Monday, October 30, 2006

Night of the Demons (1988)

It's Halloween night and what could be better than partying in an old abandoned funeral home? If getting killed and/or possessed by eviiiiiiiil spirits is your bag, then nothing is better, baby!

A group of high school kids decide to party hardy at Hull House, an abandoned funeral parlor with a nasty past. It's in the middle of nowhere and surrounded by high walls and an underground stream. The stream supposedly keeps evil spirits out...or in!!

The kids start screwing around and hold a seance in which they gaze into a mirror, hopefully to see their future. When everyone else is yabbering away, one girl sees a gnarly dragon-like demon in the mirror. The mirror shatters, she freaks out and it appears as if they've released some demons. The hosts of the party, Angela and Suzanne (Linnea Quigley) become possessed first and start acting a little strange, like sticking lipstick in their nipples and lighting their hands on fire.

By this point, most of the kids have split up; some have tried to leave (only to find themselves trapped within the walls) while others are just trying to find some private time in a cozy coffin.

Everything quickly goes to hell as the demonized Angela and Suzanne kill their friends, who also turn into demons. Soon, only two people are left...will they survive the Night of the Demons?

This is a very memorable flick, especially when Linnea Quigley sticks that lipstick into her boob! Extremely entertaining doesn't even describe half of it! The old crotchety man in the beginning and end was my favorite! Also, the drawings/animation over the opening credits were neato! However, this is also an 80s flick so expect a lot of cheesiness and wackiness!

Find it on Amazon!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Head Trauma (2006)

Head Trauma is one of the creepiest films I've seen in a long time, independent or otherwise. It truly keeps you guessing with its surreal, dreamlike atmosphere and haunting images.

Drifter George (Vince Mola) returns to his hometown after a long absence to lay claim to his deceased grandmother's condemned house. The house is boarded up and has been trashed by squatters. Bits of trash, clothes, furniture and nasty bits of strange goo are scattered throughout the house. As George sets about cleaning the place, he has a run-in with his neighbor, Julian (Jamil A.C. Mangan). A misunderstanding leads to a scuffle in which George hits his head. After his head trauma, George begins having disturbing visions of a hooded figure, a girl who has been hung, a strangling in a hotel room, scribbled drawings and a car crash. George's dreams start to melt into his reality and he starts to question what is real and what isn't. After reconciling with his neighbor, they both continue cleaning the house, including the flooded basement which may be hiding the house's dark secret.

The film's dark, dream-like atmosphere adds to the horror and like George, we are confused and disoriented. The hooded figure that stalks George is definitely creepy, as is his grandmother's house full of dark corners and a dark past. The filmmakers' use of camera angles, lighting and direction all make for a foreboding and scary mood. I haven't jumped so much watching a movie in a while! The actors are also excellent...the acting alone is worthy of a big-budget picture, if not significantly better, especially the leads of George and Julian.

The end of the film wraps up all the loose ends and gives us an explanation of the events, though some is left open for interpretation. The ending reminded me of a David Lynch film, while the rest of the movie played sorta like Ringu or Dark Water (the originals, mind you!), but without the predictable scares. There is no gore in the film, but this doesn't affect its spook factor. The images alone in the movie will haunt you for days to come!

Find on Amazon!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Of Darkness (2006)

Last night I popped into my DVD player a screener I had received, called Of Darkness. I wasn't expecting much, just another low to no budget horror flick. Was I ever in for a surprise!

After their grandfather's death, brothers Brian (Frank Nardi) and Jeff (Dallas Scott) haul his old chest down to the basement for storage. Jeff, the younger brother, drops his end and their grandfather's belongings spill on the floor. As they pick up the items and place them back in the chest, Jeff finds an old, creepy book that looks as if it is bound in human skin. Brian explains that their dear grandpappy was actually a practicing Satanist. Jeff scoffs at this statement, but Brian insists that it is true. After the lone light bulb in the basement begins flickering, the two hurriedly race back upstairs.

Later that night, the boys take advantage of their mom being out of town. Brian heads off to party all night, while Jeff has his friends Tank (Eric Austin), Mac (Brendon Boyes), Wallander (Dominic Fera) and Tank's little brother Charlie (Adam Montgomery) over to hang out. The older boys harass the gullible Charlie by telling him the horror movie they are watching is real. Soon, Jeff brings out his grandfather's book and the boys egg Charlie on to open it.

When he fearfully opens it, it contains images of torture, possession and other nasty drawings little boys should not be filling their heads with. By opening the book, Charlie and the boys unleash a malevolent force that takes the form of darkness, terrorizing the boys and overtaking them one by one!

