Are You Scared? (2006)

FEBRUARY 28, 2010


If a studio releases an independent film that is a blatant ripoff of one of its other independent films (and its studio-financed sequel), can anyone involved be sued? How about folks like me? Can I sue Lionsgate and/or the makers of Are You Scared? (including producer and HMAD “favorite” Mike Feifer, whose involvement prompted me to consider just shutting the film off at once) for releasing a film that was so much like Saw and Saw II that I had no possible way to enjoy its “twists” and “turns”? I mean, I’ve seen my share of Saw knockoffs in the past few years, but this one truly takes the possible lawsuit cake.

OK, see if this sounds familiar: After an opening scene kill that’s not really related to the rest of the movie, an African American SWAT officer and an attractive female detective investigate a possible location for the killer, only to find him gone. They talk a bit about how he’s “at it again” or some nonsense, and then it’s off to meet our other main characters, a group of six people who wake up in an abandoned warehouse and cannot recall how they got there or what connection they might have to one another. And the most arrogant member of the group dies within minutes. Luckily from there it diverges a bit, but it’s still loaded with Saw-lite moments; the mastermind watching everything through a monitor bank and talking to them with a voice distortion box, the “choose or die” type traps, the twist ending that theoretically makes you want to watch the movie again under a different context (fat chance)... Christ, the climax even has someone shout a final line to someone before sliding a big metal door shut on them. Way to think outside the box, folks.

To be fair, I didn’t guess the twist; primarily because it didn’t make any fucking sense (I get why he’s after the main girl, but it seems a bit convoluted and surely too expensive an endeavor if he just wanted revenge on her). But to be fair without being snarky, they do come up with one really good trap - a brother and sister are placed (actually, they place themselves there - most of the movie wouldn’t happen if they all just stayed put, as there is no gas or anything keeping them from doing so) with drills pointing toward them. Shutting off one drill makes the other one inch closer to their sibling, so it’s this whole back and forth thing - save yourself, or your brother/sister? It’s a trap that would have fit well into the Saw mythos (the others are pretty lame, and/or are direct steals from Saw, such as a key surgically implanted inside oneself), though the hilariously cheap design of the thing (and what’s with the blue lights for their eyes?) sort of dampens the idea.

I also found it laughable and somewhat disingenuous that the killer had to order all of his own traps. You’re already ripping off Saw left and right, why not try to make the guy MORE interesting than John Kramer? One of my favorite odd little moments in the Saw series is when you see John passing the time by looking through a catalog of various mechanical parts. I liked that he came up with and built these things himself. This sod orders the shit custom-made, which is just a quick and easy way for the cops to find him instead of doing any strenuous police work (this scene is hilarious by the way - they go to the glass place where he ordered one of his traps, and the guy has the receipt sitting right there, with the correct address and everything). But it also keeps me from thinking he’s very intelligent, and the script never offers him a chance to do anything but shout at monitors and deliver exposition.

Oh, and it seems that they weren’t content with merely ripping off Saw, so they rip off Lost too. Our spunky, curly brown haired female lead apparently set her father on fire while he slept so she could spare her mother from any further abuse at his hands. She even has a similar orange/pink tank top that Kate wore a lot on the pre-Dharmaville days of the show. So after me, the only person in the world who can be less surprised by anything in this film is Michael Emerson (and maybe Ken Leung now too).

And there’s a sequel! If it all takes place at the same time as this one I’m gonna have to smack someone, possibly HMAD reader Pyro, who recommended this one to me (j/k).

What say you?

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Puppetmaster (1989)

FEBRUARY 27, 2010


I didn’t care much for Puppetmaster when I saw it at the age of 10 or 11, but I could say the same for a few other movies, so I decided to give it another go, especially since I couldn’t even recall a single thing about it. Indeed, I spent half the movie wondering where the Jester puppet was (I guess he was added later). However, I spent the other half marveling at the fact that as a kid I was probably just bored by the film, as I was now, but as an adult, I also dislike it for technical reasons.

And no it’s not the stop motion/effects work. Actually for the most part it’s pretty good. It’s easy to see their tricks (such as keeping the back of Leech Woman’s head offscreen in order to push the leeches through), but the compositing is decent and at least its not all CG horseshit like in Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys (the only film of the series I have seen since hitting puberty, though I never caught most of them anyway; I think 4 is the only other one I have seen in its entirety). No, the problem with the film is the garish lighting that makes it look like the movie is constantly set at high noon. Shadows, depth... none of these things appear in a single shot of the film, best as I can recall. I don’t know if DP Sergio Salvati was high, or he’s just a terrible DP (I don't recall Zombi being poorly shot...), but I’ve seen more interesting lighting in high school public access shows. I’m not saying all horror movies have to take place in the usual dark locales, but I don’t think they should potentially hurt your eyes to watch either. And even if so, no one involved with the production is talented enough to pull something like that off.

Full Moon gets a lot of shit for their cheapie modern productions, and rightfully so, but it’s funny to see how a 20+ year old film, one that was once destined for a theatrical release (!) in fact, suffers from pretty much the same problems that the newer ones do. The actors are a horridly amateur lot, with only brief appearances by William Hickey and Barbara Crampton sparing the film from boasting a completely unrecognizable (then and now) cast. The lead in particular is a vacuum of charisma; his ridiculous hair is about the only thing that kept him from being part of the overlit scenery.

And like a lot of their films, it only provides the bare minimum of scenes with their titular “draws”. I’d say puppet action makes up 10-15 minutes tops (being generous with that range) of the 90 minute movie. The rest just concerns a bunch of unlikable characters yammering on and roaming about the hotel. They each have psychic powers of some sort, but like Full Moon itself, they must have been bottom of the barrel. One woman, for example, can sense what happened in rooms just by walking into them, but all she sees are people making love. Maybe see one of the goddamn killer puppets? Then again, seeing the puppets even without psychic powers seems to be a problem - during the film’s opening sequence, Blade runs around the place, jumping over suitcases, darting through people’s feet, etc, and no one seems to notice him. Granted he’s not very big, but still, a mostly black figure that seems to be about a foot tall, running around a well-lit area? I think he would draw some attention.

