Posts Tagged 8 Films To Die For

HorrorFest 4 – Surprisingly Tolerable!

Zombies_of_Mass_Destruction_After_Dark_HorrorfestAfter a two year exile, I decided to grant After Dark HorrorFest another stab at being entertaining with the hope that this year’s choices would at least be “funny-bad” and not “I hope to choke to death on my popcorn bad.” As I discussed earlier, if you’re like myself and don’t have the time to see all eight films, then, as HorrorFest history has taught us, you’re at the mercy of a 75% terrible rate. Our choices were dictated by whatever the hell was playing on Saturday afternoon and evening, which basically left us to face Zombies of Mass Destruction and The Reeds.

While waiting for these flicks, Matt and I did our best to appreciate the diversity of the twenty other people who showed up for this thing. Our few but proud ranks consisted of a few single girls equipped with novels to read, some young couples, some older couples, a handful of the usual loud comment making riff-raff, and a dude in a twenty year old Starter jacket reading a week old newspaper.

Zombies of Mass Destruction was first and it started off with the typical zombie apocalypse trappings: a few rogue zombies lurching around going unnoticed, infected blood in the water supply, and of course some unforgivably bad “false alarm” jumps. While all this is going on we get a introduced to a split protagonist arc that plays out in the sleepy island town of Port Gamble, which is geography ambiguous but bears the stereotypical ignorant attitudes of The South/Middle America. One side of the story follows Frida Abbas, (Janette Armand) a pretty twenty-something of Iranian descent, who is trapped between her traditionalist father that wants her to honor her Middle Eastern heritage and the ignorant white-bred townies that barely accept her as an American despite the fact she was born in Port Gamble. The other half of the plot follows a gay couple, Tom and Lance (Doug Fahl and Cooper Hopkins), that have come to Port Gamble so Tom can come out to his mother.

Of course, we finally get back to the fact that there’s zombies taking over Port Gamble, showing up at the most inconvenient of times as Tom is about to come out to his mother and immediately after Frida has a big blow out with her father. Both parties are forced to seek refuge in the worst possible of places: the gay couple must hide in a Catholic church and Frida becomes a prisoner of her red-neck neighbor that wants to torture answers out of her after he discovers the zombie outbreak is the work of a Middle Eastern Terrorist group.

After the proverbial poop hits the fan, the film becomes a blend of borrowed slap-stick humor from Shaun of Dead, corny dialogue, some fun gross deaths, and a lot of preachiness about American attitudes and hypocrisies. Unfortunately, it’s an odd mix. It’s hard to swallow a serious commentary about post 9-11 paranoia after the corniest dialogue this side of porno.

One exchange between Frida and her boyfriend goes something like this…

Frida: You’re like the tenth person I had to tell I wasn’t from Iraq, today.

Derek: Maybe, it’s because you have ‘nice eyes-and-a-rack.’

Frida: Well there’s Nor-way you’re getting into my panties tonight

Derek: Kuwait-a-minute, I’m not from Norway….

And the humor only gets worse from here folks.  However, it’s a fun movie if you don’t take it too seriously and ignore any attempts at a political commentary. Zombie fans will enjoy faces being peeled off like Fruit Roll-Ups, gardening tools used as melee weapons, and the typical “boom-head-shot.” There’s even a couple chuckles if you relax (drinking heavily before watching wouldn’t hurt either) and enjoy the ride. However, I prefer my political commentary zombies flicks to either be a bit more subtle or directed by a guy whose name ends in “omero.” Still, all things considered, I easily would put this one in the top ten of HorrorFest’s best movies without thinking twice about it.

TheReedsAfter a short coffee break, we returned to the theater to watch The Reeds and discover only the same twenty people were still there with very few new comers.  I’m pretty sure most of them didn’t even bother to get up for the hour and a half intermission, but I digress. The Reeds rolls out with another clichéd premise: the old “a group of twenty-somethings going off on a fun getaway” bit. How uncommon. Anyway, three couples head off and rent a boat to cruise through what is essentially a swamp and try to sail over to some pub for dinner.

