Thursday, May 31, 2007

Video Violence (1987)

Ah, I remember being a wee tot in the ‘80s and standing in awe at our local mom and pop video store, staring at the tall stacks of VHS copies and the peeling posters on the walls. Whenever I could, I would sneak into the horror section, the ultimate forbidden zone, and just stand and stare at all the deliciously horrifying boxes. I was enthralled by pictures on the VHS boxes’ - blood and guts, the frozen screams on the faces of the pretty women that graced the covers and the menacing stances of the killers.

Back then, the VHS craze was in full swing, with straight-to-video, shot-on-video flicks cramming the shelves of the new video stores that were popping up all over the country. It seemed that everyone was picking up a bulky camcorder and making their own movies, or at least that’s what some of the movies looked like. While this might have been deemed no-budget trash back then, straight-to-video flicks nowadays make me sweetly reminisce about the golden age of VHS and being a kid again.

The Video Violence films, released recently by Camp Motion Pictures, take us down memory lane to revisit the down ‘n’ dirty shot-on-video horror films. Video Violence…When Renting is Not Enough is the first film in the series that warmed the cold cockles of my heart. A city couple moves to a small town to “get away from it all” and open their own video store. The video cassette has just been introduced to the public, but, oddly enough, everyone in this small town already owns a VHS player. Also odd is that the townsfolk only like to rent violent horror films, gory slasher flicks and the occasional triple X’er. Things take a sharp turn for the bizarre when a home video is returned to the video store...the owner and his employee decide to pop the tape in but soon find themselves watching a snuff film in which the hosts, Eli and Howard, torture and kill the local postmaster (who has supposedly retired to Florida). The owner, Steven, heads straight to the police, but when he gets back to the store he finds both the tape and his employee missing! The police don’t take him seriously, of course, so it’s up to Steven and wife Rachel to get to the bottom of the tape and the townspeople’s odd behavior.

In the second film on the disc, entitled Video Violence 2: The Exploitation, Eli and Howard, the two main killers in the first movie, return with their own pirated cable show in which they torture their guest, have skits and play clips for the audience.

The Video Violence movies are not for everyone, but those that want a big heaping serving of ‘80s cheesy goodness are highly encouraged to check these films out!! This is a shot-on-video movie from the ‘80s with a miniscule budget, so of course it is going to feature bad acting, horrible quality, silly gore and plot holes galore! See, though, that’s all part of its kitschy charm. Where else will you get to see a severed human arm sliced up in a deli as bologna?

Still, don’t expect crazy amounts of gore…I went in expecting to see ridiculously bloody scene after scene, but that ain’t happening on these slim-to-no budget affairs (rumor has it that Video Violence 2 was made for a measly $28…about the cost to go see a movie in the theater nowadays). Sure, you get your share of exploding heads, bodies being chopped to bits, electrocutions, poisonings and a fair amount of blood, but it’s just not enough for the average gore fiend.

While I enjoyed both films for their kicky kitsch, viewers should be warned (again) that the pacing is slow, the plot is silly, the acting can be cringe-worthy and the red stuff doesn’t flow as steadily or as often as one would like. There is one “skit” in Video Violence 2 that is a perfect example of what you are in for. A group of scantily clad women are having a sleep-over when they decide that they will kill the pizza deliver man when he arrives. They gab on and on about how they are going to do him in, but when he arrives, they decide to ease their way into the killing by offering him a joint, drinking some alcohol and having a dance party in their living room that, for some ungodly reason, was filmed in slow-mo. The good-looking pizza boy starts taking it off while the girls dance around him, and while I appreciated that there was FINALLY a male victim stripping down in a horror movie before getting killed, I just wished they would get on with it! When the frizzy-haired gals finally do get around the killing the pizza hunk, they don’t even show any of the good stuff!! That’s right, no blood, no gore, just a fade to black! These kinds of annoyances pepper the film, so consider yourselves warned!

Still, I enjoyed both Video Violence and Video Violence 2 for their ability to transport me back to the ‘80s. They made me feel like it was 1987 again and I had snuck Video Violence past my parents and watched it in secret with some pilfered snacks from the pantry. Ah, those were the days…

If you’d like to relieve some fond ‘80s memories by watching a bad movie, it can’t get any better than Video Violence and Video Violence 2!

Available on Amazon!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Hellboy: Blood and Iron (2007)

I have a confession to make. I am not a rabid fangirl of the comic book realm. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with being such a devoted fan of comics, I’m just saying I never got into that particular genre. Therefore, I really don’t know anything about comics or comic book characters. You can imagine I was a bit surprised and perplexed when I received a screener for the new Hellboy animated movie, Blood and Iron. I have heard of the comic, but I’ve never seen the live-action movie, never read the comic and never seen any previous animated movies featuring Hellboy. Despite not being familiar with the material, I found myself wholeheartedly enjoying Hellboy: Blood and Iron.

When Hellboy (Ron Perlman), Liz Sherman (Selma Blair) and Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) are assigned to investigate the ghost-infested mansion of a publicity-hound billionaire, they uncover a plot to resurrect the beautiful yet deadly vampire Erzsebet Ondrushko, who is connected to Professor Broom’s (John Hurt) past. Before becoming a vampire, Erzsebet enjoyed bathing in the blood of young girls to maintain her beauty and continued the tradition when she turned into a vampire and became the goddess Hecate’s right-hand woman. She’s killed over 1,000 people, mostly young women, and their ghosts have come forth to warn Hellboy and the others of the plot for her resurrection. Hellboy will have to face the hounds of hell, witches, harpies, a giant werewolf, Erzsebet and the Queen of Witches, Hecate, before this case can be closed.

Watching Hellboy: Blood and Iron, I was reminded of watching Saturday morning cartoons as a kid. The only thing that I was missing was a big bowl of Lucky Charms! The movie was fun, moved at a brisk pace, and kept me glued to the screen. Despite not having much previous knowledge of the Hellboy franchise, I found it extremely easy to follow along and become familiar with each of the characters. The writers wisely don’t go too far in-depth with the characters as to not bore the established fans, but introduce them just enough for any newbies (like me!) to easily follow.

