Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Midnight Massacre Theatre

Remember the good old days of sneaking downstairs at midnight to watch your local horror host introduce a viewing of some god-awful B-movie? The movies might not have been memorable, but you no doubt remember the horror host!! Those hosts are what made watching such bad movies fun; they were like your own personal buddies whom you could poke fun at the feature presentation with.

You don’t see horror host shows that much anymore, but the Sinister Minister, host of The Midnight Massacre Theatre, wants to change that! The Midnight Massacre Theatre is a horror host show just like the good old days…the Sinister Minister, along with his Altargirls, introduces the night’s B-movie and while it plays cracks jokes at the movie’s expense.

The Sinister Minister is a fun character who is a corpse paint wearing, long hair rockin’ metalhead crossed with a black-clad, pointy-toothed vampire. Don’t let his dark good looks fool you, though, he is quite the amusing horror heckler when it comes to watching bad B-movies!

I was treated (or tricked?) to an episode where the Sinister Minister and his minions watched Lady Frankenstein, a frightfully bad 1971 Italian horror movie that pits a woman “mad scientist” against her father’s monstrous creation. The comments made by the Sinister Minister made me chuckle quite a bit! The Minister is quite a kooky character and I enjoyed watching him much more than the film! In fact, I wish there had been more of him and less of Lady Frankenstein!

Rather than popping up around commercial breaks, this show actually cuts back and forth between the movie and the Sinister Minister making his snarky comments. Though a bit distracting, you soon become accustomed to these welcome interruptions! I really also enjoyed the PG-13 humor employed by the Minister. It’s not completely dirty, but it’s also not safe for kids! Take for one a joke made about a woman’s place being on her back; when the Altargirls take offense, the Minister changes it to a woman’s place being on her knees! Mwhahahahahahaha! Not the best joke, but kiddies 13 and up will no doubt get it, despite its tastelessness!

The show’s technical elements were also impressive. The set looked appealingly dark, dank and like any Minister’s “Chap-Hell” should look! The Sinister Minister also got to sit on a big, black throne and was surrounded by ominous looking candles that added to the menacing atmosphere. The camera work was also very professional and crisp. Both of these elements gave the show a sleek, slick look. Even the special FX used (fake flame and so forth) looked pretty good, especially for a low budget production.

The Midnight Massacre Theatre currently plays in six different states and if you are lucky enough to live in an area where the show is broadcast I wholeheartedly recommend checking out the Sinister Minister and his lovely Altargirls! You can also check out episodes on the website! I know when you do you’ll have a gruesomely good time!

Check out episodes and more at Midnight Massacre Theatre’s Official Site!

Book Review: Shadows in the Mist by Brian Moreland

There is something so inherently evil about Nazis that even when you hear the word it makes your skin crawl. All the atrocities they committed, all the innocent people they killed and all the secret experiments they conducted make the Devil himself look tame! Well, it looks like the terror of Nazis is back – on film and in books, you see. Most recently the Nazi zombie film Dead Snow was released and now Brian Moreland’s new supernatural Nazi novel Shadows in the Mist is available. Look out, the Nazis are coming!

Set in World War II, Shadows in the Mist tells of a platoon of soldiers led by Lieutenant Jack Chambers who have accepted a special mission to accompany a special ops unit called X-2 behind enemy lines to intercept and capture a deadly Nazi weapon that the enemy is set to unleash. As the Allies delve deep into enemy territory in the dark, mist-shrouded Hürtgen Forest, they will have to worry about more than just Nazi soldiers because something else lurks within the dense fog. Something that is rooted in the occult and involves an ancient power that is near unstoppable.

Shadows in the Mist is a fast-paced thrill ride that blends bloody scenes of combat, a history of secret societies, espionage, the Nazis’ love of the occult, nearly unstoppable monsters and the supernatural. Its vivid descriptions make you feel like you are standing shoulder to shoulder with the platoon.

Author Brian Moreland must first be commended for his remarkable attention to detail found within the pages. Moreland spent years researching WWII, Nazis and even traveled to the real-life location of the Hürtgen Forest where real battles were fought. He interviewed veterans, read countless books on the Nazis’ obsession with the occult and watched countless films on WWII. Every detail within the book, from what soldiers wore and ate to military language to the location of the book is rooted in reality. All this detail just makes the book feel more real and more immediate.

Besides the sheer detail of the book, the use of description and action also places the read front and center to the battles fought by Jack Chambers’ platoon. You can almost hear the bullets whizzing by, the rumble of the tanks, the drip-drip of the rain in the forest and the fast-beating hearts of the soldiers as they face a near-impossible mission against unimaginable monsters.

The story is tense and keeps you on the edge of your seat as you become emotionally invested in each of the characters. You really learn a lot about each of the platoon soldiers in a short amount of time and care about what happens to them. Whenever there is a soldier that is wounded or killed you feel the deep loss that their Lieutenant feels. I also liked how the story had many different surprises. Just when you think you know what the soldiers are fighting or who the “good guys” are, a twist comes out of nowhere to shock you and takes the story in an entirely different direction.

As for the mysterious Nazi soldiers the Allies end up fighting, boy, are they scary! Suited up in full SS regalia and wearing gas masks to boot, plus having some other nasty surprises up their sleeves (like glowing eyes and being seemingly unstoppable), made them very menacing villains.

From WWII history buffs to those looking for some new supernatural spooks, Shadows in the Mist should be at the top of everyone’s summer reading list. It is so fast-paced and involves you right away that you’ll never want to put it down once you start reading!

Available from Amazon!

Monday, June 29, 2009

I Know How Many Runs You Scored Last Summer (2009)

I’ve been looking forward to I Know How Many Runs You Scored Last Summer ever since I heard about this satirical Australian slasher a few years ago! The concept of a killer cricket player combined with the promise of plenty of slapstick screwball comedy really had me eager to check it out! Well, now it is finally hitting DVD stateside on June 30th, 2009 and I finally got to see it. I gotta say, though, this film was a bit of a let down for me.

While IKHMRYSLS is clearly meant to be a horror comedy along the lines of Shaun of the Dead and Black Sheep, it fails to deliver. It is seriously lacking in the comedy department and its threadbare story is dragged out over its feature-film length while its unlikable characters don’t do much except look like the thickest bunch of blokes I’ve ever seen in a film.

Twenty years ago, a young cricketer was bullied so much by his teammates that he was hospitalized. Now, he’s all grown up and out for bloody revenge with an arsenal of razor-sharp cricket gloves, sharpened stumps, nailed balls and a sturdy cricket bat.

After gruesomely offing his first few victims, the police become involved and move the remaining teammates to an isolated “safe” house in the middle of nowhere…where one by one victims are brutally (and hilariously killed).

Despite the film’s awful “comedy” falling flat and the thin storyline stretched beyond its breaking point, I have to say that the deaths are pretty darn entertaining. Though they are pretty much the only entertaining thing in this film, they are reason enough for a rental. Sharpened cricket stumps are shoved down throats and through bodies, a ball stuck with nails is thrown at someone’s head, a Freddy Krueger-esque razor-fingered cricket glove is used to disembowel victims, a cricket bat is used for several pummelings and (my favorite) a nail-spiked sports cup is forcibly shoved into some guy’s privates. While the deaths are entertaining, they barely make the rest of the film worth watching.

