Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001)

A little while ago I lamented the lack of modern-day horror movies filmed as period pieces. It seems that the rich superstitions of the past, coupled with the lack of technology back then, would make period horror flicks a no-brainer. Yet, because I think horror fans are continuously underestimated, the studios keep pumping out horror films that feature a bunch of modern-day teens fighting for their lives against a masked killer. Those kinds of films are all good and fun, but sometimes I want a film that delves deeper and has some history behind it.

Enter Christophe Gans’ 2001 film, The Brotherhood of the Wolf. Based on the true story of the “Beast of Gevaudan” that terrorized the French countryside during the reign of King Louis XV, Brotherhood is an extraordinary film that not only shows us the terror of people that feel completely unprotected and vulnerable to a monster, but also shows us how superstitions, religion, beliefs and lack of technology of that time influence people’s assumptions of just what the beast was. It also manages to mix a straight-up monster tale with a period drama and adds some amazing Kung-Fu action as well!

In the film, the French region of Gevaudan has been terrorized by a wolf-like creature that likes attacking women and children. The beast has eluded any attempts at capture, so King Louis XV sends his naturalist Gregoire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan) to investigate reports of the beast and hopefully aid in killing it. Fronsac is accompanied by his “blood brother” Mani (Mark Dacascos), a Mohawk Indian who rescued Fronsac during the Seven Years War in America.

Through many hunts organized by the nobles of the region, Fronsac tries to discover exactly what the beast is and how it can best be killed. He is startled to discover evidence that proves the beast is not merely a large wolf, but something much more sinister…and that a man might be somehow controlling the creature.
As Fronsac is coming to his conclusions, he also begins to fall in love with Mariane De Morgangias (Emilie Dequenne), daughter in the affluent and influential family. Yet, he continues to visit prostitute Sylvia (Monica Belluci) until Mariane’s brother Jean-Francois (Vincent Cassel) alerts his sister to Fronsac’s infidelity.

With Fronsac being distracted from the hunt for the beast by thoughts of Mariane as well as his unusual findings suggesting that the beast is not a wolf, the King sends in his own lieutenant to dispatch the creature. The lieutenant kills a fairly large wolf and claims it to be the beast to appease the King and then coerces Fronsac to go along with the lie. Defeated in both hunting for the beast as well as in love, Fronsac returns to Paris and the King forbids him from ever returning or speaking of Gevaudan.

When the real beast strikes yet again, Fronsac defies the King’s orders and returns to the region to prepare for one final hunt…but nothing can prepare him for the true horror of what he finds.

Brotherhood of the Wolf is an absolutely stunning film in all respects. From its beautifully-filmed action sequences to the acting to the plot, it is as close to perfect as can be! The first thing I noticed about the film was the jaw-dropping cinematography, by Dan Laustsen. Each and every scene is just beautiful, whether it’s Fronsac inspecting a woman’s body laid out on fallen autumn leaves in the shallow end of a pond or it’s a shot of the tree-covered countryside swathed in snow. The film is just gorgeous! Director Gans certainly has an eye for the dramatic, especially in his exciting action sequences! Whether it was horses racing through the forest or Mani taking on a group of ruffians, the direction by Gans was near flawless and lets us see everything that was happening. I also appreciated how in a few scenes the action was slowed down so we could see it in all its glory! Simply breathtaking!

The story, written by Gans and Stéphane Cabel, was fantastic as well! I really loved how almost all of the characters (with the exception of Mani) actually did exist in real life and how the first third of the film is faithful to true events. The story also isn’t a traditional “werewolf” tale, though it makes short mention of the possibility, instead taking a more intriguing path as to the genesis of the creature. I also enjoyed how it encompassed aspects of different genres like drama, romance, horror, action, martial arts and period piece. This worked marvelously well and made it feel like a more complete story.

The characters were also all fantastic, and we can never be sure who to trust or who to suspect. The intrigue between characters really helped to heighten the tension of the film. The actors all did a phenomenal job of bringing their characters to life, especially considering the large cast! Samuel Le Bihan was stunning as the swashbuckling Fronsac and Vincent Cassel put forth a very memorable performance as the suave yet creepy Jean-Francois De Morgangias. Monica Belluci added a mystical, noble air to her character of the prostitute Sylvia while Emilie Dequenne added some spunk to her innocent character of Mariane De Morgangias. I also enjoyed Mark Dacascos in his physically-demanding role of Mani, especially in his amazing fight sequences!

The action sequences, as I’ve already mentioned time and time again in this review, just left me speechless. Whether it was someone fighting off the beast or Mani fighting a gang of ruffians or Fronsac’s final battle, I just couldn’t rip my eyes away from the screen! And these action-sequences aren’t that far and in-between either…they happen pretty often throughout the film and it’s just a thrill watching every single one of them! The martial arts Kung-Fu action used works surprisingly well in Brotherhood and I think the way these scenes are shot make them an appropriate fit into the context of the film. The glimpses of the beast also work very well, letting us see a bit more as the film progresses, but never quite revealing just what it is until the end of the movie.

I could wax poetic about all the merits of Brotherhood of the Wolf, but for time’s sake I will cut it short! Brotherhood of the Wolf is an exciting, luminous film that left me in awe. I am a sucker for period horror films, and this is certainly one of the best (if it isn’t THE best) I’ve ever seen. It utilizes its setting for optimum effect, using the superstitions of the 18th century as well as a true story to build its premise, then adding dashes of martial arts action and its own conclusions as to the identity of the beast to round out its awe-inspiring tale. If this review hasn’t convinced you to run out and watch it, let me reiterate by saying – GO! Watch it NOW!

Available from Amazon!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Dead in 3 Days (2009)

I am a sucker for foreign horror. What makes horror films from other countries interesting is their own unique perspective on what is “scary”. They can also offer a new way of looking at the genre as well as new “horrors” we as Americans may not be familiar with. I am always eager to check out horror movies from different countries because of their intriguing concepts and “twists” on our beloved genre.

Sometimes, though, I am left severely disappointed when foreign films just try to copy other horror films without a thread of their own creativity. Such is the case with Austria’s Dead in 3 Days. The problem with Austria’s Dead in 3 Days is that it doesn’t try to offer any new insight on horror. Instead, it is just a by-the-numbers slasher flick that will make you die from sheer boredom!