Long story short, they get lost—even more uncommon for a horror movie—don’t find the pub and start seeing ghostly images of themselves while punky looking teens run through the reeds and cause general mischief. Eventually, the boat runs aground on a giant spike and one of the twenty-somethings fall ass-backward onto it. With one of their members mortally injured, the group has to split up and send somebody on foot through the reeds to get help.

The movie does pick up some steam here, and the atmosphere of isolation is done to a T. Surrounding them, the reeds become an endless desert of water and grass with an eerie air of mysterious happenings around them. Skeletons in cages rot below the boat. Members of the group start having prophetic visions. The strange teenagers hold some sort of Pagan ritual with mutilated animal parts. Good times.

Once this creepy stage is set, the black curtain falls and cast members start biting it in some of the most brutal deaths I’ve seen in a while. Every kill is raw, grainy, and wince invoking. I couldn’t wait for the conclusion; why are these people dying and what is going on?

Then the climax came, and “Ku-wait a minute,” what happened?! It goes from intriguing and eerie to nearly as Loony Tunes as The Gravedancers’ ending. Every creepy image from the first hour becomes over-exposed in a long drawn out finale that had me laughing out loud in the theater. Matrix style fast motion effects and overly dramatic music were just the tip of the iceberg as the director flushes the creepy tone he brilliantly developed down the toilet and replaced it with HorrorFest’s greatest hits collection, borrowing from both Wicked Little Things and The Abandoned for plot points.

Despite the terrible ending, The Reeds is not a bad watch at all. The creepiness spikes with some decent effect and the misery these people suffer through is done well. Again, as HorrorFest goes, this is still in my top ten.

While we didn’t discover any budding Sam Raimis or John Carpenters at HorrorFest this year, and I’m not sure if Janette Armand will replace Jamie Lee as the next great Scream Queen, I was not disappointed. I went with very low expectations and got pleasantly surprised. Both films were watchable and fun, which is more than I can say for most of the past two year’s slop. If HorrorFest keeps taking steady zombie steps to improve their film choices, maybe by HorrorFest 23 they’ll have a great thing going.

HorrorfestChrisMatt

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HorrorFest II: Return Of The Low Production Dead

afterdark2bigIf HorrorFest’s virgin voyage is defined as a small handful of triumphant then HorrorFest’s return trip could only be described as a very tiny silver lining on some very dark clouds. Yes, the seas become rockier from here on out, so buckle down on the hatches and open up one of the rum barrels because viewers of these movies are going to need it. Production values sink significantly and story lines become near laughable, but I braved the storm and dealt with this collection as best I could. Needless to say it’s been a long week.

Nightmare Man (2006): I need to get this one done first, because in an hour I have an appointment with a hypnotist who’s going to remove it from my brain. Yeah, it’s that bad. Two seconds into this film, you’ll notice a jarringly abysmal production quality that makes Paranormal Activity look like had the budget of Titanic. What makes matters worse is the storyline that deals with an evil mask that looks like the producers blew $19.99 at Spencer Gifts (probably 1/5 of their budget), and this cheap piece of rubber is haunting a seemingly insane woman on her way to an asylum.

The plot utilizes the typical “oh no the car ran out of gas”, and crazy girl’s husband decides it’s a good idea to leaves his certifiable wife alone in the car. Shortly after darkness falls, something, someone, or a figment of her insane imagination shows up wearing the mask and chases her through the woods to a cabin where two twenty-something couples are playing truth or dare, (very clever), and we learned that the two girls have secret past of sexual experimentation in college, which has nothing to do with the plot, but this film need somethings to make it interesting.

nightmaremandvdTo make a painfully long story short: people start dying, and the plot has some twists that are intended to keep the audience wondering if there’s demon or if the woman’s just insane. The answer is unveiled with the subtlety of Looney Toons, and for no good reason “Bull” from “Night Court” shows up to sort things out. Unnecessary cameos, like Richard Moll, are the going motif this year so stay tuned. Anyway, this one wins the “Most Horrible Award” of the bunch, and keep reading; it had some stiff competition.