The story also tumbles by making some random dude the big villain, with the puppets more or less turned into heroes by the end of the film. If it was Hickey’s character maybe it would be OK, as a sort of bookend for the film (especially since both characters commit suicide - I suspect the character WAS supposed to be Hickey and they couldn’t get him to film for enough days, forcing a hasty, somewhat confusing re-write. Just my guess). But it’s some guy who just appears in 2-3 quick flashbacks, and he looks like the singer from a Killers tribute band, so fuck him.

It’s also a surprisingly tame movie. Without the random nudity, this movie would easily get a PG-13; some of the kills are off-screen entirely and the ones we do see are incredibly light on crimson. Pinhead has these giant hands, I wanted to see him clamp them together and smash a guy’s head! Instead he just punches people.

Charles Band has threatened a 3D remake. I would be all for it, if he had any money (or, I should say, if he put what little money he did have on the screen instead of paying himself and funding his stupid roadshow tours) to do it right. The concept could be turned into a terrifically fun movie. Stuart Gordon did it with Dolls, no reason Band and co. can’t do the same, especially since tiny terrors are their bread and butter.

I lost count of how many different movies there are in the series; I think Vs. Demonic Toys was the 9th? Netflix and Blockbuster wisely opted not to stock the sequels (BB I don’t even think has the first one), so I’m not sure if seeing them anytime soon is possible - I sure as hell won’t buy them. I hear 3 is pretty good (they fight the Nazis!), but I’ll have to slog through the 2nd film (which no one singles out for any reason, good OR bad) before I get there anyway. I’m in no rush. I’m all for the concept, but if they couldn’t even manage to make an entertaining original, which probably had more money behind it, how much promise can the sequels hold?

What say you?

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Exorcismo (1975)

FEBRUARY 26, 2010


I have slept through and/or left running in the background movies that I had an easier time following than Exorcismo, which I sat and watched in its entirety with only a few text messages distracting me, at least for the first 45 minutes or so. And then it hit me - I wasn’t having trouble following it - it’s that there was nothing for me to follow. Apparently assuming that people really love that first 45 min of Exorcist where not much is happening, and not so much the 2nd and 3rd acts with all the pea soup and cruci-fucking, Exorcismo gives us roughly 75 minutes of nothing and then finally applies some pancake makeup to the female lead and gets the show on the road with 15 min left to go (and even those are a bit slow).

A big problem with why it’s so stiff is that they actually try to hide the fact that it’s an Exorcist ripoff, which doesn’t work in the slightest (possible solution to the problem - name the movie something with more than 2 letters’ difference). It’s actually sort of like a mystery, with corpses turning up and you don’t know who is killing them. Could it be Naschy? Or the seemingly well-meaning sister? Or the crazed girl who keeps swearing at people after miraculously surviving a massive car crash? I’ll let you ponder that one. That we aren’t even offered the kill scenes (which would have been kind of cool - a Giallo riff on the Exorcist plot) is inexcusable. I understand the logic - seeing the murders would make the killer’s identity obvious, but since when do these folks use any sort of logic?

As with any 70s Spanish horror movie (particularly one that’s a sleazy knockoff of a good movie - did I mention this movie offers nearly wall to wall bare breasts?), there’s plenty of fun to be had with the terrible dialogue, whether it be poorly translated (“My sister is possessed... like something is possessing her...”) or simply poor, offering things that you just don’t hear very often, like “They celebrate a thing called Dark Rights, and other things. It’s a pretext to consume drugs and share in sexual orgies. I hear it’s all organized by a group of weirdos.” I also particularly enjoyed this exchange:
Guy 1: “I’m certain you’re wrong.”
Guy 2: “I hope you’re right.”

According to my notes, I also apparently enjoyed someone saying “Sonofabitch”, but I can’t remember the context anymore (note to self - write your reviews in order, and within 48 hrs of viewing the movie). The female lead is also a delight, since I spent a good chunk of the movie wondering if she was possessed yet or not, since she’s just sort of a spoiled bitch. Not to mention old enough to be one; part of the intrigue of Exorcist is that Regan was this sweet 12 year old girl. This broad is like 17 or something (played by a 21 year old at least), and the closest she gets to being sympathetic is early on when she exchanges a few pleasantries with Paul Naschy, but a few minutes later she tells him she hates him.

Naschy takes on the Merrin role, and unsurprisingly he’s the best thing about it. It’s the first time I’ve seen him play a completely heroic character, which sort of added to my (very mild) enjoyment; I kept expecting him to do something terrible, get possessed himself or something, but nope. He kills a possessed dog, that’s about as bad as he gets (possessed or not, I’m not down with dogs being killed in movies!).

Oh, and there’s a guy who may or may not have been inspired by Blofeld and thus may or may not have inspired Dr. Evil:

I was also tickled by the opening credits, as they are oddly incomplete (only the first couple actors and director Juan Bosch). I assume this is a result of the credits being translated from Spanish, as “Spanish Credits” is one of the features on the special edition DVD. Sadly, Blockbuster did not send the special edition, but some piece of junk full frame transfer. Thanks a lot, jerks.

I dunno, I sort of have a soft spot for these things, but I’d probably never bother watching it again, nor would I recommend it to anyone but completists. The Antichrist was way more fun, and Lisa and The Devil at least has Kojak. Besides Naschy, the best this one offers is a character named Debbie Gibson.

What say you?

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The Crazies (2010)

FEBRUARY 25, 2010


Pretty much everyone I know that went to a screening of The Crazies on Wednesday night raved about it, but I had to take it with a grain of salt - the movie was part of a theme-park quality “event”, with buses shuttling the viewers to secure locations, armed guards, a guy on fire, etc. In other words, when you’re being treated to that much spectacle (and some booze, I’m sure), how can you NOT like the movie? So I was relieved to discover that I thought the movie WAS indeed pretty great, and I saw it at a generic screening at a theater I hate attending (as my sense of direction is constantly thwarted by the place - AMC Century City if you’re an LA resident).