The story, written by Doug Turner (who co-directed with Stacey Edmonds), just didn’t have enough humor and barely squeezed a few weak laughs out of me. When the best jokes are about gay hairdressers you know you have a problem. The dialogue was inane and downright annoying at times. The film also suffered from poor pacing or maybe it was just lack of story to fill the time between kills. Though it starts right off the bat with a kill, from there the film just meanders and the story never fully develops. There was so little story and character development that I found myself not engaged by the story, but just waiting for the next kill.

The characters are just kind thrown into the story without any character development and while I understand that many of them are just fodder for the killer, it would have been nice to have someone to root for. As it was, I didn’t really have anyone to care about except for the killer since he was the only one offering me any kind of fun in the film. I also thought that the police characters weren’t all that necessary (except for the twist at the end) and the film could have easily been made without them hampering the story. The inclusion of the police just felt like padding. I will say that I enjoyed the mainly male cast. Slashers usually feature a mostly female cast, so it was nice to see the victims being males for a change.

Speaking of padding, the scenes between the kills felt exactly like that – just fluff in between the only interesting bits. I didn’t see anything to prove that this film is “satirical” in any way…unless you count the out-of-nowhere gratuitous shower scene featuring Miss Nude Australia that spoofs the random shower scenes that appear in many slashers. The kills were pretty over the top, but they didn’t exactly spoof slasher flicks. I just felt that with few exceptions that IKHMRYSLS missed the boat on the comedic aspect of horror films.

I Know How Many Runs You Scored Last Summer is a missed opportunity at a good horror comedy. It seemed to have so much potential, but this indie flick left me infinitely more disappointed than satisfied. The only thing that this film scores are fouls.

Available from Amazon!

Consumption (2007)

Consumption is a short indie film from writer/director Richard Powell and Fatal Pictures. To tell you the truth, I wasn’t expecting much when I first popped it into my DVD player. With a name like Consumption, I knew something was going to be consumed, so I expected a fair amount of blood. I thought it would be a run-of-the-mill, serial killer type movie…but, boy, was I wrong.

After the first 10 minutes or so, Consumption sidelined me out of the blue with a surprise plot twist that I never saw coming…and I was never the same after that!

A nervous man (Bruno Talotta) is getting ready to meet his date, who is coming over for dinner. The man is dressed in a suit and carefully lays out the china. He answers a knock at the door and a Rose McGowan look-alike (Andrea Nettleton) greets him. It’s apparent that the two have never met face-to-face, but it’s implied that they’ve chatted online. After some idle chit chat, a cup of coffee and the girl’s favorite dish they get to the real reason of their meeting…and soon the blood starts flowing!

Consumption is a surprising short film in that it defies your expectations as well as exceeding them. In the beginning of the film, I thought that the man character was awfully awkward, stiff and formal…but as the story progressed I realized it wasn’t the actor or the dialogue, but truly how this particular character would act in the scene when his occupation was revealed! Of course, the acting wasn’t Oscar worthy or anything, but Bruno Talotta deserves a lot more credit than I first gave him. Andrea Nettleton did an amazing job as well as she went from the seemingly innocent victim to someone who is much more, how shall we say? – self-sacrificing.

I don’t want to give too much away, but when the twist hits everything pretty much falls into place. It may take a bit of patience to get there, but the gore afterward makes it all worth it! We get a slit throat that bleeds buckets of blood, flesh getting skinned and flayed, decapitation, dismemberment and disembowelment (not necessarily in that order!)! Considering this short was made on a low budget, the special FX are quite impressive!

I also liked the underlying message about how far science will go and to what end. Do the ends really justify the means or do the means slowly transform us into monsters? I won’t say much more for fear of giving too much away…but this film is best viewed with no expectations and on an empty stomach!

Consumption is a powerful short film that manages to rise above the typical serial killer horror films. Though you think you know where the story is going, there is no doubt you’ll be surprised by the twist that will have your eyes glued to the screen for the remainder of the film. Check out this short film if you get the chance!

Visit Fatal Pictures’ Official Site!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

My Little Eye (2002)

You really can’t seem to flip channels without coming across some reality show. Whether you are Keeping Up with the Kardashians, hanging with The Girls Next Door, taking in Deadliest Catch or another one of the hundreds of reality shows, there is a glut of reality programming that shows no signs of slowing down. Are we really that obsessed with watching other people’s lives instead of living our own?

Our reality show contestants in My Little Eye certainly hope that’s true, especially since they’ve entered in a contest where they must survive six months in an isolated, creepy old house with every second of their tenure there filmed for an eager, voyeuristic audience. At the end of the six months, they will all get a nice paycheck of $1 million…but there’s a catch. If any of them leave before the six months are up, then none of them get any of the dough.

The film picks up during the last week or so of their six month sentence, and everyone is particularly antsy. Snow is falling thick and heavy outside and supplies are dwindling. Not to mention that the myriad of cameras installed within the house follow their every move. With just mere days to go, strange things start happening. One of the guys gets a letter saying his grandpa has died and funeral services will be held before his time on the show is up. Another girl finds an eerie phrase from her childhood written on one of the windows and a bloody hammer in her bed. The group begins receiving strange “supplies” – like a box of bricks and a loaded gun. Then, a lost skier stumbles upon their house and claims he’s never heard or seen anything about their reality show. Is the reality show company responsible for these strange occurrences? Are they trying to trick them out of their hard-earned cash? Is it all being done to boost ratings? Or is something more sinister going on?

Horror films that feature a reality show usually don’t fare too well (see Halloween: Resurrection), but My Little Eye is different. It is full of tension, interesting characters and an intriguing storyline that will have you guessing until the end. Though it starts slow, with the group suffering from cabin fever from being cooped up in a house all this time, it does a good job in slowly building dread. Things just get creepier and creepier, until the satisfying ending that will just leave you saying, “wow…”

I also love how the film is shot and all the action is captured on the cameras that are wired throughout the house. Whether the action occurs in creepy green-tinged night vision or is seen through a grate in the bathroom, it really gives the film a voyeuristic edge, almost as if you were watching a snuff film. I’m not sure what the logistics were in the shooting of the film, but it truly does look like it was all shot on those security cameras! Fantastic job by director Marc Evans!

The story, written by David Hilton and James Watkins (Eden Lake and the upcoming The Descent 2), is a slow-burn but one that immediately sucks you in, especially when strange occurrences start happening and the pace picks up. There are also a few nice surprises toward the end that caught me off guard and grab your attention!

The characters are all pretty likable or at least interesting. There’s bad-boy Rex (Kris Lemche), sexy Charlie (Jennifer Sky), all-American Matt (Sean CW Johnson), sensitive Danny (Stephen O’Reilly) and skittish Emma (Laura Regan). Their interactions and relationships with each other ring true and it really does feel like they’ve been roommates for the last 5+ months. Each of them has their own dark secrets, which slowly come to light as they are tested in their last week or so of the show.

The acting was surprisingly great, with all the actors giving solid, believable performances. Laura Regan really gave a stand-out performance as the fragile Emma, but the rest of the cast was equally impressive. There is even an appearance by Bradley Cooper (The Hangover, Midnight Meat Train) where he plays the lost skier. It was quite a pleasant surprise to see him in this film!

Now, this film is more about building tension than showering the audience with blood, so there isn’t that much gore. Again, though, this doesn’t hurt the film at all! Instead, when the grue finally does show up at the end of the movie it makes much more of an impact than had it been shown throughout the entire film! There is one particularly nasty scene at the end involving someone’s head getting unexpectedly blown open that is really an “oh sh*t!” moment!

