Monday, July 21, 2008

Asylum (2008)

When done right, haunted asylum movies work wonders at scaring the pants off me (wouldn’t you like to be around when that happens!!). Movies like Session 9 set in abandoned mental hospitals utilize creaking doors, dark corridors, archaic “treatment” implements, peeling paint, old toys and debris to create an atmosphere of loneliness and slowly building dread. Add a messed up story about patients being mistreated, tested on and killed plus a few good jolts and you’ve got yourself a successful horror film.

These films should always remember that the real villain of the story is the mental hospital itself. No matter what malevolent spirits the place holds, they are usually the by-product of its dark evil. Without a sufficiently scary location and atmosphere the whole film will fall apart.

The oh-so-cleverly titled Asylum doesn’t play by these rules and suffers all the more for it, in turn making the viewer suffer even more.

Madison (Sarah Roemer) is leaving behind a tragic family past (both her father and brother committed suicide) and going to college. Her mother must be paying a bundle, because she gets to live in a newly renovated, state-of-the-art dorm where she gets her very own room! One catch – the dorm used to be an asylum where a crazed doctor named Burke (Mark Rolston) used drastic measures (i.e. torture) to “cure” his teenage patients. One part of the dorm is still under renovation and strictly off limits, but that doesn’t stop Madison and her new dorm mates from breaking in and snooping around. The stereotypical bunch (the asshole jock, the spicy Latina, the shy computer nerd, the blonde bitch, the cute, sensitive guy and Madison) gets caught by security and they all go about their normal business…except things are getting strange. Lights flicker, people go missing and an imposing figure of a Doctor lurks in the shadows. As each person in the group ends up missing/dead as the Doctor exposes their deepest secrets, can Madison fend him off or will she too succumb to his “treatments?”

In the first 10 minutes or so Asylum actually looked promising. Madison is a damaged young thing and the exterior of the dorm/old asylum sure is imposing…but things start falling apart fast after that. First of all, the orientation Madison and the new students attend only has like 30 people total!! The incoming freshman class must be bigger than that. Even if it was only the kids who are staying in that particular dorm, that place has at least a couple of stories with at least 20 (at the barest minimum) dorm rooms on each floor! Plus, we never see any other students besides the group of bozos we are stuck with…and they never leave their particular floor. I remember being a freshman, and the last place you wanted to be was hanging out on your floor like a loser. There was so much to do that first week of school, I’m not buying that anyone would want to stick around their dorm, even if it is “state-of-the-art.” And I don’t know what college these lucky bastards attended, but I’ve never heard of one where you get your own dorm room freshman year!! Yet, here these characters are, with no roommates to worry about (or to save them) as the Doctor attacks them one by one…

Ok, that stuff was more nitpicking than anything else, so let’s get to what’s really wrong with the film. The damn thing isn’t scary…at all!! Besides having the asylum part of the building be dark and abandoned, it’s not really made to be a character or villain in the film…that distinction went to Doctor Burke, but we see far to much of him for him to actually be intimidating. He comes off hammier than anything else, which isn’t good for a horror film that’s trying to play it straight. The asylum building isn’t played up at all, though it could have been used so much more effectively than as just another dark hall for these kids to run through. The film doesn’t attempt to build any tension, suspense or scares and basically just limps along until its weak climax.
The film is ploddingly predictable and there are absolutely no surprises to be found. It was also pretty convenient that ALL the people had some big, dark secret they were hiding that ultimately Dr. Burke used to get to them. Everything felt contrived, forced and just plain bland. This is one of those films your 11-year-old kid brother/sister would rent and think it was scary…but only if it was the only horror movie they’d ever seen.

As for the characters, they are all stereotypical and shallow. They each have a big, bad secret, but besides that nothing much else is revealed about them. The worst, though, is the character of Doctor Burke, who shouts ridiculous lines like, “You’re dead meat!” and “Give me your suffering! Give me your pain!” that’ll have you snickering through your boredom. He is in no way scary and comes off as pretty damn ridiculous.

The acting, like the rest of the movie, is pretty mediocre. While it’s not overly atrocious, it’s not really all that great either. Of course, the tired script doesn’t give the actors that much to work with to begin with. The story is unoriginal, bland and a bore to anyone who’s seen at least one horror movie. Writer Ethan Lawrence doesn’t know how to write a suspenseful horror story and the same repetitious crap keeps happening in Asylum. Not to mention all the numerous plot holes populating the film. What was the point of having Madison’s dad and brother commit suicide because they “heard voices” without including something further along in the story with the same thing happening to Madison? And exactly how did a group of people with some pretty deep secrets all end up on the same floor in a haunted dorm? Why did Doctor Burke chose to target all of them? These questions and many more plague the film and are never answered.

The only thing this film had going for it were the high production values and the surprisingly sharp direction, courtesy of David R. Ellis. Still, those two things don’t make Asylum worth your time.

Consider yourself under Doctor’s orders to avoid this film!

