Posts Tagged Horror
Here in modern America, you know what I hate about our society… Well, a quite few things, but today the rant is on voyeurism in entertainment. You know that reality television and webcam garbage that everyone besides me loves. I get the appeal. Success is hard, so its a lot easier to watch successful people succeed or fail than actually work on your own life. That’s all great, but I would prefer if my beloved genre didn’t whore themselves out to the trend.
Most people probably noticed this trend earlier, but for some reason, this week just happens to be my turn. Earlier this week, I caught the straight to video bad sequel Wrong Turn 2, that basically rehashes the plot of the original except this time the deformed inbred hillbillies hunt the crew and cast of an ill-fate reality show that wanders into their woods. To make matters worse, it stars Henry Rollins, remember him from the 90s when his hit song, “I’m A Liar”, put The Rollins Band on the map? Well, now he does bad horror movie sequels. Paired with this lovely experience, I happened to notice that my other favorite punching bag – yes, I have life outside of making fun of you Mr. Zombie – After Dark Films, had a film in the works called The Task, which chronicles the misadventures of reality show contestants that have to spend the night in a jail only to fall prey to the ghost of some former crazy warden or something like that. Who cares?
But as I said, its nothing new. There’s been a host of these horrible films: FearDotCom, My Little Eye (2002), Voyeur.com, Treasure Hunt (2003), WatchUsDie.com, and I’m sure the list is much longer. What really makes me want to act out the last scene of Oedipus when I see films like this is the fact that horror films suffer the critics wrath, often deservingly, for being formulaic, which makes me think; “just perhaps, basing an entire sub-genre on another formulaic medium isn’t going to help matters much.”
Well, at least no major and beloved franchises jumped on that band wagon… Oh that’s right, I had gone to a hypnotist to forget about Halloween Resurrection. Guess that $4,000 just went down the toilet. Remember the eighth Halloween movie, It was right around the time that the franchise decided it needed to start randomly throwing rappers into every movie to make up for the fact that the prequels had all been so predominantly white that people started to think they were cast in Utah. (Come on Halloween even Nightmare on Elm Street had a young Larry Fishburne by part 3). What the hell was I talking about? Oh right, no more “Reality Trend” based horror movies. It’s weakening the genre and more embarrassing than washed up one hit wonder rock stars or racism by omission. I think that was my point?
Here we go, another month of several hours wasted by terrible movies. This month’s theme was trying to find the worst zombies available and examining movies that try to substitute good acting, writing, direction, and cinematography for as much sex, rape, nudity and torture that you squeeze into a dirty supply closet.
First up is Zombie Town (2007), which screams louder of low budget than the compilation of its victims from the moment its grainy film quality flashes on the screen. The narrative follows a local mechanic, Jake, with old flame who returns to town in the middle of a Zompocalypse, and teams up with his old love, Alex, that conveniently happens to be a scientist of some sorts. Alex discovers that the zombies are given life by bad blotches of CGI that are supposed to be slugs, ala Night of the Creeps (1986); but, fortunately like real slugs, the strange creatures react in the same manner to salt.
At this point, I was expecting Soy-Sauce Moltov Cocktails, but alas they didn’t go that route, however their methods are no less ridiculous. Even though the absurdity of the film is somewhat entertaining and you can almost appreciate the humor and efforts of a low budget troupe trying really hard, sometimes it becomes just a little hard to take. Once the actors start looking into the camera describing gore that was happening off screen that they obviously didn’t have the resources to pull off, I was about done. However I did, with lack of better judgment, stick around for the ending that was also weak, and didn’t make a lick of sense.
Rating… If an actual Zompocalypse does occur and you’re so bored of being boarded up in your house that you want to go outside and feed yourself to the horde, then watch this instead. If that hasn’t happened then don’t.
Moving right along to The Video Dead (1987), and I should have left this one in the 80′s, but unfortunately I didn’t. Much like a metaphor for the horror of watching this film, Video Dead starts off with a evil TV playing a black and white zombie film that apparently opens a portal which lets the seven or so zombies out into our world. The TV is accidentally delivered to a writer who the Video Dead promptly murder, but then a family of four move in unaware of the evil TV the house still holds.
The zombies, that are of the smart variety, start terrorizing the neighborhood and the teenage son, Jeff, starts to suspect something is up but he can’t convince his sister, Zoe, until a strange Texan comes a-knocking at their door and claims he’s been hunting the Video Dead. Zoe remains skeptical until she witnesses a zombie with a bad flock-of-seagulls haircut taking Jeff’s girlfriend away.