The day of their high school graduation, a group of friends each receive a text stating “you’ll be dead in three days.” None of them take it seriously until one of them goes missing that night. They go to the police, but they only tell them their friend is shacking up with some other girl and not to worry. The next morning, they find their friend…at the bottom of a lake, his body weighed down by a cement block. Now that the police’s interest is roused, the remaining friends are all asked if there is some dark secret in their past that would want to make someone kill them. Of course the friends all share a horrifying experience from their childhood, and as the killer continues killing them one-by-one, the remaining survivors try to figure out who the killer is.

Yawn! Sound familiar? It should, because the film follows the basic premise of almost any slasher film. It actually started off pretty strong, with shades of Takashi Miike’s One Missed Call and Ringu coloring the script at the beginning. I liked both concepts of receiving a threatening message via cell phone (like in One Missed Call) as well as the aspect of “you’ll be dead in ____ days” (like in Ringu or The Ring). Unfortunately, the film pretty much went downhill from there and felt more of like a cheap knock-off of I Know What You Did Last Summer or any other slasher flick.

I think a cement block has more personality than this generic chunk of celluloid. The script was written by Thomas Baum and Andreas Prochaska (who also directed) and they seemingly cribbed the story from the cookie-cutter slasher formula, without any attempts to give it originality or heart. It was seriously by the book – introduce the young, happy-go-lucky protagonists, threaten them, throw in some foreshadowing, have the first kill where the hooded/masked killer is introduced, throw in some obvious red herrings, get the bumbling, clueless police involved, have more of the protagonists die, reveal a disturbing secret from the protagonists’ past, have the last few protagonists fight to the death against the killer, reveal the killer’s identity and leave the final girl as the only survivor. The writers seriously could have thrown in some sort of surprise or twist (that wasn’t as predictable as the one used in the film) to keep things interesting, but I guess they just decided to keep things dull and uninspired.

As for the positives, at least the characters weren’t terribly unlikable and the acting was decent. The direction was also solid, especially combined with the beautiful setting of a small, lakeside Austrian town nestled at the foot of snowcapped mountains. Unfortunately, I don’t watch horror films to be wowed by their settings and neither the acting nor the direction could save the pitiful script. I understand that sometimes you just want to turn your brain off and watch a fun flick, but Dead in 3 Days was so damn predictable and joyless that it was a chore sitting through it. There isn’t even any gore to perk things up a bit and only one memorable death scene involving decapitation via sharp glass on a fish tank.

Dead in 3 Days is a decidedly disappointing entry into horror and mainly feels like a rip-off of American slashers. While it had potential in the beginning, any hope of an entertaining flick was squandered with the writers’ decision to “play it safe” and stick to a by-the-numbers slasher film. Even if you enjoy slasher films (as I do) I wouldn’t recommend this one! Dead in 3 Days is just a flat, undeveloped and boring film that doesn’t offer anything new and lacks any and all “horror.”

Available from Amazon!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Plague Town (2009)

You don’t have to convince me that kids are creepy. I’ve loathed the little buggers ever since I took a job as a babysitter over the course of a summer while I was a teen. The little Spawns of Satan (as I liked to call them) ran me ragged, throwing tantrums, locking me out of the house, torturing me with Britney Spears and Backstreet Boys and generally being little monsters. So, I am always eager to watch evil kid movies, just to see how unpleasant children can be.

Enter Plague Town…14 years ago in a small Irish village something unmentionable was born. So evil was it that the priest was called to kill it, but its parents had different plans. In the present day, a dysfunctional American family is visiting the Irish countryside to try to bond with each other. The father, Jerry (David Lombard), has brought along his fiancee Annette (Lindsay Goranson) to try and bond with his two girls, the gothy Molly (Josslyn DeCrusta) and blond bitch Jessica (Erica Rhodes). Jessica took a fancy to an Englishman named Robin (James Warke), so he too has come along for this family adventure, much to the chagrin of the rest of the family. In between bickering with each other, the family manages to miss the last bus back into town and find themselves stranded in the middle of nowhere with nightfall quickly approaching.

Walking down the road they find an abandoned car, complete with unperturbed luggage, on the side of the road. While Robin and Jessica walk to find help, the remaining three decide to wait in the car. When Robin and Jessica fail to return, the father sets out to find some help. Soon, they all discover that malformed, sadistic kids roam the woods and they aren’t too happy with the outsiders invading their turf.

Supposedly Plague Town was based upon one scene writers David Gregory (who also directed) and John Cregan came up with. This just happens to be THE creepiest and strongest scene in the entire film and involves the character of Rosemary (Kate Aspinwall), the matriarch of the deformed children who has glassy doll eyes in place of her peepers (just take a look at the poster). It’s unfortunate that this is the only scene in the entire film that is effective, because it shows just what tremendous potential this film had. Any potential this film showed is quickly lost in the hackneyed script, undeveloped story and bad acting.

The biggest problem was with the script. The story just felt undeveloped and a bit generic. Not enough was done by Gregory and Cregan to make it a memorable story and I lost interest very quickly. There just wasn’t enough to hold the weak story together and it definitely could have used more development. Plague Town just didn’t have enough material to justify making it a feature-length film and because of that it felt like most scenes were used as padding instead of being used to move the story along. I really would have liked to see more time spent on the deformed kids and the little village they came from.

The killer kids were the most interesting characters in the film, but instead of spending time on their backstory we have to watch the American family bickering between each other. Right off the bat the characters of the family are annoying, especially Jessica. There’s also a certain amount of awkwardness about the characters that doesn’t lend credibility that they are a family. The dialogue feels forced and a bit off…not like a family but rather like a group of strangers who are forced to communicate (but perhaps that was the point).

The characters may have been written badly, but the actors don’t do much to commend their performances either. Some disappear into the background of the film altogether, like Lombard (Jerry, the father) and Goranson (Annette, the father’s fiancee), while others just grate on your nerves, like Rhodes (Jessica). The only two actors who did a decent job were DeCrosta as Molly and Warke as Robin. Warke’s encounters with the evil children are especially memorable, especially when he survives a face-disfiguring shotgun blast and has a creepy meeting with Rosemary.

