Monday, April 30, 2007

Long Time Dead (2002)

Long Time Dead is a British film from 2002 that has a very cheesy-looking DVD cover. This film is a tepid horror film at best, but it still manages to wrangle some tension out of the story along the way.

When a group of pretty young things get bored at “le disko,” they decide to create a makeshift Ouija board in the creepy basement. Something goes wrong (or right, depending on how you look at it) and they contact something called a “Djinn” that spells out “all die.” One guy freaks out and destroys the Ouija, thereby releasing the malevolent spirit. The Djinn is a kind of genie, but not one that grants wishes. This is a nasty demon that is made out of fire and is capable of burning his victims to death. As the Djinn starts tracking the friends down, they start dying one by one. The rest of the group must figure out why the Djinn is after them and if it has anything to do with one of them.

Long Time Dead certainly isn’t the best horror film around (not by a long shot) but it definitely isn’t the worst. Sure, it’s predictable, has zero scares, is riddled with clichés and doesn’t have memorable characters or death scenes, but I still found myself enjoying it. There are better films that deal with Ouija boards and such (I’ve heard the Wishmaster and Witchboard films mentioned a lot in LTD discussions), but this one still managed to keep me entertained and sometimes that’s all I need!

Even though the characters weren’t developed, the acting was surprisingly very good. It was also nice to see Lukas Haas again (whom I didn’t recognize until his name popped up on screen!). The rest of the cast was equally good, with the exception of someone who dies early in the film, thank goodness! The acting is played very seriously, which actually works and sets up a very tense atmosphere.

The acting and the suspenseful atmosphere are the two main things that work for Long Time Dead. Though the scares are limited and the death scenes aren’t too memorable, it’s the atmosphere that infuses the picture with dread and tension. The actors play off the tense moments very well…one of my favorite scenes involves when two characters break into their flat (now under police surveillance) to retrieve a video camera. It is dark and one goes down into the kitchen for some matches…the other character goes to investigate after the other doesn’t return, and finds a big puddle of blood. He rushes back up the stairs, turning on all the lights to hopefully alert the police, who are sitting in a squad car outside. The Djinn goes after him, turning off each light in the house one by one. We see each light snuffed out from outside the house, which gives it a very ominous feel.

The production values are all top-notch and the film is very polished and slick-looking. Director Marcus Adams creates some pretty tense scenes with low lighting and dark settings. The special effects are pretty cool and aren’t overused, which was nice, and CGI is kept to a minimum.

The rest of the film feels very PG-13, though, and most horror fans will prefer to watch the better Ouija board films mentioned above. Long Time Dead has a tendency to drag in some parts, is clichéd, doesn’t have many cool death scenes, and the ending is pretty predictable (though, to its credit, the last scene is a lot of fun!!). Hardcore fans will be disappointed at the lack of originality, scares and gore in Long Time Dead, but if you are in the mood to sit back and turn your brain off for a good hour and a half, Long Time Dead is still an entertaining choice and you could do a lot worse!

Available on Amazon!

Masters of Horror - Family (2006)

A young couple moves into a picture-perfect neighborhood. Children play outside, the trees are in full bloom, flowers sway in the bright sunshine and lawns are perfectly manicured. The young couple, Celia (Meredith Monroe) and David (Matt Keeslar), is hoping to make a fresh start and may even be ready to start a family. They meet one of their neighbors, named Harold (George Wendt), who appears to be a very nice, older bachelor. Appearances can be deceiving, though, because Harold has a family of his own, one that he has built himself. See, he carefully chooses people, kidnaps them, kills them and strips their bodies of flesh with acid until there is nothing left but a skeleton. He then dresses them up and interacts with them. He has a wife, a young daughter, grandpa and a grandma, all who, in his eyes, are real. Soon, Harold sets his sights on Celia, whom he thinks would be a perfect addition to his ever-growing family.

John Landis really impressed me with his entry into the second season of Masters of Horror. I was never too keen on checking out his Deer Woman from last season, but I sure am glad I watched Family. His signature black comedy touches are all evident in Family – from the auditory hallucinations that Harold experiences when talking to Celia to the satirical look at Middle America and “family values.”

George Wendt is fantastic as the deplorable yet likable Harold. Though he does horrible things in private, he comes across as very pleasant and personable as he and Celia and David become better friends. You almost feel sorry for him, at least until the ending. Meredith Monroe also shines as Celia, a woman with her own hidden secrets. She is bubbly, bouncy and a whole lotta cute! Each character is well-developed and we quickly grow attached to them all even though the episode is only an hour long. Writer Brent Hanley did a wonderful job with the script and the character development.

The story is also well-done by Hanley, as it slowly unfolds and we are thrust further and further into the gruesome world of Harold. We get so drawn into the story and characters that the big twist at the end comes as a complete surprise! The ending fits perfectly with the tone of the story and it is entirely entertaining. Though the story is familiar, it still manages to feel fresh when handled by Landis and the actors.

I also must mention the old church music that was used throughout the film – it fit perfectly into Landis’ skewering of Middle America. The contrast that the soundtrack provides against the values that Harold holds dear and his murderous actions sets the whole satirical tone for the film.

The gore isn’t too shabby either…we get to see people melted down to bone, lots of melted flesh and body fat, gristle hanging off bone, a hammer through a skull and lots of implied gore. Though the gore is not plentiful, I thought that the amount used was perfect for the episode.

I haven’t seen nearly enough Masters of Horror episodes, but I would go far enough to say that Family is the cream of the crop. It has stellar acting, a great premise, humor, satire and an ending that will blow you away!

Available from Amazon!

Sunday, April 29, 2007

99 Pieces (2007)

Joshua Licet (Anthony Falcon) wakes up one day to discover his wife (April Potter) gone and a note stating that if he ever wants to see her alive again he needs to open the box in front of him and carefully follow the instructions. The instructions detail how he must board himself up in his own house with limited food, water and electricity and complete a puzzle within the next 40 days. The mysterious stranger that is putting him through all this believes that Joshua’s life is built of lies and that he must come clean with the truth to help piece together the puzzle pieces to connect four men he does not know.

Within the first few minutes, 99 Pieces began to feel very familiar. A mysterious figure who doesn’t think our protagonist is living his life to the fullest decides to play a little game with him…yes, 99 Pieces is similar to the Saw films, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Like Saw, 99 Pieces is a clever piece of cinema, but one that focuses solely on Joshua and the depths of desperation, depression, hopelessness and fear that he feels. Plus, 40 days stuck in your own house, trying to figure out a pattern to the madness with hardly any food, water or light is much more torturous than facing a quick, bloody death.

Director/writer/actor Anthony Falcon actually boarded up his own house and shot the film in 40 days, starving himself and losing 20 pounds in 17 days. He wanted to portray the character of Joshua realistically, so he refused to eat, ran four miles a day, didn’t shave and rarely changed clothes. This hard worked paid off; the physically transformation of Joshua is apparent as the film progresses. His mental state also deteriorates, which Falcon probably experienced as well during his starvation. Falcon’s performance is so real that at times it is hard to watch.

The film does have a very realistic, almost naturalistic feel to it, but it with that it does have some flaws. The camera work feels a little too shaky at times and there are far too many zoom shots. This is a low-budget film, though, and most of the amateur cinematography can be overlooked.

Another problem I found was the pacing of the film. At the 30-minute mark it felt like an hour had passed. It is a very slow-paced film that focuses on the downward spiral of Joshua. It’s all about him suffering through days and days without light, much water or food and that’s what we get to see. There is not a lot of room for action until the end of the film when people start to come a’ knocking on the Licet’s door, wondering what has become of them. The action starts to pick up a lot here, and the twist ending is very surprising.