Hungry for revenge, Jeff heads off with the Texan zombie hunter to kick some ass. The hapless duo cause some havoc but ultimately both get owned leaving the sister alone to fight the Video Dead. After realizing she’s out numbered and has no tactical advantage, she decides to be nice to them, invite them in, and sit them down to bowls of Dinty More stew. Yeah, I’m not kidding. Of course, this works despite the fact the creatures have killed everyone else on sight, and she eventually lures them down into the basement for some post dinner dancing. God, I wish I was making this stuff up. Zoe’s brilliant plan causes the zombies to start starving to death and feed on each other, which is awesome I guess, but the film has to end with the typical last scare-no one is safe cliche.
Everything about this piece is terrible, but perhaps nothing tops Jeff’s “gee-whiz attitude” through out the film and the indescribably horrible dialogue that’s paired with it. After the hunter and Jeff wound a zombie, the hunter pulls out a chainsaw to finish it and this horrendous string of dialogue begins: “Oh my God, you’re not going to believe this. My all time, absolutely all time favorite horror movie is the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I’ve seen it six times!” After being asked if he needs to be told how to use the chainsaw he replies, “Use this! I told you I saw the movie six times! Stand back and watch the master at work!” That says it all.
Ratings: If you were in same situation as above… Feed yourself to the zombies instead of watching this film.
In a series that has spawned a cult classic, fallen prey to self parody, and has coined zombies’ most cultural one word phrase…(Braaaains), I didn’t know what the hell to expect of this one. The series has gone from serious to parody to serious to horrible, and part 5 is mostly back to being funny. The plot kicks off with the familiar ominous barrels except this time they end up in the hands of drug dealing college students who think the government’s biological weapon will make a good rave drug, hence the ironically name ‘Z’ is born and the students pass it out around a Rave with typical results.
Even though this series went back into self parody again, I think they executed the balance of dark humor and general silliness with a nice dash of style this time around. For example, “Rave” brings the cult favorite Tarman out of retirement, but only to be forced to flee after taking too much lead from a duo of trigger happy Interpol agents, which leaves the Tarman forced to try to hitchhike to the film’s climax. From time to time, the film actually cuts to the rotting dripping corpse standing on the side of the interstate with a “Rave or Bust” sign. You can’t ask for funnier than that. Perhaps, the film’s greatest strength is the two bumbling Interpol agents whose slapstick antics are endlessly amusing in a Three Stooges meets Rambo sort of way.
Rating. If you’re a fan of the series’ sillier side than this one will do well ripping your funny bone out and chewing on it, if not then at least this installment was leaps and bounds above Necropolis.
A good bridge between Zombies and Sexplotation is Dorm of the Dead. (2006) Remember all jerks and prissy girls that you couldn’t stand in college but had to put up with because they lived on your floor? Well, they got together and made a bad movie. There’s nothing good to say about this one, people. It’s a college film at its worst, and I’m not even going to waste any time describing the feeble attempt at a plot. The only amusement to be had while watching this piece is the fact that they couldn’t cast anyone old enough to play the college staff, so all the adult roles look like little kids playing dress up.
Rating. Unless you’re life is very sadly deprived of cheap T&A then don’t watch this film.
Our first in Sexplotation, is Stash (2007/I), which is another low rung, low budget, piece of garbage about two punk kids that try to steal from the local backwoods pot grower, but end up at the working end of his shotgun. Bud, the grower, makes a deal with them that if they kidnap three women in the following three days and bring them into his basement he won’t hunt them down and kill them. The story from here follows the abduction and consequential rape and torture of the girl they kidnap on the second day, Sarah.
The film follows the police’s attempts to rescue Sarah as Bud rapes the girls that the idiot kids deliver to him. Since Bud’s delivery boys are morons, the police eventually find Sarah and gun down Bud, to the joy of the audience who are probably glad its over, which unfortunately its not. Stash tries to justify its awful existence and produce depth through a monologue delivered through Sarah’s journal writing, but at this point…Why bother?
Rating: Not Dorm of the Dead bad, but pretty close.
Next up Naked Fear (2007). Ever since Richard Connell published his short story “The Most Dangerous Game” about hunting humans there has been over a dozen adaptations starting in 1932 with the film of the same name, but hasn’t anyone ever thought to themselves: “this story would be better with strippers and hookers.” Well, most people haven’t, but apparently someone did, because that’s essentially Naked Fear.
