Friday, December 29, 2006

Office Killer (1997)

Ever had one of those days at the office? It seems you do all the work but get none of the credit? Your co-workers mistreat you and you could swear that they talk about you behind your back? Your boss is a real pain in the ass and hardly acknowledges you unless something has been done wrong? Not only that, but after 16 years of working your ass off, you are given a pink slip and told your hours will be scaled back! Anyone would be ready to snap, right? Well, in Office Killer, employee Doreen takes her frustrations out the old fashion way…by killing her co-workers off one by one!...

Doreen (Carol Kane) is a mousy woman – she always has her frizzy hair pulled back, wears humongous glasses and dull, baggy clothes, is as meek as a mouse and is thought a bit weird by most of her co-workers, including Kim (Molly Ringwald). The magazine they work for is in the process of downsizing, thanks to new office manager Norah (Jeanne Tripplehorn). Norah has decided to bring the company into the digital age and introduces the employees to email and laptops. This way, most of them can work at home part-time and still be in contact with the office.

One night, Doreen stays late to work on a cover story for sleazy writer Gary (David Thorton) and accidentally electrocutes him. Thinking twice about calling the cops, Doreen decides to stash Gary in her basement. Soon, she starts killing all those who’ve wronged her (and those who haven’t, like two young Girl Scouts who show up at her door selling cookies) and has something of a corpse slumber party in her basement. She takes advantage of the new email system to make it look like the employees are just taking a break from their hectic schedules. Kim is the only one who suspects Doreen of foul play, though no one else will believe her.

Directed by famous photographer Cindy Sherman, who meant it as a social satire (the name of the magazine they work for is Constant Consumer, which is about as funny as the movie will get), Office Killer is a drab, boring and slow film. The lack of strong direction and story are the biggest flaws, with Sherman not knowing how to build suspense or tension. For being a photographer, Sherman doesn’t set up very many impressive shots. In fact, I can’t remember any that stand out or help build the tension (or lack thereof). The lack of suspense only makes the movie feel longer, even though it only clocks in at about 83 minutes. For a satire, it contains little subversive humor, something I was actually looking forward to. This could have been the Office Space of horror movies, dammit!!

The performances matched my view on the movie – drab and boring. The only people who stand out are Carol Kane as Doreen (who began to get on my nerves as the movie dragged on) and Molly Ringwald as Kim (playing against type as the office tramp). Kane does a good job of playing a crazy, but I never once sympathized with Doreen. I felt more like the other employees felt toward her – that she was downright creepy and strange. Ringwald, on the other hand, is the star of the show. As Kim, she's a saucy and strong woman who is the life of the (office) party. Ringwald is about the only thing right with this movie.

The psychology of Doreen and her childhood is not worked out enough and I really had to suspend belief when she started killing off employees. It just didn’t seem very believable, which is because her character is not developed properly. Her psychology and her motivations are muddled, and linking her childhood abuse to her killings just didn’t work. The least believable part is when she deviates from killing her co-workers and murders two little girls.

I really did want to like this film, but it let me down, big time. The satire is lost in its self-serious tone, the characters I could care less about, the script is weak and the pacing is leaden. A scene of the previously mentioned corpse slumber party is pretty fun, but it doesn’t make up for the other 80 minutes of boredom. Avoid Office Killer like your next office party!

Order it on Amazon!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Best and Worst Horror Films of 2006

Without further ado, I give you my picks for Best/Worst Horror Films of 2006.

The Best:

1.) The Descent - Is there any question that this was the most frightening film of 2006? I didn't think so...With its claustrophobic, dark atmosphere, emotional fragility of the characters and the very scary creatures encountered underground, this film made it hard for me to enter darkened rooms and sleep at night after viewing it! If you haven't seen it yet, do yourself a favor and check out the best horror film of '06.

2.) Head Trauma - A mind-bending film that keeps you guessing to the end, Head Trauma is filled with dream-like and creepy imagery. It is one of the few horror movies of 2006 that made me jump in my own living room while viewing it. Extra impressive is the fact that it was made on a very limited budget and features many inventive camera angles.

3.) Bad Reputation - A no-to-low budget horror film by promising writer/director Jim Hemphill, Bad Reputation tells a basic rape-revenge story set in high school. The brutality and intimacy that Hemphill portrays is truly remarkable for a first-time filmmaker. I couldn't get the film out of my head days after viewing it.

4.) Freak Out - A laugh-a-second horror film that had me in stitches its entire running time. It's over-the-top, original, and a bloody good time. Freak Out features many homages and in-jokes to the horror genre that true horror fans can greatly appreciate.

5.) Golden Age - A wonderful homage to the exploitation flicks that came out in the "golden age" of VHS, this low-budget film delivers in 30 minutes more torture, pain, blood and enjoyment than most horror movies deliver in 2 hours.

6.) Reincarnation - Intelligent and engaging, this film features psychological terror that's up to par with The Descent. It is also beautifully shot by director Takashi Shimizu, who also directed Ju-on, but don't expect any typical J-horror scares here.

7.) The Woods - This film grabbed me by surprise and really delivered something different. The haunting and eerie atmosphere is what makes this movie, as do the small details that director Lucky McKee added. Also, the mainly female cast really sold this movie to me and the entire cast does a fantastic job in this creepy tale.

8.) Abominable - A fun, fun throwback to the creature-features of yore, with a rampaging Bigfoot killing off, in very entertaining ways, a group of people staying at some isolated cabins. This may also be "low-budget," but doesn't skimp on the 'bout that guy getting half his head chomped off?

9.) Hard Candy - I might get some flack for including this on my list, as Hard Candy isn't exactly horror, but it is definitely one of the most suspenseful and psychologically intense movies I've seen all year. The fast-paced, clever dialogue coupled with the mind games that the two leads play makes for an unsettling experience.

10.) Slither - Fun, clever and downright gory, this is how films inspired by Troma should be. It features so many horror in-jokes, how could a horror lover not be charmed? While I still think it was missing a certain something, it is still more clever and enjoyable than most horror flicks.

Honorable mentions include: Three...Extremes, Joshua, Silent Hill, Hostel and The Hills Have Eyes

Now, for the Worst of Horror in 2006:

1.) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning - I cannot begin to describe how horrible this needless prequel was...ugh, but let me try. It contains zero originalilty, and many scenes are lifted directly from both the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre or its remake. It is a dull, uninspired and lifeless waste of time and money.

2.) The Roost - What a bore this was! No tension, no suspense and definitely no scares. The premise seemed pretty cool, but this one let me down big time. Even the camera angles seemed static, monotonous and booooooring.

3.) Jenifer - I am a big fan of Argento's work, but Jenifer, while pushing the limits of the Master's of Horror series with its gore and sex scenes, seemed pretty weak to me. I saw the ending coming a mile away, and I felt the story was stretched far beyond its 51 minute limit. Let's hope Argento does better this season...

