Walled In (2009)

FEBRUARY 28, 2009


If Watchmen is a big hit, I bet we still start to see a lot more “outside of the box” comic adaptations being put into production, alongside the traditional Marvel and DC films. And that means we’ll probably get a lot of direct to video stuff like Walled In, which is based on a rather obscure French comic named "Les Emmur├ęs" - something I wasn’t aware of until after I had watched the movie. It’s curious then, that Anchor Bay would splash “based on the best-selling graphic novel!” on the back of the DVD and not provide the title or author, especially for a US release. Why bother calling attention to it when the intended audience won't be familiar with it anyway?

I can only assume that the comic is more mysterious and exciting. It’s a decent enough thriller, but also sort of lackluster. The setup is pretty great - a demolitions expert arrives at a building due to be destroyed and uncovers its secrets thanks to (or in spite of) the efforts of a few remaining residents. And the cast is pretty interesting - Deborah Kara Unger is always a welcome presence (taking roles that Sharon Stone probably would have been offered 10 years ago), and it’s nice to see Cameron Bright a bit grown up and moving beyond “I am the key to mankind’s future” roles. I have never watched a single episode of The OC in my life, so I’m not familiar with Mischa Barton, but she seems OK enough, and her character is supposed to feel out of place (a female demolitions expert - why not?), so it works.

But it’s just not particularly exciting. There are a few decent scares (the opening sequence is terrific) and one character’s death is pretty awesome (great capper to it too), but at the end of the day, it’s about a building. Remember that scene in Big where he’s got the robot that turns into a skyscraper instead of a car or a gun or something, and he’s like “Who wants to play with a building?” Same deal here. And not only is it about a building, but Barton also narrates with passages from the “Dummies Guide to Demolition”. I’m sure there are some folks who are incredibly excited over the idea that there’s a wall 16 feet closer than the blueprints claim, but the title of the movie gives the reason why. She also rambles about how it’s all about weakening a few key points in the structure in order to completely destroy it. There are also at least two scenes in which folks read and discuss books about architecture. I can only hope that Michael Scofield has gotten a copy of this movie; he’ll love this shit.

One thing the movie does have going for it is its creepy French sensibilities. Bright’s character is in love with Barton (ten years his senior, at least), and the 3rd act of the movie has him place her in a pit so he can watch her dance and kiss a fellow prisoner. She then tries to trick him into letting her out by flashing him. There’s also a scene where she hurts her leg, and rather than just roll the leg up like a normal person, she takes off her pants and lets the kid tend to her wound (and then gets confused when a 15 year old boy gets excited over touching an older woman’s thigh). He also has a vaguely “too close” relationship with his mother.

Oh hey, I need some help here: was the “1, 2, Freddy’s coming for you!” from Nightmare on Elm St a wholly original nursery rhyme, or was it a rewritten version of a traditional (and presumably not as creepy) one? If it WAS entirely WesCraven’s song/idea, then he should sue these guys. Not only does it sound identical, it’s even about the movie’s killer.

The DVD has a bunch of trailers (AB has seemingly finally given Hatchet and Behind the Mask a rest), including one for the film itself. We also get a making of that isn’t too bad, focusing on - what else? - the building and production design type things.

Strangely, today I also watched Pineapple Express, which I missed in theaters. Among its many eventually-forgotten plot points (I was underwhelmed by the movie to say the least, though it does contain many solid laughs) is that the James Franco character is an architecture buff. Only I could manage to watch two completely different movies in a single day and yet find a common theme that is also an example of why the film failed to live up to its potential (in Pineapple’s case, the incredibly lazy plotting, though maybe that was just a meta-pothead joke).

What say you?


Home Movie (2008)

FEBRUARY 27, 2009


While I usually bemoan the idea of casting known actors in “found footage” movies, it uniquely works to Home Movie’s advantage to cast Adrian Pasdar as the patriarch of the family that we spend 80 minutes (with one minor exception, the two parents and two kids are the only people we see in the entire film). Because Pasdar is usually a bad or at least morally gray guy, you will probably spend a lot of the movie wondering (ultimately off-track) when his character will go “dark”, an effect that would probably not work had it been someone unfamiliar in the role.

Of course, double edged swords and all, this means that you have to instantly buy Pasdar as the dorkiest movie dad since Clark Griswold. Not only does he film everything and do voices, but he also seemingly has a costume for every conceivable holiday (when he sits down to Thanksgiving dinner with a priest collar, I actually thought he was dressed as a pilgrim of some sort before I realized that his character was indeed a minister). So you get to see Jim Profit in a pink Easter Bunny suit, which is more unnerving than any of the killer kid stuff (well, almost all). I couldn’t help but wonder how different the experience of watching the film and trying to get ahead of its characters would be had they cast a guy like Daniel Stern or Vince Vaughn in the role.

But, as you can probably guess from the genre tags, the kids are the real antagonists, and unlike The Good Son or Godsend, these kids are fucking terrifying. The Poe family unfortunately seems to own every kind of house pet there is, and they are all offed in order of small (goldfish) to large (the dog). Of course, then they move on to humans, resulting in a surprisingly chilling denouement. Near the end of the movie, there’s a shot of the kids wearing paper bag masks and holding forks in the air which gave me legit chills.

As for what doesn’t work, mostly just the same problems as a lot of found footage movies, principally the betrayal of how “found” this is. Like in [Rec], we somehow watch footage being rewound and fast forwarded, which means we are seeing the camera, not what the camera sees. And there’s also occasional voice over, which suggests that the footage has been edited by a cinematically inclined mind. When Blair Witch came out, they had that whole “someone gave us the footage and we tried to piece it together to explain what happened” angle to explain such instances, but we are not given any sort of reason for it here. Also, the first half hour or so of the movie gets awful repetitive: Dad turns on the camera, acting all goofy and trying to make a nice family moment, and then discovers a dead animal. This process repeats 5 times, and you start to wonder when this guy will just give up and start smacking the kids around.

Another curious blunder is a really nonsensical scene where Pasdar teaches the kids to tie a rope and pick a lock. A. why would a father do this even under normal circumstances, and B. why would he do it when they’ve already displayed several signs of abnormal behavior? It comes at a point in the film where you’re starting to say “Why is he STILL filming this stuff?”, and it nearly breaks the tension and reality of the movie for good. It’s not long after that that the movie really takes off, but still, it teeters dangerously close to ridiculous for a 5-10 minute stretch.

Otherwise it’s a solid entry in the found footage subgenre, and one of the better killer kid movies I’ve seen in a while (I think Joshua would be the only other one of the past 10 years that’s worth a damn). The DVD only has a making of (zzzz) and the trailer, so don’t pay too much for it, but definitely check it out.

What say you?


The Last House On The Left (1972)

FEBRUARY 27, 2009


As I was due to cover the junket for the remake this weekend, I thought I would take another look at the original The Last House On The Left, which I hadn’t seen since I was 14 or 15. And it’s worth noting that at least in terms of story and plot points, I remembered it better than I do half of the movies I watched just last month. Whether you love or hate the movie, it definitely leaves an imprint that doesn’t fade away with time.

