Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Abandoned (2006)

After given a run at the After Dark Horrorfest, The Abandoned is now in a wider theatrical release after proving the be an audience favorite. I missed it at the Horrorfest, but had high hopes for it when I finally caught it in its second theatrical run.

Marie (Anastasia Hille) travels back to Russia to find out the mystery behind her birth parents. Her mother died at a young age and Marie was raised by her adoptive parents. All records of her and her birth parents were mysteriously lost...until now. The proper records have been recovered and now she is the heir to her family's farm. When she arrives at the long-abandoned and isolated farm, she also finds her long-lost twin brother, Nicolai (Karel Roden). As they begin to explore the property and house, strange things begin to happen. Marie and Nicolai are both haunted by their doppelgangers and discover startling things about their past and their birth parents. The house slowly reverts back 40 years to when their mother died as they scramble to figure out what is happening and why. Will history repeat itself or is there a way to change what has already occurred?

This movie was a mixed bag. It is beautifully and creepily shot featuring a dark, foreboding atmosphere. The performances are all solid, especially by leads Hille and Roden. The story though, is convoluted and unclear at times and doesn't feature as many scares or as much tension as I had anticipated. Directed by Nacho Cerda, infamous for his Aftermath/Genesis shorts, I was expecting a little more "oomph" to The Abandoned.

My favorite part of the film was the effects. As Marie and Nicolai explore the crumbling house armed with flashlights, some parts revert back to how they appeared on the fateful day of their mother's death. Sweeping her flashlight over her parents' bedroom, Marie even sees a horrifying scene played out in front of her. The finale, where the entire house reverts back to what it looked like 40 years ago, was visually stunning and very cool to watch. The makeup effects applied to the doppelgangers, all pale skin, blood and white eyes, were also well-done.

The story, though, left many plot points wide open and unresolved. I would have loved to see more interaction between Marie and the Russian family and truck driver she first encounters. Some extra character development of both Marie and Nicolai was very much needed as well. We get zilch in the way of what they've been up to for the past 40 years. Some background would have been helpful in forging some kind of emotional bond to the characters.

The "scares" throughout the film left something to be desired. The score gave plenty of notice as to when a scare was about to happen, which is what I hate about most horror movies today. If you are a horror fan and familiar with these tactics, you might jump once or twice, only to chide yourself for not seeing the scare coming a mile away. The tension throughout the film was so-so, but again was hindered by the swelling score whenever a scary moment was approaching.

The Abandoned is lacking that certain something which could have made it a great film. It sure is pretty to look at, but lacks any big scares, shocks or a well-developed storyline. Even though it was touted to be an "audience favorite" at the After Dark Horrorfest, I think there are far better films to be seen.

Available on Amazon!

Nightmare Man (2006)

I wasn’t sure what to expect when sent Nightmare Man. I hadn’t even heard of it, though Tiffany Shepis was in it. With Shepis in the flick, I expected nudity, a bit of sexiness and a lot of blood flowing. I got all those things, but also got a fun, entertaining throwback to 80’s slasher flicks with a demon twist.

Even since Ellen (Blythe Metz) received an evil-looking fertility mask from Africa, Ellen swears she is being terrorized by the Nightmare Man, who is someone or something wearing the horned, vicious-looking fertility mask. She begins having “episodes” where he stalks her that may or may not be real. William (Luciano Szafir), her husband, doesn’t believe her and blames it all on her “intimacy issues.” After medication doesn’t seem to work and she continues to have hallucinations, he decides to take her to a mental institution for treatment. On the way there, the car runs out of gas and William decides to leave Ellen locked in the car while he hikes down the road for gas. Ellen is left all alone, except for the mask in the trunk that William has brought along to aid in her treatment…When night falls, the Nightmare Man shows up and chases Ellen through the woods. Meanwhile, two couples are at a cabin nearby when they hear Ellen’s screams for help. They take her in and barricade the cabin against what they think is a psycho outside. They call William, and he gives them the whole spiel about Ellen being a nutcase, but when they start dying one-by-one, they realize that the Nightmare Man is real.

This was definitely an enjoyable and fun movie! It’s campy without being over-the-top and the demon parts of the story reminded me a bit of the movie Demons. For a B-movie the story is pretty well held together and the performances are all, for the most part, solid. The effects and gore were impressive as well.

The star of the show is Tiffany Shepis, giving one of her best performances. She plays sexy, confident and kick-ass Mia with a real spunkiness! Her acting here is probably the best I’ve seen from her. Of course there’s the infamous Shepis nudity here, as in most of her films, and, as usual, she looks great. Black lace bra and panties complement a crossbow quite well! I felt the weakest performance was by Blythe Metz, who plays Ellen. Her overacting in some scenes was cringe-worthy and got on my nerves.

A few comedic touches let us know the movie doesn’t take itself too seriously, but at the same time it features some very tense scenes. There is also a nice twist that I didn’t see coming (though I should have) and the demon aspect raises the film above typical slasher fare. The special effects and gore were impressive, including a bow through someone’s neck, a knife through a head and a guy who splatters onto a windshield.

I do have a few complaints about the film. One is that many scenes are too dark and murky to make out what is happening. Secondly, I wasn’t digging the ending too much. It was just blah and pretty nonsensical. Thirdly, I wish a little more had been explained about the Nightmare Man as well.

Don’t get me wrong, though, I completely enjoyed Nightmare Man. It is definitely a must-see for all Shepis fans. Horror fans in general will delight in the 80’s throwback of a masked killer stalking attractive people in the middle of nowhere. Everyone should get a kick out of this fast-paced, entertaining B-movie.

Available on Amazon!

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Bit Parts (2007)

This is no ordinary nip and tuck…

Melissa travels to Los Angeles, responding to an audition notice for a woman with “perfect lips,” hoping to become a famous actress. She gets more than she bargains for when she discovers the man who placed the ad is disgraced plastic surgeon Dr. Cranston. He lost everything when he and his family were involved in a horrific car accident. His daughter Maggie was horribly disfigured in the accident and now he is out to collect the perfect body parts to make his princess beautiful again. Melissa’s sister Brenda begins a frantic search to find her sister when she fails to return home, enlisting the help of local cabbie Bobby. Can Bobby and Brenda find Melissa before Dr. Cranston puts her under…for good?

Thought the classic French horror film Eyes Without a Face influence is obvious, Bit Parts was a pleasant surprise! I was expecting the same old madman-goes-after-nearly-nude-neophytes storyline, but Bit Parts managed to be both deeply disturbing and entirely entertaining.

For an independent film, it certainly doesn’t betray its low budget! The film looks very clean and smooth with wonderful direction from Dave Reda. The script, written by Jon Rosenberg, features an engaging story coupled with excellent character development. The story is full of tension, with some light comedic relief thrown in. I was glued to the screen from beginning to end.

The acting is above adequate for an indie flick, featuring great performances from the entire cast. Molly Fix as Melissa plays both starry-eyed ingénue and scared victim with a poise and grace rarely seen in a low-budget horror film. Christopher Page as the bad Doctor switches between doting father and vicious psychopath with an ease that is in itself scary! Reda steps in to play Bobby with a lightheartedness and comedic touch to relieve some of the tension in the film. The rest of the cast, including the wonderful Sarah Gordon (Brenda) and Michelle Angel (Maggie) do a fantastic job as well.

Bit Parts is not a blood-soaked film, which was just peachy-keen with me. I like gore, but I always believe in story and character development first. This film had both of these elements going for it, so lack of gooey gore was no biggie for me. The engaging story did enough to hold my attention. There are quite a few gruesome scenes that horror fans will find delightful, including a vat of acid, hacking up of body parts and the slitting of throats.