Available from Amazon!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Black Water (2008)

I’ve never really been a big fan of the “when animals attack” sub-genre. The characters in these films are usually stupid (and deserve to die) and they usually end up getting killed by an animal much smarter than them. I always hated how this far superior animal was simply killed in the end, even though the characters were so much less intelligent than it. It’s hard to enjoy or even be scared by a horror film if you hate the characters and can’t relate to their actions and are rooting for the “villain.” Yet, every once in a while a horror film in this sub-genre comes around that I particularly like…

How does the Australian film Black Water rate? You’ll have to keep reading to find out…

On holiday, sisters Grace (Diana Glenn) and Lee (Maeve Dermody) and Grace’s boyfriend Adam (Andy Rodoreda) take a road trip into the Australian countryside. They visit a crocodile farm before deciding to take a fishing tour on the flood-swollen river. Their guide (Ben Oxenbould) takes them out in a small metal motorboat, taking them all the way to an isolated mangrove lagoon. Before you can say “Gone Fishin’,” a big croc capsizes their little boat. Adam and Grace scramble for a nearby tree, but Lee gets stuck on the top of the overturned boat. The massive crocodile pokes its behemoth head out of the water to say hello, then dives back under to try and knock Lee off. Soon, the three friends realize that the croc has dragged off their guide and that they are miles away from anything and anyone. Can the three friends escape the croc’s clutches and make it out in one piece as opposed to in pieces?

For a killer croc movie, Black Water is a surprisingly tense and taut picture! It’s got high production values, great direction, likable characters and a scary crocodile! It’s based on a true story (read about it,,2241705,00.html) and actually stays pretty close to it. It’s also interesting to note that the filmmakers used real crocodiles for the majority of the film instead of CGI or other special FX. This lent a level of realism that was downright frightening! When I was watching the film, I marveled at the realistic-looking crocodiles, but it was only after the film did I find out that they were actually REAL!!

Speaking of the crocodile in the film, it takes on a persona all its own in the film. It is extremely menacing and seems to be psychologically playing with its prey and relishing their fear. In one scene it emerges from the water to show the survivors a chewed up corpse and the croc does it tauntingly, rubbing it in. In another scene, the croc pops out of the water to block the way of the survivors, kinda like he’s saying, “I don’t think so!” As for the rest of the characters, we really don’t get to know them all that much, besides the fact that one is pregnant. Despite the shallow characterizations, we still end up caring deeply for the trio. They are likable and their situation unimaginable, so it is quite easy to feel sympathy for them (yes, even when they do make stupid mistakes).

I thought all the actors did a good job with acting frightened, especially because for the first half of the film you don’t see the crocodile that often. Their confusion, panic and desperation feel very real, though I will say that some of the initial whining and crying gets old fast. Still, the actors did convey fear, anger, determination and more while still maintaining their believability.

Of course, some of the characters’ actions were a bit unbelievable. Why didn’t the group ever try and distract the crocodile by using one person as bait to lead it away from the boat while someone else went for it when the croc was preoccupied? And why did they always use the thinnest, most spindly branches to try and grab the boat’s rope? These and many other questions plagued the film, but the character’s sometimes silly actions didn’t ruin the entire film.

Overall, the film was nail-bitingly intense. Three people stuck up in a tree sure doesn’t sound like a very engaging movie, but the writing-directing team of David Nerlich and Andrew Traucki managed to create an ominous atmosphere full of tension. The two directors utilized several spectacular shots that put the viewer directly into the action. One scene in particular involved showing the point of view from a victim during the crocodile’s “death roll” – a roll that involves them biting their prey and dragging them underwater while the croc spins around several times, trying to drown its prey. I really thought this was an inventive and exciting shot that captured the ferocity of the predator. It felt like National Geographic on steroids! There are also lots of scenes of the murky swamp water that’ll have your toes curling imaging what lies in those depths.

I will warn you, though, Black Water is seriously lacking in the blood and guts department. All we get is a severed arm, a chomped-on body, a not-very-bloody croc bite, various scratches, etc., etc. There are no big bubbling pools of blood a la Jaws here, kiddies. In the context of the movie, though, the lack of gore works just fine. The tension and suspense are what really keep the film moving along.

Black Water is a pleasant surprise amidst the standard stupid “when animals attack” films. It delivers tension and suspense without having to resort to gore for entertainment and will put you on the edge of your seat!

Available from Amazon!

Viscera 2007 Short Film Festival DVD (2008)

The Viscera Film Festival is entering its second year as the place for female horror filmmakers to showcase their work. It allows women a place to be celebrated and recognized for their contributions to a genre that is so male dominated. While this year’s festival is already accepting entries from female filmmakers, horror fans are finally being treated to last year’s entries on DVD. The Viscera 2007 DVD includes the Go Ask Alice short that started the Viscera experience, as well as eight other short films, filmmaker bios and other goodies.

The Viscera 2007 selections on the DVD include The Cleaner, Wretched, The Snake Pit, Out of Print, Brains, I’m A Little Teapot, When Sally Met Frank and It’s My Birthday.

The strength of the DVD lies in the variety of horror offered and the fact that so much female-driven talent is conveniently found in one place. Three of the productions were made strictly using an all-female cast AND crew (I’m A Little Teapot, Out of Print and It’s My Birthday), while the rest were directed/produced by females but utilized males in the cast/crew. If these films are any indication, then these female filmmakers are ones to watch in the horror community!

