Friday, July 28, 2006

Night Watch (Nochnoi Dozor) (2004)

Night Watch (aka Nochnoi Dozor) is a Russian horror/action flick that took my breath away with its special fx and dark atmosphere. It was a blockbuster in Russia, breaking many box office records. I don't think it did too well in its release in the U.S., though, which is a shame. I wish we had more movies like this instead of pointless drivel like Underworld (though I do enjoy it as a guilty pleasure).

For centuries, there has been a truce between the forces of Light and the forces of Dark. They are equally balanced, and to keep that balance the Light police the Dark at night (the Night Watch) while the Dark police the Light during the day (the Day Watch). The balance between the two is precarious, as anyone who becomes an Other (humans with super powers) has the choice between either side, Light or Dark. Prophecy tells of an Other who will come and disrupt the balance forever, giving either Light or Dark the upper hand.

I wished the film had told us more about the Others - both from the Light and the Dark realms. This film mainly dealt with vampires (from the Dark) and shapeshifters/seers (from the Light). There are so many more possibilities!

Night Watch seems more sophisticated, at least in visuals, than its contemporary counterparts. The fx in the film are very well done - I enjoyed how the camera zoomed out on the first battle between Light and Dark to show them fighting on a very tall bridge, while hundreds of ravens flew around the battle. Also, the action sequences were very well done, I just wish there had been more fight scenes between the main protagonist, Anton, and the Dark Others. The overall look and atmosphere of the film was probably my favorite thing about it. I watched the Russian version, and even the subtitles were creatively designed to move with the action. Very very clever and stylish.

The plot was simple, but jumped around quite a bit. It didn't seem very cohesive, but I hope it's just because this film is lying down the mythology for the next two films. Yes, this is the first film in a trilogy, and I can't wait to see what happens next. The ending to this one was a bit anti-climactic, especially in the subplot with the Virgin and the Vortex. I hope this subplot sticks around in the next few movies, as it seems to have been resolved far too easily. The very end comes as quite a shock, though I probably should have seen it coming.

Night Watch was a very entertaining movie that I will probably end up buying. It is very stylish, but still has a gritty feeling to it. A very nice entry into the horror/action/sci-fi/fantasy genre. Check it out if you get the chance!

On Amazon!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Ichi the Killer (2001)

Last week I finally got to watch this Takashi Miike film and of course was equal parts horrified and intrigued. This is a film notorious for it's brutal violence, gore, disturbing images and sadomasochism, so of course Ichi the Killer is a cult favorite of many people. Well, it definitely had all the above, and then some!

A yakuza boss goes missing and his protege Kakihara vows to find him and seeks revenge on his kidnappers. Kakihara revels in violence, equating it to love. He is a sadomasochist and throughout the movie we see how extreme he can be, whether he is cutting out part of his own tongue or jabbing long, sharp needles into a yakuza member that hangs suspended by many hooks through his skin. Kakihara loves torture, both giving and receiving it, and we learn later that his missing boss was the only one he truly enjoyed this from.

Kakihara eventually discovers that Ichi, an infamous sadistic killer, has killed his boss. Kakihara awaits the day that he and Ichi will meet, as Ichi may be the only one who can satisfy Kakihara's need for pain. What Kakihara doesn't know is that Ichi is a confused and frightened boyish young man, not the great sadist Kakihara imagines. Ichi is being manipulated by Jijii, who would like to take out as many yakuza gangs as possible, though his motives are a mystery. He utilized Ichi for his fast and brutal slayings, though Ichi always falls into a blubbering mass of tears afterward and must always be persuaded to kill again.

There are many twists and turns in the film, and while sometimes it's hard to keep up with Miike, it's well worth it in the end. His characters, as usual, are interesting and over the top. Black humor is used liberally throughout the film along with strong violence. This film is not for the faint-of-heart, though gorehounds will absolutely eat this up. It is bloody, it is disturbing and it is very uncomfortable to watch some of the scenes. Yet the clever twists and turns and the quick action make for a very entertaining film.

