Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Dead@17 (2007)

Based on Josh Howard’s Dead@17 graphic novels, this short film by the same name stays true to the source material and by the end of its short run, you’ll be begging for more zombies and ax-wielding schoolgirls!

Nara and Hazy have been the best of friends since the 6th grade. Now they are in high school and Nara is offering support to Hazy, who has just broken up with her boyfriend. Hazy drops Nara off at her house that night, and Nara bounds up the stairs and into her bathroom to get ready for bed. After stripping off her pants, Nara starts brushing her teeth…until she hears and ominous noise. Figuring it’s her parents, she peeks into the hallway, where she sees a figure enveloped in shadow. He unsheathes a knife and Nara stumbles backwards into the bathroom, The killer, wearing a black mask, rushes at Nara and stabs her several times, leaving her to die on the bathroom floor.

Hazy is distraught at Nara’s death. One day, while visiting her grave, she is approached by two investigators who insist she come with them to the station. They tell her Nara was involved in the occult and even kept a diary chronicling the voices she heard. Hazy doesn’t believe it, but steals Nara’s diary anyway. Her friend Elijah picks her up from the police station and he also recounts a strange occurrence with Nara.

Hazy can’t believe what she’s hearing and heads home to her trailer park home. There she takes a peak at the pilfered diary and the undead come crashing through her thin walls! Guess Nara did have a little something to do with the occult… Just before all seems lost, a mini-skirt clad, schoolgirl-uniform wearing, ax-wielding and very dead Nara shows up and dismembers the zombies. Things are a little more complicated than Hazy originally thought, and now it’s up to the two of them to save the world…

Yowza! In its short 10 minutes, this film sure does pack a punch!! Fans of Howard’s comic will be pleased that director Mark Steensland closely follows the story, so much, in fact, that each shot looks like it was lovingly lifted from each of the the comic’s panels! This is definitely a film made by a fan for the fans. Even if you’re not a fan, this film will turn you into one and you’ll be Googling Dead@17 comics in no time! (Hint: They are published by Viper Comics, where you can get a sneak peek at volume one).

Everything about this short was a joy to watch, from the actors to the lighting to the cinematography to the zombie makeup. Right away you get wrapped up into the story and can’t wait to see what happens. The actors chosen to play Nara (Katelyn Gracy) and Hazy (Jessica Ciccone) look strikingly like the two characters and do a wonderful job of developing their characters within the first few minutes. We get a feel about who these girls are right from the get go and are behind them 100%.

The gore in the flick is short-lived, but, boy, is it sweet! We get stabbings, a pool of blood, zombie attacks, decapitations and dismemberment! This film is not a straight-up gore flick, but the gore it does contain looks great! I love the zombie slayage scene! Nara kicks some serious ass with her ax!

Dead@17 really brings Josh Howard’s work to life, capturing it’s energy, mystery and grue. Comic book or graphic novel adaptations are a tricky thing and no one wants them coming off goofy or silly, but Mark Steensland’s Dead@17 stands apart as an independent adaptation done right. It might be low budget, but it definitely has the spunk and charisma to garner the approval of fans and non-fans alike. Heck, it even has Howard’s approval!

When asked if he would make a full-length feature out of Dead@17, director Mark Steensland told us that, unfortunately, the rights to a movie have already been snatched up by some big budget studio. Here’s hoping this studio has the smarts to employ Steensland as director, because with his short Dead@17 film, he has created something truly special – a film both fans and non-fans love!

The film isn't available, but you can buy the comics on Amazon!

Book Review: Roses of Blood on Barbwire Vines by D.L. Snell

D.L. Snell has burst onto the horror fiction scene with his debut novel, Roses of Blood on Barbwire Vines, a wholeheartedly original and more brutal approach to both the vampire and zombie subgenres. Snell creates a post-apocalyptic world run by ruthless vampires who are slowly overrun by Lovecraftian zombies. The only humans that remain are used for the vampires’ food or for breeding. The breeders are lobotomized and amputated, slobbering sex machines that exist as nothing more than a means to give the vamps more bodies of full of tasty and life-nourishing blood. Only a handful of “whole” human survivors remain, and they are locked away tight as the vamps only, and quickly diminishing, supply of food.

Shade, the last monarch of the vampire kingdom, rules the Haven, an apartment complex where the vampires live. The Haven has been walled off from the zombies and barricaded with cars, barbed wire and other large pieces of debris. Somehow, the zombies are getting smarter and faster. They are controlled by the Puppeteer, a black, oily parasite that latches onto their brains and reanimates them. Now, the Puppeteer is quickly evolving and the mutating zombies soon find a way into the Haven.

Shade wants to stay and defend her father’s kingdom, but her general, Frost, has other ideas. He plans on abandoning their home to go live on a faraway island where the vampires can hunt humans in wide open spaces like they once did. Meanwhile, Ann, a secret blood slave to one of the vampires, must try to save her sister, one of the lobotomized and amputated breeders, and also escape the vampires’ clutches.
Will the vampires save their kingdom and side with their queen, or will they take General Frost’s side once the zombies infiltrate the Haven? Is there any chance for Ann or the rest of the humans? What exactly are the zombies becoming?