Tooth and Nail (2006): This flick starts off with an artsy tone and an over-voice explaining that the apocalypse came because we ran out of gas so everyone started killing each other—okay—and the plot follows a group of survivors that is lead up by a professor type guy conveniently named “Darwin.” I suppose calling him Einstein would have been too much. Regardless, Darwin and “the tough” guy, “Viper,”—played  by Michael Kelly of the Dawn of the Dead remake—are always at odds because Viper wants to secure their defenses and Darwin thinks their energies should be spent elsewhere.

Turns out Viper is right, but he splits after an argument with Darwin, and before this film’s motif cameo shows up in the form of Michael Madsen with his gang of cannibals called the “Rovers.”  At this point, I settled in for some great Madsen antics.  Remember that cop he tortured in Reservoir Dogs? He’s going to be bad-ass leader of this gang and he’s going to mess up some people. Then I blinked he was gone, wasted by a mentally challenged ten-year-old-girl. He must have lost a poker game to get stuck in this film, and was happy for a quick exit.

However, the film drags on without Madsen, through a predictable twist, a few okay kills, but overall it comes down to the typical: last girl is going to paint her face and get all primal and tough and is going to get revenge. And she does—film over.

Tooth and Nail, unlike Nightmare Man, is at least a decent attempt that makes a lick of sense. Its production value is also on the low side, but at least tolerable, and almost fitting for the post-apocalyptic setting. Overall, it’s a film that can’t shake the stench of average.  Should you catch it? Only if it’s your in-flight movie and there are not any pretty clouds outside the plane’s window.

poster_cg_borderland_11x17rev2Borderland (2007): This film ups the ante a bit, especially in its cameo department since this time its Sean Astin playing Randal, an American, that helps a Mexican drug lord kidnap and sacrifice people along the Mexican border. Astin plays a convincing role, an extremely loyal servant following blindly on a lofty quest (“You don’t see it, do you? He’s a villain.”). Astin aside, the plot deals with three Americans that go into Mexico to get laid and one of them ends up getting taken by Astin’s “Lord of the Drug Ring,” and the two remaining Americans seek the help of a renegade cop, who lost a partner to the cult, to get him back.

While this title boasts the “Based on a True Story” tag, and I hate to fall for that spell, I still will file this one under “enjoyable.” The images do justice to real brutality and avoid the cartoonish. The plot itself is a much told tale of strangers in a strange land, over their heads, and combating a force they can’t understand, but the raw nature of the delivery is worth a watch.

Lake Dead (2007): I thought I knew what ridiculous was until I saw Lake Dead. Basically, it’s the tale of two bad films. The first half is an off-the-wall soft porn romp in somebody else’s wet dream, which was maybe an attempt to homage the horny-teenage exaggerations of the early 80’s slashers but it’s too over-the-top. Second half rolls over into a typical incest-born super strong killer/Texas Chainsaw clone type mess. Ugh, I can’t bring myself to relive the viewing of the film anymore, but it’s still better than Nightmare Man.

Crazy Eights (2007): Anything with Traci Lords can’t be bad, right? Horrible acting aside, this film follows six people that are following a map to a time capsule at the request of a dead friend. The group starts reliving childhood trauma and bad flashbacks that lead the viewer through this puzzle of the past that’s scattered around the circumstances of a box with a young girl’s bones in it. During all the hoopla of “I know what you did last summer-twenty years ago” the filmmakers make a couple attempts at strong atmosphere, but generally fall short. This one you can watch over the pretty cloud if it’s the in-flight movie, I guess.

Unearth (2007): Look out! Someone has dug up some bad CGI that looks H.R. Giger’s failed early sketches of The Alien and it’s pissed off. It’s hard to find anything constructive about something that reeks of straight to SyFy-monster movie. I understand that there’s an audience of people that love this type of flick, but I find they follow a formula, developed by the original Tremors (1990). Even the variables on this recipe are typical: one character has to have an addiction and another has to be a pseudo-villain, which has some obsession with the monster, that the good capture and refuse to kill him (because this guy never escapes and gets more people killed.) Another character will have a tragedy in their past, and the rest of the energy of the film involves developing some delivery system for the really exotic method to kill the beast.