Clocking in at a quick 20 minutes, this film creeps up on you and gives you a big kick in the behind (in a good way of course) that most horror films can't acheive in 2 hours time! It features kids as the leads for once (no wild 'n' crazy teens here) and a simple yet excellent story that really terrifies!

This film is so well done that I wouldn't be surprised if it is turned into a feature length film. The production values alone make it look completely pro. The camera work is clean, seamless and complements the action. Of special note is the lighting, an important factor in a movie about the darkness. The lighting helps create an ominous atmosphere, especially when lights begin to go out in the house and the film becomes darker and darker.

The acting alone is phenomenal. Even though most of the cast is relatively young, their acting chops are impressive. I would look out for each and every one of these actors in the future because their performances are so believable and realistic. As actors, they are able to make their terror the audience's terror; quite a feat to achieve!

The story is very simple, as the tagline states, "Be Afraid of the Dark." There is hardly any gore (until the end, when Brian discovers the carnage left behind by the darkness), but this film doesn't need it. It is scary enough when the kids are pulled into the darkness one by one by some unseen evil presence. It is the simplicity of the story that makes it so terrifying. The darkness (or what the darkness contains) is swallowing these kids up and though we can't see them being torn apart, we hear their horrific screams.

The film works on one of the basest fears, the fear of the dark and the unknown. It's the fear of the dark that paralyzes so many people, young and old. Of Darkness uses this fear to terrorize the audience. It's simple yet effective horror that chilled me to the bone.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Let's Scare Jessica to Death (1971)

Slow-burning movies are usually my style; I love a good, tension-filled build up. Let's Scare Jessica to Death, from 1971, is a very slow movie, but just doesn't contain the suspense needed to sustain it.

Jessica has just been released from a mental institution. To help her recuperate, her husband has sold all they have in order to buy an old farm house out in the middle of nowhere. Their friend Woody is with them to help them build their new lives. After an icy welcome from the old townsfolk in the nearest itty-bitty town, the trio proceeds to the large and elegant farm house.

Immediately upon arriving, Jessica begins to hear voices and thinks she sees someone sitting on the balcony. She tells herself to act normal or else her husband will still think she's crazy. Inside the house, a squatter named Emily is discovered. She has no place to go, so Jessica insists that she stay with them. Emily has an eerie resemblance to a photograph of the infamous Abigail Bishop. In 1880, Abigail supposedly drowned in the farm's lake, though her body was never found. The story goes that she still haunts the area as a vampire.

Jessica is continually tormented by voices in her head and the images she sees. She doesn't know what is reality and what is in her head. To make matters worse, her husband and Emily are making googly eyes at each other the entire time.

We see what Jessica sees - a body floating under the water while Jess is out for a dip, a girl dressed in a white dress that appears in the cemetery, Emily's close resemblance to Abigail, the vampire-like cuts on the elderly townsfolk's necks...and of course the constant whispering voices. Are these things real or all they all in Jessica's head?

Sounds pretty, killer, right? Well, something got lost in the telling of this tale and I was bored to death. The characters themselves annoyed me, mainly Jessica. She already seemed pretty kooky to start with, which didn't lend much credibility that the events around her could possibly be real. I felt sorry for her and didn't relate to her at all. Her husband came off as an asshole sleazeball, especially when he gave into Emily's wiles. The character of Emily came off as a stoned hippie chick that resonated no malevolence whatsoever. As for Woody, I think he was just there to showcase his amazing 70's porno 'stache.

I wish they would have gave us a little more about the girl in white, who turns up dead at the end of the film. I also wish they would have done away with the horrible, distracting soundtrack! This movie left a lot open-ended, and while I am all for this in many films, this one left me wanting more questions answered.

It all comes down to what I want in a horror film - I want to be creeped out, grossed out, shocked, and above all, scared to death! Let's Scare Jessica to Death just didn't do it for me...

On Amazon!

Friday, October 20, 2006

The Ghost of Mae Nak (2005)

I love Asian horror - favorites include Tale of Two Sisters, Ju-On, Ringu, The Eye, Suicide Club and Battle Royale. The Ghost of Mae Nak just didn't work for me though. Don't get me wrong, the film is shot beautifully, but it just doesn't pack a punch like my fave Asian films do.

The beginning of the film introduces us to the ghost straightaway. Mak is having nightmares of a pale woman with a black mouth and black oval-shaped hole in her forehead. She's pretty freaky, but Mak is too happy engaged to Nak to pay too much attention to his realistic nightmares. Mak and Nak are to be married in a week, so they buy a run-down house in a section of Bangkok. Upon moving in, Mak's nightmares get worse and strange things begin happening. Anyone who causes the couple misfortune meets a bloody end. After Mak is put into a coma by a hit and run accident, Nak discovers that their new house was once Mae Nak's house.