I was first introduced to author D.L. Snell through Permuted Press’ fantastic The Undead: Zombie Anthology. His story, “Pale Moonlight,” intrigued me quite a bit and I actively sought out his debut novel, Roses of Blood on Barbwire Vines. With this book Snell has blown me away, crafting a highly stylized story whose vivid descriptions remind me of a graphic novel without the pictures.

The action in Roses of Blood comes fast and furious, with the focus being on vampires. The zombies and remaining humans really are secondary characters here, with all the deceit, backstabbing, torture, viciousness and even loyalty between the vampires taking precedent. The characters of Shade and Frost are perfect comic book caricatures of the hero and the villain, but Snell develops each character so they don’t remain 2-dimensional. Both characters have their own mysterious pasts and both are brutal killers. Pretty soon, things go topsy-turvy and you’re not sure who the hero is or who the villain is. In the end though, the story belongs to Shade, who isn’t a princess in a fluffy dress who lounges on the throne all day. No, she’s a leather-clad caped crusader who won’t let her kingdom crumble without putting up one hell of a bloody fight.

Roses of Blood is a visceral, at times erotic, and always bloody book. The gore throughout really made me cringe time and time again. There are scenes of mayhem, torture and pain that really made me want to put the book down and say, “Wow, I just can’t handle it,” but Snell has created such an engrossing book that no matter how gruesome it became, I just couldn’t put it down. Barbwire does play a large part as is referenced in the title, and there are plentiful scenes of it ripping and tearing flesh from vampires, zombies and humans alike! The Puppeteer is also one vicious sumuvabitch, and the zombies here are unlike anything I’ve ever seen or read about! Their Cthulhu-like tentacles and quickly evolving intelligence sure did give me the heebie jeebies! The vampires are no frilly-frocked bunch either, and always come out guns and fangs ablazin’.

D.L. Snell’s prose is very poetic and uses many metaphors, hyperboles and comparisons. Don’t be mistaken, though. By “poetic” I don’t mean flowery love poems, but I mean some very brutal violence! My only complaint is that all the highly descriptive passages might rub some people the wrong way. Instead of just telling you what something looks like, Snell really shows you, which may be a bit abstract for some readers. Snell’s style is very creative, original but not straightforward. I found some of his descriptions a little clunky, but for the most part absolutely adored his unique writing style. This style is not something that is seen in the horror genre everyday and I found Snell’s unique voice very refreshing. Snell’s descriptions burst and bloom onto the pages…covered in grue, mind you! Don’t be put off by my “poetic” description. Roses of Blood on Barbwire Vines is one of the most visceral and violent horror books I’ve read in quite a while.

For an exhilarating and eviscerating mash-up of vampires, zombies and the apocalypse, don’t hesitate to check out D.L. Snell’s colorful, violent and all together entertaining book, Roses of Blood on Barbwire Vines.

Available on Amazon!

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Number 23 (2007)

I didn’t see The Number 23 in theaters, though I wanted to under the pretense that it was an intelligent thriller. And starred a very “smmmmmokin’!” Jim Carrey. Still, I never had the chance to check it out…until now.

Walter Sparrow (Jim Carrey) leads a pretty charmed life. He’s got a loving wife (Virginia Madsen), a close relationship with his teenage son (Logan Lerman) and a job he enjoys, even if it is animal control. For his birthday, his wife buys him a book entitled The Number 23, a novel of obsession authored by a mysterious author . He is soon lost within the story of Detective Fingerling (Jim Carrey) and his dark, noir-ish world populated by femme fatales, murder, paranoia, and, of course the number 23. Sparrow quickly notices startling parallels and too-close similarities between Fingerling’s life and his own, leading him to become obsessed with the number 23. Mysteries, secrets and hidden pasts come to light as Sparrow delves deeper and deeper into the book and into the cryptic 23. Are his and Fingerling’s fates intertwined or is everything just mere coincidence?

I remember when this movie looked oh-so promising and I though, “Oh, lookie! It’s an actual smart, suspenseful Hollywood movie based around numerology! And a hot Jim Carrey!” Looking back, one out of those three assumptions was correct. I’ll let you guess which one…

Now, The Number 23 wasn’t a terrible movie, just a terribly boring one! It started out promisingly enough, especially as Walter is introduced to the character of Fingerling. The audience is shown Fingerling’s gritty and dark world, and I really thought this is where the film shined. The visuals in Fingerling’s world are just breathtaking to look at, including his fairy tale-like childhood and the crime-streaked streets that he haunts as a detective. As things took a turn down Paranoia Lane, though, the film devolved into a confused mumbo-jumbo of a movie.

First of all, the film’s mysterious number 23 is never fully explained. Instead the real focus of the movie is Walter’s reading of the book and a mystery from the past that ties into everything. His whole family gets involved Scooby-Doo style to try and solve the big mystery and the movie starts to drag at the 45 minute mark. It relies heavily on mere coincidence and happenstance to keep things going (or “fate” and “destiny” as the characters like to call these convenient occurrences). The ending is anticlimactic, trite and expected.