Being that it was Wes Craven’s first film and done on a budget around the same as Texas Chain Saw, I can forgive the jarring edits, muddled sound, and other technical snafus. In fact to some extent it’s even sort of the point - they wanted to give the film a documentary presentation, and in several instances they succeed. But not so easily digestable is the cartoonish writing that sounds like it was WRITTEN by someone that was the same age I was when I last watched it. Like when the news is reporting on Krug and his gang, and it’s like ‘They killed two priests and a nun!” Right, because simply killing three people just isn’t EVIL! enough. The scene between the mother and Weasel is another example. She’s not a particularly good actress anyway, but even Meryl Streep probably would have struggled with the “brilliant” plan to get the guy’s arms tied up so she could bite his dick off.

Now, one thing about the remake that purists are likely to bitch and moan about is the rather toned down depravity. No dick eating, no forced urination, etc. But I find that is precisely what makes the newer version (which I can now definitely say I prefer, a true rarity) work so much better. By more or less limiting Mari’s torture to the rape, it makes the scene so much more powerful, and makes you hate Krug all the more. In this film, by the time they rape her she’s practically catatonic. And then she is killed moments later, so the parents never even know about that part of her attack (to the best I can tell). I doubt Gaylord St. James (fakest fake name ever, Richard Towers!) could have possibly sold the “Dad just realizes his baby girl has been brutalized” moment as well as Tony Goldwyn, but the setup doesn’t even allow him to try.

The parents here are also strangely matter of fact about the whole thing. She goes off with Weasel while the dad carries out the first of what would be at least four sequences in a Wes Craven film in which the hero sets a bunch of traps for the antagonist(s) (did he write Home Alone?). I mean, it’s great that he has such a handle on his anger that he’s able to carefully pour water over a rug that is concealing a live wire, and also take the time to determine the absolute best weapon to use against her killers, but it still dampens the impact of the moment (the fact that everything occurs offscreen doesn’t help much either, though I will put that in the “no money so I can’t fault them” category). And it all happens so briefly, it doesn’t really allow for suspense. It’s to Dennis Illiadis’ credit (and Wes’, who produced the new version) that even knowing exactly how it would play out, the 2009 version is still incredibly suspenseful.

The music is also rather questionable. David Hess composed the songs, and they are all of the folky singer-songwriter variety. Some of them work in an ironic juxtaposition kind of way, many do not. The score is the real problem though. When Phyllis is getting stabbed it sounds like someone is playing a game of Simon next to the camera. It’s funny though - everyone is bitching about the folky "Sweet Child O’Mine" cover on the trailer for the remake, as if this style of music has no business in this particularly story. Plus, where the hell have these people been? Do trailer songs EVER appear in the movie? Quick, go cue up the scene where Blur’s "Song #2" plays over Starship Troopers. Oh right, IT DOESN’T. It just proves once again - the remake whiners are among the stupidest people on the entire planet (I won’t even get into the notion of complaining about a remake of a film that itself was a modernized version of a Swedish film that was based on a Scottish ballad).

The DVD has a nice collection of extras. Craven and Sean Cunningham provide a commentary, very jokey and apologetic in tone. They also admit to not having seen the film in a while, so prepare for a lot of gaps. There’s also a great 30 minute retrospective with a surprising number of participants (Martin Kove!), considering how many of the actors and actresses wanted nothing to do with the film then or now (Sandra Cassel is, unsurprisingly, nowhere to be found). Roy Frumkes also put together a compliation of outtakes, though they are presented without sound and aren’t particularly interesting. Then there’s an odd piece called “Forbidden Footage”, which doesn’t concern any MPAA excised stuff, which is what the title would suggest. Instead, it’s Craven and co. discussing three of the film’s more notorious scenes in detail. The film itself is the most complete cut ever officially released (per Craven’s introduction), however it should be noted that some scenes, such as the “forced lesbian” stuff, are nowhere to be found on the disc, or even mentioned as far as I can tell. Since Craven removed those himself, I don’t consider it particularly bothersome (if he didn’t want it in there, I don’t care to see it), but pervs may be disappointed.

But for all its faults, the movie packs a punch few other films have ever managed (I would put Cannibal Holocaust in its company). Part of why I haven’t watched it again is that I simply haven’t wanted to. It’s tough to watch, and the attempts at levity (i.e. the cops and their chicken truck adventures), while appreciated, simply don’t work. The reason I prefer the remake is simple: it’s simply a better (and vastly more suspenseful) execution of the story. Just about every problem with the original has been corrected, and anyone who bitches about changes (Mari surviving being the biggest one) is completely missing the point of the film. Not that I would expect any less from someone who bitches about a movie before they saw it, but - wait, Wes wants to remake Shocker now? What the fuck?!?!? WHY?!?!?!

What say you?


The Night Flier (1997)

FEBRUARY 26, 2009


You know what I don’t miss? Overproduced animated menus on DVDs. Having the main menu do something cool is one thing, but when you go to select a chapter on a late 90s release like The Night Flier, and it takes an additional 10-15 seconds because each page (4 chapters per page) has to whish and whoosh and “wow” us with its after effects glory, it gets pretty goddamn annoying. Nowadays, they don’t bother, and I thank them for it.

Anyway, the movie itself is pretty solid, though the fact that it went theatrical is more amazing than anything in the film itself. Granted, it was a limited release, but it shows you just how horror-starved movie theaters were in the mid 90s that a movie in which almost nothing happens, starring a guy known for bit roles, could play alongside whatever big blockbusters were out at the time.

Luckily - that guy is Miguel Ferrer, who is someone you can’t help but love. Like Jeremy Piven, he seemingly only has one acting persona (in Ferrer’s case - sarcastic hardass, as opposed to Piven's sarcastic just-plain-ass), but it’s a persona I always enjoy seeing, so to put him in the lead for a film is a stroke of awesomeness, and I laud director Mark Pavia for casting him. On the surface, he’s a pretty unlikable person, but Ferrer gives him just enough charm to keep you from wanting to simply see him dead.

And that’s good, because he’s pretty much the only guy in the movie. As it is based on a Stephen King short story (VERY short - I think it was like 20 pages), there’s hardly a lot of plot here. Pavia has added a rival reporter (the Phoebe Cates-ish Julie Entwisle) to pad things out a bit, but it’s not quite as successful as he probably intended, since her scenes stick out and never really amount to much - her character could be removed entirely and it wouldn’t make much of a difference. The ending wouldn’t have as much of a cynical coda, but that’s about it.

The rest of the movie is mainly Ferrer snapping photos, snarling at people, and looking puzzled as he scans the skies and rooftops for the title character. It gets kind of repetitive, as you can imagine. The lack of prominent other characters robs the film from more moments where Ferrer gets to butt heads, a fact that got more noticeable as it went on (there are like 6 scenes of him speaking to his recorder). Had this feature film not been made, the story would have been a great candidate for a Nightmares & Dreamscapes episode, but oh well.