There are some amazing shorts contained on the disc. I’ve already had the pleasure of viewing and reviewing Wretched, by Heidi Martinuzzi and Leslie Delano, and The Cleaner by Michelle Fatale, but I was impressed with the rest of the entries as well! At under 30 seconds, I’m A Little Teapot by Sallie Smith is the most jarring and shocking of the bunch, while It’s My Birthday by Shannon Lark (who is also the organizer of the festival) is a gory and vividly colorful film with a hauntingly discordant soundtrack. Out of Print by Reyna Young (which won the Viscera Award in 2007) is a surreal and visually unsettling short film. The Snake Pit by Brandy Rainey is a pretty straightforward, backwoods horror short with a nice twist at the end. Brains, from Amber Steele and Shannon Lark, is a fun zombie spoof on Liam Sullivan’s infamous “Kelly Likes Shoes” music video. One of my favorites of the bunch is When Sally Met Frank by Victoria Waghorn, which is a satirical look at plastic surgery. The film is shot beautifully and has a dark, dank atmosphere that adds to its ominous feel. Also, the special effects are amazingly realistic! When the doctor is scraping under the patient’s skin and then stitching her back up, I couldn’t help but cringe!! It was almost too realistic! The disc also includes Go Ask Alice, the women-only production that sparked the idea for the Viscera Film Festival.

The acting, directing, cinematography and special FX were above and beyond what you see in most low-budget short films. Whether it was the nightmarishly vivid Go Ask Alice or the grainy, grindhouse-looking Snake Pit, each film expertly captured the ominous feel of horror. It’s about time someone showed that women can do horror just as well as the good ol’ boys, and this group of women filmmakers definitely represent the “new wave” of horror. Being a woman in horror, it is always refreshing to see a new perspective on the genre, especially one that comes from a fellow horror-loving female! And while some of the films address feminist issues, they are never heavy-handed and never try and force the issues down your throat.

Each and every Viscera film had something unique to offer and I was impressed with each and every film. All of these films show that women can make films that are just as scary (if not more) as the horror films men make. Hopefully Viscera will encourage women of all ages that love the genre to make their own horror films.

Check out Viscera’s Official Site!

Get your own copy of the Viscera 2007 selections at The Slaughter Shop!

Gory Gear: Plushybutt

Plushybutts are soft and cuddly creations handmade by Shannon Hahn. Hahn got the idea for making Plushybutts from a Christmas book that featured cute characters. She thought she could do better and put her sewing skills to the test! Without any premade patterns and various scraps of cloth Plushybutts was born!

Hahn creates new Plushybutts on a regular basis, with no two creations looking exactly alike. Her DIY attitude mixed with her love of “cute but ugly toys” lead to her creations of Foxy the Heart Eater, C-section Sammy, Bunny Kill, Bloodsucking Block Head and Wrecker the Worm, along with a plethora of other kooky creations. The toys looks like Japanese animated characters – they are brightly colored, come in all kinds of unimaginable shapes and sizes and are both terribly cute and endearingly ugly all at the same time!

We received Wrecker the Worm for the purposes of this review and this Plushybutt was pretty darn irresistible. Wrecker was made out of soft felt and hand-sewn together. His bright yellow chest and eyes stood out against his mottled, bottle-green body. His little bow tie was so darn cute…the only thing that seemed to be missing were some librarian glasses to complete the “book worm” look!

Plushybutt also carries many other plushy creations – including a gigantic bloody tampon, poop, an ax and many other cuddly (but bizarre) things! Hahn takes special orders so anything you would like can be handmade by her.

Each Plushybutt is unique and handmade, so everyone will get something special…no two are exactly alike! Hahn’s creations already have lots of happy customers (check out the photo section on their Myspace page!!!) and I’m sure many more are to come!

One day, Hahn hopes Plushybutt will be carried in stores like Hot Topic, where they’ll be available for adoption to a larger amount of hipsters. Currently, you can buy Plushybutt by contacting Hahn through their Myspace page or through select stores (check their blog for more info).

Visit Plushybutt on Myspace (website is coming soon!).

Friday, July 11, 2008

Neon Maniacs (1986)

Neon Maniacs is a delightful, though flawed, film that’s a mix of Nightbreed, Monster Squad and Street Trash topped off with a helping of green Ghostbuster-like slime. It’s no where near as good (or even half as good) as any of the previously mentioned film I’m so loosely comparing it to, but I did find myself enjoying this very guilty pleasure.

While fooling around in the park one night, a group of high school students is systemically slaughtered by a group of deformed monsters, the titular Neon Maniacs. A lone girl named Natalie (Leilani Sarelle) survives the attack after it starts to rain and the monsters mysteriously have to flee. Though she witnessed all her friends being butchered, the cops find no trace of violence or any bodies…except for random patches of green goo. No one believes Natalie and thinks the kids’ disappearances are just a silly prank. No one, that is, except for a spunky young freshman named Paula (Donna Locke) who hears about the attack and approaches Natalie at school to offer her help and support. Natalie brushes the young girl off, so Paula decides to investigate on her own. She’s an aspiring horror filmmaker, and damn if she wouldn’t like some REAL monster footage for her latest film. Following the green goop from the park, she tracks the monsters to a lair under the Golden Gate Bridge. She returns that night with a video camera and lies in wait for them to make an appearance…and sure enough they do. The monsters spot Paula, but not before it starts to rain and she gets away. Apparently water destroys the suckers, and now she knows their one weakness.

Meanwhile, Natalie is getting cozy with Steve (Alan Hayes), the resident geek and boy-next-door type. They go on a date, but it is interrupted by the maniacs, who are after Natalie because I guess they just can’t leave survivors well enough alone…One of the maniacs also goes after Paula, but she’s ready and quickly dispatches him with a wet dip in the bathtub.

Natalie, Steve and Paula join forces and devise a plan to lure the maniacs to a cheesy costume party/battle of the bands dance (be warned: there is horrible, horrible music!) they are having at the high school. They arm everyone with squirt guns, but when the maniacs show up everyone forgets their purpose and runs helter-skelter. Steve-o turns a fire hose on the maniacs and melts quite a few of them, but not before the maniacs kill a handful of kids and police officers.