My Little Eye is a suspenseful film that relies on the mystery of the characters’ situation to keep your attention. Its slow-burn works extremely well in building up a tremendous amount of tension, and it also helps that we actually care about the characters and want to know as much as they do who is pulling the strings and behind the strange occurrences. Not too many people have seen this movie, and that’s quite a shame! It is a gem of a horror movie that deserves more fans!

What do I spy with My Little Eye? A fantastic horror movie, that’s what! Now go check it out!

Available from Amazon!

Book Review: Midnight Walk edited by Lisa Morton

What makes a good horror anthology? A variety of characters, locations, mythologies and differences in tonality make for a good start. A good horror anthology will also catch you off guard from one story to the next and take you to dark places you never even imagined. It will take you down little-traveled, black paths that few dare to tread. A good horror anthology is much like a midnight walk – darkness pressing in on all sides while you experience a mixture of fear, apprehension and excitement!

The new horror anthology is aptly named Midnight Walk and achieves all this and more! Edited by Lisa Morton, Midnight Walk is packed with 14 terrifying tales that explore the darker paths in life.
From the book’s description:

In the 19th century, Zulu tribesmen fight off undead invaders and a British noblewoman encounters an ancient Chinese evil…in modern America, a killer battles his inner demons and a desperate man faces a centuries-old curse to save his home…in the slums of India, a traveler seeks a magician who can make him forget…and in the far-flung future, a group of illicit gourmets uncovers the ultimate secret ingredient in synthetic food…these are just some of the original stories that will take you around the dark globe on a truly terrifying Midnight Walk.

This fantastic anthology features stories from Vince Churchill, Armand Constantine, Kelly Dunn, Richard Grove, Del Howison, Jodi Kaplan Lester, Jason M. Light, Lisa Majewski, Mike McCarty, Lisa Morton, Joey O’Bryan, John Palisano, R.B. Payne and George Willis. Each original story is like stepping into a completely new world, and no two stories are alike, except for the fact that they all will give you spine-tingling chills!

This anthology really is top-notch because of the variety of stories, writing styles, characters and evil you will find between its pages. Editor Lisa Morton has done an extremely commendable job assembling this amazing tome of fourteen original stories sure to terrorize its readers!

I enjoyed every single one of the stories, so it’s quite difficult to pick just a few favorites. I am a sucker for Halloween stories, though, so I would have to say that my favorite was Silver Needle by Richard Grove, about a young boy who goes trick or treating on Halloween only to be tempted by the Sidhe or Fairy Folk. Though set in modern times, I love how the story included a back story on Tam Lin, “the legendary Scotsman who had tricked the fairies when they’d tried to drag him to hell.” Author Grove perfectly captures the eerie essence of Halloween with creaking trees, one-eyed black cats, jack o’lanterns and a supposedly haunted house. He really brings back the original meaning of Halloween, when people believed that the veils between our world and the spirit world were lifted. This story is quite a treat, but it also has some tricks up its sleeve!

Another of my favorites from this anthology is The Measure of a Man by George Willis. This tale is set in South Africa and tells of Zulu warriors battling something they’d never encountered before – the undead! Besides the originality of the story, I really enjoyed how the lead character, a young Zulu in training, was developed. Another epic story was Lisa Morton’s Diana and the Goong-Si, about a British noblewoman in the 19th century that travels to China to find her missing husband but instead finds the region terrorized by a Goong-Si, or Chinese vampire. I loved the strong female character in this story, as well as the location and time in which the story was set. The Goong-Si is also a very different type of vampire than the creatures from our Western world, making it an even more exciting read! The Svancara Supper Society by Joey O’Bryan just left me in awe as it tells of a future where food is synthetic, but a scientist is searching for the sixth food quality that transforms the way people eat. There is so much more to the story, but I don’t want to give any of it away! It really must be read to be believed! I also enjoyed Late Check-in by Vince Churchill about a traveler who is tormented after checking in to a strange motel, Inside Out by Lisa Majewski about a narcissistic, asshole model and how a jilted lover gets even with him and of course all the rest of the stories. Honestly, there is not a bad one in the batch and if I could I would mention every single one as being a favorite!

Midnight Walk is a superior collection of horror stories that no horror fan should be without. The stories contained within its pages are all so diverse, interesting and original that every single one of them is a joy to read. In fact, this book had me so absorbed that I could barely put it down and just had to keep reading to see what enchantingly eerie story popped up next!

Midnight Walk comes highly recommended and was just recently released so make sure to get your copy today!

Available from Amazon!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Substitute (2008)

Hailing from Denmark and distributed stateside by Ghosthouse Underground, The Substitute (aka Vikaren) is surprisingly NOT your typical evil-teacher-terrorizing-students horror film. Instead, it is a refreshingly tense and exciting movie that defied my preconceived notions.

One warning about watching this film, though – make sure you turn off the god-awful English dubbing and instead watch it in its original language with the English subtitles on. The dubbing is horrible and just ruins the film. Consider yourself warned!

The film begins with a narrator telling us that Earth is the only planet that has the complexities of “love,” and an alien race wants to figure out what all the fuss is about and if love is truly the most powerful weapon of all. So, an alien life force travels down to Earth, lands on a poultry farm and takes over a woman’s body to try and figure out what “love” is all about – and hopefully take some specimens of humans back to the home planet to plan Earth’s demise.

Meanwhile, in a nearby town, young Carl (Jonas Wandschneider) is mourning the death of his mother, along with his father Jesper (Ulrich Thomsen) and young sister Sofie (Olivia Stenderup Garre). Carl is a loner in his six grade class, often bullied by the bigger students. When Carl’s class learns that their teacher will be out sick for the next few weeks, they are ecstatic, thinking they can just slack off and take it easy. When their substitute arrives, though, they are in for a nasty surprise. Their substitute, Ulla Harms (Paprika Steen), seems to have the ability to read minds and tells them that she intends to whip them into academic shape…with some very aggressive, mean tactics. The kids sense that something isn’t right about Ulla, and they soon discover the terrifying truth about her.

Can Carl and his classmates convince their parents that Ulla isn’t human before it’s too late?

Ok, I know that the synopsis does no justice to the film, instead making it sound like a Faculty rip-off, but believe me when I say that this Substitute is a much better, very different film! The story, written by Ole Bornedal (who also directed) and Henrik Prip, has the perfect balance of suspense, humor and horror. I really enjoyed the development of the characters, especially Carl. The death of Carl’s mother really adds depth and pathos to the story. That, in turn, is balanced by the humor that comes into play with Carl’s classmates and Ulla’s character. Ulla’s character is both terrifying and amusing, especially when she tortures the kids in such a quick, nonchalant attitude! And I love the kids reactions – “You’re a teacher! You’re not supposed to say that!” There is one scene where the kids break into Ulla’s house and catch her eating a live chicken that is just priceless! The great thing about the scene is that it is both extremely tense and hilarious!

The acting is also a wonderful surprise. Fans of Danish cinema will recognize Paprika Steen and Ulrich Thomsen who play Ulla and Carl’s father Jesper, respectively. They were recently both in the critically acclaimed Fear Me Not and they both shine in this film as well. Steen is terrific as Ulla, whether she is snapping orders at the kids or pulling the wool over the parent’s eyes as to what she really is. She gives a very menacing yet entertaining performance! Jonas Wandschneider as Carl also gave a stellar performance, bringing lots of different emotions to his damaged yet spunky character. And all of the kids in the film were just awesome! Each brought their own distinct personalities to their performances and came across as very natural!