One highlight is the gore. I was not expecting the movie to have as much splatter and dismemberment as it does. It won’t give Dead Alive a run for its money or anything, but for a low budget movie, I was happy to see so much on the screen. The KNB makeup effects are as amazing as ever, and the finale has Ferrer wielding an ax against a horde of zombies (it’s not a zombie film). This sequence is black and white, and I suspect that may have been a way around an NC-17 (the MPAA is strangely averse to the color of red, which is why the Evil Dead movies spray green stuff all around instead).

In the end, it’s a slight, but solid little movie. I wouldn’t go so far to say that the story demanded a feature film (a theatrical release at that), but it still turned out better than about half of the King adaptations, even ones based on full length novels, making it a perfect Sunday afternoon viewing on cable (the DVD isn’t worth picking up unless it’s dirt cheap - the only extras are some production notes and the trailer, and it’s probably not a movie you’d ever want to watch a 2nd time). Now, someone write a buddy movie for Ferrer and Piven!

What say you?


Against The Dark (2009)

FEBRUARY 25, 2009


Last summer, I read Vern’s hilarious book "Seagalogy", which tackled each of Steven Seagal’s films one by one and pointed out the various recurring themes (CIA shenanigans being the most prominent) and character traits that the otherwise unrelated films shared. As someone who gave up on Seagal right around Glimmer Man, I hadn’t seen a good number of the films, but Vern’s prose actually made me want to watch his direct to video efforts. But doing HMAD eats up as much “watching bad movies on DVD” time as I have, so I was happy to see that Seagal had finally “stooped” to doing horror movies with Against The Dark, as it would finally give me a good (for lack of a better word) reason to introduce myself to latter day Seagal.

Well, as DTV nonsense goes, I’ve seen worse (including movies Sony saw fit to advertise on the disc, such as Boogeyman 3). I mean, if it was any good, it would probably go theatrical, given the presence of a couple name actors (Seagal, Keith David, and... well, Linden Ashby) and a popular premise, i.e. modern day vampires that can easily be mistaken for zombies. I guess 28 Days Later is to blame for this new phenomenon, in which I honestly can’t tell what the fuck the monsters are supposed to be. The DVD box claims vampires, but nothing about them suggests anything but zombies - they have a sick green glow, they don’t talk, and they are caused by a virus. They don’t even have pointy teeth, but this pays off in the film’s most horrific scene, in which a newly made zompire sharpens her teeth into points. The sound, the visual, the IDEA... I’m sure it’s been done before, but it doesn’t make it any less unnerving.

As for Seagal, well... he is what he is these days (fat, kind of lazy). In his book, Vern alludes to several occasions in these DTV movies where Seagal is being doubled, and/or another guy is doing the lines for him, but I see none of that type of stuff here. There’s a pretty hilarious dub early on where he says the same thing twice, but at least it’s his voice. However, he’s not really the star of the movie, top billing aside. It’s not even until the halfway point that he meets the people who are our REAL main characters, a ragtag group of survivors endlessly making their way through a hospital.

And it’s hilarious, because at this point, the requisite little girl of the group asks him his name, and Seagal says “My name is Tao!” It’s funny because we’re almost an hour into the movie and I’m pretty sure it’s the first time his name was mentioned. The music goes into overdrive here too, suggesting we just learned that he is one of Seagal’s most famous characters or something. Like you’re watching a lame Seagal movie and all of a sudden you find out that his character is actually Casey Ryback or maybe even Nico Toscani. Nope, Tao. He then ducks out of the movie’s epilogue (we see a guy in a leather coat walking around in the background, I guess it’s him), so the last time he appears on screen is when he starts to run for the exit before the building gets blown up. Instead we just get a pretty clear shot of the film crew reflected on the SUV that will take out actual heroes to safety.

But even when he’s actually in a scene, he doesn’t say much, often just sort of glaring his way around the movie. I believe Arnold had more lines in the original Terminator than Seagal does here. He does offer this reminder though: “We’re not here to judge who’s right or wrong; we’re here to decide who lives or dies!” Problem is: he says it after saving a small child from being eaten by vampires. I guess in this world, that sort of action exists in a moral gray area.

The main problem with the movie is that it’s so isolated. The opening scenes, likely assembled from stock footage, tell us that the outbreak already happened, that most people are infected, blah blah. Most people know that the initial panic/outbreak is the most interesting part of a zombie film, so presenting it as a 30 second montage before spending 85 minutes in a badly lit hospital was an unwise decision.

But the action is solid. Sometimes it’s strangely sans gore (a head will go flying off courtesy of Seagal’s blade, but no blood), but there’s still plenty of splatter, dismemberment, etc. Seagal even takes out a zompire kid, so there’s something. And to break things up a bit, Keith David (who never shares a scene with his Marked for Death co-star) more or less reprises his Armageddon role as “Army guy who wants to blow up our heroes to hopefully save other lives”, with Linden Ashby in the Billy Bob role of trying to stop him. Their scenes come and go out of nowhere, and I have to wonder if they were part of the plan all along or actually added in at the end of production when they realized that the rest of the movie featured vague people and a fat guy walking around a hospital and nothing else.

The DVD’s only feature is a making of in which everyone talks about how great everyone else is while the editor attempts to make Seagal’s role look more prominent. Sony also throws in all of their recent trailers, and, again, the Blu-ray ad that talks about how great it looks and yet it looks just as good/bad as the rest of the standard def footage on the DVD... BECAUSE ITS IN STANDARD DEF. Morons!

What say you?

And now, Horror Movie A Day and Happy Hour Comics would like to present the 2nd in an ongoing series of HMAD-inspired comic strips. I hope you enjoy!! (Click to enlarge)


Red Sands (2009)

FEBRUARY 24, 2009


Back in 2005, I bought myself a festival pass for the Boston Film Festival. In retrospect I’m not sure why - I can honestly only remember three movies I saw there*, and none of them were movies I had heard about and wanted to see. Good ol disposable income, how I miss thee! Anyway, one of the movies was Dead Birds, which was a pretty solid ghost/supernatural film set during the Civil War, with a great cast and, rare at that time, genuine suspense and atmosphere. So I was pretty excited to see Red Sands, which reteams Birds’ director Alex Turner and writer Simon Barrett.

Sadly, it’s not as successful as Birds. As DTV horror movies go, it’s practically Oscar-worthy, but I felt their previous film showed more promise. Not that it’s a bad film by any means - there are a lot of great standalone scenes and moments, and Turner is clearly a director who can wring good performances out of his cast, but it just doesn’t add up to a total success.

For starters, the whole movie is spoiled in the first 5 minutes. Not only are we told what sort of horror we are dealing with (a Djinn) via an opening crawl, but then we are also told that Shane West’s character is the only survivor. So uh... why keep watching? Tom Sawyer and his fellow soldiers fight Wishmaster, and he survives. Done. The great thing about Dead Birds (which shares a fairly similar structure with this film, as well as the war setting, though in this case it's Iraq) was that it DIDN’T hold the audience’s hand and explain everything away. I’m kind of a smart guy, and I like when I see a horror movie that sort of rewards (or at least assumes) that intelligence. Needless to say, I wasn’t too surprised to learn (via the commentary track) that the opening scenes, and several other “yeah, DUH!” moments in the film were studio enforced reshoots/re-edits. I’m actually kind of surprised that a studio would give so much shit to a low budget film that they probably had no plans of theatrically releasing, but there you go.