I loved the realism portrayed in Bit Parts. I mean, how easy would it be for a psycho to place ads for auditions and kill off the multitude of people that showed up? Or just pick those he or she liked? There are so many actors and actresses desperate for any kind of acting gigs in the Los Angeles area that it would be easy for a psycho to hold mock “auditions” to draw potential victims in. There are so many people that flock to L.A., leaving their lives behind to chase a dream, that if they disappeared, some wouldn’t even be missed. It seems harsh, but it is an all too truthful reality. This is what makes the story so frightening, that it is entirely plausible.

I highly recommend checking out Bit Parts on DVD!

Available on Amazon!

Night of the Living Dorks (2004)

Night of the Living Dorks is a riotous, raucous German horror-comedy that had me rolling on the floor with its raunchy humor, fun story and clever nods to other great zombie flicks.

Philip (Tino Mewes) and his best friends Konrad (Thomas Schmieder) and Weener (Manuel Cortez) are the three biggest losers at Frederich Nietzsche High. But when an inept voodoo ceremony by the local Goth clique leads to a fatal car accident, this trio of uber-dorks returns as indestructible zombies with an insatiable appetite for human flesh, wild parties and gym class revenge. Can Philip now score with the hottest girl in school before he decomposes? Is there any personal dismemberment that can’t be fixed with a stapler? And even if an antidote is found, will it damper the uninhibited high life of the undead?

Night of the Living Dorks combines the raunchiness of 80’s teen sex romps with the blood ‘n’ guts action of a Romero zombie flick. Darling of the festival circuit, this horror-comedy was the winner of the Audience Choice Award at the 2005 Fantasia Film Festival. Now it has finally hit stateside and is available to own on DVD courtesy of wonderful Anchor Bay Entertainment.

I have only good things to say about the film…Let’s start with the great performances throughout the entire film. The actors playing the three dorks were very natural and a pleasure to watch in action, especially when they began losing body parts and they begin getting a little…hungry. Their comedic timing was pitch-perfect! Special mention should also go to Collien Fernandes, who played Philip’s Goth friend/next-door-neighbor who has a crush on him. The rest of the actors did a great job as well, from Philip’s lax mom (Sissi Perlinger) to the typical clique kids you find in high school to their hard-partying and sexy teacher, Frau Niedermacher (Patricia Thielemann).

The story and characters are all well-developed and writer/director Mathias Dinter did a wonderful job with the film. It is more of a comedy than a horror movie, so there isn’t that much gore, but the wonderful comedic elements more than make up for it. The one-liners are much more racy than anything American films could get away with and of course this makes it that much more hilarious.

I loved the Revenge of the Nerds angle that went hand-in-hand with the three geeks’ increased strength from being undead. They were able to beat down (and chow down) on the bullies who harassed them and even beat the formidable rugby team in a match. Maybe I’m just a nerd at heart, but the combination of geeks turning the tables on the popular kids with the added bonus of being zombies while doing so just sets my heart all a-flutter.

I was a little disappointed that there was hardly any blood and guts, but again, the comedic elements makes up for it. Be warned, though, this film is not straight horror, and contains more comedy (and less serious moments) than even Shaun of the Dead. It also doesn’t contain the high levels of nudity and sex that many 80’s teen comedies feature. It is still a very enjoyable and entertaining movie…ah, if only The Breakfast Club had featured a couple of zombies in that library…

The extras on the disc are well worth checking out and include a look behind the scenes, deleted and extended scenes, an alternate ending, theatrical trailer and a blooper reel. If you enjoy horror-comedies like Shaun of the Dead and Freak Out, you are sure to enjoy Night of the Living Dorks.

Available on Amazon!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Evil Behind You (2006)

Have you ever heard something, only to turn around and find nothing there? Could you have sworn that someone was watching you, only to find no one when you looked? Have you felt a cold breeze where there shouldn’t have been one? Evil Behind You questions the unseen, making the audience consider the possibility of another realm.

Two women wake up in a dank, dark, windowless room with no recollection as to how they got there. After groggily getting up, Lisa (Hilary Kennedy) and Debra (Gwendolynn Murphy) realize that their significant others have been operated on and are locked to their hospital beds, being monitored by electrodes. Two seemingly dead men occupy opposite ends of the room, rounding out their happy little tea party. When Lisa’s boyfriend David (Manuel Velazquez) and Debra’s husband Tony (D.C. Lee) finally come to, the four try and figure out how and why they ended up there. David and Tony soon begin to see and feel things that the women can’t…things that are evil and want to do them harm. Tony swears there is something behind him, only to have Debra look and find nothing. Then he suddenly turns ice cold and yells that something cold is on top of him. These intense moments continue throughout the film as the guys and their unbelieving girlfriend and wife try to figure out what’s happening. Meanwhile, we meet who kidnapped the couples. It’s a terrorist organization trying to perfect biological warfare. Unfortunately, they’ve only succeeded in opening up another realm.

This film has been faced with a lot of controversy, but not because it features the standard bucketloads of gore, blood and nudity, etc. The controversy stems from the exact opposite – the lack of gore and nudity and the fact that it features Christian themes. Some Christians are furious because some don’t think Christians should watch or be involved in the making of a horror film. Most horror fans, on the other hand, turn their noses at anything that is tagged “Christian” for fear of being preached at. Jim Carroll, who wrote and directed this feature, has had a hard time garnering support, distribution and publicity because of the stigma the words “Christian Horror” embody. If people would just give this film a chance before refusing to watch it, they would realize it is neither blasphemous nor preachy. Bottom line, the film is enjoyable whether you’re a Christian or not!

Being a low-budget film, the acting is a little campy at times, but two great stand-outs were Hilary Kennedy playing sweet but kick ass Lisa and Manuel Velazquez as her boyfriend. The two made a very convincing and caring couple. The demon effects were a bit cheesy for me, but they don’t ruin the whole experience. I enjoyed the story and the flashbacks of each character were a nice way to build empathy for them and bring some real heart into the story. I thought the story and flashbacks could have flowed and transitioned together a little better, but overall a well-done job. The atmosphere created in the small room with the unseen evil was intense and I’d love to see what the cast and crew do next.

Fans of low-budget thrillers should definitely give this film a look, as should fans of paranormal films. The idea behind Evil Behind You is definitely frightening, as there just may be a whole other realm we cannot see but only catch glimpses of from the corner of our eyes.

Available on Amazon!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Baby Blood (1990)

Let me just preface this review by saying, pregnancy scares me…having something growing inside of you for nine months is just a little creepy. Forget about maternal instincts, because I’m not sure I have any. I avoid little kids and their destructive paths at all costs and to think about one growing inside of me…ugh! Heebie jeebies all the way…

Baby Blood is a French movie that just about hits on all these fears. Yanka works in the circus as part of the lion’s tamer show. She is also the circus manager’s girlfriend, and he’s not a very pleasant fellow. He abuses her, both emotionally and physically, and she wants nothing more than to leave her life. One day, a leopard is delivered to the circus from Africa, acting agitated and in turn agitating the other lions and tigers (but no bears, oh my!). The other animals start behaving strangely towards Yanka, and a tiger almost attacks her in practice. That night, the lion tamer finds the leopard completely eviscerated, almost as if it burst from the inside out. Something, in fact, was nesting inside the leopard and the snake-looking thing makes a bee-line for Yanka’s trailer. Asleep inside, Yanka doesn’t realize the creature crawling its way under the bed sheets and up inside to her uterus. The next day, Yanka realizes she is pregnant and leaves the circus, moving into a dilapidated building in the city. Whatever is growing inside of her can talk to her and tells her what to do. This baby needs blood, and urges Yanka to kill to feed it. Yanka develops a love/hate relationship with her “child,” and bloodily murders many a stupid man who crosses her path. Yanka steadily grows in girth as the baby inside her develops, heading toward the blood-drenched delivery and aftermath.