The voice acting by all of the actors is superb; the skill in which they become their respective characters is astounding and really adds to the story. I loved the performance by Ron Perlman as Hellboy! He’s gruff, cheeky and just doesn’t give a crap about a lot of stuff. Perlman definitely gets into and really becomes his character! I was hoping to see more of Selma Blair’s character, Liz Sherman, but she doesn’t get too much memorable screen time.

The story of the resurrected vampire Erzsebet (which closely resembles the story of 17th century real life serial killer Elizabeth Bathory) is a little tired, but it still manages to work rather well with the added subplots of Hecate and the other demons Hellboy and Co. must face. The inclusion of the Professor’s flashbacks to his first confrontation with Erzsebet and the priest’s own story also added depth to the story and made the film much more interesting.

The only thing that disappointed me was the fight scenes. In animation, so much more is possible than in live action and I was expecting some pretty brutal scenes. I was a little bit let down when the fights weren’t all that spectacular. The film opens right away on a battle between Hellboy and a few demons in the sewers, which is probably one of the better fights in the film. The rest of the battles are just so-so…

The extras on the disc are impressive, including Reversal of Fortune: Professor Bloom’s Story, Tales from the Tomb: A Look Inside Blood and Iron, Iron Shoes: The Animated Debut with Introduction by Mike Mignola, The Penanggalan: An E-Comic Exclusive with introduction by Mike Mignola and Audio Commentary featuring Mike Mignola, Tad Stones and Vic Cook. Also included with the DVD is an exclusive 32 page Hellboy comic.

Hellboy: Blood and Iron was a highly entertaining and fun animated movie! I highly recommend checking it out, whether you are already a fan to the series or are a newbie! After seeing Blood and Iron, I am tempted to pick up the Hellboy movie and the other Hellboy animated feature.

Available from Amazon!

Friday, May 25, 2007

The Thirst (2006)

A young couple is struggling with sober living after a life of addiction. Maxx (Matt Keeslar) begins to suspect that Lisa (Clare Kramer – best known as Glory from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series) is using again. She has begun working as a stripper, frequently vomits and reeks of death. One night, Lisa collapses on stage and is rushed to the ER. Maxx confronts her about drugs, but she admits to him that she is dying of cancer. Instead of slowly rotting away, Lisa decided to take matters into her own hands…

Maxx mourns Lisa’s suicide until one day, when his friends drag him to a goth/industrial club and Maxx sees someone who looks just like Lisa on the crowded dance floor. She disappears, but Maxx comes back the next night to try and find her. He finds her alright, but she is now a vampire. Turns out she made a pact with a vampire named Mariel (Serena Scott Thomas) to fake her own death and is now part of a family of vampires, led by Darius (the always gorgeous and entertaining Jeremy Sisto) Maxx is soon brought into the fold as well, but after the high that blood drinking brings, both Maxx and Lisa decide to turn their backs on their new family and try to give up the blood cold turkey…Can they survive the craving for blood AND Darius’ mad vampire family?

The Thirst is a blood splattered but bumpy ride. It has a serious streak running throughout it, with vampirism acting as a metaphor for drug addiction. On the other hand, it also has a goofy, silly and almost exploitative side to it as well. Its uneven tone prevented me from enjoying it wholeheartedly, but its buckets of blood approach at least kept me mildly amused.

The absolute best thing about this film was the blood splatter. Thick and viscous ribbons of blood erupt from the vampires’ victims. Sheets of blood drench the characters and blood sprays across faces, torsos, and any anything within a 20 foot radius. If this were a live show, the first five rows would be considered the “wet zone.” Blood coats everything. The blood splatter, combined with the gore (one scene, involving Lisa and Maxx going after a cat after they’ve holed up in their apartment and tried to quit human blood, is especially hard to watch) are truly fantastic!

The rest of the movie, though, ain’t so red hot. My main complaint was the lackluster and uneven story. The story felt pulled in way too many different directions and it was stretched so thin that all that was left were shallow characters and half-assed subplots. Considering that five different people worked on the screenplay, it’s not hard to see why the story is so sporadic and unbalanced. At one point, it’s a parable about addictions and takes a very serious tone, but the next scene switches to an all out TG & A fest (that’s tits, gore and ass, a phrase patented by yours truly)!!

The characters themselves felt bland and underused. Jeremy Sisto, one of my favorite actors, played a silly Russian-by-way-of-Texas vampire. His accent felt forced and kept switching from Southern twang to Russian growl. Sisto is usually a joy to watch, but in this instance I felt severely let down. As the head of the vampiric household, he sure didn’t seem menacing to me and seemed far too bumbling to lead anyone. Gorgeous Serena Scott Thomas played vampire Mariel with much better results, though she too seemed to lack screen time. Rounding out the vampire crew were Adam Baldwin (Serenity and Firefly) as cowboy Lenny, Neil Jackson as the Duke and Kylah Kim and Aye Rose Roohl as two gyrating, half-naked sisters. Surprisingly, it was Neil Jackson who stole the show with his delightfully vicious Duke character. It’s too bad he didn’t get very much screen time! It’s also worth mentioning that one of my favorite actors from Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s last two seasons, Tom Lenk, who played Andrew, appears in the film in a small, yet satisfying, role.

Sure, The Thirst has a story that starts to fall apart like a decomposing body in 120 degree weather by the 40 minute mark, but at least it’s got the bloody action to keep it together, even if it is held together by a frayed sinew. If you are looking for fast and furious vampire fun, complete with fountains of the sticky red stuff and boobs galore and little else, The Thirst may quench your craving. If you are looking for something a little meatier, though, steer clear.

Available from Amazon!