The police begrudgingly believe Natalie’s story and go to the lair of the maniacs armed with squirt guns and fire hoses…but find nothing there…until the main detective decides to go back alone and take another peek…

In all honesty, Neon Maniacs is a horribly bad movie. Bad acting, bad directing, poor special FX and a nonsensical story line…but I loved (almost) every second of it!! It’s a definite B-movie (perhaps even C or D quality), but it’s still entertaining and fun.

The film is washed out and pretty rough around the edges. There’s not much flair to the direction or cinematography, but that doesn’t mean that it’s unwatchable. As for the story, it’s is pretty flimsy and not well developed at all. The neon maniacs (emphasis on the “maniacs,” as I saw no “neon” in this film), who melt if exposed to water, live in one of the dampest, foggiest places in California – San Francisco! Not to mention they chose a lair that overlooks the San Francisco Bay…which, last time I checked, was full of water! Where they came from was never explained at all either. Are they deformed humans? Are they monsters that like dressing in different outfits? Do they like to sing “YMCA” when they aren’t out tearing people to shreds? It’s not a coincidence that the maniacs have been called the Village People of horror villains!

The maniacs were all pretty cheesy, and not in the least scary. Besides their rubber masks, they’ve each got a strange motif going (like I just said, Village People!): one is a Native American, complete with some weird feathered headdress going on, another one is a cheesy-looking soldier, one’s like a hairy Neanderthal/ape-man, yet another is a surgeon and so on…and there are about twelve different maniacs! There’s one in particular that seems completely out of place (yes, more than the other ones) and looks like one-eyed dinosaur. Was that guy even in the right movie?? He looks like he should be in that Dinosaurs TV show, not as a part of the Neon Maniacs’ gang. Though the maniacs’ origins aren’t explained in the film, if I had to take a guess I’d say that a gay nightclub (hey, it is set in San Francisco) was exposed to radioactive chemicals and that’s how these freaks were created.

As for the other characters, they are all pretty annoying. Natalie just seemed like a whiny, stupid prima donna who couldn’t take care of herself. After all her friends are butchered by crazed, deformed monsters and she barely escapes death, she decides to take a dip in her pool…at night! She also goes to school the next day like nothing happened and finds time to fall for geeky Steve. When the Maniacs are butchering more people at the attack on the school, she and Steve also find time to devirginize her. Natalie sure does have her priorities screwed up! Basic rule of horror movies is that you wait until after the big baddies are for sure dead before gettin’ it on! The only endearing character out of the bunch was Paula. Her nosy demeanor and ambitious indie filmmaking (though she was filming a vampire film in broad daylight) really won me over. Her room was filled with horror memorabilia and filmmaking equipment to make any fan drool (though one has to wonder how much that editing equipment and camera cost back then!!). I also like the fact that she was a strong, independent girl who was into the macabre – not everything you see everyday in films!

The special FX in the film weren’t too bad. This being the 80′s, they were all practical. in the first 10 minutes or so we see a whole group of high schoolers get offed by the maniacs, and this really kick starts the film. Though the actual monster outfits were cheesy, it was pretty neat to see them melt when they came in contact with water. There’s not a great deal of the red stuff being flung around, but there was enough to keep me happy. Be warned, though, this movie is pure cheesy fun so don’t go looking for anything too realistic!

Neon Maniacs is for sure a guilty pleasure! If you want to have some campy, cheesy fun without having to think about silly things like a cohesive plot, Neon Maniacs comes highly recommended!

Find it on Amazon!

The Hearse (1980)

The Hearse is a fun old spookfest from 1980 that is chock full of atmosphere (and, unfortunately, flaws) and has a killer hearse (ummm…literally!)! This little-seen gem features Trish Van Devere as Jane Hardy, a schoolteacher from the big city that’s recently been through a tough divorce and her mother’s death, leading to a near-mental breakdown. Jane has inherited her aunt’s country home and heads there for the summer, hoping for some much needed repose.

When she arrives in the tiny town late one night, she is nearly driven off the road by a hulking black hearse. She’s also receives a chilly reception by the town lawyer (played by Joseph Cotton) handling the turnover of the house as well as the rest of the townsfolk. The hardware store refuses to deliver to her home, the handyman won’t work there and locals avoid talking to her.

Driving at night, Jane has repeated run-ins with the menacing black hearse. In the house, doors start slamming of their own accord, window’s break, objects won’t stay where Jane puts them, pipes clang and she has vivid, realistic nightmares. Jane finds her aunt’s diary and is startled to find out that her aunt met a charming stranger and they made a pact with Satan for eternal life. The local reverend tells Jane that the cause of her aunt’s death was always a mystery and on the day of her funeral the hearse carrying her inexplicably blew up and her body was never found.

When a stranger named Tom (David Gautreaux) comes into her life, Jane is swept off her feet. Still, the strange occurrences keep happening and she’s not sure if the townsfolk are trying to drive her out of town or something much more sinister is at work…

Though The Hearse was, for the most part, an entertaining movie, it is definitely not without its faults. First off, the story is very shaky and predictable. Any experienced horror fan can see what’s coming from a mile away! It’s hard to build suspense when your audience already knows what’s coming. Secondly, the story wavers between a ghost story, a haunted house movie and a haunted car plotline. We never learn enough about Jane’s aunt or her pact with the Devil (or where she is now…what happened to her promised “eternal life”??). Everything is just a bit too transparent and vague throughout the entire film. It is like writer William Bleich was vacillating between all these different plotlines and couldn’t decide which one to follow. Also, no one was killed off until there was only about 30 minutes left in the film, and the kills are silly and feel like they were added in at the last minute.