This was a very horrifying film with black comedy elements scattered throughout. Emmanuelle Escourrou plays the conflicted Yanka with truthfulness and believability. Her unconventional and voluptuous beauty is just right for the role. The rest of the cast play unlikable, stupid and horny men, all who are indefinitely disposable to Yanka. The story, while not original, works quite well and in no way feels like a rip-off of other horror films. The interactions between Yanka, her baby and the men that enter (and violently leave) her life are all very entertaining and feel very real. Director Alain Roback does a great job capturing the bloody action and adding flair to the proceedings. The look and techniques used throughout the film are very different from the typical horror movie and set the dark tone of the film.

As for the gore, this film delivers geysers of the red stuff! Yanka violently dispatches men with throat slittings, stabbings, decapitations and oodles of blood splatter. There are some very memorable, very bloody scenes throughout the film.

There has been talk of the film’s feminist leanings in regards to how the men are portrayed – boorish, horny, stupid slobs – but while the film can perhaps be viewed as a feminist commentary, it is never heavy-handed in its approach. I will admit that it was quite amusing to see such low-life, scummy men get their balls handed to them on a platter. Call it cinematic catharsis, but men get their just desserts in this film.

Baby Blood is a little known gem of a horror film, one that has finally been given a wider release by lovely Anchor Bay. It is now presented remastered and uncut, therefore some scenes are still in the original French (with English subtitles) instead of being dubbed. The Anchor Bay release is the only one that will do, as I hear the original 1990 US release (released under the title The Evil Within) is hacked to bits and indecipherable from the original film.

If you want a reason to avoid pregnancy and having kids, pop this bloody little piece of film in! You’ll be sure to be disgusted, repulsed and will definitely lay off that baby talk for good!

Available on Amazon!

Monday, February 19, 2007

Edmond (2005)

Edmond is a bleak, existential journey one man takes when he realizes his life is meaningless…

Edmond Burke decides he’s had enough of his boring, beige-colored, corporate life. Taking the advice of a psychic, he leaves his wife and his old life behind to discover where he is really supposed to be. Unfortunately, his journey takes him into the seedy underground of the city, where in one night he visits multiple bars, strip clubs, peep shows and massage parlors. Through his hellish journey, he finds the hookers too expensive, the pimps violent and many a conman roaming the dirty streets. It seems everyone wants to take advantage of him, from the hookers to a man running a card game con on the street. He is beaten and robbed, but keeps on roaming the streets searching for answers. In such a lonely, dog-eat-dog world, Edmond finally snaps and ends up killing a woman and threatening others. He is sent to prison, where he has a lifetime to mull over the philosophy of life that sent him to the brink of madness.

William H. Macy stars as Edmond, playing the same lost, lonely, sad and confused man he plays in almost every other film. Sure, he gives a powerful performance, but it is one we have already seen in countless films. His Edmond is a pathetic sack of a man who does whatever people tell him to do including following the psychic’s advice that he’s not in the right place in life and a man at a bar (played by Joe Mantegna) who tells him to go get laid. He finally snaps when he realizes that the world outside of his white-bread upbringing is a mean place where people just use and abuse each other.

The cast features many other familiar faces, including Julia Stiles as a waitress he ends up sleeping with, Mena Suvari, Bai Ling and Denise Richards all as hookers, Debi Mazar as a madam of a massage parlor, Jeffrey Combs as a hotel desk clerk and George Wendt as a pawn shop owner. Unfortunately, these appearances are little more than cameos as Edmond wanders through the dangerous underbelly of the city and we don’t get to see much these actors. This film is solely focused on Macy’s character.

That being said, this is much more a character-driven film than a horror movie. It was penned from a play by David Mamet and directed by Stuart Gordon of Re-Animator fame. Don’t expect any over-the-top, gory, humorous horror here, though. Edmond’s level of violence doesn’t exceed a couple of beatings and one killing, which happens off-screen. The horror here is much more psychological as Edmond’s sanity continues to slip. Gordon, though, does a masterful job of directing the Mamet-penned emotional script and cinematographer Denis Maloney captures all the seedy trashiness of Downtown.

This film won’t please a lot of horror fans because of its slow pace and lack of bloodshed. You will need some patience to view the film, but the unsettling and uneven pace mirrors Edmond’s own psychological state of mind and is there for a reason. Fans of David Mamet films will find this more their style, but Edmond should also hold some interest to those who enjoy psychological dramas about a person’s changing reality. Edmond is an intriguing piece of cinema that forces you to wake up and examine your own life to see if you are really living it.

Available on Amazon!

Planetfall (2005)

The worlds of sci-fi and the spaghetti western film collide in Planetfall, a new feature film being released by Heretic Films.

Two female bounty hunters compete to find a mysterious military crate on a war-torn planet. More parties become interested when it is discovered that the crate holds the last supply of an illicit psychic power enhancing drug Psylenol, which is to blame for the destruction of the planet. Can the two bounty hunters find the crate before it is used for evil?

When I received this film, I was intrigued…combining the swagger and Old West locations of a spaghetti western with sci-fi gadgets and action? Sounded pretty sweet to me! Unfortunately, what looks good on paper can turn into a big ol’ mess. Planetfall is chock full of great ideas, but they fall flat once on-screen.

The first problem is with the story. From the beginning it’s confusing and never gives a clear picture as to what’s going on. Sure, it’s easy enough once to figure out once the story gets going, but it’s less than cohesive. The story jumps around too much without clear transitions and lacks clarity. Some of the characters are introduced sloppily, so their motivations aren’t clear from the get-go. The characters themselves come off as underdeveloped and their backgrounds aren’t ever developed to their full potential. This lead to me not really caring about what happened to the characters, except for bounty hunter Wendy (Leitha Matz) who is a joy to watch on screen. She was spunky, funny and had a background that was more developed and gave her more depth than the other characters. Actress Leitha Matz delivers a stand out performance as Wendy, especially considering this was her first feature film. The rest of the acting ranges from just-plain-bad to mediocre, with most of the cast overacting.

It doesn’t aid the story that the special effects look horrible, even for a low budget production. The bad effects distract noticeably from the story and while I realize that low budget films don’t have the money for professional special effects work, you just don’t shoot something if you don’t have the budget to make it believable! Low budget filmmakers sometimes have to alter a script to make the budget fit, and that’s what Planetfall should have done. I was so busy grimacing at the videogame background the actors were plopped into that the story got lost in the bad special effects.

Planetfall started with some good ideas of mixing the genres of the spaghetti western with sci-fi, but unfortunately doesn’t succeed because of a disjointed story, bad acting and horrible special effects. It was just painful to watch so many good ideas be so horribly misused.

Available on Amazon!

The Witches Hammer (2006)

I’ll be honest, when I first saw the cover for The Witches Hammer, all I could think was, “Oh brother…not another Blade/Underworld rip-off!” Thankfully, The Witches Hammer may look similar to these two vampire flicks, but it turns out to be a very unique, entertaining and fun film!

On the brink of death, Rebecca (Claudia Coulter) is resurrected by shadow organization Project 571 and genetically engineered to be a vampire. She must leave behind her old life, in which she was wife and mother, to be trained as a master assassin to fight against the forces of evil. A year after honing her fighting skills, she is sent into the field on various missions, one of which gets her shot in the head. Fortunately, vampires can only die from exposure to sunlight, decapitation or a stake through the heart, so she is alright, until she finds her entire team at Project 571 slaughtered. Witches Edward (Jon Sidgwick) and Madeline (Stephanie Beacham) kidnap Rebecca and want her to acquire the Malleus Maleficarum, a book written by enraged witch Kitanya (Magda Rodriguez) in the Middle Ages. The book contains spells to release the souls of the damned and into our world. Rebecca must find the book before it lands in the hands of Hugo Renoir, a vampire intent on using the spells contained in the book for evil. Also after the book are vampire couple Charlotte (Sally Reeve) and Oscar (Jason Tompkins) and Spanish vampire assassin Victor (Miguel Ruz). Can Rebecca put her past behind her and save mankind from an ancient evil?