Monday, May 21, 2007

Fangoria Weekend of Horrors Report

Yesterday, for the first time, I ventured to the Fangoria Weekend of Horrors! After waking up early and making the drive to Los Angeles, I found myself at the Burbank Airport Marriott surrounded by like-minded people…all horror-loving freaks!

 Eli Roth Hostel II panel

My first order of business was to pop into the Hostel II panel with director Eli Roth and stars Bijou Phillips and Vera Jordanova. I was a bit early, so I got to catch the last part of Heather Langenkamp’s (the star of Nightmare on Elm Street) Q & A. She was very personable, friendly and open and still looked fantastic! Next was the Hostel II panel. Out came two buff, hulking men wearing leather aprons. One carried a wicked hammer and the other a long strand of chain. Both had surgical masks over their faces and both looked very menacing…and they are two of the torturers from the film! Eli Roth and his two leading ladies soon took their seats on stage and began answering questions from the audience. All three of them seemed very excited about the movie and happy to be at the convention. Roth encouraged all young filmmakers in the audience to never give up their dreams and not to let anything get in their way. He also told a funny story about sneaking into the Fangoria convention when he was still a struggling filmmaker and did hilarious, spot-on impressions of Quentin Tarantino and David Lynch. A sneak peek at Hostel II was also shown, which, along with Roth’s excitement, only made me more anxious to see Hostel II.

Me, Danny of Horror Fanatics and Michelle Fatale

After that I had time to traipse around, look at all the pretty merch, stop in to say hi to our friends at Mangled Angels and the Living Dead Girlz and have some lunch. After that it was to the bar to meet up with Heidi Martinuzzi of Pretty/Scary and Shannon Lark of Living Dead Girlz and the Viscera Film Festival. Then it was back to wandering the booths and picking up some cool souvenirs and freebies. There were lots of famous faces wandering about – gothic minstrel/author Voltaire, horror darling Debbie Rochon, Doug Bradley (Pinhead from Hellraiser fame), Rider Strong (of the upcoming Borderland), Tony Todd (of the upcoming Hatchet, of Candyman and The Devil’s Rejects fame), the cast of Rob Zombie’s Halloween including Danielle Harris, Giuseppe Andrews (from Cabin Fever), director Ryan Schifrin of Abominable  and tons more!

 Me and director Ryan Shifrin

After wandering a bit, I made my way to the next couple of panels, including a Horror Composers panel, a Hatchet panel and sneak peek and the Rob Zombie/Halloween panel. The Hatchet panel was by far the most entertaining, with writer/director Adam Green getting the audience pumped with his enthusiasm. The movie itself, set to be released September 7th, 2007, looks wicked awesome! The sneak peak shown to the audience was met with a roar of approval from the crowd and was a fantastically gruesome and bloody clip! Stars Kane Hodder, Tony Todd, Joel David Moore, Tamara Feldman and special FX creator John Carl Buechler joined Green on stage. This is one movie that I am wholeheartedly looking forward to and I hope it gets a great response from horror fans, because it looks like it aims to please!

 Me, WiL and Molly from Horror Yearbook

The Halloween panel was a bit of a let down, as Rob Zombie wasn’t as enthusiastic or responsive to the audience’s questions as Roth or Green were. Still, it was a thrill to see Zombie on stage along with cast members (left to right in photo below) Kristina Klebe, Hanna Hall, Danielle Harris, Scout Taylor-Compton, Sherri Moon Zombie and cutie Daeg Faerch (Rob Zombie on far right of photo). I think Faerch was the most excited to be there and definitely gave the best answers to fans’ questions.

 Rob Zombie's Halloween panel

After the remaining panels I headed back to the bar for some mingling…Met a fine bunch of people including Danny from, the lovely Michelle Fatale, the director of Guardian of the Realm, Ted Smith, the director and writer for Closet Space, Mel House and Jason Stewart, Jolene from the Flesh Farm the wonderful Molly Celaschi and WiL from, the Dread Central guys and so many more! There are so many people I missed seeing and didn’t get a chance to talk to, like the Icons of Fright crew, who came all the way from the East Coast, “Flick Chick Staci” (or Staci Wilson) whom I spotted running around and lots of other familiar looking folks whom I didn’t have a chance to talk to. I’m glad I got to spend some quality time with the folks I did meet, though! And to anyone I missed, there’s always next year!

I ended the night knowing I had made some great new friends, I had attending my very first horror convention and I had spread the word just a little bit more about and our love for horror. It was a fun time and restored my faith that yes, there are horror fans out there just like me (they seem hard to come by where I live). This Weekend of Horrors was truly memorable and was an amazing and overwhelming experience, one that I look forward to repeating next year!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Illegal Aliens (2007)

Why is that that when celebrities die, their Hollywood stock value goes through the roof and anyone who’s ever worked with them or known them tries to cash in posthumously? Had it not been for Anna Nicole Smith’s death recently, Illegal Aliens would have arrived at your $1.99 DVD bargain bin at Wal-Mart without fanfare, but instead it must now flood the shelves of your local DVD store.

Three aliens (Anna Nicole Smith, Lenise Soren, Gladys Jimenez) are sent to protect the world from whatever forces threaten to destroy it and take the forms of three hot babes. When not saving the world, they work as stunt coordinators in Hollywood. Everything seems fine and dandy, until fellow alien Rex lands on earth, takes over a woman’s buff bod (you remember wrestler Chyna?! She’s now Joanie Laurer) and begins building a mega-gravitron to crash the moon into the earth and snuff out all life as we know it. It’s up to the scantily clad “hot babes” to save the world from sure destruction.

It’s not hard to tell that this movie doesn’t take itself seriously and was meant to be a funny, bad B-movie. The bad news is that there isn’t anything funny about this movie! It is all bad, and not in the so-bad-it’s-good sense! As the movie limped on and I was forced to sit through increasingly horrible performances, bad jokes and horrible hokey dialogue, I thought I’d traveled to one of the worse circles of Hell. Yes, it was that painful.