Now, full disclosure - I have yet to see the original. My attempt to rent it prior to tonight was thwarted by the dreaded “Long Wait” on Blockbuster and Netflix (though, irony abounds - I got home and saw that Netflix was going to send the original out for Saturday). From what I understand, like Dawn of the Dead 04, it’s the same concept but played out differently. Whereas Romero’s film is heavy with the social commentary (and I guess some Dr. Strangelove-esque “war room” sequences), this one is more of a non-stop action/thrills/chase movie, with the socio-context kept to a minimum, and the government coverup stuff basically boils down to a single sentence (“We fucked up, sorry.”). As Zack Snyder and James Gunn seemed to understand with Dawn, simply modernizing the subtext would be rather pointless - it’s better to just take the concept and play to the strengths of the current filmmakers.

I’ve never seen Breck Eisner’s Sahara, but his Fear Itself episode didn’t exactly leave me clamoring for a full length Eisner horror film. However, he proves to be a very capable director, keeping the pace up while never losing sight of the characters. And in addition to the frequent (and often successful) jump scares, he’s great at misdirection. There’s a sequence early on when a woman believes her husband (who we know is infected) is sitting in his farm thresher truck in their barn, and, trying to get his attention, walks right up to the thing. But then we hear a scream from the house, so she runs back, and we think she will find her kid dead. Wrong again! The kid is hiding in the closet. And then there is yet another twist to the familiar scene of a crazed father trying to find his family. Stuff like that always wins me over - I’ve seen a zillion of these things, and if you can fool me, then you’re doing your job.

Tim Olyphant is also key to the film’s success. He’s an actor I really like, but only in the right roles (or maybe it’s “in a good script”). He was unbearable in Die Hard Faux, and the less said about Hitman, the better, but he’s in Seth Bullock somewhat-unwilling hero mode here, which suits him perfectly. Not only does he have a number of great lines (the “penicillin” one is classic, even if it makes him look like a real dick of a husband), but he’s far more intelligent and level-headed than most heroes in these sort of things are. I can’t think of a single moment in the entire film where he did something stupid, or even strained credibility. Not an easy task in a modern horror film. He also has cinema’s all time best “knife through the hand” scene, so bonus.

I was also impressed with Joe Anderson’s turn as Olyphant’s deputy. He’s more or less comic relief, but he’s also got the film’s best arc. I thought he was a first act character, but he sticks around throughout, providing the sort of buddy cop chemistry that was missing from something like 30 Days of Night, where Hartnett had that partner who more or less disappeared after 20 minutes. Danielle Panabaker also offers some nice moments, though her character seems a bit short-changed (after her introduction, she disappears for about a half hour).

One thing I definitely dug was that it had set-pieces (their old house, a car wash, a truck stop) but the stuff in between never felt slow. Everything felt organic, so that even though it had “big scenes” that you might want to cue up on their own on the Blu-ray, it never felt like the screenwriters wrote those scenes first and then tried to think of something to connect them. My only issue with the pace was that it seemed like they should have been able to reach the town border in little time - this is supposed to be a small town, right? And they even have vehicles on occasion, which makes it even harder to believe. Luckily, it’s one of those “I didn’t think about it until later” problems that the fast pace and characters you care about keeps you from noticing.

Now, you’ll notice I put the film in the zombie genre. I know they are not zombies in the traditional sense, but it’s still very much like a zombie movie, which is how I choose my tags in the first place - it’s the type of movie that a fan of that sub-genre will identify with and enjoy. People get infected (though, it should be noted, that they don’t “turn” after being bitten or whatever), someone that was once one of “us” becomes one of “them”, they lurk around and attack in swarms... a few changed lines of dialogue and it’s a traditional zombie movie. So shaddup!

Again, I haven’t seen the original, so maybe it’s a lot better and this one will insult fans of Romero’s version (though that didn’t seem to be the case; my friend is a big fan of the original and he quite enjoyed this one too). All I know for sure is, it’s a solid action/horror film with strong characters played by good actors. Remake or not, that’s all I ask for in any horror film, so grats to Eisner, writers Scott Kosar and Ray Wright, and Overture films for delivering one.

What say you?

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Open Graves (2009)

FEBRUARY 24, 2010


Could Eliza Dushku ever act, or did she just play herself on Buffy/Angel and just sort of coast on that forever? I pondered that while I watched Open Graves, as she once again delivers all of her lines as if she was daring the other person to respond, same as she does in pretty much everything else I can recall seeing her in from the past 10 years (except for her ludicrous performance in The Alphabet Killer, of course). We get it girl, you’re tough. Move on.

She should also move on from doing junk like this, though I guess even she has little love for the project, which sounded good on paper (Jumanji crossed with Final Destination) but is ultimately dull, overly serious, and lacking the visual excitement that either of those films offered. And since it’s been on the shelf for about three years (!), I’m guessing few others had much faith in it either, hence why it ultimately premiered on SyFy and got dumped unceremoniously on DVD six months later, to be found only by OCD folks such as myself who will instantly snatch up any unseen horror movie they see at Blockbuster.

As I mentioned, the film’s plot suggests fun, but the execution leans on the serious side of things. The movie’s basically about a board game that can kill you for real (and as this is a horror movie, it kills you in order of how you were eliminated from the game, in a similar manner that your game character died), which is fucking stupid, but the filmmakers play it like it’s a real, plausible thing, instead of with the general campiness that you find in the Final Destination movies. And the death scenes are all underwhelming as well; not only are they largely bloodless (two are off-screen entirely), but they are often carried out via horrendous CGI creatures (snakes, crabs, dragonflies) that remove any shred of the genuine suspense that the filmmakers were seemingly going for.

Silver lining though - there’s about 10 minutes in the 2nd act that are actually pretty good. We get the film’s two best death scenes (a girl who turns old and suddenly... deflates, I guess?, and then another one gets into a decent car crash and then crawls out of the flaming car, all burnt-toast-y like), and the cop who is investigating the game (and is the only character in the movie I liked) begins to take a more pro-active role.