The Witches Hammer seems to have it all – vampires, witches, ninjas, demons, even a midget! Yet, with so many different characters and twists, it never gets bogged down but instead glides (or perhaps I should say roundhouse kicks) effortlessly through to the end. The story, written by director James Eaves, is evenly paced, featuring both adequate action and character-driven scenes. Each of the characters get great development as the story delves into each of their backgrounds. Flashbacks are used to tell Kitanya’s story, as well as the very amusing story of over-eater Charlotte and how she became a vampire in Victorian London. The mythology of the Malleus Maleficarum is adequately described, and everything is tidily wrapped up at the end.

For a low budget film, the action sequences are extremely well done. Rebecca fights numerous demons, witches, vampires and even ninjas with different types of weapons (guns, swords, knives, staffs, etc.) and different styles of martial arts. I was astounded at the quality at the action sequences, as most indie films don’t have the budget to pull off believable fights and end up looking silly. The fight scenes in The Witches Hammer, on the other hand, look professional and not at all cheesy. The various types of martial arts used are most impressive, especially when Rebecca fights a ninja that has the ability to split into three ninjas and disappear/appear at will.

The acting is solid throughout, with special mention going to Stephanie Beacham playing Madeline. Her polished, commanding performance was a treat to see and lends a lot of credibility to the film. Beacham is a veteran of film and TV, and starred in many horror films in the 1970s and onward, including Dracula A.D. 1972 with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Claudia Coulter as Rebecca did a bang up job, but at times it felt as if she was holding back. Sally Reeve and Jason Tompkins as mismatched vampire lovers Charlotte and Oscar brought some excellent comedic relief to the film. Fortunately, the comedic elements weren’t over-the-top but instead fit quite nicely with the script.

Shot on 35mm, the film looks amazing. Director Eaves made an excellent choice to shoot on 35mm film, as it gives the film a much more polished and professional look. Scenes are shot stylishly and effectively by Eaves. In particular, the action sequences looked terrific.

The Witches Hammer is a fun, entertaining horror film that doesn’t rely on nudity, sex or excessive gore to titillate the audience. Instead it relies on a cohesive, interesting story, insane action sequences, entertaining characters and a great mythology. The Witches Hammer delights at every turn. Looks like this is proof UK indie horror is back…

Available on Amazon!

Friday, February 16, 2007

Purgatory House (2007)

Purgatory House is a feature length film written by 14-year-old Celeste Davis. Its compelling, intriguing and original story is painfully honest to the feelings of teenagers. While not quite a horror film, this insightful, independent production is a must-see.

Purgatory House tells the tale of young teen Silver Strand (Celeste Davis), who commits suicide to escape the pain and hurt of her life. Instead of finding the love she is seeking though, she is sent to spend eternity in Purgatory House, a place for wayward teens that have lost their way. Here she spends her days under the care of Saint James (Jim Hanks), watching her friends and family on EarthTV, reflecting on her earthly life and forming a relationship with another teen stuck there, Atticus (Devin Witt). The focus of Purgatory is to relive the pain they felt on Earth, so they have ready access to drugs but must forever wear the same clothes, makeup and hairstyle that they died wearing and repeat the cycle of hurt and abandonment.

Told from the unique perspective of a teen, Purgatory House is a brutally honest, raw and realistic look at the problems and feelings teens face every day. It tells the tale of the misunderstood, alienated and unhappy youth of today. Facing an uncaring school system, parents who don’t understand, fair-weather friends, easy access to drugs and the constant pressure from peers and society, Silver falls into a depressed state, finally deciding on taking her own life. Teens like this character face these challenges every day, and are mostly overlooked or not seen at all by society. It’s no wonder they feel so disconnected and lost from the world. Davis takes her own experiences as a teen and infuses them into this well-written and superbly directed movie to reach out to both teenagers and adults.

The script, written in its entirety by Davis, is realistic and doesn’t shy away from the truth. The dialogue is convincingly written and faithful to the way teens interact. It is also quite impressive and sophisticated coming from a 14-year-old. The story, set mainly in Purgatory with flashbacks to Celeste’s life counting down to the moment of her death, is interesting and original. The setting of Purgatory is quite inventive, especially to explore Silver’s life and how she came to commit suicide.

The direction, by Cindy Baer, was surprisingly excellent for it being her first feature directorial debut. Everything stayed true to Davis’ script and portrayed the right amount of emotion and intimacy that Davis was going for. The look of the film, both gritty and otherworldly, spoke volumes and added more depth to the film. The compositions of some scenes were breathtakingly beautiful. Just from the look and feel of the film it is apparent that a lot of love went into it. I don’t think the film would be the same if it were polished and slick looking. It would just lose too much emotion and realism.

For an independent film, the acting was surprisingly good. Celeste Davis played the lead of Silver Strand and no one could have done a better job. This was Davis’ first experience acting, and wow, does she put on a powerful performance! I never would have guessed she didn’t have any acting experience! The rest of the cast doesn’t shine as bright as Davis’ (this is her film!), but does a great job anyway. I particularly enjoyed Jim Hanks (brother of Tom), who does a wonderful job as the stoic and wise St. James, dressed in a dapper white tux.

This film is truly a revelation and is worth a watch just to see what a lot of love, passion and dedication can produce. Celeste Davis seems to have a very bright future ahead of her and I can’t wait to see what she does next. If you want a peek into the world of a teenager, check out the compelling, raw and realistic Purgatory House.

Available on Amazon!

Demons 2 (1986)

Demons 2 is a fun frolic, even though it doesn't live up to the original. Director Lamberto Bava teams with Dario Argento as producer to create a gory, fun but terribly convoluted movie.

In a large apartment complex, people are watching a horror documentary/movie on the first demon outbreak on TV. A group of four is entering the "forbidden" zone where the demons supposedly dwell to try and find evidence for their existence. Meanwhile, a whiny teen is having a party, a group of gym nuts are working out, a family is having dinner and a pregnant lady is doing Lamaze. A demon on TV is awakened and quickly kills the four members of the expedition. It then enters our world through the TV of the bellyaching party girl and turns her into a demon. She attacks her party-goers in grand, bloody fashion, who in turn also turn into demons. From there they raise havoc throughout the entire complex. The power is cut and everyone is trapped inside the building with the demons.

It's a pity that the narrative has so many plot holes, though, and not enough action or style to disguise them. Situations occur that are never resolved, characters are introduced only to never be seen again and things happen that are never explained. The acting (and dubbing) is atrocious for the most part, though it is fun to see a few familiar faces from the first Demons. While the story and acting is at times frustrating, if you go into Demons 2 just expecting a silly, sleazy, trashy, fun time, then you won't be too disappointed.

The signature gore is present, though don't expect too much in the way of special effects. Some of the effects (like the transformation of the dog) are downright silly and made me giggle. There is even a demon child in this film, that behaves a lot like an evil Gremlin. Bava doesn't have the visual style of of his father (Mario Bava) or of producer Argento, so the film's scenes are composed very simply with no frills. A little flourish here or there would have greatly heightened the nightmarish feel of the story, but that's just not Lamberto's style.

Demons 2 could have been made much better had someone taken the time to write a cohesive story and hired better actors. Unfortunately, this was a rush job after the success of Demons so we get a trashy, badly acted, silly story about demons in an apartment complex that doesn't quite fit together. This is truly a movie that's just for fun...if you just want to kick back, have a beer and turn your brain off for a while, Demons 2 is a good way to do it.