Luckily, just enough of it works to qualify it as a success, minor as it may be. As I said, the performances are good (particularly Aldis Hodge, who already won me over with his supporting role on Friday Night Lights), and since the effects are pretty fucking terrible, it’s a good thing that most of the scares are of the atmospheric and subtle nature. There’s a scene in the film that I can’t possibly do justice via description, but it’s a terrific little “freaky” moment involving an underlit section of a room (if you watch the film, it occurs around the 45 minute mark). I love stuff like that, and the presence of such moments makes it easier to forgive things like this:

I guess Sony wanted to burn off unused PS1 FMVs?

Also, Shane West’s character is the one to stare longingly at a photo of his girl back home. Since we know his character survives, this makes Red Sands a truly rare film in that regard, since “soldier that has a picture of his girl” is pretty much THE defining trait of movie characters that are about to get shot or blown up.

Another actor who pops up is the great JK Simmons, who you may know as Jonah in the Spider-Man movies, or as the guy who delivers the best line in Burn After Reading (“Call me... I dunno. When it makes sense.”). His entire role consists of two scenes, one at the beginning and one at the end. It takes longer to read this paragraph about his role than it does to actually watch his scenes. Again, this is revealed to be a studio mandated sequence - Sony asked for another “name” and Turner called in a favor to Simmons, whom he had worked with on a short film. The moral of the story is: JK Simmons is now a “name”, and that’s awesome.

As you might have guessed, the commentary is hardly one of those “We shot this here and everyone was so great and I really like this scene” rambles. Turner and Barrett speak pretty freely, but not to the extent that you feel like they are whining about their misfortunes. They praise those who should be praised, talk about edits, explain why things look less than stellar, etc. If you hated the film, it won’t change your mind, but you can at least take comfort in knowing that the creators aren’t entirely happy with it either. There are also a handful of deleted/alternate scenes, all of which are from the first 20 minutes of the movie and thus don’t help explain any of the more puzzling developments from later in the movie. Barrett provides a 20 minute behind the scenes that’s kind of interesting (it’s just a nearly wordless collection of moments from the set, many of them charmingly mundane like recording room tone), and then another “home movies from set” video, this one by co-star Noel G., round things out.

If you like your horror movies to be fast paced and violent, then steer clear. If you enjoyed Dead Birds, and/or don’t mind being a bit patient, then you should enjoy this. It’s not great... but let’s put it this way: Sony has included the trailers for abysmal stuff like Anaconda 4, Vacancy 2, Screamers 2... etc. Considering the company it’s lumped with, it’s amazing that it’s even watchable, let alone decent.

What say you?

*One of those other movies was a half documentary/half comedy-drama called The Hole Story. It’s a great fucking movie and why it never found wider distribution is beyond me, but you can check it out HERE, and also rent it thru Netflix. Please do so.


Frightmare (1983)

FEBRUARY 23, 2009


As is the case with many horror movies from 1980 and beyond, Frightmare shares its title with an earlier film. So in case you missed the year on the title of this review, I want to reiterate that the following concerns the 1983 Frightmare that co-stars Jeffrey Combs, not the 1974 one with Rupert Davies.

Got that? Good.

Frightmare is a piece of shit. At first I was dismayed to discover that the DVD was distributed by Troma, as that meant it would be presented full frame and most likely be transferred from a VHS tape. And it was, but even a pristine Blu-ray wouldn’t have made this dud any more interesting or exciting. The plot is incomprehensible, the dialogue almost non-existent, the kills are repetitive... you name a problem with a horror movie, and this movie delivers it, and then some.

The repetitiveness is the biggest problem. Once it finally gets going around the 45 minute mark, all of the kills play out exactly the same: someone walks around a house, the coffin-bound bad guy makes a face (shown in closeup), and then he makes some object fly around and kill the person. Then someone goes looking for that person, and the whole process repeats. We watch this sequence 5 times in a row, and then the movie finally ends. Through all of these sequences is “music” that can best be described as a guy leaning on a keyboard for 20 straight minutes. Shit makes Brian Eno’s compositions sound as radio friendly as Nickelback.

The bad guy is an aging actor (the original title is simply Horror Star) who has planned his own death to go out with a bang, or something (couldn’t really understand his scheme - he fakes his death, then dies for real?). He’s a Christopher Lee/Vincent Price type, and he is referred to as the “last of the horror legends”. But earlier in the scene he talked about working with Laurence Olivier, so obviously he exists in the real world... where “horror legends” such as Christopher Lee and Vincent Price were still alive (actually, Lee STILL is). Whatever.

It’s also one of those movies in which any reasonable person would hate every one of the “good guys”. We don’t know much about them except that they love horror movies and the actor guy. In fact, they love him so much that they take his corpse from his grave, dress it up and sit it at the dinner table with them. Likeable? Fuck, these assholes are barely human. I would like to think that when one of my heroes passes on, my first thought isn’t “dress up time!”. And the lack of characterization is apparent right from the opening credits, which lists the actor AND the character name for just about every cast member, which is almost unheard of for an opening crawl (maybe one role, i.e. “Kane Hodder as Jason”, but ALL of em?)

And yes, Jeffrey Combs is in the movie. The funny thing is, he was allegedly cast because he had brown hair like the mannequin that they were going to use for a decapitation. Ignoring the fact that hair dye costs about 7 bucks, the hilarious capper to this bit of trivia is that the movie is so dark that you can’t see the goddamn hair color anyway (really, anything but bleached blonde would have worked) and the hair STYLE is nothing like Combs’. And he’s basically just anonymous filler (like everyone else in the movie besides the former title character) so I’d hardly consider it worth watching just for him.

Thankfully, Troma didn’t bother to include any extras for the film itself. No, all of the bonus features concern, well, Troma. Commercials for their DVDs and such make up the bulk of the content, but there’s also a heartbreaking ad for PETA (monkeys hugging each other!) and an odd little montage of public domain clips of Christopher Lee and Bela Lugosi doing their thing.

Finally, there’s a piece called “Learn From Their Mis-Steaks”, in which Lloyd talks about doing a no-budget indie film as a favor and all of the mistakes the film crew made while he was there (lack of sound equipment or lights, not color timing the two cameras, using real animal blood/guts for props, etc). It’s a great idea and, while probably already embarrassing enough for the film crew, something that should be included on every single Troma release. Hell, put it on non-Troma movies too; the technical qualities we see in the clips from the film (titled Beef in Satan’s Freezer or something like that) are no worse than that of several Lionsgate releases I’ve endured.

In closing, I would like to say that I can only hope that the 1974 Frightmare is better.

What say you?


Michael Lives: The Making Of Halloween (2008)

FEBRUARY 22, 2009


The Oscars aren't the only overlong and filler-filled thing I watched today, as I decided to make Michael Lives: The Making Of Halloween my movie for the day. Clocking in at four hours and twenty minutes (longer than Che!), I realized that if not considered my movie for the day, I would never get around to watching it. But I have counted documentaries in the past, and there is certainly no interest in this movie beyond horror fans, so I feel its certainly a qualifiable entry.