Not only that, but I found some actions of the female characters and other characters’ reactions to female characters downright insulting. First of all, the whole storyline is a sci-fi nerd’s dream come true: three aliens take the forms of three hot women, save the world, have a “girl fight,” and make out with the nerdy scientific guy. Secondly, for “advanced” and “intelligent” life forms, the girls sure aren’t that bright – Smith plays her blonde-haired bimbo like a retarded 2-year old. Now, a full-grown woman acting like a baby (literally talking in a little girl’s voice, wearing little girl clothes and reasoning like a little girl) and playing it off like it’s “cute” or “hot” is insulting to me as a woman. What insults me most is that this is insinuating that men want a dumb, airheaded and obedient woman. The other two aliens aren’t as bad as Smith’s character (who was basically just playing herself anyway), especially the one who is in charge (played by Lenise Soren). Still, when the one in charge starts crushing on the cute scientist they rescue, she gets all googly-eyed and neglects her duties.

I cannot count how many other scenes irked me, but they sure are plentiful! The acting alone is annoying, from the previously mentioned performance by Smith to Laurer (aka Chyna) playing the screwball and painfully over-the-top evil alien Rex. Her facial contortions and frequent pitch changes in voice were freaky enough, but the dialogue she spewed out made me want to jab sharpened pencils in my ears.

The action sequences, on the other hand, were pretty well done…though most of them were intercut with stock footage. One sequence toward the end that was actually funny was an action sequence that used the most random of stock footage – people jumping out of buildings, cars burning, nuclear testing footage, etc. – for a huge explosion scene. Another action scene I actually enjoyed was when the girls are nearly attacked by a giant horde of spiders commanded by Rex. That definitely harkened back to 1950’s drive-in horror that featured giant bugs and monsters attacking the populace.

Though Illegal Aliens keeps its tongue firmly in cheek, this didn't make it any good or even funny. It lacks the charm of old B-movies, overuses fart jokes and kinda makes me wish Anna Nicole Smith was still alive so she could be properly chastised for her awful performance. To sum it up, if Charlie’s Angels met Plan 9 From Outer Space and had a deformed, ugly baby, that baby would be Illegal Aliens. Look for it at your local $1.99 bargain bin!

Available from Amazon!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Hellbride (2007)

British Jinx Media is back again after their highly enjoyable Killer Killer. This time they’ve unleashed Hellbride, which isn’t nearly as good as Killer Killer, but still manages to deliver great characters, good acting and some pretty spooky otherworldly forces.

Lee (James Fisher) and Nicole (Rebecca Herod) are very much in love and Lee finally finds the perfect ring with which to propose to Nicole. Trouble is, the ring’s original owner was Josephine Stewart (Eleanor James), a Victorian bride-to-be who was cheated on by her fiancé. Josephine decided not to let on that she knew about her betrothed’s fling, but began murdering anyone and everyone associated with her wedding. When the wedding day arrived, Josephine bit off her own ring finger that held her ring and killed her fiancé. Ever since then the ring has been cursed, and any bride-to-be that wears it is soon beset by death. Lucky Nicole! She soon begins having visions of Josephine and her creepy, pointy-beaked monster minion. To make matters worse, her dad (James Kavaz) owes money to the mob and Nicole becomes entangled with the death of the mob boss’ son. With all of these problems, not to mention cold feet, will Lee and Nicole ever be able to tie the knot?

Hellbride has a lot going for it, most notably its likable characters. I fell right into Nick and Nicole’s cute relationship, and also like the awkward relationship between their two best friends, Ricky (Oli Wilkinson) and Carly (Natalie Milner), who also happen to be exes. The characters are developed just enough to get to know them and care about them. I also enjoyed the beginning of the film where Josephine’s story is told through old-fashioned black and white drawings.

The story itself feels more like a romantic comedy than anything else. One-liners, gags and lovey-doviness run throughout. It also helps that Nick is a stand-up comic, adding to the laugh-track. One of my favorite gags, though, was the character of Sinclair (Cy Henty of Killer Killer), Carly’s nerdy and sleazy cousin whom Nicole consults for supernatural help.

The acting is what elevates this film from simply being another independent feature to one that stands out. The story might need improvement, but the actors all shine in their roles. James Fisher is adorable as the sweet and loving Lee, Rebecca Herod is as cute-as-a-button and Oli Wilkinson and Natalie Milner have so much chemistry between their characters it’s hard to look away!

The biggest let-downs of the film were the mob sub-plot and the ending. The mob sub-plot involving Carly and her dad felt completely out of place in the film and didn’t add anything to it. The ending dragged on for too long and really wasn’t exciting or suspenseful. Also, certain points of the plot didn’t make sense and weren’t explained. For example, how did Josephine take corporeal form? And what was her monster minion?? It sure looked creepy, but where did it come from and how did it come to be?? Also, Killer Killer had some great visual style too it, but it seemed lost in Hellbride.

If you are looking for something scary with lottsa gore, skip this one, but if you are looking for an independent horror film that’s heavy on romantic comedy, Hellbride just might be your ticket. It’s got laughs, great acting, well-drawn characters and one creepy monster minion!

Available from Amazon!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

28 Weeks Later (2007)

Deaths from infectious diseases appear to be increasing worldwide, and many experts believe we are due for a global pandemic. According to the latest figures from the World Health Organization, almost 11 million people worldwide died from infectious diseases alone in 2002. New communicable diseases like SARS (“Bird Flu”), the West Nile virus and “Mad Cow” (or foot-in-mouth) disease are constantly appearing. Others, such as malaria, tuberculosis, and bacterial pneumonias, are also evolving and are now appearing in forms that are resistant to drug treatments. We also live under the threat of biological and chemical warfare.

IS THE END PRETTY FUCKING NIGH? This very real threat is what makes 28 Days Later and its sequel, 28 Weeks Later so delightfully dangerous and scary; the scenario of an infectious “rage” disease that decimates England really could happen. And what’s there to stop from jumping the pond to the rest of Europe and the world?