Order it on Amazon!

Masters of Horror - Pelts (2006)

I was really disappointed with Dario Argento’s first episode from the Masters of Horror series, entitled Jenifer (review). To me it didn’t even feel like an Argento film and I was really let down. Considering this, I was apprehensive about watching his contribution to season two, but luckily Argento’s signature style is back with Pelts.

Jake (Meat Loaf Aday) is a sleazy furrier, hiring illegals to work in his foul-smelling shop and frequenting strip clubs, where he is obsessed with stripper Shana (Ellen Ewusie). Meanwhile, Pa Jameson (John Saxon) and his son Larry (Michal Suchanek) illegally trespass on recluse Mother Mayter’s (Brenda McDonald) property to trap some raccoons. After trapping a large number of raccoons, they realize that the pelts are the finest they’ve ever seen. Jameson calls Jake to tell him about the pelts and to offer to sell them. Spending too much time with the pelts, Larry begins to covet them, eventually murdering his father and killing himself. Jake arrives at the Jameson’s home to find the shocking scene, but he too becomes enamored of the pelts and decides to take them. He plans on making a coat and having Shana wear it in the next big fur trade show. Things soon go awry as anyone who gets close to the pelts is met with horrific death.

Argento has definitely crafted a fine, very bloody, erotic episode for season two of the Masters of Horror series. Stylistically, the movie is beautiful, utilizing bright colors and key lighting, which are part of Argento’s signature style. The gore is great here and really pushes the envelope as blood flows freely and often. Some sequences to enjoy include: a man getting his brain bashed in by a baseball bat, someone sticking their face in a bear trap, suffocation through self-inflicted stitching up of mouth, nose and even eyes, a self-evisceration and a man skinning himself.

I loved that there were clever little nods foreshadowing events in the film. When we see Jake attack Shana the first time, it is just a prelude to what comes after. It’s the same when the Jameson’s find that a raccoon has escaped a trap by chewing off its own foot…something like that happens later on.

The story, while original, is a bit far-fetched, but then again Argento’s strength lies in gorgeous and gory imagery. The explanation for the “curse” of the raccoons is not explained quite enough as well, but the imagery more than makes up for it. The characters are well fleshed out and the actors all do a fine job. Meat Loaf’s performance seemed a bit subdued, but it was still great to watch him play the sleazy furrier. I loved seeing John Saxon as the drunken trapper as well.

With scenes taking place in the strip clubs Jake so often frequents, a lot of female nudity is to be expected. Lap dances, pole dances and lots of boobies are seen. I find a lot of female nudity unnecessary, but with one of the leads being a stripper it is to be expected in this film. Nonetheless, I really enjoyed this episode.

Argento definitely upped the ante for the Masters of Horror series with Pelts. It delivered buckets of blood and gore with ample style to back it all up. A tale of obsession that quickly turns into possession, this is one of the better episodes I’ve seen from the series and reminds me why I’m so enamored of Argento. Now, let’s hope that Argento’s La Terza Madre, one of the movies I’m anticipating most, will deliver as well!

Available on Amazon!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Legion of the Liar (2007)

An experimental, stylistic film about exorcism, Legion of the Liar succeeds in setting up a creepy and foreboding atmosphere.

A large, bearded man is seen hacking up bloody body parts from a bucket. He asks the viewer, "What do you see?" From there, we are taken to an abandoned, heavily decaying mental institution. A cassette tape begins to play and a patient named Eve starts to speak. A priest is with her and we learn Eve is beset by demons. The priest prepares for an exorcism. While the tape plays and the exorcism is performed, we are given glimpses of Eve's past. Interspersed are scenes of the institution and strange disturbing images. There is a man shackled to a chair with a bag over his head, a ghostly girl with a bloodied face, old mourning photos, a man with his face peeled off, two bloody girls licking a lollipop, human skulls, crosses, maggots squirming in blood, ghouls, demons and of course a serpent. Here is the struggle between good and evil for Eve's eternal soul.

Legion of the Liar is a creepy, intriguing film that artistically portrays the spiritual warfare between the minions of hell and the messengers of heaven. It is shot like an art house film, which focuses more on imagery and emotions than a straight narrative. In this case, the film is very effective, creating a tense, scary atmosphere through visually stunning photography. It impresses with its gritty and grainy look, adding style to its high tension. The demonic voices coming from Eve and the subtle but unsettling noises throughout the film add to the spectacularly spooky feel, as does the minimalist score, which consists of an organ and a wonderful string section.

My only complaint with the film is the anti-climactic ending, as I was expecting something with a little more punch. The end might also be a little heavy-handed for some viewers.

If you loathe art house flicks that tend to be slower than typical horror and would rather see buckets of blood and boobies, skip this one. It is no where near what you're looking for...On the other hand, if you enjoy highly atmospheric horror and/or films dealing with exorcism, I highly recommend checking out this film. It definitely scared the beejesus outta me!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

KillerKiller (2007)

KillerKiller is a great low-budget film from England that piles on the tension to an already engaging plot and interesting characters.

A group of incarcerated mental patients awake one morning to find themselves alone with all their cell doors wide open. The mental institution they are housed in seems to have aged overnight – the paint is peeling off the walls, there are bits of trash everywhere and the whole place is decayed. There are no guards, no doctors and no other patients around, so their first thought is to just walk out the front doors. It’s not that easy, though, as an impenetrable mist surrounds the mental institution. They are now stuck in the institution until they figure things out. They better hurry, though, as someone or something begins killing them off one by one…

The opening scene alone started things with a bang. When it starts, you think it’s your typical slasher flick – a masked psycho is stalking a blonde babysitter in the house. The babysitter decides to take a shower (doesn’t everyone take a shower when they are supposed to be watching someone’s kids?) and undresses. The psycho creeps into the bathroom, shiny knife raised and ready to strike…only when the babysitter whirls around, she herself is holding two very big butcher knives and repeatedly stabs the psycho to death (as her naked body becomes covered in blood…ya, thought you guys might like that). Not only that, but it appears she is some kind of demon as her eyes go all crazy-like! This first scene alone grabs you by the titties and doesn’t let go. It pokes fun at the slasher genre a bit and then turns it on its head! If this opening doesn’t grab your attention…well, you must already be dead!

The story is fresh and original. The pacing is just right as more and more is revealed about each violent serial killer as the story progresses. Character development, funny dialogue and scenes of carnage all seem to be in balance here, with director Pat Higgins not relying on one or the other too much. The dialogue is witty and clever. There’s even a great exchange between two men about what constitutes as going too far with an analogy of butt plugs used to illustrate a point. These great moments of dialogue populate the film and add to the already engaging storyline.

The characters themselves are all played to manic perfection by the cast. The two leads, Dutch Dore-Boize and Cy Henty, stand out. Dore-Boize plays Lawrence, a regular hot-head and self-appointed leader of the group. Dore-Boize crackles and sparks on screen, giving Jason Stratham (whom he resembles) a run for his money. Henty plays Rosebrook, the supposedly wrongly convicted man, who appears to be the most stable in the group. The rest of the cast includes Richard Collins as child-like Perry, James Kavaz as Harris, Rami Hilmi as Wallis, Scott Denyer as Samuel and Danny James as Victor as two killers who worked together to kill cheerleaders, Nick Page as the hulking Nicholas and Danielle Laws as the demon Helle. All of the cast do a wonderful job with their roles and I can’t say a bad thing about any of their performances.

As the killers are killed one by one, we are treated to some neat flashback scenes of their crimes. When the demon Helle decides to kill someone, she takes them back to the scene of their last crime and plays the part of their last victim. Only this time, she’s in control and kills them as they killed others. There are stabbings, drillings, knifings, an operation and a great number of other bloody ways to go. The film wisely stays away from turning into a gorefest, but instead features a lot of blood splatter.

