Friday, May 30, 2008

Interview with Revenant Magazine's Geoff Bough

Fatally Yours had the pleasure of interviewing another like-minded horror journalist, Geoff Bough of Revenant Magazine! Geoff is the “deaditor”-in-chief of Revenant Magazine, an online rag that covers all you could ever want to know about zombies!

With plans for Revenant to become a print publication, it was the perfect time to chew the fat with Geoff and talk to him about his insatiable appetite for the undead!

Fatally Yours: Thanks for letting us pick your brain, Geoff! Your tasty, tasty brain…

Ummm, anyhow, tell us how and when you fell in love with horror films.

Geoff Bough: Well, my parents are old hippies so growing up there were always VHS dubs of films like Halloween, The Howling, Friday the 13th and various other slashers laying around. My Dad is also a HUGE Universal monster movie fan and so I was cultivated on a great horror upbringing.

As a kid in the 80’s, I was always trying to find ways to rent films like Creepshow and A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Before places like BLOCKBUSTER and whatnot, there were the little Mom & Pop video shops…they always had the good stuff. I remember watching Night of the Living Dead with my friend when I was 8 and I knew horror and I would be friends for life.

Fatally Yours: Why were you ultimately drawn to the zombie subgenre?

Geoff Bough: I think the horror genre as a whole is an incredibly diverse genre. There are a lot of excellent films that make a lot of statements about society, politics, and things that shape and define our character as people. I look at watching a horror film like going on a rollercoaster, you’re after the thrill and if you don’t get it then you are forever on the chase for one that will…it’s an endless cycle, like zombies!

I think if someone can convey a message about humanity in what some might consider an unconventional method such as zombies then it really opens you up to be much more introspective about your own life and surroundings.. I appreciate all aspects of the subgenre but I like the films that challenge your thoughts on existence or how we go about rebuilding society after an overwhelming tragedy.

Fatally Yours: Why did you decide to start a magazine based on your love for the undead?

Geoff Bough: At the time I started Revenant, there weren’t too many places that were covering just the zombie subgenre. There were places like but as a fan, I wanted more than what was offered.

I wanted to read interviews with independent film directors, comic book writers/artists, fx artists, original articles on the zombie mythos that I couldn’t find from just one site. I wanted to go beyond just the films and books and provide articles on how the mythos started throughout history all over the world.

Fortunately for me, my friend John Reppion was on the same page of thought as I was and he was really instrumental (and continues to be) in helping to establish Revenant Magazine by crafting thought provoking articles and reviews.

Fatally Yours: How did you go about starting Revenant?

Geoff Bough: As mentioned above, I wasn’t overly satisfied with the amount of coverage the zombie subgenre was receiving…that’s not to say that sites and publications weren’t doing a great job, I just wanted more than what was offered at the time.

Revenant Magazine was actually conceived from the forums at ATZ by me and a friend Dan Barnes in 2005. Dan had obligations with another publication and sadly had to bow out of the project. My aspirations were too high to let it slip away so I developed the site and created a following online with plans to bring a print version later down the road.

I also have to extend my sincerest thanks to the very awesome Abby Perry (Cutelucca) – who provided some of the very early Revenant artwork.

Fatally Yours: In your opinion, what makes a great zombie film?

Geoff Bough: A unique blend of post-apocalyptic character study, original character dichotomy, good blood and gore/special effects, convincing looking zombies, good acting, vague reason for outbreak, an unresolved ending and sometimes a little sardonic humor.

There have been too many films that have created this clichéd, almost forced explanation for the cause of a zombie outbreak. I have always found it to be much creepier and more convincing when there is little to no explanation for the cause. Given the event, there really wouldn’t be a whole lot of answers, doubt and skepticism would far outweigh fact.

There is also this often unnecessary need to resolve the whole film and make it some pseudo-happy ending. Way to be a buzzkill! The thing about zombies is they’re relentless and virtually never-ending. That’s what is so terrifying about them.

Fatally Yours: If you could have played any zombie character in a film, who would it have been and why?

Geoff Bough: Wow, this is an excellent question…first off if I could play any character in a zombie film I’d have to go with Harry Cooper from Night of the Living Dead…just so I could scream the line “You’re all a bunch of yo-yo’s!” Haha! I still love that line.

As for any zombie? hmmm… tough call, I’d have to go with ‘Blades’ from Dawn of the Dead/Land of the Dead because Tom Savini is a badass and I for one would be terrified of a zombie Tom Savini with a machete.

Fatally Yours: Do you have an opinion on the fast zombies vs. slow zombies debate?

Geoff Bough: I guess I am of the more traditional persuasion. I favor the shambling undead to the tenacity of the runners. I think they would both be scary as hell but my suspension of belief has some bounds. I’m no medical expert but if anything, as the body decomposes it certainly doesn’t gain dexterity.

Fatally Yours: Have you been impressed by any new zombie flicks lately?

Geoff Bough: Indeed I have! Andy Davis’ recent film 2 was absolutely amazing and we have picked it up as the first official selection for the 2008 Revenant Film Festival! It’s a great film about 2 survivors and the mental anguish and emptiness they must deal with during and after an outbreak. I am really excited to have it be a part of our event this year.

I just saw some of Marc Price’s Colin which so far has been really excellent. It’s a very different film and tells the story of a man named Colin from his perspective as a zombie. It doesn’t have much dialogue which really adds to the ominous tone of an outbreak. I think in the event there wouldn’t be a whole lot of talking going on in favor of more action.

Spencer Susser’s short film I Love Sarah Jane totally blew me away. Definitely the best zombie short film I have seen in a long time.

I have yet to see [REC], which I hear is amazing so I am on the hunt to procure the Spanish version.
There are a ton of zombie films coming up that I am looking forward to seeing…Stone’s War, The Dead Matter, World War Z, Dance of the Dead, The Book of Zombie and tons more.

Fatally Yours: Where do you think the zombie subgenre is headed in the future?

Geoff Bough: I think the future lies in the independent market. If it’s any indication of the popularity of these films with indie zombie films playing major film festivals like SXSW, Cannes, Toronto International Film Fest, Sundance, Seattle International Film Festival, Screamfest, Toronto After Dark, etc…a lot of these films are getting distribution deals from major studios at these festivals.

I think there is a kind of lackluster originality in Hollywood horror lately and it’s getting better but I think indie horror is a breath of fresh air.

There are also a TON of totally kickass original comic books and zombie fiction that have been optioned for film rights as well. Films like World War Z and Tag are in the works and we’re in for some good times as zombie fans!

Fatally Yours: Are you involved with a lot of the zombie walks and other horror events in your area? If so, what has been your favorite event and why?

Geoff Bough: Revenant is based out of Seattle, Washington which has a ton of hardcore zombie fans. I developed to help organize local area events. We have a Seattle walk planned for October 4th to promote our film festival this year and I am also coordinating the Seattle zombiewalk for World Zombie Day on October 26th! I work in partnership with local zombiewalk organizer Miss Cleo – to organize walks.