4.) Unrest - Another mess that features bad acting, an incomplete story and zilch in the way of horror. I was checking my watch every 5 minutes during this movie while waiting for something to never does. There are no scares and the storyline goes nowhere.

5.) Let's Scare Jessica to Death - A film that came out in 1971 but was only released on DVD this year, I wish this one had been kept in the vaults indefinitely. Annoying characters and an unbelievable storyline are only half of its problems. A suggestion for a new title; Let's BORE Jessica to Death!

There you have it, folks, my list for the Best and Worst in Horror this year.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Joshua (2006)

Joshua is one of the most original, brutal and bleak indie films I've seen. I was expecting another ho-hum gorefest that featured a deformed killer terrorizing a town, but Joshua is totally different and delivers on so many frightening and psychological levels that it surpassed all my expectations. This is a Fangoria GoreZone release, and it is significantly better than most Fangoria releases...

Kelby (Ward Roberts) reluctantly returns to his hometown of Bisby ("Population: Happy") to attend his estranged father's funeral with his new fiancee (Christy Jackson) in tow. Kelby left Bisby 13 years ago and never looked back. His father had been in prison, and it's vaguely hinted that he was a child molester and murderer. His mother is a ghost of a woman that truly doesn't care about anything anymore and his sister (Alexa Havins, of All My Children) tries to fill her emptiness with pleasures of the flesh. His Uncle Tom, whom Kelby meets for the first time at the funeral, is a deplorable and creepy knife salesman. The only person Kelby truly loves is his supportive fiancee, Amelia. Kelby also runs into some childhood friends he'd rather not see, Wally (Jeremiah Jordan) and James (Aaron Gaffey). Wally is now a cop and James is a accountant and also a serial killer who cuts up pretty young things in his isolated cabin. The three share a horrifying secret from their childhood, all having to do with a boy named Joshua. Kelby, who's been running from his past his whole life, is forced to confront the brutal reality of what happened many years ago.

The strength of the film is definitely the unusual story and the well-written script, created by Travis Betz, who is also the director. The psychological implications of what Kelby, Wally and James did are frightening in themselves, but to see it all play out on the screen is truly chilling. Betz is always one step ahead of the audience, making his characters (and their actions) unpredictable. When you finally find out what the boys did, you will most definitely be shocked and disgusted. The script also features many twists and turns, all of which are surprisingly believable and the next more shocking than the last.

As a director, Betz also succeeds with inventive camera angles and techniques. Scenes are shot from floor level, characters are framed off-center and we even get a cool circular shot of James' chamber of horrors near the end. The daring camera work definitely pays off in this film, as it echoes the calamity of Kelby's life.

The film does have it's problems though...first of all, there are some places where the pacing lags a bit. I can't put my finger on it, but there are just some places where this doesn't feel like a horror movie. I'm not sure if it was because of the pacing or the heavy drama of the story, but besides the torture and other gory bits, Joshua doesn't always feel like horror, though it is definitely horrifying. That, along with a few minor gripes about the audio and other typical low-budget problems, are the only detractions I would note about this film.

Overall, Joshua is a very sick and disturbing movie, one that will have you thinking about it for days. It's not that it is overly gory, but it's the fact that the content is so disturbing and so realistic that makes it so effective and frightening! Highly recommended for those who want to see a shocking and unique indie film.

Mr. Betz, I'll be keeping an eye on you...can't wait to see what you'll do next!

On Amazon!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Devil Times Five (1974)

Three couples retreat to the wintery wonderland of Lake Arrowhead to conduct some business as well as partaking in some pleasure at an isolated luxury cabin deep in the snowy woods. A group of five kids show up at the cabin after surviving a wicked car accident. These aren't your typical Little Orphan Annie kids, though. The accident allowed them to escape their mental hospital transport. Not only that, but these particular five were from the acute ward - and I don't mean cute in the cuddly sense. These kids are cold-blooded killers! As the grown-ups start getting killed off by the munchkins, it's up to the remaining adults to survive or die trying.

This is definitely a 70s movie - you've got cheesy music, cheesy sex scenes, bad moustaches, bad hair and even two chicks fighting in bathrobes, complete with hair-pulling and wrestling on the carpet. Not to mention that Leif Garrett, teen heart-throb of yore, stars as one of the killer kiddies. It's a shame, as these elements could have made for quite a fun horror flick...but the pacing was so bad, the characters so unlikable and underdeveloped that I found myself disappointed in Devil Times Five.

First off, the pacing is a drag, literally. It feels as if the filmmakers were just trying to kill time with most of the scenes, as opposed to using that time to actually develop the characters and make the audience care (at least a little) about their demises. The action doesn't really pick up until about an hour into the movie. Until then, we get to watch the three husbands bickering with themselves and their wives, one of the wives trying to seduce the mentally handicapped help, another wife perpetually drunk and enough petty drama to fill an "All My Children" episode. Susan Lucci would be proud...Not nearly enough time is spent on the most intriguing characters of all, the kids! Leif Garrett plays an intelligent, chess-playing, cross-dressing psychopath, while the other five include a girl obsessed with fire, another girl who poses as a nun, a boy who plays soldier all the time and a little girl who takes a liking to piranhas.

One thing that stood out in the film were the deaths. They were inventive and pretty brutal! We get a hanging, stabbings, shootings, a drowning/piranha attack in a bathtub and an adult lit on fire. These cool scenes do not make up for the lackluster start (and middle) of the film or for the poor pace.

If you want to kill some time with some 70s cheese, be my guest. If you want to see some evil kids though, I'd suggest Children of the Corn or Village of the Damned before Devil Times Five, though...

Order it on Amazon!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Room To Breathe (2006)

Room to Breathe is a 13 minute short from director Steven Leslie Johnson that features the lead singer of the band Everclear, Art Alexakis. With a simple premise that starts off like Edgar Allen Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado," the film ends with a shock I never imagined.

Richard's (Art Alexakis) wife (Daria O'Neill) is confined to her bed and Richard as at her every beck and call. She verbally abuses him, taunts him, and seems to hate him. When he keeps receiving phone calls from his brother Hank, she bullies him and demands to know who he is talking to. Hank warns Richard not to mix his pills with her's, or death may soon follow. Fed up with his wife, Richard mixes one of his pills into her water. She promptly collapses, but not before he tells her it was Hank on the phone and she responds with, "Hank is dead!" Richard walls her up with brick and mortar in the basement as she is finally waking up and continues to scream her head off. Hank, the dead brother, shows up and tells Richard it is not too late to save his wife, but Richard has had enough of her nagging...

Room to Breathe is a quick, effective short with an ending that made me gasp...I'm not sure where it is available, but you can check it out on YouTube.


Sunday, December 17, 2006

Hide and Creep (2004)

The South Rises Again!! Out of their graves, that is...