On the plus side, the film has a killer hearse! With a suitably creepy driver! I was sad to see that the hearse wasn’t the sole focus of The Hearse, but when it did appear it lent some frightful dread into the film. I also liked how the film was played straight instead of campy, with a real effort put forth to give us a varied group of characters (though they did come off a little one-dimensional). The seriousness helped achieve an atmosphere of foreboding instead of just playing it goofy and going for juvenile scares.

The characters were all pretty entertaining, though most of the men were negatively represented as nasty, leering perverts (like the Sheriff, played by Med Flory), lovesick Lotharios (like Jane’s high school handyman, Paul – played by rosy-cheeked Perry Lang) or drunken old coots (the town lawyer, played by Joseph Cotton). Even Jane’s love interest, Tom (David Gautreaux) came across like a slick, seducing snake. Trish Van Devere’s portrayal of Jane was probably the strongest of the bunch, showing us a steadfast woman that was determined to stay in an unwelcoming community no matter what, when most people would have cut and run at the first sign of trouble.

If you can forgive The Hearse for its wispy plot and obvious conclusion, it’s really not a bad way to spend an eerie evening. There are several scenes that were unexpected and made me jump (watch out for unexpected people in your bed is all I’ve got to say!). If you are looking for a little-seen, atmospheric haunting movie you might want to check out The Hearse.

Available from Amazon!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Book Review: Dragging Wings by Jennifer Caress

Jennifer Caress’ new novel, Dragging Wings, is a hypnotizing blend of dark fantasy, sci-fi and horror that is near impossible to put down once you start reading. The novel’s main strength is its fantastical characters, who are all wonderfully unique and who the reader comes to care so much about. Not only that, but Caress’ story is surrounded with an air of mystery that adds to the ethereal quality of the book.

Dragging Wings features several different stories, though each are anchored by an over-arching storyline about alien conspiracies and the secret society that seeks to stop them as well as two characters named Sammy and Frankie. In each story Caress does an amazing job at making us care for each new character in a short amount of time, even if a character only appears for a chapter. Besides the memorable duo of Sammy and Frankie, there’s the wounded and confused Dandi whose past just keeps haunting her, the stern and lonely Thomas Manner who opens the book with a bang, the intriguing Iliad Strange with all his tricks, the brave Bodhan who embarks on a journey of self-discovery and so many, many more! Each new character is a delightful discovery and you wish that they were actually real so that you could befriend them.

Each story offers something new, but every one goes back to the principles of sharing, caring and love. Without those things, as you will see in the book, people tend to fall apart. Some stories skew on the more surreal, while others contain a slowly creeping dread and still others feature a more sci-fi feel, but all seem to end in the conclusion that individuality must be celebrated and people should love on another no matter their differences. Don’t be fooled, though…this book is far from being a touchy-feely love fest. There are some sinister things that happen here and many people lose themselves to the darkness rather than finding love in the light. Dandi must (literally) fight the demons haunting her, Bodhan loses his sister and his journey is fraught with peril and people who are trying to kill him and Sammy and Frankie try to come to understand what is happening around them.

The atmosphere of the story is very mysterious. We are never told much about the secret society and the alien conspirators it is trying to battle. One thing is clear, though, that if you join the fight for either side it will open your eyes and change your life. The main setting of the quaint town of Arcacia also lends to the air of mystery and fantasy…though in appearances the town seems like any regular ol’ place. The unique characters and strange stories make it feel otherworldly, though.

Dragging Wings is an entirely unique book that will appeal to the freaks ‘n’ geeks that are different but stand by who they are. It spellbindingly blends horror, dark fantasy and sci-fi into an irresistible mixture of ethereal fiction. I hear Jennifer Caress has a previous novel, called Perverted Realities, that features the characters of Sammy and Frankie and if Dragging Wings is any indication, it should be just as enjoyable!

Dragging Wings is available on Amazon.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Book Review: Thunder and Ashes by Z.A. Recht

These days, zombie stories are a dime a dozen. It seems that just about every other horror book out there is about the walking dead. Authors must continually work harder to bring their fans something new and something they can really sink their teeth into.

Amidst all the zombie fiction, Z.A. Recht has unleashed his new installment in the Morningstar Strain series, entitled Thunder and Ashes. Thunder and Ashes is the sequel to Plague of the Dead and picks up three months after the end of the first book.

In this post-apocalyptic tale, most of humanity has been wiped out by the virulent Morningstar Strain, a virus that turns the infected into raging, cannibalistic flesh-eaters and reanimates the dead! Only small groups of survivors remain. One of these is a group of soldiers and civilians lead by General Sherman who is fighting its way across the country to get to Omaha to meet up with Dr. Anna Demillio, who may have the answer to infection.

Besides battling hordes of the undead, they must also fight off raiders who would kill them just for their supplies and a group of rogue government agents who are determined to kidnap Dr. Demillio so they can lay claim to her research for the vaccine.

