Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Book Review: When Darkness Falls by Chris Morrow

Chris Morrow’s When Darkness Falls is a thrilling, suspenseful short story that really makes me eager to check out more of Morrow’s writing. Set in the remote Ozarks, it tells a different vampire tale than most of us are used to. Instead of a “Dracula’s castle” type of creepy location, the setting of the Ozark wilderness is used, giving the story a different and more terrifying flavor.

Marty is having one last fling with his buddies before getting married and they have planned to spend a weekend camping in the Ozarks. The guys run into a group of sorority girls who are staying at the same campsite. After a day of canoeing and drinking, everyone gathers around the campfire at dusk…but when darkness falls some other campers arrive, including a creepy old man and his entourage of seductive “models” that can’t wait to sink their teeth into those gathered.

When Darkness Falls is a superbly crafted short story sure to delight genre fans. It begins with a hint of foreboding before jumping into the seemingly idyllic camping story. Morrow puts us at ease for the first part of the story, focusing on the fun the characters are having. When certain characters show up at sundown, though, the light-hearted mood suddenly turns somber and the tension mounts. The last half of the story is filled with fear, dread and plenty of suspense.

Despite the fact that is a very quick read, Morrow takes the time to develop his characters and offers us glimpses into their past as well as what they hope for the future. He makes each of the characters very realistic and so that they are easy to relate to. His descriptions of the surroundings bring the book to life and make us feel like we are there in the middle of everything. And yet he doesn’t over-explain, instead weaving descriptions into the story like he is painting a picture.

I also liked how the story stayed away from the typical vampire demises of crosses, garlic or stakes and instead went for something that doesn’t get mentioned in a lot of modern vampire books or films – running water. You see, ancient vampire lore states that vampires cannot cross running water because it was seen as pure, holy and able to wash away all magic. I thought the use of this little-known/little-used fact was quite inventive and made the story much more interesting than had it stuck to conventional vampire repellents.

When Darkness Falls is a strong, suspenseful story that makes me eager to see what Chris Morrow does in the future…

Available from Amazon!

Friday, January 23, 2009

A Christmas Tale (2008)

Part of the 6 Films to Keep You Awake set that was released by Lionsgate in late 2008, A Christmas Tale is set in Spain in December of 1985 and tells the tale of five childhood friends that stumble upon a body of a woman dressed in a Santa suit that’s fallen into a deep hole in the forest. After verifying that she is still alive (by pouring soda on her head) two of the kids go get the police while the other three try to haul her out of the hole with some rope. Once at the police station, the kids are ignored by the town’s cop but find a “wanted” notice for the woman in the hole. She is a dangerous criminal named Rebeca Expósito who recently stole a bunch of money from a bank. They run back to tell the rest of the gang and together they decide to leave her in the hole until she gives up the hiding place of the money. They resort to starving and torturing her to get her to tell them where the money is. Despite their promise to let her go when they get the money, they decide to keep her in the hole, afraid she might come after them for revenge if they let her out.

Meanwhile, a few of the kids are horror fans and decide to reenact a voodoo ritual on the woman that they saw in a zombie film. Soon after, the kids assume the woman has died but later find she has escaped and they believe her to be a zombie. Undead or not, she is not out for blood against the brats that tortured her.
See, this is why I don’t want kids – they can turn out to be so sadistic! This film takes a supposedly happy-go-lucky, innocent group of kids and makes them the villains. It is so easy for them to torture a human being in the name of greed that you sympathize more with the woman, a violent bank-robber, than with the 12-year-olds. They pelt her with rocks, leave her out in the rain, starve her and taunt her…No wonder she wants to take an ax to them once she escapes!

Yep, this film carries some grim tones, but it isn’t nearly as mean-spirited as say, Eden Lake. Plus, it lightens the tone with early interactions between the Goonie-like gang of characters and the 80′s setting. We get fun references to The Karate Kid, Star Wars, Ghost Busters, that Simon electronic game and even some 80′s music (in Spanish!). Then there are a bunch of horror films you can see in the background in a kid’s room (on VHS!), including Tombs of the Blind Dead, Nightmare on Elm Street, Horror Express and more! So really, despite all their viciousness, this group of kids is pretty likable. Their carefree days of hanging out in their clubhouse, watching horror movies, playing in the woods and riding their bikes come in sharp contrast to the horror they are capable of.

The child actors in the film do a terrific job in A Christmas Tale and never once did I doubt their believability. They all acted and behaved like any 12-year-olds would and even fought amongst themselves as their problems escalated. Their interactions with each other felt very real, like they really were friends in real life. Also, the victim was played very well by Maru Valdivielso. Even though she is a criminal, she still made you feel sorry for her and by the end you did want her to seek revenge on the kids.

Unfortunately, all of the violence we see on-screen is directed at the Valdivielso’s character. She gets pretty trashed in this film and I thought the makeup department did a pretty great job showing her deterioration. The gore is pretty nil except for a impalement, which doesn’t end up being that gory anyway.

The film is beautifully shot by director Paco Plaza (who helped co-direct REC with Jaume Balaguero). Plaza really knows how to capture the feeling of being a kid. The final chase through the empty amusement park is very thrilling and really gives the film some nice tension that earlier scenes lack.

The film does drag on a bit too long in the end and while I appreciated the fun and shocking “second” finale, it felt a little tacked on. Nonetheless, A Christmas Tale was a delight to watch and comes highly recommended!

Available from Amazon!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Mirrors (2008)

Alexandre Aja has given us a few great horror films, like his debut film Haute Tension and his brutal remake of The Hills Have Eyes (one of the few remakes that actually improves on the original). Those two films were survivalist tales of people stuck in the middle of nowhere fighting bloodthirsty killers. Those films were gritty, frightening and moved at a manic pace. With Aja’s new film, Mirrors, he decided to try his hand at a supernatural thriller, but the result is quite disappointing, not just in relation to Aja’s past films but also in comparison to any good horror film.