The legend of Mae Nak is an old one in Thailand, in which Mae Nak was so in love with her husband (also named Mak) that her spirit survived beyond the grave to be with him. Now she is looking out for the best interest of Mak and Nak, another couple that has found true love - or is she? Things take an ominous turn as Nak discovers more and more about Mae Nak's vengeful ways.

Again, this wasn't by any means a horrible movie, it was just so-so. I think they showed Mae Nak way too soon in the movie, which made her much less scary. Also, the story was a little confusing at times, especially the back story of Mae Nak. I usually love Asian horror films, but this one lacked the strangeness and creepiness of most. The twist at the end was just tacked on for shock value, and it wasn't even effective, just hokey.

I did enjoy the scenes that showed Thai life and customs, like Mak and Tak's wedding and the bar scene that featured a hardcore band! I guess it just didn't feel like a horror movie, more like a Discovery Channel special on urban Thailand. It lacked any kind of creepy or ominous atmosphere, though it did have its share of cool death scenes. My favorites included a guy who is sliced in half by a glass window pane and another clumsy guy who manages to light himself on fire and get skewered on a barbeque.

I would skip this film unless you want some insight into Thai culture or want a very tame Asian ghost story with a heavy romantic angle. Good effort, but this movie just doesn't cut it alongside such creepies as Ringu, Ju-On, Tale of Two Sisters, etc.

Check it out on Amazon!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Masters of Horror - Sick Girl (2006)

Last night I watched the Masters of Horror episode Sick Girl, by Lucky McKee. Having just watched The Woods, I was pretty excited to see more of Lucky's work (especially since I love May!).

Angela Bettis (who played May in May) stars as Ida Teeter, an entomologist. This girl loves bugs! Seems she is also having trouble getting a date, as all the girls she's into (yes, she's lesbian) think her pet bugs are icky. She perks up after receiving a strange specimen from Brazil. The aggressive insect is one she has never seen before, and she names it Mick. Before she can examine it at the lab, it escapes. Ida also has to deal with her uptight landlord, Lana Beasley, who hates her bugs and lifestyle.

Things finally start to go right when Ida meets Misty, a doe-eyed, pixie drawing artist. The two move quickly, and Misty moves in with Ida after only a few days of knowing one another. Unfortunately, it seems as though Mick has been living in the pillow that Misty sleeps on and has taken a liking to biting Misty's ear.

Misty starts behaving very oddly, finally culminating in getting her and Ida kicked out of their apartment by Lana when Misty taunts her. Misty is mean and unfeeling; a completely different person than when Ida first met her. Misty goes on to kill Lana (in a scene where I actually jumped) and acts even meaner to Ida. A truly chilling scene is when Misty starts screaming at a weeping Ida. Anyone who has ever been in a relationship where the other person dramatically changed after moving in together will be freaked out by this scene.

Ida figures out that her buggy pet Mick is a special insect that eats mammals and can change the DNA of those he she too late to save her love Misty?

This episode is a little slow and spends half the time developing Ida and Misty's relationship. Yet, as a director, this is how Lucky works. He likes to focus on his oddly charming characters. This is definitely a plus in my book! Angela Bettis does a great job playing a nerdy scientist and I enjoyed Jesse Hlubik as her friend and co-worker, Max. The rest of the cast does a fine job as well.

I enjoyed this episode for all its charming qualities. It's a fun commentary on moving too fast in a relationship and just fun all around! If you are a fan of May or other films by Lucky McKee, you must check this episode out.

Buy it on Amazon!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

What better way to spend a chilly Saturday night than to have some friends over for pizza, Pacifico and a viewing of Cannibal Holocaust? There is no better way, believe you me...

The movie begins with a report on an intrepid documentary film crew who entered the Amazonian jungle in search of cannibals. No one has heard from them in more than two months so noted anthropologist Professor Harold Monroe is sent to look for them. He finds them alright, mounted on some kind of altar with their camera equipment and their bones picked clean! He also finds two warring cannibal tribes, but succeeds in getting along with both, thus avoiding becoming dinner.

After he obtains the film crew's film footage, he hightails it back to New York City where he is invited to show his findings on television, because the public has a right to know what happened, dammit! From that point on, we are treated to the documentary crew's film footage (a la Blair Witch Project) and it ain't pretty. It seems the film crew would do anything to garner fame and success, even terrorizing peaceful Amazonian tribes to get dramatic footage. They stage some pretty grisly scenes for their precious documentary, blaming it on rival tribes in the footage. In the end though, the tribes show their stuff to prove you don't mess with cannibals!