The town of Thornsby, Alabama is having a rough day. First comes the reported sightings of UFO's, then the reports of the dead coming back to life and the final straw is when the biggest football game of the year keeps getting preempted by news broadcasts!

On this fateful day, Michael wakes up naked in a tree, not having any idea how he got there. He sets off to find his car and his girl, whom he last remembered seeing near the cemetery.

Video store clerk Chuck has problems of his own. There has been a run on zombie movie rentals as of late, he kills a man that looks suspiciously like a zombie, and the local diner carries Pepsi instead of Coke.

Gun club leader Keith, along with members Ted, Ned and Lee, run into some trouble of their own when their clubhouse in the woods is overrun with zombies.

At the church, the reverend deals with a greedy, uncaring congregation and a zombie attack as well.

With zombies taking over the town and the Chief out of town, it's up to the remaining townsfolk, including police secretary Barbara, to band together for survival against their RC (reanimated corpse) problem!

A great indie comedy, Hide and Creep has many laugh-out-loud moments and features a great cast of characters all played to a tee by the actors. The script features many in-jokes that horror fans will recognize and delight in...including the distinction that Evil Dead is not, in fact, a zombie flick.

The actors (including Kyle Holman playing Keith, who is also in the great short I reviewed, Golden Age) do a great job portraying each of their characters. Chuck (Chuck Hartsell) is a stand out and reminiscent of Randy from the Scream franchise. Each performance is spot-on and each actor, in either a small or larger role, has great comedic timing.

The stellar acting is aided by the great script, written by Chance Shirley. It never stereotypes its characters and is intelligent, entertaining and funny. Shirley writes clever dialogue and his writing is sometimes akin to Kevin Smith's style.

While there isn't too much gore due to budgetary constraints, it doesn't hurt the story. It featured just enough gore to keep me happy and many will enjoy the zombie lesbians (though the film doesn't take this where you might think...sickos!) featured in one scene.

A delightfully entertaining and comedic indie flick, it is the Southern version of Shaun of the Dead. Track this one down! I plan on buying an actual copy of Hide and Creep for myself this holiday season...

Order it on Amazon!

The Red Shoes (2005)

The Red Shoes is a South Korean horror film based on the fairy tale of the same name by Hans Christian Andersen. A tale of possession, ghosts, greed, jealously and the descent into madness, I was impressed by this film.

Sun-jae (Hye-su Kim) finds her unloving husband cheating on her with another woman. Not only that, but the other woman is wearing a pair of heels from Sun-jae's large shoe collection. Disgusted, angry and heartbroken, Sun-jae flees with her daughter Tae-su (Yeon-ah Park) and her shoe collection to a dingy apartment. She is also having her new eye clinic remodeled, and begins a romantic relationship with the interior decorator. One day, Sun-jae finds a pair of pink pumps on the subway. She becomes obsessed and possessive of the shoes. Tae-su, her 5 year old who loves her ballet classes, also becomes fixated on the shoes, claiming them as her own. Soon, every woman who sets eyes on the shoes wants them. It becomes increasingly apparent that anyone who steals the shoes dies horribly, always with their legs cut off. Yet, the shoes always make their way back to Sun-jae and Tae-su. Sun-jae and the interior designer soon discover the grisly history behind the shoes. The originally were gifted to a beautiful ballerina, who was envied and eventually betrayed by her jealous rival. If the shoes are returned to the rightful owner, will the bloody deaths stop?

The Red Shoes (not named for the color of the shoes but for the carnage and blood they leave behind) is a great scary Korean film. Sure, there are echoes of other famous Asian flicks like Dark Water, Ringu, The Eye and even Ju-on, but this doesn't diminish the enjoyment of The Red Shoes.

It is a breathtaking film, filled with brilliant and colorful shots. The opening scene in the subway is scary, bloody and sets the pace for the rest of the film. The flashbacks to the life and murder of the prima ballerina are especially gorgeous, specifically the wedding scene between her rival and her lover. The kill/scary scenes are perfectly dingy and dark and the shots frame the horror beautifully. There are so many gorgeous and gruesome shots, I can't begin to cover them all!

My only complaint is the typical Asian ghost Sun-jae encounters in the subway. She was too typical for my tastes, and her appearance made me groan rather than jump. Some people also complain that the ending is confusing, but I had no problem understanding that Sun-jae was the double (or even reincarnation) of the ballerina's rival while Tae-su was the ballerina. Most frequent viewers of Asian horror that can comprehend these kinds of twists should have no problem figuring out the twist, though the general populace might be left scratching their heads.

A beautiful, well-paced, creepy and gruesome story, The Red Shoes definitely impressed me, especially since I wasn't expecting much. If you can put up with a little mimicry of other well-known Asian horror movies, The Red Shoes is definitely worth a watch.

Order it on Amazon!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Rooms for Tourists (2004)

One of the few exhilarating and truly terrifying movies I've seen all year, Rooms for Tourists is a tension-filled indie flick from Argentina that sticks with a simple story but delivers big scares.

Five girls get off a bus in a tiny, seemingly deserted town to catch a train to Trinidad. They've arrived a little too late as the train has already departed and are stuck in the town overnight until the next train arrives in the morning. The town has a creepy vibe, and as they pass by a church, they see that most of the townsfolk are attending an exorcism. The town preacher, Horacio, is praised by those they meet, but as they see him perform the exorcism, the girls are more than a little freaked out. At the train station, they meet a kind man who explains that he lives with his brother in a large house and they rent out rooms to tourists passing through. The girls accept his offer of room and board for the night, and head to his isolated house. They get to know each other a little more, as they were all strangers when they disembarked from the bus. Each of the girls gets her own room, and they all rest before dinner. The house has a strange vibe, though and one of the girls, timid Elena, has horrible visions about a masked man butchering women. At dinner, the girls find out that a special guest will be joining them - Horacio, the preacher from town. He lectures them a bit on morals and the evil of relativity before everyone drifts off to bed. A sudden scream wakes everyone up, and they discover one of the girls is missing, leaving only a pool of blood behind. Utter panic ensues, in which they realize that all the windows are barred and all the doors are locked. They are trapped in the house, but not alone. They have a masked killer to contend with, as well as not being able to trust the two brothers. When the lights go out, them must stumble around in the dark to try and find a way out, as one by one they get picked off by the menacing killer.

A simple story, yes, but one that packs a wallop! This movie is shot entirely in black and white and was supposedly made for under $3,000, so it does look very low budget, but it doesn't hinder it. In fact, the gore actually looks better here in black and white than it would have in color. The depiction of hacked up flesh and bone is so realistic and the film so grainy, that it almost feels like a snuff movie. The opening scenes alone give us a dog and its owner getting their skulls bashed in, a woman being burned alive, lots of chopping of flesh and lots of free flowing blood.

The acting is even pretty decent...I actually cared for each of the girls. They each had their own personalities and weren't just cardboard cutouts with boobs. It reminded me of another horror movie with a great cast of women that had to fight against the odds...The Descent, another top favorite of mine from this year.