Ben Carson (Kiefer Sutherland) has had a rough past year. He resigned from the New York City police force after accidentally killing another cop. He turned to pain killers and lost his wife and kids and now lives with his sister (Amy Smart) as he tries to get his life back together. He takes a job as a night security guard at a burned-out shell of a once grand department store. He soon starts seeing weird things in the mirrors of the department store, including hand prints all over the mirrors and reflections of people burning to death. He soon comes to the realization that the building holds terrible secrets, secrets that threaten the safety of him and his family.

Ok, along with The Happening I would say that Mirrors is one of the most ridiculous and unentertaining movies of 2008. The weak story just feels silly, not scary, and there are too many different loose ends that don’t get tied up. It also feels like there are three different, underdeveloped storylines, each that really goes nowhere. In the beginning it is all about the people that Ben sees in the mirrors…but that part of the story never really gets developed and doesn’t go anywhere. Then, the movie moves into another storyline and Ben must find out who “Esseker” is before the mirrors harm his family. THEN the movie ends on a demon-possession storyline that is even sillier than the rest of the movie. The writers, Aja and Gregory Levasseur, try to cram too much into one movie and end up undermining ALL of the storylines.

Also, the characters and the actors who played them were lackluster and boring. Every time I saw Kiefer Sutherland I thought, “What would Jack Bauer do?” and I don’t even watch 24!! His estranged wife, played by Paula Patton, got on my nerves and I really wish the mirrors had gotten her instead of Amy Smart’s character (Smart’s character’s demise is the most memorable scene of the entire film…just YouTube it instead of sitting through the entire film, though). I didn’t feel any sympathy for the wife character at all. She just lacked credibility and emotion and her acting was just…bad.

One thing I did appreciate about the film was the production design. The creepy, burned-out department store filled with scorched mannequins and blackened décor was very effective. Of course, one of the sets in the “hidden” part of the store looked like it came straight from the psychologist’s office in the Exorcist 2, but other than that the building was foreboding and ominous. It’s too bad the “scare” scenes inside of it didn’t work (well, they didn’t work anywhere else in the movie, either).

Also on the positive side is the direction by Alexandre Aja. He creates some worthwhile scenes of menace, including the first night Ben spends in the department store alone. Aja leaves most of the scene swathed in shadows as Ben explores the gargantuan building with only a flashlight. Most of the tension of the first few scenes is lost when Aja leaves the brooding building and stages scenes at the wife’s house. The “big finale” with “Esseker” and Jack, er, I mean Ben, feels like it belongs in a Resident Evil film and will just make you roll your eyes.

With all of Aja’s success in his last two horror films I didn’t really believe Mirrors could be that bad…but it is. Perhaps this is Aja’s bad apple of the bunch, but I hope he doesn’t get seven years bad luck after filming Mirrors.

Available from Amazon!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Amusement (2009)

Sometimes you go into a movie expecting the worst, but find that the film actually has some redeeming qualities. Most of the time, though, your suspicions are confirmed and you end up feeling like you wasted a couple of hours of your life. In the case of Amusement, the oft-delayed movie that has now gone straight to DVD, I approached it with caution. Delays usually (but not always) mean the movie is trouble, but I decided to chance it. Were my fears of sitting through another bad horror movie unfounded? Or did Amusement stink worse than week-old roadkill?

Amusement is told anthology-style in three vignettes. Three girls, who used to be best friends in elementary school, each go through terrifying ordeals at the hands of a maniacal ex-classmate (Keir O’Donnell). In the first segment, Shelby (Laura Breckenridge) and her boyfriend are involved in a very Joy Ride-esque car caper that has them on the run from a trucker. Next up is Tabitha’s (Katheryn Winnick) tale, where she is babysitting her nephews in a humungous house. Her guest room is decorated with creepy clown dolls, and a certain life-sized one has Tabitha on edge…The last segment introduces Lisa (Jessica Lucas) who is looking for her missing friend at an old, creepy mansion that doubles as a hotel. All three of the girls eventually get kidnapped by their crazed, cackling ex-classmate, who wants to make them pay for not appreciating his art project so many years ago (“It’s funny, right?”). Can they escape his underground dungeon or will he amuse them…to death?

Amusement is a big, sloppy mess of a movie that has so many plot holes, inconsistencies and just plain stupid moments that it is a wonder it EVER got released. Of course, it is from the same writer that gave us the atrocious remakes of The Hitcher and When a Stranger Calls, so that should speak volumes. Like those two idiotic movies, Amusement has its characters doing the most boneheaded things. For example, Lisa waits around for hours after her boyfriend enters the mansion to poke around for her friend. When she can’t reach him on his cell and thinks the worst does she call the cops? No, she decides to barge in after him. All of the characters make horrible decisions like this, which makes it really hard to care about anyone. The coup de grace was when the trio was caught up in the (unbelievably) large underground lair of their school buddy and just decided to run willy-nilly even though they could easily get trapped in one of the many rooms/dungeons down there. Yup, it’s pretty funny…too bad it feels like the joke is on the viewer.

Also, the editing felt like it was all over the place. The wrap-around story of the girls’ childhood was awkwardly placed in the middle when Tabitha is being questioned by a psychiatrist (the part we all saw in the trailer). This not only slowed the pacing but made the beginning a bit confusing as it just jumps into Shelby’s story without any clear background information. The unbelievable part with the psychiatrist should have been left on the cutting room floor as it made no sense and felt placed there for convenience’s sake. The editing of the film felt haphazard, like someone put the pieces of a puzzle together wrong.

With that being said, there is no reason or logic to the film. The killer’s motivation for revenge is weak and his backstory needs some serious beefing up. Also, how was he in so many places at once? He nabbed each of the girls at around the same time, but each lived in a separate city or state. And there are so many scenes where he pops up in a doorway/window/etc. when there is no way he could have made it there that fast. Not to mention his expansive industrial/warehouse-looking underground dungeon that sits under a teeny-tiny cabin in the middle of nowhere. Completely ridiculous and unbelievable, just like the rest of the script! There are so many plot holes, inconsistencies, and just plain unbelievable scenarios in this film that you and I would both go crazy talking about them.

