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Crackles With Originality and Witty Gore
When the first V/H/S came out, my expectations were through the roof. I adore horror anthologies and this seemed like the shot of adrenaline that the found footage genre needed. To say that I was disappointed with the film would be putting it mildly. I flat out hated two of the five segments and I put the film down as having the WORST wraparound story ever assembled in an anthology horror. When it wasn't terrible, it was predictable and trite. Now, less than a year later, we have the rushed found footage sequel "V/H/S 2″ (original title being "S-VHS" which is more creative than anything found in the first film). Does the sequel avoid the mistakes of its predecessor or does it belong on a shelf need in a horror fan's basement away from all humanity?
"Tape 49/frame narrative" In the wraparound, we follow two private investigators as they search through an abandoned house looking for a missing college student. Without giving too much away, I will say that this segment, like the wraparound in the original, is completely pointless because it is predictable from the moment they enter the house exactly what is going to happen. Unless the original, at least the characters here are likable even if they aren't given much of anything to do. Overall, the weakest segment of the bunch and I'd advise the filmmakers of the next sequel to do away with the wraparound altogether. It feels lazy and just a way to add some minutes to the running time.
"Phase I Clinical Trials" A man is sitting in a doctor's office after having had eye surgery. A camera is placed into one of his eye sockets to work as a functioning eye for him while he recovers. He is told by his doctor that everything the "eye" sees will be recorded and monitored for research purposes. Little does he know that he this will not be an experiment that will end well. He begins to see the undead as well as other strange visions at night. He is joined by Clarissa as she explains it all to him about his condition as she knows exactly what he is going through since she had a somewhat similar operation done. A bit predictable as it follows the typical "new body part comes to life" horror cliché but it works thanks to some nifty special effects and an "operation" scene that had me cringing.
"A Ride in the Park" A biker goes for a ride in the park (hence the title) only to be attacked my blood thirsty zombies who want to eat him for dinner. I'm going to leave the description at that in order to avoid giving away the bloody treats of this segment. Want to see a killer birthday party attacked by zombies with more blood and guts than in just about any zombie movie of the past few years? Dig it! This one is deliciously warped with a twisted sense of humor (I love seeing the zombies try to eat things that are obviously not meant to be tasted). One of the few segments that I honestly wished was a little bit longer. Zombie fans, eat your heart out.
"Safe Haven" A news crew is sent to investigate and do a piece on a strange Indonesian cult that is ruining their "family" out of an abandoned warehouse. This "family" is unlike any you have ever met and while they are friendly at first, they have a surprise for the head of the news crew as they have special plans for her in the immediate future. Do they plan to use her as an offering or something much, much worse? An interesting segment that is loaded with some creative death sequences and some solid acting by its leads. What prevents it from being a favorite is a running time that is far too long (at 30 minutes at least 5 of those count have been cut) and an ending that made me laugh out loud. No, it is not meant to be funny.
"Slumber Party Alien Abduction" A few months ago, I picked Detention as my favorite film of 2012. I had many readers write in calling me a "moron" for picking such "mindless trash" (their words, not mine) as my favorite film of the year. A dozen watches later and that film still puts a smile on my face for its sheer audaciousness and originality. Much like "Detention," "Slumber Party Alien Abduction" plays as a big FU to the conventions of the horror genre. A group of kids are having a sleepaway when some weird things begin to happen through the camera on their dog. No, I am not making that up and I am also not making up how much fun I had with this segment. Creative effects and lighting go a long way here and while the ending seems a bit too mean spirited, it definitely didn't wreck my enjoyment of this slumber party.
Overall, "VHS 2″ is a much better all around experience than "VHS" was. The characters are more likable, the stories are better paced, and the concepts and ideas are stronger with some creative execution. Not all segments will hit home with all viewers but you gotta appreciate the effort. I'm ready for VHS 3!
Evil Dead (2013)
Going into the new "Evil Dead" reboot/remake/sequel, my expectations couldn't have been lower. If "Texas Chainsaw 2D" taught me one thing, it is to avoid all trailers, TV spots, and clips for upcoming horror movies. Who wants to spent $11-12 on a movie when they've already seen the "good" stuff for free? With that in mind, I went into "Evil Dead" having no clue as to what to expect besides hearing from a few internet bloggers that it was supposedly one of the "goriest movies ever made". All I knew was that I loved Ash and I loved the original (I'm a bit less fond of the sequels). The original creators were on board with this remake, so how bad could it possibly be? Turns out, it is not bad at all. "Evil Dead" is in fact one of the very best horror movies of the last few years.
As the film begins, we watch as a teenage girl is kidnapped and tortured by a good of townspeople including her father. They accuse her of being evil, a charge she most certainly denies. Her father pours gasoline on her as he prepares to see his daughter light up in flames. She begs for him to take mercy before taking the form of a possessed demon. He lights the match and the demon promises that he will indeed return. So far, fairly interesting if nothing like the original film.
We flash forward to modern time as we meet five college aged students who are staying at an abandoned, dilapidated cabin the weekend. Their goal, is to get their best friend Mia (wonderfully played by Jane Levy in a role that had to be torture to endure) off the drugs once and for all. They make the pact that whatever they do, they won't leave the house until she is cured. Something tells me they are going to regret that promise come morning, that is if they survive to tell the tale.
A look through the house reveals a strange basement sells with dead cats everywhere and a book wrapped in plastic and barbed wire. Of course, it doesn't take long for one of the memories of the group (shockingly the smart one, Eric, nicely played by Lou Taylor Pucci) to read from the Book of the Dead to unleash the spirits once again on the group of five. Turns out if the demon is able to feast from five souls in a night, the dead will rule the world again? Five good looking college students, five souls, the spirits are going to be having a buffet tonight. It is up to the leader of the group David (the very handsome Shiloh Fernandez who is the heart and soul of this film) to save the day by destroying the book, the cabin, and possibly his sister Mia's soul.
Words cannot simply describe the experience of watching "Evil Dead" (2013). For a remake, it feels more like a sequel than anything and I really mean that as a compliment. This is the rare movie that stays true to the original while adding a strong new story, likable characters, and more blood and gore than you will likely see all year. It is relentless in its terror and atmosphere and actually made me feel uneasy at several key moments. If this film had to be cut to receive an R rating, I can't even imagine what the original NC-17 version looked like. Not everyone is going to come out of this film with the same admiration that I had for it. Those that like their horror "fun" may feel a bit drained by the entire experience but I left the theater shaking. Yes, I found it to be THAT good. If I see a better horror movie this year, it will be a damn good year for the genre as a whole.
Hansel & Gretel (2013)
The Asylum's "Hansel & Gretel" Proves to be Tasty Horror Appetizer
I must admit that I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with most films from Asylum. With over 50 movies in the can, the production company has yet to lose money on a single feature. Often from the time a title is announced to the moment the film is available to purchase is less than six months. This is cynical filmmaking to say the least but there is something ingenious about the business side of this sort of low brow end of movies approach. Is this really anything different than what Roger Corman did in the 60s and 70s? Joe Dante's Piranha was a shameless rip off of Jaws. The Asylum's Hansel and Gretel is a shameless rip off of Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. The real question to ask...does this rip off work or is it even worse than the "blockbuster" it is trying to capitalize on. Let's take a bite out of Hansel and Gretel.
As Hansel & Gretel begins we witness an overweight girl tied up in shackles trapped in a dark and dreary basement. She manages to get herself free and she runs out of the house and into the woods only to find herself trapped yet again. An apple in the mouth and some seasonings and she has become the next meal for the family who lives in the house. After "treated" to the opening Saw "homage", I was already tuning myself out of the film. But then something strange happened. The movie developed a sense of humor about itself and it went from being a chore to sit through to becoming one of the more entertaining movies of the last few years. We have our two heroes (Hansel and Gretel, of course) on a race against time as they battle the delightfully evil Dee Wallace as the witch. But I mean Dee Wallace runs a bakery that sells meat pies called The Gingerbread House. How great is that?
I'm been complaining lately that there haven't been enough good-bad horror movies lately. Horror movies that aren't exactly great but are shamelessly entertaining. The Asylum's Hansel and Gretel completely fits the bill. Not only is this Asylum's best work to date, it is also their most enjoyable work yet. A terrifically over-the-top performance by Dee Wallace who gets to shout lines like "EAT YOUR DINNER!" and "I was always going to eat YOU!" seals the deal. A must watch for slasher fans. I can't wait to dig in for seconds.
Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013)
Chainsaw Cuts but Needs a Sharpened Script
Before I begin this review, let me ask you a question. When was the last time you saw a horror movie released to theaters in the month of January that actually turned out to be good? The Devil Inside? White Noise? The Unborn? Well, if you answered any of those films, you and I have a serious difference of opinion on the word "good." The one exception I will maybe give you is My Blood Valentine 3D. What is my point here? There is a reason why studios release horror films in January, 9 times out of 10 they are too awful to be released on the movie going public any other time of year. So, when today's film, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D, was moved from October 2012 to January 2013, all expectations for this film dropped. Did Lions gate realize they had a clunker on their hands or were they just afraid of the juggernaut known as Paranormal Activity? With low expectations but hopes high to see some bloody carnage on the silver screen yet again, I bought my ticket for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D. What I got was something I wasn't expecting, that's for damn sure.
After we receive about five minutes of awesome flashback clips from the original slasher classic. The film begins the day after the events of the first film,. The townspeople of this small town decide to get some vigilantly justice on the infamous Sawyer family. Led by Mayor Burt Hartman (Paul Rae), they decide to burn down the farmhouse of the Sawyer family for their murders committed in the original film. After the fire, The entire family is assumed to be dead. But, being a horror film, we know this isn't true. Turns out an infant, Edith Sawyer, is found by one of the townsman who takes the baby in with his wife to raise her as their own.
Twenty years later (or twenty some years later, the chronological continuity of this film is a bit on the wonky side), the infant has grown up to become a butcher with named Heather Mills (played by an appealing but far too trashy looking Alexandra Daddario). She receives news that her grandmother has died and she is needed to appear in person to accept her inheritance. With her boyfriend Ryan (a not terrible but not exactly good Trey Songz) and two other friends, Nikki (a slutty and altogether annoying Tania Raymonde) and Kenny (Keram Malicki-Sánchez) along for the ride, the foursome hit the road to Texas. They pick up a hitchhiker along the way named Darryl because they obviously have never seen the original OR the remake, otherwise they would know better that picking up a hitchhiker in movie with the any of the words Texas, Chainsaw, or Massacre in the title is a very bad idea. When they arrive in the town, Heather finds out that she has inherited her Grandmother's house. Like does she know, Leatherface comes with the land.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D is a movie that can be evenly "sawed" in half between the good and the very, very bad. Daddario is easy on the eyes as our heroine Heather but she is stupid as hell and doesn't seem to be smart enough to put anything together before the audience does. A late act reveal involving her character and another character is meant to be shocking but it is obvious from the moment we meet this person that they are nothing but trouble. Heather and her friends are stupid and honestly deserve to die. They make all of the typical horror movie mistakes. Let's check out the basement! Let's stop while running so the killer can catch up with me! But, as soon as..SPOILER ALERT: all of Heather's friends die the film becomes shockingly successful and the last act has a rush of adrenaline that is shockingly missing from the rest of the film.
When we are given the final twist (if you don't get this at least a half an hour before it happens, you need to give up your horror card ASAP), I was rooting with Heather as well as the movie instead of passionately against it. Who knew that all Heather's friends had to do was die in order for her to grow as a person and actually, shockingly, become likable. The deaths are hit-or-miss with a torso cut horizontally in half being the highlight and a terrible CGI death involving a meat grinder as the very low point. As bad as the first thirty minutes of this film are (the fire is laughably bad CGI from the early days of Nintendo 64), the last hour is definitely worth checking out. Don't miss the final scene after the end credits. It is a gem of dark comedy that is missing from the rest of the film. In the end, this Massacre isn't bad as it is forgettable. This blade definitely needs sharping.
Girls Gone Dead (2012)
Blood & Breasts Make For Perfect Combination in "Girls Gone Dead"
Remember when horror movies were fun? Back in the 1980's, all you needed was a masked killer, some somewhat attractive teens (saying "hot" may be a bit of an overstatement), and a couple of buckets of blood. Mix these ingredients in the cinematic slasher blender and out came a slasher flick worthy to show your friends. Today's horror world is a different place. In the world of found footage horror, cheap just is never cheap enough. Why pay for a couple of gallons of blood when a door can slam shut several times for a "scary" effect? Yawn. This is not the horror that I grew up with and it is certainly not the horror that I am proud of today. Am I the only one who misses the classic era of slashers in which the filmmakers just wanted the audience to have a good time? Clearly, judging by tonight's film, I am not. From directors Michael Hoffman Jr and Aaron T. Wells comes the delightfully entertaining "Girls Gone Dead." If ever there was a cinematic valentine to the 80's slasher, it is this film.
"Girls Gone Dead" starts off a little rough as we meet our main girl (A.K.A. the "pure" one) Rebecca (Katie Peterson who reminds me of a prettier and more talented Tara Reid) having a nightmare involving a sacrifice in a church. The girl who is to be sacrificed is not pure and must be killed to rid the world of evil. Thankfully, Rebecca wakes up from this nightmare to be confronted by her mother who is terrified that her weekend vacation with "the girls" will turn into an orgy of sin (shades of "Carrie" & "Slumber Party Massacre II" here). Of course her mother is right and Rebecca and the girls plan to drink as much as possible, get naked, and find some guys. What Rebecca and pals don't know is someone has come along for the ride slashing each and every one of the girls, and the guys they meet along the way, until all the "evil" has been cleansed from the world.
This is the kind of film that many will either love or hate. The acting is a bit all over the map with many of the girls hired more for their ability to take over their tops than deliver their lines. The film is far too long at 102 minutes and it takes to take its sweet time getting to its final reveal. Also, speaking of final reveals, this has to be one of the most predictable whodunit slashers that I have seen in recent memory. If you don't figure out the killer from the second this character walks on screen, you haven't seen enough horror movies.
So, what works about this film? Everything else! We get some ooey gooey slasher deaths with more blood on screen than all of the Saw sequels combined. This killer is brutal. We are talking multiple decapitations, a cut off breast, multiple amputations, and that's just in the first half of the movie! Thankfully most of the effects are practical so there is no obvious CGI to put a wet blanket on the gore. Though the CGI does rear its ugly head in the final death scene and the result is...not terrible, I guess.
Need more reasons to watch this slasher? How about cameos that include Jerry "The King" Lawler as a sheriff, Beetlejuice & Stockbroker Sal from "The Howard Stern Show", Iron Maiden drummer Nicko McBrain, porn legend Ron Jeremy, and, in my favorite cameo, the "Queen of the B's" Linnea Quigley as bartender Wild Willie. A blast from beginning to end, this is the kind of movie that just puts a smile on my face. Whether you rent it from the breasts, the blood, or maybe a combo of the two, you are sure to have a great time with "Girls Gone Dead." Have fun with it, it looks like everyone who made it did!
The Perfect Antidote to Bland Hollywood Filmmaking
I guess you could say Trash Cinema is a bit of an acquired taste. Not everyone fan of film can fully appreciate the blood, sweat, and other bodily fluids that go into making a true Trash Cinema gem. With the death of the drive in and multiplexes popping up in suburban America everywhere, it is a dying sub-genre of film that hasn't been visited in quite sometime. When I received word of a new Trash flick from filmmakers, I jumped at the opportunity to review it. In the world of bland PG-13 horror movies and remakes, Trashology sounded like a breath of fresh, vomit infused air. Imagine the most twisted episode of Strangers with Candy you've ever seen, mixed with some early John Waters, and sprinkled with a dash of Troma. If that sounds like the perfect cocktail to you, Trashology is the movie you've been waiting for.
The anthology flick begins with a wraparound story as we meet Tracy (a sweet but deliciously cynical Laura Lee Black). Tracy is a middle aged woman going to college to become the next underground Trash filmmaker. After giving her film professor head for arriving late for class, she finds herself with a "Trashology" book full of stories featuring sex, violence, and just about every bodily fluid imaginable. Is Tracy ready for the journey into utter madness and will this help her become the next great Trash Cinema cult leader?