28 Weeks Later seeks to confront this question. It is twenty-eight weeks after the “rage” virus spread in quarantined England and all of “the infected” have died from starvation. NATO has sent the American troops in to clean up the mess and secure an area of London for rebuilding and repopulation. Two children, the teenage Tammy (Imogen Poots) and her younger brother Andy (Mackintosh Muggleton), are reunited with their dad, Don (Robert Carlyle). While his children found refuge in Spain during the English evacuation, Don and his wife Alice (Catherine McCormack) were hiding out in the English countryside with other survivors until the infected came knocking (in what makes for a spectacular and heart-stopping opening sequence). Don left Alice behind and finally found refuge with the US troops in London. Now, since the military doesn’t think there is a threat of infection anymore, refugees can be brought back into a safe section of London. Things aren’t so safe, though…the infection is not gone, but still exists in a certain surprising carrier. It all begins again as the military tries to contain the outbreak and Tammy and Andy team up with a military doctor (Rose Byrne), soldier (Jeremy Renner) and a few civilians to try to survive both the infected and the military to get out of England.

28 Weeks Later is a fast-paced, exciting and frantic film that continues the story of the rage virus while cleverly building upon it. The story, rewritten from Rowan Joffe’s initial script by director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo and his frequent contributors Jesus Olmo and Enrique Lopez Lavigne, has a very immediate and realistic feel to it. Its images conjure up the current “War on Terror” and the way the U.S. likes to be the “world police,” 9/11 devastation, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the rise of new and improved infectious diseases (including ones that can be used in biological warfare).

Besides its not-so-subtle social commentary, the film also serves as a damn fine entertaining and frightening film. The gore in 28 Weeks Later outdoes that from the first film – there are a lot of necks getting ripped out, flesh getting torn apart, an eyeball gouging scene, civilians and infected alike getting gunned down, plentiful blood splatter and a nifty helicopter scene involving a chopper’s blades and hundreds of the infected! We also get more close-ups of the infected in all their rage-filled glory. There are also several visceral scenes that will cause you to jump right out of your seat! Yes, if you are looking for pure entertainment, 28 Weeks Later has much to offer.

As for the acting, Robert Carlyle does a wonderful job playing the father and husband. He is doting and kind to his wife, but it doesn’t take long for his darker side to come out during the opening scenes. There’s a real sadness to the way Carlyle plays his character, but under the surface there’s a real menace waiting to be let loose. The actors playing his children, Imogen Poots and Mackintosh Muggleton, do a spectacular job with their characters. I was impressed by how likeable their characters were and how I was rooting for them all the way to the end, even though they do make their share of mistakes (but, c’mon! They are just kids!).

While the film lacks the haunting composition of Danny Boyle’s direction, Fresnadillo creates a frenzied piece of action, broken only by moments of calm silence that belie the violence that is to come. From the empty London streets to the rolling hills of the countryside to getting up-close-and-personal with an angry horde of the infected, Fresnadillo’s direction really makes you feel like you are right there beside the blood-spewing, clawing, biting and growing masses of the infected.

My one complaint about 28 Weeks Later is the shaky cam technique used. While it does manage to recreate the confusion, frenzy and disorientation the characters feel in the midst of an attack, most of the time I couldn’t tell what the hell was going on. Slightly frustrating, but this minor annoyance did little to diminish my enjoyment of the film.

Packed with energy and excitement, 28 Weeks Later is the first must-see horror film of the summer season! Don’t miss it while it’s in theaters…and, errrr, don’t contract any infectious diseases from the theater seats!!

Friday, May 11, 2007

The Convent (2000)

The Convent is a raucous, ridiculous and fun film directed by Mike Mendez before he did The Gravedancers. Fans of gory horror films that feature a prominent vein of goofy comedy are sure to love The Convent.

It’s 1959, and a Catholic school girl, named Christine, approaches a convent with a leather jacket slouched over her shoulders, a cigarette dangling from her mouth, big sunglasses on, a barrel of gasoline and a bag of weapons, all to the sounds of “You Don’t Own Me.” She enters the convent and proceeds to beat the nuns and priest inside with a baseball bat before lighting them on fire and gunning them down. The whole place soon goes up in flames and the story becomes local legend…

Forty years later, the convent is abandoned and is said to still be haunted by the nuns and priest. Rumor has it that Christine went bonkers after the nuns forced her to have an abortion. Christine was locked up in a mental institution for a number of years, but now she resides in town, living as a recluse.

A group of college kids go looking for a little excitement at the convent, but soon get kicked out by two cops (Bill Mosely and Coolio in two memorable cameos!), all except for Goth chick Mo, that is. She is snatched up by the local satanic cult as a virginal sacrifice. Things go kablooey and the demons are mistakenly set loose by the bumbling Satanists.

When the rest of the college kids begrudgingly return to look for Mo, they are attacked by the demons and they themselves are turned into demons. The demons don the nuns’ and priest’s clothes and are intent on bringing forth the Antichrist. One of the few survivors, Clorissa, escapes to find Christine (the adult Christine is played by the kick ass Adrienne Barbeau) to see if she can again stop the nuns. Turns out Christine killed the nuns and priest not because of a clandestine abortion, but because they were demons who wanted her unborn baby to turn into the Antichrist! The demons have returned to try and finish the ritual that they started, this time with Clorissa’s geeky and virginal brother. Can Christine save the day…again?!

Director Mike Mendez really packed this movie chock-full of his love for cheesy, over-the-top ‘80s horror films like Night of the Demons, Evil Dead and Demons. His exuberance and excitement for the genre is apparent and contagious!! If anything, this movie will make you appreciate the giddiness Mendez has for the genre and hopefully you’ll start feeling equally giddy!