As for the scares, except for the creepy first encounter with Rosemary, Plague Town continued to disappoint. There are some pretty laughable scenes with the kids hitting people with tree branches, someone getting beat to death with a hubcap and little kids running through the mist. However, I really did like the creepy looks of the children, from the masks they wore (think Michael Myers’ white mask) to their pale, demon-like faces. I also enjoyed the only memorable kill scene of the film where someone is “scalped” by a taut piano wire. With only these two instances to commend the film, though, I find it hard-pressed to recommend Plague Town.

Plague Town tends to drag on and on, like the filmmakers needed to add more to the story to make it feel more complete. What needed to be done was focus more on the horrific mutant children and show more scenes with the nightmare-inducing Rosemary. By the third act, I was barely keeping my eyes open and the inclusion of the villagers really felt tacked on.

I went into Plague Town (despite the misleading title) to be spooked by creepy kids raising hell, but instead I was disappointed by lack of cohesive story, bad acting, poor pacing and only a few scares. Plus, I think the kids I babysat for in high school could whip these mutant kids’ asses.

Available from Amazon!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Mum and Dad (2009)

Family can be a touchy subject for some people. While some people absolutely adore their family and wouldn’t trade it for the world, others are embarrassed or had such an unpleasant upbringing that they want nothing to do with their relations. Regardless of whether you love or loathe your family, chances are that there are usually more than a few skeletons hidden in the family closet.

In the British film Mum and Dad, the family has its own share of skeletons (and corpses and body parts) in their home. You see, Mum (Dido Miles) and Dad (Perry Benson) are two deranged psychopaths that like to kidnap young adults from the nearby airport and torture them. Polish immigrant Lena (Olga Fedori) escaped her oppressive family and has fled to England to start a new life for herself. She works as a janitor at the airport, where she meets Birdy (Ainsley Howard), a chatty girl who invites her out with her introverted brother, Elbie (Toby Alexander), for drinks after their shift. Lena declines, but when she misses her bus she is forced to follow Birdy and Elbie to their home. Yet Lena has no idea of the horrors that await her at the hands of her new Mum and Dad…

Mum and Dad is an extremely disturbing and engaging horror film! It is probably one of the better recent horror flicks to come out of England and it just had me gaping at the screen in shock for its entire running time! The film is supposedly loosely based on the real-life horror story of serial murderers Fred and Rose West, who raped, tortured and murdered their victims, including their own children. While the atrocious crimes committed by the West’s are appalling and no film could ever truly show the horror experienced by their victims, Mum and Dad does a very good job of creating an unpleasant atmosphere and showing us how depraved the two killers are.

Mum and Dad certainly captures the perversion and savagery of the two title characters. One of the early scenes shows “Dad” pleasuring himself with a bloody body part while another shows the family gathered for a normal-looking breakfast while a hardcore adult film plays in the background. It also doesn’t shy away from showing the two killers’ sexual perversions as well. The level of depravity isn’t there just for exploitation, but to show just how completely psychopathic and dysfunctional the family is. The film by no means cheapens the experience by solely focusing on the gore (which there isn’t a lot of, though it has its fair share of torture), instead it is more of an intense psychological study of a seriously fucked up family who exist far beyond any normal moral standards.

I really enjoyed how writer/director Steven Sheil made the characters of Mum and Dad try to have a “normal” façade – especially in one of the first scenes after Lena’s abduction where the family as a whole is introduced. While the family acted like monsters the night before, at breakfast everyone is amiable and acts like a normal, happy family. Mum cooks up breakfast, Dad reads his morning paper, Birdy chit-chats and Elbie cleans up bloody body parts. Meanwhile, Lena sits very confused as a porno plays on the kitchen television. You definitely don’t see such unsettling scenes like this in your average horror movie! Also, the fact that Dad worked a normal job and had friends really upped the creep factor in the film. I mean, this family of psychos could be your next door neighbors and you wouldn’t know it! Besides Mum and Dad, the characters of mean-spirited Birdy and remorseful Elbie are equally effective. While the tortures that Mum and Dad inflict on Lena would be enough, the manipulative nature of Birdy and the forlorn attitude of Elbie contribute to her suffering. Even though Birdy and Elbie went through the same ordeal as Lena, they offer her no help and no support.

While the characters were very well-developed by Sheil, the wrong actors could have spoiled the careful tension between everyone. Luckily, Sheil cast a dynamic cast to make sure the characters were played to their full potential. First off, Olga Fedori was fantastic as Lena! She really makes you sympathize with her character and gives a very strong performance. I also liked that her character tried to outsmart her captors and waited to see when she had an opportunity to escape. Next we have Ainsley Howard as Birdy. She made her character extremely likable in the first few scenes, but when we find out who she really is and how mean-spirited she can be our opinions are soon changed! Howard handles this switch extremely well and makes it believable to boot! Toby Alexander doesn’t speak any lines in the film, but his tortured puppy-dog eyes speak volumes as to what he is going through. Finally, we have Dido Miles as Mum and Perry Benson as Dad. These two play their characters so well that even though they were committing heinous acts I couldn’t wait to see them back on screen. Benson brings a repulsive quality to his blue-collar dad and nearly oozes with unpleasantness. Miles is both doting and dangerous as Mum, who “plays” with her “children” by cutting deep gashes all over their bodies.

As for the direction by Sheil, I couldn’t have asked for better. The house where the horrors take place is equal parts dingy (in the torture rooms and where Lena sleeps) and cozy (in the kitchen and living room areas, which look normal). I also liked how the focus wasn’t on the torture and the gore, but went deeper and really showed the twisted relationships between the members of the family. The film was shot in just 17 days, but nothing feels rushed or out of place. The deliberate pacing works perfectly and there is a palatable tension throughout the entire film. The film is set right next to an airport, lending even more credence to the fact that the family had an endless supply of transients (and their luggage) to pick from.

It seems that the issues of the perverted family and/or killer kids has been a staple for horror films for years (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Frightmare, Children of the Corn the more recent Eden Lake), but Mum and Dad really hits a raw nerve with its grim tone and its “real” aspect. This is one film that will surely leave you feeling disturbed and a little dirty after watching it! It is certainly one of the best British horror films I’ve seen and will definitely make you appreciate your own family more!