You would think that at 4.5 hours, there would be absolutely no area of the film's production or history left untouched. It was seemingly edited together long after the film's release, once it had made its money back and the involved folks had some hindsight. Also, it's a remake of the most acclaimed slasher movie of all time, and thus in turn was met with the most scrutiny of any horror remake ever (more than even Psycho 1998, which at least had a more prestigious director and much less "internet presence" than Halloween 2007). And yet, the documentary addresses none of these things. If it wasn't for Adrienne Barbeau (whose role ended up on the cutting room floor) pointing out that she was once engaged to the "director of the original", John Carpenter wouldn't be mentioned at all. The only time Rob mentions the original is when the original Strode house is pointed out during location scouting (to which he quite ironically replies "I don't want this movie to have a bunch of cameos"). This also leaves some odd holes in the narrative (for lack of a better word); we see the casting details for several cast members, but not Danielle Harris, the only actor in the film with a previous relationship with the series.

But I can forgive that - they are, for all intents and purposes, making their own movie, and the documentary actually succeeds where the film failed in allowing the audience to forget all about the original film and focus on Rob's vision. Even when they are doing something again, like Lynda's death, the presence of Rob and the rest of the crew allows you to get lost in this version without constantly having the memory of the original intrude.

However, I cannot forgive making a documentary that runs more than twice the length of the film itself that never once includes any sort of reflection or insight. We see footage of the reshoots, but neither Rob or anyone else comments on why they are even being done, let alone whether they think they are for the better or not. The entire post production process is limited to about 30 seconds of Tyler Bates composing his score and ONE SHOT of editor Glenn Garland sitting at an Avid. Even if they wanted to avoid the possible negative connotations of discussing the studio-enforced reshoots, how do you make a movie about a film's production and skip over such a crucial element like editing?

The ultimate problem is the lack of honesty. If this movie is truly a full picture of the production (which its length would certainly suggest), was there never a single problem on set? The only time we are led to believe that the entire production didn't go as smoothly as possible is when we see a few birds squawking through a shot. Oh and (thank Christ I didn't watch this three weeks or more ago) a quick shot where Rob berates the DP for tweaking lights. Heh. "Fuckin' amateur!"

And that's what really bugged me. You watch these types of things for dirt, and the movie (directed by Rob himself) offers none. And without the presence of reflection, on ANYONE'S part, you could just add in people saying "it's a wrap!" and "I think it will be great!" type things, add in the final 5 seconds of the trailer, and end the thing at any point in the film. Half hour, two hours, or even a longer six hours, you'd be left with the exact same feeling.

And that's a shame, because not only is it a giant missed opportunity for Rob to speak his mind freely, but the length will keep people away. At an hour, maybe more folks would be inclined to watch the making of the film whether they liked it or not, and they would possibly learn some interesting things. For starters, Rob is a very hands on director. Many times during the movie we see him dressing props and such, or helping the crew to tear apart the basement to make it look more aged. He's also very good with talking to the actors and fleshing out certain scenes and even individual lines of dialogue. A lot of directors seem to be one or the other, but Rob seems to be the rare kind who is just as concerned with technical details as he is with performance. As I've said before, his writing, which is spotty at best, constantly betrays the fact that he really is a strong director, and I think that if he allowed someone else to write a script for once, we as fans would get something truly great.

Another thing that the movie does a good job of depicting is how much work goes into creating a seemingly simple shot. Michael crying outside of his house requires props to put together a bucket of candy, set designers to not only find leaves (in Pasadena) but age them and blow them across the scene in a realistic manner, lights that can light the actor without looking unnatural, a camera angle that can get what Rob wants but also hide all of the palm trees... On one of the Star Wars prequels, there is an extra feature about all of the work it takes to pull off a single shot, and it's far more successful, because it only takes a half hour to get that point across, not 4+. And again, without having any insight on the film as a whole, or the challenges of pulling off a remake of a revered film, the only thing one CAN really take from the film is "Making a movie is a lot of work".

There is one moment that can almost qualify as a comment on the film's final product, though I am sure it's not the intent at all. During a night shoot, we see the crew having some trouble with young actors portraying trick or treaters. The exact issue is unclear, but regardless, at one point Rob just says "Screw it, let's move on to Michael". Seeing as how one of the film's bigger problems was the lack of Halloween atmosphere in the modern day scenes, it's interesting to note that Rob at least intended to have more of it. It's just a shame we have no followup. Did he regret cutting the shot? Did it help things in the long run? We will probably never know.

Here's the thing: I like Rob. I interviewed him twice for the film back in 2007, once before, once after I saw it, and enjoyed both chats. He's a smart guy, he's funny as hell, and even though he tends to mislead or downright lie about certain things (he told me that Bob's death was reshot because the original was shot quickly and wasn't what he wanted, yet the documentary shows them working on the scene during the daylight hours and shooting it at night), he can also be refreshingly honest about how he feels about certain aspects of filmmaking and horror in general. He also hates us (horror journalists), so in a weird way I respect him taking the time to talk to us and generally being open and personable. And yes, I'm actually looking forward to H2 (Rejects is way better than Corpses, and this will be entirely his own creation in terms of storytelling), and even if it's terrible, I'll still be interested in what he does next. But in the end, I can't really recommend this documentary. There's some good stuff in there, but the length and lack of focus just keeps it from being worth your time. Even if you're a die hard fan of the film, do you really need to spend nearly five hours of your day watching repetitive footage of people making it? Will your life really not be complete without seeing no less than 20 minutes of Rob watching takes a monitor? Not to mention just watching the film clips again; a good hour of the film is just footage from the movie (sometimes even THAT'S repeated). The stuff that was already included on the original DVD release is a far better option. Otherwise, it's nothing more than the world's longest promotional EPK making of piece; only to be used as some sort of endurance test - can you watch it in one sitting? I did, save for a quick pause to prepare a Hungry Man.

What say you?


Dark Harvest 3: Scarecrow (2004)

FEBRUARY 21, 2009


About 6 months of my rent. More than half the cost of a new sedan. The average credit card/loan debt of someone in their 20s or 30s. These are just a few of the things that 10,000 dollars can buy you, but Ben Dixon and his crew decided to spend it on their movie Dark Harvest 3: Scarecrow (actually Skarecrow, which was bought and retitled by - who else? - Lionsgate). With a current rating of 1.8 on the IMDb* and my personal opinion that it’s the least entertaining of the “series”, I ask you - what should they have spent the money on instead?

Once again, I find myself in the unenviable position of having to slam a “homemade” movie. But Jesus fucking Christ, if I’ve said it once I’ve said it a hundred times: GOOD SCRIPTS ARE JUST AS CHEAP TO WRITE AS BAD ONES! I could forgive the god awful acting, terrible consumer grade video imagery, and laughable effects (see below), but for the love of Xenu, I cannot forgive such a half-assed and pointless script.