The story, though simple, was very well written and had a few interesting twists and turns. As the girls discover more and more about the house they are in, they also discover more about themselves and each other, finally realizing that each one of them shares a deep secret.

The ending of the film is brutal and one could have seen that coming. Just when you think everything is peachy keen, BAM! the filmmakers bust you upside the head.

The film also has some strong pro-feminist views, as the audience roots for the girls in light of their situation. For the most part, the girls are strong, intelligent and put up a good fight. Their enemy is portrayed as evil and a monster, not the girls. Some have claimed this is a misogynistic movie, but I cannot disagree more with that statement. It definitely questions some religious views, but it doesn't seek to "put women in their place" (like most sorry excuses for horror films do these days).

A definite must-see for horror fans, Rooms for Tourists is a gory ride down memory lane as it inevitably brings back memories of old school horror cinema a la The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Track this one down, because I assure you it's completely worth it.

Order it on Amazon!

The Legend of Lucy Keyes (2006)

After losing a child in an accident, the Cooley family moves from the city to the country to start fresh and try to heal some wounds. The father, Guy (Justin Theroux), is working on a project to bring a windmill farm to the small town to increase their use of green energy. Guy, his wife Jeanne (Julie Delpy), and their two daughters Molly (Kathleen Regan) and Lucy (Cassidy Hinkle) slowly settle into country living as well as their large farmhouse. Guy is working with local city council woman Samantha Porter (Brooke Adams) to get the windmill project approved by the town. While most of the townsfolk approve of Guy’s plan, there are a few dissident voices…

One of these is the Cooley’s neighbor, Jonas Dodd (Mark Boone Junior), who uses extremely smelly clam bellies, which he feeds to his pigs, to try to run them out of town. The stench is almost unbearable but the Cooley’s stick it out. There’s also Gretchen (Jamie Donnelly), the town crazy, who tells them not to build the windmills because the land is “historically significant.” Jean begins to research the house and finds out that a girl named Lucy Keyes lived there 250 years ago. One day, she went missing in the woods and was never seen again. Her mother, Martha Keyes, searched the woods for her daughter every day until her death. The legend goes that Martha still haunts the woods, and her spirit won’t rest until she finds her precious Lucy. Throughout all this, Jean has been hearing a voice out in the woods and seeing a figure at night. As more and more is revealed about the mystery, Lucy Cooley becomes involved and things take a sinister turn. Are Gretchen, Jonas and other townsfolk trying to scare the Cooley’s out of town or have they disturbed the ghosts of Martha and Lucy Keyes?

Straddling the line between horror and suspense, The Legend of Lucy Keyes comes off pretty lukewarm. It is well put-together, with tight camera work, beautiful cinematography, an excellent story and polished performances, but it lacks atmosphere and scares. I wish some things had been developed more, such as Lucy Cooley’s point of view and Jeanne’s heartbreak at the loss of her other child. Also, it would have been interesting to focus on the similarities Martha Keyes and Jeanne Cooley share. This would have given it a depth that I think is missing from the film.

Since this is a ghost story, there’s not much gore shown except for bloodied pigs’ heads and some blood on the floor and on a knife. There is a murder of a child, but it is not shown in graphic detail. The ghost is only seen a few times, and the special effects are decent, but nothing spectacular and nothing too spooky. The real dread comes with each new reveal and twist in the plot. These include shady property deals going on with the townsfolk, secrets, hidden documents, the nightly screams Jeanne hears, Lucy Cooley’s new “friend” and the tragic pasts of both the Cooley’s and the Keyes’. All these elements come together in the end for a dramatic conclusion.

While this film has a great story and is supposedly based on true events, it just drags in too many places. The scenes are pretty repetitive, too – every night it’s the same as Jeanne wakes up in a panic, hears a scream through the wind, races to Lucy’s room to check on her and…goes back to sleep. Scenes like this get pretty stale after I’ve seen them three times already and nothing new or exciting happens. However, I was surprised to learn that this aired on the Lifetime Movie Network. For Lifetime, I suppose this is pretty good, especially with the mother/daughter bond theme it focuses on. I do like how they used a horror story to showcase how strong a mother/daughter bond can be!

Nonetheless, a seasoned horror viewer won’t be too impressed with The Legend of Lucy Keyes. While it has decent acting and an engaging storyline, it suffers from a serious lack of scares and lack of a creepy atmosphere. I would recommend this as a gift if you want to bond with your mother and slowly ease her into horror.

Order it on Amazon!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Death by Engagement (2007)

You might want to "stay single" after watching this movie...

On his wedding day, volatile Spencer gets ditched at the altar by his bride-to-be. He brutally attacks her and her bridesmaid as they try to drive away. After the car crashes, the police catch up to him still pummeling his bride-to-be into a bloody pulp. Officer Mallar shoots Spencer, but then spies the enormous engagement ring on the bride-to-be's bloody finger. Planning on proposing himself, Mallar quickly pockets the ring and replaces it with a much cheaper, cubic zirconium one. Spencer is pronounced clinically dead and the only thing keeping him barely alive is a life support system. Spencer's mother, Mrs. Starkington, places him in his old room and cares for him in his vegetative state. Meanwhile, Officer Mallar proposes to his girlfriend with the very diamond ring he stole from Spencer's now-dead fiance. Mallar's girlfriend is soon brutally murdered and the ring is passed on to the next victims. It seems that Spencer wants his precious family heirloom ring back, and will go to murderous lengths to retrieve it. Trouble is, whenever he finally tracks the ring down, it's already bounced to a new couple! As the ring passes from newly engaged couple to couple, these unlucky people are murdered left and right as the ring's rightful owner tries to get it back. It's up to detectives Rikki and Cade to connect the many different killings to the ring and to stop Spencer from striking again.

This movie is fun, smart, witty and feels fresh with its take on the slasher genre. The action gets started right away and keeps a steady pace throughout the film to the explosive finale. At the end of the movie, we are shown how the ring found its way to so many eclectic couples through chance events, which was quite entertaining to watch. It also ends up on the finger of someone that you would least suspect...

The acting was great and I especially loved Sascha Knopf as Detective Rikki who continually bashed girly flicks and stereotypical views of women. Aaron MacPherson was great as snarky Detective Cade and he and Knopf played perfectly off one another. The film even featured one of my all-time favorites, P.J. Soles, as the wacky Mrs. Starkington. Also included as some of the marriage-hungry women were Iyari Limon ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Christa Campbell (2001 Maniacs). All of the characters were well-developed and had distinctive and amusing personalities. I loved seeing each couple's engagement, whether it was just to get laid or completely by mistake!

The story was pretty tight, with some twists and turns, though I had to suspend belief during some questionable plot points (Ahem, how did Rikki not know that was THE ring?). The only other thing I will bitch about is the editing between scenes. It seemed like all they used were fade-to-black transitions, which got pretty repetitive and even disruptive as the film went on. A little clarification within the story and some better editing would do wonders for this movie, but, nonetheless, I enjoyed it even with its flaws!