Though this movie hardly spills any blood, I thought the special FX, especially one revealing Ulla’s true tentacled nature, were well done! In addition, a mysterious photograph, a shiny sphere that things crawl out of and some shapeshifting all make for some tense, exciting moments. There is no gore and precious little amounts of blood, but this film just didn’t need those things to make it entertaining. It’s fun and original on its own without needing too much red.

I was pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable The Substitute was. It doesn’t seem that in Hollywood they make too many horror films with young kids as the protagonists, so right off the bat the film felt unique. Also, it really was a great mix of horror and humor. I was on the edge of my seat yet laughing my ass off at the same time! Now that’s entertainment, folks! I hear that there are already plans for remaking this film, so get out there and see it NOW! Accept no substitutions for The Substitute!

(Just remember to turn the dubbing OFF!!)

Available from Amazon!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Friday the 13th (2009)

Remakes. Reimagings. Reboots. Whatever you choose to call recycled and reused ideas in Hollywood, everyone has their opinion on them. Most horror fans think they are all rubbish, and I tend to agree. Sometimes, though, I see a few of them so I can judge for myself whether they are decent or completely useless.

In recent memory there have only been a few decent remakes, like Alexandre Aja’s The Hills Have Eyes. With the hope of something good coming out of all the unoriginality Hollywood has to offer, I set out to watch the new Friday the 13th “reimaging,” which really is a mix of parts 1, 2 and 3 instead of a straight remake. I’ve been wary of it ever since I first heard about it, especially since it was produced by Michael Bay and directed by Texas Chainsaw remake director Marcus Nispel, but even though I thought a reboot of the classic was unnecessary, I figured I’d give it a chance.

A chance I wish I had never taken…

A group of 20-somethings hike into the woods to look for a pot farm, which just happens to be near the abandoned Camp Crystal Lake. One of the kids explains how 20 years ago Mrs. Vorhees went psycho and slaughtered the camp counselors, blaming them for her son’s drowning death at the camp. The kid goes on to explain that Mrs. Vorhees son, Jason, is actually rumored to be alive and killing people to avenge his mother’s death in the very woods they are in. ‘Sho ‘nuff, they’ve stumbled on Jason’s stomping grounds and he makes bloody quick work of the group.

Six months later, Clay is looking for his missing sister, who was one of the unfortunates in the pot-seeking group. Clay has had no luck with the authorities around Crystal Lake taking his sister’s disappearance seriously, so he’s decided to take things into his own hands. He is convinced that she disappeared near Crystal Lake and won’t give up until he finds some clue or leads about her disappearance. Clay meets up with a bunch of douchebag rich kids who are partying at a cabin by the lake and one-by-one they meet their deaths at the hands of Jason.

I couldn’t even think of a synopsis that would make this film sound interesting! Seriously, Hollywood studios, please stop insulting horror fans’ intelligence by releasing these watered-down remakes! I know you are just trying to make a quick buck, but does that buck have to come at the expense of genre fans? We are the core audience of these remakes, so stop pissing us off!!

There are so many things wrong with this movie I don’t even know where to start. The main things that really bugged me about this reboot were the plot holes, inconsistencies and just overall laziness with the story. Freddy vs. Jason writers Damian Shannon and Mark Swift aren’t known for their consistency and other writer Mark Swift’s only claim to horror fame is his The Messengers script, so right then and there you know the story isn’t going to be the film’s strongest point.

First off, let’s talk about some of the ridiculous story points in the plot. The opening scene with the first bunch of kids searching for pot didn’t ring true at all. If it was Jason’s stomping grounds do you really think he’d let a pot farmer plant his crop there? Don’t think so! And weren’t the kids even remotely worried about pot farmers, who usually pack heat as well as plant booby traps so no one gets in their crop? The whole “pot” angle really could have been left out of the movie and nothing would have been lost, which really makes me wonder why it was in there in the first place! That may be a minor quibble, but another WTF moment came when we are introduced to Jason’s underground lair. Yep, apparently Jason has spent the last 20 or so years tunneling under Camp Crystal Lake and building an underground hideout just like Leatherface and family did in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2! Was this necessary? Did this make Jason any scarier? Did this make any kind of sense? No, no and no!!

As for the characters, they were all unlikable buffoons that you didn’t care about. None of the women really stood out and didn’t have much to do except get naked and all the guys were pretty much macho assholes or stoners. At least in the originals there were some spunky kids you could root for, but here it is a barren wasteland of banality. The closest we came to having any empathy was for Jared Padalecki’s character of Clay, but even then he would turn around and do something boneheaded (like fighting douchebag rich kid #1) that made you lose all sympathy for him.

You’d think watching the lackluster characters suffer horrible deaths would be fun, and it might have been had the kills actually been brutal or at least interesting. The lack of gore and uninventive, boring deaths sure were a snooze, just like the rest of the movie. The only memorable death I can remember is one involving someone in a sleeping bag suspended over a camp fire being burned alive…but that was within the first 15 minutes and it was all downhill from there.

The only commendable thing about this “reimaging” is Derek Mears performance as Jason. Physically, he looked the hulking, menacing part and also got down Jason’s creepy mannerisms quite well! The character of Jason, being faster and smarter, is a bit different from the one we are used to and I can’t say I enjoyed his ninja-quick way of disappearing and reappearing (like from the ground to onto a roof in 1.5 seconds), but Mears’ performance was the only thing I enjoyed in the film.

Friday the 13th is a spotty patchwork of plot holes, unlikable characters, unbelievable circumstances and uninteresting kills. Marcus Nispel’s direction looks sleek and flashy as usual, but you can’t really polish a turd. No matter how pretty and shiny it looks, the weak storyline, stupid characters and lackluster kills just drag this film down.

A very disappointing reboot for horror fans, Friday the 13th is one Friday you’ll want to forget.

Available from Amazon!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

End of the Line (2007)

Young nurse Karen (Ilona Elkin) has had a rough night with patients behaving more oddly than usual and has had some startling premonitions (right off the bat we are treated to an unsettling scare). As she boards the nearly-deserted subway, a blond-haired freak harasses her, but good guy Mike (Nicolas Wright) tries to calm her frazzled nerves. Once on the subway, the train breaks down and Karen and Mike are stuck under the flickering lights. They are soon joined by a sweet old lady…but after receiving a message on her cell she tries to attack Mike with a knife made from a crucifix. Other people stuck on the subway are attack by people wielding these knives, as they are all members of a religious cult called The Church of Hope and by killing people they hope to “save” them from the end of the world. Karen and Mike escape and meet up with other survivors as they try to escape the labyrinth tunnels of the subway and reach the surface. Yet, what if the cult is right and death is better than what awaits them?

Filled with surprises, End of the Line is an overlooked horror film that shouldn’t be missed! From the beginning to the end the film is chock full of unexpected, creepy surprises that will keep you on the edge of your seat! Director and writer Maurice Devereaux has crafted an intriguing and entertaining horror film whose images won’t leave my head anytime soon!

I liked how Devereaux developed the cult member’s characters. They weren’t just smiling and singing automatons, but he portrayed their inner turmoil as well. Some of them just couldn’t go through with killing others while others had doubt about what they were doing. Some enjoyed killing and wanted to get their kicks before it was their time to go and others truly believed they were saving the masses from a much more terrible fate. The characters that did suffer a bit in character development were the protagonists. Besides Karen, we don’t know that much about anyone and so it’s a little hard to get fully invested in their predicament.