Again, though, even through all my poo-poo’ing The Number 23 wasn’t all bad. I wholeheartedly enjoyed seeing Jim Carrey in two serious roles – one as family man Sparrow and one as the gritty ‘n’ greasy Detective Fingerling. Sparrow’s son, played by Logan Lerman (whom you might recognize as playing Ashton Kutcher’s younger counterpart in The Butterfly Effect) was great to watch as well. It’s always refreshing to see a teenage character that doesn’t sit around and sulk all the time. My only complaint with the acting was the chemistry between Jim Carrey’s characters and Virginia Madsen’s (she played both Sparrow’s wife and Fingerlings femme fatale), which just wasn’t there.

Despite my misgivings about the pacing, the convoluted storyline and my mistaken assumption that this would be a “smart” thriller, The Number 23 did manage to entertain…at least in small doses. Again, the Fingerling storyline and its execution were very enjoyable to me, as was some of the Scooby-Doo detective work the Sparrow family dove into. There were some suspenseful moments, but overall I just wished it were a lot more intelligent and much more cohesive.

Perhaps next time I’ll be more cautious when an edgy, tattooed Jim Carrey lures me to see an otherwise bland suspense-thriller…

Available from Amazon!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Sympathy (2007)

Every once in a while, I’ll get a low-budget, under-the-radar film that rekindles my love for the genre and proves that an excellent horror film CAN be made with a small budget. Sympathy is one of those films, reportedly shot for an astoundingly low budget of $6,500. It was directed by Andrew Moorman and written by Arik Martin (and based on his play “Serendipity”), and despite its budget, Sympathy is a firecracker of a film that crackles and sparks with a crazy energy that feels like it will explode at any minute.

Sympathy concerns an on-the-run bankrobber, Trip (Steven Pritchard), and the smart-mouthed teenage girl whom he’s kidnapped, named Sara (Marina Shtelen). Trip decides to hole up in a ratty motel room to plan his next move. Sara isn’t giving the young bankrobber much respite, and so he handcuffs her to the headboard of the bed, but then accidentally shoots her in the shoulder. Trip isn’t such a smooth criminal, you see, but no one is quite what they seem…

While Sara continues her smartass remarks to Trip (bullet wound be damned!), he leaves the room for a bit. When he returns, he finds that an escaped convict, named Dennis (Aaron Boucher), has joined them in their hideout. Dennis soon worms his way into Trip’s business, takes control, finds out Trip robbed a bank and tries to scheme how he can get his own hands on the dough. Meanwhile, Sara tries to sweet talk Dennis into helping her escape and he seems to take a special shine to her, but we soon find out that all three characters have their own hidden agendas.

Soon, dark revelations and hidden secrets come to light and the three characters clash in a cacophony of violence and blood.

Sympathy is an absolute marvel of independent, edge-of-your-seat entertainment! With its twists and turns, its well-acted and complex characters and its bloody action, it kept me glued to the screen from the very first scene.

The acting alone was impressive, with Marina Shtelen as Sara being the absolute standout in the cast of only three. Sassy, intelligent, daring and keeping her cool, the character of Sara is who everyone wishes she or he could be if ever kidnapped. Steven Pritchard as Trip and Aaron Boucher as Dennis do a fantastic job as well. Pritchard is able to go from commanding to cowering at the drop of a hat and had me alternating rooting for him and against him. Boucher plays Dennis with such a fierce intensity that we are caught unawares when the tables are turned. I can’t say any more for fear of ruining this fantastic film, but trust me that all the performances are raw, believable and grab your attention.

Since the film has only one static location where the action occurs, you’d think that this might get monotonous and lose some of the film’s edginess…but this turned out to be anything but the case! Director Andrew Moorman (who also took on cinematography, editing and a slew of other roles) keeps things interesting by utilizing shots from numerous angles and constantly keeping the action going as the three characters interacted with each other. A split-screen is even shown during one particularly tense scene. Visually, as well as story-wise, Sympathy never gets boring.

The suspenseful atmosphere is also supported by the sound design, alternating between rising strings and dead silence. The professional-sounding score really adds to the tension and really gives the film that extra shove to make it truly great.

As the story progresses, the motel room takes on a crimson hue from all the blood splatter. There are point-blank gunshot wounds, dismemberment, stabbings, a mild case of cannibalism and plenty of other cringe-worthy bloodshed. Despite all the violence, though it is entertaining, it isn’t what drives the action forward. The action is still propelled forward by the interactions and tension between the three characters. This, you see, is why this claustrophobic and suspenseful film works so well.

My one complaint with Sympathy is that it leaves so many different subplots unexplored or unexplained. The twists come fast and furious towards the end of the film, and it doesn’t feel like all the storylines are tied up as neatly as they could have been.

Still, Sympathy shines as one of the best indie films I’ve seen so far this year. More psychological thriller than balls-out horror, this film knows how to ratchet up the suspense factor and throw in a few genuine surprises along the way.

Sympathy was the official selection for the Horror Hound Weekend a few weekends ago, and is also an official selection for the Los Angeles’ Screamfest in October. If you pass up an opportunity to view this film, I won’t have any sympathy for you…

Book Review: Rise and Walk by Gregory Solis

I’ve read quite a few zombie books this summer, and let me tell you, when I got my grubby mitts on Gregory Solis’ debut novel Rise and Walk, it was one of the few that I couldn’t put down! I finished the book in just a few days, solely because of the fact that I couldn’t stop reading! Rise and Walk is packed with enough gruesome gore to slap any gorehound’s face with a silly smile, yet it also boasts a colorful array of characters (most of which die horrific deaths), a cool location (a paintball competition in the middle of nowhere) and plenty of surprises that come lurching out of nowhere.