An inventive script and story, with a wonderful cast, Death by Engagement is an engagement you don't want to miss!

Order on Amazon!

Saturday, December 9, 2006

Ab-normal Beauty (2004)

Death is fascinating, mysterious and even beautiful. How close to death can we get before being profoundly affected?

Jin (Race Wong) is an art student who's main interest is photography. She, along with her girlfriend Jas (Roseanne Wong) like to go out and photograph buildings, flowers and landscapes. Jin is left uninspired by the photos she takes until one day she witnesses a fatal car crash. She impulsively begins taking photos of the scene and the victims. From then on she becomes obsessed with photographing death. She takes pictures of dead birds, dead pets, and even pays a butcher to slaughter a bunch of chickens in front of her lens. Her fixation soon drives her to the brink of madness and thoughts of murder until Jas helps her pull through. It is then that the horror really begins as someone who has been watching Jin starts sending her pictures of death and snuff torture films. Jin isn't sure if these terrible images are real or not, but she will soon discover what happens when someone's obsession with death goes too far.

The Pang brothers strike again, making the combination of style and substance look easy. Beautifully framed shots, vivid colors and intense character development of the lead Jin make for a satisfying viewing. The entire film feels like a piece of artwork, capturing beauty and emotion.

The first hour focuses on Jin and her growing love of all things morbid. She compares photographs to death - both are a moment frozen in time, where everything is still and all that matters is that one moment. As more and more is revealed about her past and as she spirals more and more out of control, we really do feel for the poor girl. This close connection that we, the audience, have to Jin makes what happens in the last half hour all the more unbearable.

The last half hour focuses on someone that has watched Jin's growing interest in death and has relished in it. Jin receives disturbing photographs from this mystery person, as well as video tapes whose outside covers are etched with the words "Take a Look." Jin and Jas both watch a tape with a horrific torture of a girl who is repeatedly pummeled with a large steel pipe. At this point, the first hour of the movie and this last 30 minutes feel like completely separate films. In the end though, both parts come together. Without Jin's obsession, breakdown and death detox, there could have never been a mysterious figure, shadowing her every move.

Ab-normal Beauty is a film that's not to be missed. Unlike the horror in The Eye (also made by the Pang brothers) that focused on ghosts, this film goes deeper to examine one's own demons and the ensuing psychological torment of "going too far." As horror lovers, have we gone too far? Like Jin, we too can become obsessed with scenes of death, of brutality and gore. Where do we draw the line? Will our hunger for horror, for the most extreme, drive us to cross this line?

This movie asks these questions, but not without delivering emotion, beauty and some wicked brutality. It is definitely a departure from the scares of The Eye, but it is still very effective. For these reasons, Ab-normal Beauty gets high marks.

Order it on Amazon!

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Dream Reaper (2006)

I never know what to say about these kinda know, the ones that were filmed by a group of friends in their backyard just for kicks? Most of them are just so bad, but you know it must have taken a considerable amount of time for them to put everything together - the script, the cast, the crew, the shooting schedule, the editing, etc., etc. And I know it's all done in fun, with tongue-in-cheek humor, but geez these movies usually suck and they leave me wondering why the hell anyone would go to all this trouble to make such a crapfest!

Dream Reaper, I'm afraid, is another casualty of the no-budget genre. It tells of a band (the greatest metal band on the planet!) called Dream Reaper, who piss off the real Dream Reaper by making shitty music and releasing it under his name. Man, he's been made fun of in the Nether Region (nyuck nyuck) for months now!! When each band member falls asleep, he enters their dreams and kills them! And then they die in real life (sound at all familiar?)! Can the lead singer stop the Dream Reaper before all his rock 'n' roll dreams die with his band mates?

This movie bills itself as a "horror-comedy," but I only chuckled a few times. Let me assure you, I do like to have a chuckle every now and again, but this movie was definitely not doing it for me. I've never been high, but I almost wanted to get high, so that maybe, just maybe I would find Dream Reaper funny. Long and overdrawn masturbation scenes = NOT funny! Overacting and an annoying lead who looks like and repeatedly tries to rip off Supertrooper's Farva character? NOT funny! An Austin Powers' Dr. Evil rip-off from the villian of the flick? Somewhat funny, but not funny enough!!

Did I mention this was a feature-length movie? Man, I could have lived with a short, but an hour and a half of this? It's a good thing I was sedated on flu medicine or else I probably would have punched a hole through the TV.

Attention all no-budget filmmakers: please stop making crap! This is the very reason I hate receiving and dread watching these kind of screeners - they usually suck. Filmmakers, make sure you have a good script and decent actors before subjecting us horror fans to more of your drivel!

At least Hack Films, who made this film, lives up to its name...

Shadows (2005)

Years ago, in an isolated mansion, a woman called Lady Jane found her husband and her sister having an affair. In a jealous rage, she stabbed them both with a large butcher knife. To this day her ghost still stalks the halls, looking for more cheating couples to exact her revenge on. In present day, a college parapsychology class spends a weekend in the mansion and records any paranormal activity they experience. Their professor, Julie, has a strong belief in the paranormal, while their other professor, Paul, is a skeptic. Still, both want to see the effect the house has on their students. Their students include happy couple John and Heather, quarreling couple Richard and Debbie, the class slut Stevie, the loner chick Angel, sensitive hippie chick Star and instructional aides Benny and Bobby. Each person has his or her own hidden agenda as to why they are there. Will the group find any evidence that Lady Jane exists or is what they witness all in their heads? Will past and present secrets destroy the group before Lady Jane gets to them?

I have to give this film props for accomplishing what it set out to do, which is be a commercially viable flick. It looks pretty slick for a low-budget film, with pretty high production values. Unfortunately, there's nothing new here except for a cool parapsychology/hypnotherapy twist that does little to make up for the blandness of the rest of the movie. This movie isn't horrible, but I've seen it all before and it left me quite bored.

It takes about an hour into the movie for anything to actually happen. Before that all we get are flashbacks of the Lady Jane murders, people jumping at things they see through windows/mirrors and visions of a stabbed man on the lawn. The kids have time to relax, have some margaritas, do a little skinny dipping and even have a frickin' makeover before any of the real action actually starts. Most of the time I felt like I was watching a teen comedy romp with all the drama and nudity.

I wouldn't even call Shadows a horror movie; it is more like a light psychological thriller that features a bunch of stereotypical college-age (though they act like high schoolers) kids. About the only thing I did like was the hypnotherapy twist at the end, which was the only thing fresh about this movie.

Overall, a pretty boring, unoriginal story that moves at a snail's pace before getting to the goods but would probably play well to more mainstream audiences.