Let’s see, for starters the movie is only 65 minutes long without credits, and still feels endless. Most of it consists of the six protagonists yelling at each other. And at one point, the lead punches his girlfriend in the face after she refuses to have sex next to a scarecrow. And, needless to say, Sean Penn and Kate Winslet (congrats!) couldn’t make any of these characters likable, so forget about giving a shit whether any of them live or die. All three women are shrill and annoying; all three men are profane hotheads who will punch one another at the drop of a hat. To its credit, Ben Dixon (and his wife, or sister, Amy) DOES kill every one of them in their script, but it’s not like there are amazing kills or effects to enjoy when they finally get offed.

The movie also doesn’t make a lick of sense. There’s a prologue with a guy getting killed by some rednecks who have stolen some land or something. But then he instantly is revived as a scarecrow and kills them all in turn. So he’s gotten his revenge, yet he comes back and stalks the six folks I mentioned earlier. What did they ever do to him? Plus, he’s revived when blood from the girl’s newly punched face is splashed on his coat, so if anything he owes them a solid. There’s some nonsense about a family curse and some creepy people living next door, but damned if it was coherent enough for my tastes.

Another thing that’s free is decent sound mixing. Since the movie is obviously edited on Final Cut Pro, I will explain to Dixon and his crew how to it for future reference. In your main project window, click on the effects tab. You will see a folder called “Audio Transitions” (it’s usually near the bottom). Collapse that, and you’ll find two filters: Crossfade (0 db) and Crossfade (3 db). Either one will do - simply drag it over onto the cut between two audio tracks. Then double click it on the timeline, and in the editor window, change the duration to about 4 frames (centered on the cut). This will reduce the jarring “sound” that occurs when a shot that was recorded with a lot of background noise cuts to one with no background noise. Also, when you insert a cutaway of something like a gearshift, you can use the audio from the previous shot to keep SOME semblance of audio continuity. The easiest way to do this is to unlink the audio and video by selecting the clip in the timeline and pressing Apple+L. Then delete the cutaway audio, and drag the audio clip from the previous shot underneath the cutaway video. Viola! Your movie sounds 2% more professional, and all it cost was taking 5 fucking seconds to have some pride in your work.

Another odd thing about the movie is that it’s inexplicably set in 1981. Needless to say, the period settings don’t quite work. People have modern clothes and sunglasses, Pepsi machines contain only the 20 oz plastic bottles that didn’t even exist until the 90s, etc. Since the 1981 setting has no point on anything, you gotta wonder why they bothered, as I’m sure at least SOMETHING was done to keep the idea in check (the van they are driving, for example, seems like a 70s model), which is time they could have spent, I dunno, fixing just about anything in this movie.

The ending is hilarious too. Our lead, who goes batshit insane for the last 15 minutes of the movie for some reason, is blamed for the murders and sent to a prison or mental hospital of some sort. It’s clearly just someone’s basement, with a few bars placed on a makeshift wall. A “doctor” then checks off a few things on a clipboard such as the guy’s named, and then writes, in perfect block letters “Increase medication”. Then the movie ends. Hey, I buy it.

The DVD contains a 40 minute making of that is pretty informative. You learn that the director actually wanted to cut down on the amount of profanity, the scarecrow is apparently played by a woman, and the lead guy went to prison in order to research his role for the sequel, which at this time seemingly does not exist (you’d assume that if you were to put yourself in prison for a movie, the movie would have a solid green light). It ends on a peculiar note; one of the actresses bitches about her fellow cast members, presented in a square “picture in picture” style window on the corner of the screen over footage of children playing. OK. At any rate, it’s a better use of your time than the film itself, though so is pretty much anything.

As franchises designed solely by home video poster artists go, the Dark Harvest series stands out for delivering THREE movies in which the only common trait is purely inept filmmaking by seemingly well-meaning folks. I dream of a day when all three directors are put on a panel at a horror (or corn) convention and talk about their magnum opuses. Maybe they can join forces on a fourth film that ties their films (which were all produced at the same time, apparently) together.

And before anyone complains about me mocking a low budget movie with the whole “let’s see YOU make a movie!” argument, I DID make one. Almost ten years ago, two friends and I went into the woods and did the whole Blair Witch parody thing. It’s almost an hour long, and if I was as careless and soulless as the editors of these movies, I could have made it 70 minutes or so too. And it has questionable audio, glaringly obvious continuity errors, and cheap FX and all the same things I blast this movie for. You know what the difference is? I show the thing to friends for laughs. I don’t shop it around to studios for distribution, because I have a soul and would be appalled at the idea of people spending money to see the damn thing. And I don’t care how nice and well-meaning Dixon and co. are, there’s no way in hell they watched this thing and said “Yes, we have made a movie worth paying for.” Apparently, though, I can go back and shoot a scene where we are menaced by a scarecrow and get the thing released as Dark Harvest 4 (or 5, if the idea from my previous paragraph comes together).

What say you?

*The IMDb plot summary simply reads: “A killer scarecrow kills some people”. I appreciate the lack of pretension.

And now, Horror Movie A Day and Happy Hour Comics would like to present the 1st in an ongoing series of HMAD-inspired comic strips. I hope you enjoy!! (Click to enlarge)


Crowley (2008)

FEBRUARY 20, 2009


I got very excited to see a movie called Crowley arrive from Anchor Bay. Even though I’m pretty sure I’d know before it hit DVD, I momentarily thought it was some sort of Hatchet sequel with an older Victor Crowley coming back for one last go around, a la Rambo. But it’s actually Chemical Wedding, the horror movie written by Iron Maiden frontman Bruce Dickinson, under a new name. Oh well, Maiden rules, so this might be just as enticing, right?

Well, enticing maybe, but the finished product leaves much to be desired. Let’s start with the criminal lack of Maiden songs, despite promised on the box. "Can I Play With Madness?", for example, is limited to about 12 seconds’ worth of the song playing on someone’s kitchen radio. In fact, the 3 or 4 other Maiden songs (or Bruce solo efforts) are ALL played over the radio in brief snippets (not counting the end credits), which makes me wonder just how popular Maiden is in this movie’s town.

Instead, the titles of Maiden songs sort of figure into the plot. The whole movie’s about the rebirth of a "Moonchild", and of course, since it’s about Alestair Crowley, there’s some reference to "Six! SIX SIX! THE NUM-BER OF THE BEAST!" Yeah! Lyrics also pop in from time to time; a guy says “The evil that men do lives on and on”, for example. But unfortunately, the movie’s so slow at times, it’s just a reminder of the vastly more entertaining options you have at your disposal (indeed, shortly after watching the movie, I listened to "Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son" again).

Speaking of songs, the first scene has this wonderful little 1940s song about the Boogeyman (title is “Hush Hush Here Comes The Bogie Man”). Why it has never been used in a Halloween movie (makes a hell of a lot more sense than “Mr. Sandman”) is beyond me, but kudos to Dickinson and co. for putting it in instead of another Maiden song.

