption was correct, because the kid in the movie seems to be the killer, but the film never offers us any onscreen violence (even today, I think it would keep its PG rating). One lady dies and I have no idea why, because she seemingly just falls off her chair onto the floor.

Actually, our tyke, Niles, keeps seeing his deceased twin (named Holland) and talking to him, and it’s the twin doing all the bad stuff. But whether it’s actually the kid seeing things, or if the dead twin has taken physical form is never explained. At one point there is a murder when Perry is clearly elsewhere, but his grandmother (a bit odd herself) seems to think the family has the ability to project themselves into birds, so I dunno. Plus, I think the fact that the brother is dead is supposed to be a surprise, but it’s kind of obvious since no one else mentions him and we only see him in scenes when he’s alone with Niles. A much faster paced and scarier version of this “dead sibling uses living sibling to kill” idea was used in the 80s TV movie Don’t Go To Sleep. Definitely check that movie out.

Anyway, another odd thing about the movie is that the twins are played by real life twins (Chris and Martin Udvarnoky) but you never see them both in the same shot. Why bother hiring twins when everything is shot as if there were only one actor? I’m sure there’s some sort of creative reason for this, but it’s still kind of odd. Both actors are pretty good though, as is the rest of the cast. Other than a brief turn by John Ritter (I miss that dude), I don’t recognize a single name in the credits, except for Jerry Goldsmith, whose score here will definitely appeal to fans of his work on Poltergeist.

The last 20 minutes or so make it all worthwhile (it’s a slow burn of a film to be sure; the first hour is dreadfully dull at times). Niles/Holland commits a truly despicable murder, there’s a frantic search for a baby, and the ending is a real downer. And I like that they leave it ambiguous as to whether the ghost was real, or if Niles was schizo. Personally I think he was just a wacko, because I tend to be more Scully than Mulder, but I don’t mind the ambiguity; it leads to IMDbates 36 years later.

Other than the trailer, which gives a bit too much away (don't watch it, even though I took time to copy paste it below!!), the DVD has no extras to speak of, which is a bummer. I think the Udvarnokys could make a terrific commentary track together, as long as they use their outdoor voice. I swear, 90% of their dialogue in the film is whispered. It’s like David Lynch’s Dune, except instead of spice they are all whispering about rings and magic tricks. Oh, and there are no giant worms.

What say you?


Nympha (2007)

SEPTEMBER 19, 2008


There are few easier ways to attract the attention of a horror fan by casting Tiffany Shepis as a nun in an Italian horror movie called Nympho (actually Nympha; I read the box wrong). So it’s kind of impressive that the movie turned out to be so goddamn awful; it’s not every day you see a movie with lots of nudity, a nun (not Shepis) getting fucked from behind, incest, and above average amounts of gore, and yet the first word that would come to mind to describe it would be “boring”. Christ, even a brief lesbian scene between Shepis and some random woman isn’t enough to warrant recommending you ever bother to watch it.

Some movies don’t make a hell of a lot of sense, such as Halloween 6, but they have an interior logic that can be followed. There is no such luck with Nympha. Scenes come and go without any sort of narrative buildup or semblance of tension, it is impossible to tell where and when people are in relation to one another, and I went through the entire film without ever really knowing who the “villain” of the film was supposed to be, if any. There’s an older guy who seems like kind of an asshole, so I guess it’s him, but he never really threatens Shepis, who is, as usual, the only bright spot of the entire film.

I take that back. Throughout the film, Shepis is put through some torturous procedures meant to cleanse her of sin or whatever. So they blind her (“see no evil”), gouge her eardrums (“hear no evil”) cut off her clitoris (“fuck no evil”, I guess?), etc. So for speak no evil, they cut out her tongue, and it is presented rather effectively, in that it’s a practical effect and not a CGI one.

On that note, it’s a technical disaster as well. The CGI (which makes up most of the effects in the film; the tongue is one of incredibly few practicals) is some of the worst I’ve seen in ages. It’s one thing when you have a CGI monster and he doesn’t blend well with the footage, but this is just a lot of stuff that could have been done practically, such as a wooden door that bursts apart, and it all looks awful. CGI blood, CGI bugs, etc... none of it looks even remotely decent, and the fact that 90% of it could have been created for real with an effects guy who wasn’t a lazy asshole just makes it seem even worse. Plus, the movie has that strange film processing that makes it look like a soap opera.