After investigating a meteor that has crashed in the boonies, a bunch of college kids and their professor turn into zombies in the isolated mountains of Northern California. They slowly stumble towards the nearest sign of civilization, which just happens to be a busy campsite where a paintball competition is taking place. As chaos quickly ensues, two courageous women and two experienced men must battle their way through the hungry, hungry hippos – I mean zombies – to find safety.

Rise and Walk is a book that really grabs you by the lapels, gives you a good shake and proceeds to rip out your throat! Solis wastes no time diving into the action, which, in the case of this book, works just GORE-geously, darling! Solis also has the ability of developing each of the characters, no matter how short-lived their appearances (and disappearances) may be. A character may only live for a few lines, but darned if Solis doesn’t divulge just enough information about them to make us care about their demise! He also brings back some of the characters that we knew “in life” as zombies, so we know them as they were, alive, and as they became, dead and yet reanimated. The meticulous character development makes it easier to visualize what is happening and also pumps more heart into the proceedings.

Another thing that involves us in the story is Solis’ description of everything…the ripping and tearing of human flesh is almost audible, as are the snarls of the zombies. One can almost smell the decay, sweat and blood in the air as the four survivors fight for their lives. Though the setting is in the wilderness of the mountains, claustrophobia soon sets in because of the oppressive atmosphere and the constant threat of zombies. Everything just feels so realistic and really gets you thinking, “Well, how would I respond to a massive zombie outbreak?”

Rise and Walk was all DIY (even the wicked cool cover) by Solis, who originally wrote a screenplay that he planned to turn into a movie. Lucky for readers, the movie didn’t pan out (yet) and we got quite the gut-muncher of a zombie novel! Solis already has the next book in a planned trilogy lined up, called Rise and Walk: Pathogen, which I’ll be eagerly awaiting.

If you’re looking for a good ol’ zombie book to read this summer, look no further than Rise and Walk. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you when you stay up a few nights in a row because you can’t put it down!

Available on Amazon!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Castle Freak (1995)

Despite its silly cover and title, Castle Freak is a surprisingly solid straight-to-DVD film from director Stuart Gordon. Though Gordon is most famously known for his blackly comedic and fun Re-Animator film, he takes a more serious approach with 1995’s Castle Freak, which stars Re-Animator alumni Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton.

An American family inherits a massive castle from an unknown relative in Italy. If the stress of moving wasn’t enough, the family also lost their 5-year-old son just nine months prior. The father, John (Jeffrey Combs) was driving drunk when he crashed the car carrying his son and daughter. His son was killed and his teenage daughter Rebecca (Jessica Dollarhide) was left blind. Since then, things have between John and his wife, Susan (Barbara Crampton), have been awfully strained. John sees the inheritance as a way to rekindle things with Susan, but Susan just can’t seem to forgive him, even though he has sobered up.

Meanwhile, their old Italian housekeeper tells them the scandalous story of the Duchess who lived in the castle and how she took an American husband. The Duchess soon had a child, Giorgio, but her husband abandoned them both and went back to America. Supposedly, Giorgio died when he was just 5 years old and for the 42 years since then the Duchess has let no one inside the castle. Some of the villagers, though, believe that the Duchess kept Giorgio alive and tortured him to punish her philandering husband. The old lady says that sometimes strange noises can be heard coming from the castle...

Soon, strange things start befalling the family. Rebecca swears there is someone else in the castle. After a stressful few days of strange noises and emotional turmoil, John takes to drinking again and even brings home a prostitute. Before long, mutilated bodies start piling up and suspicions fall on him.
Can the family band together to prove that the castle freak exists before John is hauled off to jail or, worse yet, before they all die painful deaths at the hands of the freak?

The most impressive thing about Castle Freak is the depth it goes into in regards to character development. There are no wispy-thin characters and everyone has a detailed background. The interactions between all the players drew me further and further into the story, fully engaging me until I couldn’t pry my eyes from the screen. Of course, Jeffrey Combs was a joy to watch as always. Though he quickly becomes unhinged as the movies progresses, I couldn’t help but feel for the poor guy as well. Barbara Crampton does a fantastic job as the fed-up and overwhelmed Susan, but it’s Jessica Dollarhide as Rebecca that really shines. Even though she was handicapped, she wasn’t whiny or spoiled, but looked at her disability as a challenge she had to face. It was very easy to root for her the entire time! Another standout performance was the castle freak himself, played by Jonathan Fuller. His creepy movement and Neanderthal grunts, plus the raw emotion he exhibited, really left me with conflicted feelings. One minute I was cheering him on as he escaped, the next I was hoping he would be caught…

For a straight-to-DVD film, Castle Freak sure looks sharp, even if it does have a low-budget feel. The special FX makeup and gore are the most impressive. The makeup and prosthetics done on the “freak” look incredibly real and very freaky. The gore is pretty gruesome, especially a scene involving Mr. Freak and the prostitute. There’s a fair bit of whipping, biting, dismemberment and plenty of blood flowing!