Like I said, I know people that can’t get enough of this formula. Me, when I’m in the mood for the medium size monster movie, I just re-watch Tremors.

dvd-perfect143455The Deaths of Ian Stone (2007): Someone jumped up in the middle of the night and realized that Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day (1993) just had to be a horror film. They sat down and got writing and this is how we got “Ian Stone.” I think I want to like this one. It’s different and even hard to describe the plot, which deals with this guy that is being pursued by these creatures that kill him every day so he can wake up in another life and do it again.  While I do applaud the originality, since there isn’t much in this festival, the film attempts a loftiness beyond its means and doesn’t really do the sci-fi/horror multi-genre well, but I still slide this one at the top half of this year, and most of the previous year’s for that matter.

Mulberry Street (2006): How can you go wrong with rat zombies? Mulberry Street answers the question: what would happen if you combine Ben (1972) with 28 Days Later? Well, you get a halfway watchable zombie horror piece with some decent cinematography. While Mulberry Street is a bit grainy and some of the rat zombies are pretty hokey looking, I still enjoyed this one. It has a artsy feel like the filmmaker knew what he was doing at least half of the time, which is more than I could say for much of the slop we’ve been talking about. If you like zombie horror, check it out.

If I step outside of myself and examine HorrorFest as an entity where young filmmakers can have a chance to air out their amateur products, then I can recognize it as a positive – everyone needs a chance to start somewhere. As an artist I applaud all attempts at art, but as a critic I recognize that the product which is HorrorFest seems to be on a steady decline. HorrorFest I was mostly tolerable, HorrorFest II was mostly terrible, and HorrorFest III featured Ashton Kutcher’s Butterfly Effect’s (2004) second straight to video sequel, Butterfly Effect III: Revelations (2009) that seems to discount my theory that film festivals should be enjoyed with the knowledge it’s intended to showcase NEW artists attempts at ORIGINAL creations.

For better or awful, HorrorFest will invade theater this Friday, January 29, 2010.  Buyer be warned. Stay tuned for a quick look at HorrorFest III and a preview of HorrorFest IV.

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HorrorFest I Review

HorrorFest 1With the fourth installment of After Dark HorrorFest: Eight Films to Die For—or at very least films you want to die while watching—on the way, I thought I’d take this week to examine what has been and maybe gain some insight of what a potential HorrorFest viewer is getting himself into. Let’s roll with the highlights and disappointed groans of the first year.

Since I already touched on Wicked Little Things I will forgo diving back into that train wreck and start with a superior film, The Abandoned (2006). This strange little piece about a woman’s bizarre homecoming was one of the more surprising films in the series. Its quirky tone and Twilight Zone-esk format made it stand out amongst the crap pile. The plot deals with a woman who returns to her home country to the family house she never knew and while there she meets her estranged brother, but before the siblings can enjoy their reunion two zombie  doppelgangers stumble onto  the scene. Confronted with undead mirror images, the brother and sister team are forced to investigate a mystery that exposes a tragic past and leads to a thought provoking conclusion. This one IS worth a watch.

Next up we have Unrest (2006), a story about a Med-student whose cadaver’s angry spirit starts some havoc. While this piece had some good cringe moments–anyone up for formaldehyde diving with corpses–everything about this piece just reeked (worse than the compilation of bodies) of average. Nothing much to say, watch it if it’s a rainy day and this one is on SyFy, but don’t go out of your way.

Penny Dreadful (2006) – which first off, I thought was the stupidest title ever and then discovered that two other movies share the name – rolls  onto the screen with a pretty awful premise. The trick is that “Penny” has a paralyzing fear of cars, so her shrink decides it’s a good idea to drive her out to the middle of nowhere where—oops—a  killer happens to be on the prowl, and now her biggest fear is her only sanctuary. Yeah, it was as dumb as it sounds. Do yourself a favor, don’t watch it.