99 Pieces is a very interesting piece of independent cinema, one that deserves to be seen. Though gorehounds and slasher fans might not dig the slow pace of this film, Joshua’s slow descent into madness and delirium is truly horrifying. 99 Pieces is like a more subtle Saw for fans of low-budget and independent movies.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Penny Dreadful (2006)

Penny Dreadful is the kind of movie that looks like it has potential from the trailer. I didn’t get to catch it at the After Dark Horrorfest, so I decided to give it a looksie now. I wasn’t expecting too much out of this one, but I was kinda hoping that it would surpass my low expectations.

After having suffered a traumatic car accident as a young child in which her parents died grisly deaths in front of her, Penny (Rachel Miner) has developed an intense phobia of cars. Her therapist (Mimi Rogers) decides that Penny needs to face her fears, and takes her on a car trip up to the mountains. On the way, Penny keeps having panic/anxiety attacks from every pot hole they hit. Her anxiety level goes through the roof when they hit a hitchhiker. After seeing that he is ok, they offer him a ride so he can get out of the bitter cold. He’s a little strange and freaky, so after dropping him at a desolate campsite, the women try to haul ass out of there. One problem – the hitchhiker slashed their tire and they can’t get further than a mile from him. The therapist leaves Penny alone in the car and walks out into the woods to try and get a signal on her cell phone. The hitchhiker has found them, though, and soon Penny is trapped in the one thing she fears, the car, as the sadistic hitchhiker delights in toying with her. Will Penny be able to face her fears and fight against the hitchhiker? Or will the car become her deathtrap?

It’s hard to pull off a movie that just has one primary location (in this case, the interior of a car) and Penny Dreadful doesn’t manage too well with this. Overall, I was bored with this flick, even though I really hoped it would be good.

What I did enjoy was the acting, especially Mimi Rogers as the therapist and Rachel Miner as Penny. Miner played the frantic and panicked Penny perfectly. She really came off like she really was in the grip of fear and had no control over it. Rogers is always a joy to see (remember her fantastic turn in Ginger Snaps?), and even though her presence is short-lived, she gives an air of credibility to the film. As for the hitchhiker (played by Liz Davies), the glimpses we do get are downright creepy.

Unfortunately, the rest of the film isn’t as good as the performances. It just kinda limps along through its 90 minute run-time. This could have been a great entry for a Masters of Horror episode, but as a full-length movie it just doesn’t work. The plot is just too skimpy and underdeveloped to support its run-time. Also, I hated how the whole subplot of the two locals played out. It seemed completely unnecessary, except for an excuse to pad the story. They could have either developed the characters a little more and made them work within the story or just gotten rid of them all together.

As for gore, you’ve got your standard stabbings, slitting of necks, severing of toes, etc. There is nothing too impressive here and certainly nothing to impress the gorehounds. I thought the best part was when they gave the hitcher a lift and he offered them some raw meat on a skewer…ummmm…wouldn’t you kick that person out of your car straightaway? That one had me giggling!

Penny Dreadful might spook your 14-year-old little brother or sister, but horror fans will have little to enjoy with this film. The well-done acting can’t make up for the thin plot and the lack of scares or tension.

Available on Amazon!

Dead and Deader (2006)

I really wasn’t expecting much when I sat down to watch Dead and Deader. First off, it’s a made-for-TV film, and we all know how cheesy and badly done those can be. Secondly, it stars Dean Cain, who I haven’t seen in a movie in ages! I had pretty low expectations, but I was pleasantly surprised by this brainless, yet still fun zombie flick.

Lt. Bobby (Dean Cain) is on a secret ops mission in Cambodia to find out what happened to a group of medical relief workers. He and his team discover the medical relief post empty, except for a terrarium filled with scorpions. They are attacked and one lone survivor ignites a grenade that kills them all…

Lt. Bobby and his team are pronounced dead and shipped back to the US. Bobby wakes up in a morgue, much to the amazement of the coroner. Bobby doesn’t have a heartbeat or a pulse and his skin is cold. He soon realizes that one of the scorpions is crawling around under his skin and he cuts that bugger out! The wound heals extraordinarily fast and Bobby also discovers that he has superhuman strength.

Bobby isn’t the only one waking up…soon his other team members are rising from the dead, only they didn’t turn out like him. The infection from the scorpions has reached their heart, which turns them completely into flesh-eating ghouls. Bobby teams up with a cook, Hieronymous Judson (Guy Torry) to kill the zombies, but both are fingered as murderers. Now Bobby and Judson are on the run from the law as well as trying to save the world from zombies! After Holly (Susan Ward) joins the two of them, they get captured by a mad doctor, Dr. Scott (Peter Greene), who is trying to harness the scorpion serum for eternal life. Can Bobby escape the police so he can stop the zombie infection from spreading? Can he defeat Dr. Scott and his nefarious plans? Can he be the first undead superhero?

This really is a brainless movie, but in a really fun way!! There are some pretty funny one-liners thrown about here and some horror movie discussion that’ll have most horror fans grinning. Sure, there are plot holes, corny dialogue, over-the-top acting and unbelievable moments, but the film makes up for all that with rip-roaring action, nasty zombie casualties and some humor thrown in. This is a movie that doesn’t take itself seriously, but just wants to have fun and entertain.

The acting, as mentioned before, isn’t all top-notch. Dean Cain feels really rusty going into this and his lines sometimes feel forced. Guy Torry as Judson feels like he’s playing his character too much over the top and like he’s trying to be the next Chris Tucker. His one-liners have a tendency to fall flat, which is where Cain’s deadpan delivery of his comedic lines comes in handy. Peter Greene is great as the villain (as usual) and it is always a pleasure to see him in a film. There are some cool cameos in the film as well – I really enjoyed seeing Armin Shimerman (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, “Star Trek: Deep Space 9”) and Dean Haglund (“X-Files,” “The Lone Gunmen”) as well as a few other recognizable faces.

The zombie gore was pretty sweet, too. Instead of having red blood, the infected have green, which looks especially nasty when it’s exploding out of decapitated heads, neck wounds and bullet holes. There are some gut-munching scenes as well, and even though they ain’t anything new, they are still enjoyable nonetheless.

The pacing is quick and fast, with Lt. Bobby and his pals moving from place to place, trying to track down any infected. There are lots of shoot-outs, zombie attacks and enough of a plot to keep you interested.
If you want a movie that you don’t have to think about and just want some entertainment, Dead and Deader might be worth checking out, at least for a rental.

Available from Amazon!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Shutter (2004)

Shutter is a film from Thailand that was one spine-tingling good time! With the slew of Asian horror films that came out after the success of Ringu (The Ring), Ju-On (The Grudge), The Eye, and so on, it is nice to see one that actually SCARES you!

After a night of drinking with friends, Tun, a photographer, and his girlfriend Jane hit a girl with their car. Panicked, they flee the scene without checking if the girl is alive or dead. After the accident, each suffers nightmares from the guilt, and soon strange things start appearing in Tun’s photographs. A ghostly figure appears in the photographs and soon she is terrorizing both Tun and Jane. Tun’s friends also start mysteriously committing suicide. Is the apparition the girl whom they hit with their car? Or is she someone from the past, seeking revenge for a long-forgotten memory?

Shutter is one of the better Asian horror films out there right now. At first, it appears to be very cliché, with a long-haired ghost creeping around, but it is so intelligently and elegantly presented that you forget about the clichés almost immediately. The story draws you in and holds you rapt as it unveils more and more revelations that draw the story together. As the story progresses, the tension gets ratcheted up. This is one of the few horror films in recent memory that has actually made me yelp out loud more than once.

Directors Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom do an excellent job with this film. The tension and scares in the film are genuine, and I can’t recall any cheap, fake scares that were used. Each scene is lit beautifully, from the red-lit dark room to the dingy florescent lighting in the disorienting stairwell chase scene to the tense scene where a dark room is only lit by the bright bulb of a camera flash. The scares are very effective; even the ones I saw coming or were cued by the score managed to make me jump!