The direction by Pat Higgins is really terrific…every shot is well done, clean and professional looking. This guy definitely knows what he is doing, and it shows in his film. Per Higgins’ direction, the atmosphere of foreboding and dread seeps into every frame. The music used throughout the film should also be mentioned here, as it adds to the tension as well.

KillerKiller is a great indie film from England that deserves some attention here “across the pond.” The tension is so prevalent throughout the film that by the end my fists were clenched with my fingernails embedded into my palms.

Available on Amazon!

Mercy (2006)

Mercy, a black and white feature film from director/writer Patrick Roddy, takes a very avant-garde approach to the horror film. Its decayed and stark urban setting makes it feel very film noir, while it’s pacing, slowly unfolding story and almost surreal imagery make it feel more like an avant-garde art film rather than a horror film. Let me put it this way, Mercy is a surreal film with a film noir twist and a sharp horror edge.

John Mercy (Gary Shannon) is released from a 25 year stint in prison. His assigned parole office tells him where he’ll live, where he’ll work, and, most importantly, what he is NOT allowed to do. No weapons, no drugs, no alcohol, no visitors to his shabby hotel room and so on. Though John is out of prison, he is not a free man. His parole officer makes a point of telling him, “I still own you.” John’s room at the hotel he’ll be living at even looks like a jail cell – stark and small. His job at a factory is just as dreary and repetitive. It seems that everyone is against him, from his parole officer to the hotel manager. Even the pimps, drug dealers, addicts, hookers and Bible-thumping preacher that live on the streets of his run-down neighborhood seem out to get him. His only repose comes from a postcard that reads “God’s Country,” with a picture of the Montana wilderness on it. John longs for the serenity and freedom of the country that he knows is impossible for him to have. Nonetheless, John keeps on trucking and believes he has paid his dues for past mistakes. He just wants to start over and put the past behind him.

His days are repetitive as he adheres to his state-prescribed routine – wake up, go to work, come home, daydream about wide open spaces and fresh air, go to the bar and repeat.

He meets Eve at the empty bar close to his hotel. She’s a blond aspiring actress and they begin meeting regularly at the bar. They soon begin a relationship, but not before strange things start happening to John. He begins having visions and nightmares of a woman with a slit throat. This woman begins haunting him, day in and day out. He also begins seeing his last name carved into the strangest places – behind the dresser in his hotel room, on a gravestone and on a wall. One day, he wakes up to find himself missing a tooth. His torment doesn’t end there though, as he begins mysteriously losing more and more body parts. First, a bloody mouth with a missing tooth, then a missing pinky finger, then an eyeball…Is John crazy? Is something from his past coming back to seek revenge? Or is his new love, Eve, the one to blame for everything?

Technically, this film is beautifully shot. The stark black and white it is shot in gives John’s world a dark, sinister feel. Director Patrick Roddy certainly excels at crafting fine shots, with every frame being nearly perfect throughout the film. The austere shots evoke a sense of isolation, loneliness and a pervading sadness. Most of the film is dialogue-free, with a haunting score to set the eerie and sad mood of the picture.

The acting by Gary Shannon as John Mercy is what really stands out in this film, though. His eyes carry a sad, far-away look, and that one look speaks volumes more than dialogue ever could. Kudos must go to director Roddy for finding such an amazing actor to play the broken John.

While Mercy is an interesting, beautifully bleak and brilliantly acted film, it still suffers from dragging on a little too long. The scenes of John’s repetitive life are there for a reason, but get downright boring for the viewer the bazillionth time we see them. Art film junkies and film students who are used to slow pacing and symbolic scenes will no doubt appreciate the film, but I don’t think many horror fans will have the patience to see this one through to the end.

If you enjoy surreal films with a film noir twist and a slight horror edge, I recommend you check out Mercy. If you can’t stand subtlety or a film with a slow pace, though, I recommend you skip it. Either way, Mercy is an interesting film that will most definitely find a cult audience.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Rojo Sangre (2004)

Spanish horror legend Paul Naschy stars in Rojo Sangre (Blood Red), a film about an aging and down-and-out actor who decides to take bloody revenge on the fickle and shallow entertainment industry.

Pablo Thevenet (Paul Naschy) used to be a great and famous actor, but as he grew older, the film industry forgot him. He now struggles to get bit parts and doesn’t even have enough money for a decent meal. He is forced to audition for humiliating parts, only to be ridiculed by directors and casting agents who don’t recognize his name. His agent dumps him, but not before telling him to visit a Mr. Reficul (Miguel Del Arco), who runs a high-class brothel. Mr. Reficul needs an actor to act as a human statue in the guise of famous historical villains such as Jack the Ripper, Rasputin, Ivan the Terrible, etc.

Pablo needs the money (quite a handsome sum for one night’s work a week), so he signs a contract with Mr. Reficul to work there, while still searching for more meaningful gigs. When a hip, young director offers him a “meaty” role (he wants Pablo to run across a scene naked) Pablo finally snaps, killing both the director and his starlet. From there he embarks on a killing spree against those in the entertainment industry that have forsaken artistry and quality for sensationalism and good-looking but talentless actors. Pablo is in much deeper than he knows, though, for he didn’t read the fine print in Mr. Reficul’s contract…

Rojo Sangre is a fine Spanish horror film that echoes the sentiments of many screen legends who cannot secure work after a certain age. It is a pity, as their talent is undiminished but roles are scarce for older actors. The younger, sexier, more hip but unfortunately less talented generation are what people want instead of solid acting. Pablo even says to a young wannabe actress, “Just remember more silicone helps mask a lack of talent.”

Naschy does a wonderful job playing the gruff and prideful Pablo. The hurt, humiliation and stewing anger he portrays made me feel quite sorry for the character. When Pablo starts killing, I was rooting right along side him. Imagine a serial killer picking off the likes of Britney Spears, Paris Hilton or any other Tinsletown tabloid target…makes you kinda happy, doesn’t it? The rest of the cast does a great job as well, especially Miguel Del Arco as the shady and sinister Mr. Reficul. The performances alone were enough to draw me into this movie and keep me glued to the screen, but fortunately the story also kept me intrigued.

The story reveals each twist and turn one by one, leading the viewer deeper and deeper into the story and each of the characters. The director, Christian Molina, does a wonderful job as setting up an unsettling atmosphere and building suspense throughout the story. The film itself is beautifully shot. The colorful interiors contrast with the dull, grey city streets, giving the film a sense of containing two different worlds. The lighting is wonderful and the colors evoke a sense of earlier Dario Argento films. Red is used very effectively throughout the film. The script is very well written by Paul Naschy himself, under his real name, Jacinto Molina. It seems that he has an ax to grind with the film industry! There is some clever and hilarious dialogue throughout, such as the opening scene showing Pablo talking to a fellow older actor about a strange stress reliever he uses.

The gore is adequate, but not over the top. This is more a film about focusing on the character of Pablo than anything else, though, so gore isn’t a big focus here. There is one scene in particular were we see the aftermath of one of Pablo’s attacks that is pretty grisly! In addition, we get stabbings, throat slashings, a torture scene in which a girl is strung up and beaten on film, shootings and the handy use of some Japanese blades.

Rojo Sangre is a stylish film, different from the typical hack and slash horror films and it entertained me through and through. While it wasn’t scary, it was still suspenseful and it was very interesting to see where the story went. I was impressed with Rojo Sangre’s gorgeous style, the performances of the actors and the original story. After viewing this film, I am looking forward to checking out more films from Naschy’s repertoire and more horror films from Spain.