This was definitely a brutal movie, more brutal than Cannibal Ferox. There are numerous animal deaths, including the stabbing of a muskrat, the shooting of a pig, and the chopping up and general disassembly of a turtle. These are all real, mind you, and not for the squeamish. The animal deaths are much more violent and explicit than in Ferox. Ye be warned...

Holocaust also has much more violence towards women. In a ritualistic tribal punishment, a woman is taken far from the village by one man, then raped, then raped with a sharp knife, then raped with a torture device that can be compared with a softball studded with nails. She is then bludgeoned to death. In another scene, the males of the film crew take turns raping a native while the others hold her down. Then, in perhaps the most iconic scene of this film, the woman is shoved onto a pole so that the pole extends out of her mouth.

The members of the film crew finally get their just desserts when they are surrounded by the cannibalistic tribe. One guy gets severely beaten, strung up, has his genitals chopped off, then gets hacked to bits. The lone woman of the crew is beaten and viciously raped by several members of the tribe. The rest of the crew is finished off in a spectacular bloodbath.

The end of the film leaves us with a question - who are the real savages here? The cannibals and their primitive way of life or the film crew and Western civilization? There is some social commentary here, and it does make one think...which is a good thing, darlings!

The film was directed by Ruggero Deodato and came out in 1980, a year before Cannibal Ferox appeared. It is an intense, grueling, disturbing film that feels very real at times. I highly recommend it to those that like to watch very controversial films, films with lots of "ewwwwww" moments, gorehounds and, of course, those that hold a special place in their hearts for cannibals.

Please be warned, is an extremely graphic and serious film.

Buy it on Amazon!

Monday, October 16, 2006

The Woods (2006)

The Woods was quite a pleasant surprise, though the film did have its problems. The film, especially the answer to the mystery, is predictable and some parts are a bit baffling. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the film very much.

In the 1960s, Heather (Agnes Bruckner) is dropped off at an isolated all-girls boarding school by her unfeeling, selfish mother (Emma Campbell) and doormat of a father (Bruce Campbell). Heather is sent here because she tried to burn down her own home. Her mother is exasperated with her behavior and wants to be rid of her. Heather is taken in by headmistress Ms. Traverse (Patricia Clarkson) and given a special test, which contains many strange markings and symbols, to obtain a scholarship. Heather just blows it off, but to her surprise, she passes the test and is given a scholarship.

Heather soon befriends strange outcast Marcy (Lauren Birkell), and makes an enemy of the popular girl, Samantha. Heather soon begins to hear strange voices that seem to originate in the woods that surround the school. She has nightmares of a student that attempted suicide as well as visions of girls in old fashioned garb being chased through the forest. She learns that many years ago, three girls appeared out of the woods and were taken in by the school. The other students tormented them and it was discovered that they were witches. After being mercilessly chased through the forest and beaten, the three witches gain control of the other students through witchcraft and chop the headmistress to bits with an ax.

When Heather's friends begin disappearing and strange things occur, she wonders what evil is at work in the school and the woods and sets out to uncover the mystery.

Again, this movie has some flaws, but I still enjoyed it. The small details used throughout, like leaves in the teacher's hair and vines that permeated the school grounds inside and out, really add to the mysterious atmosphere. I also like the fact that the cast was mainly female. The actors all do a good job, especially Patricia Clarkson as the icy headmistress and Lauren Birkell as Marcy. Bruce Campbell's portrayal as Heather's father is very different than what most people are used to seeing him in, but, it's Bruce Campbell and I think he makes anything more enjoyable just by his presence.

There are some definite creepy moments in the film, but hardly any big scares. I prefer a pervading creepiness to cheap, jump scares, though, so it works just fine for me. The ending is a bit of a mess and I wish Heather's powers were used more in the film, but the strong acting, characters and eeriness won me over in the end.

Lucky McKee is the director of this film, and he also directed the quirky and disturbing May. I loved May, and while The Woods doesn't have its black humor, it is still a very fine film by McKee. If you are a fan of May, or enjoy atmospheric horror, I would definitely check The Woods out.

On Amazon!

Monday, October 9, 2006

Cannibal Ferox (1981)

On the recommendation of Warren over at 150 Days of Sodom (check his site out if you haven't already; it's great!), I decided to view the infamous Cannibal Ferox.

I had always thought of Cannibal Ferox as the ultimate in gore and torture, so I shied away from it for so many years...until now! I could not be held back any longer from its grisly allure.