The acting is right on par as well. Ananda Everingham as Tun does a wonderful job playing a loving boyfriend with a dark past. He is gorgeous as well, and reminds me of Orlando Bloom (but with better acting). Natthaweeranuch Thongmee as Jane also does a competent job, but the Thai language isn’t a very melodious sound and because of this I spent the beginning of the film cringing at the screechiness of her voice. Yet, as I became involved with the story, this minor annoyance just faded into the background.

While the story is not entirely original, it still manages to frighten and entertain. It has enough twists and surprises that are flawlessly woven into the storyline that you won’t suspect a thing until it hits you over the head. The creeptastic ending itself warrants a rental or a purchase of this film. Those last images will haunt you for days! Hauntings can sure be a real pain in the neck!

Fans of Asian horror will no doubt enjoy Shutter, but other horror fans will also enjoy this suspenseful, scary treat!

Shutter is already being remade as an American film starring Joshua Jackson, so catch the real thing before viewing the Americanized (and otherwise bastardized) film (currently filming).

Available from Amazon!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Slaughter Night - aka Sl8n8 (2006)

Slaughter Night (aka Sl8n8)is a new horror flick from the Netherlands that treads like any typical slasher film.

After the death of her father whom she is partly to blame for, Kristel takes a road trip with some friends to retrieve a book he was working on about an old mine. The old mine is now a tourist attraction, and Kristel’s father was gathering research for his book. In the “olden days,” criminals sentenced to the death penalty could choose between the gallows or heading into the mines to ignite gas leaks. If they survived the mines, then technically they would be set free. Vicious child-murderer Andries Martiens was sentenced to death after decapitating seven children for a satanic ritual that would give him entrance to Hell. He was given the choice and chose the mines, but died there.

Kristel and her friends decide to take a tour of the mines, but become trapped there. They decide to break out an old Ouija board to see if they can contact any spirits. Unluckily for them, the spirit of Martiens appears and starts chopping off heads, still intent on completing his ritual.

This was a very standard, by-the-numbers slasher movie that didn’t break any new ground. I haven’t seen very many (if any) of Netherlands horror films, but this was a pretty disappointing first viewing for me. Everything was so standard and pretty boring…from the stereotypical characters to the killings. Even the “twist” was even blah…By the end of the film, I just didn’t care what happened, the sure kiss of death for any horror movie.

The acting was surprisingly good, though, with Victoria Koblenko playing the wide-eyed Kristel with innocence, sadness and determination to live. She was the stand-out actor in this film, the rest just kind of faded into the background (or got beheaded).

The story is what drags the whole film down…it’s been done to death, is overplayed, cliché, etc., etc. There are also some pretty big plot holes that never get cleared up (if Martiens had to possess people’s bodies, then how did he get his body back towards the end of the film?).

The film is thankfully fast-paced, which is a good because I just wanted it to finish! The direction is solid and the film looks slick, except for a few annoying shaky camera shots. The gore is plentiful with lots of decapitations, a slit throat and impalement. If you enjoy decapitations, you’ll get your kicks here…there’s even child decapitation!

If you are in no mood to think and just want something to drown out the pounding of your hangover, Slaughter Night is a good place to start. On the other hand, if you are looking for an original horror film, you won’t find it here.

I truly hope the Netherlands has some horror films that are much better and much more original than this…if not, I’ll be even more disappointed than I was when I finished Slaughter Night.

Available on Amazon!

The Gravedancers (2006)

You know, it’s been quite a while since I’ve seen a decent ghost story. This is why I was very excited to see The Gravedancers, part of the After Dark Horrorfest. I had missed it in theaters, so I was all over it when it came out on DVD. Did it live up to my expectations? Well, yes and no…

After attending the funeral of their friend, three friends sneak back into the cemetery at night to say their final farewells to their buddy. After getting drunk, they find a mysterious black card that contains a poem. Standing on a headstone, Sid (Marcus Thomas), one of the friends, reads the poem out loud. Meanwhile, Kira (Josie Maran) and Harris (Dominic Purcell of Prison Break fame) make with the smoochies, despite the fact that Harris is married to the devoted Allison (Clare Kramer). After the poem gets Kira and Harris’ attention, the three friends begin dancing atop some graves, just as the poem says to.

The next day, things seem to go back to normal (you know, except for the fact that Allison suspects something is going on with Kira and her husband). The next few weeks bring an array of strange occurrences to Harris and Allison’s new house. Pipes clank, the cat hisses at nothing and the piano plays by itself. Thinking that Kira might be stalking them like she’s done in the past, the two go to confront her at her house after one particularly frightening episode…but find her badly beaten and possibly raped by what she says is an invisible force. After dropping Kira at the hospital, Harris and Allison go to Sid’s, who is also experiencing paranormal activity in the form of small fires breaking out around his apartment. He has hired two paranormal investigators to get to the bottom of the haunting. Before long, the fact that the three friends danced on graves is revealed and the investigators tell them this is grave desecration. Upon further investigation it is revealed that the graves they danced upon belonged to the “condemned” – the murderers, psychopaths, rapists, criminally insane and the like. The poem that was read was actually a spell to release the spirits of the dead. Now, an ax-wielding adulteress is after Harris, a child pyromaniac is after Sid and, worst of all, a sadistic rapist/murderer is after Kira. The ghosts are active for one month, but are getting stronger each day. The friends must find a way to put the ghosts at peace before the ghosts lay them to rest.

I have mixed feelings about this film. It starts off pretty sweetly, all slow and moody as the ghosts begin their haunting. As the ghosts get stronger, their scare tactics get bigger and bigger. When the ghosts are actually able to manifest, they look delightfully creepy (and yes, perhaps even a little cheesy). The creepiest of them all is the gaunt, naked old rapist/murderer who is after Kira. Yet, the (unintentionally?) hilarious and over-the-top ending is what killed the movie for me. There’s nothing like a cheesy, huge CGI ghost-head chasing a Hummer that is plowing through wall after wall of a mansion to kill any residual creepiness.

Yet, I can’t help but remember how enjoyable ¾ of the movie was! Sure, it could have been a lot better, but this film is what it is, and it was fun! There’s nothing new here and no twists or very many surprises, but this movie is pure, brainless entertainment. Director Mike Mendez realized that this story has been done before (and better), so he just decided to have fun with it. Sure it didn’t live up to my expectations as my new favorite ghost film, but it did entertain me!

There are a few tension-filled scenes, my favorite being when Harris and Allison find Allison cowering in the corner of her house, covered in bite marks. Verrryyy creepy. Or check out the scene with Allison in the hospital. I’ll never look at a gurney the same again! When Sid, Kira, Harris and Allison all take refuge in the massive mansion of the paranormal investigators, the creeps really kick in as the three ghosts begin their attacks in earnest. Throat-slashings, being burning alive, ax murders, inappropriate fondling…it’s all here!

If you are in the mood for some “horror-lite” cinema, check out The Gravedancers for some pure popcorn cinema! The ending is entirely silly, but the rest of the film is quite enjoyable and definitely worth a rental.

Available on Amazon!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Feed (2005)

An Australian cybercrime investigator named Phillip (Patrick Thompson) stumbles across a fetish site featuring morbidly obese women called FeederX. These women are willingly being fed by a “feeder” until they grow so large that they cannot move. The featured attraction of the site is a woman named Deidre (Gabby Millgate), who has surpassed 600 pounds and can be watched via live webcam. After noticing that the fetish site had a surprising number of security measures, Phillip decides to investigate further. He suspects that the “feeder” is force-feeding the women until they die and discovers that there are bets being placed on when the women will die. Phillip tracks down the webmaster of the site, Michael Carter (Alex O’Loughlin), who lives in Ohio. Phillip travels to Ohio and soon becomes involved in a cat-and-mouse game with Michael.