The film has a long build up centering around the protagonist, Diana, who drifts into town to try and make some money as stripper, but ends up sinking into prostitution. Unfortunately, her first “John” kidnaps her, rapes her, drugs her, and flies her out to the wilderness where he intends to hunt her. From here on out, the movie picks up steam, and if you like this sub-genre of movie, its not a bad entry into the cannon of Richard Connell homage films.
However, the film tries to build a story around those back in town by developing a shamed cop who was forced out of his old detective job after trying to get a conviction against the mayor who killed an old woman in a drunk driving accident. Once he discovers that one of his superior officers his probably the culprit behind the missing girl the obvious parallel forces him into a moral dilemma. Unfortunately, all the characters back in civilization such as: “the good cop,” “the skeptic partner,” “Diana’s hooker with a heart of gold roommate” are all bad cliches that populate a bad story. Whenever the narrative switches to them the viewer will just find himself restless to return to Diana fighting for survival in the wilderness. At the end of the day, all come-upings are resolved and the audience is hit with a cheesy epilogue about how Diana has chosen to bring justice to the world.
Rating: Not bad Predator-Prey genre movie… If It Bleeds, You can watch it.
Finally we have Pervert!. (2005) This aptly named Sexplotation piece makes no claims to be anything otherwise. The humor is raunchy. The sex is constant and you’d be hard pressed to find five minutes of screen time that doesn’t include toplessness. Scene wipes are actually done with that 70′s dances montages (alla That 70s Show or Austin Powers Film) to provide more nudity, and the narrative arc is constantly clogged up with soft porn. However, the film is ripe with some witty humor if you can watch it for more than ten minutes without feeling like you need to have a talk with your psychologist or pastor.
Basically, the little plot Pervert! has follows the story of a LSU student, James, who has returned home for the summer to his father’s ranch to discover his father has taken on a lover a fraction of his age. Of course, James sleeps with her and she ends up dead shortly after. James also discovers that the locals think his father is insane and James considers the notion after learning his father has a habit of making human sculptures out of meat. Thinking that his father is using his victim’s as supplies for his new hobby, James launches an investigation that leads to more bloodshed, and, of course, depraved sex.
The plot thickens as James reaches for the truth, and the actual reality he discovers takes the film light years beyond Looney Toons, but fans of sophomoric humor should have a ball with this one.
Rating. Stylistic and amusing in a very stupid kind of way. Enjoyable but you feel like you need a shower in holy water once you’re done watching it. Raunchy humor fans only need apply.
Every new M. Night Shyamalan film is an event in which he attempts to live up to the impossible reputation of The Sixth Sense. In many ways he’s probably the most typecast director/writer in Hollywood – we go into his films looking for the twists and we expect a big buildup with an often lackluster finish. Still, I enjoyed Signs and, yes, even The Village. Shyamalan’s films ride the border between suspense and straight horror, flirt with each genres best aspects, and usually arrive at what I find to be an enjoyable conclusion. He’s not always the strongest storyteller and he has more than his share of haters, but his stories always have enough to keep me coming back for more.
His latest project, Devil, where he contributes the story concept and produces, centers around five strangers who become trapped in the elevator of a large office building in Philadelphia. The strangers run the cliched gamut of backgrounds/ethnicity/age – the black security guard, the old lady, the attractive woman, the aloof salesman, and the ex-marine. But underneath these outward appearances, each member of the quintet is revealed to have sinister qualities in one way or another. With all these sinners trapped in this tiny box, tempers flair inevitably panic ensues. The situation gets worse when the lights cut out periodically and someone ends up injured or dead when they come back on. It seems someone on board is a murderer.
Meanwhile, we are introduced to Detective Bowden, a cop who suffered the tragic loss of his wife and son at the hands of a hit-and-run driver. He’s making progress with staying sober but still struggles with finding it in his heart to forgive the jerk who shattered his life. He’s on the scene investigating a suicide at the same office building. Though initially he’s not ready to believe that the religious security guard saw the face of a demon in the elevator’s security camera footage, Bowden becomes dedicated to freeing the trapped passengers. However, after witnessing people die, Bowden begins to listen to the guard’s theory that this is a Devil’s Meeting – an event where Satan comes to earth to confront sinners that can only happen immediately after a suicide.