Does Cannibal Ferox live up to the hype? For me, a first-time watcher of these exploitative cannibal movies, it certainly did. I thoroughly enjoyed this film, perhaps because of my low expectations going into it. Nonetheless, I thought it was a well made and entertaining film.

The story is New York City, both the mob and police are out to find a couple of guys (Mike and Joe) who have skipped off with a considerable amount of the mob's dough. Meanwhile, three college kids (siblings Rudy and Gloria and their friend Pat) are in the Amazon, trying to disprove that cannibalism exists for Gloria's thesis. They venture deep into the Amazon jungle to try to find a small village no one has heard of but could prove their theory.

They run into Mike and Joe deep in the heart of the jungle, who tell them they have been attacked by cannibals. Joe has been injured and their guides have been killed. After deciding to stick together, the group stumbles upon the village and the carnage left there. It seems the only villagers left are the old people and the younger children. The group decides to take refuge in the village's huts to try to care for Joe, who is now dying. Joe tells Gloria and Rudy that Mike has lied to them about being attacked by cannibals. The truth is, Mike and Joe were after precious emeralds that the villagers possessed. When they wouldn't hand the emeralds over, Mike tortured and killed some villagers while most of the male villagers were on a fishing expedition. Now, the male villagers could return at any time!

After learning this information, Gloria and Rudy try to get Pat to get out, but find that she has left with Mike. They flee, but are soon captured by the returning male villagers. Now, the villagers seek retribution for what was done to them and to their village...

This is an exploitation gem! Yes, it is extremely violent and some parts are difficult to watch. There is mutilation, castration, decapitation, humiliation, cannibalism, shots of real animals being killed (something I DO NOT condone but is still shocking and disturbing) and so on. The animal deaths were very difficult to watch, just because I knew they were real. Even for standards nowadays, this film is still pretty brutal - just watch for the castration scene(s) and the scene where Pat is hung on meat hooks by her breasts.

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this movie. It really kept up the tension, even though it did switch back from the Amazonian jungle to New York City every few scenes. I was very impressed with this film, and wouldn't mind adding it to my DVD collection.

If you haven't checked this film out yet and can handle excessive torture and real animal deaths (even I had to cover my eyes a bit), then get this movie! It's worth it...

Buy it on Amazon!

Masters of Horror - Imprint (2006)

Imprint is the infamous Takashi Miike's episode for Masters of Horror. This film was downright creepy and deals with many themes and subjects including abandonment, love, hate, abortion, incest, torture, prostitution, cruelty and sexual abuse.

It's the 19th century and Christopher (Billy Drago) has been traveling all over Japan to find his love, Kimomo. He arrives at an island that is one big brothel searching for her, but doesn't find her amongst the other prostitutes. Unable to leave the island until morning, Christopher takes a room at the brothel. Soon, a mysterious prostitute with a disfigured face joins him and he learns exactly what happened to Kimomo.

I enjoyed this Master's of Horror entry very much. It was interesting, engaging, and had some pretty shocking moments. Granted, I do enjoy some of Miike's films (namely Audition, Happiness of the Katakuri's and Ichi the Killer), so I may have been a bit biased going into this episode. Nonetheless, I think it's an entirely different and enjoyable movie.

There were some truly horrific scenes, especially the torture scene; needles shoved under fingernails and twisted until the nail cracks as well as needles shoved through someone's gums. The disturbing elements portrayed, including incest and child sexual abuse, were very hard to watch as well. There were some weird parts toward the end that are typical Miike, but though I found them a bit cheesy the overall film was well worth the watching.

The production values, costuming and set design were also exquisitely done.

This film is a definite must-see for fans of Miike, Master's of Horror, or those that enjoy something a little out of the ordinary.

On Amazon!

Sunday, October 8, 2006

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006)

This movie is a big letdown for a die-hard fan of the original and brilliant Texas Chain Saw Massacre. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning is completely dumbed down for mass audiences and, with a few exceptions, is a total bore. Horror movies should not lull me into a bleary eyed boredom, which is what this particular one did.

This film is a prequel to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake (for the record, I thought the remake was ok) that was released in 2003 and bears no resemblance to the original film. This movie explores the origins of the Hewitt family and begins with the slaughter house being condemned by the Texas Board of Health. The Hewitt family is out of jobs and they are the only family to stay in the otherwise deserted rural town. They decide to stay and continue to use their knowledge of butchery, this time on fresh human meat. Elsewhere, two couples are on a road trip before the two guys go off to the Vietnam War. Passing through rural Texas, they end up at the wrong place at the wrong time and into the clutches of the sadistic Hewitt family. You can guess where it goes from there...