Still, the lack of the protagonists’ development didn’t damage the story as a whole too terribly. I loved how this is not just a “cult-run-amuck” flick, but something much, much creepier. I don’t want to give too much away, because the film is most effective when you don’t know too much about it, but believe me when I say that there are some jarring, unsettling moments where you’ll be thinking, “what the hell did I just see?” I also liked how Devereaux raises the issue of faith and whom (or what) people place it in. The only detracting factor with Devereaux’s writing is some of the questionable dialogue. Though there are some instances where he tries to ease the tension (like the infamous “I have to take a dump” line), it just doesn’t work and interrupts any kind of dread that had been building.

Despite some cringe-worthy dialogue, End of the Line is an incredibly effective horror film. There are shocking scares aplenty but they are never overdone. Devereaux capitalizes on the creepy factor when we get just a quick flash of something creepy-crawly under the stairs or a flash of someone (or something) down a dark tunnel. Plus, there are plenty of blood-drenched scenes, including a disturbing beheading scene as well as the death of a woman and her unborn baby. All these instances, plus the threat of the cult members, add to an every-increasing sense of dread until the chilling finale.

End of the Line is a little-seen gem of a horror film that definitely deserves more attention. Featuring plenty of thrills and chills, it is definitely worth a look!

Available from Amazon!

Book Review: Cthulhu Unbound edited by Thomas Brannan and John Sunseri

Cthulhu Unbound is an anthology from Permuted Press where the Lovecraftian mythos really let’s its hair down and goes a little wild. The authors have transposed some of Lovecraft’s most famous monsters into all kinds of different stories with delightful result!

The book’s description sums it up perfectly:

Imagine being free.

Free from everything that defines you, that makes you easily recognizable as who you are.

Welcome to a place where bleak noir cityscapes share a Technicolor sky with combat fighters, where you can find gunslingers from the Old West and a lost chapter from a literary classic, all with something in common: Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos.

This is a place where the Crawling Chaos has to solve his own murder and the Old Ones come up against the Gods of Las Vegas, a place where the new player in London’s underground isn’t human and masked heroes go toe-to-tentacle with eldritch horrors.

This is a Mythos collection unlike any other. This is Lovecraft in many colors, many guises.

This is Cthulhu – Unbound!

I really enjoyed this colorful, unique anthology and didn’t find one bad story between its pages! All fourteen stories are superb, and range from comedic to quirky to shocking to frightening! Permuted Press and editors Thomas Brannan and John Sunseri have put together a wonderfully imaginative anthology that truly shows the versatility of the authors as well as the Cthulhu mythos itself.

My favorite stories include the Wild West-inspired Hellstone and Brimfire by Doug Goodman, a “lost” chapter of Moby Dick called The Covenant by Kim Paffenroth, superhero story In Our Darkest Hour by Steven Graham, Bubba Cthulhu’s Last Stand by Lisa L. Hilton that features a redneck Cthulhu family and the Hunter S. Thompson-inspired The Shadow Over Vegas by John Claude Smith. The remainder of the stories are equally entertaining, so much so that I find it hardpressed to not list them all as my favorites!

Page after page I was amazed by the many different guises the Cthulhu mythos took! I never knew which eldritch monster I would encounter from story to story or what quirky characters I would meet. No matter if you are a hardcore Lovecraft fan or just a casual one, Cthulhu Unbound will no doubt entertain you! It has so much spunk and bite and is such an ambitious anthology that you won’t be able to escape its tentacled grasp!

Available from Amazon!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Kids Go To the Woods...Kids Get Dead (2009)

Have you ever heard such a genius title as Kids Go To the Woods…Kids Get Dead in all your horror-lovin’ days? In this fun throwback slasher, the title could also be used as the pitch when trying to sell the movie as well as the synopsis! And think of how many slasher films it so perfectly describes! It basically hit the nail on the head with the title, pretty much perfectly describing any slasher film that took place in the woods.

While the title itself is clever (how did no one ever think of it before?) it alone doesn’t guarantee a good movie. Can Kids Go To the Woods…Kids Get Dead give us horror fans something more besides a funny title? Keep reading to find out…

Now, I’m going to let the official synopsis do all the explaining since I couldn’t have written it better myself:

Do you remember staying up late to watch your favorite horror host on local television? With VHS tape in hand to record all the action (and hopefully not tape over anything important – like your home movies) this nearly forgotten ritual was a mainstay of our youth.

Kids Go To the Woods… Kids Get Dead brings back the classic slasher flick – complete with horny teenagers, worthless cops, a crazy war vet and a masked killer.

It’s Casey’s (Leah Rudick) birthday and to celebrate her and her friends are headed to a cabin in the woods for a wild weekend of sex, drugs and partying. A crazed Killer (Joseph Campellone) has other plans for them and it’s up to Casey’s younger brother Scott (Andrew Waffenschmidt), aided by a mysterious novel that seems to spell out their fate, to find their only hope of survival.

Yes, in keeping with the tradition of our childhoods and adventures in VHS recording, the film features faux commercials, taped over home movies and VHS fuzz in between vignettes of the movie and its sexy horror hostess, Candy Adams. I absolutely love this! It brought me back to my childhood, where I would tape over anything (goodbye, memories!) just to get the midnight horror special that was on TV. It’ll definitely give you that warm, fuzzy, nostalgic feeling!

The whole film is a love letter to 80’s slasher flicks, complete with the lovable clichés of drunken/high/horny teens, dumb cops, the crazy old guy that warns them not to go into the woods and hulking, masked killer. Yet it never feels old or tired, but is only interested in showing you a good time!

The story, written by Michael Hall (who also produced and directed) is pretty self-explanatory (kids go into the woods…kids get dead) but I thought the inclusion of the “mysterious novel” that Scott reads was pretty interesting. Though the idea is never quite developed enough, it was an original touch. I also thought Hall did a decent job of giving the kids personalities and actually making them likable. They aren’t just nameless, faceless kids getting butchered, but each of them has enough of a backstory and plenty of spunk to keep them interesting, from the macho jocks to the virginal girlfriend to the two lesbians!

The acting is also surprisingly good, especially by Andrew Waffenschmidt as Scott who is constantly being bullied. Though none of the actors will win an Oscar anytime soon, they all did a solid job. They were all very believable as their characters, whether they were partying or getting butchered by the killer. As for the killer, he was certainly an imposing figure! He is this huge, hulking guy with a full gas mask on his face (kinda like in My Bloody Valentine) and he carries a huge machete/knife (reminiscent of Jason Vorhees) and breathes like Darth Vader. Joseph Campellone did an amazing job playing him, and really evokes the menace of the killers from all your favorite slashers.

I can’t talk about the killer without mentioning some of the kills, and, boy, were there some impressive ones in Kids Go To the Woods…Kids Get Dead! The blood fell freely as people get gutted, get shot, get their heads popped open, get their heads slammed into mirrors, get their throats slashed, etc., etc. When the action starts, it definitely doesn’t let up! I also liked that even before the killer shows up to do some serious damage to the main characters, we get to see bloody scenes from the book Scott is reading. So even before the killer arrives there is still a lot of murderous mayhem going on! Also impressive are the special FX, especially considering the low budget of the film. With some makeup, fake blood and excellent editing this film does a lot! You can see the process they go through in the behind-the-scenes featurette included on the DVD’s special features, and the result in the film is pretty impressive!

Kids Go To the Woods…Kids Get Dead is a fun throwback to 80’s slashers that is for those that can remember the days of taping midnight horror movie shows on VHS. It is a very enjoyable film that is perfect to watch with a few beers and a big bucket of popcorn…just like back in the day (errrr…except you probably didn’t drink beer as a kid…)!