On the plus side, the direction by John Simpson is wonderful and the production design is downright amazing. The sets range from the woods to a big suburban house to a crumbling mansion to the dark, dank underground lair of the killer. Simpson knows how to utilize each set to its full potential and squeeze as much tension out of each scene as possible (even with such a limiting script). My favorite sets were the creepy clown-filled guest room in Tabitha’s story and the decrepit old mansion Lisa investigates. Simpson makes every dark corner feel threatening and the production design by Craig Stearns gives the sets the appropriate ominous feeling. It’s too bad that the writing and editing couldn’t do the same.

Another (positive) surprise is the acting. Though their characters make annoyingly dumb decisions the entire running time I found the performances by Laura Breckenridge, Katheryn Winnick and Jessica Lucas very well done. Even Keir O’Donnell, who plays the killer, manages to pull off quite the creepy performance.
Still, the negatives in the film far out-weigh the positives. The story just feels as if it’s recycled from previous, better horror flicks and the gaping plot holes and inconsistencies can’t be ignored. Perhaps with better writing this film could have worked, but as it is it failed to amuse me. I should have gone with my gut instinct and known this movie was gonna suck. Instead of Amusement this movie should be called Tedium.

Available on Amazon!

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog (2008)

If it’s one thing I’ve learned about myself that surprised me is that I like musicals. I was never a My Fair Lady-type of girl, but with more horror films featuring song and dance numbers (Sweeney Todd, Repo!, Poultrygeist) I’ve discovered I’m a sucker for these kind of productions!

So you can imagine my delight when I watched Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, a short film by creators Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly), Jed Whedon, Zack Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen. Dr. Horrible was an internet sensation last summer, crashing the site on the release of the first installment after generating more than 1,000 hits per second. Well, I’m here to tell you it sure does live up to the hype and praise it has generated! It’s top-notch performances, quirky characters, catchy songs and overall fun atmosphere make this a must-see for all Whedon and musical fans alike.

Dr. Horrible is about a wannabe villain, Dr. Horrible (Neil Patrick Harris) who is trying to get into the Evil League of Evil but not having very good luck, even though he claims he has a “Ph.D in horribleness!!” By day he is the mild-mannered Billy and hopelessly in love with Penny (Felicia Day) whom he admires every Wednesday and Saturday at the Laundromat. By night (or whenever he slips into his doctor’s coat and evil-scientist goggles and gloves) he’s Dr. Horrible, who has plans to use his freeze ray to re-structure what he sees as a crumbling, corrupt society and eventually rule the world. One thing that stands in his way is arrogant hero Captain Hammer (Nathan Fillion), who always swoops in to thwart his plans.

Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog was conceived during the writer’s strike and financed entirely by Whedon’s own production company, Mutant Enemy. It’s a pretty low-key, low-budget affair, but this actually works in its favor and lets the performances from Harris, Fillion and Day and the writing from the Whedon’s and Tancharoen really stand out).

The film has a decidedly light-hearted tone, but it really shines when it delves into the darker themes of lost innocence and the villain-as-the-hero and the hero-as-the-villain motifs. The ending is also decidedly down-beat, but this being a Whedon project it is to be expected that the characters don’t exactly get all they wanted.

All of the actors do a fine job in their roles. Nathan Fillion really nails the cheesy yet cocksure Captain Hammer. His performance brings to mind his character from Firefly, just with a slightly more crooked moral compass. Neil Patrick Harris is a delight to watch as the bumbling Dr. Horrible as he grows more and more evil and determined to succeed every time he is undermined by Captain Hammer. Comedic relief is found in many places, one of those being Dr. Horrible’s useless sidekick Moist (Simon Helberg) who says, “At my most badass, I make people want to take a shower.” All characters are larger than life and played with bombast, with the exception of Penny, played by Felicia Day, who is just your everyday sweetheart. Surprisingly, all of the actors also sing (and quite well, I might add), belting out Broadway-worthy tunes.

The songs themselves are witty and extremely catchy, covering many different genres from rock to soul to just straight showtunes! I dare you not to get them stuck in your head…

If you’ve already seen the show online, you might be wondering what the draw of the DVD is. Well, let me tell you that the DVD is worth its price for the commentary alone!! One of the commentary tracks, called Commentary: The Musical! is just that – a commentary done completely as a musical! For the entire running time of the film, the movie’s dialogue is muted and there are entirely new songs that tell us about the making of the movie during the writer’s strike (“Strike!”), the price of fame (“$10 Dollar Solo”), how the cast got along (“Better Than Neil”) the actor’s process (“The Art”), writing the script (“Zack’s Rap”), how the cast passed the time on-set (“Ninja Ropes”), racial tension (“Nobody’s Asian in the Movies”) and much, much more! Of course, just like the movie these are all done very tongue-in-cheek, if you couldn’t guess that already! The special features also include a behind-the-scenes featurette and a more straightforward commentary that is spoken, not sung.

If you haven’t had the pleasure of seeing Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog yet, I highly recommend this whimsical and fun musical. Even if you don’t like musicals, give it a whirl – you might surprise yourself like I did.

Available from Amazon!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Vampire Diaries Part 1: Thicker Than Water (2008)

Twin sisters Lara (Eilis Cahill) and Helen (Devon Bailey) Baxter couldn’t be more different. Lara is a black-haired goth who has a shrine to Anne Rice in her candle-lit room and enjoys solitary walks in the cemetery while blonde Helen is in the church choir and is one of the most popular girls at school. They live with their religious mother (Jo Jo Hristova) and older brother Raymond (Michael Strelow), who is studying to be a doctor. One day, Helen suddenly dies after losing a lot of blood due to a nosebleed. After examining her blood, Raymond concludes that she was suffering from a rare blood disorder, one that isn’t listed in any medical book. Later that night, a bloodied Helen comes back, saying she drank the blood of the morticians…yup, sis is now a vampire. The family decides to protect her, which also means they must feed her, no matter what the cost…

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this low-budget vampire tale, but I wasn’t expecting to be so impressed! It seems that vampire movies have been making a comeback lately, and not just the tween fluff like Twilight. This new breed of vampire flicks, like Let the Right One In, take preconceived notions of vampirism and play with their conventions. The Vampire Diaries Part 1: Thicker Than Water is one of those vampire movies and one of the best low-budget ones I’ve seen in quite some time! I’m definitely looking forward to future volumes.