But then it all falls apart again when Mike Vogel and Dushku play the game again, because if he wins he will get a wish (and, naturally, he wishes for all of this to have never happened). The scene ultimately boils down to a blatant swipe from Labyrinth, where one thing will always lie and the other will tell the truth. I wouldn’t have minded if Vogel actually said “I saw it in Labyrinth!”, but that would require the film to have a sense of (intentional) humor that it does not possess.

And then Dushku turns into a giant dragonfly. Sadly, this doesn’t help matters.

It’s also a movie that has no discernible target audience. It’s got an R rating, but it’s the tamest one I can recall, so gorehounds certainly won’t have any use for it, and intelligent adults (ones not “required” to write a review) probably wouldn’t even get past the first 10 minutes anyway. And kids can’t rent it, and even if they do, they’ll feel gypped that it’s no more explicit than the usual PG-13 junk they’re offered. So who the fuck is this movie for? No one. That’s why it was on the shelf for 3 years.

The DVD has the usual trailer reel and Spanish subtitles, but no real extras. Let’s assume they think Open Graves (originally titled Mamba, after the name of the game they play) speaks for itself.

What say you?

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Magic (1978)

FEBRUARY 23, 2010


Pretty much since I saw/liked Dead Silence (three years ago!), people have been telling me to watch Magic, which was also about a ventriloquist whose doll may be killing people. So I finally got around to it today. I have no excuse for it taking this long; it’s not like I can say “I don’t watch horror movies that often” or whatever. Luckily, it was worth the wait - it’s not a full blown horror movie like Dead Silence was, but the infrequency of the creepy moments makes them all the more unnerving.

The great thing about the movie is that while it certainly plays out as if Hopkins is just a loon with split personalities, but every now and then the doll appears to move on its own, and (though this might just a be an editing error) they sometimes both talk at the same time. I mean, the doll (“Fats”) certainly has Hopkins voice, and even looks like him a bit (it’s the ugliest goddamn puppet I’ve ever seen in a movie, I know that much), but if someone were to say they think it was really alive (in addition to Hopkins’ mental issue), I wouldn’t scoff at the notion.

The key moment of creepiness occurs around the halfway mark, when Burgess Meredith’s character asks Hopkins to go five minutes without “talking to” Fats. It plays out in double time (so when it’s been a minute, Meredith says that it’s only been 30 seconds), which adds to the tension, and it’s a nail-biter of the highest order - on one hand, you’re afraid for Burgess (who is playing the role largely straight, unlike many of his other genre appearances in the late 70s), and on the other, you’re kind of anxious to get an answer over whether or not Hopkins is just batshit or not. And hell, he’s sort of lovable in his normal mode, so you’re also a bit hopeful that he can do it and be OK. Lot of different elements going on, just in one simple scene of two guys sitting there. Great stuff.

Unsurprisingly, it’s hardly a splatter or exploitation movie. The director is none other than Richard Attenborough, who used to direct a lot of films (Gandhi, Chaplin) but is now largely known for sparing no expense and welcoming folks to Jurassic Park. The script is by William Goldman (based on his own novel), better known for Butch and Sundance and All The President’s Men. And Hopkins was probably considered an odd choice, as most of his previous roles were high end, theatrical fare like Lion In Winter or War & Peace, and it would be another 13 years before he took on Hannibal Lecter. . In other words, it’s a CLASSY killer puppet movie, so don’t go in expecting a more serious version of Child’s Play or whatever.

Two things kind of bugged me though. One was the language - it seems like they were using F bombs just for the hell of it, and they all sounded forced. There isn’t any real violence in the film, so without the swearing it probably could have gotten a PG (nudity was allowed in PG back in the day, oddly enough, so Ann-Margret’s brief topless shot probably wouldn’t have been an issue either), so maybe they just threw them in to get an R rating and keep kids out of the theater (“Hey, it’s Howdy Doody! Oh wait....”). The other are some curiously bad overdubs, like when Hopkins is eating with his manager and is clearly saying one thing but we hear another. Worse, they don’t even do the whole line, just the replaced words, and it doesn’t even sound like Hopkins. Really weird, and given that the movie is about ventriloquism, it’s pretty distracting to have a non-puppet moment with weird vocal issues.

Dark Sky’s DVD has some interesting extras. One is a retrospective that starts off with ten minutes about the history of ventriloquism. I assume it’s because they couldn’t get anyone to contribute besides the guy who did the puppetry for Hopkins (this poor sod had to hide just off screen for the entire movie), but he’s a delight to listen to, and after a while he grabs the Fats puppet and does a “joint” interview with him. So, yeah, weirdest retrospective ever. Then the film’s DP talks for a bit, pointing out the creepy shadows of Hopkins’ face that are lit to look like the puppet face and other stuff like that. An old radio interview with Hopkins (played over some outtakes), another TV interview with him that’s half in Spanish, and Ann-Margret’s makeup test are also included, plus the usual assortment of TV spots and trailers (many of which make the film look far creepier than it is). A shame Goldman couldn’t be brought in for some thoughts, at least, but it’s still a good package, and the transfer is quite nice.

One thing that the ventrilo guy reveals is that Chevy Chase was once considered for the role, which would have been amazing if you ask me (no one did, or ever will). But it got me thinking, since we now associate Hopkins with crazy roles, I wonder how the film would work as a remake, with a big comic actor in the role? Jason Segel is a puppet nut, maybe with him in the lead, this could be modernized, and it would regain a bit of the creepiness that has been lost to time and the actor being overshadowed by a far more iconic horror role.

What say you?

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Dead Meat (2004)

FEBRUARY 22, 2010


Attention: low budget zombie filmmakers (actually, BIG budget ones can take this advice too) - easiest way to win me over, besides slow zombies? NO HUMAN ENEMIES. Throughout Dead Meat I kept wondering when the film was going to go off the rails and lose me by introducing a group of humans that were just as bad or worse than the undead flesh-eaters, but it never happens. It still has the unfortunate deus ex machina ending of many, where guys in haz-mat suits show up to save the day, but by then the movie had already earned my appreciation. Even the requisite hardass is lovable, after being introduced as a complete jerk, he becomes a useful ally, not unlike CJ in the Dawn remake, but nowhere near as initially harsh.