This is a movie that never takes itself seriously and has fun emulating horror films from the past. It winks at the audience while paying homage to ‘80s horror and creating a wholeheartedly entertaining flick. From the stereotypical characters (jock, stoner, rich boy, horny couple, geek, Goth, Final Girl, Satanists, etc.) to its over-the-top gore (decapitations, head squishings/explosions, stabbings, shootings etc.), The Convent is a real throwback film.

It also helps that the script, written by Chaton Anderson, is downright hilarious! And not with that subtle, self-effacing, satirical humor so popular nowadays, either! No, the one-liners are packed full of cheesy, corny goodness, like something straight outta the 80s!

The special effects are worth mentioning as well, as the demonic nuns ooze florescent-colored blood (quite a clever way of getting around the MPAA rating board; this movie got away with a PG rating). The gore is never hardcore or realistic, but it’s never meant to be that way. Instead, it functions as mostly comedic and over-the-top, but that’s exactly what Mendez was going for.

Adrienne Barbeau (The Fog, Creepshow) is perfectly cast as the adult, tough-as-nails Christine. Her whisky-drinking, chain-smoking, Harley-riding, gun-toting and otherwise larger-than-life demeanor fits beautifully in the action-packed film. It is also a pleasure to see Bill Mosley (House of 1,000 Corpses, The Devil’s Rejects) in a small cameo as a dope-smoking cop along with Coolio. The rest of the cast gives pretty cheesy performances, but that’s the whole point, isn’t it?

If you’re in the mood for a fun film that reflects the energy and enthusiasm of 80’s horror movies, look no further than The Convent.

Available on Amazon!

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

The Card Player (2004)

After so much bad press The Card Player received, I had steered clear from this newer Argento film for many years. Dario Argento’s Suspiria is still one of my favorite horror films, and I also like his Deep Red, Tenebre, Inferno, Opera and Bird With the Crystal Plumage. While I was disappointed with his first season episode Jenifer, for Masters of Horror, his second season offering of Pelts brought back the blood-soaked and stylish-yet-sleazy Argento I had fallen in love with. With Argento’s history of hits and misses, I proceeded with trepidation when sitting down to finally watch The Card Player.

It's a cat-and-mouse game between the police and a killer who "wants to play a game." The particular game in question is Internet poker with some high stakes. If the killer wins, he will kill a victim he has kidnapped. If the police win, he'll let the victim go free. To make the police see what they are up against, there is a live web video feed of the bound and gagged victims on screen while they play poker against the madman. Police officer Anna Mari (Stefania Rocca) and Interpol investigator John Brennan (Liam Cunningham) join forces to try and stop the killer before he beats them at poker and kills another victim again.

If you are looking for a classic Argento movie, full of style, flamboyancy and soaked in blood, The Card Player is not your best bet. In fact, Argento fans were furious and disappointed when this film first came out. They insisted that Argento had "sold out" and was attempting to "go mainstream" with this film. The colorful and inventive Argento-style is gone, as are the gruesome murder set pieces so beloved by fans from other films such as Suspiria and Deep Red. The Card Player is certainly not the best by Argento, but it certainly isn't that bad of a movie.

The story is pretty typical of a crime thriller and the plot has its share of holes, but I've seen a lot worse. I appreciated that the story gets off to a very fast start; within the first ten minutes the killer has contacted Anna at the police station and the game has begun. The audience is thrust right into the action without the benefit of character or story development. The character development that comes later never really goes too deep, opting to explain just enough to justify, for example, why Anna loathes gambling and never really quite explaining why Anna and John fall for each other. The bad news is the second part of the film, when the action becomes repetitive and there are just too many clichéd moments. The climax of the movie, played out on train tracks, is annoying and seems childish. The killer's motive for the crimes is also childish and laughable.

The acting itself is top notch by the two leads, but secondary characters chew up the scenery with their over-the-top reactions when watching the Card Player's victims' deaths. There are some truly laugh-out-loud moments watching the other actors, and these silly scenes take much away from the overall tension of the film. This is a pity, because with better acting the atmosphere could have held the tension.

There are some scenes that are reminiscent of Argento's signature style – the first is when Anna notices that the killer is watching her from the bushes outside her apartment from an eerie reflection on her ashtray. The ensuing home invasion scene, which happens in the dark, is very effective and suspenseful. Another scene full of style is when Remo (Silvio Muccino), the wiz kid poker player the police hire to beat the killer, chases a pretty girl down the labyrinth streets of Rome only to end up in another game with the killer, this one in which he must risk his own life! The dark labyrinth of streets and the dark labyrinth of the underground sewer Remo is forced to enter creates a claustrophobic and dizzying sequence.

Besides these few and far between scenes that allude to Argento's earlier days, The Card Player is pretty unmemorable and feels like watered-down Argento. There is hardly any gore and the most squirm-inducing scene is one in which John pokes and prods at the orifices (including her slit neck) of a corpse in the autopsy room, looking for clues.

The Card Player is a bland, modern Argento film that I find a hard time recommending. If you are looking for one of Argento’s classic films, do not start with The Card Player. On the other hand, if you've exhausted your collection of Argento films and want to see what his newer efforts look like then The Card Player might be for you. Just don’t bet on getting a gore-filled, stylish Argento film with The Card Player…the odds for that are slim to none!

Available from Amazon!

Monday, May 7, 2007

Bloodlines (2007)

Bloodlines (aka Stickville) is I Spit On Your Grave meets The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It’s a brutal and shocking film that relies on strong characters that we want to see survive.