As with other Shyamalan films, Devil‘s success is largely due to its quick pace and suspense. Every time the lights dimmed in the elevator, I felt a sense of dread and anticipation. There’s very little onscreen violence and much of what happens is left to our imaginations. Personally, this type of horror is scarier to me than any brutal zombie disembowelment (they have their place too, of course). Admittedly, Brian Nelson’s screenplay is pretty weak with very few believable lines of dialogue and the characters are mostly one-dimensional. Shyamalan’s initial story concept was strong enough for me to forgive this though.
Of course, Devil isn’t without the typical Shyamalan trappings. Every piece of the plot fits together in that all-too-perfect way and the religious/morality lessons are as subtle as a shovel to the head. Given my general distaste for organized religion, I’ve always struggled with Shyamalan’s insistence on turning everything into his personal soapbox for spoon-fed lessons about God. If you thought Signs was annoying with its implied faith messages, you should probably walk out of the theater before Devil‘s narrator sums up the film’s already blatant religious message. Still, all this doesn’t mean I didn’t like Devil. Quite on the contrary, I thought it was expertly paced, interesting, and at times actually scary. I just can’t help but wish that Shyamalan would, for once, just tone down his religious messages to background noise level instead of cranking the dial to 11. Yes, that was an unnecessary Spinal Tap reference. Thanks for reading.
Well, it’s nearly time for the steadily declining Resident Evil franchise to lower the bar a bit. Resident Evil: Afterlife, is scheduled for a September 10th release and its latest trailer can’t seem to stop trying to illustrate how good…its 3D will be. In fact, it’s the first text in the trailer; after a long flying sequence and before we see a lick of action, the film makers feel the need to inform the viewer that this movie was “filmed with the James Cameron/Vincent Price Fusion Camera System.” Oh boy that sounds neat-o; I’m sure the storyline is going to be Shakespeare.
It’s not just crappy writing that bothers me here, but the fact that the trailer goes out of its way to say “better come for the 3D because that’s all we got going on.” The 3D is literary shoved in your face with every shot: Milla tossing glaives at the screen, Milla aiming her shotguns in you’re face, a plane flying at the screen, Milla jumping at the screen away from zombies, and even ridiculous non-action based gimmicky shots just for the sake of exploiting the 3D further like Wesker throwing his sunglasses at the screen. The only break from this mess of cheap cinematography is more text, explaining that those nifty aforementioned cameras are “THE WORLD’S MOST ADVANCED 3D TECHNOLOGY.” I wonder if this film is going to be in 3D?
The only aspect of the trailer that’s more offensive than the shameless 3D promo is the obvious plants of recent and recognizable baddies from Resident Evil 5. Both the giant axe wielding executioner and one of those stupid Los Plagos infected “not zombies” with the four way opening jaws soak up a good chuck of screen time in the trailer. Guess you have to hook your average illiterate gamer into going to see this somehow since they weren’t able to read the third block of text that just flashed on the screen, “Experience a New Dimension,” which – if you haven’t noticed – hints that this film is, indeed, filmed in 3D.
All cynicism and sarcasm aside, it’s still Milla doing what she does, and while she has to be the most typecast actress in Hollywood, she does have a charm, a screen presence, that seems to transcend the offensiveness of the hokey films she often stars in. Honestly, I could watch her read the phone book in thigh-high boots for two hours, so I’m sure I can find something enjoyable about her bouncing around in 3D combat. Besides, I’ve followed this franchise like a beaten puppy dog, through over ten video-games and three half-assed movies, so sadly I’ll be there. But I won’t like it.
This post may contain spoilers.
As I’ve said many times on this blog, 2005′s The Descent was not only one of the best horror films of the past decade, it was my favorite. Writer and director Neil Marshall crafted a terrifying tale about a group of girlfriends who become trapped in an uncharted cave system and are stalked by mutant humanoid creatures. It was loaded with atmosphere. You felt like you were trapped in there with them because Marshall executed his film perfectly – minimal light, subtle score, and (gasp) a believable premise with believable characters.
And as I’ve also said before here, I’ve been weary of The Descent: Part 2 ever since I first read about it. I didn’t want it to take any magic away from the original and without Marshall’s involvement, it seemed doomed for failure. Still, it would have been unfair for me to write it off without giving it a fair chance so I picked up a copy today and settled in for some more spelunking mayhem.