Feed is an extremely well-done film that has many layers and operates on many levels. It’s first and foremost theme is consumerism, and our need as a society to consume at obscene levels. Secondly, it deals with sexual deviation, both in the fetish realm of “fat appreciation” that Michael’s website panders to as well as Phillips own sexual preferences, which involve violent and rough sex with his girlfriend. Its third main theme is the aesthetic of “beauty” in our culture and how rail-thin women are revered while women with curves are typically looked down upon. There are constant parallels that are drawn between the characters of Michael and Phillip while at the same time they are juxtaposed. The two different, yet very similar characters are both presented as unlikable, vulgar and repulsive persons but both of their obsessions draw the viewer in and we can’t look away.

The script by Kieran Galvin is self-aware, satirical and bitingly intelligent, while at the same time vulgar and disgusting. The characters are all well-developed and either become more likable (oddly, the killer Michael) or more repulsive (investigator Phillip) as the film progressives. Director Brett Leonard does an excellent job at capturing all the morbid action and crafting some nail-biting and obscene scenes. I was surprised how Leonard kept everything in check and didn’t let the story devolve into a cheap, exploitative flick.

The acting is all solid throughout, with Alex O’Loughlin giving a stand-out performance as Michael Carter. The characters many psychological layers are revealed as the film goes on and it was a pleasure to watch O’Loughlin play the villain with pizazz and emotional intensity. The initial explanation by Michael as to why he does what he does was entirely convincing and therefore that much more creepy. The psychopath actually made sense and it seemed as though Phillip was the one confused…this turned the tables considerably and really made me stop and think, who am I rooting for? The rest of the cast does a commendable job, with special mention going to Patrick Thompson as Phillip and Gabby Millgate as Deidre (who had to wear one of the biggest fat suits ever created for a movie).

There were some believability issues within the movie, such as why did Phillip never call for backup when he tracked Michael down? Why did he let himself become involved with Michael’s games? I felt these points were lacking explanation, but they didn’t really dampen my enjoyment of the film.

Feed is a horrifying movie, but it felt more of like a thriller than a horror film. The focus is more on Phillip tracking Michael down and then Michael toying with the cop. There are quite a few unpleasant scenes involving force-feeding (and, more specifically, what the women are being forced to eat), corpses, morbidly obese women and so forth, but no gore. I was expecting an extremely nasty, exploitative film, but thankfully got something much more intelligent that had a lot to say about Western culture and society.

Feed surprised me with its intelligent script, stellar acting and its social commentary. It’s also a sick, satisfying and subversive little film that I highly recommend!

Available from Amazon!

Now You See Me, Now You Don't (2006)

Now You See Me, Now You Don’t is the first short film from Hungarian commercial director/writer Attila Szasz that seamlessly blends a family drama with a supernatural twist. This Hungarian film may only be 30 minutes long, but it blends these two genres to create a chilling story.

A mother prepares dinner at home while her young son Alex plays around the house. Dad should be coming back home from the lab today, where he has finally perfected a secret experiment that renders mice invisible. When he arrives home, he has brought his experiment with him. He acts detached and stern around his wife and child. His wife tries to explain that Alex has been acting up again and isn’t talking to her, but the husband just doesn’t seem to care. The next day, Alex appears to be invisible…has he been turned invisible by his father’s experiment? Or is there another explanation?

I was very impressed by this style and quality of this short Hungarian film. The direction by Szasz is impeccable and he creates a lonely, isolated world within the walls of the family’s home. He crafts some truly breathtaking shots, using natural white light and the starkness of the house to create a feeling of emptiness that mirrors the couple’s relationship. The twist at the end was very well-done, and while I suspected it, I was sucked right into the story and just had to see how it turned out.

The character development is superb, and we know who these people are right away. The mother of Alex loves her husband and wished he was home more. She doesn’t seem to pay very much attention to Alex, but it is obvious she cares deeply for him. The father is a workaholic, putting his work before his family and doesn’t spend that much time with them. He comes across as very stern and even cruel. Alex is just child caught between his parents who are struggling with their marriage. This was a very character-driven film, and the actors pull off their roles effortlessly.

The three actors in the film, Dora Letay as the mom, Erno Fekete as the dad, and Vitez Abraham as Alex, deliver pitch-perfect performances. The family drama aspect of the film showcases the family going through many different emotions – joy, despair, hopelessness, frustration, anger, confusion, etc. – while the supernatural aspect lets them show terror and absolute horror. The spectrum of emotions each of them goes through is impressive, and the fact that they all pull these emotions off at the drop of a hat is even more impressive.

This is a slow, psychologically-driven character drama, so don’t expect gore and guts. It is very subtle, though the twist at the end is pretty shocking. If you enjoy slow-building suspense films coupled with family drama, check out Now You See Me… If you’re after blood ‘n’ guts, skip it.

Now You See Me, Now You Don’t may be only 30 minutes long, but it delivers the perfect amount of character development, atmosphere, thrills and chills – more than some films three times its length deliver.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Hamiltons (2006)

The Hamiltons is a dark tale about family ties and growing up…sound a little too movie-of-the-week for you? Well, don’t forget this is a horror movie and the Hamiltons aren’t your typical all-American family.

This family consists of older brother David, twins Darlene and Wendell and youngest brother Francis. Their parents died a few years ago and after losing the farm they were raised on the siblings are forced to move town to town while they try to find their place in the world. David is now the “man of the house” and must provide for the family. Wendell has just gotten out of jail for losing his temper in a fight and is the cause for most of the family’s frequent moves. Darlene delights in playing games with people and her and her twin Wendell have a very…ahem…“close” relationship. The family’s story is told through Francis’ eyes, though, as he tries to make sense of his place in the world as he grows up.

The usual family drama occurs, but things really take an interesting turn when Wendell kidnaps two young women and the family keeps them chained up in the basement. There is also something or someone else in the basement named Lenny that remains padlocked behind a massive, boarded up door. Francis is torn between protecting his family, the only kind of happiness he has ever known, and helping the girls in the basement.

The Hamiltons is a very well-done, slower-paced horror film. It will not appeal to gorehounds or those looking for slasherific satisfaction, as it is more of an intelligent and subtle horror film. I enjoyed it very much, especially the revelations at the end.

The strength of the film is how almost anyone can relate to the interactions between family members. The different relationships between the family members and the pain, difficulties and happiness they all experience as a result of their interactions will all remind viewers of their own experiences with their family (minus the whole creepy twist and incestuous relationship of the twins – let’s hope anyway!). The dialogue is all believable and each of the actors portrays the roles within a family that is barely holding it together with ease.
The cast is solid and each of the actors playing the siblings gives a great performance! Cory Knauf as Francis puts on one of the best performances. He really made me remember what it was like to be a teenager growing up and trying to fit in. Joseph McKelheer as Wendell and Samual Child as David do a stellar job in their roles as well, and Mackenzie Firgens shines as the sadistic Darlene. I loved her character and every second she was on screen. It’s amazing what a great job these four actors did in really making you believe they were a family!

This is a slow-moving film, with its focus squarely on the family drama occurring and the secret of the family, so don’t expect the screen to sing with blood. Despite what the DVD cover art looks like, this is not a gore-filled film. I was perfectly okay with this because the film definitely delivers on a more subtle and creepy level. I loved the ending and the different revelations that were shown regarding Lenny and Francis. I was a bit disappointed at the beginning, which shows Brittany Daniel trapped in the basement and something going after her. We never get to see what happens and her character is never brought up again…a very throw-away beginning, if you ask me. That was my only complaint of the film, though.

The Hamiltons is one of my favorite entries of the After Dark Horrorfest and if you are looking something with a highly original story, great performances, a well-written script and a bang-up ending, look no further than this film. It’s an intelligent and subtly creepy look at a family that you would not want to be neighbors with!

Available on Amazon!