In the first story titled "The Vat" we meet Beatrice (Jenny Coulter) and Laura (Rodney Horn). Imagine Mink Stole as a 65 year old cranky, nicotine addicted spitfire and you have an idea of who Beatrice is. As for Laura, imagine Mrs. Fine from The Nanny cranked up to 11 with a delightful, mean spirited sense of humor. The duo are met by religious fanatic Claudia (Angie Keeling) who is severely upset she got ripped off at 25 cent Banana Wednesday. After a bit of a mix up, Claudia ends up dead and Beatrice and Laura are forced to bring her back using an Oujia board. By far my favorite segment of the film, "The Vat" features a knock out performance by Horn as the delightfully kooky Jewish woman Laura. I really can't say enough about Horn's performance as he had me laughing with every line that came out of his mouth. Coulter and Keeling are wonderful too and the trio are so off-the-wall and nutty that I would love to see an entire feature wrapped around these three characters.
Next up, we have "Big Debbie" as we meet a rather large woman in her wedding dresses crying as she is walking down the street holding snack cakes. Debbie (in another delicious performance by Horn) has just been stood up on her wedding day. She meets a young man on the street who offers her a shower back at his place to clean up. When she arrives at his apartment, his friend is waiting for her and the twosome plan to use her for some "fun". When one of the two men end up dead, Debbie is forced to get rid of the body. Little does she know an angry lesbian (Rachel Stout) bent on revenge has seen her and wants to get some justice of her own. This story is a lot of fun and doesn't quite play out the way that many viewers will be expecting. Less grotesque than the first story, this installment still feels like a wildly over-the-top and gaudy episode of "Tales from the Crypt" meets Very Bad Things. No I mean that in a good way!
In our final story, we meet Katrina and Melissa (played in wonderful, go-for-broke performances by Dorton & Conner), a pair of female vigilantes who discover a cell phone application in which they are able to track down sexual predators in their area. Hidden secrets and a nice twist ending put a smile on my face through this entire installment. While this story runs a little on the long side (at least a few minutes could be trimmed as the story becomes a little repetitive), it features the same spirit of the other stories with an attitude that perfectly fits the style of films such as Pink Flamingos and Desperate Living.
"Trashology" isn't a film for everyone. If you can't handle vomiting, diarrhea, and gratuitous nudity..this film probably isn't for you. Nonetheless, if you've been waiting for that perfectly trashy flick to offend your friends and shock the neighbors, "Trashology" is the cinematic obscenity you're looking for. It's rude, crude, and over-the- top. Something tells me John Waters would be proud. Long live Trash Cinema!
Piranha 3DD (2012)
"Piranha 3DD" Serves Up Gory Fun B-Movie Style
After 2010's hit horror remake "Piranha" made a killing at the box office ($83 million worldwide on a $25 million budget), Weinstein Company quickly gave the go ahead to make an even campier sequel with the affectionate title "Piranha 3DD." Tentatively scheduled for August 2011, the release date came and went without any word about the film. Weinstein soon announced that they would be releasing the horror sequel in November 2011. Once again, the release date whizzed by with no word from the studio as to when or if the film would be released. Now, on June 1st, the film has finally been released to horror hell. Opening in 83 theaters this weekend, the film is also showing on demand (where I caught it as no theaters within a 100 mile radius of me is playing the flick). With little press and even littler buzz, the film has little to no hope of making waves at the box office. Did Weinstein Company lose faith in the film? Is the film so awful that it simply doesn't deserve a theatrical release and the studios is simply fulfilling contract obligations? Let's take a step into these piranha filled waters and find out.
"Piranha 3DD" begins one year after the famous attack on Lake Victoria by prehistoric piranhas. Extremely bad press from the incident has left the lake devoid of any life whatsoever. The town itself has been largely abandoned as a result of the drying-up of their main revenue source, tourism by horny spring breakers. At a nearby lake, two middle aged rednecks named Clayton (Gary Busey) and Mo (Clu Gulager) wade into the water to recover the body of a dead cow. Eggs laid inside the cow carcass, and before you can say "piranha meal" the farmers are killed by a hungry and very angry swarm of baby piranha.
Enter Maddy (the lovely "Friday the 13th" remake star Danielle Panabaker) a marine biology student. She returns home for the summer to the waterpark she co-owns. She finds to her horror, and our amusement, that the other co-owner, her step-father Chet (David Koechner), plans to add an adult-themed section to the waterpark with 'water-certified strippers', and re-open it as "Big Wet" where the "double DD's get in for free." At a party at the waterpark that night, Maddy encounters several old friends, including her policeman ex-boyfriend Kyle (the enjoyable slimy Chris Zylka), and Barry (Matt Bush) who has secretly had a crush on her since grade-school. She also runs into two of her close friends, Ashley (Meagan Tandy), and Shelby (Katrina Bowden). It doesn't take long to guess who will and won't become piranha bait.
Shelby and her boyfriend Josh (Jean-Luc Bilodeau) go skinny-dipping in the lake, where a piranha makes its way inside her you-know-what(yes, you read that right). Meanwhile, Ashley and her boyfriend Travis (Paul James Jordan) go to have sex in their van. They accidentally trip the handbrake, causing the van to roll into the lake, where they are both devoured by the angry piranhas.
The next day, Maddy is consoling Shelby about their missing friends. While sitting on a jetty, they are both attacked by the swarm of piranhas. They manage to kill one, and Maddy, Kyle and Barry bring it to Mr. Goodman (Christopher Lloyd even stranger and more over-the-top than he was in the original) to examine. He informs them that the piranhas may be moving via sewage pipes and underground rivers between lakes. The trio return to the lake, where they establish that the piranhas cannot make their way into the outflow pipes connecting the lake and the waterpark.
Back at the waterpark, we find celebrity lifeguard David Hasselhoff (played by himself in a hilarious, mocking tone similar to Jennifer Tilly's role in "Seed of Chucky") has been hired on as an "A list" lifeguard from the waterpark. It doesn't take long before the piranhas find their way to the park to devour and feast on the lovely young teens and the families enjoying their stay at "Big Wet."
Sound silly, over-the-top, and preposterous? Of course it is! The film is "Piranha 3DD" not "Schindler's List." You want big breasted girls being torn apart by piranhas? You want David Hasselholff running in slow motion to the Baywatch theme to save a drowning ginger boy? You want the death of not one but TWO annoying kids played up for two of the biggest laughs in the movie? Well, you get all of this and a hell of a lot more. Rating a movie like "Piranha 3DD" is a different proposition. The film itself is not nearly as good as the original remake (how's that for an oxymoron?) but I would argue that this sequel is a hell of a lot more fun. Take out the 13 minute credits (stay for them, there are some funny bloopers and behind the scenes video) and you are left with a 70 minute nonstop roller-coaster ride that is over before you can even begin to think of the bad acting and nonsensical plot developments. "Piranha 3DD" left me craving another sequel and isn't that the best thing you can say about a cheesy horror flick?
The Cabin in the Woods (2011)
It's Not What You Think It Is
I went into "Cabin in the Woods" with zero expectations. I tried to stay as far away from the hype machine as possible. I avoided all trailers and TV spots, I didn't read a single review, and I didn't watch a single interview with any of the cast or crew. I wanted this movie going experience to be as "pure" as possible. All I knew going in was that it was written by Joss Whedon (creator of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer") and it featured a college aged cast trapped in a cabin
in the woods. Seriously, that's all I knew going into the film. I didn't want to know the twists and the turns. I know what expectations can do to a person and I know especially what it can do to a horror fan. So into the movie I went with a clear head ready for a new tale of terror. Let the carnage begin!
"Cabin in the Woods" begins with five college students driving out for a vacation to a remote cabin in the woods. Among the group we have the beautiful and slightly "impure" Dana (Kristen Connolly) along with her attractive hunky jock boyfriend Curt (Chris Hemsworth). We have the plain but pretty Jules (Anna Hutchison) who is being set up for a date with book smart boy-next-door Holden (Jesse Williams). Along as the fifth wheel is the punchline stoner Marty (Fran Kranz). That's all I'm going to tell you. Giving away what happens before or after this event will most likely hinder your enjoyment of the movie. All I can say is that some will die, some may live, and there is plenty of blood to be sprayed all around.