A featurette about the awful CG is one of the few extras on the disc, but it’s as worthless as the film itself. It’s just a still shot of a computer monitor showing a wireframe image of the door (or the bug, or the church itself), and then you see the finished (pfft) effect in the film. No one narrates or explains how things were done; the only audio is some looped music from the film and what I swear sounds like someone grunting and sighing at the computer. The other featurette is about the making of the film proper, but unless you speak Italian it’s entirely a waste of time, as again, there are no interviews or commentary by the cast or crew, just the occasional muttering from crew members. There’s even a bit of irony, as Shepis listens to Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence” over a shot of her getting her arm cast, since it's the only audio of note in the entire 20 minute segment. There are also some deleted scenes, one of which is in Italian without subtitles. I’ve imported DVDs from other countries that put more of an effort into allowing English-speaking audiences to follow them than this one did.

Oh, and the back of the DVD has a still from the film’s final scene. I would call it a spoiler, but since I hadn’t the slightest clue as to what the fuck was happening after watching the 90 minutes that came before it, I guess the image won’t technically ruin anything for you.

What say you?


The Last Broadcast (1998)

SEPTEMBER 18, 2008


Shortly after the (deserved) success of Blair Witch Project, some dudes began more or less claiming that BWP was a ripoff of their film. Curious, I picked up a copy of their film, The Last Broadcast, sometime in 1999. However, I apparently wasn’t curious enough to actually watch it, because I never touched the damn thing until today, 9 years later, when I decided to make it my daily movie. Hey kids, this is how you end up in credit card debt! Never buy a movie unless you plan to watch it within at the MOST, 3 years after you buy it.

Anyway, I don’t think it’s much like Blair at all. It’s more like that Sci-Fi special about the Blair Witch, in that it’s more about an event than the video of that actual event. Even when the titles tell us we are about to see footage from the doomed video shoot (the only thing they have in common, really, is that some kids making a documentary are killed in the woods), we only see about 4-5 minutes of it. As such, we never really get to know a single character in the film, and thus I couldn’t care less that they all died. The film’s most interesting character is the technical video guy at the cable station that they make their show for, and that’s mainly because he looks like Christian Slater with a beard.

Also it has the single worst ending in film history. You think High Tension has a stupid twist? It's “Bruce was a ghost the whole time” worthy compared to this bullshit. We discover that the killer is actually the documentarian, who set all this completely benign stuff up (even inspiring the victims to do their doc in the first place) just to make a point about “What is reality?” or whatever the fuck sort of pretentious drivel he spits out is.

Worse, the film even shifts its entire goddamn aesthetic, as the final 10 minutes are presented as a typical narrative instead of from a character’s point of view. This is clumsily implemented (I spent 3 minutes wondering who was shooting the events I was watching) and just a cheat as well. Plus it defies logic – we learn he is the killer from his own videotape, which he sends to a video technician to fix. He then waits until she sees that he is the killer to actually kill her. Why would he do this? Even if we can buy that he needs her to reconstruct the video (which he was the one who destroyed in the first place), why not kill her once she was done fixing the footage he could actually use in his movie? Is he planning on using the footage of him killing the girl in his own film? That would make for a pretty awkward post-screening Q&A, at the very least. Of course, switching the perspective prevents the filmmakers from having to answer these questions. “Oh he’s just a nut”, the end of the film seems to be saying. Fine, then why the fuck did you have to spend 80 minutes presenting him as otherwise? Make a movie about him being a really crazy filmmaker; it’s a hell of a lot more interesting.

Or, you know, make a movie about the goddamn Jersey Devil. These guys are supposedly doing a doc about it, but they never provide even basic info about the real case. I’ve learned more about the damn thing from the back of cereal boxes than I did in this movie. It’s kind of funny, people thought Blair Witch was real because the movie had so much “factual information” about it, and this movie, based around a REAL urban legend, can’t even be bothered to tell you anything beyond its name. Why bother using a real life case if you’re not going to actually, well, USE it?