Monday, December 4, 2006

Shallow Ground (2004)

Shallow Ground had immense original story, great characters and an intriguing storyline. Unfortunately, it had too many plot holes and too many loose ends that ruined what is an otherwise great indie flick. It still may be worth a watch though, for its striking imagery, gory effects and fresh story.

In a remote town in the woods, everyone is packing up and moving out due to a dam being built, killing the tourist trade. One day, a stark naked teenage boy drenched in blood and holding a large hunting knife stumbles out of the woods and into the tiny sheriff's station. A year earlier, a brutal crime occurred that local sheriff Jack Sheppard could not prevent...a girl was brutally tortured and then disappeared. As Jack and his deputies Laura and Stuart try to figure out if and how the boy is linked to the crime and reports of dozens of missing persons, they discover that a supernatural force may be at work.

I really wanted to love this movie, and part of me does, but it left too many unanswered questions. It grabbed me right from the start, with our dear naked boy walking through the woods, covered head to toe in blood...from there it only got creepier as he entered the sheriff's custody, never speaking a word. After things start to reveal themselves and it looks to be getting good, we get a major curveball thrown at us. I don't want to give anything away, but this plot point really bothered me and left me scratching my head. What was up with the junkie coming after Stuart? Are we to believe that blood-drenched people are popping up all over the world? This part of the story seemed half-assed and completely underdeveloped. Instead of following this weak thread in the story, they should have completely focused on the bloody boy.

By the way, the boy does stay completely naked and completely covered in blood throughout the entire movie. He spills blood from his eyes, his ears, his mouth and even from underneath his toenails. This is some very creepy imagery, especially when the blood starts to take on a character all its own.

While the character of the boy was one of my favorite parts of the movie, I also have to mention the awesome effects they have...mutilated, decaying bodies, a woman's throat being fondled and ripped out, a fist going through someone's abdomen...they must have literally used gallons and gallons of blood! The high-quality gore is surprising for a film that cost only $72,000 to make...I just wish it hadn't been so far and in-between.

The rest of the film looks great and is very professionally done. Had I not watched the featurette on the making of the film, I never could have guessed it was an indie made for so little. The director, Sheldon Wilson, definitely has a great talent. He is also the writer for this film, and perhaps that is where he needs improvement. The script and writing were weak, especially the gaping plot holes and irrational actions of some of the characters.

This film was a very good effort, but had it just been a little more tighter, with less floundering storylines, it could have been great. All in all, I both love it and hate it. I love it for what it accomplished and how ambitious it was, but I hate it for all its floundering. If you want to see an original, well-made, serial-killer-with-a-supernatural-edge indie movie and can turn the other cheek to its flawed plot, go for it! For all its flaws, I have to admit that I still enjoyed it.

Order it on Amazon!

All is Normal (2006)

Review by Fatally Yours

Haunting and heartbreaking, this film commands attention with its strong silence. After watching this film, I had to ask myself how something so still and quiet can have such a big impact…but that is the effect that All is Normal has on the viewer...

Janet (Juliana Brafa) is in an abusive relationship with her controlling asshole of a boyfriend Bruce (Duane Wallace). Physically and emotionally bruised, she seeks help from an abuse counselor (Linda Blair). The counselor empowers Janet to leave the horrifying relationship and finds her a job in the middle of nowhere taking care of a house for sale. Janet leaves Bruce quietly one morning, with nothing but a big red suitcase and a big black eye.

Janet arrives at a large, isolated house far away from anyone and anything. The realtor, Paul (Greg Burgess), in charge of selling the house checks on Janet irregularly, making sure she keeps the place spic ‘n’ span. Janet spends her days cleaning the house, reading books and becoming friendly with Woody (Kyle Brosius), the cute guy who mows her lawn. Paul makes her keep a log of her daily chores and any odd occurrences, but most of the time “all is normal.” That is, except for the violent and powerful flashbacks Janet keeps having and the feeling that Bruce is going to track her down. Isolated from the world and alone with her memories, Janet is soon plagued with fear, paranoia and panic. With Bruce still out there, will she ever feel safe again?

A close study on the long lasting emotional scars of an abusive relationship, All is Normal has the ability to make the viewer feel the pain and isolation that abuse victims often experience. It serves as a reminder, a wake-up call that makes the viewer realize that there are thousands upon thousands of women like Janet who are abused by those that claim to love them. Like the doctors in the film who treated Janet after Bruce knocked her out, the signs of abuse are often overlooked or blatantly ignored by authority. The film uses its subtlety to snub its nose at such ignorance.

Juliana Brafa, who co-wrote and co-directed with Todd G. Bieber, plays Janet with a combination of strength and vulnerability that’s completely believable. Duane Wallace is terrifying as Bruce, every woman’s worst nightmare. He is sweet one minute, menacing and violent the next. Linda Blair gives a solid performance as the counselor and it was nice to see her in something a little different than the norm. The rest of the cast all give solid performances that could rival (and perhaps surpass) any big budget picture. As for the way the film looks, it is just gorgeous. There were many times that I even forgot I was watching a low budget flick. The use of color (most notably the color red) throughout the film was a clever motif that reminded me of Kubrick’s repeating color patterns in The Shining. The hue and intensity of the colors throughout the film were very vivid and beautiful. The scene featured on the poster, with Janet in bright red lying on the lush green grass, was one of the best shots based on pure aesthetics. Brafa and Bieber definitely knew what they were doing, in both the direction and the writing. I can’t wait to see what both of them do next.

All is Normal is a slow movie, one that doesn’t feature gore and nudity (Is that all you kids are into these days? C’mon!! Why do I feel I have to put a disclaimer on anything that doesn’t feature those two things?!), but it is terrifying nonetheless. It is a very socially conscious film that deals with the psychological terror of getting out an abusive relationship. I think all female horror fans should definitely watch this film. Like when you realize that the silence around you has moved from peaceful to unsettling, All is Normal is horrifying in its quietness.

Sunday, December 3, 2006

Golden Age (2006)

A wonderful homage to the exploitation flicks that came out in the "golden age" of VHS, this film delivers in 30 minutes more torture, pain, blood and enjoyment than most horror movies deliver in 2 hours.

Burton (Cullen Carr) has had a really bad day, which turns into a even worse couple of months. It all begins when he is fired from his job. Before heading home to his wife, Burton stops off at a newly opened video store to pick up a few movies. It's 1986, and he's just bought a newfangled contraption called a VHS player. At the video store the saucy video clerk (Mindy Wester) hits on him, but Burton is just interested in getting home to his wife, Becky (Mia Frost). When he gets home, he finds her in bed with his best friend (Nick Crawford). Burton tells them both to fuck off before lighting fire to his home.