If there is one thing that has to be said for "Cabin in the Woods" it is that it has a ton of ambition. Far more so than any other horror movie I've seen in years. The "twist" (which I refuse to give away even though many, many trailers and reviews have) is very clever and ingenious in concept. Like other "meta" horror movies, I enjoyed the references "Cabin in the Woods" made to past horror movies (particularly those in the slasher genre). However, that is where my love for the movie both began and ended. I thought this movie was a bit of a mess with no real follow through and an ending that was just lazy screen writing. I appreciated the concept behind this movie (which, again, I don't want to give too much away so I am being deliberately vague) but found the execution lacking. I also hated pretty much all of the characters and the "comic" relief felt flat to me. I couldn't wait for the "stoner" character to die and the less said about that, the better.
I can understand and appreciate why people love this horror movie. It's something different. It isn't PG-13 and it isn't a remake. Nonetheless, I was left quite cold. This film attempts to be a clever horror-comedy packed with meta self awareness. Clever it is. Funny or scary? Not so much. This film is being billed as "Scream" for the next generation. That it is not. "Scream", for all its meta self awareness was both scary and funny as hell. Everything and everyone associated with this picture appear to either be trying far too hard or not enough, I'm not exactly sure which. I know I am in the minority here so if you have a desire to see this film by all means go out there and enjoy the hell out of it. I wanted to and didn't. I appreciate it when any horror movie gets recognition and acclaim. I love to see horror movies that make people fall in love with genre again. If I didn't fall in love with this one, that shouldn't stop you.
A Flashback to Forget
"Sleepaway Camp IV: The Survivor" was the dreamchild of 1992 that sadly never came true. The film was originally intended to be the fourth installment "Sleepaway Camp" series. It was partially filmed in October 1992 but was never completed due to lack of funding. In 2002 the unfinished footage from the first day of shooting was released and made available as an exclusive fourth disc with the Best Buy edition of the Region 1 "Sleepaway Camp" box set.
But...all was not lost! John Klyza, webmaster of SleepawayCampFilms, helped put together an official final cut of the film which they said would bring closure to the Survivor's legacy. The final film would be 70% material from the first three films and 30% new Survivor material. Is the final film one to be cherished into the hearts of Sleepaway Camp fans everywhere or does it deserve to stay as archived material?
Well, the answer my fellow slasher fans is one that you do not want to hear. "Sleepaway Camp IV: The Survivor" is not good. Everything about it is terrible in every way that you could only imagine and in several ways that you would have thought they wouldn't have been able to screw up. What's wrong with it? In honor of this terrible movie I will be taking my comments and editing them into a half hearted review. Here we go!
* The flashback clips are the worst quality clips they could find. I'm talking VHS copy of a copy bad. It is grainy, distorted, and hard to make out.
* The sound quality is not good. The "new" footage is far too loud and you can't even hear the old footage. Prepare to have the remote handy for adjusting the volume...every few seconds!
* The new material doesn't make any sense whatsoever and doesn't flow with the editing of the first three films. A random "added" line of dialogue here and there doesn't help matters at all. If anything it just becomes more distracting.
* The old footage (especially from the original film) is so grainy it's hard to know what's going on. I know I already commented on this but after a good Anchor Bay release of the original series, this is inexcusable.
* The tacked on ending is not only super cheesy but it's hard to tell what is even supposed to be happening. All of a sudden our "main girl" is with some burned guy. I don't know what the heck happened.
* The editing of the old clips either start too late or end too early cutting off gags that make the scene work. The pacing is key in order to make a good death and they couldn't even edit them from the first one in a consistent way.
* The deaths are cut in a way that we never actually see what is supposed to be the gruesome aftermath. Once again, bad editing and there is no excuse for this when the material has already been used.
* The voice-over is so bad in the new footage that it doesn't even match what is happening on screen. This only gets worse as the movie progresses.
In short, this movie is only worth owning if you can find it super cheap (hopefully free). Anything over $5 is too much. I really do appreciate the effort but I will never watch this again. If you own the bonus disc, you own ALL of the new material. 30% new material? What a lie. There is barely 10 minutes worth of material here that wasn't originally shown in the first three films. Is it unfair for me to judge this as a final film when it clearly isn't one? Of course not. Nonetheless, is it fair to expect horror fans to pay for material they already own? Absolutely not.
Hostel: Part III (2011)
A Losing Bet for Horror Fans
A few weeks ago in my review for "Wrong Turn 4" I mentioned how horror fans are willing to watch just about anything. They live and die in the horror genre. "Sure "Wrong Turn 3" sucked but 4 has to be at least a little bit better...right?" It doesn't matter how many awful sequels we get, we are more than willing to watch another one. The same is true for direct-to-DVD horror. Mostly just franchises the studios realize they can no longer make money at the cinemas with, they cut the budget, release it on DVD, and watch the profits come in.
Case in point, today's entry in the direct-to-DVD horror sequel lottery, "Hostel: Part III." I will confess that I was not the biggest fan of the original "Hostel." I found the characters to be obnoxiously shallow and its 45 minutes of nudity mixed with 45 minutes of gore just didn't sit well with me. Nonetheless, I was pleasantly surprised by just how good "Hostel: Part II" was. It took all of the mistakes about the first one (unlikable characters, no villain backstory, too much nudity) and turned out to be a delicious black comedy with a perfect ending. Now, we have "Hostel: Part III." Does it live up to the expectations set by the second entry or does it die trying like the original?
"Hostel: Part III" begins with a fake out that is actually pretty ingenious. A young man is brought back to a hotel room by a slutty blond stripper and her beefy, bald boyfriend. One thing leads to another and two of them end up drugged and taken away. To say which two would ruin the surprise. Next, we have a group of four friends attending a bachelor party in Las Vegas. These characters are the typical beer guzzling, horny jocks that have become standard place in most horror movies and comedies today. Seriously it is that hard to write likable characters? I guess so. Okay, not off to a good start and we are only fifteen minutes into the movie. The overgrown frat boys are enticed by two sexy escorts to join them at a private party off the Strip. Because, as we all now, whatever happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Once there, they are horrified to find themselves the subjects of a perverse game of torture, where members of the Elite Hunting Club are hosting the most sadistic show in town.
Blah, blah, blah. "Hostel: Part III" brings nothing new to the torture table besides a few half-hearted twists and some lame deaths. What is the point in watching a "Hostel" film if nearly ALL of the deaths occur off screen? Not only that, but the few deaths that we actually do get to see are ruined by awful CGI. Note to filmmakers, CGI is easier and cheaper but note that easier and cheaper doesn't always mean better. The final twist in the last five minutes is just insulting. Think of it as a maggot on the top of a rancid ice cream sundae. Skip it.
Series Reaches A Dead End
In the horror world there is a loyalty that you won't find in any other genre. No matter how many bad sequels, awful remakes, and painful prequels Hollywood brings us, we just keep coming back for more. Case in point, "Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings." The original "Wrong Turn" was a fun if fairly derivative slice of hillbilly horror that struck the right cord with horror audiences. It was not a box office hit making just $16 million on a budget of $12 million but the film sold millions of dvds and we can thank it with starting the series that no one really asked for. "Wrong Turn 2" turns the tables by turning the first film into a reality show. It was fun, campy, and delightfully over-the-top. The less said about the third film the better. Now, eight years after the first installment, we have "Wrong Turn 4" a prequel that sets to up the stakes. But...does it succeed?
The film opens in 1974 at the Glenville Sanatorium with Dr. Ryan (Arne McPherson) showing a local psychiatrist Dr. Ann McQuaid (Kristen Harris) around the psychiatric hospital. The cannibals from the previous films- One Eye, Three Finger, and Saw Tooth now are locked up in the institution as children. But the cannibals escapes and sets other insane patient free in the hospital. Then cannibals savagely murder an orderly, Guard, Dr. Ryan and Dr. McQuaid. The film then switches to present day where a group of college kids, Kenia (Jennifer Pudavick), lesbian couple Sara (Tenika Davis) and Bridget (Kaitlyn Wong), Lauren (Ali Tataryn), Jenna (Terra Vnesa), and Claire (Samantha Kendrick), along with their guy friends Kyle (Victor Zinck), Vincent (Sean Skene) and Daniel (Dean Armstrong) are going snowmobiling. They are heading to their friend Porter's cabin in the mountains. They get lost in a storm and seek refuge inside the now abandoned Glenville Sanatorium. Little do they know, the three now adult cannibals are hiding out in the sanatorium and murdering trespassers. The movie makes it unclear as to the whereabouts of rest of patients set free by cannibals.