Luckily, it’s at least pretty good up until the end. The (non) actors are all believable, and like Poughkeepsie Tapes (my favorite “found footage” movie since BWP), it’s interesting to watch the investigation/trial type stuff unfold in an Unsolved Mysteries/America’s Most Wanted sort of way. Also, one of the random characters looks like the intriguingly curious offspring of Ric Ocasek and Jim Steinman:

"Just What I Needed (Is Not What You Want)"

Also, I got a lot of enjoyment out of the idea of public access guys making a movie in the woods. I had a public access show in high school, and we did a movie based on that show that was shot in the woods (a Blair parody, natch). So I felt a kinship with these folks. Like our show, one took it way too serious at times (that would be me), and also it was poorly shot. However, I don’t think our show was ever in danger of being canceled because of low ratings, like theirs is. Probably because there’s no such fucking thing as ratings for a goddamn community television studio.

The DVD is seemingly packed with extras, but it’s sort of a cheat. Three different “behind the scenes” pieces are advertised, but they are simply the two filmmakers/stars talking to camera and showing appropriate film footage. Then again, I guess that is preferable to watching documentary footage of an actor playing a documentarian who is investigating the disappearance/murder of three guys who were making a documentary. There is also a commentary track, but they mute the movie and also fall silent more often than not, so it’s annoying to listen to. Plus, they mix the sound so that one guy is on the left speaker and the other is on the right, which makes for an awkward aural experience.

However, much props to Stefan Avalos and Lance Weiler for their biggest innovation, as this is the first major-ish film to be shot, edited, and even distributed through entirely digital means. Rather than ever make a 35mm print of their shot on video film (which is what is usually done), they developed a way to beam it into theaters, and thus was the first digitally projected film in a multiplex (sorry, Lucas). Too bad that in the end it wasn’t one of many films to squander so much goodwill on a completely shitty and misguided ending.

What say you?


Carved (2007)

SEPTEMBER 17, 2008


“Chop off my head!”

See, that’s the problem with American films. You never see a female character demanding that her son behead her. Luckily we have Japan to bring us films like Carved (aka A Slit-Mouthed Woman, aka Kuchisake-onna), which is the 2nd film this month that more or less focused on mentally unbalanced women killing their children. One more and I get a set of steak knives!

(Wow, totally inappropriate prize.)

Carved is one of the most coherent and straight-forward Asian horror films I have ever seen. At no point during the film did I need to rewind it, check an IMDb synopsis, or consult a friend to understand just what the hell was going on. Women get possessed by an urban legend known as The Slit Mouthed Woman (not “Carved”, so the new title doesn’t make much sense), and kill their kids. Some get a bit of control over the possession and ask their children to kill them instead. Either way, the father’s gonna be pretty depressed when he comes home.

It’s also unique in that it’s a fairly bland looking film. Even when completely incoherent, Asian horror almost always has a unique look and top notch cinematography to enjoy, but this one is shot rather blandly. The location is very dry and sparse; it looks like they shot it in the upper North Hollywood section of Japan. Not that this is a bad thing, just a bit odd.

Another unique thing is that it’s short! 90 minutes is all the time director Kôji Shiraishi needed, and God bless him for it. I am quite sick of the seeming law that all Asian horror films clock in at no less than 110 minutes, especially since that limits the occasions I can watch it to “When I am not in the mood to play Rock Band and thus I can deal with a 2 hour movie instead of a 85 minute one”, which is pretty rare these days.

Oh and the movie itself is actually good. It’s not overly violent, but its disturbing when it is, and since its shorter than usual, everything moves along quite nicely. Also, I kind of like that the film is populated with the least comforting adults of all time. When a little kid asks if the Woman is gone for good, the guy answers “I don’t know” (and his expression is totally “No way, kid!”). Plus, again, mothers asking their children to behead them.

There is one part of the movie that sort of annoyed me. The male lead is a guy who’s mother is the original slit mouthed woman, something he knows. At one point they learn that the woman is taking kids to a house with a red roof. At first the dude is like “There are lots of houses like that!” but then a few moments later he realizes that his house growing up had a red roof. He knows his mother is person he’s tracking, and he never thought to check his own house, even if he didn’t know about the red roof? Nonsense.