As for my favorite event so far…2 years ago we did a zombiewalk here in Seattle to an outdoor screening of Shaun of the Dead. It was through a very eccentric neighborhood here in Seattle and it was a lot of fun.
Fatally Yours: Can you tell us about the film festival that Revenant is hosting in October?

Geoff Bough: We are hosting the 2nd annual Revenant Film Festival here in Seattle on October 11th 2008 from 4pm to midnight at Seattle’s Museum of History And Industry. We’re an all independent zombie film festival and so far we’ve received entries from all over the world! We’re accepting entries until July 1st so if anyone out there has a project that you’d like to submit for consideration, check out for more details.

We will have some very exciting films this year that you might not see anywhere else!

If I may also take a moment to extend my virtual donation pot, ha! W are accepting sponsorships for the event this year which are only $50 and include the option to screen a 1 minute commercial or logo placement on screen at the event, a very unique advertising opportunity! If you’re interested in sponsoring the event, check out the sponsors page at

Fatally Yours: Name your favorite zombie films.

Geoff Bough: Dellamorte Dellamore, Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue, Shaun of the Dead, Zombie, Night 90’, The Beyond, The Serpent and the Rainbow, Dawn 04’, Dead Alive, ‘2’.

Fatally Yours: Besides zombies, what other horror subgenres/movies do you enjoy?

Geoff Bough: I’m a HUGE fan of the genre as a whole. I am particularly fond of ghost stories and hope that there are more interesting ghost stories in the works. I also have a love for werewolf movies and I am about to start a script for a werewolf film.

Fatally Yours: What do you have planned for zombie-lovers in the future with Revenant Magazine?

Geoff Bough: We are in talks to bring a print version of Revenant Magazine to the masses. It has always been my intention to bring the project to print and I am hoping that everything will fall into place and people will have our putrid mag in their rotting hands in the near future.

In addition to all of the awesome content and interviews that we always have, we will continue to keep our readers in tune with the undead.

Fatally Yours: Thanks for such a great interview, Geoff! I wish I could eat your brains to gain your knowledge…!!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Book Review: Eternal Vigilance: From Deep Within the Earth

We all know the vampire subgenre has gotten a little stale and hokey. It seems that everyone is creating shallow vampire characters that serve as little more than coat hangers for the gothic clothes and opulent lifestyles that their writers hang on them. A vampire story with strong characters and a storyline that involves more than bodice-ripping and throat-slashing seems hard to find nowadays…which is why it was such a pleasure to be so enthralled by our very own Gabrielle Faust’s Eternal Vigilance: From Deep Within the Earth. Faust takes the time to develop her characters, both vampires and humans, and to also create a post-apocalyptic story that is as entrancing as it is terrifying!

Tynan, a vampire that is many centuries old, awakens from a hundred year sleep to discover the world has been ravaged by many years of war. A technologically advanced organization called The Tyst now rules the world with an iron fist and its highly sophisticated artificial intelligence. The only resistance against The Tyst is the Phuree, a group of nomadic warriors that plan on stopping The Tyst’s evil plans. For, you see, The Tyst has learned that vampires exist and seek knowledge from an ancient and horrifying vampire god that would make them immortal. Tynan must help The Phuree to stop The Tyst from fulfilling their nefarious scheme to save both vampires and humans alike…and ultimately save the world he is so bitter over.

That is an extremely rough and shallow synopsis of a novel that delves deep into characters, motivations and backgrounds. To write a proper synopsis that covers the many events of the novel would take much more room than I have! Faust is thorough and comprehensive in her approach, covering Tynan’s back story as well as other characters’ without ever slowing the story down. She gives us a crystal-clear picture of what life is like after the Tyst takeover, describing the crowded and smelly market places in the city overrun by Tyst surveillance as well as the remote and dusty nomadic camp of the Phuree. Her poetic descriptions paint a vivid picture of both characters and settings as well as letting us delve deeply into Tynan’s mind.

The most commendable aspect of the novel are the well-drawn characters. The story is told from Tynan’s perspective, but Faust fills her story with many other well-rounded and memorable characters. There’s Tynan’s beautiful human lover, Jasmine, his vampire creator/enemy Phelan, and the strong-willed Phuree leaders, among many others! The characters are so exquisitely developed and have so much depth that you can’t wait to read the next page to see what they do next. Everything rings true with the characters, especially the philosophical and strong-willed Tynan.

The story itself is engaging. Faust has an elegantly poetic way with words, elevating the story of survival to a romantic level. The ugliness of the stark, post-apocalyptic world is in sharp contrast to the refined prose that graces the pages of Eternal Vigilance. Don’t confuse “refined” with “stuffy,” though, because the novel moves at a fast pace, catching you up in the story and refusing to let go even when the novel ends, leaving you thirsty for the next installment of Eternal Vigilance.

With her first installment of Eternal Vigilance, Faust has opened the vein to a new and exciting vampire mythology and I can’t wait for what blood-red prose she spills for us next!

Available from Amazon!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Book Review: Crimson Orgy by Austin Williams

Director Herschell Gordon Lewis and producer David Friedman forever changed the face of cinema in 1963 with their gore-drenched film, Blood Feast. Before then, the exploitation crowd was only familiar with the nudie cuties that graced their movie screens, but Lewis and Friedman tapped into the audience’s bloodlust and ever since Blood Feast reveled in its gruesome carnage-for-carnage’s-sake, the movies have never been the same.

In Crimson Orgy, author Austin Williams explores the seedy and sleazy business of making exploitation movies in the mid-60’s, specifically one notorious snuff film called Crimson Orgy. He tells the tale of Stupendous Pictures, whose owners, producer Gene Hoffman and director Sheldon Meyer (characters inspired by Lewis and Friedman), can’t wait to delve into the gore business with their new gore picture entitled Crimson Orgy. They’ve seen the success of Lewis’ Blood Feast and can’t wait to outgross him, in more ways than one! Only problem is, they have a minuscule budget and an even smaller amount of time to film the gore flick.

They hire a skeleton crew and a cast that includes a boozing leading man, an inexperienced starlet and plenty of small-bit divas who throw a tantrum ever time they need to be covered in blood. With just a week to shoot the feature and a limited supply of film to use, things quickly begin to turn sour. The isolated locale of the shoot, on an empty stretch of Florida coastline, unnerves many of the cast and crew. Not only that, but a power-hungry backwoods cop is keeping a close eye on the production, just hoping for a screw-up so that he can send them all packing back to Miami. Director Meyer is also keeping the lead actress in the dark about the film’s violence and gory set-pieces. Pretty soon, a crew member begins to unravel and disappears with several canisters of exposed film and reports of a big tropical storm off the coast convince the rest of the players that the production is cursed. When real body parts are found on-set, suspicions rise about the intentions of both Hoffman and Meyer. Was their plan all along to pull off a snuff film? Is someone really going to die in Crimson Orgy?

Author Austin Williams delves into the nitty gritty of low budget filmmaking with such a passion that B-movie lovers can’t help but appreciate and love. His story about the fictional Crimson Orgy is immediately engaging (check out the clever intro from a fake book called Ultimate Guide to Horror Movies) and filled with suspense.