Friday, April 20, 2007

All the Colors of the Dark (1972)

All the Colors of the Dark is a trippy, hallucinatory film starring the gorgeous Edwige Fenech and is directed by Sergio Martino.

After suffering the loss of her unborn child in a car accident, Jane (Edwige Fenech) has frequent, reoccurring nightmares of a horrifying event from her childhood. Her live-in boyfriend Richard (George Hilton) tries to tell her it’s all in her head, but Jane can’t help but feel that the murderous man in her nightmares is following her in real life. After a visit to the psychiatrist that her sister (Nieves Navarro) suggests, the madman follows her home. Now everywhere she turns, his piercing blue eyes seem to find her. When Jane becomes friends with a neighbor (Marina Malfatti), the neighbor suggests she attend a sabbat to get rid of all the bad energy. When Jane arrives to the ceremony, she is startled and horrified to find a devil-worshipping cult. They make her drink dog’s blood, then proceed to rape her in an initiation that also involves getting a tattoo. Jane is now under the cult's control and they make her do some horrible things. The blue-eyed man is still around, too, and is trying to kill her. Things only get worse from there, as Jane can’t seem to tell between reality and her nightmares. Is the cult controlling her or is everything in her head?

Director Sergio Martino crafts a delirious, nightmarish film with All the Colors of the Dark. The ominous, freaky tone is set straightaway with Jane’s disturbing nightmares and continues throughout the picture with murders, satanic rituals, orgies, creepy stalkers and frightening flashbacks. Giallo and Italian exploitation regulars Fenech, Hilton, Ivan Rassimov, Malfatti and Navarro put on their usual great performances and the rest of the supporting cast do a wonderful job as well. I was especially impressed with the frightfully creepy, dirty and just unpleasant-looking people that made up the satanic cult. Imagining those people touching me (let alone groping and raping!) gave me the willies!!

My favorite part of the film, though, was the direction by Martino. He really created a disorienting atmosphere that made you feel like you were in Jane’s shoes. Just when I thought I had things figured out, I was surprised and left thinking, “What’s going on?!” There are also some very sleazy moments and copious amounts of nudity. Fenech bares all, as usual, and the other lovely ladies of the film won’t disappoint you sleazehounds out their either.

My only complaints were that the film does drag a little bit in parts and the ending left something to be desired. The ending left many unanswered questions as to what actually occurred, but I believe it was done on purpose for the viewer to make up his or her mind. It did bother me a little, because I couldn’t quite figure out what was real and what wasn’t.

Nonetheless, All the Colors of the Dark is a definite must-see for those that appreciate gialli and Italian exploitation.

Available from Amazon!

The Attic Expeditions (2001)

This little-seen gem of a horror film that is The Attic Expeditions is a twisted mind screw that all horror fans deserve to see. It’s got a terrific cast (Jeffrey Combs, Ted Raimi, Seth Green and even Alice Cooper in a cameo!), as story full of twists and turns and enough tricks up its sleeve to keep you entertained!

Trevor Blackburn (Andras Jones) wakes up from a coma he’s been in the last four years, only he wakes up to find himself in a mental institution with no memories of why or how he got there. Dr. Eck (Jeffrey Combs) tells him he murdered his fiancé Faith (Beth Bates) in a strange ritual and has been under the doctor’s care ever since. Trevor can’t remember what happened and struggles with brief flashes of memories he does have. Nonetheless, Dr. Eck sends him to a halfway house for recovering mental patients called The House of Love. Trevor is under the care of Dr. Thalama (Wendy Robie), along with patients Amy (Shannon Hart Cleary), Douglas (Seth Green), Liz (Nancy Wolfe) and Ronald (Jerry Hauck). Soon, strange things start happening that call into question Trevor’s reality. Is everything happening in his head? Did Trevor really even kill his fiancé? Or has Dr. Eck gone too far in his “treatment” of Trevor?

The Attic Expeditions in one twisted movie that toys with you through its entire 90 minute running length. Just when you think you have it all figured out, it throws another curveball at you. Through its nonlinear narrative and nightmarish images, the film places you squarely in Trevor’s shoes. Like him, the viewer has no idea what is real and what isn’t.

One of the many joys of this movie is the performances by the actors. Jeffrey Combs does puts on a great performance as Dr. Eck, one that resembles his most famous role, that of Dr. Herbert West in Re-Animator. He is hilarious, enigmatic and thoroughly entertaining to watch! Andras Jones as Trevor is easy on the eyes as well as being a superb actor. Though he may (or may not) have done horrible things, we still feel for his character and care a great deal about him. Seth Green is hilarious as always and seems pretty comfortable playing a spastic nutcase! The rest of the cast should be commended for a job well-done also…my favorite crazy was Ronald, played by Jerry Hauck, whose “conversation” with his alligator hand puppet was one of the creepiest scenes in the film.

There’s a fair amount of blood in the film, but not enough to satisfy gorehounds. This film really doesn’t need gore, though, as it’s got enough tricks to keep you guessing until the end (and even at that point, not much is revealed). The horror of the film is more focused on psychological torment and nightmarish visions than blood ‘n’ guts. The spooky trunk in the attic that appears to have someone or something in it…that’s wayyyy spookier than any evisceration could ever be!

Guys (and some girls as well) will be tickled pink to see redhead Beth Bates and blonde Shannon Hart Cleary bare all for the camera in a few sex scenes with Jones. I felt these scenes were a bit silly, especially with the stereotypical “hard rock” music that flared up every time Trevor would get with another woman. At one point, I even expected him and his therapist to get it on (luckily that didn’t happen)!

Be warned, though, the story jumps around more than a schizophrenic in a candy shop. One minute, it’s all sweet talk as Trevor and his fiancé Faith talk about their future together under a grand oak tree but the next scene gets all down ‘n’ dirty with Trevor bound to the ground in a cave, about to be sacrificed in a grisly manner over what appears to be a satanic symbol. I could still follow the story, but it does take a little patience and understanding. The way it was edited and shown does make a lot of sense considering the entire story, so stick it out! The ending might leave some scratching their heads, but I absolutely loved it. I don’t need explanations, I just loved it and it worked!

I wholeheartedly recommend The Attic Expeditions to horror fans or those that want their heads messed with a little bit. In this day and age of remakes and "reimagings" it's nice to see something original come along. Not only that, but The Attic Expeditions will screw with your head days after watching it…
Available on Amazon!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Stupid Teenagers Must Die! (2007)

Stupid Teenagers Must Die! is a hilarious new low-budget film that simultaneously spoofs and pays homage to 1980’s horror flicks. This is a film that knows how to have a good time!

Set in the 80’s, STMD! is about a group of teens that decides to get together at an abandoned house that is supposedly haunted by “Murderer McGee,” a man who butchered his entire family in the house. They want to have a séance and summon the murderer’s spirit, just for a few kicks. All of the typical 80’s horror movie characters are here: the jock, the badass, the goth girl, the loser, the hero, the innocent girlfriend, the horny couple, the popular blonde girl and of course the two geeks. Soon, strange things start happening around the house and people end up dead as the spirit of Murderer McGee possesses each teen and has them kill those around them. Will the teens survive the night or will they learn that stupid teenagers must die?!

STMD! is one of the most fun and enjoyable low-budget films I’ve seen in quite some time. Director Jeff Smith (who also served as co-writer, cinematographer and editor) definitely shows his love of underappreciated 80’s horror films with this movie! Anyone who loves the cheesiness, preposterous situations, wacky and stereotypical characters of 80’s horror movies will definitely love this very tongue-in-cheek homage to the past. Smith says it best:
“With Stupid Teenagers Must Die!, we attempted to make a film with the fun and energy of the horror movies of the 1980’s. The trend of horror movies today seems to be torture and discomfort. Our goal was to go more retro and make a movie that has audiences yelling at the screen, laughing one minute, screaming the next, and do it all very tongue in cheek. We’re giving you the ‘greatest hits’ of 80’s horror movie clichés including the one dimensional characters, the excessive violence, the gratuitous nudity and the complete lack of budget. Movie snobs would look at these facets as unforgivable flaws in a film. We proudly announce these qualities on the poster!”
STMD! definitely lives up to the qualities described in the poster and then some. It has all the “excessive violence” and “gratuitous nudity” that is reminiscent of those entertaining 80’s horror movies we all love. I had a blast watching STMD! From the 80’s outfits that the stereotypical characters wear to the blood splatter to the goofy tone I just couldn’t get enough!