This story had so much potential to tell the origins of the family, but it falls short. It barely focuses on Leatherface's childhood, though we do find out he was born with a disfigured face. It is enjoyable to see Sheriff Hoyt (R. Lee Ermey is always a pleasure) again and the beginnings of his sadistic glory as a sheriff. The rest of the family just seems to follow orders from him which seems a little weak in explaining how they turn into such brutal killers. A few of the killings are pretty brutal - bashing in of skulls, smashing of knee caps and shins, bear traps, skinnings and the infamous chainsaw - but for a high body count, this movie still seems to drag.

Leatherface, or Tommy as he's referred to by his family, makes a few appearances, but it seems as if Hoyt is more the sadist. Leatherface just follows Hoyt's orders most of the time, which gets pretty boring and is a huge disservice to the ferocity of the original Leatherface.

The filmmaker and editor could have done a better job creating an ominous atmosphere, but there are far too many quick cuts and shaky cam shots. There are many shots/scenes that are totally cribbed from the original and the remake, which make the movie completely predictable. It's as if the filmmakers couldn't come up with any of their own ideas and had to heavily "borrow" from the earlier films. To me, this is just plain laziness mixed with a heavy lack of creativity.

The characters themselves are pretty one-dimensional and dull. Unlike the original TCM, I didn't care if they lived or died. Also, the music in the film is typical of a modern horror movie...because of the music you can see a scare coming a mile away. I don't think I jumped or was frightened once throughout this whole disappointment of a movie. I was so bored....

This just goes to show that Hollywood has no clue what the horror viewer wants and is just mass marketing this junk to 12 and 13 year olds (yes, a few were in attendance at the showing I went to). Horror fans, if you like typical Hollywood drivel, then you will lap this up. If, like me, you enjoy your horror a little more intelligent and engaging and like the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre, skip this horrible excuse for a horror movie.

On Amazon!

Friday, October 6, 2006

Calvaire (2006)

A disturbing little Belgian flick about a singer, Marc, who gets stuck out in the sticks with some sick backwoods men.

Marc has just performed at an old folks home and sets out for his next gig, a large Christmas gala. He has quite a bit of road to travel, but he unfortunately gets stuck in the middle of the forest when his van breaks down. A strange young man, Boris, leads him to an inn where he meets the owner, Mr. Bartel. He spends the night and wakes up to find that Bartel has towed his car from the forest road to the inn, where he can work on it. Bartel is very kind to Marc after finding out they are both entertainers. He makes breakfast for him and promises to work on his van for him.

While Bartel works on his van, Marc decides to take a walk around the countryside. Before departing, Bartel severely warns him not to go into the village, as the villagers are "not like them." After Bartel's impassioned plea, Marc promises not to go near the village. Of course, curiosity gets the better of him and he stumbles upon a barn with some of the local-yokels inside. At first, he just hears squeals and grunts, then the sound of the men talking, and as he gets close enough, he is horrified to find out that the men are taking advantage of some of the livestock.

He hurriedly runs away and heads back to Bartel's. Meanwhile, Bartel is still working on Marc's car. By working I mean breaking and entering and going through Marc's things. He snags Marc's cell phone and some nudie pics. When Marc returns it's almost nightfall. Bartel explains he couldn't fix his car but has called the mechanic, who can't make it out until the next day. Marc is a little worried, but Bartel assures him everything will be right as rain. He cooks Marc a special dinner and proceeds to explain to him how his wife Gloria left him and how before her departure he was such a great comedian. Marc just wants to eat in peace and go to bed, but Bartel begs him to sing one of his songs. Marc finally sings, which brings a tear to Bartel's eye.

The next morning, Bartel is nowhere to be found. Marc finds his cell phone and the pictures in Bartel's room. Bartel finds Marc in his room and won't stop going on about Gloria. Marc begins to panic a little bit, finding that the phone cord has been cut and that all his clothes are gone, replaced by women's clothes. He looks outside his window to see Bartel smashing out the windows of his van and dousing it with gasoline. When Marc tries to stop Bartel, he is knocked out cold by him. After lighting the van on fire, Bartel drags Marc into the house, where he dresses him in women's clothes. When Marc comes too, he finds that Bartel believes him to be his wife that left him.

Marc's trouble doesn't stop there as he also has to contend with the villagers, who also believe him to be Gloria.

I'm not sure what to think of this was pretty disturbing and had its creepy parts, but it just didn't grab my attention. Sure, Bartel and the villagers were pretty twisted and desperate and some scenes were pretty brutal, but it still left something to be desired.