The Descent: Part 2 picks up immediately where the first left off (if you completely disregard the original British ending, that is….grrr) with Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) escaping from the cave three days after the group first entered. She’s found by a local truck driver/weirdo and is quickly admitted to the hospital where we find out that she’s forgotten everything that’s just happened to her. This plot contrivance comes in handy for when the nonsensically foolish and aggressive local sheriff decides to force her back into the cave to find the rest of her friends. Sorry for all of the italics, but they’re necessary. Sarah, who has been traumatized out of her mind, is being forced to go back into the cave and no one objects? It makes not one iota of sense. But maybe I’m being too snarky here?
Nope. I’m not. From this point, The Descent: Part 2 is a gradual, steady, descent (awful pun intended) into hell – not the good horror movie kind, either. Writers J Blakeson and James McCarthy seem to disagree with Marshall’s idea that believability enhances scariness. On top of Sarah’s baffling return into the cave, the writers also expect us to believe that the sheriff and his inexperienced deputy would go with her and three rescue pros sans training or even a one-minute prep speech. Nonsense. What’s more is that there’s an abandoned mine shaft elevator that leads directly into the cave system and apparently the only one who knows about it is the truck driver who found Sarah. The icing on the cake of this part of the plot (mind you, we’re only about 10 minutes in) is how the old man describes his grandfather’s discovering of the cave system and his subsequent disappearance.
“Looks like they broke clean through to hell and the devil was mighty pissed.” (Wince.)
Beyond the lack of believability, basically nothing works for this film. Gone is the intelligent quintet of women who came prepared (or at least thought they did) and tried to stick together when the craziness started. In their stead, we’re left with a group of cliche horror characters who fail to see the value of teamwork. Even Sarah, the first film’s dominant heroine, runs off like a fool after her memory returns. That’s right – instead of trying to escape the way they came in, she heads deeper into the cave that nearly killed her. Sorry, I guess I’m backtracking into that believability thing again.
Perhaps most frustrating about The Descent: Part 2 is how it takes the first film’s best elements and bastardizes them into trite horror conventions. Scares where you least expect them have been replaced with cheap jumps exactly where you expect them. Before almost every attack, there’s the requisite shot of a crawler creeping up a wall in the background. Additionally, Marshall’s idea of a subtle score has been pushed aside to make way for something that would better belong in a Michael Bay blockbuster. Shrieking strings and banging drums accompany the chase scenes while horns tend to telegraph the jump scares, making the film feel like any run-of-the-mill horror release.
Gore has been kicked up a notch for this sequel in order for it to appear more extreme because the gorier, the scarier, right? Ugh. Sure, the first one had some good pick axe kills and even an eye gouge, but this one uses gore in an attempt to keep the audience interested. Every time that a crawler bites someone’s jugular, the ensuing fountain of blood is excessive and often ends up in another character’s mouth. Then there’s the uber-necessary scene where Sarah and the deputy are standing in a pool of murky water revealed to be a toilet after a crawler takes a shit on them. I fucking kid you not. Despite being bunch of blind, slimy cannibals, they’re still well potty trained. Who knew?
The script also has more groan-inducing moments than I can bare to describe. The writers attempt to insert genuine heartfelt scenes where they don’t belong. They’re cheap and they all come off as hokey, especially the parallel they draw between the deputy and her daughter and Sarah and her daughter. In the original film, Sarah has strange daydream moments where she sees/hears her dead daughter. They’re always appropriately mysterious and ominous but in this sequel, they take the potential subtext of those scenes (sadness, tragedy) and ham it up all over the place. It’s enough to make you want to yell at the screen.
Despite all of these aspects, I made it through about 75% of the film thinking it was going to escape as “mediocre to sub-par” until my jaw dropped, my eyes glazed over and I uttered “you’ve got to be fucking kidding me.” As the asshole sheriff was about to meet his maker, Juno shows up and takes down a crawler Schwarzenegger style. Really? We’re supposed to believe that she fought off all those crawlers after receiving a pick axe through the leg? I hate this movie.
That’s about all you need to know, folks. There are plenty of other dreadful things to be found, including “moments” between Sarah and Juno and a truly ridiculous ending that makes zero sense. It’s like the writers watched the original film and made an effort to cheapen everything that was great about it. If you loved Neil Marshall’s The Descent, don’t watch this one. It bears no resemblance to its progenitor.
I swear, sometimes I think Netflix’s watch instantly horror suggestions are purposely and vindictively chosen to annoy me. Why else would they recommend House of 1,000 Corpses or lead me astray with Keeper of Souls? The process of finding a quality horror film on Netflix is disheartening at best and an infuriating waste of time at worst. But, masochistically, I still do it because I just might get lucky with a random choice. So, when my girlfriend recently read the synopsis for a 2006 Spanish film called Shiver to me, I agreed to give it a shot. She rarely chooses horror but when she does, she usually picks good ones (unlike myself).