Order it on Amazon!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Demonsamongus (2006)

Joe has recently moved to Miranda Falls, a small and quiet rural town in Australia, to work on his thesis about the negative effects of advertising and mass consumption. He comes looking for peace and quiet, but soon finds himself witness to a horrific evil. One night, he wakes to find a demon chomping down on his cats. He flees through the forest to the nearest neighbors’ house, but finds them already victims of the demon. Soaked in blood, he becomes the cops’ primary suspect. On the run from both demons and the authorities, he enlists the help of local convenience store clerk Kylie, who has also witnessed the demon’s destruction. Meanwhile, Hollywood advertising executive Ed Winters returns to Miranda Falls to investigate the death of his ex-wife and family. Arriving at the blood-stained farmhouse, Ed encounters the Devil himself, who makes him a deal he can’t refuse…Can Joe stop the evil before it spreads to the rest of the world?

Demonsamongus is a wholly different horror film, directed by Stuart Simpson, which focuses on aesthetics as much as blood ‘n’ guts with great success. The first thing I noticed about the film was that it was beautifully shot. Scenes switch from black and white, to black and white with saturated colors, to full color shots, without ever alienating the audience. Other shots are surreal, giving the film a nightmarish quality. I would compare Simpson’s style to early David Lynch with a dash of Evil Dead-era Sam Raimi thrown in. The film is grainy, giving it that wonderfully gritty ‘70s feel. The composition of each scene is stunning, from showing a decaying town and the desolate countryside to Joe on the run from the demons and Kylie exploring a cave where the demons are hiding. From the stunning direction and cinematography, Simpson hits the right emotional cues and evokes a visceral response from the audience. In other words, Demonsamongus is a downright frightening and creepy film that’ll give you the heebie jeebies and leave you looking over your shoulder!

The acting is solid throughout, even with a few fun scenes evoking Peter Jackson’s film Dead Alive. Nathaniel Kiwi does a great job as Joe, going from strange outsider arriving in a new town to a man slightly off his rocker who listens to a talking ax while killing the demons. Peter Roberts plays both Ed Winters and Sergeant Geoff, two completely different roles that he plays perfectly! He plays them so well, in fact, that I didn’t know the same actor was playing both roles until the credits rolled. The rest of the cast, including Laura Hesse as Kyle, also do a fantastic job in their respective roles.

The demons themselves are very scary. The move around jerkily, but sure give chase to prey quickly! The scene where Kylie investigates a cavern with a video camera reminded me of The Descent and there is also a scene that is very Ringu-like. The makeup and special effects, done by Nick Kocsis, are all spectacularly done. From the demons to the carnage they leave behind, the blood and guts in the film do not disappoint!

The soundtrack and score were also extremely well done that I would be remiss in not mentioning them here. From alt-rock to country and folk tracks, the soundtrack is stellar, really adding to the unsettling atmosphere. The original music, done by Clare Whitcombe, is also a real standout. The music is haunting and lends itself nicely to the ominous atmosphere of the film.

Speaking of sound in the film, the noises in the film even lend to the menacing atmosphere. Creaky floorboards, buzzing lights, rustling brush and even a shower running all manage to sound threatening. Demonsamongus even won for Best Sound at the 7th Melbourne Underground Film Festival in 2006 and it is easy to see why.

The social commentary about the negative effects of advertising and the evils of mass consumption is portrayed quite intelligently here without ever being overbearing. While the commentary is present, it does not weigh down the overall story. I would its presentation to the social commentary contained in Romero’s film Night of the Living Dead. It is subtle, but it still packs a punch upon reflection.

The extras on the disc include deleted scenes, a making of featurette, trailers and a short film entitled Sickie, directed by Stuart Simpson.

Demonsamongus is a brilliant indie film from Australia that contains many artistic and creative touches while never forgetting it is a horror film. Director Stuart Simpson has crafted an unsettling, bloody and frightening film that is not to be missed by horror fans that appreciate trippy, surreal imagery along with their gore!

Troma Films has picked up worldwide distribution rights for this fine film, so look for it coming soon! Check the official Demonsamongus site for more info!

Available from Amazon!

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Eat Your Heart Out (aka Skinned Alive) (2007)

The sh*tty poster art does not do this flick justice! 

'Til Death Do Them Part...Or APART!

This Valentine's Day, instead of getting your sweetheart the typical and tired candy and flowers, be a little creative. Get them this wicked little film that shows the real meaning of "until death do us part," or, in the case of this film, "until death do us APART!"

Jeffrey (Jack Dillon) is a lonely insurance salesman who has bad luck with the ladies. His mother died recently, with Jeffrey constantly by her side throughout her illness. He now wants nothing more than to find a woman that he can cherish and spend the rest of his life with. With his love life going nowhere, Jeffrey begins hiring call girls to keep him company. He wants to connect with them, but each of them turn him down when he asks for a follow-up date. Meanwhile, men throughout the city are being torn apart and devoured by a hooker (Melissa Bacelar). She enjoys seducing them and then eating them alive! A man (Joshua Nelson) is currently searching for this hooker, whose name is Pandora, as she killed his brother. Jeffrey tries a different escort service and, in a twist of fate, they send him Pandora. The two have an immediate connection and before long are deeply in love. Pandora soon reveals to Jeffrey her secret - that she needs the flesh of men to survive! Also, the stalker out for revenge is hot on Pandora's heels while Jeffrey's sister believes that Pandora is a creation of his mind. The question is, how far will Jeffrey go for true love?

Eat Your Heart Out is a wonderful low-budget film that features lots of bloody gore, an interesting story, great acting and a well-written script. The gore here was quite impressive for a low-budget film. The first scene alone, where Pandora bites off the lip and lower jaw of a client, made me squirm! We also get nipples being torn off, intestines spilling out of a very large man, fingers severed, lots of blood, torture and of course lots of flesh-chomping. There's plenty of gore to please any fan!

The story itself is interesting and original, with a few nice twists and turns. It was nice to see a new breed of the undead, spun in a very creative way. The characters are very well-developed and the acting is top notch. Dillon as Jeffrey and Bacelar as Pandora do a wonderful job and have the right chemistry together to pull off their performances. I also enjoyed Nelson as the man torturing his way through informants to find the killer hooker. He brought a real intensity to the screen and I look forward to seeing him in other films.

I cannot stress what a gem this indie film is...it's got the right amount of gore, humor, conflict, solid acting and an engaging storyline to keep any horror fan entertained. Oh, and of course it's got the sexy Melissa Bacelar as well as a slew of other scantily-clad actresses! Whether you are spending Valentine's Day with a special someone or boycotting the Hallmark holiday, this twisted tale of love will add some much needed blood splatter to your evening!

Order it on Amazon!

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Deadlands: The Rising (2006)

Deadlands: The Rising has been on my must-watch list for a while now, so I was excited when I finally received a screener copy. Gary Ugarek's low-budget little-zombie-film-that-could has its share of problems, but its an impressive showing for the first time director/writer/actor/editor. It feels very realistic throughout and puts us right in the middle of the "what if" scenario of a zombie attack.

It's a regular day on the outskirts of Baltimore. Brian (Brian Wright), his wife Michelle (Michelle Wright) and their son Connor (Connor Brandt) are hanging out at home when Brian's friend Gary (Gary Ugarek) shows up. The phone and cable are both out and no one seems to know what's going on. Nonetheless, Gary and Brian head out for a day of drinking and shooting guns in the country leaving Michelle home with Connor. Soon thereafter, a large explosion is heard in the city. Some kind of terrorist attack or chemical disaster has occurred and the freeways soon become packed with bumper to bumper traffic. The people stuck on these freeways soon become dinner for a large pack of hungry zombies that have turned due to the disaster. As emergency centers are set up throughout the city, zombies reach Michelle and Connor. Brian and Gary, meanwhile, are trying to find their way back to the house, but many of the roads are blocked or overrun by zombies. Michelle and Connor make it out of the house and head to the country to a friend's isolated house. Meanwhile, Dave, a survivor of the freeway massacre, reaches one of the emergency centers and tries to warn them of the zombie threat. Unfortunately, zombies soon overrun the place. Meanwhile, Brian and Gary finally find Michelle at their friend's house, and the five of them shack up there. Six months later, the five of them are still hiding out, frequently heading into the city to scavenge for supplies. They haven't heard any communication for three months and Gary believes them to be the only survivors. How long can they stay safe before the zombies find them?