I also like that the movie MOVES. It’s not too long before our first zombie kill (a would-be hero! Surprised me anyway), and from then on our heroine and the people she meets up with are constantly on the go. No long “what are we going to do?” argument/debate scenes, no monologues... they’re constantly going from one location to another, fighting off zombies and trying to avoid being bitten.

And it’s not a comedy, which was nice. I heard that the film was comparable to Evil Dead 2 and Re-Animator, but I didn’t find it particularly funny, or even really trying to be. The odd gags here and there (shoe through the eye) are of course worth a chuckle or a “Whoaaa!! Hahahah, NICE!”, and since the cause of the zombie virus is mad cow disease, you can probably guess what sort of non human-zombie the heroes have to eventually fight, but the tone is hardly an all out comedy. The score is rather Carpenter-y at times (i.e. foreboding), and unlike the usual “zom-com”, the human characters aren’t dealing with any other crisis in their lives, thus negating most of the humor potential anyway. The funniest bit in the film has to be when they think a woman has turned, simply because she’s not particularly attractive to look at. Heh. But again, a few funny moments doesn’t make it a funny movie; it’s all about the overall tone.

Also - it’s Irish! According to an article from Fangoria (who distributed the film in the States) that is included on the disc (in PDF form), it was actually their first horror film, since they frown upon such things and thus make it impossible for filmmakers to get them financed. Thus it’s of little surprise that even with HMAD-ing I’ve seen very few Irish horror films; Dorothy Mills is the only other one that comes to mind. Some folks have complained that the accents were too thick for them to understand, but I didn’t have a problem with them, and there’s not a hell of a lot of dialogue anyway beyond things like “Go, go, go!” and “You OK?”, which are universally understood, I think.

Along with the Fango article, there’s a making of piece that I enjoyed, because you see everyone working hard and with a sense of humor, and it nicely ends on a sold out premiere screening at a horror festival. A short film from director Conor McMahon (Irish-est name ever!) is also included, but I couldn’t watch the whole thing due to the fact that someone who rented the disc before me apparently molested the goddamn thing. I was shocked that the feature played without a hitch.

The quality of Fangoria’s magazine began to falter in the 00s, and part of the problem was that they were spreading themselves too thin. The magazine, the website, the radio shows, a “TV” station (online), and then of course, these releases - too much for just a small group to do (doesn’t help that Tony Timpone became less and less interested in the actual movies). As a kid who grew up reading the glory years of the mag, this bummed me out, but their name still carries a lot of weight, and putting it behind a film like this, which would otherwise probably be an anonymous MTI or Lionsgate release, without any more or less marketing behind it than any of the 200 others they release per year, is an admirable decision. Been a while since they have put any titles out, but if the magazine folds, hopefully they can put some of the company’s focus on finding quality indies like this once again.

What say you?

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Blu-Ray Review: Sorority Row (2009)

FEBRUARY 22, 2010


If you recall my review of Sorority Row from when I saw it in theaters, you'd know that I thought the film was better than expected; a fun, mildly anachronistic (in a good way) slasher that, like Black Xmas, delivered some mean-spirited laughs and slightly kooky deaths via a cast of women I have no problem looking at for 90 minutes (which is one of the film's minor problems, as it's an occasionally sluggish 104). Does it contribute anything meaningful to the genre? No. Did anyone involved think that they WERE? Absolutely not, and the DVD's bonus features prove it.

The meatiest of the supplemental materials (save the commentary, obviously) is a just-under 20 minute look at the film's inception/production/themes, courtesy of director Stewart Hendler and screenwriters Josh Stolberg & Pete Goldfinger. I was initially ready to smack these guys, especially when one of them, when discussing iconic costumes (which the film sorely lacks), mentions "Freddy Krueger and his hockey mask". But they prove to have an enjoyable sense of humor and lack of pretension about the whole thing (don't bother knocking the rather forced shower scene and subsequent kill - they agree it makes no sense, and it was apparently a studio demanded addition to get another kill in the first act). Note, as is the case with pretty much all of the supplements, there are major spoilers, so don't watch them before the film (I know, I've never heard of anyone doing such a thing, but in a world where people like Zombie's Halloween more than the original, I can't count on anything being "obvious" anymore).

The other big one is a piece featuring most of the female cast, which awkwardly shifts from the girls being "in character" to not and back again. It's mildly enjoyable seeing them discuss how different they are from their characters (Leah Pipes plays a mega-bitch, but one of the other girls reveals that Pipes likes to sit quietly knitting in her free time), but the schizo editing dampens its appeal.

Then we get a handful of deleted scenes and outtakes, none of which are essential/funny. Summit has also provided a handy "Kill Switch" in which you can watch all of the film's kill scenes back to back, which unfortunately just reminds you of how rather tame they are with regards to blood and splatter. For what I think has to be the first time ever, this modern studio slasher film does not have an "Unrated" version for its DVD release, so I guess it was always a bit on the tame side. The kills themselves are good (everyone gets something to the mouth - heh), but they lack that over-the-top quality that made Black Xmas and My Bloody Valentine 3D such a joy.

And of course, the commentary track, which is provided by Hendler as well as Pipes, Briana Evigan, Rumer Willis, and Margo Harshman. As much as the idea of getting four attractive women in a room together might sound great, I wish they had let Hendler do his own track, because more often than not, he is trying to point something out and is interrupted by one (or more) of the girl saying something rather silly. The talking over each other mixed with the audio of the film makes it a bit hard to concentrate on ANYTHING being said, and making things worse, the commentary is presented Picture In Picture, which cannot be turned off as far as I can tell. So you get this little window with the 5 of them next to each other, which is so tiny it's impossible to see their features (I couldn't tell Evigan from Willis unless they went for a closeup, which is still too tiny). Mallrats did this sort of thing much better, ten years ago! And apparently some players don't even have the PiP capability, so I don't know if that means those folks can just listen to the commentary normally, or not at all. Either way, it's entertaining for a little while, but you're going to spare yourself some annoyances by skipping around and taking it in small doses.