First of all, it starts like a quirky family drama, introducing us to the very different characters. While Lara acts as a kind of narrator and main character for the film, equal screen time is given to all of the characters within the Baxter family. Both Lara and Helen are well-developed, but surprisingly time is also taken to develop the characters of the mother and brother. All of the characters’ personalities and interactions with each other really bring the film to life and make you care about what happens to them. What horror-lover wouldn’t adore the character of Lara, with her Anne Rice shrine, cool, candle-lit room and obsession with death? Or the quirky character of Ray, whose room looks like a sterile, white-washed doctor’s office? In fact, the first 30 minutes or so when we are learning about all the characters and exploring their environment really feels like more of a Wes Anderson movie (along the lines of The Royal Tenenbaums) than anything else. I even enjoyed the campy New Orleans vampire that comes a’knocking later in the film, looking as if he was directly lifted from an Anne Rice novel! Though he felt a bit out of place, I’m betting future films in the series explain his character and introduce other vampire characters as well. All of these characters show that writer/director Phil Messerer really knows how to develop and connect his characters with the audience without sacrificing the pacing of the film.

Speaking of pacing, the film glides along at a near-perfect speed, something that is quite rare for an indie flick. We relate to the characters because of the development invested in them and after that connection you just can’t take your eyes off the screen. The writing, by Messerer, feels natural and has more heart and soul than most horror films. He really takes the time to not just make it another ho-hum horror film, but to invest some real emotion into the plot. So, along with the horror aspect of it, there are also moments of drama and comedy. I also enjoyed how Messerer beefed up the mythology of the film by interweaving the story of the first vampire, Oya, into the plot. This new mythology (and the beautiful accompanying paintings, by artist Rostislav Spitkovsky) really adds more depth to the film and takes a new approach as to where vampires come from and how they are created.

Besides the excellent writing, the acting is also stellar! Devon Bailey as Helen goes from a sweet sugar-and-spice 16-year-old to an uncontrollable and ferocious vampire – and we believe every second! She makes us feel both sympathetic and disgusted by her character, who covers the walls of the basement with the blood of her victims. Her character also requires a lot physically from Bailey, but nonetheless she delivers a stunning, provocative performance. Eilis Cahill as Lara is also excellent. Her character pretends to be sarcastic and cynical, but underneath it all she still loves her sister and would do anything for her. Cahill does an amazing job of letting her vulnerability peek out from beneath her hard exterior and is really a joy to watch in her role. Michael Strelow brings Raymond to life and really makes it scary watching his transformation from quiet and mild-mannered to an accomplice who brings men home for his sister to kill and later hacks up the bodies to get rid of them. Finally, Jo Jo Hristova as the mother really brings all of the characters together and makes it feel like a real family. Plus, her conflict over her religion and her love for her daughter really makes for some great drama.

Thicker Than Water also features some impressive special FX. The basement lair of Helen is coated in bright, sticky blood that drips from the walls. Helen’s special FX makeup is also impressive – she cries blood tears and is a pale, almost luminescent white after turning into a vampire. When she doesn’t feed her skin takes on a mottled, bruised and rotted appearance. The special FX were done by Randall Leddy and they are amazing, especially considering the low budget. Throats get torn out, a guy’s face gets cut off and there is blood constantly coating the walls of the Baxter home and pouring out of people’s necks! Kudos to Leddy and anyone else involved with the makeup and special FX because they look very realistic and professional.

As if I haven’t rambled on enough about praise for this film, the direction by Phil Messerer is also very professionally done. There are some great shots in the film, including one where a strange visitor to the Baxter home is shown silhouetted against some nighttime fog and another where Lara is traipsing through the snow-covered cemetery. Beautiful shots like this as well as the solid direction just add more allure to the film. It’s hard to believe that the film is Messerer’s first!

Truly my only real complaint with the film was the overuse of the background piano music. I feel that some scenes would have benefited more had they been shown in silence. It seemed that the piano music was playing constantly in the background and after a while this started to overpower everything (even though it was beautifully played). On the upside, the other music, ranging from rock music to slow ballads, used on the soundtrack was impressive and used more judiciously.

The Vampire Diaries Part 1: Thicker Than Water is a very impressive first volume in what I hope turns into a trilogy of vampire films. The well-rounded storyline, drawing elements from horror, family drama and comedy, the quirky characters and the awesome special FX really make this film something very special. Phil Messerer has created a unique vampire film, one that avoids the usual genre conventions of just using “boobs and blood,” and it has turned out to be one of the most memorable independent films I’ve ever seen. I can’t wait for the next volume!

Buy it on Amazon!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Just One Night (2008)

In this short film a cheating husband gets more than he bargains for when he leaves a bar with a beautiful woman, only to discover things are not what they seem. Think you know the story? Be prepared to be surprised because things are not what they seem to the viewer, either!

Just One Night is a short film where expectations are turned topsy-turvy and things just keep getting more complicated, even after the credits have rolled! This well-made low-budget short is a fun film to watch because nothing turns out like you expect it to!

Writer/director Mike West has created a drama/murder mystery that, while not exactly horror, kept my attention because of its twists and turns. This short film is professionally done, well-acted and has many surprises laying in wait. Keep watching through the credits, because it isn’t all over yet…

The actors all did a fantastic job here and I believed each and every one in their roles. They brought their characters, all filled with secrets, lies and yes, videotape, to life and really gave motivation to their characters’ actions. It is unfortunate that the most detestable character ends up surviving, though! I wanted to see this person suffer for their flippant attitude towards their marriage, but it just doesn’t end up quite as a I expected. Nonetheless, that just adds to the fact that Just One Night keeps you on your toes and nothing really goes as you assume it would.