The movie itself is an occasionally incoherent (my first note simply reads “Huh?”) but almost always kind of repetitive account of Crowley’s attempts to be reborn via the sacrifice of a red haired woman. He does this by possessing a professor, randomly attacking homeless people and such, and proving his power by telling total strangers about their heritage. Those who oppose him include a guy who claims to be 50 but looks about 30, a pair of crusty old professors (one of whom speaks through a voicebox), and a girl from the school newspaper who seemingly needs to interview every person on campus for a single article. At just under 110 minutes, it eventually becomes one of those movies where you can remove a half hour chunk from the middle of the film and not lose a single plot point or disrupt the narrative flow in any meaningful way.

It also has a running gag about the Florida recount of 2000, which is mainly just there to set the date of the film and set up a “ooooh” moment at the end of the film, when one crusty old professor tells another that there are other universes that are worse than the ones they live in. Then they pan down to a newspaper that reads “Gore Wins Recount!” So in other words, these “worse alternative universes” include the one WE live in, where Bush won the election. Not that I will argue the point of the joke, but such half-assed political commentary in a movie really bugs me. They could have used anything to demonstrate the point, especially since the year 2000 isn’t a plot point. I would have gone with “Brokeback Mountain defeats Crash for Best Picture Award”, personally. Might even have made a stronger case for the “Our universe sucks” idea.

And that’s a shame, because it’s certainly an original take on the whole “ancient evil wants to be reborn” concept, and not without entertainment value. I mean, how often do you get to see an old man being whipped for his own pleasure? Furthermore, how often do you see the.... er, “results” of that pleasure splash on an ancient scroll? And furthermore...more, how often do you see someone print out a copy of that text and somehow get the “results” (OK, I mean jizz) all over their hands when they pick up the paper (and then smear it all over their shirt)?? That kind of stuff is gold!

I also like the idea of it being an old fart instead of some charismatic guy in his 30s (like the hero). You almost want to root for the guy, because he’s lovably old and bald. It’s like when my 80ish grandfather got unintentionally racist with a waiter at a Chinese restaurant (he complimented him on “doing alright for himself in this country” - the guy was probably born in New Hampshire): you can’t condone what he’s doing, but at the same time it’s kind of cute.

And the entertainment isn’t all based on old men acting in abhorrent manners. There’s a wonderfully dry sequence where the good guys are hypnotizing a witness, where the guy can only hear one of them and the hypnotist has to keep explaining to the other guy that the hypnotized guy can’t hear him. It’s funnier than it sounds. And I particularly like when the guy possessed by Crowley explains that December 25th has nothing to do with the birth of Jesus (who was born on January 6th - the discrepancy stems from using different calendars or something).

The commentary is much more entertaining than the film, and if the movie wasn’t so dialogue heavy, I would actually advise just listening to it right off the bat. Director Julian Pope, Producer Ben Timlett, and Dickinson talk nonstop, and not only delve into some of the literary and biblical references, but also explain quite a bit about the real Crowley. They even start knocking Lawnmower Man out of nowhere. And they do it all in the inimitable dryly hilarious British fashion. The making of isn’t as successful, and they allude to the campus where the film was shot as being haunted, but I can’t tell if they are joking or not. At any rate, the idea of Crowley’s ghost causing male students to kill themselves would make a pretty good movie too I think. There’s also damn near a half hour of deleted scenes, all presented without context, and some even include the slates (“action!”) at the beginning of the shot. Onscreen text explains why they were cut, which is always preferable than commentary, because then you have to sit through them twice. Some are OK, but since pace is the movie's biggest problem, at least I know they were trying to move things along.

I think as a sort of Pink Floyd The Wall style movie, with the music we know (in this case, Maiden songs) being used to tell the story instead of dialogue, would have worked much better. The movie’s kind of music video esque anyway (there are virtual reality suits, lots of scenes that seem to exist in a fever dream, etc.), and of course, more Maiden music certainly wouldn’t hurt. Indeed, the plot often seems like it was born out of an abandoned concept album. Instead we get this, which is about 20 minutes too long, and overly talky. There’s enough entertainment value contained within to warrant a rental, but not much else.

What say you?


DVD Review: My Bloody Valentine (1981)

FEBRUARY 19, 2009


If anyone needs proof that I have been extremely busy lately, I offer the date on this review as proof. Despite the fact that I have been demanding an uncut edition of My Bloody Valentine since I was 14 years old (I’m turning 29 next month, which means that’s more than half my life), I didn’t get around to watching the DVD - released over a month ago - until today. And that’s actually a lie; I didn’t even have time to watch the whole movie, just the deleted footage and the extras.

Luckily, Lionsgate saw fit to put all of the cut footage as a special feature (you can also, obviously, watch it cut back into the movie; the theatrical cut is also included for comparison’s sake I suppose). And each scene has an intro by one or two of a revolving group of folks, including director George Mihalka and special effects creators Thomas R. Burman and Ken Diaz. What’s interesting is that for years, it has been reported that nine minutes of footage had been cut from the film, but that doesn’t seem possible at all. Maybe nine minutes of scenes IN the movie had been affected, but otherwise, there’s just seemingly no way that there could be much more than the 2:30 worth of stuff that’s here. With the exception of the couple who got killed with the drill bit, every murder in the movie is seen here, and in some cases, even more excessive than I expected (the death of the bartender in particular goes on for like 30 seconds alone). So unless that drill scene, which apparently can not be found, was 7 minutes long, I think this represents a pretty damn near complete version of the film as originally intended.

The real shame is that the work here is among the most impressive of the era. The bartender and shower scenes rival anything from Friday the 13th or The Burning, and the others are above average as well. There’s also a sense of morbid humor that got removed along with the gore. Everyone knows about the water coming from the girl’s mouth in the shower impalement, but the old lady spinning around in the drier was an unexpected and hilarious surprise. There’s some unexpected harshness as well, when young Axel sees his dad being killed, we see the blood splash in his face. And then a few minutes later, we see exactly how he lost that arm in the finale. Awesome.

One bummer about this setup though - there is no play all function. It gets annoying to continually select each of the 10 scenes one by one, especially when each one ends with a little credits window. Plus, while it’s better than no context whatsoever, they replay way too much of the footage before (and sometimes after) the cut stuff. Do we really need to watch the entire 3 minutes of opening credits before the miner stabs that one broad in the heart? Wouldn’t 10 seconds be more than enough to place it?

LG could have just given us the footage and most folks would be happy (since, unlike say Friday the 13th, it has NEVER been seen, anywhere, and suffered far worse than Friday did, which only lost about 9 seconds), but there are a couple other extras as well. The better of the two is an “interactive timeline” of slasher movies. It’s just a bunch of text, but it’s written by “Going To Pieces” author Adam Rockoff, not some studio PR lackey. And within the text I discovered a Thanksgiving themed slasher movie (Home Sweet Home), which I instantly queued on Netflix. Eat it, Eli!