So it's a pretty average package for a JUST slightly above average modern slasher. Not sure if the standard def DVD has the same extras, but Summit did a fantastic job with the AV presentation (but not the cover art - where's the awesome "pile of bodies" theatrical art?). Not only are all of the extras in high def (yay!) but the film itself looks incredible, and the DTS master audio track is clear and engaging, particularly during the inferno climax. Based on the comments I got on my original review, it seems a lot of fans enjoyed the film's old-school approach, and, as I said then, remaking a less-than-memorable original seems to remove most of the instant-anger that clouds the judgment of many when they watch remakes, allowing them to enjoy it on its own merits instead of constantly comparing it to a "classic" film. It's not a movie you'll want to watch over and over, but it's a fun flick all the same. And since the entire thing is set in a house, it should play great at home.

What say you?

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Razorback (1984)

FEBRUARY 21, 2010


I was overjoyed to hear that the New Bev was going to show Razorback as the monthly Shock Till You Drop screening, but not because I loved the movie (in fact, I had never seen it, hence why it's my review for the day), but because director Russell Mulcahy was going to attend the screening, and thus I could finally talk to him about his video for Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse Of The Heart", written by my hero Jim Steinman. And he did! Not at length, because I'm sure he'd rather talk about his film work than a 30 year old music video, but he told a delightful anecdote about Ms. Tyler, so it evens out.

And the movie was pretty good, so bonus! Like all Australian horror movies it seems, it was written by Everett De Roche (Patrick, Long Weekend (both of them), Dark Forces, Storm Warning, Roadgames... the list presumably goes on), a man who is a damn good writer. All of these movies are a little out there in terms of plotting, and deliver strong characters and well placed humor, two things I didn't expect from a killer pig movie.

I also like De Roche's mean streak (though the film was based on a novel by another writer, so maybe credit belongs to him for this one). There are two characters I thought for sure would be "safe" in the film, and yet both of them (and a dog!) bite it. But it's not done in a mean-spirited, Silent Night Deadly Night kind of way, but more of a realistic, this giant fucking pig doesn't care about Hollywood's "rules" way. The hero's fiance dies because she has nothing to defend herself, instead of living because it makes for a happier ending. And I like that. Though killing the dog was a bit much (my family dog passed a month ago - I'm still bummed out), especially when it's not a victim of the pig but of two Road Warrior rejects who we already hate anyway.

And despite this being Mulcahy's first film, it's well directed and stylish. Nothing against his brethren, but it's rare I see an Australian horror film and find the "look" of it particularly interesting, but Razorback is definitely exception. He overuses the fog machine sometimes, but even when the pig isn't around, the movie will grab your attention due to the framing (it's scope, yay!), fog/lighting combinations, and frequent but still well placed low angle shots. The DP was Dean Semler, who has shot half of the action/adventure movies you've heard of, and even directed two of his own (Firestorm and Seagal's The Patriot) before returning to cinematography.

One thing Mulcahy sort of botches, though I suspect this is more of a budget thing than a stylistic choice, is certain money shots. When the biggest asshole of the movie finally gets his, it's mostly off-screen, and Razorback has nothing to do with his almost-as-assholish buddy's largely suggested demise. Likewise, when Razorback is finally done away with (spoiler!), it looks like it was edited for TV - he's on a conveyor belt heading for a fan, and then he's in it. Come on, this fucker has mowed down a whole bunch of people (even a kid!) - I want to see him get his! The movie is a bit long at times too, so I wish Mulcahy had cut down on some of the dilly-dally and put that money toward delivering a few applause-worthy moments in the kill scenes.

Back to what I liked - it's nice to see Gregory Harrison as a heroic lead, as I primarily only know him from his asshole roles on various TV shows (Ed for example) and as the villain in Mulcahy's recent (and pretty awesome) Give Em Hell, Malone. And the score by Iva Davies is also great (sort of Tangerine Dream-esque); it's a shame he wouldn't compose another film again until Peter Weir's Master & Commander, nearly 20 years later.

Also, any touching moment revolving around a personal object found in a giant pig's poop is automatically a good movie. Harrison finds his fiance's engagement ring inside a pile of dung late in the film, and they play some sad music... but it's still a scene about a guy reaching into poop. Well played.

The DVD for Region 1 is barebones (and only available through Warner Bros' website - huh?), but Region 4 (Australia, natch) has a pretty nice special edition, which I would totally pick up if my all-region player hadn't busted. Between this and Region 4 being the best release of Armageddon (the director's cut, with all the extras, and an anamorphic transfer), maybe I should just move there and hang out with Everett De Roche.

What say you?

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Nightmare In Blood (1978)

FEBRUARY 20, 2010


When I was like 15 or 16 I got a copy of John Stanley's "Creature Features" and pretty much read it cover to cover, making a list of all of the movies that sounded worth checking out. The list is long gone, but I'm sure if I found it, I would be able to check many titles off thanks to HMAD. One title that probably was not on the list, however, was Nightmare In Blood, which Stanley himself wrote and directed. Oddly, his 3 star (out of 5) review of the film doesn't mention this little factoid, even when pointing out Stanley's (i.e. his own) role on the film. Maybe he doesn't have a sense of humor; rest assured, if I ever make a film, I will say "I made this movie!" and then proceed to tear it apart.

He also tiptoes around the fact that the movie is a crushing bore. Apart from the hilariously dated outfits and slang, there is almost zero pure entertainment value in the film, which is a shame as the plot - vampires hide out in a theater hosting a horror convention - should lend itself to both fan-ready humor (think the recent, underrated Fanboys) and, well, some goddamn vampire action. But no! The bulk of the kills have nothing to do with vampirism, and don't let the term "bulk" fool you - you can count the bodies on one hand (well, actually there's six, so you can count them all on one hand if you're the guy from Princess Bride).