Williams tells the tale from the many different perspectives of the cast, crew and assorted locals and they themselves seem straight out of a Herschell Gordon Lewis gore flick! Hidden motivations, agendas and secrets abound in the the colorful cast of characters and this keeps the pace moving steadily along. We are never given quite enough explanation on characters’ backgrounds, but I believe this works in favor of the story, leaving characters’ murky pasts a mystery.

Film buffs like me will go nuts for the description of shooting a low-budget gore film, especially for all the intrigue that goes on behind the scenes. We learn that gallons of fake blood, realistic body parts, blood-curdling screams and a can-do attitude, no matter the price, are what matter in this business. It’s also nice that Williams throws in historical facts about Blood Feast and other players in the grindhouse movie biz at the time. These little touches really make the novel and make you enjoy it all the more!

One small quibble is that, technically, Crimson Orgy isn’t a snuff film. Yes, someone does indeed die (the prologue will tell you that, so I’m not spoiling anything), but the circumstances in which it happens doesn’t quite make it “snuff.” I don’t want to say any more, but I still recommend you check out this fantastic read, despite this small annoyance, because it is time well spent for horror fans, exploitation nuts and film buffs alike.

Available on Amazon!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Timber Falls (2007)

Some horror movies are so derivative I bet I could use the same review over and over, only needing to change names. The message behind this collective review would be that these unoriginal and woefully tired movies SUCK!

Timber Falls is no different than most horror films that feature religious backwoods fanatics. It’s pretty uninspired and unoriginal…but it does have Josh Randall’s rock hard abs on display!!

A yuppie couple is trying to “get away from it all” and decides a trip into the West Virginian State Park system will do the trick. Acres of forests, mountain peaks and rushing streams do little to soothe the soul when they encounter “the locals” that seem to pop up whatever trail they take. After a night of sweaty tent sex, the woman, Sheryl (Brianna Brown), awakens and decides to skinny dip. I don’t know about you, but after encountering a bunch of mostly lascivious weirdoes the LAST thing I would do is strip naked and give anyone secretly watching a free show. Nonetheless, this seemingly brainless beauty does and promptly gets kidnapped by a disfigured man. Cue our “hero,” Mike, (Josh Randall) who wakes from his slumber and runs around looking for his girlfriend, who by this point is nowhere to be found. When he returns back to camp after a few minutes of hollering, everything – their tent, gear, etc. – is gone! Woe is he! He then stumbles into a giant bear trap and passes out…

Mike wakes up to find himself in the cozy home of a local woman, Ida (Beth Broderick), who at first appears pretty darn normal, but soon enough he discovers her collection of human fetuses in the basement. He also finds Sheryl all tied up there with the hulking brute that kidnapped her. It seems that Ida, her husband Clyde (conveniently a park ranger, played by Nick Searcy) and disfigured brother Deacon (Sascha Rosemann) have been kidnapping couples in the hopes that one of them would conceive and carry a baby to term for them. You see, Ida can’t carry a baby to term and has miscarried countless times (hence the fetuses in jars). They marry the couple so their baby won’t be born out of wedlock and tell them to fulfill their marital duties. One problem, though, the couple just doesn’t feel too romantic under the circumstances and decide to fight back.

This is just another “crazy backwoods hillbillies” movie, but instead of featuring slobbering inbred villains it features a family that just wants a baby…and I guess they can’t afford a surrogate or don’t want to go through the adoption process. Rational and logic clearly gets thrown out the window on this one, but I wasn’t expecting anything brilliant, just a movie I could kill some time with. Unfortunately, the pacing on this movie was so slow that it felt like time was killing me!

It takes at least a half an hour for the film to get anywhere, all the while cycling through the same boring clichés. Perky city couple in the woods? Check. Clueless authority figure? Check. Hostile hillbillies? Check. Creepy religious types? Check. Disfigured bad guy? Check. And that is only within the first part of the movie! The tired, unoriginal storyline limps on through to the end.

Besides the cliché-ridden plot, it seemed silly that the overly muscular Mike (and his spectacular abs), who pretty much dwarfed everyone in the cast, would be overpowered by The Three Stooges of backwoods baby-makin’. He really needed to stop wussin’ out and go Hulk on everyone’s asses (“MIKE ANGRY!!!!”). At least that would have seemed more plausible than dear ol’ Momma Ida beating him up (or at least more entertaining).

I will give credit to the actors for putting on a jolly good show despite the uninspired story. Josh Randall and Brianna Brown do a convincing job of playing the couple, though their character development doesn’t go too deep. The rest of the cast was great as well, but my favorite was Beth Broderick (probably most recognizable from TV show Sabrina, The Teenage Witch) who played Ida. She was definitely this film’s saving grace. Her maniacal mind contrasted sharply with her seemingly sweet demeanor and you never knew what she was going to do next! I felt the character of Deacon, though played very effectively by Sascha Rosemann, was unnecessary. I also wish the film had given more screen time to the two hunters that offered some comedic relief.

Still, despite good performances I just can’t bring myself to recommend this derivative film. It is just overly predictable and bland for my tastes, though Broderick’s performance does kick it up a few notches. And I do have to thank writer Daniel Kay for featuring a scene where actor Josh Randall is strung up and his rippling muscles bathed in sweat and candlelight are in full view.

Available from Amazon!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Exorcist III (1990)

After the bad taste that Exorcist II: The Heretic left in my mouth, I decided to check out the next Exorcist film, appropriately titled The Exorcist III. Surprisingly, The Exorcist III is a decent flick and left me with that minty-fresh taste I was looking for.

Lieutenant Bill Kinderman (George C. Scott) is investigating a serial killer stalking the streets of Georgetown. The killer has a habit of decapitating his victims and leaving behind religious iconography. The lieutenant believes that somehow the Gemini Killer, who was executed for his crimes 15 years ago, is back and responsible for the murders. He discovers a mental patient, Patient X, that looks exactly like his friend Father Karras (who died falling down that long flight of stairs in the first film, with Jason Miller reprising his role) who has been locked in a padded cell for 15 years, but claims he is James Venamun, The Gemini Killer (Brad Dourif), and that he is killing again. As the body count climbs, Lt. Kinderman comes to realize that something much more demonic has taken over Father Karras’ body…

Some might say that any sequel after Exorcist II would be like a breath of fresh air, but I found that even as a stand-alone film The Exorcist III works. Let’s just try and forget that Exorcist II was ever spawned.

Exorcist III starts off like a crime drama or a serial killer movie, but it’s got some nice touches of horror that will keep you on the edge of your seat! The movie unfolds slowly, building momentum with creepy dream sequences featuring religious iconography (Jesus is watching you!), howling winds and some character interactions that really pull you into the story. It also features two of the most startling scenes you’ll witness in a horror film! One involves a prolonged, tension-filled scene involving a nurse late at night in the hospital while the other shows an old woman crawling on the ceiling. Both are genuinely shocking, scary and come out of nowhere!