Tartan skimped on the extras again, with only 5 minutes of cast interviews (zzzz) and a brief making of that is no better or worse than any of the other brief making ofs you’ve ever seen. Granted, Oldboy is amazing, but I wish they would put that much effort (3 discs!) into some of their other releases every now and then.

What say you?


Ghost Town (2008)

SEPTEMBER 16, 2008


I’ve covered comedies, and ghost movies are certainly in the horror vein, so I guess it’s OK to review Ghost Town here. Two non-horror movies for the day = 1 actual movie, right? Ghost Town is actually more “scary” than Swamp Women, with two violent deaths and a naked dude walking around for half the movie.

You know that scene in Ghost where Whoopi is being harassed by a ton of ghosts because they all found out she could hear/see Patrick Swayze? Well Ghost Town is essentially a full length version of that scene, as Ricky Gervais is pestered by ghosts (after he dies for 7 minutes during a colonoscopy) who all need him to do something in the living world that will allow their souls to rest. Most persistent is Greg Kinnear’s character, who died after his wife more or less discovered that he was having an affair. He wants Gervais to break up her impending marriage, but of course, Gervais starts to fall for her.

Even with the rather odd plot, the movie is pretty generic. Without the ghost angle, it’s little more than the umpteenth love triangle romcom, right down to the fight/break-up type scene 20 minutes before the film ends. I expected some more originality out of David Koepp, who made one of the best ghost movies of all time (Stir of Echoes) and has written some truly great modern movies: Carlito's Way, Jurassic Park, Spider-Man... But here he seems to be phoning it in.

However, it does have a saving grace, and that is the fantastic cast. Kinnear is always reliable, and few actors can play what is essentially a jerk and still get an audience to care about him. The brilliant Kristen Wiig has a few scenes as the surgeon who performs the colonoscopy that sets the plot in motion, and you’ll probably spend the rest of the movie wondering when she’ll come back into the story. And Tea Leoni acquits herself nicely as the put upon woman who has to deal with a dead husband, a new fiancé, and a neighbor who she cant stand at first but of course eventually begins to fall for.

That neighbor is Gervais, the film’s star and probably the biggest draw for audiences. He has the cranky jerk routine down to a science, and while the PG-13 rating restricts him a tad, he’s as cynical (and thus hilarious) as ever. You’ll be too busy laughing and cheering at his “I wish I would say that” remarks to notice the rather bland plot development. I think it’s his first starring role in a feature film, and I think it’s a great way to introduce him to US audiences who may not really be familiar with him yet other than “the guy who was on the original Office.” Also, it’s nice to see a film starring 3 middle aged actors. Other recent ghost romcoms (Over Her Dead Body, Just Like Heaven) are populated with young TV stars and starlets, but other than a couple of minor one-scene characters, its an adult cast with actors who are seasoned enough to sell the occasional lame joke and entertain the audience enough to forgive its storytelling issues.

There are some nagging flaws though that even the cast can’t help you ignore. For starters, it seems like the film was cut down, as several subplots are never really explained. For example, Kinnear is in a tux when he dies, but you never know why. Certainly they wouldn’t bother putting him in a tux if there wasn’t a scripted reason for it. Also, Gervais explains his accent by saying he moved from London to NY because London got too crowded and he hates everyone. When asked why he would pick NY, he says its complicated, but never explains it at a later time. Also, the best joke in the trailer (the difference between ghosts and zombies) isn’t even in the film, which is a damn shame.

Also, and this sort of tickled me, one of the ghosts is a mob stooge who wants Gervais to whack a guy for him. When Gervais (predictably) begins helping the ghosts out, we see a few examples (reuniting two sisters, finding a kid's favorite toy), and then he's not being bothered by the ghosts anymore. Does this mean he actually DID go murder a man to get the mob ghost to leave him alone? Awesome!

But, it’s a comedy, and on that level, it works. I was laughing a lot, which is what a good comedy should do. It’s a shame that someone of Koepp’s talent couldn’t have put a more unique spin on the story, but you will be entertained nonetheless.

What say you?


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