I also enjoyed that the film was shot on location in Italy, at an actual Italian castle (owned by the head of distribution company Full Moon Pictures). The beautiful countryside and gothic castle complemented the story (loosely based on the H.P. Lovecraft tale “The Outsider”) perfectly.

The film is not without its flaws, though. It takes about a good solid hour for anything to really happen, which might be a deal-breaker for some. The beginning felt a little too repetitive and slow for me, but the ending made up for the fact. Also, no matter how well it tries to hide the fact, Castle Freak is still a low-budget film and at times looks as such.

Still, for what it is, Castle Freak is a great film if enjoyed by the right people. It has complex characters, a fantastic location, great performances and solid special FX. The next time you have an itch for a serious B-movie, look no further than one of Full Moon’s best efforts, Castle Freak!

Available from Amazon!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Neighborhood Watch (2005)

My neighbor is seriously a pain…If we have people over or music on past 11pm, she comes over, bangs on the door and tells us to keep it down…even on the freakin’ weekend!! She’s an older, washed-up bag who doesn’t like to have any fun and doesn’t get out much as far as I can tell. One time she had the audacity to accost me just outside my door and ask, “Do you hate me?” Geez, lady, easy on the insecurities there! We are never that loud and she just needs to learn to deal. I’m tempted to gift her with some sleeping pills and ear plugs…

Like my own drama-queen-next-door, everyone has or has had a bad neighbor at one point in their lives, but I sure as hell hope no one has had a neighbor like Adrien Trumbull in Neighborhood Watch (aka Deadly End)

Bob (Jack Huston) and Wendi (Pell James) Peterson have just moved cross-country so Bob can take his “dream job” at a large corporation. They move into a seemingly quiet neighborhood on Wormwood Drive. Things are pleasant enough until strange things begin occurring. The old, deaf couple across the street crashes their Oldsmobile into the Peterson’s yard and from that point on keep driving up and honking their horn at them. A handyman with dark circles under his eyes acts creepily towards Wendi. Wendi receives a bouquet of poison oak from someone and her whole face swells up from its poison, resulting in an emergency room visit. Then the couple finally meets Adrien (Nick Searcy), who brings them a box of chocolates that gives them both a severe case of the Hershey squirts. Next, he brings them a jar of homemade grape jelly, but Bob and Wendi have wised up at this point and won’t accept it. Adrien breaks into their house and tries to poison their food, but Bob calls the cops. Unfortunately, the Petersons learn that Adrien is the deceased mayor’s son and the law is on his side. Bob is determined to stick it out and beat Adrien, even organizing a Neighborhood Watch meeting and changing all the locks on the doors, but Adrien continues to poison them, this time through their water supply. From there, things take a turn for the decidedly worse…

Neighborhood Watch is a hard to watch, subversively humorous and shocking independent film that is definitely something new and shouldn’t be missed. First and foremost, the characters are all great and quirky! Though Adrien is a sick freak, I just couldn’t wait until he made his next appearance. Nick Searcy does a fantastic job in the role and really takes on the twisted persona of Adrien. My skin crawls just thinking about his character! Both the characters of Bob and Wendi are very well-drawn as well, and both Jack Huston and Pell James do great things with their roles. I really enjoyed watching them both!

The story, written by Graeme Whifler (who also directed), is twisted and impossibly engaging! Besides all the horror, there is also a vein of black humor running throughout the film. Whifler has crafted a very scary, very realistic story that feels like it could actually happen. It makes you think twice about your neighbors and makes you wonder exactly what goes on behind closed doors.

The special effects, by Lenny MacDonald along with Steve Johnson’s Edge FX, were one of the highlights of watching the film. The effects look incredibly real – sutured wounds, incisions into abdominal areas, ripping out of guts and other organs, crusty sores – though not a gorefest, there were still several instances where I had to look away! One of those moments happened just minutes after the film started!

Though I viewed the screener copy, the production values looked pretty high for an independent film. The lighting was good, even in dark scenes, and the shots were all framed appropriately. The direction by Whifler was straight-forward, clean and sharp.

One of the downsides of the film is that it does drag a little towards the middle and it feels like nothing much is happening. Also, it was kind of hard to believe that the Petersons didn’t leave after finding out that Adrien was backed by the cops. I was also surprised the film didn’t delve into the “ghost town” aspect of story, which is lightly touched on by one of Bob’s co-workers, or Bob’s corporate job.

Still, Neighborhood Watch is an impressive indie outing with great acting, solid directing, a fresh storyline and cringe-worthy special effects that deserves to be seen. Plus, it’ll make you appreciate your crazy neighbors a little more…

Available on Amazon!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Isolation (2005)

Not many people know this, but this gothic beauty was raised as a rootin’, tootin’ cowgirl on an isolated ranch up on the Northern California coast. I’ve herded, branded, vaccinated and assisted in the birthing of numerous calves and lambs. And yes, I unfortunately wore Wranglers and, at times, a cowboy hat. Don’t hate!