For the next couple of months, Burton drowns his sorrows at the local bar. He is further devastated when Becky comes to him to tell him she is pregnant with his child. Her tells her to leave him alone, but then changes his mind and goes out after her. On his way out, he bumps into a tough looking biker (Kyle Holman). Driving drunk, Burton is pulled over by a cop. In a fit of irrationality, he smashes a beer bottle in the cop's face before running away. He is picked up by the video store clerk, who takes him back to her place to make a phone call. She seduces him and drugs his drink. While having sex with her, she handcuffs him to the bed and he promptly passes out. When he awakes, he finds himself tied down in the middle of the woods with a large crowd, lead by the video store clerk, watching him. The biker he bumped into at the bar is also there. Burton sees the eviscerated Becky next to him, and his ex-best friend is on his other side, all cut up. The group is videotaping him as the biker, called The Poet, prepares to torture him. Burton manages to escape his bondage and takes off through the woods. The sadists continue videotaping his escape as he passes more and more tortured bodies. I don't want to give away the ending, but it is a doozy!

A fast-paced, well-delivered storyline with excellent acting from the entire cast, not to mention enough blood and nudity to satisfy, Golden Age definitely delivers. I loved its well-rounded storyline, especially the very end where everything comes together. Cullen Carr, as director, writer and lead actor, did a truly terrific job with this movie.

The small details throughout the movie are included by filmmaker/actor and horror/exploitation fan Carr for the enjoyment of other horror aficionados. For example, the video store clerk's bedroom is plastered with horror movie posters, including I Spit on Your Grave, Fright Night and a plethora of others. I was giggling with delight as I spied more and more...Also, at the end of the movie as Burton is running through the woods, we are treated to an homage of Cannibal Holocaust, as we see the iconic image of a girl shoved through a wooden pole.

It was also refreshing to see a man in peril instead of the customary "Final Girl." Instead of having to watch a girl with big boobs run around and scream, we get the emotionally hurting Burton, who is a much more fleshed out character than the standard woman-with-big-boobs-in-trouble cliche. Oh, and don't worry, you get to see plenty of T & A and gore throughout the rest of the movie. The opening scene features The Poet torturing a pretty young thing. After cutting her up, he rips out her tongue, strips her naked, places a hood on her head and hangs her.

I highly recommend this film, and it is perfectly described by Cullen Carr himself when he calls it "a love letter to the golden age of video and hate mail to all those who tarnished its gild." Within its excellent and horrifying storyline, it has a deeper question about exploitation/horror films we all watch.

Friday, December 1, 2006

Grace (2006)

Imagine losing your unborn child. Now, imagine having to carry that dead, unborn child to term. Upon giving birth to your dead, decomposing baby, a miracle happens and your baby comes back to life…but things just aren’t right with your child. This is the premise of Grace, a stunning, clever and grown-up horror film by Paul Solet...

Madeline (Lisa Weil) is eight months pregnant and is determined to protect her unborn child at all costs. On a car ride with her husband, she refuses to have any more ultrasounds done because it might harm the baby. She also is adamant about having a natural birth. Her husband (Brian Austin Green, of 90210 fame) disagrees and insists that she get proper care at a real hospital. Suddenly, they crash head-on with another car. When Madeline awakes, she finds Brian and her unborn child dead. Madeline carries the baby to term, goes through a natural birth and gives birth to a dead baby. Still, she holds the decomposing baby, cooing and talking to it, telling her how much she loves her. When the midwife comes in to take the dead baby away, she finds Madeline nursing a very baby that is very much alive...A baby that Madeline names Grace.

Original, creepy and intelligent with vivid imagery, Grace succeeds on many levels. What woman hasn’t worried about becoming pregnant, losing her unborn child or having an abnormal birth? All these nightmares come rolled into one in Grace. I find it completely refreshing that Solet has chosen to focus on something from a woman’s point of view while still being able to freak out the males in the audience.

Shot on 35mm film (rare for short films), the movie looks great and has a professional quality. It has some really great scenes and sequences, especially the birthing scene. This scene is pretty nasty but not overly so, it just feels very realistic. Liza Weil (most recognizable from Gilmore Girls) puts on a great performance as a mother with an undying love for her child. She plays protective, heartbroken and loving with ease. I’ve never been pregnant, but I could easily relate to how she was feeling and what she was going through.

Solet does a great job setting up the story in a short amount of time. We get all we need to know about how Madeline and her husband feel about the pregnancy within the first few minutes and the story takes off from there. The story itself is extremely original and I’ve never seen anything like it before. It is a truly horrifying premise, one that hits close to home for many women. Solet plans on turning Grace into a feature-length film, and I can’t wait to see it.

Bad Reputation (2006)

Anyone who has been through high school has experienced the nasty, vicious and often untrue rumors that ruin reputations. We all know a girl who was labeled a “slut” or a “whore” seemingly overnight and we most likely believed the rumors, no questions asked. We automatically believed that she was the one to blame and we didn't consider that she could actually be the victim. Bad Reputation looks at this ugly side of high school with an unwavering eye through its rape-revenge story.

Michelle Rosen (Angelique Hennessy) just doesn't fit in. First off, she's new at her high school which already spells social doom (take it from me – I moved between my sophomore and junior year and it sucked!). Second, she comes from the wrong side of the tracks. While her classmates all have rich parents and well-to-do upbringings, Michelle lives in the city in a tiny apartment with her alcoholic, verbally abusive mother and they barely scrape by. The only reason Michelle can attend the high school is because she received a scholarship. Third, she would rather spend her lunch break sitting under a tree reading Henry Miller than discussing the latest hot gossip. Still, she envies the popular clique and gazes longingly at them as they wordlessly pass her by in school. One day, things seem to take a turn for the better as Michelle is approached by handsome star football player Aaron (Jerad Anderson). At first, she thinks it is all a joke, but she is soon charmed by his wide grin, seemingly intelligent conversation and generous compliments. Aaron invites her to a party he is having that night and Michelle excitedly accepts, all the while Aaron's on-again, off-again girlfriend Debbie (Dakota Ferriero) stares jealously at Michelle.

Later that night, Michelle arrives at the party wearing a cute black dress and grabs the attention of Aaron, along with his buddies Steve (Chris Basler) and Jake (Mark Kunzman). Debbie and her popular clique, including Steve and Jake's girlfriends Wendy (Danielle Noble) and Heather (Kristina Lauren), look on enviously and start making up rumors about Michelle. Debbie and Heather talk the most trash, with Wendy actually defending Michelle, feeling sympathetic because she too used to be an outcast. Meanwhile, Aaron sweet talks Michelle all night, all the while giving her more and more alcohol to drink until he finally slips a Rufie, a date rape drug, in her drink. She sluggishly follows him to his room, stating she feels sick and insisting on going home. He tells her she needs to sober up first and puts her on his bed. Soon his buddies join him in brutally raping the virginal Michelle. To keep her quiet they stuff a dirty sock in her mouth, each violently raping her while the other two hold her legs and arms. When she passes out they shove other things, including a bottle, inside of her. This scene is brutal, cold, painful and will leave you feeling like you need a shower.