While the movie takes a while to build over its 60 minute running time, when it gets going it is well worth the wait! For a Ugarek's first time out as a filmmaker, he does an impressive job with stylish and professional looking shots (with some help from cinematographer Thomas Fant). My favorite scene is when the zombies attack the motorists on the clogged freeway. The zombies appearing out of the fog and headlights certainly makes for an eerie shot.

Speaking of the zombies, their makeup and special effects are amazing. All the special effects were done by Studio Coleoptera and Spaghetti Industries and both companies do a fantastic job. People get torn apart in this film, and the blood and guts were all superior to most low-budget films I've seen.

Most of the first-time actors do a pretty decent job with their parts, especially the five leads. Some of the supporting cast (those that become zombie snacks) visibly overact their parts, but for a low-budget picture the acting is well-done. All the extras who play zombies also do a fantastic job, some shambling slowly as the effects of rigor mortis set in, while others sprint towards their human prey after rigor mortis has worn off.

My favorite thing about this film, though, is how real it feels. The slow-building tension, first with communication and news being cut off, then disaster striking, then thousands of people trying to flee the city, then panic, confusion and anger setting in, made it feel very real. It feels like how an actual outbreak would be like and how different people would respond to it.

All in all, while Deadlands: The Rising stumbles a bit, the film is much like a zombie itself. It might look slow when it's first coming after you, but, by golly, it'll catch up and grab you in the end. The film starts slow, but when it gets going it's unrelenting! I hear there even might be a Deadlands 2, which I would very much look forward too...

If you love zombie flicks, I highly suggest you pick up Deadlands: The Rising.

Order it on Amazon!

Sweet Insanity (2006)

Meet the new girl…

Sweet Insanity is fun yet typical low-budget slasher that harkens back to the ‘80s heyday of bad horror movies.

Stacey (Rebekah Hoyle) is a popular girl at her high school that spends much of her time hanging out with friends, flirting with boys and wearing cute outfits. New, gothy girl Christina (Mackenzie Firgens) shows up and the two quickly form a close bond, mostly because Christina won’t leave Stacey alone. After one guy from the popular clique disappears, things begin to take a turn from the worse. The guys in the group are all trying to hide a secret, a strange man begins to follow Stacey and Christina around and Christina begins having weird flashbacks. When Stacey throws a party while her parents are out of town, her friends are killed off one by one.

Sweet Insanity follows the typical slasher plot, and though it’s been done a million times before, I actually found myself enjoying the movie. I’m a sucker for horror/thriller flicks set in high school and I think it may have been my downfall with this particular flick. All the reviews I read of Sweet Insanity are negative, but I actually didn’t think it was that bad. Sure, it lacks gore, blood, a surprise ending, good acting and boobs, but I still found it to be entertaining.

The plot is pretty typical of a slasher flick…a buncha high schoolers get together for a party and get killed off because of a secret in their past. You’ve got the typical good girl, slut, jock, and goth archetypes going on, along with your typical red herrings (could the killer be the crazy, alcoholic ex-cop next door or the creepy guy that keeps following them around?). It definitely doesn’t break any new ground in the genre. It is also entirely predictable from the first 10 minutes.

As for the actors, they all act a bit wooden and stiff. The guys, especially, deliver their lines awkwardly. Some of the dialogue is painful to hear, and, coupled with some bad performances, laughable. Dear Lord, though, it is a slasher and isn’t supposed to have great dialogue or stellar acting! Though the actors all looked like they were way past high school age and didn’t quite deliver performance-wise, I did enjoy seeing Mackenzie Firgens as Christina, whom you may remember from The Hamiltons. I wish she had been given more screen time.

Sweet Insanity is an obvious low-budget affair, so the picture and sound quality are iffy at best. My main complaint was that I had a hard time hearing most of the dialogue. Surprisingly, it has excellent direction and great camera work, even throwing in some stylish shots. For a low budget, the picture quality was ok…most of the time I felt like I was watching a TV movie, though.

That’s another thing…there is no nudity, no gore and very little blood so it does feel like it was made for television. Guys, you’ll be disappointed to know that there are no boobies featured here. A tease occurs when two of the girls take off their shirts to change into swimsuits, but the camera quickly cuts away. There is also no gore, though there are a few nifty kill scenes. Blood splatter is very limited as well.

The kill scenes include a throat being slit, the use of a buzz saw to saw someone in half, the use of a long drill to get someone in a closet, a fire poker through someone’s throat, a stabbing and so on. None are inventive, but they are still entertaining to watch. I just wish more blood, guts and gore had been shown to liven things up a bit. There are obvious nods to classic horror flicks scattered throughout the production, such as the closet scene from Halloween, a scene that is similar to one in Psycho and a few Friday the 13th/Nightmare on Elm Street nods.

The predictable ending is very abrupt, almost like they lost a reel of film and had to jump from the climax directly to the last scene. I wish more was explained and revealed a little more delicately than just plopping it clumsily down into the audience’s lap. Despite all these bad traits (and what a laundry list that is!) this is still your average, good-for-a-laugh slasher film.

MTI Home Video has released the disc with extras that include commentary from director Daniel Hess, deleted scenes and outtakes, a still gallery and additional trailers.

On Amazon!

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

The Gathering (2002)

For a release that has been held back so long (it was finished in 2002!) and finally released direct-to-video, The Gathering ain't half bad. It kept me entertained throughout, the performances were great and the story was solid.

While walking through the English countryside near the small town of Ashby Wake, Cassie (Christina Ricci) is hit by a car and suffers amnesia. Close by, a 2,000 year old church, long buried in the English countryside, has just been uncovered and has a very unusual crucifixion scene. Instead of facing the congregation, a statue of Christ on the cross sits with its back to the church. Surrounding the altar are other statues of people, all facing Christ. This arrangement has some very ominous undertones, and the Catholic Church wants to keep it hush hush. Helping with the restoration of the church is Simon Kirkman, whose family takes Cassie in after his wife Marion hits her with a car. After her accident, Cassie begins having strange and bloody visions. She forms a close bond with the Kirkman's young son, Michael, who is still suffering after his real mother's death and also hears and sees strange things. Cassie soon finds out that the Kirkman's large house used to be a child's home run by the Catholic Church. It was shut down after the clergy were accused of molesting young boys. Simon also discovers some disturbing things about the figures in the church. Are Cassie's visions connected to the old church and the past of the children's home or is Cassie just suffering from a large knock to her noggin'?

From beginning to end, this movie never bored me. The unraveling mystery coupled with the three different stories (of Cassie, of the old church and of the history of the Kirkman estate) had me enthralled the entire time. The picture looks great, with large, sweeping vistas of the English countryside contrasted against the dark and claustrophobic church scenes. The director, Brian Gilbert, crafts some fine scenes of suspense and the actors, including Christina Ricci, all do a great job. My only complaint would be the predictability towards the end of the film and a few muddled plot points.

It's really a pity that this film took so long to be released, as it is quite good, especially compared to all the crap being released. This supernatural thriller reminded me of The Others with a touch of the Da Vinci Code. The figures and visions that Cassie sees, the religious secrecy and the town's dirty secret all made for a thrilling ride and The Gathering is a great way to spend an evening.

Order it on Amazon!
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