In the backwoods of Kentucky, a family of inbreds is intent on keeping their family bloodline alive...they begin seeking out pretty women who can continue their heritage without the deformities that are a result of inbreeding. They kidnap women and force them to fight to the death to determine who is the strongest. The winner is then raped by the “man of the house,” Billy Bob (Jason Padgett), in hopes that she will get pregnant and give birth to the family’s future. When the family abducts Amber Strickland (Grace Johnston) after her car breaks down on a desolate stretch of road, they learn that they’ve messed with the wrong woman. Amber is smart and tough-as-nails, and soon her own vicious family comes looking for her…

Bloodlines is a nasty tale about a family of murderous, backwoods inbreds. Despite its familiar story, it manages to draw the viewer in with some excellent character development and brutal, hard-to-watch scenes. While the film does have its gore, it doesn’t rely on just that to entertain the audience. Instead, the film is brutal and hard-to-watch because of its excellent character development, which makes us care a great deal about the captive women, especially when they are being brutalized. Thankfully, this is not an exploitative film and the violence toward the women is never eroticized or “sexy.” No matter how terrorized by the inbred family the women are, though, (especially Amber’s character) the women always hold their own and fight back.

What I enjoyed most about this film were the female characters. The women aren’t all strong like Amber, but the each finds her strength by the end of the film. Amber, played by Grace Johnston, is a very well developed character and as the film progresses you keep caring more and more about her. She sticks up for those weaker than her, doesn’t back down, is loyal, is determined and is extremely gutsy! The villain of the piece, Billy Bob (Jason Padgett) is a vile piece of backwoods misogynistic trash, talking down to his sisters, violently abusing women, raping women and leading his family and friends to do very nasty things to the women they capture. There is no way anyone could empathize or support such a sick, sadistic piece of work like Billy Bob (at least, I sure as hell hope no one could relate to him!). Both Johnston and Padgett (as well as the rest of the cast) do a fantastic job at playing their characters.

Along with the character development, the story is also very well-developed. The pacing is quick and there are few moments to catch your breath. There is enough depth (and a few twists) to the story to make it interesting, but not too much that would otherwise bog the story down.

This is an independent film, but it looks surprisingly great. It was mostly filled in one location (the isolated cabin home of the inbred family), but it also utilizes some great scenes in the forest where the inbreds are hunted by Amber’s own family. The scenes within the cabin are appropriately claustrophobic, frightening and tense.

I only have a few complaints about the film, one of which is the climactic scene, which seems to drag on a bit too long. Also, there are so many women that Billy Bob and his family are holding – I think they should have stuck to the original three hostages that were first introduced.

Besides these minor quibbles, Bloodlines is a film with a story and characters that will have you glued to the screen. I highly recommend checking it out when it is released by THINKFilm, tentatively scheduled for July 31, 2007.

Available on Amazon!

Lemora: A Child's Tale of the Supernatural (1973)

Can you remember when your innocence was lost? Did it happen all at once or did it happen more gradually? Most of you probably haven’t heard of Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural, that was originally released in 1973, but this film about the loss of innocence and what “growing up” really means is one that deserves to be seen!

In the South in the late 1920s or early 1930s lives a girl named Lila Lee (Cheryl “Rainbeaux” Smith). Her gangster father kills her adulterous mother in a jealous rage and Lila is sent to live with a pious reverend. Lila is raised by the reverend to be a God-fearing lady and she is also part of the church choir. One day, Lila receives a mysterious letter from someone named Lemora (Lesley Gilb), who says her father is on his deathbed and wishes to see her. Lila slips quietly away in the night and catches a bus to go find her father. During the ride through the dark forest, the bus is beset by wild and bloodthirsty people (who by all appearances look like zombies). Lila escapes, only to be stuck in a cell-like room when she arrives at Lemora’s home. She soon meets Lemora and her pack of gypsy-like children.

Things begin to get stranger and stranger, as Lila notices there are no mirrors in the house, her father is nowhere to be found and black-hooded men do Lemora’s every bidding. Lemora is more than loving towards her, but when Lila figures something isn’t quite right, she tries to flee. Can she make it out through the woods that are populated with the bloodthirsty zombies? Can she escape Lemora’s black-hooded minions? Most of all, can she escape the draw she feels towards Lemora?

Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural is a lush, Gothic fairy tale for adults. The theme of the loss of innocence is predominant throughout the film, but there are many other themes and layers to this intelligent and engaging film.

Directed and written by Richard Blackburn (who also stars as the reverend), Lemora is a film appreciated by few but one that deserves a much larger audience. The book Fangoria’s 101 Best Horror Movies You’ve Never Seen says, “Combine Alice in Wonderland and Night of the Living Dead – and throw in a vampire element – and you have Lemora…”

With Lemora, Blackburn has created an enchanting yet frightening film that shows the perils of growing up as a young woman. Lila Lee is presented as wide-eyed innocence personified until she leaves her “safe” environment of her home/church. In her first encounter with the outside world (just outside her house as she tries to catch a ride to the bus station) she is lasciviously propositioned by a man. As she continues her journey to Lemora’s house deep in the woods, all the men she comes across are lewd and vulgar. The zombies in the woods are the most base representation of men; they are interested only in her flesh and devouring her whole, literally!

The dangers only increase when she reaches Lemora’s house, which appears at first to be a safe haven. Lemora appears to be kind and caring, but we soon find out she is no better than the men that Lila met on her journey. There are heavy lesbian overtones (when giving Lila a bath, Lemora comments, “What an exciting figure you have.”). Lemora wants Lila to submit to her and to stay with her forever. Lemora makes it seem that if Lila becomes one of her kind, she will have power and will no longer have to put up with panting paramours. Will Lila’s innocence be lost?

Lemora is not only a beautiful and mesmerizing film that has a dream-like atmosphere, but it also has many layers of meaning to it. It is very original and deserves to be seen. Synapse Films released the film on DVD in 2004, complete with an uncut and uncensored widescreen transfer that was approved by Richard Blackburn, along with commentary from the director, Lesley Gilb and producer Robert Fern, a still gallery and the original shooting script. The film was released in 1973 and was a drive-in and late-night television favorite. Though it is only rated PG, Lemora offers a uniquely odd look at the coming-of-age tale.

Available on Amazon!

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

The Hitcher (2007)

Ah…another day another remake. This time around it is The Hitcher. Was it worth remaking? Was it any good? Did I manage to make it through without falling asleep or yanking my own hair out?