Gravedancers (2006) is a strange one, but not in a good way. I could write an entire piece on this movie alone. The premise seems simple enough: a bunch of 30 somethings go to an old buddy’s wake, get drunk, and dance on some graves, which produces a trio of unpleasant vengeful spirits, which is pretty standard and simple, not something you would think could be easily screwed up in a complex way. However, stick around, because while the first half is creepy with artistic ease, the second half takes one of the worse dives in film history. It’s like the filmmakers ran out of money, starting using heavy drugs, or just ceased to care, and the imagery goes from eerie to laugh out loud funny, until it leads up to a climax that is close to Looney Toons quality; I thought Wile E. Coyote was going to show up and drop an anvil on someone.  People who like funny-bad need to see this one. Everyone else should steer clear.

The Hamiltons (2006) was my favorite of this year’s films. Its loaded with plot holes,cartoonish acting, and incest is apparently hot according to this movie,  but, with all that aside, this film is a decent character driven and genre transcending experience. “The surprise” of  the movie is fairly obvious as the premise is that a family of murders moves from place to place, kidnaps people, and keeps them bound and gagged under their house while systematically draining their blood. What this piece does well is everything that Rob Zombie attempted and failed to do with The Devil’s Rejects, the old sympathy for the devil routine. The Hamilitons forces you to live with the family in a manner that makes you identify with them. I think this one is a matter of taste. It worked well for me and has my recommendation, but I recognize that many people may hate this one.

Reincarnation (2005) aka Rinne comes to us from Grudge director, Takashi Shimizu, but is a much more creative film then either Grudge film. It deals with an actress that starts having strange vision after taking a role in a film that portrays a real life mass murder of forty years ago. The mystery unfolds with a creepy, but slow pace that’s worth waiting for. The climax is both terrifying and thoughtful. If you like J-Horror and want to see something that’s not the same the Ring-clone garbage then give Rinne a shot.

Dark Ride (2006) is New Jersey answer’s to The Funhouse (1981) and is set in Jersey’s once iconic amusement capital, Asbury Park. To really Jersey it up, this flick stars Jamie-Lynn Sigler of Meadow Soprano fame. The setting and her presence is mildly distracting but something had to distract people from the typical format, the typical twist, and the cheap rip-off quality to this piece. Not a gooden by any stretch of the imagination.

Snoop Dog’s Hood of Horror (2006) is your typical Creepshow format vignette piece. There’s nothing all that original about this one—especially since somebody basically did this ten years. Remember Tales from The Hood (1995)? However, this film does what it sets out to do: fun splatter and dark humor at its best. Plus, it features Jason Alexander of George Costanza fame up to his usual jerk-store-number-seller antics. Even though “HOH” has about as much artistic subtlety as a sledge hammer it’s still just good fun.

At the end of  HorrorFest I, I would say that the average and horrible outweighed the brilliant six to three. That’s a low ratio, if you just pick one at random, which could really suck if you drive far for this thing, and since the cities are limited this year, that’s a definite possibility. If you’re a die hard horror fan that wants to truck out to somewhere to check it, my advice is weight the evidence carefully, watch the trailers, visit the sites, do your homework, and use your judgment, but don’t go out of your way if it doesn’t come to your city.

HorrorFest starts January 29 check official site for details: http://www.horrorfestonline.com/

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I’ve been remiss in my posting duties…

Been a while since I’ve updated (almost two weeks) and I’m certainly due for a post.  Coming soon – a quasi-review of “Martyrs” which, if you haven’t seen it yet, stop reading and watch it.  I say quasi-review because the film has been out for a while now and has been hotly debated on forums/review sites.  I need to watch it again and really gather my thoughts before posting.  It definitely deserves a second viewing.

But instead of something substantial right now, all I can give you right now is this look at my queue of movies.  Which to watch next?

i_walked_with_a_zombie2009_dying_breed_dvd

broken-bulb-poster-fullsizead3-slaughter

aft3-autopsyad3-voices

2003_high_tension

Choices, choices….

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8 Films To Die For Part 2 of 8 – Perkins’ 14

poster_perkins_14_posterIt’s generally not a good thing when there isn’t much I can say about a movie.  The first 2008 Horrorfest movie I watched, “From Within”, was a decent showing from the series.  Coming off that viewing, I chose “Perkins’ 14″ as my next selection.  Man, that was a mistake.