If you haven't already, check this film out if you like Asian cinema with lots of violence!

On Amazon!

Invaders from Mars (1953)

Invaders From Mars, called "the definitive Cold War sci-fi film" by some, was released in 1953 and boasts many many montages of the U.S. Army preparing for war. Trucks, tanks, marching soldiers, rockets - all are on display many times over throughout the movie. Those reels probably make up 20 minutes of the movie alone! Besides the annoying montages and 50s cheese, this film can be somewhat fun (having a few drink beforehand is recommended).

The plot: A young boy, who has a very caring father and mother (sleeping in separate beds - ah the 50s, tee hee!), sees a flying saucer crash into the sand dunes near his house. When his father goes to investigate, he returns to the house a changed man. He's not so caring anymore as he barks orders at his son, David, and slaps him around a little. David is concerned, especially when he sees a strange mark on the back of his father's neck. Soon, his mother is also changed as is anyone who ventures near the sand dunes. They all return with marks on their neck and in a zombie-like zen state. David tries his best to alert the authorities to the danger of an alien invasion, but it may be too late as many higher-ups have already been infected! Can David warn anyone before it's too late?

I didn't have a few drinks before watching this, but I wish I had. It was an ok film, with some endearing qualities, but overall it was boring. I enjoyed the story, but there were just too many montages of the military. Geesh!! Of course the theme of the film was to be diligent and to not let the enemy (aliens = communists) infiltrate the United States. (They could be your next door neighbors! Your police chief! Your parents!) Of course this has some bearing today, as everyone is so concerned with terrorists, but I really don't care. This movie also sent the message that the U.S. military will emerge victorious and will not be defeated! Both of these messages were a bit overbearing and ridiculous.

Perhaps if one is having a 50s-themed party this could be shown for a bit of nostalgic fun, but remember to have alcohol on hand to relieve the dullness of this movie.

On Amazon!

Monday, July 24, 2006

Race with the Devil (1975)

This 1970s action/horror/thriller film surprised me quite a bit. Though cheesy and unrealistic in places, the tense atmosphere and the creepy pretense carry the movie through. Two couples are vacationing in their brand spankin' new motor home when they witness something they shouldn't - a Satanic ritual that uses a human sacrifice. They are spotted, and so begins the race.

The Satanists seem to follow them throughout the countryside, and the four people don't know who to trust. The ending of this film is the best part, as it is quite shocking. It reminded me of The Wicker Man, though much much better (I hated The Wicker Man, so much that I failed to review it).

It's a very simple movie, though it works very well. I hadn't heard of it until I read a review of it somewhere, but I think it should be seen by more horror fans. Like the classic Texas Chain Saw Massacre, it uses the city vs. country theme. It preys upon the idea that city people shouldn't venture into the country, and that backwoods people don't like intruders in their territory. It's these kind of movies that creep me out - the kind where you inadvertently trespass upon someone's personal space and they react with fatal consequences. It's like unknowingly walking right into a hornets' nest; one minute you are fine, the next you are completely panicked.

Check it out on Amazon!

C.H.U.D. (1984)

Ok, seriously, it was my first time seeing this B-movie and I found it pretty hilarious.

Per the Netflix description:
Beneath the streets of New York City are hundreds of miles of tunnels unfit for anything human. But now something horrible is loose in the sewers of Manhattan, and the city's homeless population have begun to mutate into "Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers." They are C.H.U.D. -- hideous, hungry and headed for the streets!
So, I watched this with a few friends, late on Saturday night. Not a good idea...almost everyone was falling asleep (k, so maybe the alcohol and Frostees and fries that followed helped, but I'll just blame C.H.U.D.; geez I love saying that - CHUD CHUD CHUD!!). This movie was completely lacking in the action department! Halfway through, I didn't even care anymore...way too much talking about the government cover up of toxic waste yada yada. I just wanted to go to bed...but those yellow, light bulb-bright eyes will forever haunt my dreams.