I also thought the direction by Mike West was very competent for a low-budget short. To tell you the truth, the film looked and sounded very professional. One complaint, though, is that the film is marketed as an erotic thriller, but it was more PG-rated than anything else. I’m not asking for full-frontal or anything like that, I just think that if you bill yourself as “erotic” you should have something to show for it…but Just One Night really doesn’t, just a foggy shower scene and a light S and M session. Again, it also isn’t really a horror flick as it doesn’t show much blood, except for a cool bathtub-filled-with-bloody-water scene, so that was kind of a let down as well.

Despite these small complaints, Just One Night is a great effort from Road Rage Films and really surpassed my expectations of just being a cheap exploitation film. On the contrary, it is actually boasts a surprising plotline that doesn’t stick to regular genre conventions.

Visit the Just One Night Official Site!

Egg (2009)

This short 13-minute film from filmmaker Jayson Densman, based on a story by Jeremy C. Shipp, is a surreal look into the fractured psyche of a man. The short film has so many layers, so much symbolism and so many different meanings depending on how you view the film that it just boggles the mind and will leave you thinking about it days after watching the short.

Though I am familiar with Jeremy C. Shipp’s books (notable Vacation and his short story Camp), I haven’t had the pleasure of reading Egg. Nonetheless, filmmaker Jayson Densman has seemed to perfectly capture the bizarro fiction of the author. The surreal, nightmarish quality of Shipp’s writing is given visual life by Densman.

The short is about a young man named Lane (Jeff Swearingen) recollecting the exact moment he went mad. As we see a small child (Mac Grimes) locked in his room surrounded by stuffed animals, we hear Lane say that the day he went crazy was just like any other…he just had to decide who to love and who to reject. Then his domineering, nasty father (Ka Beesler) comes in and it is alluded to the child has been sexually assaulted by him. Lane, as a small child, then runs away from home and ends up at a barn where he meets an older version of himself. His older self gives him an egg from a hen he has rescued from a slaughterhouse in exchange for the young Lane’s favorite teddy bear. We then see Lane as an adult who doesn’t quite grasp what is real and what is not…

Egg is a very artistic and surreal film that many people won’t appreciate, but if you do like those kind of films (like me) you will definitely appreciate it. Most of the action is told in black and white, with lots of sinister red added to some scenes. The film also has a nightmarish quality to it, like its all a bad dream Lane can’t wake up from. The dark colors and slow motion shots make you feel as if time in Lane’s world moves slower and bends back on itself every once in a while, trapping Lane in a never-ending circle of memories.

This film can have many different meanings, and I think it all depends on the viewer and what meaning they take away from it that is important. I found that one important message from the film was how society turns a blind eye to the exploitation and suffering of animals that are used for mass consumption. In an early scene when the young Lane sees his older self in the barn, his older self goes on at length about the hen he has rescued. He explains to the young Lane that from birth chickens have their beaks painfully seared off so when they go mad in their tiny cages they don’t peck each other to death. He also details their agonizing life in cramped cages where they can’t turn around or spread their wings and tells him that at the end of their lives they are chained upside down and their necks are slit. This usually doesn’t kill them, so right after that they get dunked into a vat of boiling water. Even though Lane knows all of these horrible things, as an adult he still continues to eat eggs. He is so ignorant that he also offers eggs to his vegan girlfriend, even though he knows she doesn’t eat any animal products. That is not the only point the film is trying to make, but it is one meaningful point that resonated the most with me in this film. It really makes you think how and why we as a society continue doing such horrible things even though, deep down, we know they are wrong.

The rest of the film is just as thought-provoking and Jayson Densman’s able direction really captures Shipp’s writing style. Seek the film out if you have a chance!

Egg at Raw Dog Screaming Press!

Jeremy C. Shipp’s Official Site!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Book Review: Splattered Beauty by Brandon Ford

We all love scream queens, there’s no doubt about that! Though we each have our personal favorites, all scream queens hold a special place in every horror fan’s heart! In Brandon Ford’s new book, Splattered Beauty, he takes his love of scream queens and crafts it into an entertainingly bloody story!

Alyssa Peyton is a struggling actress who used to be a successful, sought-after scream queen in horror flicks. After going through a messy divorce from her director husband and seeing younger, prettier actresses take her roles, Alyssa can only find solace at the bottom of a bottle or with a bottle of pills.

After signing autographs at a horror convention, she meets her #1 teenage fan, Taryn, who loves Alyssa unconditionally. After Taryn has a falling out with her strict Catholic mother, Alyssa invites Taryn into her home. Soon, Alyssa realizes she can manipulate Taryn into doing anything for her…even killing.

With this, Alyssa begins a bloody rampage against those whom she thinks have wronged her.

Splattered Beauty is a fun, fast ride. It was neat to peak behind the scenes at a scream queen’s life – going to horror conventions, going to auditions, meeting with her agent, going to movie shoots, etc. These scenes draw you into Alyssa’s life and all her failures really make you feel sympathetic toward her. It’s not until the last part of the novel that you really start to become scared of her and what she is capable of.

My only complaint with the book was that the relationship between Taryn and Alyssa felt a little forced and exploitative. Taryn’s character felt underdeveloped, even though Ford went to great pains to make the reader feel sorry for her and her predicament. By the end of the book she just came off as whiny and as an unnecessary character. I think Alyssa could have carried the book on her own, without as much involvement from Taryn.

Other than that, the book was a fun, quick read. I couldn’t stop turning the pages to see what Alyssa would do next!