Thunder and Ashes is a straightforward zombie tale that avoids social commentary or philosophical meanderings for a more direct and visceral approach. It’s a perfect summer read for when you need something that doesn’t require much thought (hey, I mean that in a good way!) and are just looking for some action to fill your time. We are treated to lots of skirmishes, not just with zombies (though those are fun, too) but also with other human beings. There is one passage in particular where the group lead by General Sherman faces off against a bunch of bandits and raiders that reminded me of a good ol’ Western shoot ‘em up!

The gore is also pretty cool throughout. There is everything from bloody zombie attacks to gunshot wounds to bombs going off and so on…All in all, lots of action going on most of the time! I also enjoyed how author Recht used both fast infected (“sprinters”) as well as slow, reanimated zombies (“shamblers”). The threat of the fast infected really added to the suspense and tension of the book!

On the down side, the character development in the book is weak and pretty much most of the characters are interchangeable. The dialogue all sounds the same and each character doesn’t have a strong enough voice to stand out amidst the large cast of characters. Also, the story isn’t that original and suffers a bit from clichés and stereotypical situations.

Still, Thunder and Ashes is an enjoyable and breezy read for zombie fans, even if you aren’t familiar with Recht’s first book in the series, Plague of the Dead. If you want an easy summer read that features plenty of blood and guts, check out Thunder and Ashes.

Available from Amazon!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Wrestlemaniac (2008)

There’s something about the mystique of Mexican wrestlers that always gets to me. With their faces covered by colorful masks and their identities hidden, Mexican wrestlers remind me a lot of superheroes…or supervillains. Wrestlemaniac is a new film that prominently features a fictional legendary wrestler, El Mascarado, in its plot with entertaining results.

A group of amateur pornographers is driving down to Old Mexico to shoot a little film, but somehow lose their way and wind up lost. At a run-down gas station, the attendant (a great cameo by Irvin Keyes) tells them they are but a few miles from the town of La Sangre de Dio, where the Mexican wrestler El Mascarado was banished when he snapped and started killing his opponents. The story goes that El Mascarado was assembled from body parts of Mexico’s four top wrestlers so that Mexico would have the greatest wrestler in the world. Things went awry when El Mascarado started killing his opponents in the ring and the government was forced to lock him away in the isolated town of La Sangre de Dio, where legend says he remains to this day.

Most of the group incredulously brushes the story away, but Steve (Jeremy Radin), a big fan of Mexican wrestling, believes the gas station attendant and knows the story. Still, they all head on and soon enough come across the seemingly abandoned town of La Sangre de Dio. The director, Alphonse (Adam Huss), decides it is the perfect location and the girls, Dallas (Leyla Razzari), Debbie (Margaret Scarborough) and Daisy (Catherine Wreford) start getting down to business while geeky Steve films and stoner Jimbo (Zack Bennett) stumbles around the deserted town.

Pretty soon, though, the numbers of the group dwindle and the remaining survivors realize they are not alone…El Mascarado is present and he is ready to hit the mat…to the death!

Though Wrestlemaniac follows the familiar formula of a slasher film (leave a group of 20-somethings in an isolated location and watch ‘em get butchered by a masked psycho), its character of El Mascarado is intriguing and fun! The story, written by Jesse Baget (who also directed), moves at a quick clip and is entertaining throughout. I really think it was genius how he used a mythical Mexican wrestler as the killer and the back story behind the character was well thought out and explained thoroughly.

The only thing that seemed too much of a stretch was the whole “let’s drive ALLLLL the way down to Mexico to film a porno!” It just didn’t seem believable. Also, the characters were pretty one-dimensional and most of them were annoying, from the chauvinistic director to the useless stoner…good thing they all died pretty quick. I did like seeing that Dallas could handle herself, though, and Steve was a very endearing character. Both Leyla Razzari (as Dallas) and Jeremy Radin (as Steve) were both standouts in the film. And let’s not forget about the masked wrestler himself, played by Rey Misterio, Sr.! He was certainly an imposing figure and made for a kick ass villain!

The gore was another great thing about the film. El Mascarado likes to unmask his victims just like a wrestler would unmask an opponent to finish him completely. Only, most of his victims don’t wear masks so he must make due with taking off their faces! That’s right, he cuts and peels the skin on their faces off! There are a few wicked scenes that brutally feature this, El Mascarado’s signature move! By the end of the film, the remaining survivors are literally drenched in blood!

Besides the blood-red gore, the film also looks fantastic. Director Jess Baget really has a great eye and all the shots have something interesting in them, whether it’s the stifling heat of the Mexican desert or interiors of an old abandoned town, Baget captures the feel of the moment. Though there are quite a few sleazy scenes towards the beginning with the three girls, these gratuitous scenes quickly fade as the real action kicks in. I also forgive Baget for all the shots trained on the actresses’ asses as well (or towards the end when a survivor’s short shorts get ripped off, leaving her in only her panties and thin tank top with no real point except to titillate) because of the overall entertainment Wrestlemaniac offers.

Though not without its flaws, Wrestlemaniac is an entertaining good time. It has an imaginative killer, great kills and a story that moves at a fast pace and is actually cohesive. Wrestlemaniac is the perfect party movie, one that you don’t have to pay much attention to and yet you’ll still be entertained.

Available from Amazon!

Fan of the Dead (2008)

Fan of the Dead is a travel documentary about Nicolas Garreau, a French fan of George A. Romero’s Living Dead series, who travels to Pennsylvania to unearth the shooting locations used in Romero’s films, including the infamous Monroeville Mall from Dawn of the Dead, the original basement used in Night of the Living Dead, the farmhouse used in Night of the Living Dead 1990, the underground military facility used in Day of the Dead, the cemetery from the original Night of the Living Dead, and many more!