Available from Amazon!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Book Review: Worst Nightmares by Shane Briant

What is your deepest, darkest fear? Your worst nightmare that wakes you with your own screaming in the middle of the pitch black night? How far would you go to expunge this fear? Would you visit a website and talk to a person calling themselves the Dream Healer about your worst fears if they promised to help you get rid of that fear? Well, you may want to be careful who you tell your secret nightmares to, because you just may end up like the victim’s in Shane Briant’s stunning debut novel, Worst Nightmares!

In the book a serial killer known only as the Dream Healer stalks his victims from his website, People come to the site to talk to him about their deep-set fears in hope that he can help them, but after their fears are revealed the Dream Healer brings them to agonizing life as he kills each victim according to their own worst nightmare.

Meanwhile, award-winning author Dermot Nolan has hit a rut. Though he seemingly has it all – beautiful, loving wife, critical acclaim, fame and fortune – he has been suffering writer’s block. With his publishers breathing down his neck for his next big novel, Nolan quickly spirals into depression and desperation. So when he finds a crudely scrawled diary about the exploits of a serial killer named the Dream Healer in his mailbox, he considers publishing it under his own name. As he conducts some research into the locations of the murders in the book, it becomes apparent that the events detailed in the diary actually took place!

Still, Nolan is driven to desperation and decides to publish the diary…as a fictional piece under his own name. Someone else knows the intimate details of the diary, though, and soon Nolan is engaged in a dangerous cat and mouse game with the Dream Healer, who is very, very interested in making Nolan’s own worst nightmare come true.

Worst Nightmares is so horrifyingly engaging that it reads like a dream you can’t wake up from! From the first few sentences you get so caught up in the world of the Dream Healer and Nolan that you won’t want to put it down. Page after page it consistently delivers thrills, chills and tension – just when you think you’ve figured things out, author Shane Briant throws a surprising twist into the proceedings that makes you reevaluate all your previous assumptions!

I also enjoyed the ingenious ideas of killing people based on their deepest fears and how the impersonal internet was used by the faceless killer to find victims. It really gives you pause to question the great number of personal facts we tell complete strangers on the internet. Also, the death scenes are pretty shocking, especially when Nolan revisits the sites and finds evidence to support they actually happened. A girl gets her teeth viciously yanked out without any anesthesia, an agoraphobic (someone afraid of wide open spaces) is left in the vast expanse of the desert to die, someone is attacked by snakes, another by creepy crawlies like spiders and scorpions, a man’s wife is killed in front of him before he himself is butchered…the list goes on and on and each of the murders are pretty chilling, especially considering the detached, emotionless voice the killer uses when he talks about them.

Along with the shocking murders, author Briant creates a great amount of tension between the characters of the Dream Healer and Nolan. Theirs is an intriguing and surprising cat-and-mouse game and you’re never really sure where its heading. The novel has plenty of twists and turns, and as you get deeper in a clearer picture emerges of the intentions of the Dream Healer. The build-up leads to a nail-biting conclusion and a cliff-hanger ending that will have you pleading for more! The last 50 pages or so were ecstatic agony as I rushed to find out what would happen to all the characters! And when I reached the last sentence, I was convinced that a sequel must be written to satisfy my curiosity! Luckily, Mr. Briant is hard at work on the sequel and I know I cannot wait to read it.

Worst Nightmares is a roller-coaster ride that you’ll be bragging about surviving if you dare pick up a copy. Care to share your worst fear now?

Available from Amazon!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Shuttle (2009)

When you think about it, we entrust our lives to random drivers on a daily basis. We rely on the drivers of taxi cabs, buses and shuttles to take us where we need to go. We are confident that once we step into their vehicle that they will take us to our desired location. We don’t ask questions if they take certain “shortcuts” and place our full trust in the driver to get us there in one piece. What if, though, a driver decided to kidnap you and make you his or her prisoner?

This is what happens in Shuttle, when two girlfriends, Mel (Peyton List) and Jules (Cameron Goodman), arrive back home after a weekend getaway in Mexico, only wanting to return home as soon as possible. The airline loses Mel’s luggage, so they are the last ones waiting for a shuttle that will take them home. They flag a shuttle down, but another driver (Tony Curran) offers them a ride at half the cost so they accept. Two guys, Matt (Dave Power) and Seth (James Snyder), from the same flight also decide to take the shuttle, and the four join the lone passenger on board, a jumpy businessman named Andy (Cullen Douglas).

The five passengers soon realize that their driver isn’t taking them to their desired destinations, but has much more nefarious plans…

Shuttle is an amazingly well-done and tension-filled film. I was surprised that it wasn’t just another standard slash ‘em up horror flick, but actually had depth and kept you guessing the whole way through! It also benefited from sympathetic characters, realism and some cringe-worthy scenarios (and I’m not just talking blood and guts here).

The story, written by Edward Anderson (who also directed) is simple yet extremely taut. Like the characters, we never know exactly what is going on or why they are being kidnapped. Anderson adds odd little clues as to their destination, but nothing is revealed until the end, where all the puzzle pieces come together to reveal the true tragedy of the situation. The suspense created by the mystery of not knowing what was going on was fantastic, and my eyes were glued to the screen for the entire running time. I kept trying to guess what was going on and why, but nothing could prepare me for the impact of the devastating ending.

I also liked how Anderson addressed an important issue with his film (one that I can’t mention specifically without giving too much away). While people might assume it happens only in third world countries, Anderson brings attention to the fact that it happens right here in the United States. He also doesn’t try to exploit the issue at hand, but shows just how horrifying and terrible it really is.

Anderson also does a fine job of developing the characters. While he doesn’t go too much in-depth with them, we still feel for them as they try and try again to get out of their terrifying situation. It was refreshing to see characters that fought back and tried to get away, yet still had the decency to not leave their friends behind. The fact that they were at the “wrong place at the wrong time” also adds to the sympathy you feel for them.