The director, Fabrice Du Welz, did an excellent job with the camera work and the Belgian countryside was gorgeous in winter. The actors all did an excellent job, especially Laurent Lucas as Marc and Jackie Berroyer as Bartel. Still, it felt like something was missing...

The story focuses on the build-up to Marc's imprisonment within the inn, Bartel's descent into madness and then Marc's brutalization. It is not a revenge flick a la I Spit on Your Grave or Deliverance, but still warns of the dangers of those that inhabit the countryside. It also moves slowly and towards the end I was confused by what happens between the villagers and Bartel.

This movie was well done and very unnerving and creepy and despite some flaws definitely deserves a look, just for its plain weirdness.

On Amazon!

The Roost (2005)

This movie was absolutely awful...dull, formulaic and derivative. Some people are gushing over it, which leads me to ask, did we even see the same movie?

It begins with four friends driving to a wedding on Halloween night. They have taken a shortcut through the countryside, but soon have some car trouble. The trouble comes in the form of a bat that swoops down, startling the driver, who then swerves off the road into a ditch. With the car out of commission, the friends walk down the road to the only house for miles around. Of course, no one is home. Two of the guys (Trevor and Elliot) decide to walk further down the road, while the remaining guy and gal (Allison and Brian) stay at the house out of pure laziness. On the road, the guys find a cop who drives them back to the house. Meanwhile, Allison and Brian are still at the house when Brian decides to explore a huge barn out back. When Trevor and Elliot arrive back at the house with the cop, Brian is missing. The kids go into the barn, but soon realize there is something roosting in there...killer vampire bats!! They soon discover that if bit by a bat, you will come back as a zombie. Can the kids escape the bats?

The filmmaker (Ti West) was trying to acheive a bare-bones look and feel in this film and succeeds, but in all the wrong places. The dialogue is weak, the story is threadbare and boring and the shots are monotonous. There are no surprises or shocks, which I believe is a necessity for a horror film. No real action happens until about an hour into the movie (the running time is only 1 hour and 20 minutes), and even then it is minimal and boring. If West was trying to slowly build suspense, he failed miserably. There is no suspense whatsoever in the movie. Also, I hated the characters from the beginning and had no emotional connection to them. They were annoying and the dialogue did nothing to build characterization. The actors themselves were incredibly awkward and didn't sell their characters. Netflix called this film "gory," but there is very little blood in the movie. It shows vampire bats attacking a few victims and a few zombie attacks, but no real gore. I was actually shocked at how little the movie showed.

The movie has a Crypt Keeper-type intro, which is bizarre. West was trying to make a film that was a throw back to those cheesy late night horror flicks, so he added this silly intro. I don't think he understood that this intro adds nothing to the film. Also, if this was an homage of sorts to those cheesy, overly dramatic productions, why isn't there more humor in the film?

As mentioned earlier, the camera angles and various shots are pretty repetitive. The length of time spent on the exterior shots is far too long. The camera creates no interest for the viewer. Also, the film is very grainy because the filmmaker wanted that independent, no-frills look. While this technique is ok, it still does nothing to enhance the movie. The only thing the cinematography of the movie enhances is the dullness factor.

If anything, this movie should have been a short. Had it been edited better, nixing all the extraneous scenes, it could have been cut down to 40 minutes or so. This was a weak, weak movie and no self-respecting horror fan could like this. The movie falls flat on its face and adds nothing to the horror genre. Possibly the most boring horror movie I've seen...

On Amazon!

Thursday, October 5, 2006

The Beyond (1981)

The Beyond is a movie by Lucio Fulci, the man behind Zombi and other gory Italian flicks.

It begins in the 1920's, with many men surrounding a house in the Louisiana bayou. Inside, a man is painting and a woman is reading a very old book about the Seven Gateways of Hell. The men outside burst in with torches and seize the painter, saying he has brought evil to the area. The painter in turn says that he is the only one that can protect them, for the house was built on one of the Seven Gateways to Hell. The other men ignore him, dragging him to the basement where they crucify him to a wall and throw acid on him.

The movie then jumps to present day, where Liza has inherited the same house from a relative. She is turning it into a bed and breakfast, but lots of work needs to be done. She hires painters, handymen, plumbers and so on to spruce up the decrepit old house. While the painters are painting the outside of the house, one of them sees a woman with milky white cataract eyes through a window. He is so frightened that he falls several stories to his death.

Liza is befriended by the local doctor, John McCabe, who tries to help the painter after his nasty fall. Meanwhile, the plumber arrives to take a look at the flooded basement. When left to his own devices he opens up a wall to get to the reason for the flooding and finds the gateway to hell!