The plot focuses on Santi (Junio Valverde), a teen with photophobia who gets burned instantly by sunlight and is forced to attend night school. In essence, he’s a modern day vampire (the kind without sparkles, thank you). Coupled with issues surrounding his estranged parents, Santi’s medical condition causes him to be a pariah and an easy target for ridicule. He’s socially awkward, has few friends and frequently has nightmares where he’s bursting into flames. At the encouragement of his doctor, Santi and his mother, Julia (Mar Sodupe), trade in big city living for a house in a remote country village where the sun rarely shines.
Things seem normal in this little town for, oh, about 12 hours following Santi’s arrival until a farmer’s sheep is viciously slaughtered by some sort of monster in the woods. The farmer fires his shotgun at the creature, but it quickly escapes. The farmer drags the dead sheep into a shop run by Dimas (the man Santi and Julia are renting their house from) and exclaims that this is the third of his animals to be slaughtered in such a way. When Julia inquires if the woods are dangerous, Dimas simply advises staying away from them. The next day, Tito, one of Santi’s classmates, is kicking a rock down the road when he accidentally sends it into the woods. While retrieving it, he sees a creepy set of eyes (Suspiria homage, much?), hears a growling sound, and decides to book it. Smart choice, kid. That same night, Santi hears growling emanating from the attic above his bedroom.
The next day, the two boys and another friend (Jonas) decide to hunt down the beast in the woods. Sounds very logical to me. I know I’d be quick to confront an unknown, growling, sheep-slaughtering beast. But I digress. Frightened after the beast runs past them, Tito flees and Santi takes off after him leaving Jonas alone. Jonas is killed and mutilated in no time and Santi becomes the town’s prime suspect.
That much will suffice for plot purposes here. What I’ve failed to mention thus far is how brilliantly this film is executed. Director Isidro Ortiz and Art Director Pilar Revuelta (Oscar-winner for Pan’s Labryinth) create an incredibly tense atmosphere by shooting the film in eerie blue and gray hues, keeping the pace fast with clever editing, and not relying on jump scares. The first half of the film is probably the scariest and most unnerving thing I’ve seen in years. At one point following a terrifyingly creepy stalking scene, I looked at my girlfriend and with a bit of surprise, said, “this is…really fucking scary.” That says a lot about Shiver. That never happens to me.
What allows Shiver to maintain its creepiness throughout the first half is its sense of mystery. What is this thing stalking the local residents? Ortiz gives us some decent glimpses at a long-haired shadowy figure without giving it away. However, it’s this excellent first act that sets the latter half up for a somewhat lackluster finish. I don’t want to give anything away here, but suffice it to say that when the big “reveal” happens, it takes the wind out of the sails. Once that mystery was gone, I wasn’t as scared. It’s really too bad, because Shiver had the potential to be one of the best horror films I’ve ever seen but it couldn’t maintain the momentum it built. That said, it’s still one of the better and certainly one of the scariest films I’ve seen in a long time. The first half alone has enough suspense, terror and atmosphere to make this one still highly recommended. Netflix, you’ve done me a kindness, finally.
Tony Todd will be reprising his role as Ben for Zebediah’s Desoto’s “Epic, living Monet,” CGI thingy (probably a mess) take on the much redone Night of the Living Dead, Night of the Living Dead Origins. Todd, who played Ben almost twenty years ago, will step behind a computer generated likeness of himself and give a voice to what looks like, at first glance, a bad survival horror video game character. However, after rumors of Mos Def taking on the role, Todd taking up the reins of horror’s greatest tragic hero is probably the best decision Desoto has made since he decided to make this thing. Todd, most famous for his role as the Candyman, is at least genre tested, and fan approved. No matter how hokey his roles get he’s just always freaking cool.
The film, on the other hand, may not meet such approval. Desoto’s latest comment seems to imply it’s going to be a vessel for relating his views on modern violence in some strange artistic manner. In a recent interview Desoto rambled on, “I wanted to make this look like a living Monet; it’s expressionism,” and in an interview before that he rambled some more, “It’s going to be the first zombie movie played on a epic scale. This is the Empire of the Sun of zombie films…I lived through the L.A. riots and saw the city on fire; I remember seeing people running, people getting pulled out of cars. And with 9/11, these images have been ingrained on people of my generation. I just thought that is the way it would really be, a lot of chaos.” Since he’s a newcomer, I will withhold judgment until it premiers, but with NOTLD 68′ we have reached the point where Romero’s masterpiece has become a canvas for everyone else to smear their own art all over, and almost guarantee a build-in audience to gawk at it. Start with a blank sheet, people. And imagine something fresh, your own!