If I had to title this review, it would be something like, “Critic Watches ‘Kids Get Dead’ Movie…Critic Has Fun”.

Now go out and watch it, suckas!

Buy it on Amazon!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Melvin (2009)

It seems that nowadays every other indie horror film features zombies. And why not? Zombies are more popular than ever and a zombie film can usually be made on the cheap. Still, I wish zombie films would deviate a little from the standard story of zombie outbreak and a group of survivors fighting hungry brain-munchers. Luckily, there are those few indie projects that try something different with zombies, like Melvin.

Melvin is the new feature-length film from writer/director Henry Weintraub that was shot in Oregon with a local cast and crew of 50 or so people. Though low on budget, the film is big on heart! It has a few flaws, mainly the pacing, but overall Melvin is a fun, memorable and original zombie film!

Three years ago, the class nerd, Melvin (Leif Fuller), was accidentally killed during a prank gone wrong. His death was ruled “accidental,” but Melvin won’t rest until his death is avenged. Melvin has chosen fellow geek Norton (Patrick O’Driscoll) as his vehicle for revenge. Crawling out of his grave, Melvin bites Norton and Norton’s transition to zombie begins. Each night Norton “sleepwalks” and turns into a zombie while attacking anyone that gets in his way. He wakes up each morning not remembering what happened the night before, but Melvin haunts him during the day and persists that revenge will be his! To quote the official synopsis, “Melvin’s thirst for vengeance will take this dynamic dork duo on a mind-blowing streak of throat-ripping, vomit-spewing, head decapitating and much, much more!”

Couldn’t have said it better myself!

Melvin is a fun, energetic indie effort that tries something new with the tired old zombie genre and works! Writer/director Henry Weintraub has created a funny, inventive and entertaining film for genre fans. The story about a misfit returning from the grave for revenge for his wrongful death and infecting a fellow geek to carry out his vengeful plan is just so unique! Plus, I really enjoyed the amusing characters, from the punk bullies to the nerdy duo of Melvin and Norton. Weintraub infuses equal parts humor and pathos into the characters, so you really grow attached to them as the film progresses. You also love to hate the punk bullies, who are every bit as dumb as they are mean.

The acting is above-par for an indie flick! Really stand-out performances from both Leif Fuller as Melvin and Patrick O’Driscoll as Norton. I also really enjoyed the performance from Lilly Maher as Norton’s love interest, Wendy. The three guys playing the punk bullies, Ben Chinburg, Hudson Hongo and Yonatan Schultz also did a fantastic job as well! You usually don’t see such a high-quality of acting in indie films, but the cast of Melvin really impressed me. Also, there was a neat cameo by Lloyd Kaufman of Troma in a movie-within-a-movie (Night of the Driller…it’s a sick little added bonus! Watch for its faux trailer as the credits role!) that just proves that Melvin was made by horror fans for horror fans!

Now, for another part that made this film so much fun – the gore! Once the film got going there were lots of great gore gags! A guy’s head gets run over by a car, a zombie gets a beer bottle through the throat and spurts out blood through the bottle, a guy gets his eyes gouged out, a zombie gets decapitated, a guy gets his head and spine ripped off his body, two people get a pole through their necks, people get their throats ripped out and lots of other gory goodness! Plus, all the effects looks great!! Kudos to the makeup/special effects and editing people for making the effects look seamless!

I must also mention the excellent punk music they have throughout the film. It sets a certain reckless mood that fits perfectly into the movie!

Now, I do have a few complaints about the film. One is that the beginning of the film is a little on the slow side. Plus, it took a while to get to Melvin’s demise and really figure out what was going on. I think had they started right off the bat with a flashback of the complete story of Melvin the rest of the film would have gone much more smoothly. Secondly, I thought the ending was a bit anti-climactic. Though the effects were cool, it just didn’t feel like “the end” and that it needed a little something extra.

Overall, though, Melvin is an indie horror gem that is a rare discovery for horror fans! You can tell that the cast and crew put a lot of love and hard work into bringing Melvin to life, and all their efforts paid off! This quirky, original, gory and fun horror film is well worth the effort to track it down!

Available on Amazon!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Evil Things (2009)

Let me take you back a few weeks to me standing in from of the mailbox, perplexed by a package stamped “official business” and with a return address of the FBI! My first thought was, “They’re onto me!”, but inside the package was an evidence baggie containing a DVD marked “confidential”. Along with the DVD was a very official-looking letter asking for my  help in a missing persons case. At this point I thought, “Whew! At least this doesn’t have to do with that unfortunate ‘incident’!” As I read the letter, I quickly clued into the fact that this was the marketing package for the indie film Evil Things. I remembered watching the trailer, which intrigued me but didn’t stand out all that much, but the clever marketing materials and packaging really made me eager to check out the film.

I popped in the “evidence” and sat back for what was to come. The film starts with five friends from New York City leaving the wintry confines of the city and heading upstate for a fun, relaxing weekend. It’s Mirian’s (Elyssa Mersdorf) birthday, and her aunt has let her use her isolated vacation house for a party with four of her friends – couple Cassy (Laurel Casillo) and Mark (Morgan Hooper), bratty Tanya (Torrey Weiss) and amateur film student Leo (Ryan Maslyn) who insists on filming everything with his hand-held camera. Before they even get there, though, they have to make it upstate through a treacherous snow-storm. Not only that, but some asshole in a van keeps messing with them and later it appears that he is following them. When they finally arrive at Miriam’s aunt’s house, everyone is relieved and they start to celebrate!

The next morning they all decide to trek out into the snow-covered woods to find some caves. When it becomes apparent that they are lost, they try to find their way back to the house…but they keep getting turned around. As night falls and they are still lost, they begin hearing strange noises just outside the beams of their flashlights. After being spooked, they finally find the house again…but what awaits them when they are inside is much more sinister than they could have ever imagined.

It seems as if the “found footage” technique is being used a lot in horror nowadays. From Cloverfield, [REC], The Blair Witch Project to Diary of the Dead, this technique really does work if done properly, especially since we are now a YouTube generation where anyone can have their 15 minutes of fame. While some might jump the gun and instantly compare Evil Things to the grandaddy of all hand-held camera films, The Blair Witch Project, I would ask that you hold off comparisons until AFTER you watch Evil Things. While it might share some similarities to Blair Witch, Evil Things is still a frightening, effective film that just begs to be seen! I thought the idea to shoot the film on handheld camcorder was pretty genius, especially considering the small budget filmmaker Dominic Perez had to work with. I also liked how the scary scenes came out of nowhere, and while you never really “see” anything, the sounds and reactions of the characters are enough to make you crap your pants!

Though the last 30 minutes or so of the film are incredibly tense, I felt that the first hour of the film dragged on and on. The scenes of them driving to the aunt’s house went on far too long and really should have been edited down. However, I did enjoy the mounting tension when they kept seeing the van that had been harassing them. The characters reactions to seeing the van repeatedly really felt genuine. One thing I will say about the first hour is that you really get a feel for the characters. They are just a group of normal-looking college kids and they have enough personality to make them all likable and stand out. I also liked several funny scenes that were in the film, including one where they all bust in on Leo taking a bubble bath, turning his camera on him and another scene where Cassy dons a wig that was lying around the house and pretends to be Leo’s mother. These kind of scenes really make the characters endearing and that much more sympathetic when the terror sets in…

As for the actors, they all did an amazing job. Usually in indie films the acting is the worst part of the film, but in Evil Things it was one of the best. Every single actor felt natural, like they really were just a bunch of people being filmed by their friend during a vacation. As mentioned above, all the actors were likable and you really didn’t want them to succumb to “evil things”.