The acting is very well-done, especially by Tony Curran who plays the Driver with surprising restraint while still managing to come off as dangerous and menacing. He doesn’t take sadistic pleasure in brutalizing his passengers, instead portraying the Driver as a weary worker just trying to do his job. Peyton List was fantastic as Mel, who was the backbone of the group of passengers. With few exceptions, she fought back every chance she took while protecting her friend Jules. She really elicited the viewer’s sympathy, especially when you think she is getting away only to be re-captured by the Driver. Cameron Goodman as Jules took an unlikable characters, a spoiled little rich girl, and actually made her likable! As the characters get deeper and deeper into the Driver’s plan, you can’t help but feel for the whimpering Jules. With a lesser actress in a role, Jules could have just come off as annoying, but Goodman turns it around so you are sympathetic for her character.

The direction by Edward Anderson is extremely solid for a first-time director! Most of the action takes place on the cramped space of the shuttle, but Anderson utilizes the small space well, giving it a claustrophobic feel. Most scenes are also bathed in grimy, florescent lighting, adding to the grim menace of the film. The direction also has a certain fluidity that keeps the action moving on relentlessly.

My only problem with the film was that the driver was seemingly impervious to mortal wounds. The passengers fought for their lives against him and certainly left their mark. The driver was bludgeoned, stabbed, involved in a nasty traffic accident and even shot, but every time he got up and was as good as new! While this certainly hurt some of the film’s believability, it still didn’t effect my overall enjoyment of the flick.

Shuttle is a horror film that travels in the fast lane, moving at a break-neck speed toward its devastating conclusion all the while keeping you guessing as to what is going on. Its thrilling, well-written story, sympathetic characters and sure-fire direction make this a very smart choice for savvy horror viewers who crave an intelligent, psychological horror film.

Available from Amazon!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Dark Mirror (2009)

There has always been something inherently freaky about mirrors, windows or other reflective surfaces. Just who looks back at us as we look into them? What they reflect looks like reality, but what if it wasn’t? What if they reflected something more sinister? And what about all the myths and legends that believe evil spirits can be trapped in windows and mirrors?

The new film Dark Mirror seeks to address these questions, but is it another dud like Mirrors was or does it have something new, interesting and scary to say?

A family of three, mother Deborah (Lisa Vidal), father Jim (David Chisum) and son Ian (Joshua Pelegrin) move to L.A. from Seattle after Deb is entranced by a house with beautiful glass pane windows. As the family settles in, Deb attempts to resume her career as a photographer while simultaneously taking care of her son as Jim is usually working late. After having some strange experiences with the mirrors and windows in the house, she talks to her chatty neighbor, who tells her a famous artist and his family used to reside there until they mysteriously disappeared. Her mother also visits and tells Deb that in Feng Shui window panes are used to trap evil spirits and stop them from harming anyone.

Yet, as Deb continues to experience strange occurrences and explores the dark history of the house, she becomes convinced that something evil resides in the mirrors and windows. When people she has photographed start dying, she is convinced that the evil spirit has infiltrated her camera lens and is killing people…or is she just going crazy?

Dark Mirror is a film that is best described as being horror movie lite. It lacks the gut punch most serious horror fans seek, but its story is interesting enough to entertain the casual thrill-seeker.

Though the film’s story is intriguing, I found that overall the film is a bit lacking and comes across as just a slightly better-than-average, thriller (and a tame one at that). Think of it as horror film that you could watch with your own mother (hey, with Mother’s Day coming up that may not be  such a bad thing!).

While the flick was a solid effort from director/co-writer Pablo Proenza, the story could have used a bit more OOMPH! to hold my interest. This thriller probably won’t tickle the fancy of serious horror fans, though more casual viewers will easily enjoy it.

I thought the story, written by Proenza and Matthew Reynolds, was decent, but there were certain scenes that lacked cohesiveness and the pacing of the film as a whole was a tad slow. For example, I thought it was a bit too convenient the way Deb found out about evil spirits being trapped in mirrors and windows. And the concept behind it is so intriguing I would have liked to see a little more focus on the “evil hidden within glass” idea. I felt that the idea remained too undeveloped and could have been explored further. The film also moved at a slow pace and could have benefited with actually showing us what happened to the victims instead of cutting away after a scream. I also felt that the “scares” were overly generic and you could see them coming from a mile away.

However, I thoroughly enjoyed the part of the story where the mirrors/windows would reflect a different reality than the physical one that Deb and her family were in. Looking in the mirrors, Deb saw a doorway that shouldn’t be there, plus her husband being a little overly flirty with their neighbor. These were the most thrilling aspects of the story, along with a stunning finale, but still didn’t quite make up for the rest of the slightly underdone storyline.

The problems I had with the film certainly didn’t have anything to do with the actors, though. Lisa Vidal was great as Deb. She really kept the viewer guessing as to whether she was crazy or if something evil really was responsible. Her character really makes the audience appreciate working (or even single) mothers, who play the dual roles of raising a child as well as pursuing a career. The rest of the cast did a fantastic job as well, and I had absolutely no problem with believing each and every one of them.

Though Dark Mirror isn’t a real stand-out in the horror arena, it is still better than some of the remakes that Hollywood seems to be pumping out. Plus, with Mother’s Day right around the corner it seems like the perfect movie to sit down and watch with dear old Mom!

Available from Amazon!

Book Review: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith

Did you ever had to read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice for English class? Did you find yourself snoozing away while Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy slowly but surely fell in love? Did you wish that zombies, ninjas and bloody battles were a part of Austen’s novel? Well, wish no longer because author Seth Grahame-Smith has tweaked Austen’s classic book to include walking corpses, Shaolin-trained assassins and some sure-fire slaughter!

Grahame-Smith, who wrote the excellent How to Survive a Horror Movie, has injected a lot of action into Austen’s tome and this monster mash-up is perfect for romantics who like a little blood with their love. Grahame-Smith cleverly inserts zombie attacks, ninjas and the “unmentionables” into the polite English society of the Bennet’s and heroine Elizabeth Bennet isn’t just a smart, witty girl anymore…now she also kicks ass against hordes of zombies! She and her sisters have all been trained in the “deadly arts” of Shaolin and are relied upon to protect the countryside. An English regiment has also arrived in town to try and squelch the undead menace (as author Grahame-Smith says in an interview, “…we arrived at Pride and Prejudice and Zombies because, when you take a look at the original book, it’s almost as if, subconsciously, Jane Austen is laying out the perfect groundwork for an ultraviolent bone-crushing zombie massacre to take place. For instance, there’s a regiment of soldiers camped out near the Bennett household. In the book, they’re just there for characters to flirt with. But it’s not that big a leap to say, Okay, they’re there because the countryside has been overrun with what they call the ‘unmentionable menace.’”). Of course, lets not forget the societal mishaps the Bennet family experiences at the hands of the rakish Wickham, the amiable Mr. Bingley and the mysterious and misunderstood Mr. Darcy.  I loved how Grahame-Smith slightly changed Austen’s characters while still retaining their core personalities and actions. He made Elizabeth a highly trained zombie killer and gave other characters varying degrees of skill in fighting the undead. Even after all these changes the characters were still believable as “Jane Austen characters”.