And the con is weak. No one's in costume, except for a guy in a Planet of the Apes mask, and there don't seem to be any dealers or anything. In fact, all we see is the theater, and the main vampire (Malakai, who's this sort of Christopher Lee/Vincent Price-esque horror star) sign a few autographs. There's a Jesus-y comic book store owner who is supposed to decorate, but I'll be damned if he ever actually puts anything up worth noting. Christ, the Paranoia Film Festival on the Queen Mary had more shit going on.

I also just never found any of it particularly engaging. The movie as a whole has this laid-back, nearly improvised feel, and as such the characters (of which there are way too many - as if it was setting up red herrings for a slasher film) never become very well drawn or compelling. And it's a shame, because the IDEA of most of the characters is intriguing, as is the idea of putting them all together in one story. You have the centuries-old vampire, who, amongst other things, worked in Nazi death camps; the various horror promoters and enthusiasts (my people!), 19th century grave robbers Burke and Hare, etc. But they simply never do anything interesting. Every now and then things pick up a bit, such as when a horror-hatin' pundit faces off against the con promoter on a talk show, but these moments are few and far between.

The concept is ripe for a remake. Dive into the horror fan community, go all out with the vampires (they only need six bodies - doesn't mean they can't kill a few for fun, right? Or maybe they need 23 bodies this time?), present an actual convention instead of just saying you're at one, and do the Fanboys thing where you're both mocking and embracing all facets of fandom, and I think there could be a really kick ass movie.

I should note that based on his reviews, Stanley and I do not see eye to eye, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised I'm not a big fan of his movie. Apart from certain classics (Psycho for example), I think he shortchanges many great films and over-praises others. He goes to 5 stars, yet Halloween only gets 4 (and Halloween 5 gets 3.5!), and Dawn of the Dead gets a mere 3. But fucking Casper gets 4 stars? You have a book called CREATURE FEATURES and you're going to tell people that Casper is a better movie than Dawn of the fucking Dead? He also seemingly has no tolerance for the type of offbeat or popcorn junk-y I love, with 1 or 2 stars for movies like Shocker, Alien Prey, Silent Night Deadly Night (of the whole series, 3 is actually his favorite - go figure), etc. A pitiful ONE STAR for the Mystery Science Theater 3000 movie, and three for this, the sort of movie they would watch? SUSPECT. Oh, and he prefers Deep Impact to Armageddon. Come on, man, even Leder/Spielberg would agree Bay/The Bruck kicked their asses on that one.

What say you?

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Shutter Island (2010)

FEBRUARY 19, 2010


When I first saw a trailer for Shutter Island and realized that it was being marketed as a horror movie, I got really giddy - there was a possibility that I could be interviewing Martin Scorsese when the film came around! Sadly, the press stuff for the film all took place in New York, and I didn't even get to see a screening here. Luckily, the gods rolled their dice in my favor and got me out of work in time to catch the film tonight and still have time to see Shock Treatment at midnight (which, unlike its predecessor, has no horror elements whatsoever so no, I won't be reviewing it. It's a very underrated film though, and the songs kick ass.).

Within twenty minutes, I knew I'd have trouble writing a review of Shutter Island, because the type of things I was noticing was "spoiling" the movie for me, but they are the type of things that casual, non-film school folks might not notice, thus allowing the film's ending to be a total surprise. So let's just say that the movie is great, the actors all deliver some of their best performances (Ben Kingsley in particular is terrific and will hopefully get a Best Supporting nom next year), and as long as you care more about character than complicated plots, the ending shouldn't anger you, as it has for some others. Go see the movie.

But if you have seen the movie, and/or don't care about potential spoilers, then keep reading! I try to talk around the actual twist, but it's impossible to completely avoid it.

Right off the bat I was noticing something strange about the film's editing: it was "terrible" in the conventional sense. Cuts from one angle to another often felt like they were missing a few frames in between, actor continuity was jarringly mismatched (for example, Leo would have his head down in one shot but up and turned to the left in the reverse angle over his shoulder - not a mistake a master like Scorsese would make enough for it to be noticeable), etc. Even the reel changes occurred in odd spots more often than not. And that got me thinking about the movie Stay, which also played loose with "Filmmaking 101 rules" in order to convey the main character's fragmented psyche. So I am curious, will Joe Average notice such things? Will the end come as a complete surprise? And if it does, will he be as angry as some of the people coming out of the theater were last night?

I was not angry. I loved the ending. Some of it is presented a bit cheesily (never a fan of anagrammed names - "Brian Collins is Carlin Lisbon!"), but with one reveal you learn that you haven't been watching a complicated psychological thriller, but a rather sad character study. And really, considering how far the plot was reaching (Nazi experiments, communist spy programs, etc), it's actually sort of a relief - I wasn't really in the mood to watch Leonardo DiCaprio run around beating up brainwashed mental patients and listening to Nazi sympathizers reveal their world domination plans at the end of an atmospheric thriller.

I do wish they had given more for the supporting characters to do. Max Von Sydow and Kingsley appear in the film just the right amount, but Jackie Earl Haley, Ted Levine, Patricia Clarkson, and (sigh) Elias Koteas only have a scene each (didn't I JUST BITCH about Koteas' penchant for popping up for cameo roles in horror/thriller movies?), and their characters are all pretty exciting additions (particularly Levine, who ends his scene by asking Leo if he tried to eat his eyeball, would Leo have time to kill him before he went blind? The hell kind of thing is that to say to somebody? WHo knows, but I wouldn't have minded another moment between the two. Granted, the conclusion makes you realize why they haven't been more central characters, but even a few flashes of each one would have been nice, maybe as a Sixth Sense style trick where you think you see them interacting with other characters (such as the scene where Bruce goes to dinner with his wife, who you think is just ignoring him because she's mad he was late), but they are really only talking to Leo.

I also loved the soundtrack, which is a collection of previously recorded music, supervised by Robby Robertson. Any usage of Max Richter's haunting and beautiful "The Nature of Daylight" is fine by me. The "theme", a Herrmann-esque string arrangement, is also great, though I must admit I do not know what it is from. Though at least I know more than some reviewers; I read a review that praised Robertson's violins (Robertson himself does not contribute one note of music to the film).