The movie centers around Dwayne Hopper (Patrick O’Kane), a small town cop whose son was abducted along with 13 others by an unknown assailant.  We are shown the past through a series of extremely cheesy flashback segments that often feature Hopper screaming at the sky in slow motion.  Terrific.

10 years later, Hopper is still grieving for his son, who was never found.  Then, on the anniversary of his son’s abduction, a mysterious pharmacist named Ronald Perkins (Richard Brake) is arrested for running from a traffic stop and is placed in the precinct when Hopper is manning the late night shift.  Perkins, in a somewhat Hannibal Lechter-esque fashion, makes it obvious that he knows about Hopper’s son’s disappearance.  Hopper makes some phone calls and discovers that Perkins matches the description of the abductor – he’s missing a finger and has the same shoe size.  How exactly the cops know the abductor’s shoe size is never explained, much like a lot of key details in “Perkins’ 14″.  But if you try to make sense of it all, you’ll drive yourself insane.  The answers aren’t there and that’s due to the film’s lazy screenwriting.  The Perkins character seems to take a nod from Stephen King’s “Storm of the Century”, where demon prisoner Andre Linoge sits in a small town jail cell.  This might be unintentional, but I couldn’t help but notice it.

linogething

Hopper convinces Hal (Dean Sansone), a fellow officer, to check out Perkins’ house for signs of the abductions.  Side note here -Hal is probably my favorite character in the film due to his painfully amateur acting and terrible script.  When Hopper calls him, the conversation goes as such:

Hopper - “Hal, it’s Dwayne.”

Hal - “Hey Dwayne.  What’s up?  The game’s on.”

“The game is on”????  Yes, its very common for people to follow up their telephone greeting with an irrelevant fact.  That would be like me saying “Hey, what’s up Matt?  I’m holding a pen.”

Anyway, Hal hears something coming from Perkins’ basement and decides to investigate.  After finding a secret sub-basement filled with caged cells, Hal is attacked and killed by some type of zombie in the most banal fashion possible.  Dwayne hears Hal’s radio go dead and runs to the rescue, bringing Perkins along for the ride.  Once inside, Dwayne finds Hal’s dead body and video tapes documenting Perkins’ torturing of the abductees.  He doesn’t seem at all concerned that clearly something killed Hal and could possibly still be in the room with him.  Just another bit of realism in this movie.

Hopper brings Perkins into the basement where he confesses to the torturing.  He says he did it because people stopped caring about him at the age of six when his parents were murdered.  So, he wanted to make other people suffer for not caring.  Hopper, now insane with rage over learning what happened to his son (who, really is still missing at this point), shoots Perkins in the head and proceeds to beat his dead corpse in a melodramatic slow-motion montage.  This guy really loves screaming at the sky.

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So, Perkins is dead and somehow he has turned the 14 abductees into bloodthirsty zombies.  Yeah, that’s right- zombies.  We are given no clear explanation as to how this happened, only that he “isolated them from human contact” and “shot them up with drugs”.  Last time I checked, isolation and drugs don’t breed a desire to chew on intestines but maybe I’m wrong.  One of the zombies is Hopper’s son, and this will lead to an obvious personal conflict at the end of the film.  No shit.

The zombies terrorize the town, killing people until they corner Hopper, his wife, and his daughter in the basement of the police station.  I won’t spoil the glorious ending for you, but you don’t need to see it, trust me.

“Perkins 14″ is weak in pretty much every way possible.  The acting, particularly by Hopper’s daughter and wife, is laughably bad.  O’Kane can hold a scene together but he’s given absolutely no help from his supporting cast.  On top of that, the direction riddled with cliches.  Why does every dramatic scene have to be in slow motion with “intense” music.  Scenes of extreme violence are almost always more effective when they are hyper realistic.  Cut the music and show it in real time.  The scene in which Hopper kills Perkins could have been disturbing if it were done with a realistic approach.

Most importantly, the movie isn’t at all frightening.  The zombies are run-of-the-mill and there aren’t any tense scenes.  There are some solid gore effects, but all of them are gratuitous and out of context.  It’s gore for the sake of gore.