I also loved the violence and gore that Grahame-Smith added! Talk about grabbing your attention! We’ve got half-decomposed corpses stumbling around that the Bennet sisters must dispose of…which usually results in a bloody, gory mess that stains their pretty gowns, not to mention the scandal it causes within the neighborhood! Not only are there zombies, but ninjas also stalk the pages of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Elizabeth has to battle several to prove her worth to Mr. Darcy’s aunt, the Lady de Bourgh. There are lots of wonderfully brutal and bloody scenes and Grahame-Smith really delivers on the gore! And yet, it seems to fit so seamlessly into the original context of the novel!

For Austen or classic literature fans that bemoan that this mash-up tramples all over their much cherished Pride and Prejudice, have no fear. Grahame-Smith masterfully combines his new vision with Austen’s classic. The result is subtle but startling and one thing is for sure…you’ll never look at a Jane Austen novel the same again!

I really can’t recommend Pride and Prejudice and Zombies highly enough. It still retains the biting wit of Austen’s classic work, but it also contains quite a few biting zombies. Seth Grahame-Smith has started an amazing new trend here, and I can’t wait to see where it takes us next! Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is an absolute delight to read…perhaps high school students will be able to get away with reading this instead of Austen’s original!

Available from Amazon!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Cadaver (2009)

It seems that I’ve seen plenty of disappointing horror movies set in a morgue. Two disappointing films that come to mind are Unrest and Pathology, both that were stiffer than a corpse. So imagine my trepidation when I set about watching South Korean flick Cadaver, another film set in a morgue. Luckily, Cadaver didn’t arrive DOA and actually contained a solid storyline and a spooky atmosphere!

The film follows a group of first-year medical students as they enter their first autopsy class. The group’s cadaver is a young woman who died under the operating knife and she has a long, carefully stitched-up scar running down her chest. As soon as the students cut into her they begin having horrific nightmares of the girl as well as a one-eyed doctor. One by one they each get locked in the autopsy room and don’t leave until they come out in a body bag, complete with a scar along their chests that matches their cadaver’s. As the survivors try to make sense out of their friends’ deaths, they start to investigate who the cadaver was in life and just what or who might be causing her unrest. Is the cadaver’s angry spirit back for revenge or is someone more tangible responsible for their deaths?

Cadaver is a surprisingly engaging film, despite it seemingly being derivative of other Asian horror stories. It wisely avoids all the stereotypical Asian scares (accept for the appearance of a long-haired ghost…but this appears only briefly) and instead focuses on what the med students are going through and how it affects them. It rises above the limitations of stereotypical Asian ghost stories by melding an intriguing story with stunning visuals and a dark atmosphere.

Director Derek Son creates a foreboding atmosphere from the moment the students step into the cold and clinical autopsy room. He utilizes lots of dark shadows, rainy nights and creaking doors to add to the general unease of both viewer and character. The nightmarish visions of the one-eyed doctor and the cadaver were especially creepy, but I found the scenes within the autopsy room, especially when the students met their deaths, most effective. Not only does Son create a dark mood, but the film is also beautifully shot. Whether a shot of someone running up a winding staircase or a shot of a heart suspended in a medical container, many of the scenes are just stunning.

My only real complaints are that the story gets a bit bogged down and that the characters aren’t all that developed in the first place. After the first heart-stopping kill, there is just not enough time spent on making any of the other kills as interesting. The story starts to get bogged down because there is too much of a gap between the first kill and when the students start investigating their cadaver’s past. During this time the focus is shifted to the characters and their reactions to everything happening, but since there was so little character development in the beginning we really don’t care. The characters themselves aren’t very interesting and seem like stereotypical teens you would find in an American horror movie. There’s the slut, the nerd, the fat slob, the good-lookin’ rich guy and the two characters in love. None of them are particularly interesting, so when the film starts exploring how they are feeling about the situation I don’t really care…I just want to find out what is causing them to die such grisly deaths!

Despite these complaints, Cadaver excels at creating an engaging and mysterious story that you want to unravel as much as the med students do! It really utilizes the setting of the morgue to add scares and tension, so much so that the morgue and autopsy room becomes like an ominous character itself! It is also one of the few “morgue” movies to impress me – it’s got a smart script, stunning visuals and some grisly moments. Cadaver is definitely alive and kicking…

Monday, May 4, 2009

Martyrs (2008)

If you’re a horror fan, you’ve no doubt heard the buzz behind Martyrs, a French film from writer/director Pascal Laugier. Though you may have heard plenty about it, no manner of preparation could ready you for the raw, unpleasant ferocity of this film! If you are looking for a fun horror flick, Martyrs definitely isn’t it. It is a grim, relentlessly violent film that will have you flinching at your own shadow by the time it is through with you.

The film opens with young Lucie, battered, bruised and bloody, escaping her tormentors in a warehouse-type building. She is placed by authorities in a church-run foster home where she meets Anna. The two quickly become inseparable and Lucie confides to Anna that something is still afflicting her.

Fifteen years later, Lucie thinks she’s tracked down her tormentors, a seemingly loving husband and wife who have kids Lucie’s own age. Lucie brutally kills them all, but just can’t seem to appease a disfigured creature that continues to attack and physically harm her. Anna comes to Lucie’s rescue, not sure if Lucie is hallucinating or if what she says is true. But Anna is about to find out the excruciating pain that Lucie went through at the hands of her tormentors and the limits of torture that a body and mind can handle…and the reasons behind it all.