The film’s dialogue is sharp and witty, especially between Lt. Kinderman (George C. Scott) and Father Dyer (Ed Flanders). It is truly a joy to see these two characters, who are old friends, make delightful verbal jabs at each other. The dialogue gets a whole lot darker when Lt. Kinderman visits with Patient X/The Gemini Killer (Brad Dourif), but it’s no less intriguing. The chemistry between George C. Scott and Brad Dourif is fantastic and their scenes together are very eerie. The actors are definitely at the top of their game here, as the script gives them plenty to work with.

The script was written by William Peter Blatty and adapted from his book Legion, the sequel to his popular The Exorcist novel. Blatty also directed this film and should be proud of the damn fine horror film he’s created. It doesn’t rely on blood and gore to gross the audience out, but instead a creeping dread that permeates your very core.

Of course, the film isn’t perfect. On the onset, things are a bit confusing when Patient X reveals himself alternately as Father Karras (Jason Miller) and Gemini Killer James Venamun (Brad Dourif). While the film explains that the Gemini Killer took over the Father’s body as he died, the vacillation between the two is distracting. The ending wasn’t my cup of tea either. After slowly building dread and tension, the finale just seems over the top. The silly inclusion of exorcism priest Father Morning (Nicol Williamson) didn’t help either, as he doesn’t really serve a purpose in the film until the end.

Overall, though, The Exorcist III is an excellent, underrated horror flick that is a proper successor to The Exorcist. Now, if we could just imagine that Exorcist II was never made…

Available from Amazon!

Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)

Some movies have a reputation that precedes them, a reputation that has marked them as being “bad” movies. Most everyone you talk to about these movies tells you they are awful…The Exorcist II: The Heretic is one such movie that is loathed by most horror fans and critics (oftentimes called “the worst sequel ever made”), but I was curious to see if it was really as horrible as everyone claimed.

The verdict?

Yes, it is as bad as everyone claims!

It cinches its title as one of the worst sequels ever made with a ridiculously unbelievable script, horrible dialogue, bad acting and taking itself way too seriously. The result is a self-important but tiresomely dull movie.

Four years after a demon was exorcised from Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair), Father Lamont (Richard Burton) is put to task by the Catholic Church to get to the bottom of Father Merrin’s (Max von Sydow) death during the exorcism.

Meanwhile, Regan has grown into a chipper chubby-cheeked teen with no recollection of the exorcism, or at least that is what she claims. Her psychologist, Dr. Gene Tuskin (Louise Fletcher, who looks uncannily like Ellen Burstyn), thinks those memories are locked deep within her and wants to get to them. She introduces Regan to synchronized hypnosis (a process that involves little more than a tabletop machine with flashing lights that’s connected to electrodes), which will allow her to see into Regan’s subconscious (gee, sounds like a whole lotta unbelievable crap to me!).

Father Lamont comes to visit Regan and gets put in “synch” with her mind. He can see what happened that night and that the demon Pazuzu is still dwelling inside Regan. He then travels to Africa to hunt down Kokumo (James Earl Jones), the only known survivor (besides Regan) of an exorcism at the holy hands of Father Merrin. Add mumbo-jumbo about “good” and “bad” locusts, psychic connections that span continents and a big locust explosion at the finale and you’ve got an idea about the absurdity of the plot.

It’s sad, really, because director John Boorman, who wanted to create something wholly different than the first Exorcist, succeeded, but at the horrible cost of making a pompous, meandering and boring film. Visually, the film has its moments, with eye-catching aerial shots of red, rocky cliffs, plains and fields in Africa and the swarms of locusts, but those small moments do little to alleviate the pain of watching the remaining 95% of the movie.

The acting is cringe-worthy, with Linda Blair coming off as horribly annoying and the other actors faring no better. Of course, the source material, written by William Goodhart, could be the root of all the trouble. The dialogue (“When the wings have brushed you… is there no hope once the wings have brushed you?”) is atrocious and the situations and circumstances are just ludicrous. Not even the score, by the great Ennio Morricone (whom I usually love), is any good. It’s tribal sounds and demon-screeching just serve to grate nerves, very much like the rest of the movie.

This film had a grand scope when it first started, setting out to investigate exorcisms the world over from Africa to South America and beyond, but somehow its grand story became muddled and bogged down, both from the mythology laid down by the first film but also from its own preposterous storyline that became weighted with far too many questions it sought to answer. Between Father Lamont’s visits to the tribes in Africa and his “synching” with Regan’s mind, things become pretty unbelievable pretty quickly. And don’t get me started on the dream sequences!

Years of warnings from viewers and critics alike didn’t deter me from seeing this stink-bomb of a film, but hopefully it will save you the trouble. Unless, of course, you’re masochistic and enjoy being put through pain…then, by all means I would highly recommend Exorcist II: The Heretic!

Available from Amazon!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Frontieres (2007)

After I heard so much buzz about Frontière(s) (aka Frontier(s)), I was eager to check it out. After the recent French filmmaking triumphs of Haute Tension, Them (Ils) and Inside, it seemed destined that Frontière(s) would be another notch in French horror cinema’s belt. Despite the high praise that Frontière(s) has been receiving, I found it a disappointment. It lacks the ingenuity of past French films. Behind the fountains of blood and gore (enough of an endorsement on its own to get some of you to see it) cowers an unbelievable and “been there, done that” story.

With massive riots rocking Paris, a group of friends are on the lam after a robbery. Farid (Chems Dahmani) and Tom (David Saracino) head out of town and into the countryside, while pregnant Yasmine (Karina Testa) and baby daddy Alex (Aurélien Wiik) take Yas’ brother Sami (Adel Bencherif) to the ER after he suffers a gunshot wound. When Sami dies moments later and the cops are hot on their trail, Yas and Alex high-tail it out of town to meet up with Farid and Tom, who are holed up at a hostel deep in the countryside. What they don’t know is that the hostel and the nearby farm are run by a mad old man and his neo-Nazi family. When they discover that Yas is pregnant, their nefarious plans for “pure blood” are focused on her unborn child.

Frontière(s), written and directed by Xavier Gens, uses convenient plot twists and contrived situations that require quite a suspension of belief. Not to mention that we’ve all seen the “crazy cannibalistic family in the countryside” before. Frontière(s) doesn’t really add anything new to this delightful subgenre, which is just fine if you want the comfort of the familiar. If you are looking for something to knock your socks off, though, I’m afraid Frontière(s) won’t do the trick.

The contrived plot turns are probably what annoyed me most about this film. The way things unfold seem awfully convenient…that, or the characters really are dumber than a bag full of rocks. For example, when Yasmine has multiple chances to escape and run far, far away, she always manages to muck it up and get herself caught again. Also, in a brutal scene involving a table saw, the way things unfold (man turns on table saw, man walks away from table saw, man is pushed backward, falls on still-running table saw) seemed too much like a set-up. The scene felt forced, unnatural, unbelievable and in no way surprising. There were ample scenes like this that just made me roll my eyes. Another example would be the anti-climatic use of guns throughout the film, especially in the shoot ‘em up finale. Sure, people get their brains blown out aplenty, but this method of killing just seems too easy and dull for a horror movie.

On the positive end of the spectrum, the film offers plenty of grue – most of which ends up plastered all over one particular character by the end of the film. If you are looking to satiate your blood thirst, Frontière(s) will definitely help you quench it. There are also several nifty death scenes (the saw scene does look cool, even if it feels contrived, and there’s a sadistic steam death sequence that’s pretty gruesome) along with plenty of violence.