Check it out for cheap on Amazon!

The Church (1989)

Originally titled Demons 3, The Church was produced by Dario Argento and directed by Michele Soavi (who later would direct Cemetery Man. This film starts off strong, but after the first opening scene it kinda just dawdles along. While this does hurt the film a bit, I believe this is still one original flick worth watching.

It begins in the 13th century, with the Knights Templar wiping out a village of pagans. They bury all the bodies in a gigantic pit, and decide to build a cathedral atop the mass grave to keep the evil at bay. Flash forward to present day, where the cathedral still stands. Unfortunately, the cathedral is undergoing some renovation, which reopens the the crypt where the evil dead are buried. A bunch of people (including an old couple, a young couple, a group of school kids, a model and her photographers, and the priests) get trapped in the cathedral as one by one they become possessed and turn into demons (much like the movie Demons, duh).

It's all good and fun, but the middle of the movie just drags...The different characters don't feel like they are developed enough and it took a while for anything to happen. There were some pretty cool concepts, like the fact that the architect of the building built a device that would lock down the cathedral if the crypt was opened. And the gore was pretty good. Soavi also included memorable and haunting images when the cathedral goes into lockdown mode. The surreal, creepy images, the creative use of gore and the original story make up for the fact that this film loses some "oomphf" near the middle.

Good to watch on a hot summer day with a Bloody Mary in hand.

Order it on Amazon!

Monday, July 17, 2006

Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (aka The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue) (1974)

This was a darn good movie, though it was clearly influenced by Night of the Living Dead. Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (aka The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue) begins with lead characters George and Edna meeting by chance at a gas station. Edna accidentally backs her car into George's parked motorcycle, but offers to give him a ride. She convinces him to first give her a ride to her sister's house, but when they arrive all heck has broken loose. Edna's sister's husband is dead, and the police suspect both the sister, who is a heroin addict, and George and Edna. Edna's sister describes the man who killed her husband, which is also the same man that tried to attack Edna earlier that day.

The police force George and Edna to stay in town while the investigation proceeds, and they discover other odd things happening. At the hospital, newborn babies are especially vicious and it seems that a man who has been dead a week came back to life. The agriculture department is using low frequency radiation to kill parasites, and George believes that has something to do with the attacks and killer babies.

No one believes him though, especially not the police, who look down on his style of dress and long hair. Sure enough, though, George is right...the radiation is animating primitive cells in newborns and in the recently dead. From then on, it's a fight to stay alive for George and Edna, while also avoiding the police.

This was a very well done movie, with a creepy atmosphere and even creepier zombies. The noises the zombies make scared the pants off of me, not to mention their red eyes. Oooooh...! The desolate and gloomy English countryside only adds to the mounting dread.

The ending left me pretty shocked (and yet completely content). It's rare for movies to accomplish this for me, but this one succeeded and I loved it! Also, there is some clever social commentary on authority and "the Man" that I found quite meaningful. I've read that the director (Jordi Grau) grew up in Spain during the time of the Fascist regime, and I believe that definitely influenced this movie.

This film was quite surprising, as I had pretty low expectations for it. It delivered, though, and I highly recommend it!

Order it on Amazon!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Summertime Slacking

I've got a pile of horror flicks to review...yesterday I was recovering at home from my trip to Kentucky so I watched Dead End and The Prophecy.

The Prophecy (1995) was pretty good (of course, it had Christopher Walken in it), but it left something to be desired. Viggo Mortensen as Lucifer was a delightful little treat at the end, though.

Dead End (2003) was quite a surprise. While it didn't blow me away, it had some excellent dark humor in it, and some pretty twisted images.

The documentary Wisconsin Death Trip (1999) was eerie, mixing old photographs with re-creations of fatal crimes that occurred in the 1890's town of Black River Falls. It left me feeling very unsettled.

I also saw Cemetery Man, but I watched it while packing, so I will view it again before reviewing it.

Hopefully ya'll get some better (longer, more detailed) reviews next time!
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