Martyrs is one of those films whose opening scenes will make you feel like you’ve been hit over the head with a baseball bat…and repeatedly pummeled with a sledge hammer. Its brutality is just relentless, and once you think that it can’t get any worse…it shocks you with the next scene. There are countless scenes of violence in Martyrs, most of them cringe-inducing, but the most effective scenes are when Lucie is attacked by the disfigured creature. The first few times we see nothing but shadows and quick movements, but each following scene involving the creature shows a little more and a little more…until we see it in its frightening entirety.

The disturbing images don’t stop at the creature, though (who is really only in the first half of the film). People get blown away by guns, stabbed, scratched, punched, beaten, a throat is slit, wrists are slit, people’s heads are bashed open, thick staples are removed from someone’s head to get rid of a metal blindfold, a person is flayed alive…I could keep going, but you get the idea; Martyrs features some extreme gore!

What I like about the film is that it offers a compelling storyline along with many visceral moments. The intriguing storyline just pulls you in and you want to find out why Lucie was tortured and just why a seemingly normal family would have a secret basement and just who is behind it all and why. It’s not just another exploitative film bombarding us with gore for no reason except to titillate; Martyrs has a very powerful ending that will actually make you think!

I really don’t want to say too much, because Martyrs is a film best experienced by going into it knowing as little as possible. It is a challenging film, both in regards to the violence as well as its message, but overall it is very rewarding to watch. I will say that I did have a problem with how the storyline flips from Lucie’s perspective to Anna’s perspective in the middle. It kind of makes it feel like two separate movies and the switch is a little bit jarring, especially considering that the second half is so much slower and methodical than the first. I even found myself a bit bored, but the beginning and ending of the film more than make up for the lull (you could even call it a chance to catch your breath) in the middle.

Martyrs is a grim, nihilistic film that is a witness to the many great horror films currently coming out of France (though it can’t really be compared to any of them). This is not a fun film and won’t be for everyone, but if you enjoy dark, traumatizing horror stories Martyrs will be right up your alley.

Available from Amazon!

Interview with Artist Suzzan Blac

English artist Suzzan Blac paints for pain. Her incredibly gory, surrealist paintings are both beautiful and frightening, depicting scenes of torture, anguish and brutality. And yet, she says all these emotions come directly from her experience with abuse and the visuals come straight from her wild imagination.

More amazing still is that she doesn’t rely on computer manipulation, paints everything by hand and is self-taught, drawing further inspiration Francis Bacon’s nightmarish paintings, the realism of Jan van Eyck and Hans Holbein and the ornate Baroque style of Caravaggio. Throw in a bit of the surrealism of Hieronymus Bosch and some H.R. Giger, and you’ve got an inkling of an idea of what Suzzan’s artwork looks like…but nothing can prepare you for actually seeing her stunning art for the first time!

We had a chance to talk to Suzzan about her art, her technique and just how she comes up with such horrifying and disturbing images.

Fatally Yours: How long have you been painting? How long have you been painting as the “Goddess of Gore?”

Suzzan Blac: I have been painting since 2000, previous to that I only ever used pencil! Well, the Goddess of Gore was the name given to me by my friend Roxanne who runs my fan page, people then referred to me as that and it kinda stuck, I think its really cool because there are not many women who paint as I do! Although I know that I am inspiring some to do their very worst too!!

Fatally Yours: Were you self-taught or did you go to art school to hone your craft? 

Suzzan Blac: No, I didn’t attend any art school, I wouldn’t of stuck it out anyway, I am way too stubborn and I can’t be told what to do – that doesn’t sit well in my pig-headed world!

Fatally Yours: What medium do you use most?

Suzzan Blac: Although I do still like to draw in pencil sometimes, oil is my only medium. It is the only medium that I can achieve the realism that I want.

Fatally Yours: What do you think of digital manipulation of art and the “shortcuts” artist use today as opposed to the traditional, “pure” form of art? 

Suzzan Blac: Oh I love it, there are some amazing images out there, but I can’t see beyond the aesthetics. I can’t see any emotion within digital art, you can only get that through the pain of painting. What I do is such fucking hard work; you can only relay your suffering through endless, lonely, frustrating, servile months of absolute hatred! I only ever enjoy the first layer, after that I dread every day!

Fatally Yours: Do you believe artistic skill is inherent or is it possible to be taught to be a good artist? 

Suzzan Blac: I think anyone can learn to draw and paint to a certain degree, but that does not make you an artist. You cannot “learn” to be an artist, you either are or you’re not!  It is inherent, a true artist already knows, they don’t need lessons in perspective, colors, etc. I know how things are meant to be or I can imagine how they would be. I don’t even use reference, I hate that, it’s boring, and I refuse to copy, say a photo of a person. You can’t get pure emotion from copying a photo; the closest would be if it were a candid shot of someone displaying real emotion. I paint from my mind, that’s the best reference.

The other elements that make an artist are that of passion, stubbornness, determination, imagination and the ability to push the boundaries of your mind further each time!

Fatally Yours: Does the pain, torture, anger and sadness in your paintings come from personal experience? Does painting act as a cathartic experience for you?

Suzzan Blac: Yes. Mostly all of my painting’s are self portraits; I only ever paint my feelings. My paintings are my mind, my anger, my pain, my fear…splattered over canvas, but not in an angry way. That would not be suffering, that’s why I paint so meticulously, it’s painstaking, it’s torturous,  it’s almost self abuse, so I guess it is cathartic, but only because I know that I’m turning all of my “bad” into “good”, and that makes me feel alive.

Fatally Yours: Are there paintings you keep to yourself and don’t show anyone because they are too brutal and intense?

Suzzan Blac: Yes, I have about 40 private paintings that I don’t show anyone, I have shown them, and received shocking reactions such as ”personal distress” and “condemnations and judgment of myself”.  I may show them one day…but not yet!

Fatally Yours: Do you hope your art sends the viewer a message? What do you hope people take away after viewing your art?

Suzzan Blac: I want my paintings to really touch people, but only those that matter, not the ignorant, shallow, narrow-minded shitheads out there, but the compassionate and people who can identify and connect to my work. There are a lot of them, I receive so many wonderful, inspiring messages of appreciation and these people…they fuel my art!

Fatally Yours: What would you say to those that wish to censor your work?

Suzzan Blac: Those that censor my work not only violate my freedom of speech and expression as an artist, but also as a survivor of abuse and the many who are unable to view it.