The acting is also quite good, with all the actors giving great performances. The backwoods family, featuring three grown daughters, three sons and the evil Nazi Vater (that’s “father” for all you non-German speaking folk), was pretty brutal but intriguing. You just couldn’t wait to see what they would do next. The group of friends caught in the middle each had their own personalities and each character was adequately developed, something that most horror movies woefully forget to do. Karina Testa as Yasmine was the most effective, going from distraught to confused to determined to enraged in a steadily building crescendo of emotions and vengeance.

Still, no amount of good acting or bloody gore could make me fully enjoy this film. There was too much of an incomplete storyline, too many convenient plot developments and too many loose ends the film fails to tie up. Even the beginning of the film, which featured footage of riots, didn’t have any bearing on the rest of the story and the Nazi family’s intentions for “pure blood” weren’t quite explained adequately.

Though I found Frontière(s) to be seriously lacking, I would still recommend it over the heinous American remakes currently being churned out. There is plenty of blood and grue to entertain gorehounds, just don’t expect a cohesive or original story.

Buy it on Amazon!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Black Pit of Dr. M (1959)

Full of dark shadows, creeping fog, howling wind, ghostly apparitions, mental patients, disfigurement, death and murder, The Black Pit of Dr. M (aka Misterios de Ultratumba) is a masterpiece of gothic filmmaking that deserves far more attention and praise than it has received.

Dr. Mazali (Rafael Bertrand) and Dr. Aldama (Antonio Raxel) have sworn a pact that states whomever dies first must figure out a way for the other to experience the afterlife while still being able to return to the flesh. When Dr. Aldama dies, Dr. Mazali conducts a séance to remind his friend of their promise. Dr. Aldama speaks through a medium to Dr. Mazali that in precisely three months at 9 pm he will fulfill his promise and show Dr. Mazali the afterlife, but at a horrific cost.

Meanwhile, Dr. Aldama’s estranged daughter Patricia (Mapita Cortés) is led by the ghost of the late doctor (her father!) to the mental hospital where Dr. Mazali works. Patricia falls for Dr. Mazali’s young intern (Gastón Santos), while Dr. Mazali becomes entranced with the pretty girl. All the while, time is quickly passing and leading to the fateful night when the doctors’ pact will be realized.

One night, a mental patient (Carolina Barret) of Dr. Mazali gets exceedingly violent and hurls a bottle of acid in the face of an orderly named Elmer (Carlos Ancira), horribly disfiguring him. When the same mental patient turns up dead in Dr. M’s arms, he is blamed for her death and convicted of her murder. All the way to the gallows he believes Dr. Aldama will fulfill his promise and save him from death…but at what cost?

Mexican director Fernando Méndez crafts astoundingly atmospheric visuals and writer Ramón Obón spins a dizzyingly suspenseful story, both creating an unforgettable film with The Black Pit of Dr. M.

The visuals of the long halls of the arcane mental hospital, the dense fog, the Doctor’s villa and the dark shadows will strike you first. There are certain shots that are framed to perfection, including one scene that features the starkly back-lit gallows, which rival any of the classic Universal horror films for their gothic mystique.

Secondly, you will notice that the story of intrigue builds upon itself and never leaves a dull moment. Not only that, but time is adequately taken to properly develop the characters as the story unfolds. While the gorgeously gothic visuals help grab your attention and establish the dark mood of the film, it’s the compounding storyline that keeps building that really sets this masterpiece apart. It really has a bit of everything, from the ghostly visits of Dr. Aldama to the deranged mental patient to the disfigurement of Elmer and the strange love triangle between Dr. M, Patricia and the intern. It may sound a bit overwhelming at first, but both director Méndez and writer Obón skillfully weave an engaging story.

The actors also add to the high quality of the film, doing an amazing job of bringing their characters and their inky motivations to life. Rafael Bertrand is wonderful as the titular Dr. M and is easily the Mexican equivalent of Vincent Price! I also enjoyed the beautiful Mapita Cortés as Patricia. She added a real spark to the film. Even the woman who played the violent mental patient, Carolina Barret, did a fantastic job with her character. Though she had no dialogue, her facial expressions and body language artfully portrayed all the mad emotions in her character. All of the actors’ passionate portrayals of their characters, coupled with the mysterious atmosphere and intriguing story, helped create an unforgettable film.

Unless you aren’t a fan of old black and white movies (and if you’re not, you are truly missing out), there isn’t one negative thing I can say about this film. From the opening death bed sequence to the grand, horrifying finale, The Black Pit of Dr. M had me hooked. Its stark chiaroscuro cinematography coupled with its intriguing story set in the fog-shrouded villa and mental hospital will leave you in awe.

Available on Amazon!

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Living Dead Girl (1982)

Though I haven’t delved too deeply into Jean Rollin’s filmography, I have found the films of his I have seen to be quite poetic and darkly romantic. The Iron Rose was the first film of his I saw, and it entranced me with its gothic feel and dark poetry. After that, I eagerly sought out his other work, which led me to view The Grapes of Death, a film I found to be rather disappointing.

However, I recently viewed Rollin’s The Living Dead Girl (aka La Morte Vivante), which came highly recommended, and this film did not disappoint. Sticking to a more straightforward storyline and somewhat leaving his slow and hypnotizing filmmaking behind, Rollin brings us a film filled with gore, nudity and an enthralling Living Dead Girl.

The film opens with a couple of workers dumping barrels filled with toxic waste into an old crypt under a castle in the French countryside. While they are down there, they decide to do a little grave robbing as well. As they are prying open the coffin lids of two coffins, an earthquake causes the toxic chemicals to spill everywhere. While one grave robber gets killed by the stuff, another gets his eyes clawed out by the resurrected Catherine Valmont (Francoise Blanchard), who looks as fresh and pretty as the day she died two years ago!

She makes her way back to her castle, though her family is also dead and the place has been put on the market. She kills anyone that gets in her way, including a realtor and her boyfriend who come to the empty castle for some hanky-panky.

When her childhood friend and blood sister Helene (Marina Pierro) discovers Catherine is still alive, she rushes to her aid and vows to never leave her, helping her to kill people when Catherine craves their blood. Even while Helene tries to find a semblance of normality for the two of them, Catherine truly realizes what she is and begins lamenting her current undead condition.

Catherine’s secret becomes further threatened when an American actress photographs her and becomes intent on uncovering her identity.

Living Dead Girl is probably Jean Rollin’s most commercial and accessible film. His signature dream-like atmosphere is more muted in the film (though still present) and the plot moves along rather briskly for a Rollin film. The gore and nudity are also copious and occur often, as do the lesbian undertones (which are present in many of Rollin’s vampire films) between Helene and Catherine.

Catherine’s weapon of choice were her long, curved nails, with which she slashed and stabbed through many victims. Blood splattered, sprayed and streamed over the screen throughout the film. There’s plenty of violence, from a girl getting her stomach repeatedly slashed open to a man on fire. The most impressive gore sequence came towards the end, when someone’s throat is literally ripped out, and it was so prolonged that it made me squirm a little in my seat! There was also plenty of flesh exposed on which to splatter said blood. Gorehounds will delight in many of the blood-letting scenes!