A young couple, Grace (Sophia Bush) and Jim (Zachary Knighton), sets off on a road trip to meet up with friends in Lake Havasu on spring break. Their trip is going smoothly as they drive through the desolate but beautiful desert landscape of New Mexico. That is, until they nearly hit a hitchhiker (Sean Bean) on the side of the road. He doesn’t appear hurt, so they just keep driving. Unfortunately for them, they meet up with him at the next gas station. They feel bad about leaving him on the side of the road, so they offer to take him to the next motel. Things quickly turn ugly as the hitcher starts to get violent and threatens their lives. Jim and Grace manage to throw him from the car, but he continues to track them down and terrorize them, framing them for all the murders he has committed on the highway. Now Jim and Grace are on the run from the law as well as trying to stop the hitcher from striking again.

The Hitcher had its (precious few) moments, but ultimately it was another unnecessary remake that didn’t bring anything new to the screen. My main problem with remakes is that they hardly ever present anything new. It’s the same scenarios played again and again, perhaps given a slicker look and usually including pretty new faces. How am I supposed to be satisfied by that when the original was just fine?

The Hitcher does look great, but other than watching the pretty scenery going by, I was bored. It is almost exactly the same as the original. Sure, instead of one kid and a waitress who joins him as the leads now we have a college couple, but all the major events that took place were just copied and put into this movie. There is nothing new here and therefore there was nothing to hold my attention.

The acting was actually quite good, with the three leads of Knighton, Bush and Bean doing a great job. I still prefer Rutger Hauer in the original as the villain, but Sean Bean gave an okay performance. He just seemed a little too subdued for the role. I guess I was just expecting a little bit more from Bean. Bush and Knighton were believable as a couple, and most importantly, their actions were also believable. Most actors who star in big budget horror usually annoy me, but these two played off each other surprisingly well.

There were some spiffy chase scenes, especially one towards the end which I’d like to nominate for the most gross misuse of a Nine Inch Nails song. If it wasn’t for the horrible misappropriation of that song, that would have been the coolest chase scene in the movie. The gore, blood and violence are amped up in this one, and thank goodness they went for an R-rating instead of PG-13. There’s plentiful blood splatter that will keep you at least mildly entertained.

Come to think of it, The Hitcher is “mild” entertainment. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its brutal parts (it does) but it just feels completely shallow and doesn’t have any weight to it. If you haven’t seen the original The Hitcher, you might find this remake somewhat entertaining, but I still recommend checking out the original. The original may have its goofball and cheesy moments, but at least it has the tension and the unexpected to pull it through!

Available on Amazon!

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Malevolence (2004)

It’s been quite some time since a horror movie managed to both impress and scare me. The last one I remember really having a strong affect on me was The Descent. The Descent was different and original, had a great cast and showcased some of the most claustrophobic and scary atmospheres in horror history. Let’s just say, it scared the piss outta me.

With Malevolence, I was expecting another brutal but ultimately boring slasherfest. Wow! Was I ever wrong! If it was still 2004 (the year it was released) Malevolence surely would have made my top 10 list.

A bank heist goes wrong and the four thieves are forced to flee for their lives. Kurt takes the money and escapes in his car while Marylin, Julian and a fatally wounded Max take a separate car. Their goal is to meet up at an isolated and abandoned house in the country and use it as their hide-out. Things go awry when Kurt’s car has a blow out and he decides to carjack mother and daughter Samantha and Courtney. He makes them drive to the hide-out, where Courtney makes a daring escape. Unfortunately, she runs to a nearby slaughterhouse that appears abandoned while Kurt gives chase. The slaughterhouse is actually home to a vicious serial killer that has been operating for about a decade.

Meanwhile, after burying Max, Marylin and Julian head to the hide-out to find Kurt and the money missing and Samantha tied up in a corner. When they head out to find Kurt, they discover that they have bigger problems than missing loot…they must fight for their lives as the serial killer stalks and hunts them down.

This was a great first-time feature film by director/writer/editor/producer/composer Stevan Mena. Malevolence echoes classic horror films like Psycho, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Friday the 13th, Halloween and even Nightmare on Elm Street. Mena recognizes the masters of horror and doesn’t rip-off the greats, instead managing to pay homage to them while creating his own nail-bitingly suspenseful movie.

What is even more amazing is that this was a low-budget film and was independently financed (mainly by Mena himself) but still manages to look better (and certainly more stylish) than most big budget affairs. Mena insisted on shooting on 35mm film, even though it’s a lot pricier than digital, but the result looks amazing. Cinematographer Tsyuoshi Kimoto captures strikingly beautiful shots of the countryside and also manages to compose some very frightening scenes. The music (composed by Mena himself) also adds a lot to the creepy atmosphere throughout. Mena took his cue mainly from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Halloween in composing a very effective score. Both the striking visuals and the ominous score make this film a cut above any old run-of-the-mill horror film.

For a low budget feature, the acting is surprisingly good, especially from lead Brandon Johnson, who plays criminal-with-a-conscience Julian. Samantha Dark as captive Samantha also does a wonderful job as the mother in distress, as does Courtney Bertolone, the young girl who plays Samantha’s feisty daughter Courtney.

The film is a more serious and more grown-up approach to the slasher movie. Unlike most slashers, it is not cheesy or silly and doesn’t feature half-naked women running across the screen or buckets of gore to make up for lack of a story. It is a tense, thrilling and suspenseful ride made by a fellow horror fan that manages to fuse psychological thrills within a slasher story.

I have a lot of enthusiasm for Malevolence and hope to share the experience with friends. Mena hid a lot of references to other horror films within the movie, so this is a great flick to watch with fellow horror fans to try and find all the clever nods to other movies.

Malevolence is a wicked throwback to seminal horror films of the late 70s and 80s. If you are looking for something along the lines of Halloween, Friday the 13th and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, look no further than Malevolence!

Check out Malevolence on!
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