Fatally Yours: What artists’ work has influenced you the most?

Suzzan Blac: My main influences are artists such as [Hans] Holbein, [Jan] van Eyck, Caravaggio and [Francis] Bacon. I love realism and strong emotion, so I guess I combine those two elements within my work.

Fatally Yours: What other external factors (besides other artwork) influence your paintings?

Suzzan Blac: My true inspiration comes from artists who have suffered, overcome and given their all within their art – people like Beethoven, Otep Shamaya [lead singer of metal band Otep], John Nash [American mathematician whose life is the basis for the film A Beautiful Mind] Jacqueline du Pre [English cellist] and David Helfgott [Australian concert pianist whose life is the basis for the film Shine]…to name a few.

Inspiration for my subject matter comes from my hate, anger and pain, I wasn’t born with those feelings, they were given to me by the sub-humans that infested my life. They don’t “own” me anymore, though. I portray them in paint, so in effect, I own them.

Fatally Yours: Are you a horror movie/book fan? If so, what are some of your favorites? 

Suzzan Blac: I only like really good horror movies if there is a good story, I hate those “slash” films, there so crappy and lame!

I love thrillers such as Silence of the Lambs, Fargo, Seven and quirky, surreal, black movies such as Oldboy and the Coen Brothers and of course Stephen King’s books and films…He’s like the best storyteller ..EVER!

Fatally Yours: Your paintings are so unique, original and scary. Would you ever consider taking a job in the entertainment industry designing monsters for horror films? 

Suzzan Blac: Oh yeah!! I would love to create some weird, creepy scary creature that would freak people out,  that would be really cool!!

Fatally Yours: Tell us about your first solo show at the (in)famous Stychnin Gallery in London!

Suzzan Blac: Oh it was immense!! A great night, great people, great music…and free booze!! I spend so much time creating alone, it was a wonderful, stimulating feeling to relax and watch people observing and discussing my paintings. I have great reactions on the internet but nothing beats a live audience!!

Fatally Yours: What new paintings are you working on? 

Suzzan Blac: I’m doing one more of my doll series, and working on two others…YES!! YES!! they contain BLOOD!! I tried not to, but it just came out…I can’t help it! Well, I am the Goddess of BLOODY Gore you know!

Fatally Yours: I couldn’t imagine your art without some blood in it anyhow! Thanks so much for your time, Suzzan. Your art is spectacular and we wish you all the best in the future!

Suzzan Blac: You are most welcome…and thank you for having me!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Attack of the Vegan Zombies! (2009)

Most zombie movies feature flesh-eating zombies. I mean, it’s almost a given that zombies crave human flesh and their sole purpose is to hunt down and feast on humans. What if, though, zombies went vegan and instead of craving fresh meat they wanted to devour plants? Well, Attack of the Vegan Zombies tackles this whole different approach to zombies…and does a pretty entertaining job of it!

Struggling wine-makers Dionne (Christine Egan) and her husband Joe (writer/director/producer Jim Townsend) haven’t had a very successful year with their winery. Their grape crop is horrible, and if something isn’t done soon they will lose their winery. Dionne asks her mother (H. Lynn Smith), who is a powerful witch, to cast a spell so they have a burgeoning crop next year. Unknown to Joe, who is passed out from drinking wine, they use a bit of his blood in the ritual.

A year later, the vineyard is flourishing and they have a bumper crop. They hire some college students, who are accompanied by their professor, to help harvest the grapes. Unfortunately, because the blood used in the ritual was tainted with alcohol, the vines have become super-aggressive and start killing people and draining them of their blood. The victims, in turn, stagger back to life as zombies…who want nothing more than the grapes and wine that the vineyard has produced. Only problem is that everyone at the winery drank the wine…so the vegan zombies are coming after them, attracted by the wine pumping through their veins!

I really loved the unconventional idea of “vegan” zombies, an idea in horror films that hasn’t really been explored. Though I imagined Attack of the Vegan Zombies to be a comedy about hordes of zombies attacking fields of crops and leaving destruction in their wake, like locusts, it was much different than that. It didn’t just stick to slapstick veggie jokes, but had a well-developed story that didn’t just rely on one-liners. I was expecting an over-the-top horror-comedy, but instead Attack of the Vegan Zombies delivered a well put together and unique zombie film.

What first grabbed me when I popped the disc in was the superior quality of the film. Though the film was made on a small budget, the production values are impressive! Indie filmmakers take note – THIS is what your films should aspire to look like! Every shot was carefully composed, the lighting (even in night-time scenes) was amazing and overall the film just had a professional sheen to it. Major props to director Jim Townsend for making such a visually engaging and enjoyable film.

The story, written by Jim Townsend, was also well done. The dialogue was believable and the back story of the mutant vines and zombies was very well established. The first half of the film is a little slow, but it does a good job of leading up to the last half. In retrospect, I really enjoyed the slow build-up, especially since it gave me a chance to get to know the characters better. Oh, and what characters they were! Most of them were pretty normal – Dionne, Joe, Dionne’s mother, the professor, etc. – but a few were delightfully over the top!

I was also impressed by most of the acting. Jim Townsend (this guy does it all in this movie!) and Christine Egan were fantastic as married couple Joe and Dionne. They were very natural and believable in their delivery. My two favorites, though, were John Kelly and Walter Smith as the two nerdy college students. When I spoke earlier of over-the-top characters, these two are who I was speaking of! Their over-the-top portrayals were just hysterical and a laugh-a-second. I looked forward to every time they popped up on screen. I wish the same could be said about the two actresses that played the lesbian college co-eds, but their acting was at best sub-par and at worst grating.

The special effects makeup was pretty decent, and even the fact that the zombies were little more than actors slathered in green paint didn’t hamper my enjoyment of the film (and in the context, the zombies being green actually makes sense!). There wasn’t much gore to speak of, but nonetheless the film worked even without any major blood splatter.

Attack of the Vegan Zombies really impressed me. Super multi-tasker Jim Townsend, who wrote, directed, produced and acted in the film, has created a very enjoyable, very unique zombie film that will no doubt become a cult favorite. I had a blast watching this film and think you will too!

For more info, check out:

Buy it on Amazon!
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