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But there’s a bit of a silver lining for “Perkins’ 14″ since horror fans are responsible for it ever seeing the light of day.  That’s right, when assembling its lineup of 2008 Horrorfest films, After Dark and Massify.com held an online poll allowing horror fans to choose which movie the company should produce and “Perkins’ 14″ was the winner.  Its tagline “This time horror fans, the blood is on your hands” is pretty apt.  If you don’t like “Perkins’ 14″, you can only blame yourself.


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8 Films To Die For – Part 1 of 8: From Within

I admit it- I’ve been slacking in my goal to watch and review all of the 2008 Horrorfest films.  Been busy, blah blah blah.  Truth is, I watched “From Within” almost three weeks ago and haven’t had the ambition to sit down and write this post.  That probably leads you to believe that I thought it sucked hard, but that’s not true.  I was actually pleasantly surprised by “From Within”, especially considering the muddy track record that Horrorfest films have.  If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve watched at least a couple of them and know that they aren’t always stellar.  The acting is almost always sub-par at best and often the production quality is amateur.  You could say I had low expectations going into this one.

fromwithin-posteryt

The movie kicks off with a great opening scene that sets a quick pace that last throughout.  A young man reads some type of enchantment aloud to his girlfriend Natalie (played by Rumer Willis), kisses her, and then surprises her by shooting himself in the head.  She screams.  Cut to title.

Following the apparently random suicide, director Phedon Papamichael (who was the director of photography for 3:10 to Yuma and will be directing the film adaptation of Bioshock(!!)) instantly lets viewers know that this movie centers around a small town full of secrets and an underlying sense of dread.  We are met with an effective montage showing the droll nature of the town – empty playgrounds, abandoned gas stations, a bike lying on the side of a road, citizens going about their daily business.  Also of note is Papamichael’s deliberate use of dark lighting throughout the film.  Shot in grey and blue tones, just watching “From Within” gives you a dull, depressed vibe.

from-within-still

Shortly following the young man’s suicide, we meet Lindsay (Elizabeth Rice) who is trying on church dresses at a local boutique with her step-mother Trish (Laura Allen) when Natalie rushes in, covered with blood and screaming about being chased by some woman.  Her father (the boutique owner) tries to calm her down by bringing her into a back room but once he leaves for a moment, the door slams shut and Natalie apparently commits suicide while holding a strange book.

Throughout the opening of the film, Papamichael makes it evident that this town has an extremely religious atmosphere where going to church is a way of life, not necessarily a personal choice.  While religion is so deeply ingrained in the community, each character has his or her own dark side.  People are not what they seem in this small town.  I liked this aspect of the film, probably because I’m pretty anti organized religion.  While not an overbearing social commentary, “From Within” does make its points about the hypocrisy of some religous peoples’ actions and the lack of acceptance that religion often breeds despite its intended tenets.  But I’ll avoid major plot spoilers regarding this.

Following the traumatic ordeal at the boutique, Lindsay (who it must be noted, is very attractive in a plain-jane way) is visited by her ridiculously dorky bible-thumper boyfriend whose opening line is “missed you at bible class tonight”.  This smooth talker assures Lindsay (with an unmistakable arrogance) that everything will turn out well if she just puts her faith in the Lord.  He then proceeds to give her an angel trinket.  I don’t know about you, but he sure sounds like a keeper to me.  I mean, just look at this Romeo:

from-within-still-2

Meanwhile, Natalie’s dad is at his boutique boozing away the pain of losing his daughter when we’re treated to the first genuinely creepy moment of the film.  As he turns off the store’s lights, a shadowy figure steps away from the wall only to disappear when the lights are turned back on.  Yeah, you can see where this is going.