The group of teenagers explore the asylum, and decide to wait out the storm. After a montage of rolling around in wheelchairs, acting on illegal drugs, drinking booze and acting like teenagers, the storm still hasn't stopped so the teenagers are forced to sleep in the desolate building. In the middle of the night, Vincent, suffering from insomnia, walks around the asylum and finds Porter's mutilated body - apparently he didn't make it to his cabin either. He is then killed by Saw-Tooth having a metal rod shoved into his chin and out through the top of his head. The next morning, everyone discovers they are still snowed in, and Vincent is missing. The gang splits up to look for him, and Jenna witnesses the cannibals cutting Porter up. She runs back to tell the others and they all meet up in the auditorium. Something wrapped in Porter's jacket is thrown at them and Kenia opens it up to reveal Porter's severed head. Screaming and panicking, the group flocks around the door, trying to get out but the doors are locked. The three cannibals-up in the balcony, throw down a strip of barb-wire and loop it around Claire's neck, pulling her up to the balcony. Kyle tries to save her, but it is too late and the barb-wire tightens, severing Claire's head. Horrified, those who are left of them (Kenia, Sara, Bridget, Lauren, Jenna, Kyle and Daniel) run outside and try to escape on their snowmobiles, but the engines won't turn and it is revealed that the cannibals had stripped them of their spark plug wires. Lauren sets off to ski down the mountain to retrieve help and the other six run inside to try to defend themselves.
"Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings" is all sorts of lame. Bad CGI, atrocious acting, and thoroughly unlikable characters are just the start of this film's problems. When will filmmakers realize that when we don't like their characters, we don't care who lives and who dies. When we don't care, the movie is robbed of any and all suspense. Speaking of suspense, it is fairly obvious that ****SPOILER ALERT*** all of our "teen" characters die and all three hillbillies live as we know they were around for the "first" installment. This is just lazy filmmaking all around with some effects that have to be seen to be believed and no I don't mean that as a compliment. Any turn away from the cover box at your local video store is a turn in the right direction.
First Great Horror Movie of the 90's
Helen Lyle is a graduate student conducting research for her thesis on urban legends. While interviewing freshmen about their superstitions, she hears about a local legend known as Candyman. The legend contains many thematic elements similar to the most well known urban legends, including endangered babysitters, spirits who appear in mirrors when fatally summoned, and maniac killers with unnatural deformities. The legend states that while Candyman was the son of a slave, he nevertheless became a well known artist. Yet, after falling in love with a white woman who becomes pregnant, Candyman is chased through the plantation and when caught, has his drawing hand cut off and replaced with a hook. He is then smeared with honey (prompting the locals to chant 'Candyman' a total of 5 times- hence the 'say his name 5 times into the mirror'), stolen from a nearby apiary, and the bees sting him to death. The legend also claims that Candyman is summoned by anyone who looks into a mirror and chants his name five times (similar to the Bloody Mary folkloric tale). Summoning him often costs the individual their own life. Later that evening, Helen and her friend Bernadette jokingly call Candyman's name into the mirror in Helen's bathroom but nothing happens.
While conducting her research, Helen enters the notorious gang-ridden Cabrini-Green housing project, the site of a recent unsolved murder. There she meets Anne-Marie McCoy, one of the residents, as well as a young boy named Jake, who tells her a disturbing story of a child who was horribly mutilated in a public restroom near the projects, supposedly by Candyman. While exploring the run-down restroom, Helen is attacked by a gang member carrying a hook who has taken the Candyman moniker as his own to enhance his own street credibility by associating himself with the legend. Helen survives the assault and is able to later identify her attacker to the police.
Helen later returns to school but hears a voice calling her name as she walks through a parking garage. Another man she encounters states he is the Candyman of the urban legend and because of Helen's disbelief in him, he must now prove to her that he is real. Helen blacks out and wakes up in Anne-Marie's apartment, covered in blood. Anne-Marie, whose Rottweiler has been decapitated and whose baby is also missing, attacks Helen and she is forced to defend herself from Anne-Marie using a meat cleaver. The police then enter the apartment and arrest Helen. Is Helen going crazy or will Candyman come for her next?
Three words adequately describe "Candyman": Scary. As. Hell. I was twelve years old when I saw the movie for the first time and it hasn't left my mind since. From the haunting Phillip Glass score to the uncompromising promises by both Tony Todd as Candyman and Virginia Madsen (who has never looked better) as Helen, everything about this movie is sensationally scary. Madsen, in particular, seems to relish playing against time and causes the audience to be sympathetic with her character when a lesser actress would have just come across as annoying. A cheap "Carrie" rip-off of an ending is the only false beat in this superb thriller from one of the masters of the horror genre, Clive Barker.
Stranger in Our House (1978)
Campy, Kooky Made-For-TV Fun
After Wes Craven made the groundbreaking "Last House on the Left" and "Hills Have Eyes", he fell into a bit of a rut before finally finding his footing again with the 1984 classic "A Nightmare on Elm Street". "Summer of Fear", the film I will be looking at today, is Wes Craven's third directorial effort. It's an ambitious effort to say the least but how well does a made for TV horror movie stand up 30 years last?
The story is about a girl, Rachel Bryant (Linda Blair), who lives with her wealthy family in a nice house in the hills of Northern California. After her mother's sister, brother-in-law, and housekeeper die in a horrible car crash, the couple's daughter, Julia (Lee Purcell) comes to live with them. Julia seems a little shy if anything, but as time goes on, she begins to put an alluring spell over everyone she meets, pulling all of Rachel's family and friends away from her. After finding some odd things that belong to Julia (including a human tooth and burnt hair from Rachel's dog Trickle (for the movie the dog was changed to a horse due to Blair's love of horses and the name of the horse was Sundance instead of Trickle), Rachel begins to suspect that her cousin may be a practitioner of witchcraft, and she's hell-bent on turning Rachel's life upside down. Her open disbelieved suspicions caused her to become an outcast in front of her family.
Ahh..."Summer of Fear," what a strange movie. Wes directed this voodoo/jealously movie for ABC in the summer of 1978. Well, like I said it's a very, very weird movie. The plot has something to do with this evil girl from the south that is sent to live with Linda Blair and her family after her parents die in a car accident. Of course, she's the "cousin" that no one in the family has seen in years and that no one really seems to remember. I know, I know...predictable...but try to follow me. After she is sent to live with Linda, all hell breaks loose as this evil girl tries to take over Linda's body or something (this is never really made clear). The special effects are corny, the editing choppy, and the acting is mediocre at best (wait till you see Fran "The Nanny" Dresher as Linda Blair's nasally best friend) and yet I still kinda enjoyed this picture. It's solid, fun, campy horror that never takes itself seriously. Go into it expecting a run-of-the-mill teenage made-for-TV movie and I think you may be pleasantly surprised.
Drag Me to Hell (2009)
"Hell" of a Good Time
I will start this review off with one simple fact: I love Sam Raimi. I remember staying up late at night as a child watching the original "Evil Dead" through the corners of my fingers. It scared the hell out of me but, at the same time, there was something genuinely gratuitously amazing about the film. It was bold, bloody, filled with puss and maggots, and gore. It was incredible. If the nine year old me at the time could have married anything, it would have been The Evil Dead.
After the Evil Dead trilogy, Raimi pretty much stayed away from horror (not including the excellent and sorely underrated "The Gift"). That is until 2009 when Raimi splashed his way back into the scene with "Drag Me to Hell." I'll be the first to admit that I had no desire to see "Drag Me to Hell." PG-13? Yawn. Ancient spirits? Double yawn. Justin Long? I think I'm falling asleep already. Little did I know what I had coming.
The plot is relatively simple. Determined to impress her boss and get a much-needed promotion at work, Christine Brown lays down the law when mysterious Mrs. Ganush literally comes begging for mercy at her feet. In retaliation for being publicly shamed, Mrs. Ganush places the dreaded curse of the Lamia on her unfortunate target, transforming Christine's life into a waking nightmare. Her skeptical boyfriend, Clay, casually brushing off her disturbing encounters as mere coincidence, Christine attempts to escape eternal damnation by seeking out the aid of seer Rham Jas. But Christine's time is fast running out, and unless she's able to break the curse, she'll be tormented by a demon for three days before literally being dragged to hell.