The other is a fascinatingly sloppy effort. It’s called “Bloodlust: My Bloody Valentine and The Rise Of The Slasher Film”, which would seemingly signal that it was a piece about MBV’s place in the pantheon of the slasher craze. But instead, it’s just a mishmash of like 9 different ideas. It starts off by taking us through slasher films, going back to Grand Guignol theater, but then it quickly just turns into a regular retrospective about MBV itself, with folks talking about where it was shot and how the mining equipment was real. Then without warning, it becomes an EPK for the remake! In the end, more than half of the 20 odd minute piece focuses on the new film, and within that, very little time is spent on even comparing it to the original. Instead, they talk about the 3D and Kerr Smith talks about how his character is cheating on his wife. But it gets odder. We then get the end credits for the featurette, BEFORE composer Paul Zaza talks about the theme song! It’s like a full 90 second section of the piece, so why it wasn’t edited in with the rest of the thing is beyond me. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such an unfocused and slapdash piece of its type on a DVD.

Mihalka and others were obviously on hand for the DVD’s creation, so I am curious why they did not offer any commentary track (especially when Lionsgate puts in the commentary disclaimer at the top of the disc). But what’s there, half-assedly presented as it may be, is all worth a look, and again, the footage alone is worth the cost. In a sea of “Unrated!” DVDs that usually offer a minute of character stuff (which the director wanted removed anyway), it’s nice to see one with what fans actually wanted to see.

What say you?


Quarantine (2008)

FEBRUARY 19, 2009


Since I began Horror Movie A Day, I’ve made it a point to see every major horror movie in theaters, even on my own dime (for all of that crap about horror movies almost never being screened for ‘critics’ - seems to not really affect me all that much. Most of the ones I end up paying for had screenings I simply couldn’t make). But Quarantine was the exception; it came out during Screamfest, and by the time that was over I was too busy catching up on everything else that built up during the festival (work, life, my just-now-weaning addiction to Halo 3).

But in a way I didn’t mind, because it would put more distance between the film and [Rec], which I had seen in the early summer. By all accounts, Quarantine was an exact copy of that film, with almost nothing changed from the script. Another four months would make my [Rec] memories all the more hazy, which would allow me to enjoy the story again.

And it worked! While the overall structure remained in my mind, I forgot about certain plot points and jump scares, which allowed them to work again. For example, I had forgotten that the whole thing started from the little girl’s dog, and that she would conveniently wait until the truth was exposed to turn zombie and begin running around snarling and biting. I also forgot about the awesome “fireman plunge” that occurred early on, which is good because it’s pretty much the best scare in the movie (the end one was the best for [Rec], but it’s kind of hard to get scared at that moment now when it’s the fucking poster of the movie).

Unfortunately, there are two major flaws in Quarantine that kept me from enjoying it as much as I wanted, and it was something that would bug me even if I hadn’t seen the original. One is the cast. If you think about the alltime best “Found footage” movies, they all have one thing in common: unknown actors. Blair Witch, Paranormal Activity, even (Quarantine director) John Dowdle’s own Poughkeepsie Tapes all wisely kept familiar faces out of their films, which, even though I know they were ‘just movies’, still allowed me to buy into the reality of the situation. But Screen Gems just seemingly grabbed an actor from one of their previous hits for just about every single role in the film. Emily Rose’s Jennifer Carpenter, Hostel’s Jay Hernandez, Prom Night’s Johnathon Schaech, The Fog’s Rade Sherbedgia... even the smaller roles are filled with recognizable actors, such as Vacancy’s Andrew Fiscella. It’s nice that Screen Gems is trying to bring back the old “contract player” concept, but they could have done it in a more appropriate, traditional film.

The other, bigger problem is that it’s far too clean. If there’s one genre that SHOULD look like shit, it’s the verite horror subgenre, but yet not only is everything framed perfectly at all times (even when someone is running down a flight of stairs), but it’s not even that shaky. I swear the camera is on a tripod at times. While those who get motion sick may appreciate the gesture, it makes it damn near impossible to buy as a character’s POV during a traumatic event. It also doesn’t really look like the type of footage that would be used for a news event, but I guess that’s just the norm now, and at least they didn’t try to pass off the footage as being from a consumer camera like in Cloverfield.

It’s also tough to get into that whole “POV” mindset when you never get to really meet the guy filming everything. It was the same case in [Rec], but at least there it was never an issue because the camerawork was genuine. The actor appears in a couple of shots (such as after the film’s best moment, when he uses the camera to beat a zombie to a pulp), but he doesn’t really get to create a character. Most of these movies have two cameras to get around this hurdle, but unlike Cloverfield (also single camera), no one else ever films anything either.

Luckily, it works as a straight up realtime zombie movie. The great thing about the idea is that, for once, there are a finite number of zombies to deal with. There’s no giant swarm for the ending or deus ex machina scares - we know the exact number, who’s left, who’s infected, etc. It may sound like a detriment (“not enough zombies!”) but it actually works in the film’s favor by keeping it from getting too over the top or fantastical.

And credit to Dowdle and his crew - even knowing all of the beats, I tensed up a few times, and there are a few changes that were definitely for the better. In [Rec] they stop cold about halfway through to interview the tenants, and it’s sort of a breather. They did away with that here, leaving only the interview with the little girl (which contains a crucial plot point). And - thank CHRIST - they eschew the idiotic “rewinding” part of [Rec], a moment that completely betrayed the “live footage” concept. Think about it - if we are watching a tape rewind, that means our eyes are on the camera itself, not what the camer is seeing. They also skip over most of the explanation/exposition in the attic scene, which is fine by me since I hated the explanation in the original anyway. However, I should note that other things, such as the opening at the fire station, are dragged out too long; even with that one section cut completely out, the movie is still 15 minutes longer than [Rec] was, despite being the exact same thing.

The DVD has a few standard extras, nothing essential. Rob Hall’s excellent effects are showcased in one of the featurettes, and I was surprised to learn that it was actually Doug Jones (Silver Surfer, Abe Sapien) as the “Thin Man” at the end, wearing yet another full body prosthetic. That dude must have the patience of a hundred saints. Dowdle and his brother Drew provide a commentary, but not only do they skirt around the fact that their movie is a remake, they also just sit and watch the movie sometimes. I think from now on I will skip to the end credits and listen to see if the participants talk over them. I notice that the folks who say “OK, thanks for listening!” the instant the first end credit appears on screen tend to give boring commentaries (and thus duck out as soon as possible), whereas the guys who talk until the very end (Feast III is a recent example) are engaging and enjoyable. It might save me a heap of time.

And since Sony has decided to bury [Rec] so as not to give their precious Quarantine the stigma of being a remake, your options of seeing the original are hardly favorable. You can watch the whole thing on Youtube, and there are of course bootlegs floating around, but there are various subtitling issues that may hamper your enjoyment (as much enjoyment as one could possibly derive from watching a blurry AVI file on their computer anyway). The Youtube subs seem pretty good, but again, it’s a format best designed for 20 second clips of animals doing silly things, not an 80 minute film with frenetic camera and an impressive sound design. It’s a shame that the inferior version is the one that people can access with ease, but at least it’s a respectable version. If the Psycho or Eye remakes were the only ways to see THOSE films, you can be sure I’d be rampaging around with a shotgun. At least Quarantine is, if nothing else, a pretty good movie.

What say you?

*Fuck off, they're zombies.


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