Even with my previous exposure to ranching and farm animals, I was still awestruck and grossed-out by some scenes in Isolation, a taut horror movie from Ireland. There were some scenes dealing with birthing cows, vet checks and cow fetuses that made me recoil in horror…

A hard-on-his-luck farmer has allowed a genetic scientist to experiment with fertility treatments on his cows in exchange for cold hard cash. The scientist hopes to genetically enhance the cows, making them more fertile at a younger age, therefore making farmers more profit. Unfortunately, things go incredibly awry and horribly disfigured calf fetuses, which are also developing at an accelerated cellular level, begin looking for new hosts. Can the farmer, along with his vet, the evil scientist and two wayward twentysomethings on the run, stop the genetic mutants before they spread their genetic abnormalities to a larger population?

Isolation is a film that slipped under my radar back when it was released in 2005. This is surprising since it is an amazingly tense and well-done movie that blew me away. Though the premise, which is pretty much killer cow fetuses on the loose, sounds weak and silly, the film comes off as anything but slapdash. The film has a very serious tone throughout and writer/director Billy O’Brien ensures it doesn’t veer into funny farm territory.

From the beginning of the film we are thrust into the action, as one of the farmer’s cow is about to give birth…but when the vet sticks her hand up into the cow to check on the calf, it bites her. When it’s finally born, there’s something just not right about the dewy-eyed calf. From there, things get awfully messy fast – some of the gore is hard to watch, especially if you are an animal lover. A special gun is featured, one that doesn’t contain bullets but instead shoots out a steel rod at a very high speed, usually into the brain.

Numerous cows and humans are dispatched with this weapon, leaving violent sprays of blood in their wake. Besides that piece of nasty, there are numerous guts spilled, whether through the vet’s autopsies of the cows or through the lil’ monsters’ search for news hosts. The mutant monsters are also quite a sight, all crunchy exoskeleton and sharp teeth.

Besides the impressive and cringe-worthy gore, Isolation boasts a very tense atmosphere, which it manages to maintain throughout its entire running time. The location of the isolated farm ensures that help isn’t coming anytime fast and ratchets up the tension until it’s almost unbearable. It also helps that the action feels very real, like it is something that could very well happen.

Though we are thrust immediately into the action, the film still takes time to develop its characters enough that we know who they are and what their relationships are to each other. Writer/director Billy O’Brien does a fantastic job at showing us who the characters are instead of just blatantly telling us. As for the actors, all involved did a stunning job. Performances by Essie Davies, John Lynch, Ruth Negga, and Sean Harris are the ones that really sell the film, not the special FX (though they are superb!).

My only complaint about the film was that I wish the full-grown mutant monster was shown a little more. We get glimpses here and there until the finale, but I just wished we could have seen MORE of it.

Isolation hasn’t been called “Alien with cows” for nothing! From its gutwrenching gore to suspenseful storyline to great performances across the board, Isolation is not to be missed.

Buy it on Amazon!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Haunted Forest (2007)

Sick of all the J-Horror rip-offs that have flooded the horror market since the success of Ringu, Ju-On and their American remake counterparts The Ring and The Grudge? Then you’ll do well to skip the unoriginal and boring Haunted Forest. This newly released Lions Gate film is essentially a J-Horror rip-off dressed up as a Native American ghost story.

Three men head out into the forest after an amateur photographer disappears in the forest. All that was recovered from the photographer was his camera and the three men manage to get hold of the very last photographs he took. The one they are particularly interested in shows an old, gnarled tree with outstretched branches that resembles a person. The men are searching for this very tree, which is depicted in one of their Native American grandfather’s journal. The tree also houses a burial ground beneath its roots, home to a supposedly large treasure which the men are searching for. Problem is, the tree is tied to the legend of Santika, a Native American woman whose soul is in control of the evil tree. She now haunts the forest, attacking anyone who dares enter.

Meanwhile, two women are also in the forest, searching for rare flowers. As people from both parties begin to go missing, the remaining members team up to try and discover the secrets behind Santika and the cursed tree and realize they aren’t alone in the forest…

Haunted Forest started out promisingly, with a mysterious and startling opening. The premise of the creepy lookin’ tree was original and really started to draw me into the story…until the story hit a brick wall at 90 miles per hour and splattered all over the place. Overly clich├ęd jump scares, unnecessary characters, a repetitive storyline and “twists” that are all too familiar really bogged down the film.

Writer/director Mauro Borrelli, who has had more experience working in the art department for such films as Pirates of the Caribbean, Evan Almighty and Sleepy Hollow, among many others, made Haunted Forest on a low budget, and while the film does look great and there are even some very eerie shots towards the end, it just doesn’t cut it. To Mr. Borrelli’s credit, there are quite a few jump scares that startled me a little, but they just felt like cheap imitations of better J-Horror films.

The actors don’t really stand out and fade into distant memory, right along with the rest of the film. Also, we kinda just get thrust straight into the story, so there is no room for character development and I didn’t find myself caring too much about what happened to each character.

The story, written by Borrelli, really doesn’t go anywhere and ends up dragging. I mean, how many shots can you have of people running lost through the woods, spying glimpses of a woman with long, black hair? The film becomes repetitive after about the fifth shot of someone running through the woods, calling a missing person’s name. The “twist” at the end doesn’t work well either, because any horror fan worth their salt should see it coming.