What follows is gore, gore, and more gore. How this film was granted a PG-13 I'll never know. A waterfall of a nosebleed, gooey dentures, dancing goats, maggots...if you can imagine it, it's here. The film works as a social satire (the death of the middle and lower classes) and as a horror/comedy (the ritual at the end has to be seen to be believed). The performances are top natch and the ending is quite ballsy in its conviction (you'll see it coming a mile away but will be surprised they actually follow through on it). Overall though, if you love movies like "The Evil Dead", "Army of Darkness", or "Cabin Fever", it's a must watch. It is one of the best horror films of 2009.
Night School (1981)
Early 80's Slasher Makes the Grade
Anne Barron (Meb Boden) is a teacher's aide at the Jack-N-Jill Daycare Center in Boston. It's the early evening and the last child has been picked up by her mother. Anne is relaxing on the playground carousel when someone pulls up on a motorcycle, wearing a pink helmet. Anne is startled. Suddenly the stranger pulls out a machete and starts spinning the carousel. The machete is held up in the air and the terrified woman goes around and around - until she's struck with it.
Judd Austin (Leonard Mann) is the cop assigned to the case. He is called to the scene and when he gets there, he sees a gruesome sight. The girl was decapitated and her head was put in a bucket of water nearby. The distraught director of the center tells the officer that Anne worked there during the day - and was attending night classes at Wendell College. At the hospital, Judd and his partner Taj (Joseph R. Sicari) discuss a similar case from the previous week. Another girl was found decapitated and her head was dumped in a pond. They wonder if there's any connection between the two murders.
"Night School" is a typical run-of-the-mill early 80's whodunit slasher with a decapitation twist. This is the kind of movie where half of the money is trying to figure out where the detectives are going to find the missing heads. The twist ending is pretty predictable and the acting is a bit wooden (Rachel Ward, in her film debut, is all sorts of terrible here) but the film is never boring and has been directed with style. Boston looks positively wretched on film here and it gives the slasher a bit of a grungy "Departed" vibe. Overall, it's definitely worth checking out, just check your expectations-and your head--at the door.
Deadly Blessing (1981)
A "Deadly" Delight
If there is a bigger Wes Craven fan than myself, I haven't met them. From his early work, the incomparable "Last House on the Left", to his latest work, the hugely entertaining "Scream franchise", there are very few movies of his that I don't enjoy on at least some level. Of course, all of this comes into play while reviewing the slasher gem of the night, the little known and unappreciated "Deadly Blessing." How people have never heard of such an elegant and supremely suspense film is a mystery to me. Yes, dear reader, it really is that good.
"Deadly Blessing" begins with young couple Martha (Maren Jensen) and Tom Schmidt (Jonathon Gulla) living in an isolated farm named 'Our Blessing', where most of it's population are of the Hittite religion. Jim used to be a Hittite himself but left the community when he got married. Martha tells matron Louisa Stohler (Lois Nettleton), who is the mother of Faith (Lisa Hartman)that she is pregnant. That night, Tom searches in the barn after hearing strange noises from inside, but is murdered when a mysterious figure runs him over with his tractor. This is seen as a mechanical accident.
Friends Lana Marcus (Sharon Stone) and Vicky Anderson (Susan Buckner) visit Martha after Tom's funeral. Some time after Martha refuses to sell the farm to Isaiah Schmidt (Ernest Borgnine), the leader of the Hittites, and slams the door in his face. When William Gluntz (Michael Berryman) goes to the house at night to search for his shoe he accidentally left earlier when sneaking around, he is stabbed through the back by an unseen figure.
Martha is now being accused of being the incubus. Lana enters the barn the next day to look for something in the haystack but all the doors and windows suddenly close, trapping her inside. In a panic, she searches for a way out but encounters a figure dressed in black. When escaping out the now open barn door William's corpse swoops down at her, hanging from a rope. The police clears up the mess as the sheriff (Kevin Cooney) advises the three friends to move out of town, as someone may be after them. However, Martha decides to stay where she is and buy a gun for protection. Multiple events follow, such as a snake being put into Martha's bathroom while she's taking a bath by an unseen figure who creeps in her house. She manages to get out of the bath and kill it. Little do the friends know that the trouble has only began.
I cannot possibly oversell "Deadly Blessing". The cinematography is pitch perfect, the deaths are extremely suspenseful, and the ending, while a bit out there, stays completely true to the story. It is with this film that Craven showed the film world that he could make a horror movie that relied on actual intelligent filmmaking as opposed to cheap scares. While it is true that the film is a bit slow and meanders a bit in its middle act, it is still a fine horror movie that deserves a re- release. If you haven't seen it yet, check it out immediately. Sadly, however, it is only available in region 2 release so unless you have a VCR or a multiregion DVD player, you may be out of luck.
Paranormal Activity 3 (2011)
Third Time Isn't the Charm
"Paranormal Activity 3″ is the funniest movie you will see in theaters all year. From start to finish it is loaded with gut busting laughs that you will be eager to tell you friends about. The problem? It's not a comedy at all. In fact it is deadly seriously from beginning to end which only added to the fun. Once in a full moon horror audiences get to experience this sort of bad filmmaking. A film that plummets below mediocre into so-bad-it's-good territory. This is just that film.
"Paranormal Activity 3″ begins in 2005, Katie delivers a box of old videotapes to her pregnant sister, Kristi, and Kristi's husband, Daniel. A year later, Kristi and Daniel's house is seemingly burgled and the tapes are missing. Flashback to 1988, a young Katie and Kristi live with their mother, Julie, and her boyfriend, Dennis; Kristi begins interacting with an invisible friend named Toby. Dennis notices that since Kristi's friend appeared, strange things have been happening in the house. Dennis and Julie try to make a sex tape, but are interrupted by an earthquake. While they look for the girls, the camera shows dust fall from the ceiling and land onto an invisible figure in the room. The figure then moves and the dust falls to the floor. While reviewing the footage later, Dennis notices the strange incident. He invites his friend Randy over to view the footage, who suggests that Dennis place cameras throughout the house to capture any other incidents.
That night in the girls' bedroom, Kristi wakes up and begins talking to someone off-camera before going back to bed. When Dennis questions her about this the following day, Kristi tells him that it is Toby. After more disturbed nights and strange occurrences, Dennis discovers a strange symbol in the girls' closet. He finds the same symbol on a picture of women in a book about demonology. Dennis explains to Julie that the symbol belonged to a witches' coven that brainwashed girls of child-bearing age into having sons and then forgetting about it, but Julie dismisses his claim. Because, of course, he HAS to be making this all up. Right?
Hmmm where to start with the problems of this film:
* Sometimes there is a time stamp on the camera, sometimes there isn't. * Who is editing the jump cuts when there is no "flash forward" in time? * Who was changing the tapes in the middle of the night? * Why is the camera looking over at the parents bed when it is staring straight at the mirror? * Why didn't the babysitter say what had happened to her to the parents? * Why didn't the Randy show them his cut after he was attacked by "Toby"? * Why was Toby never mentioned in the first two installments? * Why didn't Dennis show Julie the tapes before going into the stupid speech about the witches? * Was the final scene (witches in black robes?) really meant to be taken seriously? * Didn't the video quality appear to be awfully good (and in HD even!!) for something that had been 25 years old and sitting in storage? * Also did the witches edit the tapes together themselves?
The list goes on and on and on. This is quite the movie experience that really must be seen to be believed. Go in with a few beers and zero thoughts in your head and maybe you'll have a good time. Who knows? Just don't spend money on it.
Red State (2011)
A "Red" Mess
On the way to school, Travis (Michael Angarano) notices members of the Five Points Church, led by Abin Cooper (Michael Parks) protesting the funeral of a local gay teenager who was found murdered. During Travis' first class, his teacher talks about how Cooper and his church had their town ridiculed for his actions and beliefs. Later, Jared (Kyle Gallner), a friend of Travis, reveals he received an invitation from a woman he met on a sex site for group sex with himself, Travis and Billy Ray (Nicholas Braun). They borrow Travis' parent's car and travel out into the country to meet with the woman.