Garreau also filmed his visit to the Pittsburgh Comic Convention, which features interviews with various cast members from the films and fan reactions. Stars from the films even accompany fans to the shooting sites of the mall and the small airport from Dawn of the Dead.

Fan of the Dead is the ultimate fanboy (and girl) film for those that haven’t been able to visit such hallowed sites themselves (and even for those who have to “compare notes” with Garreau). It’s like Fodor’s come to life for horror fans! Fan of the Dead is like if you and your Living Dead fanatic friends filmed yourselves visiting Romero’s stomping grounds…everything is shot via handheld camera with a decidedly “home movie” feel. However, Garreau has so much passion and love for his subject that you quickly forget about the amateur production values and just enjoy the ride alongside the charming Nicolas, who manages to befriend just about everyone on his trip!

One of the best parts in the film is when various cast members from Dawn of the Dead (Ken Foree, David Emge, Machete Zombie – Lenny Lies, Nurse Zombie – Sharon Ceccatti, Helicopter Zombie – Jim Krut, and more!) accompany a small bus load of fans for a walk around Monroeville Mall, pointing out famous (or infamous) shooting locations. Some of the same cast also joined fans for a jaunt around the small airport where the group of survivors stopped to refuel. Hearing the actors talk about filming the movie was just as exciting as watching the joy of the fans! The enthusiasm of both the fans and cast is contagious!

Of course, there were also scenes of just Garreau driving to his next location and speaking heartfelt words about the films he so loves. We also got to hear about the hardships he faced in finding the exact locations and shared his joy when he finally arrived. His trip to the military bunker used in Day of the Dead (it is now used as a warehouse) was pretty neat, as the people that work there still remember when Romero shot there and many were used as extras in his film.

The documentary (though “vacation video” seems more appropriate) did drag in a few places, but with a short running time of 60 minutes it mostly moves at a quick pace. My only big complaint was the horrible voiceover work done. Garreau speaks French most of the time, so his voice was dubbed over with an “actor’s” voice…but this guy delivered his lines so flat and unconvincing that it really detracted from the film. I don’t know why subtitles weren’t used, but if they had it would have made for a much more pleasant viewing experience.

Besides that, Fan of the Dead is a fantastic little film that will delight horror fans! It’s so much fun to see locations used 25 (or more!) years ago and say, “Holy crap! I remember that!!” I wouldn’t be surprised if Fan of the Dead revives tourism in Pennsylvania, because as soon as you see this you’ll definitely want to plan your own terrifying trip to unearth Romero’s Living Dead locations!

Fan of the DeadOfficial Site

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Storm (2008)

Storm is a seemingly complex and multilayered film mixing elements like the down-the-rabbit-hole vibe of The Matrix, the futuristic feel of Blade Runner, the good vs. evil grand scale of the Night Watch trilogy, as well as incorporating comic books into the inventive plot.

Donny Davidson, known to his friends as DD (played by Eric Ericson), seems like an ordinary guy – he’s scared of commitment, into the club scene, dabbling in drugs and a bit of a loner. One night, he has a strange run-in with a redhead named Lova who is being chased by a group of black-clothed men. DD eventually comes into the possession of a small white box; a box that Lova tells him needs protecting and is a key to something only he can open.

As DD is blamed for a murder he didn’t commit and pursued by the cops, Lova shows him his past, where DD did things he isn’t proud of. In this surreal nightmare, DD watches his younger self rape his then 14-year-old girlfriend and lock his little brother in a crypt for days. All these memories, he’s told, are preparing him to open the mysterious box.

While in this dreamland, DD is approached by another figure, a man who is the leader of the black-clothed thugs that have been pursuing Lova. While Lova urges him to protect and eventually open the box, this man tells DD to not open the box and instead go back to his happy-go-lucky, ignorant existence.

With DD not knowing who to trust, will he open the box to reveal what’s inside or will he give up the surreal quest and go back to his old life?

Storm was recently released by TLA Releasing and After Dark Films for the first time stateside, even though it was released in its home country of Sweden in 2005. Its engaging story and well-developed characters, as well as its intriguing atmosphere, makes it well worth the wait!

The mysterious box has really been misconstrued and misinterpreted by other reviewers and even the DVD description is a bit misleading…In my interpretation it does not hold the fate of the entire world or the secrets to the universe. The box represents DD’s own repressed existence and when he is told not to lose it because it would spell certain doom, it means that it would be catastrophic for him, not the world’s population. The struggle between the two sides of good and evil is left purposefully ambiguous by the filmmakers. We’re not sure which side to trust and we are given the impression that there is no clear-cut, black and white distinction between the two sides. Of course, many can find deep meaning in these two figures, as well as the character of DD himself and others throughout the film, should they choose to.

Aside from the philosophical merits of the film, it also looks amazing! Directors Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein with cinematographer Linus Sandgren did a fine job lensing the film. The streets of Stockholm are dark, foreboding and gritty with a touch of sleaze, while DD’s trip into his own past is equally dark. His hometown, devoid of all people, is shrouded in fog and the streets are filled with dead leaves and debris while the surrounding buildings are in various states of decay (think Silent Hill). The cinematography is stunning; especially a scene involving a young boy crushing someone’s glasses into the pavement that packs quite the emotional wallop.