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After he is found dead (another apparent suicide), it is clear that someone is stalking the residents of this town and making it look like they killed themselves but we don’t know why.  It is revealed that the first young man to kill himself was the son of a Candace Spindel, who was believed to be a witch and was blamed for the death of another young man while she was alive.  Papamichael does a nice job of revealing the multi-layered mystery gradually.  This keeps the viewer interested throughout the film.  Following the witch revelation, the citizens concur that the surviving Spindel son, Aiden (who, conveniently, is a good looking guy that appears shirtless in multiple scenes) has something to do with the suicides and proceed to persecute him relentlessly.  Lindsay’s winner of a boyfriend decides to kick Aiden’s ass for “worshipping the devil”, while a crowd of onlookers egg him on, shouting “hit him harder!” and “yeah! good job!”.  What a bunch of awesome Christians, huh?  Wasn’t there something in the Bible about tolerance or something?  Guess they missed that lesson.

Of course Lindsay takes pity on Aiden and befriends him.  I mean, the two good-looking people have to end up being the heroes, right?  The two become good friends (much to the chagrin of Bibleman Boyfriend) and Aiden gives Lindsay the Spindel family tour, which includes a trip to their huge secluded house outside of town where nude paintings of his great grandmother are displayed in the hallway.  I can appreciate art and all, but that’s a little weird, no?  For some reason, the new best friends end up discussing how the townspeople killed Aiden’s mother while standing in the pouring rain.  Seems like a good place to have a lengthy chat.  And besides, people look sexier when they’re soaked.

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It's so nice out here.

After a fairly intriguing build-up, we’re finally introduced to the killer: (STOP READING HERE IF YOU DON’T WANT ANY SPOILERS) doppelgangers.  That’s right, evil versions of each of the townspeople are stalking them and making them commit suicide.  Honestly, it’s not a bad plot structure.  Sure, it’s been done before (see 1993′s Doppelganger), but Papamichael’s evil citizens are frightening and are used to create some freaky scenes.  I don’t know why, but the idea that an identical version of yourself could be out there is creepy to me.

As you can imagine, this idea lends itself well to the use of mirrors, which are often cliche in horror movies.  You know the technique – person looks at mirror, looks down, looks back up [INSERT SCARY MOMENT].  Fortunately, Papamichael finds some creative ways to showcase his doppelgangers without being overly cliche.  Here are a couple good ones:

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Lindsay becomes a social outcast for befriending Aiden and the two set out to stop the evil before it destroys everyone in Grovestown but that’s all I will reveal about the plot here in order to avoid ruining the entire film.

Overall, “From Within” was a solid horror movie – probably one of the better ones that I’ve seen in the past year or so.  That is not to say that it is a classic or even on par with recent standouts like “The Decent” or “Let The Right One In”.  It derives its strengths from excellent cinematography featuring strong shot composition and coloring, decent acting, and a couple of nice writing touches (like Adam Goldberg’s character – Trish’s hick boyfriend who spouts great one-liners like “You know what I’d do if I found my daughter’s killer?  Make him swallow a pair of scissors.  Then I’d cut his tongue out.  Then I’d take a leak on him”).

The film’s ending leaves a bit to be desired and you can see it coming from a mile away, but “From Within” is worth a viewing, contrary to what some others have said.  Sure, it borrows elements from genre staples like “Ringu” and other Japanese Horror (as indicated on the Bloody-Disgusting review), but the overall effort is decent. I agree that by the end, the viewer isn’t emotionally tied in enough to care about what happens to the heroes.  Perhaps previous Horrorfest movies have set the bar so low that my judgment is altered.  I still think this is worth a view, though.  Just don’t expect a masterpiece.

“Perkins 14″ is up next.  Hopefully it will be good.  Actually, I kinda hope it sucks.  It’s more fun to write scathing reviews.

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“8 Films To Die For” Catch-Up

I’m never able to catch any of the Horrorfest “8 Films to Die For” movies when they hit the theaters.  Maybe that’s for the best- a lot of them aren’t very good (see The Gravedancers and Wicked Little Things).  With the approaching release of the third batch on DVD in March, I’m going to devote a lot of time this month to watching and hopefully loving and/or berrating the 2007 series.

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I have only seen one of them so far – The Deaths of Ian Stone, but I’ll save my review of that until I view it again.  Here’s the list.  It’s quite a task- 16 hours of viewing (in between working full time and trying to have a life)- but what the hell?

Stay tuned.

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