Liza meets blind woman Emily and her faithful German Shepard on her way into New Orleans. Emily has the same milky white eyes that the painter saw through the window! After Emily has Liza over to her house, Emily warns her to leave the house, leave and never return!

Soon, more people in the house, including the servants, go missing in the house. There are many strange supernatural occurrences and Liza begins seeing things. The doctor is there for her as he tries to help her (while he probably thinks she is just crazy or under too much stress). Things escalate when John and Liza escape the house only to find the streets of New Orleans empty. They go to John's hospital and find that the dead walk!

When this movie came out, it was lambasted by critics (and still is) but soon garnered a cult following. I am used to how these Italian films are presented (usually with a lack of cohesive plot), but those that have never seen an Argento, Fulci, etc. may be a little thrown for a loop. These films focus more on the mood they want to invoke rather than the plot. If one can realize and accept this (and are fans of gore!) I believe more people would enjoy these movies.

The gore in this film is truly nasty (which is a compliment!) and Fulci definitely delivers. Fulci does not shy from showing anything, including a couple of scenes involving acid and someone's face! I was delighted (and grossed out at the same time) that this film featured Fulci's signature eyeball gouging. We also get to see a dog rip someone throat out, among many other gory scenes.

The acting is pretty decent, but the plot does have some pretty big holes in it. Still it is an enjoyable film if you love gore a la Italian masters.

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Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Masters of Horror - Dance of the Dead (2005)

Tobe Hooper's installment for the Master's of Horror series, this film is generally predictable, especially the "twist" ending. I enjoyed Robert Englund, the club scenes and the flashback/dream sequence opening of this film.

In a postapocalyptic world, survivors struggle to go on with their normal lives, even though the dead come back to life. Peggy is the typical naive, good girl who has been sheltered her whole life by her mother. It seems when the apocalypse happened that it was Peggy's birthday party. Peggy, her sister and her mother escaped to their house while they watched their friends die by chemical/acid burn outside. Since then, Peggy's mother has kept a close eye on her, especially after her older sister ran away.

Soon, Peggy is lured into the "real world" by a cute biker, probably the first guy who has told her she is pretty. They head to a notorious town, which Peggy's mom has warned her to stay away from. Here, they go to a club that features "The Dance of the Dead." It seems that the club owner and M.C. (Robert Englund) buys the living dead to put them on stage and makes them "dance" by shocking them until they collapse into a quivering, twitching heap.

Peggy's mom follows her to the club and soon a horrible family secret is revealed...

I would say skip this installment of the Master's of Horror series...Hooper peaked with his first film, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and has never made a film to top that. I wasn't expecting much, but this film was still a bit of a let thing to watch for is the zombie oral sex!! Definitely disturbing...

Order it on Amazon!

Hard Candy (2005)

While not a traditional horror film, this psychological thriller does tackle the horrifying issue of pedophilia. It's an emotionally charged film, with rapid, smart dialogue, suspense and two very strong lead actors.

After three weeks of online sexual innuendos, Hayley (Ellen Page), a 14 year old girl, and photographer Jeff (Patrick Wilson), a 30-ish year old man, meet in person at a coffee shop. Hayley's mix of child-like innocence and grown-up intelligence intrigues Jeff, and soon Hayley is riding home with him. At his house, more flirting ensues and soon both are getting a little tipsy. Jeff starts to feel pretty crummy, experiencing blurred vision, slurred words and dizziness...and it can't just be the alcohol at work! When Jeff awakens, he finds himself tied up to a chair. Seems he has become the prey, and Hayley the predator.

Hayley wants vengeance for all the other young girls he has taken advantage of. She also wants to know if he killed a young girl and is determined to find evidence against him. She uses some pretty convincing methods of torture, though the psychological games she plays are much more effective against Jeff.

Though this film deals with sensitive subject matter, it was made respectfully, never "selling out" by showing excessive blood or the torture scenes. Some people complain that it doesn't show enough, but I believe the filmmakers wanted to maintain a certain mood of suspense by not showing too much.

I enjoyed this film for its story, its wonderful cinematography (surprising since most of the film occurs in one location), the actors (I believe Ellen Page will be an actress to be reckoned with, though I haven't seen her in any other films - she has an amazing intensity) and the overall mood and suspense of the film.

I recommend this film, but not as a horror movie. It is dialogue driven, it does not feature any gore, it is not fast-paced, it is not in-your-face shocking, but it doesn't need to be. The subject matter alone should make one queasy.

Order it on Amazon!
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