Still, I digress, Tony Todd will be a welcome addition to this project and perhaps his willingness to sign on to it says something about the quality of the script. However, Bill Moseley – of Rob Zombie movies fame – will also be reprising his role of Johnny, whose judgment of scripts doesn’t do much for me. Actors and their previous work aside, Origins’ success will just depend on Desoto’s vision and his execution of it. I’m anxious to see what he comes up with. Can’t be worse than Night 3D! Can it?
Every once in a while, I’ll receive a movie from Netflix that I don’t remember adding to my queue like this week’s Bloody Birthday (1981). Perhaps I took some shoddy advice from a Bloody-Disgusting forum member. Maybe I took to my keyboard in a drunken stupor some months ago. Whatever happened, I decided to go into this one cold without even reading the movie description on the sleeve. From the disc art, it looked like it could be a cheesy 80′s slasher, so I was gearing up for some teenage slaughter mayhem. Turns out there is slaughter, but not in the form I expected.
In the film’s prologue (after a long and annoying titles sequence), we learn that three children were born in the town of Meadowvale, California in 1970 during a solar eclipse. Fast forward 10 years later and a series of bizarre murders in Meadowvale kicks off with a teenage couple fooling around in everyone’s favorite cliched horror film make out spot – the local graveyard. The suave male, who happens to look like Scott Baio during his Charles In Charge days, convinces his girl that sex in a freshly dug grave is the next best thing. Predictably, someone attacks the couple in the grave, killing him with a shovel and strangling her with a rope.
The next day, police question students at the town’s elementary school because the murder weapon is revealed to be a jump rope. Here, we’re introduced to our three eclipse children – Curtis (Billy Jayne), Debbie (Elizabeth Hoy), and Steven (Andy Freeman) who we learn not only share a birthday but also enjoy watching Debbie’s older sister (Julie Brown of Earth Girls Are Easy fame) dance naked through a peephole and oh yeah, murder people. That’s right, explained by some astrological bullshit about Saturn being blocked during their births, these three devils were born without a conscience and love to murder people.
Bloody Birthday lays all of its cards out on the table within the first 15 minutes but that isn’t my biggest complaint. By 1981, the “creepy kids” motif had certainly been done before with Children of the Damned and The Omen being the most prominent examples, but it wasn’t yet the cliche that it is today. What does annoy me is that these kids truly do act like 10-year-olds. Meaning, they’re idiots. They need to take some creepiness lessons from Damien – you don’t find him firing revolvers at teachers in a school where he could easily get caught. Plausible deniability, kids. Read up. Of course they don’t get caught and the incompetent local police doesn’t try to determine cause of death beyond “killed by psycho”. Seriously, one guy gets beaten over the head with a baseball bat and his death is attributed to hitting his head after tripping on a skateboard. Another girl gets shot in the eye with a bow and arrow, her body left on the street, annnnnnnd….no indication of cause of death! Must’ve been that damn illusive “psycho” that’s wandering around our little town!
The trio is uncovered by classmate Timmy Russell (K.C. Martel) after a failed attempt to lock him in a refrigerator at the local junkyard. Timmy’s sister Joyce (Lori Lethin) joins the fight after she discovers Curtis trying to poison birthday guests with rat poison. It all leads to an underwhelming conclusion that lacks any suspense (as the rest of the film does).
Also of note is the film’s terrible score which deftly segues from Brady Bunch inspired jingles to Kenny G saxophone-laden sex scenes. If nothing else, it’s funny to laugh at but it really detracts from the “creepy kid” atmosphere that director Ed Hunt is trying to achieve.
Beyond the Swiss cheese plot, Bloody Birthday‘s main offense comes in the form of Curtis. Oh, how I hate this little fucker. While Debbie irritates me with her false angel act (“oh, mommy! I didn’t do anything bad, I’m a good little girl”), she doesn’t come close to Curtis. As the dorky bespectacled dweeb of the murderous trio, he’s constantly annoying me with his faux evil smile, ridiculous gun-holding stalking scenes and general douchiness. If this video doesn’t make you hate him, then I probably don’t like you either.