The acting is also stupendous, with each of the characters giving multi-layered performances. Throughout the film, you’re not sure who exactly to root for…at first you’re gunning for DD, but when his terrible past is revealed you can’t help but revile him. Lova seems to have DD’s best interests at heart, but does she really? The man in black certainly doesn’t seem to think so. This constant fluctuating loyalty between characters only makes you more intrigued and the storyline that much more mysterious, with each of the actors successfully contributing to those feelings.

My only warning is that Storm is not the kind of film for a mainstream audience, especially one that expects heaps of blood and guts. The gore in Storm is nearly nonexistent, with just a few instances where blood is shed. Instead of horror, this is more of a surreal thriller or smart action film. There are several very cool fights between Lova and the men in black, but when it boils down to it Storm is more character driven than anything else. Writer Måns Mårlind (who also co-directed) made sure to pay careful attention to his characters and developed them accordingly. He draws us into his story with his character development, but keeps us hooked with the increasingly interesting plot.

With beautifully slick cinematography and an exciting storyline that blends action with philosophical questions, Storm is definitely one movie you’ll want to weather.

Available from Amazon!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Tattooist (2008)

I’ve always been enamored of tattoo culture and have a few of my own tattoos I’m pretty proud of (always planning on getting more, though), so when I heard about a horror film called The Tattooist I was overly eager to check it out. Everyone looks hotter with tattoos (the film’s poster proved that itself) so I went into The Tattooist thinking that if little else, at least there’d be some wicked-cool tattoos to check out. Surprisingly, The Tattooist was an entertaining flick and not just because of the tattoos on display, though it is a stretch to call it a horror film.

Tattoo artist Jake Sawyer (Jason Behr, looking smokin’ hot) is renowned for using his tattoos to heal people and utilizes symbols from many various cultures and religions to do so. At a tattoo convention in Singapore, he is intrigued by a group of Samoans performing their traditional tatau on a man. Well, truthfully he is intrigued by a woman, Sina (Mia Blake), that is part of the Samoans group. He ends up swiping an old, ritualistic tattoo tool from the Samoans, but when he cuts himself on the tool, he unwittingly releases a vengeful spirit that kills anyone he tattoos by basically flooding their bodies with tattoo ink.

Before Jake realizes he’s got a demon on his back, he heads down to New Zealand to catch up with the Samoans to learn more about their tattooing practices and also to return the tool, which has brought him some wicked visions. He’s also keen on reuniting with Sina. He gets a job and a place to live through an old tattooing buddy at a tattoo shop called Bedlam, but when he starts tattooing clients, they end up dying grisly deaths soon after.

Can Jake figure out how to stop this curse and figure out just who the spirit is before more people die, including the newly inked Sina?

This New Zealand film must be given credit for having a pretty original premise. It’s not too often that you see a horror film whose basis is cursed tattoos or Samoan tribal customs, but The Tattooist manages to do both. Writers Jonathan King (whose name might be familiar because he wrote and directed the hilarious Black Sheep) and Matthew Granger (who was also a contributor to the Black Sheep script) do a great job of acquainting the audience with both the tattoo and Samoan cultures. The fascinating world of Samoan tatau (the originators of the word “tattoo” and perhaps of the art form itself) was especially interesting, delving into their culture and beliefs on the sacred art of tatau and how it is passed from one generation to the next. Any misuse of it can bring great shame on a family, a theme that runs throughout the film and weighs importantly on the climax.

Though I found the film to be engaging, it was pretty tame for my tastes. The R-rating it received mainly comes from the language used throughout the film and not from too much gore or nudity. It really feels like a PG-13 film at heart, with not too many scares or gross-outs for hardcore horror fans. The story played out slowly, more like a thriller or mystery rather than a straight-up horror movie, which will no doubt annoy some. Initially, this lack of scares annoyed me too, but I have to admit I did get wrapped up in the story and did enjoy it for what it was.

One thing that added to the enjoyment of the story was the well-rounded set of characters. Jack Sawyer, played by Jason Behr, comes complete with a troubled childhood (he was raised by a religious zealot that condemned his tattoos and actually cut one off his skin) while Sina, played by Mia Blake, is the strong yet silent type that plays against her cultural role by inviting a white boy into her Samoan home (much to the chagrin of her uncle and cousins). I also enjoyed the little boy who acted as a medium for the spirit to talk through and his two older homies. They had one sweet ride…

The actors all held their own and I can’t say I have any complaints with anyone’s acting. Maybe Jason Behr’s rock-hard abs were distracting me too much, but I think everyone did a great job.

The deaths, though not overly scary or gory, were still pretty cool. The victims’ tattoos would start spreading and branching out across their bodies, then they would start to cough up black ink and eventually die painfully in an inky, bloody pool. The special FX when this happened was flawless and extremely well done. Glimpses of the spirit inflicting the pain can also be seen in several instances (reminiscent of Asian horror spookfests), and these scenes are pretty creepy, but still not scary. The spirit itself looked very cool, though, and not at all hokey. It’s too bad director Peter Burger played it safe and didn’t really give us more of these visually arresting and horrifying images in The Tattooist, which is a pity because the solid story was there. It was also strange how the film was shot in bright, cheery colors as opposed the the dark and drab atmosphere most horror movies are filmed in. This bright and cheery exterior really dampened the overall “scare factor” of the film.

Thought not a very scary horror movie, The Tattooist does have its moments where the story sucks you in and some pretty revealing tidbits on the Samoan culture and tatau. It’s not a bad way to spend an hour and a half, just don’t expect to be scared.

Available from Amazon!
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