For a low-budget movie, the direction and the acting were all (surprisingly) top notch. Each of the actors does a great job, especially considering the fact that too much over-the-top acting could have ruined the movie. The talented cast of newcomers included Jovan Meredith as Kane (the hero), Ashley Schneider as Julie (the innocent girlfriend of Kane’s), Devin Marble as Alfie (the badass), Lindsey Gareth as Tiffany (the popular blonde), Renee Dorian as Madeline (the goth), Cory Assink and Jonathan Brett as the two geeks, Will Deutsch as Ryan (the loser), Jamie Carson and Christina DeRosa as Sissy and Jamie (the horny couple) and Matt Blashaw as Michael (the jock). Everyone does a wonderful job and they are all actors to watch, but the two that stole the show were Assink and Brett playing the two geeks. Those two had great comedic timing and I loved every second they were on screen!

Jeff Smith does a great job with the direction, cinematography and the script (co-written with Curtis Andersen, who also served as producer). The action looks sharp and even though this is a low-budget film, everything still looks great. Smith knows how to set up shots and the film quality is perfect for what he wanted to accomplish – a spoof of 80’s horror movies. The script is very well written by both Smith and Andersen, with clever references and hilarious dialogue that’ll have you rolling (in a good way!).

I cannot stress how much I enjoyed Stupid Teenagers Must Die! and highly recommend you check this film out. It recently played at the Backseat Film Festival in Philadelphia (garnering a few awards), and is now making the rounds at other film festivals. If you have the chance, go see it!

Order it on Amazon!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

The Clique (aka Death Clique) (2006)

A group of high school students are on their way to spend the weekend at an isolated cabin in the woods. It’s nearing graduation time, and the kids just want to let loose and have fun. On the car ride there, one of them casually mentions that Bobby Nichols, an outcast in high school who supposedly butchered his entire family, was released just a few days ago. Meanwhile, it seems that Bobby has followed them up to the cabin and has his own plans…

As secrets are revealed all linking each of them to Bobby, the teens start getting murdered one by one…and the remaining are left fighting to survive against an unseen killer. Is Bobby finally getting his revenge or does someone else have a secret to protect?

The Clique is a throwback to the 80s slasher-in-the-woods film, but it doesn’t really offer anything new. My biggest complaint was that the murders themselves were so blah…a little creativity would have come in handy with the killings. Knife stabbings and throats slit can only go so far before they become repetitive.

The Clique is a low-budget film, and I must say that the acting was not all bad. There was a little overacting once the teens realize there is a killer on the loose, but for the most part everyone played their part very well. Plus, the kids actually looked like high school seniors instead of 20-somethings playing teenagers. The acting is probably one of the strengths of this film. I really enjoyed cutie Ryan Carty as Bobby in his first feature-film. He had just a few scenes, but boy, did he command attention every time he appeared!

The story itself is fairly typical…a bunch of kids stuck in an isolated cabin twenty miles from civilization, no cell phone reception, no phones and no keys to their SUV. Secrets are revealed that piss everyone off and when people start separating themselves from the group, they get picked off by the killer. The story, written by Monica Ortiz, is nothing new and the ending is far from satisfying. I thought the story got stretched pretty thin when the identity of the killer is revealed. Sure, it was a surprise, but it came out of left field and it just felt tacked on. The killer’s motive even seemed far-fetched. There were some other plot points within the story that didn’t feel believable at all.

As for film quality, there are a few scenes that are lit a bit too darkly and you can’t quite see what’s going on. It is a low-budget film, so the film is pretty grainy throughout. Still, the direction by David Basulto is solid and there is one scene in particular that is set in the woods that is very well-done.

The Clique is by no means a bad film, but it also isn’t a good one either. If you’re in the mood for an updated slasher flick set in a cabin in the woods, by all means check this out. If you’re looking for something with a little more substance and that is memorable, skip The Clique.

Buy The Clique aka Death Clique!

Roman (2007)

Roman is kinth and kin to cult hit May. I would even liken the two films as brother and sister. In May, director Lucky McKee directed Angela Bettis in the lead role, while in Roman Bettis directs McKee. Roman deals with the same core issues as May does – loneliness, isolation, abandonment and the yearning for love.

Roman (Lucky McKee) is a lonely man who keeps to himself much of the time. He doesn’t have a television or even a radio, but spends his spare time staring out his apartment window. Every day after work, he sits down with a beer and waits for his beautiful neighbor (Kristen Bell) to come home. At precisely 5:31pm every day she arrives home from work and Roman leaves his apartment so he can get his mail alongside her. He is obsessed with this girl, but he never gets up enough nerve to speak to her. One day, while sitting on the roof of his apartment complex and enjoying a few beers, the girl approaches him. They strike up an acquaintance and finally Roman invites her to her place. Roman is eager to pursue his vision of an idyllic relationship with her, but his obsession goes a little too far when he accidentally kills her when she tries to leave his apartment. Instead of notifying the police about the murder, Roman keeps the girl’s decomposing body in his bathtub that he fills with ice. Nobody suspects him as he goes through the grieving process he disposes of her body piece by piece.

Meanwhile, a new woman named Eva (Nectar Rose) enters his life. She is a new tenant in the apartment complex and she actively pursues Roman. Her exuberance and bubbly personality hide the fact that she is obsessed with death. As Roman cautiously pursues his relationship with Eva he begins to fall in love all over again. Still, the murder of the girl haunts Roman and he continues to punish himself while continuing to get rid of the body, bit by bit. Will Eva discover Roman’s terrible secret or will Eva’s own secrets destroy Roman?

Roman is an eerily affecting film, one which I was still thinking about days after I had watched it. Though I didn’t like the beginning too much and felt it was a bit slow, as the story continued I felt myself sucked in and really caring about the characters, especially Roman. Roman is a murderer and crazy to boot, but he is entirely likeable! Lucky McKee does a wonderful job of playing him and I couldn’t imagine anyone else in the role. Nectar Rose plays Eva as a real live wire filled with energy but one who also has a very dark side. While Eva is outspoken about her love of death and embraces it, Roman is scared of death and afraid of losing those he loves. Each character’s differing personality plays perfectly against the others. Like Roman, I found myself really liking Eva and caring for her a lot. Kristin Bell as the neighbor Roman is obsessed with (she’s credited only as “The Girl”) does a spectacular job with her short time on screen. She comes off just like any crush anyone has ever had – so nearby yet so unattainable.

One of the first things I noticed about this film was how low-budget it looked. May might have had high production values and a slick look, but Roman is just the opposite. It is grainy and looks like a home movie some of the time. Yet, this should not be a deterrent to watching the film. I believe Bettis shot the film like this on purpose, to mirror Roman’s simple and minimalist sensibilities. Whatever the intention or budgetary constraints, the look of Roman works with the story.

As mentioned before, the story does start off slow and continues at a very languid pace throughout, but after about 20 minutes it starts to suck you in and I, for one, couldn’t look away. It has so much depth and heart that you really care what happens and how it all turns out. Like May, it has one doozy of an ending that will stick with you for days.

Roman is not for everyone, but those that enjoy McKee and Bettis collaborations won’t want to miss this one.