Available from Amazon!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Tokyo Gore Police (2008)

If you have the balls to put “gore” in your film’s title, you better be prepared to live up to your audacity! With that thought, I popped Tokyo Gore Police into my DVD player, not expecting to be overwhelmed with a maelstrom of morbidity that my eyes hadn’t seen since…well, it had been a while. Yet, there I was – feeling queasy and getting ready to pray to the porcelain god for forgiveness that I had questioned the grue quotient of Tokyo Gore Police. I quickly discovered that “gore” was too tame a word to have in its title…and that I would be hard-pressed to find something a word to describe its cartoonish yet no-less-hurl-worthy avalanche of blood and guts.

In the future, Tokyo’s privatized police force is facing their biggest threat yet, something they call “engineers,” which are humans who are able mutate parts of their bodies into fleshy weapons. Ruka (Eihi Shiina, best known for her role in Takashi Miike’s Audition) is head of the police force’s elite engineer hunting squad and specializes in chopping up offenders with her samurai sword. She is also haunted by her father’s assassination and is out for revenge against whoever killed him. As Ruka cuts a bloody swath through Tokyo, simultaneously searching for her father’s killer as well as the one who created the engineers, the elusive Key Man, she doesn’t realize that the killer is closer than she thinks…and that she might have more in common with the engineers than her beloved police force.

Tokyo Gore Police plays like an over-the-top comic book. It’s flooded with bright colors, unbelievable villains and a kick ass heroine. It definitely lives up to the “gore” in its title. The film is a tsunami of blood, flooding each scene with wave after wave of the red stuff. There is also plentiful gore (not surprising since the director of this flick is none other than special effects genius Yoshihiro Nishimura, who was behind the special FX in The Machine Girl and Meatball Machine, with heads being popped open, human flesh being hacked into indiscernible pieces, people split in two, people morphing into mutants with chainsaws, guns, knives and even crocodile jaws as deadly appendages, boobs shooting out killer acid, penises as well as eyes turning into guns and so on and so on. The effects were all cartoonishly realistic and darn it if I didn’t begin to feel queasy after a little while! This is definitely one of the most gruesome and stomach-churning horror films I’ve seen in quite some time!

The storyline was pretty transparent, but it served its purpose well enough. The real focus of the film is of course the gore and carnage, but the story itself keeps you pretty interested. Plus, Ruka is one hot badass, so you have her to root for the entire time. I really thought the commercials and recruitment videos sprinkled throughout the film were pretty clever! I especially liked the ad that made suicide trendy and offered razor blades for cutting yourself in several different stylish colors! I thought these were clever stabs at consumerism and the privatization of government agencies.

My only problems with the film were several strange shots that slowed the pace of the film to a crawl and seemed to serve only as filler (filler was not needed…the movie is overly long at almost two hours). There were a few too many slow motion shots that just went on for too long and didn’t really serve a purpose. Case in point, in the scene where Ruka cuts the hands off an overly handsy train commuter, she pops her parasol to protect her from the rain of blood and the film tracks her as she walks towards the camera…and tracks…and tracks….and tracks some more. Thirty pointless seconds at least could have been edited from this scene, and there are several others like this that bog down the action.

When the action remains unmarred, though, it is a whirlwind of vicious destructiveness! I’ve already spoken highly of the gore, and the fight scenes are wicked as well. The scenes that feature Ruka and other police officers fighting the various engineers are thrilling, bloody affairs. The engineers are twisted, perverted creations – take the one scene set in an S&M club where engineers are the entertainment – one girl has stapled boobs, the other has been turned into a snail-like creature, another has a long, phallic nose and another has been turned into a flat, chair-like creation that pisses over everyone in the audience. Another engineer’s lower body turns into crocodile jaws, giving a whole new meaning to the term “vagina dentata,” while a male engineer sprouts a penis-gun. There are more and more insane creations in the film, many that you have to see for yourself to believe!

If you’re interested in a title like Tokyo Gore Police, you better be expecting tons of grue because that’s exactly what you get with this film! The blood splatter alone, with many, many shots of high-pressure arterial sprays that drench everything in their path – including the camera – would be enough to make this film a bloody cult classic, but it’s the inventive, gut-churning gore that really sets it apart. Except for a few flaws in pacing and editing, Tokyo Gore Police is a must-see for gorehounds everywhere!

Available from Amazon!

Isle of the Damned (2008)

Isle of the Damned is a joyously gory, fantastically funny spoof of the Italian cannibal movies of the 70′s and early 80′s. The film is a spot-on spoof, complete with atrociously dubbed dialogue, over-acting, 70′s ‘staches, bad retro outfits, a Eurosleaze soundtrack and an intro done completely in Italian subtitles. The film pretends to be a “long-lost” film from “legendary” director Antonello Giallo and “banned in over 492 countries.” All this and much, much more had me rolling on the floor laughing one minute and shaking my head in disbelief another! It is one of the best, most accurate spoofs I’ve ever seen!

Jack Steele (Larry Gamber) is a private investigator who is down in Argentina assisting treasure-hunting sleazeball Harold Thompson (Patrician Rosa) in finding Marco Polo’s long-lost treasure. Thompson believes the treasure is on an isolated tropical island and so they, along with Steele’s slightly effeminate adopted son Billy (Peter Crates) and a trio of pirates as their crew, go there to seek it out. One problem – the island is home to an indigenous tribe of cannibals hungry for human flesh! After being attacked, the remaining survivors are rescued by an eccentric anthropologist, Alexis Kindcaid (Keith Langsdorf), and his ex-assassin man-servant Cain (Dustin Edwards), who live in a mansion on the island. Thompson is still determined to find the treasure, but as the cannibals track their every move will the group survive the Isle of the Damned?

Isle of the Damned is a riot from start to finish. As soon as I heard that “bow-chika-bow-bow”  70′s music and saw the opening credits, I was hooked. The zany dialogue, over-zealous acting, bad hair/moustaches/clothes added to the charm and the accurate feel of the film. It also does a good job of rising above being “just a spoof” and doesn’t just rely on gags to move the story along. It has sympathetic characters (no matter how goofy they were) that we actually care about and a fast-paced storyline.