And being a "Bah-stahn" boy, I found the accents to be far more tolerable than usual. Some of the minor characters go a little overboard, but Leo and Mark Ruffalo are perfectly fine, and they refrain from tossing in "pissah!" and things of that nature that, in all my years of living there, I predominantly only heard when people were mocking our accents. Fahkin sweet, kid.

I also want to repeat something I said the other day to a friend - who the hell would have guessed that of the four main Dawson's Creek-ers, Michelle Williams would be the one to get Oscar nominations and work with the masters? While all four have done OK in their post DC careers (Pacey on Fringe, Dawson on the slowly growing Mercy, and Joey... well, she's still adorable and doesn't have to worry about money for a while), the slutty Jen Lindley has gone on to be a highly respected (and deservedly so) actress, and her scenes here are among the film's best (they're also the most horror-y). And I like what she's done with her career, largely taking supporting roles in big films and toplining indies, instead of cashing paychecks (I'm sure she gets offered junk like Valentine's Day all the time - she IS an attractive woman in the key 20ish/30ish demographic). Take a note, Katie "Mad Money" Holmes!

The film was based on a book by Dennis Lehane, who I think I should start reading. I wasn't the biggest Mystic River fan (though it's probably the least annoying of Eastwood's late career Oscar Bait output), but Gone Baby Gone was one of the best films of 2007, and now Shutter Island is almost sure to be in my top 10 of this year, and not just for horror movies. And, to be fair, as is the case this week - its horror elements are rather slim, though when they do occur - oh man do they work. Enjoy two of the best jump scares in ages!

What say you?

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Shallow Ground (2004)

FEBRUARY 18, 2010


Finally, a real horror movie! After a week largely filled with “Well, it’s not REALLY horror...” movies, Shallow Ground bucks the trend right off the bat, opening on a bloody kid wandering around the woods and quick flash cuts of some seriously disturbing events. And like most of the best horror films, it’s an independent film that is not a carbon copy of whatever movies were currently cleaning up at the box office (though I do sense a minor J-horror influence), made by people who give a shit about something besides making a profit.

In fact, I was shocked to learn that the film only cost 72 grand, considering that it was shot on a commonly used locale (Topanga Canyon, same place as Friday the 13th Part 4 and Pumpkinhead) that probably didn’t come free, a few recognizable actors (Patty McCormack among them), and shot on film to boot. The film wasn’t perfect, but the filmmakers have earned every ounce of my respect for accomplishing so much with so little.

Apart from a distracting lead actor with an Irish accent (he’s supposed to be a small town local sheriff), the only real problem I had with the movie is a slightly muddled plot and obscure ending (which the director refused to expound upon in the commentary). The story is pretty original - a curse that allows people to come back to life and get revenge on their killers (and if that person killed multiple people, then the victims fuse together into one being) - but it gets a little over-populated, with two separate killer plotlines involving the same characters, a hint at the “virus” going out beyond the woods where the rest of the movie takes place, flashbacks mixed in with hallucinations... the script could have benefited from some compressing.

However, this has a benefit, as the film essentially has four main characters (three cops and a medic), so I was never “sure” that any of them were safe. Thus, scenes that in most films would hold zero suspense for me were actually pretty tense. And writer/director Sheldon Wilson keeps up the “What the fuck is going on???” approach for an admirably long time, but never to the point where the movie gets so baffling that it begins to annoy rather than intrigue (though his repeated cutaways - he’s also the editor - to the bloody “NO ONE LEAVES” message on a door gets mighty bothersome after 40 minutes or so).

There were also a number of little touches I appreciated, such as a scene where we see a bunch of newspaper clips relating to the various missing/murdered characters related to the living ones we are watching. If you keep reading them it ultimately becomes unrelated jibberish (one is about a Dreamworks movie!), but the prop guy at least took the time to make the headlines, captions under the photos, and first paragraph or two all match up and be about what they are supposed to be about, as opposed to the usual “Let’s just do the headline and fuck the rest” approach I see even in some major studio films. And the scene where a few photographs reveal the bloody boy’s “identity” is pretty awesome - one of the film’s many unique plot concepts.

As I mentioned, Wilson provides a commentary along with DP John P. Tarver, though the talk leans more toward technical than creative. I don’t get why so many writer/directors seem to let their director side take over when it comes to doing commentaries, but I’m no longer surprised to hear one play out that way. It’s a bit dry, and they spend a bit too much time reminding us how little they had to work with, but it’s got enough info to warrant a listen if you dig the movie and/or the low budget filmmaking process. The making of is more of the same, showing the producers and director gathering up trash and cables because they didn’t have any PAs or full grip department, but it includes some insight from the actors. Also in the bonus feature menu - Spanish subtitles. Bueno.

Oddly, this is not only the 2nd “real” horror movie this week, but it’s the 2nd one from Screen Media Films to boot (they also gave us Severed). And like that one, they offer a nice anamorphic transfer, so thanks for that, but they annoy the piss out of me by placing their trailers after the DVD menu/hitting of the “Play Movie” button (even when you select the commentary track). It’s bad enough to be forced to watch trailers for a studio’s other releases, but putting them on AFTER the main menu, instead of before like everyone else, is just unforgivable. It’s not a movie theater - when I hit PLAY, I want the movie to start, not sit through a bunch of other crap.

Wilson also made the above-average Kaw, so I think I’m gonna keep an eye on him from now on (for real this time - I said the same thing after I watched his surprisingly kinda decent Screamers 2). He’s got a movie called Mothman coming up (not sure if it’s a leftover mutated man script from the 60s, or a re-telling of the story featured in the Richard Gere film), and something called Carny apparently aired on the Sci-Fi Channel. I will queue these films out of interest, not HMAD necessity.

What say you?

*I spent the entire movie thinking that it was shot at the same ranch where I had just spent the past three nights helping out on Hatchet 2, as the little wood bridges, general terrain, and small shacks with easily changeable facades all looked identical. BUT, oddly enough, Shallow Ground and Hatchet 2 share the same camera operator (BJ McDonnell), so I was at least sort of right in a backwards, coincidental, actually not really right at all kind of way.

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