Buy Roman!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Grindhouse - "Planet Terror" and "Death Proof" (2007)

Like most of you, I had been expectantly waiting the release of Grindhouse. I finally got to go the other night and as I stepped behind the red curtain and into the theater, the floor sticky with spilled soda, melted candy and Lord knows what else, I couldn’t help but imagine what it must have been like in the golden days of grindhouse. I felt a thrill run through me as I imagined spending my weekends catching back-to-back movies and watching the outrageous trailers and ads that ran with them.

I may not have had grindhouses back in my day, but I’m lucky enough to have two directors, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino, who remember the no-holds-barred movies and who want everyone to experience the gritty grindhouse feel. The directors kept with the grindhouse theme and even dirtied up the film prints with scratches and dust so they would look authentic. There are even missing reels throughout both films! Not only do we get two kick-ass movies but we also get faux movie trailers from directors Rob Zombie (Werewolf Women of the SS), Eli Roth (Thanksgiving), Edgar Wright (Don’t) and Robert Rodriguez (Machete).

Grindhouse opens with a trailer for the revenge-flick Machete, starring Danny Trejo as a would-be assassin who is set-up and takes revenge on those who wronged him. We get a whole lotta action, cheesy dialogue and a lotta things blowing up…plus Cheech Marin as a priest! Really, what more could you ask for? There's even talk that it will be made into a full-length movie...stay tuned!

Ratcheting up the excitement level is Rodriguez’s Planet Terror which dazzles and entertains from beginning to end. A secret government experiment goes horribly wrong and a biochemical gas is released that infects people with pus-filled boils that are highly infectious and often times end up exploding. Those infected turn into zombies hungry for…braiiiins! A group of survivors, including Cherry Darling (Rose McGowan), El Wray (Freddy Rodriguez), Dr. Dakota Block (Marley Shelton), Sheriff Hague (Michael Biehn) and others must band together to survive the zombie onslaught and the military, who have their own agenda…

Planet Terror is a pure adrenaline rush! The action starts right away and doesn’t let up…There is also some very well-done character development that got me to care about the characters. The gore is great as well, as blood is splashed generously across the screen. The zombie-mutants themselves look grotesque and there are some gross-out scenes involving their pustules erupting onto unsuspecting individuals.

Rose McGowan as Cherry, Freddy Rodriguez as El Wray and Marley Shelton as Dr. Dakota Block really stand out for their stellar performances. McGowan is both sweet ‘n’ sour in her role as Cherry, Rodriguez proves himself to be a true action hero and Shelton just shines. There are some sweet cameos going on as well within the film. Bruce Willis pops up as the commanding military officer, Tom Savini as the sheriff’s deputy, Josh Brolin as Dr. Dakota Block’s evil and violent husband Dr. William Block, as well as Fergie from Black Eyed Peas, Tarantino and others!

From Cherry’s machine-gun leg to El Wray’s gun slinging skills to mutant zombies and delightful guest appearances, Planet Terror doesn’t leave you much time to catch your breath, which is a very good thing.

Immediately following Planet Terror are the fake trailers from Zombie, Wright and Roth. Werewolf Women of the SS by Rob Zombie harkens back to the Nazisploitation days. This was my favorite trailer and the one I most wish would be made into a real movie. Nicholas Cage as Fu Manchu? I mean, c'mon! You just can't beat that...Next was Wright's hilarious Don't trailer, which had a very The Legend of Hell House vibe to it and was very tongue-in-cheek with the spoofery that ensued. Last but not least was Roth's Thanksgiving trailer, which started a little weak but redeemed itself with a very brutal cheerleader slaying.

After that highly enjoyable "intermission," Tarantino's Death Proof began. It seems that almost everyone is bitching about the slow pace of this one in comparison to Planet Terror, but I really enjoyed it.

Death Proof tells the tale of Stuntman Mike and his "death proof" stunt car. He likes to stalk and kill pretty young women, whom he picks up at bars. He then proceeds to take them on a joy ride, only at the end, he is the only survivor. It seems that one must sit in the driver's seat to have the full protection of the "death proof" car. He starts with one group of women, headed by local DJ personality Jungle Julia. Tarantino really lets us get up close and personal with the girls as they hang out at a bar all night under the watchful eye of Stuntman Mike. After killing them all with his car, Stuntman Mike moves on to his next group of women...who just happen to have a few stuntwomen of their own. In a spectacular car chase scene, Stuntman Mike learns he's messed with the wrong group of gals...

After the visceral assault of Planet Terror, Death Proof is a nice place to catch your breath. It's heavy on Tarantino's signature dialogue, but that didn't diminish my enjoyment one bit. It just made me appreciate and care for the characters even more. People complain about having to listen to all the "chick talk," but you didn't hear them complain about all the "dick talk" in Tarantino's other films. For example, in Death Proof there is a round table shot much like the one in Reservoir Dogs. It is captured in one consecutive shot with no cuts and shows the women catching up with each other and just talking. It gives great insight into each of their characters and makes them extremely likable. Like Reservoir Dogs, this is the chance to get to know the characters so we care for them later when we are put in peril. It's also a chance for Tarantino to show off his dialogue writing skills. It's amazing how believable his dialogue is and how it varies by character to fit their personality. So, if I have to hear one more person complain about the "chick talk" in this flick, I'm gonna cram my foot so far up...[MISSING REEL]

The acting is Death Proof is equally good as it was in Planet Terror. With the first group of women we get the beautiful Sydney Tamiia Poitier as Jungle Julie along with Vanessa Ferlito as Arlene and Jordan Ladd as Shanna. Rose McGowan is also along for the ride playing Stuntman Mike's first victim. The next group of women include Rosario Dawson as Abernathy, a makeup artist, Mary Elizabeth Winstead as a famous actress, Traci Thoms as stunt car driver Kim and stuntwoman Zoe Bell playing herself. Zoe Bell was, by far, the most phenomenal actress in this film. She is entirely believable and natural in front of the camera (she has been doing stunt work in films for quite some time, so I guess she's used to being in front of the lens!) and you just love her! Kurt Russell is fantastic as Stuntman Mike, managing to be both menacing and "Mr. Nice-Guy" at the same time.

The real star of the film, though, is the amazing car chase at the end of the movie. It will leave you breathless as you watch Zoe Bell hang onto the hood of a car for dear life. There is no CGI or flashy editing going on, either, just two cars ramming each other at 90mph with a woman on the top of one of them. You care about the women so much that the ending, though abrupt, is entirely fitting and extremely satisfying.

I loved both Planet Terror and Death Proof...I don't think I could pick a favorite. The fake trailers in between films were a joy to watch as well. The three hour plus marker didn't even phase me, and I usually get antsy in long movies. It's true what they say, Grindhouse is the most fun you'll have at the movies this year. If you haven't seen it yet, I highly recommend the experience of seeing it on the big screen!

Planet Terror available on Amazon!

Death Proof available on Amazon!

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Masters of Horror - Pro-Life (2006)

In the second season of Masters of Horror, John Carpenter returns with Pro-Life, wielding mixed results. Carpenter has chosen to tackle the controversial issue of abortion, but the story of Pro-Life is mildly entertaining at best.

Fifteen-year-old Angelique is running from something in the woods when she suddenly emerges onto the road and is nearly hit by two abortion clinic doctors. They want to make sure she is ok, so they take her into the guarded clinic. Little do they know Angelique is the daughter of pro-life supporter Dwayne Burcell, who shows up just a few minutes after Angelique is taken into the clinic. The doctors soon find out that Angelique is pregnant and that she desperately wants an abortion. Beyond the guarded clinic gates, Dwayne impatiently waits, demanding his daughter be taken out of their slaughterhouse. The pressure mounts when the doctors discover that Angelique’s baby is developing at an accelerated rate and is violent. Dwayne and his three sons storm the clinic with guns to retrieve Angelique and protect the baby on what they believe is a mission from God. Everyone might have bigger problems to deal with, though, as Angelique goes into labor and delivers a baby spawned in hell…

I was expecting a lot on the social commentary front, but Pro-Life seemed to be on the fence with the whole abortion issue. Its focus was more on presenting specific characters than presenting a fully formed opinion on abortion. Those interested in more of a socially conscious movie won’t get much here, though they could read deeper into it than I have. I was hoping for another creepy Carpenter Masters of Horror episode like last season’s Cigarette Burns, which I thought was one of the best, but was sadly disappointed.