When they are done, they re-join the party, leaving Michelle passed out on Aaron's bed. Heather sees them all leave the room and goes to investigate, sharing her findings with Debbie and Wendy. Heather and Debbie blame Michelle for anything they think has happened. In retribution for messing with their boyfriends, they haul Michelle out into the backyard and duct tape her to a tree with the word "SLUT" written on her forehead. Not only was she just violated by three drunken jocks, but now she must face the degradation of being displayed to all her peers as a whore.

Michelle just wants to crawl into a hole and find what little comfort she can, but she finds no repose from what happened. Debbie and Heather take it upon themselves to spread the rumor that Michelle is a slut. When Michelle arrives at school, she sees posters plastered all over the campus proclaiming her "Michelle Rosen is a Slut." She goes from nobody to school slut overnight and everyone refuses to listen to her side of the story. Her mom is no help, blaming her for "panting after boys like a bitch in heat" and her counselor makes a pass at her rather than helping her. Debbie and Heather also continue to harass Michelle, telling her this is what she gets for messing with their boyfriends. With no justice for the crimes perpetrated against her, Michelle decides to take matters into her own hands. She takes on the persona of “school slut,” fully embracing it to entice the clique to their violent and bloody ends.

Bad Reputation is a strong and powerful first feature film by director and writer Jim Hemphill. While it follows a basic rape-revenge plot, it still feels fresh. As it begins, it feels like a teen romantic comedy, much like She's All That (which is cleverly referenced by Aaron in the beginning of the film), but it progresses to become something much deeper and more terrifying than your average teen romp. The mood changes when Aaron and crew drug Michelle. From here on out, it's a horrifying, painful and downright satisfying film to watch. The strong points in the film are the writing, acting and directing. The dialogue is realistic and intelligent, never insulting the viewers' intelligence. I love how clever references are featured, including an obvious nod to Jason of the Friday the 13th series in Michelle’s revenge scenes. The characters are also developed quite well, and they never fall into the trap of becoming caricatures of high school students. You can actually make an emotional connection with each of them, which really affects how you view the film. You care about Michelle and want to see her get her revenge on all who have wronged her as much as you want to see those in the clique suffer.

Each of the actors does an excellent job portraying each character, especially Angelique Hennessy as Michelle and Jerad Anderson as Aaron. Hennessy flawlessly portrays a range of emotions, from ecstatic to devastated, with ease. And Anderson can go from sweet to asshole in .05 seconds flat. The rest of the cast portray their characters realistically and truthfully. I felt like I was right back in high school (scary thought, huh?).

As a director, Hemphill definitely knows how to film unobtrusively. The careful and intimate set-up of each scene made me feel like I was right there alongside the characters. I also appreciated the fact that he avoided any exploitative shots that would have ruined the horror and emotional impact of the rape scene. The direction ensured that the subject matter was not cheapened.

As other reviewers have noted, this film has elements of Carrie, I Spit on Your Grave and May. Yet, Bad Reputation never rips these films off. Rather, it takes the humiliation and unbearable mother figure suffered in Carrie, the revenge angle from I Spit on Your Grave and a similar bloody ending to May’s and manages to make something different and much stronger. Plus, it features Michelle reading Carol Clover’s great book Men, Women and Chain Saws, which makes it that much more awesome!

If you choose to look deep enough, this movie offers a lot of social commentary and asks a lot of questions (which I could write countless pages on), while still offering an engaging storyline. For you gorehounds out there, there is blood and even a decapitation to keep you satisfied, though most of my satisfaction came from watching Michelle’s expressive face as she did away with her victims. My favorite demise was Debbie’s. While in the bathroom puking, Michelle holds Debbie’s hair back before proceeding to repeatedly slam it into the toilet. She then drowns her in her own vomit. Ahhhh…revenge!

A stunning entry into the world of horror, Bad Reputation is one of the best independent films I’ve seen in a long time and proves that revenge is most definitely sweet.

Order it on Amazon!

St. Francisville Experiment (2000)

If you want to see what would have happened if The Blair Witch Project was set in a haunted house, this is your movie! The faux documentary about chasing down ghosts based on an infamous New Orleans legend reeks of a Blair Witch rip-off.

A producer sets up four strangers to spend the night in the LaLaurie mansion to record any paranormal activity. The legend of Madame LaLaurie is infamous and is one of the many famous ghost stories from New Orleans. Madame LaLaurie was a very rich, very wicked woman that performed crude medical experiments on her slaves while keeping them chained up. She peeled off the skin tissue of one young boy, leaving the muscle tissue exposed so that it became infected. One woman's joints were all broken and she was forced into a cage too small for a large dog. Her joints reset at hideous angles so that when she was pulled out of the cage she resembled a crab more than a human. Another man had what appeared to be a botched sex change operation. Blood and body parts in jars were all over the room. All these slaves had been chained up in the attic of the LaLaurie mansion and were discovered when a fire broke out in the house. Before Madame LaLaurie could be arrested, she had already escaped. She was never caught. More and more atrocities were discovered, but many victims' bodies were never recovered. To this day, the LaLaurie mansion is supposedly one of the most haunted places in the United States.

This wonderful legend sets up an ominous mood as we are introduced to the four jackasses that are sent to investigate the LaLaurie mansion. We get blonde history student Ryan, annoying psychic Madison, cocky film student Tim and bland team leader Paul. The four are sent into the house armed to the teeth with ghost hunting equipment and are told they must spend the night and record any paranormal activity. Right away, a chandelier crashes to the ground, doors open and close, and the participants get more and more freaked out. They investigate each room, finding cold spots and creepy feelings throughout the house. In the basement they find an old doctor's satchel filled with bloody medical instruments. In the attic, a chair flies across the room. As the spirits of the house get more and more restless, the foursome doubts they'll be able to get out alive...

This movie started out great! The story of Madame LaLaurie and her hideous experiments is truly creepy...and was about the only creepy thing in this movie. First and foremost, let me tell you that I did enjoy Blair Witch - it was inventive and scared the pants off of me when I saw it in the theater. That movie really built the tension and things actually happened before the great finale to scare the characters and audience. In The St. Francisville Experiment, nothing much happens except for annoying characters scaring themselves. Ryan, the blonde history student, screams and giggles (at the same time) throughout the entire movie, which would be fine if there was something SCARY to scream (or giggle) at...but there's really no reason for her to be causing such a ruckus. And Madison...uggghhh...I vote for her as the Most Annoying Character of All Time. I was ready to throw my shoe through the TV if she mentioned being protected by white light one more time.

This movie just drags itself along, until the last 15 or so minutes when the characters decide to all split up to cleanse each haunted room. This part got to be surprisingly tense, but it was ruined by the laughable ending.

If you like watching rip-offs and cheap imitations of the real thing than you may enjoy this movie...if you are sick of watching faux documentaries that don't deliver the scares, skip this failed Experiment.

On Amazon!
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