The actors themselves do a fantastic job, especially since they must rely on body language to get the characters’ emotions across because their voices have been dubbed. The hilarious over-acting that occurs is intentional and perfectly mimics the acting in a low-budget, 70′s cannibal flick. I really have to give props to all the actors for flawlessly playing their characters. Even the people who played the cannibals were excellent!

The execution of the film was also amazing. Writer Mark Leake crafted a very memorable spoof to cannibal films and director Mark Colegrove brought that vision to life. This film could have easily slipped into over-the-top, eye-rolling cheesiness, but both Leake and Colegrove succeeded in crafting not only a memorable film but also a believable one! And on a low budget, no less! For example, the film is supposed to be set in a lush, tropical jungle…but it’s obviously not. Instead, there are intercut scenes of jungle animals (a technique which many 70′s cannibal movies also used). The film is so good, though, that this and the forest it is actually filmed in work!! You do believe that they are in an Argentinean jungle! This just proves the skill and care that this film was made with. Director of photography David J. Kratz also sets up some very interesting shots that give the film a professional feel.

As for the gore, there are several great scenes and overall the gore is done extremely well. In the first 20 minutes or so we get an effective and very bloody penis-chomping scene (one of the many homages to famous cannibal films)! Other gems include a fetus feast in which an unborn baby is ripped from the womb, a head cracked open and brains gobbled up, torsos being ripped apart and eaten, and even a cool face-ripping scene! The film even features a pole-impaling scene as a loving homage to the infamous cannibal-movie-to-end-all-cannibal-movies – Cannibal Holocaust.

Of course, Isle of the Damned’s tone is quite different from Holocaust’s grim one. There are plenty of hilarious/raunchy gags, including the hilariously dubbed voices, Thomspon’s being sodomized by the cannibals, everyone’s amazingly ridiculous mustaches and many, many others.

If I had seen Isle of the Damned in 2008 it would have surely made my “best of” list. I can’t tell you enough how this is one of the best genre spoofs I have ever seen! Everything from the titles, the dubbing, the costumes and the look of the film recall sleazy 70′s cannibal/exploitation flicks. You would be a fool to not track this down!

Available from Amazon!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Book Review: George A. Romero Pocket Essential Guide

People usually associate George A. Romeo with zombie movies due to his reinvention of the zombie subgenre with his groundbreaking film, Night of the Living Dead and his masterful follow-ups, Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead. His zombie films are memorable not only because they are so spectacularly scary and gory productions, but also because they are socially conscious, delivering commentary on consumerism, racism, war, etc. that is still relevant today.

Romeo went on to make two more zombie films in his Dead series – Land of the Dead and Diary of the Dead – and has plans to make more, but people don’t realize just how varied his filmography really is. People tend to overlook his other horror films like Martin, The Crazies, Bruiser in favor of his zombie yarns, but these underrated flicks deserve to be seen too.

In Tom Fallows and Curtis Owen’s new book, the George A. Romero Pocket Essential Guide, the two authors explore many of George A. Romero’s films, horror or otherwise, with an in-depth analysis on each of his works. They chronologically cover Romero’s films, giving us a kind of timeline to chart Romero’s maverick career. Each film is broken down over several categories, including a synopsis, any trouble the production ran into, trivia, social commentary within the film, history, etc. Each entry offers an insightful look at the filmmaking process and Romero’s career.

Authors Fallows and Owen do a marvelous job of covering Romero’s filmography from his well-known Dead series to lesser-known works. The direct and strong writing style ensures that the authors cover a ton of information in a small amount of space. The amount of trivia, facts and other information they have compiled is pretty expansive and covers Romero’s films in-depth. Their enthusiasm is engaging and really makes you want to check out lesser-known Romero titles or re-watch ones you already have. The only complaint I had was what I saw as unfair treatment of Land of the Dead. They barely covered the film and gave it a pretty scathing review, though most of the other films were treated with reverence or at least respect (even the awful Diary of the Dead!).

Beside that, though, the book made me fall in love with Romero’s cinema all over again and actively seek out and re-watch many of his films. George A. Romero Pocket Essential Guide is a must-own for any George A. Romero fan, whether you own all his films or have just seen a few. Either way, you’ll learn a lot about the “Don of the Dead” and come to appreciate his films, both well-known and obscure, much more.

Buy on Amazon!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Interview with Ghoul Girls Founder and Model

We recently got to chit-chat with the brains and beauties of the horror pin-up site, Ghoul Girls. There are a lot of horror-themed pin-up sites out there, but Ghoul Girls is really different. Not satisfied with just showing pretty faces bathed in blood, they feature ghoulish pin-ups who passionately care about horror! Their close-knit family is dead-icated to horror and it shows in their photo spreads and in the following interview with site model Macabri and owner/photographer VampireKitten.

Ladies and gents, meet the fabulous Ghoul Girls!

Fatally Yours: How and when did you fall in love with the horror genre?

Macabri: I honestly can’t remember a time when I wasn’t into horror. Even in elementary school I remember reading all the scary books I could find and watching monster movies.

Fatally Yours: Can you tell our readers what Ghoul Girls is all about?

Macabri: Ghoul Girls is all about B-grade horror, sexy girls and pin-up. Who wouldn’t love that?

Fatally Yours: What inspired you to start Ghoul-Girls.com?

VampireKitten: We started it originally as a one woman coffee table book that branched out into something extremely unique that was nestled in the horror genre. Some of us love pin-up, all of us love horror, so we just thought to put the two together. People started seeing what we were doing and got excited about it. It kind of inspired us to keep going.

Fatally Yours: Had you any experience with running a website before?

VampireKitten: Ya for a long time I had been running an Internet radio station for the paranormal. As well as a few other websites I had been running on my own. It’s a huge undertaking, but it’s well worth it and has paid off. I started doing websites when I was 16, I’m self taught.