Francoise Blanchard is amazing as Catherine Valmont. Her innocent blue eyes and angelic blond hair contrast nicely with the chaos that surrounds her. She is very much the victim as opposed to the monster in this film, and you really feel for her predicament. Marina Pierro also does a marvelous job as Helene, who just can’t seem to come to grips with what Catherine really is. Her steely resolve to protect her friend and the love she shows toward Catherine are very admirable traits, though near the end you wish she would just come to understand what Catherine is going through. The rest of the acting is respectable, even with the subplot involving the actress stumbling across Catherine’s secret.

Surprisingly, the subplot doesn’t feel unnecessary, but instead adds a bit more depth and drama to the story, written by Rollin and Jacques Ralf. As for the pacing, it moved at a quick clip, something that can’t be said for all of Rollin’s films. There are plot holes (including the freshness of Catherine’s corpse!), but they are easy to overlook when the film is viewed as a whole. I enjoyed how the story never took a decidedly “zombie” or “vampire” stance with Catherine’s resurrection, but straddled the two myths. Catherine is never named as a “zombie” or a “vampire,” but is merely “undead” and marries aspects from both. She drinks blood like a vampire but also stumbles around like a mindless zombie most of the film. In the end, the character works, which is all that really matters. The rest of the story, including Catherine’s mounting angst and Helene’s burgeoning frustration, works nicely with the ensuing chaos and catastrophe of Catherine’s “condition.”

The cinematography, done by Max Monteillet, was also stunning and the vistas used in the film were gorgeous. The Valmont’s castle was outfitted for a king and the surrounding fields and town were vibrant. The leads were beautiful as well, which completed the film’s rich palette. Visually speaking, each scene has something to grab your eye.

If you are looking to explore Jean Rollin’s work, Living Dead Girl is the most accessible place to start. Its straightforward story moves at a brisk pace, the acting is excellent, the gore is out of this world and the leads are beautiful (and you’ll get to see plenty of them throughout the film if you catch my drift). The film follows some genre guidelines (toxic spill awakens the dead) but has a unique spin on the consequences. This Living Dead Girl is no brainless zombie intent only on brains, she is a thinking, rationale being with a strong sense of right and wrong who just happens to be back from the dead…and is a very messy blood-feaster.

Available from Amazon!

Livelihood (2005)

What if the dead walked the earth…but instead of brains all they wanted were their old lives back?

This is the basic premise of Livelihood, a hilarious zom-com that pits the living and the undead against each other, but in very different circumstances than your typical zombie flick.

The film intertwines the stories of three people who died in freakish ways, only to come back from the dead to find the lives they left behind are topsy-turvy. The first story is about Billy Jump (Stephen B. Thomas), an 80’s hair metal rock star, who decides to reunite his once successful metal band, despite the fact that he can only sing in a high-pitched voice and two of his band mates have fallen in love and are now gay.

The second tale is of office square Alexander (Scott P. Graham). In life, no matter how hard he tried he just couldn’t get ahead. His wife hated him and his boss thought he was worthless. When he returns and tries to re-establish his life, he finds he’s been replaced with a computer at work and replaced by a woman in his wife’s bed!

Lastly, we are told the story of overbearing mother Vida (Michelle Trout), who lives with her son and daughter-in-law, Jean (Amy Smith). Vida makes Jean’s life a living hell, until Jean poisons her tapioca pudding. When Vida returns from the grave, she continues to harass Jean.

As the three different stories unfold, the film treats us to several commercials featuring zombie products (zombie digestion aids) and services (zombie retirement home), zombie soap operas (The Dead and the Breathless) and even a zombie music video (a country parody called “Leave the US to the Living”)! The film also has segments that give it a documentary feel, like when the characters are featured in sit-down interviews. All these elements work in Livelihood’s favor, giving it a distinctive and unique feel.

This is a low-budget movie, though, so some might be a little put-off by the hokey pancake makeup and special effects. Still, this didn’t really dampen my enjoyment of the film. In fact, I thought it only added to the comical and over-the-top vibe of the flick!

There are a few instances where the humor does fall flat, though, and a few scenes that run a bit long. It also never ties the three stories together, leaving the film feeling rather loose, unstructured and unfocused.

Surprisingly, the acting was quite good, with all of the lead characters holding their own throughout the film. For a low-budget flick to pull this off is a rather big accomplishment!

I liked how the story tweaked the traditional “the dead walk the earth” and put its own spin on it. From the look of this smartly written film, writers Ryan Graham (who also directed), Tracey Graham and Curtis Crispin have bright futures ahead of them.

Livelihood is a solid low-budget film that delivers the laughs and will surely charm fans of zombie comedy looking for something new!

Available from Amazon!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Prom Night IV: Deliver Us From Evil (1992)

The only thing consistent with the Prom Night series is how inconsistent the films are. The first film, with its standard slasher storyline and horrendous disco music is nonetheless still a fun film to watch. Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II completely discarded the first Prom Night’s story and introduced us to Mary Lou Maloney, a malevolent ghost that comes back to claim her prom queen crown. The third installment, Prom Night III: The Last Kiss, continued with a new Mary Lou story, but Prom Night IV: Deliver Us From Evil yet again ditches the previous storylines.

Prom Night IV: Deliver Us From Evil is about Father Jonas, a possessed, homicidal priest that kills two horny teenagers on prom night in 1957 (the same night Mary Lou was accidentally killed at the prom). The Catholic Church locks him in the basement of a church and keeps him sedated so he can do no more harm. In 1991 a new, young priest is put in charge of Jonas. Thinking he can help the homicidal maniac, he stops administering his meds and even gives him a nice, close shave. Jonas wakes up and busts outta the church, looking for more promiscuous teens to kill and “save.”

Lucky for Jonas, it is prom night! Two couples are getting ready for the big night (complete with a funny lesbian interlude), but instead of going to prom they decide to ditch it and spend the weekend at one of their parent’s weekend getaway houses. Problem is, the house used to be Father Jonas’ seminary home and he’s on his way back there also! Can the four horny teens survive the Father’s wrath?

Prom Night IV: Deliver Us From Evil isn’t a slasher masterpiece, but I was surprised at how much I actually enjoyed it. The acting was alright, the characters didn’t get on my nerves and the villain was fun to watch! Of course, there wasn’t that much gore to speak of, there were more than a few inconsistencies and plot holes as well. For example, if it was prom, why was it snowing?? And, of course, there was the problem of Father Jonas not aging a day since he was imprisoned by the Church. Maybe years of solitary confinement are the solution for younger looking skin!

The characters were all very fun to watch. The innocent Meagan (Nikki de Boer) played well against the “experienced” Laura (Joy Tanner). The male characters weren’t as developed, but they did okay as well. It was surprising that there were no annoying characters to root for to die, which I thought was a nice change from your standard slasher fare. The villain of Father Jonas (James Carver) wasn’t necessarily scary, but he was very intense and did well in his role.