When the terror does arrive it is unrelenting and very frightening. We get the first clues that something is amiss with the creepy van following the group and again with the eerie noises in the woods, but the sh*t really hits the fan when they get back to the house towards the end of the film. Here, they realize they are not alone and haven’t been for a while. Though nothing is explicitly seen, everything, from the terrified reactions of the characters to slamming doors to strange noises to creepy camera angles, keeps the atmosphere tense and you on the edge of your seat. The finale will leave your jaw hanging wide open and wondering exactly what just happened, while scenes that roll over the credits ensure that the terror continues.

Writer and director Dominic Perez has done a fantastic job with Evil Things. The story, the direction, the location and the scare tactics were near perfect and make this an exciting film to watch. I do think the title isn’t descriptive enough of the film and is too generic. Still, despite that Evil Things is definitely a must-see! What makes it even creepier is that Perez was inspired to make this film after an incident he experienced as a young child:

“The inspiration for this movie came from an incident in my own life when I was a 10 year old boy.  I was sleeping over a childhood friend’s house and his mom left us home alone for a few hours while she was out working late.  So we stayed up eating ice cream and watching TV.  Then a knock came at the door.  We were taught never to open the door to strangers so we politely asked, ‘who is it?’  There was no answer.  We looked through the peephole, but it was broken.  Another knock came at the door.  We said louder ‘yes, who is it?’  There was still no answer.  We could see under the crack of the door that someone wearing big black boots was standing still on the other side of the door, but they never answered.  There was just a soft terrifying knock knock that came every 30 seconds.  After about the fifth knock knock we were screaming at the top of our lungs ‘who the F**K is it?’  I have never been so incredibly scared in my entire life.  There was never an answer, just silence for 10 terrifying minutes.  That was more than 30 years ago, and I’m still scared to death wondering what would have happened had we opened that door.”

The creepiness of that incident translates extremely well to Evil Things and despite some of its flaws it is one of the most gripping and frightening indie films I’ve seen this year!

The film is currently seeking distribution and has been submitted to various film festivals, so jump at the chance if you get to see it!

Buy on Amazon!

For more info and lots of extra goodies, visit Evil Things’ Official Website!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Fear Me Not (2008)

Fear Me Not is a dark, haunting study of one man’s transformation from gentle father and husband to selfish sociopath. Don’t expect any brutal violence in this Danish film, though, because the change happens slowly and  subtlety, making Fear Me Not more of a drama than a thriller. Nevertheless, the slow, deliberate descent into contained madness is captivating and the entire film carries a heavy sense of dread with it that makes it worth a watch.

Middle-aged Mikael (Ulrich Thomsen) seems to have it all – a loving wife, a close relationship with his smart teen daughter, caring friends and a beautiful lakeside home. During a six-month leave-of-absence from work, though, Mikael realizes that he is not satisfied and that something is missing from his life. So, he jumps at the chance to join a clinical trial for a new anti-depressant that is being tested. After a few weeks of taking the pills he slowly begins to feel better and freer, jotting his feelings down in a private journal. Yet, the trial is canceled when test subjects, including Mikael, begin to exhibit violent, aggressive behavior and emotional detachment. Mikael secretly continues taking the pills, with sinister results.

Fear Me Not is the latest from director Kristian Levring, who is best known as being one of the founders of the Dogme 95 filmmaking movement. Levring co-wrote the film with Anders Thomas Jensen, another important name in the Dogme movement, but while this film maintains the natural look and feel of Dogme films, it is not considered a Dogme film. Yet, at the same time it looks so real and stark with a definitive “artsy” feel to it. It’s like Levring has captured the avant-guarde simplicity of Dogme and married it with traditional filmmaking techniques. I loved how there was no music in the film except for scenes where Mikael is listening to headphones, a very Dogme-like technique. The lack of external music creates a much more ominous feeling throughout the film. The dark, muted lighting and sharp angles in the film also helped create a menacing atmosphere.

As mentioned earlier, though Fear Me Not is definitely not a traditional horror film and lacks violence and a body count, it is still very creepy to watch the apparently normal Mikael go through a “Jekyll and Hyde” transformation. Though not for everyone, it is a great character study of a man who has followed the rules all his life and finally decides to rule his own life at the expense of his relationships with friends and family. His deteriorating psyche is focused more on the “id” and he does whatever he wants whenever he feels like it. Though in the beginning you side with Mikael’s character, there is one pivotal scene that definitely changes your perspective on him! After offering a ride to a young teen, Mikael decides to play a perverted game with her involving driving at high speeds on a narrow back road with no headlights on while he cooly forces the crying girl to strip. If that scene doesn’t send shivers up your spine, you’ve got to be as sick as Mikael!

Though Mikael does some pretty morally reprehensible things, you can’t help but kind of relate to the guy. I mean, who doesn’t wonder if there is a more fulfilling way to spend their life rather than having the obligatory desk job, wife, kids and house behind a white picket fence? Hundreds of thousands of people must feel trapped in their lives, wondering, “what else is out there?” or “what will truly make me happy?” For Mikael, happiness meant more freedom and being able to take back some control in his life that was controlled by society’s standards as opposed to what he wanted. I know that in certain aspects he is a character than many can relate to.

Making Mikael both sympathetic and scary is actor Ulrich Thomsen, who manages to walk a fine tension between the two. His performance is spellbinding and he portrays Mikael’s changes with a subtlety that will shock you. Equally fantastic performances are given by Paprika Steen as Mikael’s wife Sigrid and Emma Sehested Høeg as his daughter Selma as they uncover the true nature of Mikael’s darkening psyche.

Yet, despite the many positives of the film, it is definitely not for your average movie-viewer. The pacing here is very slow and there isn’t much action that happens on-screen, just hints of what Mikael is capable of. Most viewers will find the pacing tedious and wishing that something would happen…and when something at the end does, it is kind of anti-climatic. Still, if you can appreciate a slow, long burn while watching a man unravel (or scarier still, embracing his true dark nature) then you will want to check out Fear Me Not!

Fear Me Not will be available on IFC Festival Direct On Demand June 10, 2009.

Non-US format available from Amazon!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Drag Me to Hell (2009)

Drag Me To Hell is Sam Raimi’s triumphant return to the horror genre…and what a fun, exciting homecoming it is for horror fans! The film sees Raimi returning to his well-known horror comedy roots and brings us some of those Evil Dead-like funny frights we love. He walks a razor-thin line between slapstick and scares, but in Drag Me To Hell he makes it look effortless. One minute the audience is screaming and the next moment they are laughing. I can say with assurance that Drag Me To Hell is definitely the most fun you’ll have in a theater this summer!

The premise is simple enough – while trying to get a promotion, Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) puts her conscience on hold and denies an old gypsy woman, Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver), an extension on her house payment. Since Christine has “shamed” her, Mrs. Ganush places a curse her. In three days the evil demon Lamia will come for her soul…but during those three days Christine will be endlessly tormented by the dark spirit. Can Christine find a way to break the curse before she is dragged to hell?

The joy in watching the film is not knowing what is coming next, so I won’t overly explain the finer points and surprises within the plot. Wow, oh wowie, though! This film certainly doesn’t give you any moment to catch your breath, but keeps barreling along like a bullet train to hell! There is always something happening, from some nasty scenes involving phlegm, maggots and a leaky corpse to a nosebleed that begins as a trickle but explodes into an arterial spray to a menacing handkerchief to plenty of creepy sounds and sudden shadowy appearances by the demon. Moment to moment the movie kept me on the edge of my seat, literally clinging to the arm rests, while I alternately jumped and laughed.