Sadly, Haunted Forest has a great premise (how often are Native American legends, real or not, used in horror?) but doesn’t get anywhere near its full potential. If you are unfamiliar with J-Horror, Haunted Forest might thrill you for a while, but its repetitive storyline will wear you out, and not in the good way.

Available on Amazon!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Class of Nuke 'Em High (1986)

Class of Nuke ‘Em High is an utterly outrageous, gross-out spoof of the typical 80’s high school comedy from your favorite independent studio, Troma!

The students at Tromaville High School are noticing some strange things happening ever since the nuclear power plant next door had a suspicious leak. For one, the once geeky honor society now terrorized the halls as vicious, leather-clad, motorcycle-riding Cretins (really, their name is The Cretins). Chrissy and Warren, the archtypical “golden couple” at school get thrown into the confusion when they smoke a joint that contains radiation from the marijuana grown inside the nuclear plant. Chrissy gets pregnant, miscarries a squirmy, black worm-looking thing, while Warren gets some ‘roid rage (complete with pulsating pustules) and falls on the Cretins bad side after beating them up. It all leads to a final showdown at the high school between the Cretins, Chrissy and Warren, and the slimy, hungry mutant that’s been growing in the basement.

Probably one of the better done and more well-known Troma flicks, Class of Nuke ‘Em High delivers surefire zany fun. This is actually one of the first Troma films I’ve ever seen, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much I actually enjoyed the movie. It is completely over-the-top, farcical and features gratuitous nudity and gross-out gags, but I still loved it. My favorite aspect was all the crazy characters, especially the Cretins. I was pretty much rooting for them the entire time, especially the hot leader of the pack!

The gore was surprisingly very well-done for an early Troma film. One scene features Warren punching his fist all the way down a Cretin’s throat! A nerd oozing green slime out of his mouth was also a pretty neat scene. The best effect, though, was probably the mutant spawn at the end of the film. The creature was pretty impressive and looked great! And of course, what’s a Troma film without nudity? Class of Nuke ‘Em High has its fair share of boobie shots.

The film also features some very black humor regarding the U.S. government and nuclear testing. Some might say it crosses the line of poor taste, but to me it was absolutely riotous!

The film’s only downfall is its meandering storyline that takes its sweet time getting anywhere. Many of the scenes, including plentiful shots of students just milling about the high school, were repetitive and unnecessary, almost like they were trying to pad the film for time. There isn’t even a stable lead character to latch onto and root for. The whole film is over-the-top, including the acting, which some people might be turned off by.

Still, despite its flaws, Class of Nuke ‘Em High is a very entertaining film for those that like silly, irrelevant horror-comedies. To me, it felt like a mix of Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Rock ‘N’ Roll High School and, Troma’s earlier effort, The Toxic Avenger.

Whether you are a fan of Troma films or not, I recommend checking out Class of Nuke ‘Em High for some brainless, B-movie fun!

Available on Amazon!

Friday, July 13, 2007

Popcorn (1991)

A fun slasher movie that’s heavy on the cheese and camp, Popcorn is a 1991 release but feels like it is straight outta the 80’s!

A group of film students are putting on an all night horrorthon in an old theater where 15 or so years ago a cult film director staged his final act by killing his family and setting the theater on fire. His body was never found, but many perished in the flames. Now, the students are going to convert the very same theater into hoppin’ party central!

The student are going to show three 50’s films – one in 3-D, one in aroma-vision and the other with rigged theater seats that will shock the audience! While preparations for the show are underway, Maggie (Jill Schoelen), one of the film students, keeps having trippy nightmares about “The Possessor.” Sure enough, “The Possessor” was the batty cult director’s last film.

When opening night rolls around, Maggie is convinced that the director is back and out to slaughter all those in attendance! The killer dons different masks that can make him look like anyone he wants to as he stalks and kills those in the packed theater. Maggie must uncover who the killer is and confront her past if she is to survive!

Popcorn is purely a fluff movie that is flawed but still manages to be fun and entertaining. Horror buffs will delight in the gags that the film students plan to accompany each horror movie they are showing, as well as the cheesy movies themselves! The renovation of the old theater is one of my favorite sequences and even though the movie looks pretty low budget, it looks like they spent a bundle on the wicked cool props for the theater. I soooo want a “Shock Clock” now!

My main complaint is that the film looks low budget – the picture is muddled, fuzzy and not very clear. I watch low budget films all the time, but I guess I just expected this one to have higher production values. I also thought that Maggie’s backstory was unnecessary and her nightmares that looked straight out of an Argento film didn’t fit in with the rest of the film’s visuals.

Also, while Jill Schoelen does a fantastic job in her role as Maggie, the rest of the cast is just…lacking. Either they don’t stand out enough or overact to the point of reducing me to giggles. There are some noteworthy “big names” in the film – Tony Roberts plays the students’ professor, Dee Wallace-Stone plays Maggie’s mother and Ray Walston (Mr. Hand from Fast Times at Ridgemont High) plays a benefactor.

As with this kind of movie, there are plot holes, weak performances, poor production values and, surprisingly for a slasher, very little blood splatter and not really any gore. Still, Popcorn is a charming film that should warm any horror fan’s heart. It’s the perfect film to curl up on the couch with. Just don’t forget to bring the popcorn!