Fatally Yours: How do you think Ghoul Girls stands apart from other horror pin-up sites?

Macabri: I’ve seen other photographers that have done horror-themed photo shoots, but nothing with the scope or dedication that Ghoul Girls presents. You can tell that all of the models are very into what they’re doing and having some fun with the genre.

Fatally Yours: How can people enjoy the Ghoul Girls site in its full glory? Are there member fees, etc.?

Macabri: To fully enjoy the site all you have to do is sign up your FREE account. That’s it. For the price of free you get to access all of the photo sets, behind the scenes images, the forum, etc.

Fatally Yours: You’ve recently released a Ghoul Girls calendar. How can people get their paws on one and what can they expect to find lurking inside?

Macabri: The calendar is easily purchased through our web store located at: http://www.cafepress.com/ghoulgirlsmerch . Inside you’ll find 12 months worth of sexy monsters waiting to decorate your room, crypt, padded room, etc.

On another note, we’re going to be releasing a DVD soon with all of the video taken during the shoots, including video from upcoming, never before seen sets.

Fatally Yours: How are the models/photographers chosen?

Macabri: Right now there are a couple of photographers that do all of the shooting for the site. Models can apply through the site and are reviewed for consideration. If chosen, they work with the photographers/site owners to find the perfect creepy-crawly for them to portray.

Fatally Yours: How can interested parties apply to become models and/or photographers for the site? 

Macabri: It’s extremely easy to apply to model. All you have to do is go to the main site and click on the link that says Model for Us. From there you fill out a short questionnaire and e-mail it to GhoulGirls(at)gmail.com. We’re looking for all sorts, so don’t be afraid to apply.

Fatally Yours: Is there a specific horror film or horror era that influences the look and feel of Ghoul Girls? 

Macabri: The site is about a lot more than just one film or era. We want to encompass everything that people love about horror, whether it’s shooting images based off of something classic like Frankenstein or newer like Friday the 13th. We’re even exploring beyond movies to include things such as the upcoming Death photo set.

Fatally Yours: Do you ever plan on using male models for the site?

Macabri: Right now it’s just female models, but who knows what the future might hold?

Fatally Yours: What are your hopes and goals for the site as it grows?

Macabri: It would be great to have the site get all the attention it deserves for all of the hard work that’s been put into it. We’re also looking to expand the content on the site. Already we a new section with video rants that I’ve been doing and we’re working on some fun content for download. We hope to keep spreading the word as we continue to carve out our own niche in the horror universe.

Fatally Yours: Is there anything else you’d like to tell our readers about?

Macabri: I just want to say a thank you to the rest of the amazing team we have at Ghoul Girls. Candace, Joshua, Chrissy, and Kurt have been so fantastic. I’m honored to be a part of the site and to be able to talk to you about it now.

Visit the Ghoul Girls’ Official Site!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Eden Lake (2008)

Kids today are an awful bunch. Not only are most of them spoiled brats, but they also don’t seem to care for anyone (or anything) except for themselves. Across the world we are seeing their selfish behavior spreading…and even turning violent. It seems that not a week goes by without a news report of a child (or a group of children) shooting someone, stabbing someone or stealing something. How have supposedly innocent children fallen so far? Some people blame parents, while others blame DNA, ADD, violent video games/movies/music or just the environment the kids were raised in.

Well, I for one can’t stand most kids and think people should stop having so many if they can’t properly care for them. How many times have you been to the grocery store and seen an unruly kid causing a scene while their parent pretends nothing is happening? Take responsibility for your spawn, dammit!

The kids in Eden Lake aren’t much different…mouthing off to their elders, stealing things and generally harassing a young couple, Steve (Michael Fassbender) and Jenny (Kelly Reilly), who have decided to trek into the English countryside for the weekend. Steve picks an isolated spot next to a lake that is set to be developed into a sprawling housing community, but he and Jenny find they have company when they trespass on the hang-out spot of the local teens. At first, the kids only annoy them with loud music and their barking Rottweiler, but things soon escalate to the point where Steve and Jenny are fighting for their lives.

First off, after hearing so many good things about Eden Lake, like how brutal and shocking it was, I was stoked to check it out. Maybe my expectations were too high, but I found the film pretty dull, generic and banal. It’s just your standard “survival” horror flick featuring a couple stuck in the middle of nowhere who are terrorized by the locals. Only instead of crazy backwoods hicks after Steve and Jenny it’s just a group of snot-nosed kids. Even then their only real threat is the ragtag group’s sadistic leader, Brett (Jack O’Connell), who bullies his blokes into hunting down and torturing the couple.

The story, written by James Watkins (who also directed) just kinda limps along, staggering towards a finale that you totally see coming. I did like the fact that the ending wasn’t the typical “happy revenge” one, but by then I was too bored to really care. The script just seemed too generic and could have been lifted from previous horror movies (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Just Before Dawn, etc., etc.). The script is also peppered with clichés and I nearly spent the entire time yelling at the screen, “No, stupid, don’t trust HIM!!” or “Don’t run that way!” or “RUN!” The script just felt stale and trite…the only “new” thing with the whole story was the inclusion of the villains being teenagers (this film’s big shtick) – but that just wasn’t enough for me.

There is a fair amount of violence and lots of blood, but I wouldn’t necessarily call Eden Lake a gory film. There are lots of stabbings, beatings, even a child that is lit on fire, with the special FX being quite well done. Still, even a few scenes of shocking violence did little to pique my interest or alleviate my boredom.

I will also say that I did enjoy the direction by James Watkins. The aerial shots over the forest were spectacular and I loved the contrast of colors from the opening scenes (bright and cheery) to the middle and end scenes (dark, muddy colors). Where Watkins fails in the script he (nearly) makes up for in his crisp shots, but it’s just not enough to save the film.

I don’t know what the big fuss over Eden Lake is…to me it is just a run-of-the-mill horror movie that fails to deliver anything new or interesting. I’d recommend it strictly for a rental only.

Available from Amazon!
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