Along the way, they accidentally sideswipe the vehicle of Sheriff Wynan (Stephen Root), while he was engaged in a homosexual affair in his car. Afraid, the boys drive off. Sheriff Wynan returns to the station and tells his deputy Pete (Matt L. Jones) to go and look for the vehicle. Meanwhile, the boys arrive at the trailer of the woman who sent out the invitation, Sarah Cooper (Melissa Leo). She encourages them to drink, and after being drugged by the beer, they pass out while undressing. Jared wakes up while being moved in a covered cage. He realizes he is in the sanctuary at Five Points after he identifies Cooper. Cooper begins a long, hate-filled sermon before identifying another captive, a homosexual they lured in through an internet chat room. They bind him to a cross using saran wrap, violently execute him with a revolver and drop him into a small crawl space where Travis and Billy Ray are bound together.
Cooper then begins binding Jared to the cross, but stops when he notices Pete driving up to the church. Travis and Billy Ray use a protruding bone from the corpse to cut themselves free, which is heard by Caleb (Ralph Garman). He lifts up the trap door just in time to see Billy Ray escape and begins after him. Billy Ray is not able to help Travis out of his tight saran wrap cuffs and leaves him for dead. Caleb chases Billy Ray while passing Travis into a room stocked with weapons, where the two end up shooting and killing each other. Pete hears the gunshots and calls Wynan for back-up, but is shot and killed by Mordechai (James Parks). Cooper then blackmails Wynan, telling him to stay away or he will reveal Wynan's homosexuality to his wife. In despair, Wynan calls ATF Agent Joseph Keenan (John Goodman), who begins setting up outside of the church.
While the family mourn Caleb, Travis (who had broken free and feigned death alongside Billy Ray's corpse) arms himself and makes a run for it, eventually making it outside where he is shot and killed by Wynan, who mistook him for a member of the congregation. Keenan tries to reason with the family but a shoot-out erupts instead after one Keenan's men is shot in the head. In the midst of the shooting, Agent Keenan receives a call from ATF higher-ups ordering him to start a full raid of the complex to ensure that no witnesses remain of the operation, and no one can tell of their mess up. Another tactical agent named "Harry" (Kevin Alejandro) struggles with this decision and argues with Keenan in private against doing this. Keenan coldly dismisses Harry's protests for personal reasons -- rationalizing his decision based on personal gain and the reputation of the ATF -- and Harry storms off in disgust. During the shoot-out, Cheyenne (Kerry Bishé) unbinds Jared, begging him to help her hide the children.
Jared coldly refuses due to the fact that the church is evil and had killed both his best friends, and the argument turns into a fight. Sarah notices them and attacks Jared. Cheyenne tries to break up the fight and accidentally shoots Sarah in the process, killing her. Jared, realizing no matter what he does he will end up dead, helps Cheyenne hide the children. They run outside to plead with Keenan to spare the children but are brutally shot and murdered by Tactical Agent Harry, who has come around to accepting Keenan's rationales, though Keenan is now visibly disturbed the reality of this outcome and Harry's actions. The shoot-out is then suddenly interrupted when a mysterious loud trumpet ominously blast echos across the sky.
If "Red State" proves one thing it is that Kevin Smith is a much better writer than he is a director. In the comedy genre, direction only matters so much. If the jokes aren't there, what can a director do? He can't make "nothing" funny. In the horror genre, the role of the director is key. He is responsible for the scares, the pacing, the thrills, and the overall tone of the movie. "Red State" works as written but the film as directed is a bit of a mess. Far too many characters, a limp, lackluster editing, and too many "Kevin Smith type" characters. I kept thinking how a movie like this would be directed in the hands of a more accomplished filmmaker who could get a hold of the subject matter such as Rob Zombie. I appreciate the effort here and the performances are all uniformally good but it all adds up to very little.
Shark Night 3D (2011)
Shark Night 3D Lacks Bite
Let me start this review with an honest observation. Creature features, while fun, are rarely scary. A big lumbering shark in the water or a snake in the grass is scary in reality but always falls flat for me on the big screen. While I do agree with the general consensus that "Jaws" is the rare creature feature that works, I have to say that the rest have done little thrill me. It is with this honest trepidation that I went to see "Shark Night 3D". "Shark Night 3D" is the latest creature feature to use both creatures in the water and 3D to lumbering effect. Neither is new or revolutionary. Sorry to say it but "Jaws 3D" beat you to the punch about thirty years ago.
Anyway, on to "Shark Night 3D" and what a treat this movie is. Set in Louisiana, seven Tulane undergraduates – Sara (Sarah Paxton), Nick (Dustin Milligan), Beth (Katharine McPhee), Malik (Sinqua Walls), Maya (Alyssa Diaz), Blake (Chris Zylka) and Gordon (Joel David Moore) – drive to Sara's family vacation home on a secluded private lake near Lake Pontchartrain. At a local bait shop, Sara encounters her old boyfriend, Dennis (Chris Carmack) and his friend, Red (Joshua Leonard). Dennis and Red make racial taunts to Malik and Maya, his Latina fiancée, but Sara diffuses the situation. Sara drives a speedboat recklessly to the vacation home, attracting the attention of Sheriff Sabin (Donal Logue). He chases her, frightening her friends, but then happily shares a beer with them. He tells Sara he is happy to see her back after a three-year- long absence.
While Gordon tries to seduce Beth and Sara sunbathes, Nick, Blake, Malik and Maya go waterskiing. A shark pursues Malik and attacks him. Nick, Blake and Maya try to rescue him, but he swims back to shore – missing his right arm. When Nick swims out into the lake to retrieve his arm, he is stalked and pursued by the shark. Nick barely makes it back to shore. A medical student, he stabilizes Malik, then goes with Sara and Maya to take him to a hospital. However, blood dripping from Malik's wound attracts a shark that attacks the boat. Maya is knocked into the water and eaten. The shark then damages the steering column of the boat. It crashes into the gas pump in front of the boathouse, exploding and stranding everyone. Sara, Nick and Malik barely make it to shore. Because their cell phones have no reception and the house has no landline, they cannot call for help. Blah, blah, blah.
"Shark Night 3D" is everything that a horror movie shouldn't be. It's PG-13, it's loaded from beginning to end with grating pop/R&B songs, its 3D looks like crap, and the characters are so cookie cutter boring that you won't care who lives or who dies. I would say that you want them all to be shark bait but once you've seen one awful shark attack in this film, you'll feel like you've seen them all. Add to this a ridiculous third act twist that makes little sense (seriously, watch the movie and tell me how it is even POSSIBLE for the redneck hillbillies to do what they did) and some of the most implausible events I've ever seen in a movie and you've got one of the worst movies of the year.
Though, truth be told, it is comforting to know that if someone loses an arm in a giant lake, you can easily find it in dirty water by swimming out from your lake without a mask or goggles. After this, while locating said lost arm, you can also spot a bloodthirsty shark. When you see said shark, you can out swim it even though it can overtake a speeding boat with someone skiing behind. Did that just make your brain hurt? Ugh. Join the club. Last year's "Piranha 3D" was dumb, harmless fun. This movie doesn't deserve a theatrical run, hell it doesn't even deserve to be played on Syfy.
Black Christmas (1974)
Forget about the 2006 version, THIS movie is where the terror really started. It's time for Christmas break, and the sorority sisters make plans for the holiday, but the strange anonymous phone calls are beginning to put them on edge. When Clare disappears, they contact the police, who don't express much concern. Meanwhile Jess is planning to get an abortion, but boyfriend Peter is very much against it. The police finally begin to get concerned when a 13-year-old girl is found dead in the park. They set up a wiretap to the sorority house, but will they be in time to prevent a sorority girl attrition problem?
"Black Christmas" is that rare horror movie that gets everything right. This is a movie that just oozes atmosphere. Every frame is dripping with dread and setting the film on the Christmas just adds to the excitement of it all. Not only this but the film is also scary as hell with some excellent performances and an ending that is sure to give every horror fan chills. What is the most incredible aspect of this groundbreaking slasher film? Throughout the entire film, we see various sorority girls getting hacked to death and receiving strange telephone calls. What we don't see is our psycho, Billy. No motive, no reason, no face, no man..Billy could be anyone of us. If that doesn't make a true psycho, I really don't know what does.
"Black Christmas" is quite simply the best horror movie I've ever seen. Some give the credit to "Halloween" to being the first real American slasher film but that simply is not fair. "Black Christmas" did it first and did it better. It is the grandmother of the slasher film, four years before "Halloween". "Black Christmas'" power is impossible to deny; its characters are compelling, the imagery poignant, and the acting top- notch. If you haven't seen it yet, you are in for one scary "Christmas" treat.
Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (2010)
"Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" is a Moody, Gothic Treat
As I start my review for "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" I must confess one thing: I'm not a fan of supernatural horror movies. While I admire haunted house films like "Poltergeist", I've always found this sub-genre of horror to be painfully dull and its characters to be agonizingly stupid ("The Amityville Horror", I'm looking at you). They usually have the same formula: a stupid, yuppie couple (occasionally with children) buy a house, move in, hear strange noises, and bad things happen. Rinse and repeat. So, going into "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark", my expectations were pretty low. After reading some not so positive reviews online, they sank even further. So is "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" worth screaming for? Well..more on that in a bit.
The film begins with a gruesome prologue shows the home's deranged first owner, Emerson Blackwood, luring his maid into the dungeon-like basement and performing medieval dentistry on the terrified young woman. As he carries out the atrocity, he explains to the young maid that they, the goblin-like creatures known as Homunculi, have taken his son and will only give him back with teeth. As the young woman screams, whispering can be heard all around the room from the sealed up fireplace. Blackwood makes his way over to the fireplace and offers the teeth in exchange for the return of his son, only to be told his offering wasn't acceptable and he is pulled into the fireplace. The basement is sealed and forgotten over the generations.
The movie then opens with a young girl, Sally Hirst (Bailee Madison), moving into Blackwood Manor, the Gothic mansion being restored by her architect father Alex (Guy Pearce) and his girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes), an interior decorator. Her father is renovating the house they live in, in hopes of having it on the front page of a known magazine. Due to the fact that her mother recently abandoned her, Sally has become a distant child with emotional vulnerability. Although Kim tries to befriend her, Sally alienates herself from her.
One day, Sally hears voices calling her name and follows them — finding a hidden basement with a fireplace that has been bolted shut. She is drawn toward the fireplace, as she can hear voices that beg her to open it, promising friendship. One day she sneaks into the basement to open the fireplace, but her father stops her before she can get the door completely open. The Homunculi escape, however, and begin to torment Sally at night telling her to turn the lights out.
As the days progress, Kim finds one of her dresses shredded. Shortly afterward, a teddy bear that Kim gave to Sally is found destroyed underneath her bed after she yelled for her Dad having been scared by the creatures. Sally claims that someone (or something) else is to blame for these things, but her father does not believe her and is preoccupied with renovating the house. Kim, however, begins to believe her claims, as strange incidents occur more frequently. But is it too late?
"Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" is over-the-top, melodramatic, and full of plot holes. But, you know what dear reader, I loved every minute of it. This is the kind of movie in which logic is thrown out the door before the opening credits even begin. It is atmospheric in a way that has been missing from most horror movies today. Those that were disappointed by the lack of Gothic overtones in "Fright Night" will be in Heaven here. The sets are gorgeous and the fluid use of cinematography is inviting in a way that makes you feel at home with these gawkily little creatures. The acting here is a bit hit or miss. Guy Pearce is terrible as the father who doesn't seem to care whether his girlfriend or his daughter lives or dies. His performance is bland to the point of sleepwalking through his role. Katie Holmes, on the other hand, is a revelation. It's nice to see a strong, female role in which she is neither helpless nor a shrewd bitch. She thoroughly blew me away and has a few very touching scenes with Madison. Madison makes for a convincingly scared child but her performance is a bit hit or miss. Overall, if you are in the mood for a moody, Gothic treat, you could do far, far worse than "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark".
Fright Night (2011)
New "Fright Night" Lacks Bite
Going into the remake of "Fright Night", I was a bit apprehensive. The original is my favorite vampire film of all time and I just felt that deep down they were going to find some way to mess up the remake. Then the trailers came in (everything looked solid, if a bit underwhelming), then the reviews came in (75% is just about perfect for a horror film), and then the reaction from fans came in—They didn't mess it up! I couldn't wait to watch the remake. I sat down in my seat eager for the movie to start as I put on my 3D glasses and was ready for the wild vampire ride to begin.
The film starts quite promising. We are given a skyline shot of houses in the suburb. The kind of suburb where everyone owns the same car, the same house, and the same two kids. And then BAM, three killings before the opening credits can even hit the screen. I was ready! This is going to be the remake to end all remakes! Sadly, it was not to be. The plot is generally the same as the original with a few small changes. Teenager Charley Brewster guesses that his new neighbor Jerry Dandrige is a vampire responsible for a string of recent deaths. When no one he knows believes him, he enlists Peter Vincent, a self proclaimed vampire killer and Las Vegas magician, to help him take down Jerry.
What doesn't work about this movie? Well, aside from a few stylish touches pretty much everything. Gone is the old, charming horror host Peter Vincent and in is a Midori chugging whorish magician. Ugh. Gone is the beautiful shot and exciting club scene in which Jerry seduces Charley's girlfriend Amy (it's here, but the less said about the "new" version of this scene the better). Gone is Jerry's homo-erotic relationship with his best "friend"/roommate. Hell, that character isn't even IN this film. What's added? Awful CGI (Amy's vampire scene with Charley is incredibly lame and doesn't look half as good as it did in the TWENTY FIVE year old original) and a final battle scene that belongs more to "Underworld" than it does to the "Fright Night" legacy. That being said, It's worth a rental at least. The movie wasn't so much bad as it was incredibly disappointing. I felt there was so much more they could have done with the premise. What a waste.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
You Will "Never Sleep Again"
A Nightmare on Elm Street is an unbelievably original, terrifyingly realistic, and overall terrifying that, despite a weak ending, is one of the best horror flicks of the quarter of a century. The film deals with a deceased child molester who now lives only through the dreams of the children of those who burned him alive. Robert Englund is truly frightening as Freddy Krueger. Wes Craven delivers a surprising amount of tension that still holds up today.
Nancy is having nightmares about a frightening, badly-scarred figure who wears a glove with razor-sharp "finger knives". She soon discovers that her friends are having similar dreams. When the kids begin to die, Nancy realizes that she must stay awake to survive. Uncovering the secret identity of the dream killer and his connection with the children of Elm Street, the girl plots to draw him out into the real world.
The film goes for suspense, drama, and gore and delivers for the most part. Heather Langenkamp gives a very solid performance as Nancy Thompson, the young woman is the "leader" among her friends and the only one who may get out alive. Forget about Jamie Lee Curtis' whimpering performance in "Halloween". Here Langenkamp is the real deal and she kicks ass. A great horror film that still delivers today. Look for a young Johnny Depp who, arguably, has the best death scene in the flick.
Wes Craven's New Nightmare (1994)
Meta Movie Magic
After the dismal "Freddy's Dead", Freddy seemed to be dead and buried for at least a few years. It, however, was in 1994 that Wes Craven came up with the radical idea of bringing Freddy back for another nightmare a "New Nightmare". Gone was funny Freddy and the fresh looking 80′s MTV teenagers and in was a concept so unique and groundbreaking that it just couldn't work? Or could it
But..let us start back at the beginning. In 1984, horror director Wes Craven created "A Nightmare on Elm Street." It was acclaimed as one of the scariest movies ever made and made unknowns like Robert Englund, Johnny Depp, and Heather Langenkamp huge stars. Ten years later, Heather is living happily with her husband, Chase, and her son, Dylan. But her life has now been turned upside down because she is being stalked by a person who sounds like Nightmare villain Freddy Krueger. Chase has just been killed in a car accident after he accidentally fell asleep behind the wheel. Dylan refuses to sleep any more, and New Line Cinema has just offered her a part in "the ultimate Nightmare." But some other strange things have been happening, including earthquakes and Craven being tight-lipped about the script. The ultimate truth is that Freddy Krueger is actually an ancient demon breaking out into our world, but in order to do that, he must go through Heather. And he knows he can get out by harming those near her.
Sound convoluted? Pretentious? Overly meta? Shockingly, no. "New Nightmare" is that rare horror film in which everything works. The performances are pitch perfect, lead by a tour-de-force performance by the amazing Langenkamp. The script is full of twists and turns and the movie is quite possibly the best looking of the entire series. What starts out as a maze of mirrors becomes something much more than your typical nightmare. The film examines the role film plays on those who watch it. Something that Wes Craven's "Scream" would play out to great effect two years later. I really can't say enough about this film and homages to the original are expertly placed. It is one of my all time favorite horror films and a modern classic.