Available on Amazon!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Psychomanteum (2007)

Have you ever fallen into a fevered dreamscape where blackness threatens to crush you but at the same time everything seems tightly stretched? Where images swirl and eddy in the inky black pools of your subconscious as you try to grasp at any sense of reality? If you’ve experienced any of these disorienting symptoms, chances are you’ll be very familiar with the nightmarish vision of The Psychomanteum, a short avant-garde film by Dave Holt.

The surreal film won’t be for everyone, but for those that enjoy intense imagery and avant-garde filmmaking, The Psychomanteum is spellbinding. The film concerns a young, troubled woman on a dark journey. We see into her violent past, her vicious encounters with several people, intense appointments with her psychiatrist and a look deep within her psyche. Everything is a jumble of intense, nightmarish visuals until the end of the film, where we come to understand the method to the madness, so to speak.

The Psychomanteum is a rich and visually hypnotizing film, one that had me glued to my seat for its entire 25 minute run-time. Filmed entirely in black and white, it doesn’t feature much dialogue, instead utilizing an eerie score that leads us further and further into darkness. The film’s grainy and scratched look gives it a more sinister and fragmented feel, much like the main character’s mind. The brief flashes of images and intense visuals add to the disorienting feel of the film.

Filmmaker Dave Holt has crafted a film of transfixing power from the hidden darkness found deep inside each and every one of us. Each scene carries a strong visual that has been lovingly shot. Each image, no matter how fleeting, is beautifully composed. The film can best be compared to a piece of art, with each haunting scene invoking a multitude of emotions. If Holt set out to create a dark vision of beauty, he had decidedly accomplished that goal with the jaw-droppingly stunning Psychomanteum.

The Psychomanteum is definitely not for everyone. It lacks a straightforward plot and other conventions of a standard movie that most people are used to. Still, if you want to see art within a nightmarish horror film that plays upon emotion with striking visuals, The Psychomanteum comes highly recommended. Just don’t get too mesmerized by its eerie, dark charms and tumble into its nightmare world forever…

Psychomanteum’s Official Site

Friday, July 6, 2007

Alice, Sweet Alice (1976)

Alice, Sweet Alice (also known as Communion and The Holy Terror) has recently been re-released on DVD by Hen’s Tooth Video. After hearing about the creepy killer in this film so many times over the years, I couldn’t get my hands on the DVD quickly enough!

Alice (Paula Sheppard) is a sullen, plain girl who is jealous of her younger sister Karen (a very young Brooke Shields). Karen is obviously the favorite, getting new clothes from their mother, a special veil for her first communion and even a gold cross necklace from their priest, Father Tom. Alice, on the other hand, is a troublemaker. She frightens Father Tom’s housekeeper, Mrs. Tredoni, by wearing a scary translucent mask and yellow rain slicker, steals Karen’s dolls, yells at her mother and teases the creepy and overweight pedophile landlord.

At Karen’s first communion, someone in a yellow rain slicker and translucent mask strangles Karen, places her inside a pew and lights her on fire. Suspicion falls on Alice, especially after her Aunt Annie starts accusing her of killing Karen.

When someone in a yellow rain slicker and mask attacks Aunt Annie, violently stabbing her in the foot and putting her in the hospital, suspicions of Alice only deepen. Alice is already a strange child, preferring to play in the dank basement with her jar of roaches, pilfered dolls and jewelry, and, of course, her yellow rain slicker and creepy translucent mask. It doesn’t take long before she is subjected to a lie detector test by the police, where she claims that Karen is back from the dead and responsible for the killing. To the adults, this is crazy talk and she is placed in a children’s psychiatric hospital.

Meanwhile, Alice’s estranged father doesn’t believe Alice is the killer and sets out to find the real culprit. His search leads him to believe Alice’s cousin is the murderer and he is lured to investigate an old abandoned building. He indeed discovers the killer’s identity (as do we), but only just before he is killed.

Alice is released from the hospital and the film takes a slight turn for the worse now that we know who the killer is. The climactic and suspenseful ending makes up for the premature revelation of the killer though!

Alice, Sweet, Alice is a pretty solid horror film from 1976. It starts off great, with some very memorable characters (including the sleazy and gross landlord) and some great red herrings and twists. Unfortunately, it loses some stream when the killer is unmasked and it goes off on a religious zealot rant. Still, the ending is more than adequate with a pleasant surprise and the rest of the film is also very well done.

Alice, Sweet Alice almost plays like a giallo film – it has a mysterious killer, many red herrings and a more grown-up, crime/family drama feel than most typical slashers. It also tackles some weighty issues, such as the transformation from a girl to a woman through puberty and menstruation, pedophilia and religious zealotry/guilt within the Catholic Church.

The direction by Alfred Sole is gritty and very realistic. There are many shots of the Catholic Church and its icons. This is definitely not a flashy film, but the straightforward shots give it a raw sense of realism. Sole also co-wrote the script (along with Rosemary Ritvo), and with the exception of kind of losing it during the second part of the film, they’ve done a fantastic job, especially with the character development and many sub-plots.

If you’re looking for a film that’s equal parts crime drama, slasher and heavy on the religious iconography, I suggest Alice, Sweet Alice. The shocking child murder and creepy translucent mask was enough to sell me!

Buy Alice, Sweet Alice
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...