Besides the breakneck, tension-filled pace, I (and everyone in the full theater I saw it in) enjoyed the slapstick humor that worked remarkably well alongside the horror. There were many moments of laugh-out-loud funniness (most often followed by a jolt that had you jumping out of your seat!) along with the plentiful gross-out, “ewwwwwwwwww!!!” scenes involving the bodily functions and bugs mentioned above and much, much more, including a granny gumming someone’s chin, an eyeball flying into a mouth, flies crawling in and out of body orifices and so on! I don’t know how he does it so well, but Raimi manages to both freak and gross you out at the same time!

While the story (written by Sam Raimi and his brother Ivan Raimi) is simple and doesn’t rely on twists and turns to keep the tension taut, it still keeps your eyes glued to the screen. There are carefully placed details throughout the film that definitely come in handy towards the end when everything starts adding up. Though the finale does feature a bit of a twist that is easy to see coming, it is nonetheless entertaining and satisfying to watch! The ending isn’t one I expected, but is surprisingly uncompromising and downbeat.

As for the direction, it is vintage Raimi circa 1981. There are lots of swooping, fast-moving pans and zooms that make you feel like you are on a rollercoaster ride as opposed to just watching a film. It always feels like  something frightening is going to be waiting in the shot as the camera pans back and forth…and, BOO! there is! No one has been able to replicate Raimi’s direction, and I don’t think anyone every could make it such a fun ride as he does, especially in Drag Me To Hell!

Along with the fantastic directing job Raimi delivers and the stupendously simple yet no less entertaining story he co-wrote with his brother Ivan, the actors also shine in this fun flick. Alison Lohman makes the transition from sweet country girl trying to fit into big city life to animal-sacrificing, determined-to-live heroine in a very natural way. I also enjoyed Justin Long in the role of Christine’s supportive but skeptical boyfriend and Dileep Rao as the psychic Rham Jas. The real stand-out, of course, was Lorna Raver as the old gypsy woman, Mrs. Ganush. Her captivating performance was nothing short of amazing! The new catchphrase for summer? “You shame me!”

For those of you concerned about the PG-13 rating, let me assure you that the film does not suffer for it! There are plenty of ooey-gooey scenes that’ll have you squirming in your seat and this film simply doesn’t need heavy-handed gore for it to be effective. It is no way “dumbed-down” for tween and teen audiences, but instead captures Raimi at his very best, combining outlandish comedy scenes with balls-out horror.

Drag Me To Hell is one hell of a movie that you should be running out to see! So quit dragging your feet and get yourself to a theater to see this fantastically fun and hellaciously horrific film NOW, before you shame me!!

Available from Amazon!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Pontypool (2009)

Every day we are bombarded by people communicating around us. Just think about how prevalent the English language is and how often you hear it every single day. Whether it is through the television, the radio or just stepping outside and hearing people conversing, we are exposed to thousands of spoken words every day. Now, what if the words themselves were infected and speaking certain words could turn people into blood-thirsty, raging lunatics? Think about how easily a virus like that could spread and how easily people could become infected!

And that clever little premise, my fiends, is the basis for the fantastically fun and eerily intelligent horror film Pontypool!

Radio personality Grant Mazzy is known for his confrontational and brash attitude. In fact, he was recently fired from his big-city DJ job and the only work he could find was in the tiny town of Pontypool, Ontario. He isn’t happy about being stuck in the middle of nowhere and having to drive through cold, snowy weather to get to work, but it was the only station that would take him. He begrudgingly arrives at the small radio station one morning and things start off pretty normal – he riles up the locals, argues with his producer Sydney Briar (Lisa Houle) and has the station assistant, Laurel Ann (Georgina Reilly) spike his early morning coffee. Then, he talks to the station’s “eye in the sky,” Ken (who isn’t really in a helicopter, but in his car driving around) for the weather report. Ken informs him that there is a mob forming around the local doctor’s office…and things go downhill from there. Grant, Laurel Ann and Sydney are holed up in the station when more disturbing reports come in from callers and weatherman Ken. The reports all say that people are making strange noises, speaking gibberish and turning violent, including eating other people. As the mob gets ever closer to the radio station, can the survivors inside figure out what is happening or is it already too late?

Finally! A horror film with an intelligent and original premise! This is exactly the kind of smart horror film I’ve been waiting for and Pontypool definitely delivers! I love how the film plays with something that hasn’t really been explored much in horror films – the English language. Everyone fears biological and chemical weapons, but what if someone developed a virus that spread through our language? Now that’s scary!!

The film was adapted for the screen by Tony Burgess from his story Pontypool Changes Everything. Now, I haven’t read the book, but I imagine Burgess stayed relatively true to his highly original story, which he must be given kudos for because it translates so well to the screen!The story cleverly builds from the initial mystery of what is going on outside the walls of the radio station to the startling revelation that people are acting violent and cannibalistic to the conclusion that the virus is transmitted via words in the English language. Though the story gets the tiniest bit befuddled towards the end (repeated viewings might clear up some of the confusion), I thought that overall it was a smart, unique script.

I was also impressed at the high levels of tension and dread, especially since the film takes place in mostly one claustrophobic location (the radio station) and we hear the carnage as opposed to actually seeing it. Hearing the strange gibberish of the infected as well as the sounds of screaming and violence over the phone really puts your imagination into hyperdrive and I think this was much more effective than just showing the audience explicit gore (though Pontypool does feature a one noteworthy scene that is cringe-worthy!). Again, this shows just how inventive Pontypool is and hearing the horror unfold as opposed to seeing it reminded me of old radio shows that my grandma used to listen to. I was always amazed at how effective those radio shows were at sending cold shivers down my spine, and Pontypool works in much of the same way.

I also liked how the one location of the radio station gave the viewer a sense of claustrophobia, especially when the infected surround the building and it seems like there is no way out. Director Bruce McDonald did a fantastic job at building dread and tension with the isolated and claustrophobic location.

As for the acting, it was phenomenal! Because there is only one location and only a few characters, we must rely on the three actors playing the characters of  Grant, Sydney and Laurel Ann to capture the feelings of their predicament. All three actors were incredibly believable in their roles, from acting incredulous to stunned to afraid. The absolute stand-out performer was Stephen McHattie as Grant Mazzy. He goes from weary and cynical but brash and incredulous radio DJ to concerned and scared citizen in the blink of an eye. When he realizes that the mob of people isn’t a practical joke or a stunt but truly is dangerous and blood-thirsty, the fear in his eyes is haunting. Lisa Houle as Sydney and Georgina Reilly as Laurel Ann both do a spectacular job as well. They both appear very natural and real in their characters.

Pontypool is an extraordinary film that is as smart as it is entertaining. It has everything going for it, from a strong story, surefire direction to excellent acting. It defies all preconceived genre notions and runs with its unusual storyline. Though Pontypool has some strong similarities to traditional zombie films, I think that comparison sells this highly intelligent film short. Though the infected in this film tend to mob like typical zombies do and eventually eat human flesh, the infected are not reanimated corpses and thus are not traditional zombies. They are something completely different, just as Pontypool is a completely refreshingly unique film.

If you are looking for one of 2009′s most original and intelligent horror films, look no further than Pontypool!

Available from Amazon!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...