The kills really weren’t that interesting or memorable, but I did enjoy how slowly and methodically Father Jonas stalked the characters. On the downside, the film took about 45 minutes before the teens started getting knocked off. There are a few kills beforehand, but by the time the first teen “disappeared,” I was getting antsy. With just four people in an isolated house to kill, things did get a little slow.

Despite its problems, though, Prom Night IV: Deliver Us From Evil is a decidedly fun, underrated slasher film. I’m not sure why the filmmakers decided to affiliate it with the Prom Night series because it would have done much better as a stand-alone film. Nonetheless, you shouldn’t let dreaded “sequel-itis” stop you from checking out Prom Night IV.

Available from Amazon!

Prom Night III: The Last Kiss (1990)

In this third installment of the inconsistent Prom Night series (hardly any of the movies follow the same mythology), everyone’s favorite prom queen, Mary Lou, returns! Prom Night III: The Last Kiss finds Mary Lou back from the dead and falling for a hunky high school student. While Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II and Prom Night III have no resemblance to the original Prom Night or Prom Night IV: Deliver Us From Evil, they are by far the cheekiest and most fun in the series.

Meet your average Joe, high school student Alex Grey. Alex gets average grades, is an average football player, has an average shoe size (hardy-har!) and is fed up with being ordinary. One night, he has a “close” (by close I mean sexy) encounter with the high school’s resident ghost, Mary Lou Mahoney, who was burned to death on prom night many years ago. Mary Lou has somehow been freed from Hell and once again is stalking the halls of Hamilton High.

Mary Lou falls head over heels for Alex and soon has him under her sultry spell. She helps him ace tests and become a star football player, killing anyone who gets in her or his way. She wants Alex to be with her forever and ever, but Alex’s girlfriend Sarah isn’t gonna take this news lying down.

Can Alex and Sarah get rid of Mary Lou before she kills any more people and drags Alex home with her…to Hell?!

Prom Night III: The Last Kiss works quite well because of its razor-sharp wit, penned by Ron Oliver, who returns from writing duties on Prom Night II and also helps co-direct the third installment. Prom Night III is infused with bitingly black humor that makes the film both extremely fun and very self-aware. There are quite a few self-referential jokes throughout the film that should tickle horror fans’ funny bones. Oliver’s script makes the film, because without its flair the film would just be another mediocre supernatural slasher movie.

The acting is also above average, with Courtney Taylor filling Lisa Schrage’s (from Prom Night II) high-heeled shoes as Mary Lou. Tim Conlon does a great job as the popularity-hungry Alex, though I felt his girlfriend Sarah, played by Cynthia Preston, was a bit bland.

The kills were all pretty cool, though a little odd at times (human ice cream sundae anyone?). My favorite was probably the “makeover” scene, in which the guidance counselor is placed under a salon hair dryer only to have acid dumped all over her! Yes, there are some pretty nifty and funny death scenes throughout the movie, as well as some hilarious lines (“Don’t worry – it’s only a guidance counselor”).

My only complaint with the film was the ending, which seemed to stretch on forever. They even brought out the undead to draaaaaaag it out. What had started as a tongue-in-cheek supernatural slasher quickly devolved into something a bit long-in-the-tooth. If the whole “Hell” scene had been avoided or edited a little shorter, I think this would have been a much more enjoyable film.

Nonetheless, Prom Night III: The Last Kiss is a very enjoyable film that is equally witty and gory to satisfy a horror fan on a lazy weekend.

Pucker up and enjoy!

Available from Amazon!

Snuff: A Documentary About Killing on Camera (2008)

Director Paul von Stoetzel’s documentary, Snuff: A Documentary About Killing on Camera, explores the controversy of the “snuff” film and if these “murdered for profit” films really do exist. Snuff, as defined in the film, is a film that features a murder onscreen, usually preceded by sex, made explicitly for profit. Snuff isn’t made for pleasure nor is it death that just happens to be caught on film. In snuff, a person dies on camera for the sole purpose of making money off that scene.

Many people have questioned if snuff really exists and the FBI still vehemently denies it’s out there. Snuff: A Documentary About Killing on Camera presents filmmakers, cinephiles and even FBI profilers with their thoughts on snuff films.

The official synopsis from Killing Joke Films describes it as:

“… a feature film examining the existence of films in which people are murdered on camera and the culture surrounding them. Through interviews with former FBI Profilers, Cultural Academics, and Film Historians the documentary delves into the disturbing history and myth of Snuff Films. The FBI claims there is no evidence to prove the existence of Snuff and, therefore, Snuff Films are a myth. This documentary analyzes the relationships between war, cult films, serial killers and pornography to prove whether or not this pervasive myth is, in fact, reality.”
Through these interviews and graphic scenes of torture, bloodshed and murder from controversial horror films as well as real scenes of death, filmmaker von Stoetzel examines the validity of snuff films and if they are truly real or not. The result is an emotional, powerful and troubling look into a society that views REAL torture and death as entertainment.

This amazingly comprehensive documentary is a real eye-opener to the ugly, twisted side of entertainment. While we would rather not believe human beings would pay to see real people get killed, this does happen, all in the name of entertainment. There are many segments that are hard to watch, especially one about a child pornography ring whose leaders were arrested after causing the death of at least one child. Outrageously, the leaders of the ring were released from Russian jail due to overcrowding and the head of the ring was only sentenced for 11 years for the atrocities they committed. Another particularly difficult segment to sit through was a discussion of war snuff, specifically the infamous execution by beheading of an American. The scary thing is that this video isn’t even considered “snuff” and is readily available to anyone for free on the Internet.

The film also features some surprisingly emotional scenes, specifically two in which Texas Chain Saw Massacre producer Mark L. Rosen talks about the previously mentioned child exploitation and another in which he describes watching a real snuff film. Both are powerful scenes, but Rosen becomes most visibly shaken when discussing the snuff film. He was approached by an investor who wanted him to distribute an “adult” film and invited to watch it in his hotel room. While two beefy bodyguards guarded the door of that hotel room, Rosen viewed the film that featured violent sex and, at the end, a woman’s throat being cut on screen. He goes on to tearfully say that there’s no way special effects were involved. His recollection of the event is touching and really makes you think about the atrocities being committed out in the world that most know nothing about. Rosen still doesn’t know what became of that snuff film and doesn’t care to.

Despite the horrors the film exposes, its execution (no pun intended) is equally well done. Von Stoetzel has done an excellent job assembling interviewees that have differing opinions and letting them all express their thoughts. The production values are equally high and I liked how the shocking clips from movies, the news and other sources were played in between the interviews. It also made you think about our current YouTube generation, where real and brutal acts of violence caught on video end up on the Internet for everyone to see. Snuff collectors might not be willing to pay exorbitant prices for snuff films if they can just watch them for free on the Internet. It also raises the question if people (including kids and teens) who watch these real death videos, which are so prevalent these days, are becoming desensitized.