But maybe it’s not all bad. In images, here are Bloody Birthday‘s strong points:
The Bloody Birthday DVD features a recent interview with the film’s now-elderly producer, Max Rosenberg, who explains how he wanted to make a film showing that evil can come in all forms and show the consequences of having no conscience. I guess he achieved this but (and I feel bad for saying anything negative about the venture of an old man) he really only succeeded in creating a sub-par (sort-of?) slasher. Next time I update my Netflix queue, I should probably lay off the booze.
With shaky-cam, documentary style horror films, directors aim to immerse us in the worlds of their characters. We follow them around tight corners and see through their eyes as they run into a flesh hungry demon. Or perhaps, we watch them stupidly argue with their girlfriend about staying in the house to become victim to said demon, but I digress. This sub-genre actually has a strong track record with The Blair Witch Project, [REC], Quarantine, Paranormal Activity leading the way. But now, La Casa Muda (The Silent House), an independent film from Uruguay, is bringing something new to the shaky-cam table.
First, full disclosure. I was contacted by one of the film’s producers, who gave me some info about La Casa Muda. I get things like this from time to time but usually I don’t write about them because frankly, I don’t care but this one piqued my interest since this sub-genre is one of my favorites. Now that that’s out of the way…
What makes La Casa Muda most interesting is that it is the first horror movie to be filmed in one continuous shot. That’s right – no cuts, edits, nothing. Director Gustavo Hernandez needed to painstakingly plan every single shot and aspect of his 72-minute film before ever pressing the record button. Cynics may say that this approach begs for mess-ups, flubbed lines, and poor acting but I’m being positive about this one. I’m excited by the idea. Also interesting is that this film was shot using the video capabilities of a digital SLR photo camera, specifically the Canon EOS 5D Mark II, making it the second film of its kind in the world (according to the producers – I couldn’t find the other one).
La Casa Muda is based on a real event that took place in 1944 in an old Uruguay farmhouse where two brutally tortured bodies were found without their tongues. Disturbing photographs found a the scene were key to solving the crime. Based on what I’ve read, it seems that Hernandez takes this real event and uses it as the backdrop for his plot:
Laura (Florencia Colucci) and her father (Gustavo Alonso) settle down in a cottage which seems to be off the beaten track in order to update it since its owner (Abel Tripaldi) will soon put it up for sale. They spend the night there in order to start the repairs. Everything seems to go smoothly until Laura hears a sound that comes from outside and gets louder and louder in the upper floors of the house. The father goes upstairs to investigate while Laura remains downstairs.
Pretty bare bones for a description, but I’m intrigued. If nothing else, I’m interested to see how effective a $6,000 72-minute continuous shot can be. Based on the stills I’ve seen, it looks pretty damn good. La Casa Muda is set to premiere at a few film festivals next month. The official website has some more info (if you speak Spanish). Check out the trailer too.
I have a love/hate relationship with clichés in horror movies. For one, I find poorly written, cliché-ridden films the easiest to review because I’m a sarcastic asshole and part of me lives to mock things. But when I’m taking the genre seriously, searching for that ever-elusive genuine scare, clichés are a disappointing sign of lazy screenwriting and studios’ desire to satiate audiences who are either too dumb to know any better or sadly just don’t care.
You’re all familiar with them and probably roll your eyes every time you see a demonic child doing a spider-walk towards our protagonist or a suddenly irresponsive cell phone displaying the “no signal” message during a crucial moment.
So, I’ve taken it upon myself to start a little project to point out the various clichés we love and loathe. Rather than a long, wordy blog post, I’ve chosen to briefly introduce each cliché (hopefully at the rate of one per week, but we’ll see) and create a compilation video showcasing its awesomeness/douche chilliness. This week’s inaugural cliché is…
The False Alarm – Our protagonist is home alone. They’re planning a quiet night of studying in their bedroom before bed but an odd noise disturbs them from their plan. Of course, they leave the safety of their bedroom to investigate (another cliché, itself). The camera, positioned just above their shoulder, follows them as they head toward the source of the noise – a closet, perhaps. The noise occurs again. Our protagonist hastily flings open the door – CUE SHRIEKING SOUND EFFECT – to reveal….a cat! They scream and then scold the animal for freaking them out.
There are dozens of instances of the false alarm – a sudden shoulder grab, a character pretending to be dead, etc. This overused device is meant to create tension and then reveal it to be a ploy so that when the real kill or attack happens, you won’t be ready for it. It never really works, yet it just won’t die. Let’s take a look.