The story doesn’t hold much tension or scares, but instead focuses on the siege aspect of the Burcell’s breaking into the clinic. I found this a little boring and the gunfire got old fast. You can only see so many heads blown off before it becomes dull. The torture sequence with one of the doctors was pretty cringe-inducing, but the rest of the movie just got silly from there. Everything seemed to go downhill with the birth of the demon baby and I lost interest fast.

The acting was ok, but there were no great performances. Ron Perlman’s performance as Dwayne Burcell came off as flat and uninteresting, which was a pity. Caitlin Wachs did a good job as the scared and desperate Angelique Burcell, but she overacted in some parts. Mark Feuerstein as one of more familiar faces in the cast did a competent job, but he quickly got lost towards the end. No one performance really stood out in this episode. In defense of the actors, the dialogue really wasn’t that great and the story was pretty forgettable.

What really killed the episode for me was the ending. It seemed overly hokey and while the monster effects were passable, I think they could have been much better. It was also anticlimactic and resolved a little too quickly for my taste.

All in all, Pro-Life was a pretty unremarkable episode in the Masters of Horror series that suffers greatly from its lack of tension and suspense. I’d pass on this one…

Available on Amazon!

Zombie Nation (2006)

I had successfully avoided all Ulli Lommel films before I was subjected to Zombie Nation. If you haven’t seen a Lommel film, count your lucky stars. If you have, you can probably relate to the pain I felt when watching Zombie Nation, which is one of the worst, if not THE worst, films I’ve ever seen (keep in mind that I haven’t seen any other Lommel films, so this might change.

A corrupt police officer is going around kidnapping and killing young women because he grew up with an abusive mother. His rookie partner grows suspicious when more and more women that the bad cop has pulled over go missing. Meanwhile, hoping to protect herself from the killer, a young woman has voodoo priestesses perform a ritual that will bring her and the killer’s victims back from the dead should she be killed. Sure enough, she’s the killer cop’s next target and when she is dead and buried, she and the other four victims rise to seek revenge.

Seriously, this was one of the biggest crapfests I’ve ever seen and is probably the only movie I’ve watched that has no redeeming values. The story is sloppy, illogical and hard to follow, all the acting is horrible, the direction is incompetent and the special effects are poor, to put it nicely. Add a nice misogynistic tone and you’ve got one awful movie, courtesy of still-making-money-off-his-crappy-movies Lommel. Plus, there are no zombies! And as for a “zombie nation,” forget about it!

The film seems to be split in two parts - the first part feels like a buddy-cop movie gone wrong, while the last part deals with the “zombies” and the revenge aspect of the movie. Neither of the parts flows smoothly and a two-year-old could tell a more cohesive story and one that actually makes sense. The story is bad enough, but the dialogue is even worse. I’ve heard smarter things come out of a drunken frat boy’s mouth than the crap I heard in Zombie Nation!

While the actors didn’t have much to work with in the story or dialogue departments, they could have at least delivered their lines with a bit more gusto or believability and developed their characters. The film is ripe with horrible performances, from the bad cop who is supposedly from Alabama but speaks with a German accent to one of the victims who’s performance (I’m using that word loosely!) is completely overacted and unbelievable. I didn’t care for anyone in the movie and the bad cop wasn’t at all intimidating or scary.

The film also has some glaring errors all throughout the production. The “police station” is very obviously just a warehouse, complete with exposed pipes, lighting that can be seen in shots and silly partitioned work spaces. No way and no how would that set ever be believable to anybody with a brain cell. The same warehouse set is used repeatedly for other locations, and while I understand budgetary constraints, at least try and make each set believable and look different! The cops also drive a bright red car. Now, anyone who is pulled over by an unmarked car is just a little nutty! There are way too many mistakes and while little mistakes in films don’t bug me too much, the ones in this film are so glaringly evident that it just adds to the smoldering rubbish pile that is Zombie Nation.

Speaking of zombies, there are none in this film. That is, unless you consider raccoon-eyed, walking, talking and car-driving women zombies. The zombie women don’t look like they have decomposed a bit, and the only sign that they are zombies are the large black circles around their eyes. Or perhaps the rough forest ground they were buried in didn’t allow them enough beauty sleep? Pay no attention to the zombie that is featured on the artwork of the DVD disc; it simply doesn’t exist in the movie. There is no brain eating in the film either and I don’t remember any gore at all.

Obviously, people are still having their eyeballs seared by watching Lommel movies, and he’s still making money off suckers who judge a book by its cover. He sure got me – after looking at the DVD artwork, for a split second I thought this movie might actually be cool…and now I will forever pay the price. My eyeballs are still aching from watching this total waste of time. You’ve been warned…

Available on Amazon!

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Evil Dead Trap (1988)

Evil Dead Trap is an outrageous, bloody entertaining cult Japanese horror flick from 1988. It is a far from perfect film, but it kept me entertained!

Late-night talk show host Nami (Miyuki Ono) features a segment on her show where she plays viewers’ home videos. After a lame round of entries, she receives an unmarked tape that features a tied-up woman getting tortured and killed. Not sure if it’s real or not, she rounds up her faithful crew and tracks down the abandoned building that was featured in the video. They split up to find any evidence of the murder being real, but soon find themselves stalked by a masked killer who kills in gruesome fashion.

I really wasn’t expecting much out of this movie, but it sure was a treat! There are many scenes and set pieces that are reminiscent of the direction of Lucio Fulci, Dario Argento, Sam Raimi and even David Cronenberg. Director Toshiharu Ikeda obviously took a cue from these directors to craft a stylish and well-shot film, while not skimping on the gore. The Fulci influence is evident in the opening scene where a woman’s eyeball gets skewered, as well as in following murder scenes such as where another woman becomes a human shish-kabob. Argento’s influence can be seen in the set-up and framing of different shots as well as in the score. Raimi’s influence can be seen in the way the camera moves and follows the action. The last part of the film is purely Cronenberg, with some definite “body horror” going on. Despite all these influences, Evil Dead Trap doesn’t feel like a rip-off at all, but more of an entertaining mish-mash of different directors’ styles.

Ikeda’s direction, the set-pieces and the gore are what stand out most in this film. The acting is okay, but no one really stands out, though the actors do hold their own. They definitely expressed terror pretty well and the death scenes were all very believable.

The story seems like the typical, cookie-cutter slasher…a group of young people are stuck in an abandoned place and are violently dispatched by a masked killer. As each of them is killed, a lone heroine emerges who, instead of running, turns to fight the killer. The ending is where the film veers off into strange, Japanese monster territory. The ending is so outrageous and unexpected that it doesn’t quite fit into the rest of the film and it did dampen my viewing pleasure. Yet, its strangeness is what makes the film that much more endearing.

The death scenes are extremely well done and the characters get very varied deaths. Gorehounds will delight in the fountains of blood and the different devices that the killer uses for each character’s death. The majority of the cast is female, and of course they receive the most brutal and grisly deaths, while the lone male suffers an off-screen beheading.

Speaking of female treatment in this film, there is one horribly awkward rape scene that just seemed completely out of place and dragged on and on. It was so bad that I couldn’t even tell it was a rape scene at the beginning. There’s another sex scene set in one of the abandoned buildings that seemed pretty out of place too and kinda halted the action of the film.

Despite these quibbles, I found myself wholeheartedly enjoying Evil Dead Trap! If you love strange and gory foreign horror flicks, I would highly recommend Evil Dead Trap!

Buy Evil Dead Trap!
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