The filmmaker isn’t kidding when a warning message is flashed across the screen at the beginning of the film, warning it isn’t for the faint of heart or spirit. I had plenty of trouble sitting through its disturbing elements, including the infamous video of an American being beheaded in the Iraq War. There were many shocking moments in the film, whether from controversial films like the Faces of Death series (though now we know many of these were fake), Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, alleged snuff films, news and/or war footage as well as some footage shot by two serial killers that show them torturing a family. I can handle all the fake gore a movie can throw at me, but I get very shaken up over real-life torture, dismemberment and death. And, let me tell you, Snuff: A Documentary About Killing on Camera, definitely left me shaken up.

Snuff: A Documentary About Killing on Camera, is an excellent, although horrifying, documentary on the notorious “snuff” film. It never seeks to exploit its subject, but treats it with a reverence and respect to get the truth out. Filmmaker Paul Von Stoetzel has created a moving and thoroughly engaging look at the myth surrounding snuff films. If you can handle the disturbing elements of “real-life” horrors this documentary portrays, then it comes highly recommended.

Visit Killing Joke Films and Snuff: A Documentary About Killing on Camera’s Official Site!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Storm Warning (2007)

Following in the snooze-inducing footsteps of Aussie film Wolf Creek, Storm Warning revels in its repugnant, uncomfortable scenes of abuse while seemingly forgetting a full-length film needs a story to support its 1 ½ hour run-time.

An Australian couple decides to go boating one day and rents a small fishing boat. After a bit of fishing they decide to sail through some nearby marshes, but soon get lost. With an approaching storm and night quickly falling, they abandon the boat to find help and a lift back to the mainland. They find an old, empty farmhouse, but the barn is full of marijuana plants. Before they can get away from the drug dealers, the owners, a vile family of hillbillies that include a father and his two sons, arrive home. They are none too pleased to find interlopers inside their dwelling and are soon making the couple’s life a living hell. Can the couple escape the brutal captors?

First off, the wimpy and annoying lead male did nothing to arouse pity or sympathy. His stupid choices (not turning the boat around when a storm approached, getting lost, deciding to approach the hillbilly house, etc.) are what get them into trouble. When they became prisoners of the hillbillies, he really didn’t try and fight back, even when they humiliated and fondled his girlfriend. The good this is that she actually took charge and kicked enough ass for the both of them. As for the villains, they were never scary. We saw and heard far too much of them to make them intimidating or scary. They just ended up being your standard redneck weirdos with bad hygiene and an affinity for violence.

As for the story, you’ve seen in all before (in much better films) and sadly, there’s nothing new added to Storm Warning to make it stand out. It features the same characters in the same scenario you’ve seen countless times over. There are no twists and no surprises to alleviate the painful boredom experienced while watching this movie.

The scenes of humiliation the couple is forced to endure are really nothing new to the genre and there are much more brutal films that are done better than this one. So don’t let my statement of “repugnant, uncomfortable scenes of abuse” titillate you – there’s not anything groundbreaking or truly shocking shown here if you are a genre fan.

There is only one scene in the whole film that sticks out. There is a part where the couple is locked in a tool shed and the female gets all crafty and MacGyver-ish, setting up a wicked trap for the hillbillies involving fish hooks. Besides the fact that the scene requires you to suspend your belief awfully high, the end result of the trap is pretty cool to see. Despite that one flash-in-the-pan, though, the rest of the movie drags.

Director Jamie Blank’s other directorial efforts include genre films Urban Legend and Valentine, which were fun, if a little mediocre, films. With Storm Warning, though, it feels like he has stepped into the mean-spirited and over-played “torture porn” subgenre. His earlier films evoke the fun of the slasher film heyday of the 80’s, but Storm Warning fails to capture the grittiness of the 70’s exploitation films it was trying to emulate.

The tedious script, written by Everett de Roche, doesn’t help with its unlikable characters making stupid decisions and stereotypical villains. Within the first five minutes you pray that the two annoying leads are headed towards a painful death and the dull villains are just begging for an ass-whuppin’!

Storm Warning delivers just ONE worthy scene in its entire 80 minute running time. The rest is the same old backwoods hogwash we’ve seen a million times before, only in much better films. Better films that feature characters we actually care about, a multi-layered story that features surprises and twists, harrowing scenes and frightening villains. Storm Warning has none of those key components and fails miserably because of that.

The only frightening thing about the film is that I actually sat through it (I will admit pushing the fast forward button on more than one occasion, though). The good news is that now you don’t have to!!

Available from Amazon!

Friday, May 2, 2008

The Grapes of Death (1978)

After being introduced to Jean Rollins’ work through the film The Iron Rose, I decided to take a look at a few other of his films. I decided to start his 1978 film The Grapes of Death (aka Les Raisins de la Mort)as the premise, location and promise of gore lured me. The film was said to feature zombies, be set in the vineyards of France and be one of Rollins’ most ooey and gooey horror films.

I didn’t see any zombies or French vineyards, but the gore certainly was present and accounted for!

The film opens with a group of vineyard workers spraying down the rows and rows of sickly grapes with harsh pesticides. Despite the fact that they are all wearing “protective masks” (which are little more than painter’s masks) one man falls violently ill. Meanwhile, a young woman named Elizabeth (Marie-Georges Pascal) is on her way into the region via train. She is going to meet her fiancée at the winery where he works. The same man that fell ill in the vineyards boards her train, kills her friend and attacks her, all the while a large, oozing wound on his face is rapidly spreading.

Elizabeth hightails it into the French countryside, but encounters more people with the same pus-filled sores that try to attack her and anyone else who remains unaffected. The infected are not only violent, but they are also organized and sneaky. Can Elizabeth make her way to her fiancées winery and get help…before it’s too late?

This movie was pretty hit and miss with me. It was touted as a zombie flick, but I think that is a grossly inaccurate description. It wasn’t clear if the infected died and came back as pus-filled atrocities or if they were just sick. Besides stumbling around a little bit, they certainly didn’t act like zombies either, as they could speak and manipulate people. I was also expecting a bit more violence or action, but the movie dragged in many places. I’d say the bulk of the movie featured the heroine running, climbing and walking through the rocky French countryside (no vineyards in sight!).

The best part of the film was the special FX done on the afflicted. The greenish-yellow pus, the raw red sores and the bright red dripping blood reminded me of the over-the-top effects used in Street Trash or Slime City. While The Grapes of Death didn’t use the extreme bright color palate of either of those films, the effect of being grossed out was still achieved!

The signature Jean Rollins style of filming is definitely apparent in The Grapes of Death. The slow, languid shots give the film a dream-like quality, while the small flourishes of close-ups (of eyes, faces, etc.) are evident throughout the film. Visually, the color palate of the film is rather dull, making the colorful seeping sores on the infected pop all that much more.

The story is pretty straightforward and simple, but the ending is pretty powerful and even a bit surprising. I also loved the scenes with the woman in white, who absolutely stole the show!

The Grapes of Death isn’t a film I would recommend everyone see, but for those interested in Jean Rollins filmmaking it is a must-see. As many before me have said, the gore is phenomenal and fun and it pretty much makes an otherwise drawn out movie very enjoyable.

The Grapes of Death pairs excellently with a nice bottle of French Chianti.

Available from Amazon!
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