Posts Tagged Reviews

Frozen – $100 Lift Tickets Leave You Paying In Other Ways

Well, it’s been nearly a month since I’ve contributed a post to this site (many thanks to Chris for picking up the slack, as usual) but I finally got around to watching Frozen, which I had picked up on Blu-ray some time ago.  I suppose I could hit you with some comment about it being an apt film to watch at this time of year, but I’ll spare you.  Wait, I just did it, didn’t I?  Anyway…

Written and directed by Adam Green of Hatchet notoriety, Frozen is a surprisingly effective survival tale about three college students who end up trapped on a ski lift.  Yes, a ski lift.  Granted, it’s an unlikely and somewhat ridiculous premise for a horror film, but Green’s bare bones plot allows his three protagonists to end up in their predicament in a believable fashion.  As is their tradition, longtime buddies Joe and Dan are hitting the slopes during a school break but tagging along this time is Dan’s girlfriend, Parker.  With the inclusion of Parker, the dynamic between the three is tense.  Joe wants the weekend to be the usual outing with his best friend, while Dan struggles to maintain balance between his dedication to Joe and to his girlfriend.  Parker scores some points with both guys by charming the ski lift operator into letting the trio up the mountain for $100 instead of buying lift tickets.  I gather that’s a good deal.

Despite her charm, Parker still slows the three down all day, forcing them to ride the bunny hill instead of the advanced runs Joe and Dan are used to.  Green does a decent job portraying the natural tension of the situation as the three take passive aggressive, half-serious, jabs at each other throughout the day.  Determined to have at least one good run before the day is out, the trio head to the lift only to find out that the mountain is closing early due to a storm coming in.  Clearly starved for female attention, the lift operator once again allows Parker to charm him into letting them up the mountain.  After sending them up, a coworker informs the operator that the boss has put him on the schedule for the following weekend even though he had taken it off to attend a bachelor party.  He leaves to go complain, explaining that the lift can be shut off once the last three kids come down the hill.  You can see where this is going.  A different set of three kids come down and the guys turns off the lift, leaving Joe, Dan, and Parker dangling 50 feet in the air with the lights off.

My first reaction was probably the same as yours – can’t they just suck it up for one long night in the cold and make frostbite jokes for entertainment?  I mean, they kind of had it coming.  $33 a head for a day of skiing doesn’t guarantee competence from lift operators.  But then Green comically piles on the bad news.  It’s Sunday and the mountain won’t be open until the following Friday. BAM! A major snow storm is about to hit. BAM! And there are fucking wolves! BAM!  The bulk of Frozen plays out how you’d expect it to with the three weighing their options for survival and making desperate decisions often leading to grisly outcomes.  There are a few horrific scenes sure to please gore lovers but Frozen‘s strength mainly comes from Green’s depiction of growing desperation, hopelessness, and ultimately companionship as the situation becomes more dire.  Save for a little melodrama about “making it” and “not giving up”, the characters behave pretty close to how I probably would – scared shitless.

The back of Frozen Blu-ray claims that critics have called it “JAWS in the snow.”  To call that statement anything but hyperbole would be hit JAWS with further injustice.  Frozen is nowhere near as frightening or groundbreaking as JAWS but Green derives much of his inspiration from it.  He even pays homage by having his characters talk about shark attacks being the worst way to die as they dangle in the cold.  Also, the production company associated with the film is called A Bigger Boat.  It’s clear that Green loves JAWS, but he hasn’t made the next great wild animal horror film.  I wouldn’t even say the wolves are a focus of the narrative.  They’re just a small aspect of it.

Though it’s not terribly scary, Frozen’s script and cinematography make it worth a viewing.  It starts streaming on Netflix after the New Year.

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The Prowler – Too Boring For A Post Heading

I have a soft spot for terrible slasher films – especially of the 80′s variety.  I think only horror fans delight in browsing film titles and intentionally choosing something that looks awful.  But behind that initial expectation, we’re hoping for a collection of characteristics that allow said film to transcend its dreadful acting and poor screenwriting.  It could be that the acting is so atrocious that it becomes comedic or that the kills and gore are spectacular.  Maybe the premise is actually interesting or different.  Any number of these things contribute to a campy slasher film that gains cult status.  I was searching for such a film when I watched 1981′s The Prowler.

The plot for this film is as generic as you can get.  An opening scene narrates a letter that was written by a girl named Rosemary who is breaking up with her boyfriend while he is deployed overseas during World War II.  “I know I said I loved you, but I’m young and I have to live my life now,” she says with about as much compassion as the guy’s Nazi opponents.  Flash forward a year.  The war is over and it is the night of the Graduation Dance in Avalon Bay, NJ.  Rosemary seems to be “living her life” just fine with a new boyfriend – a suave gentlemen in a white suit who offers sensual lines like “I’m just ribbing you.  I don’t want to go swimming.  All I want is you.”  What a smooth talker.  As expected, Rosemary’s scorned ex-boyfriend shows up (donning full army gear, a face covering, and lots of weapons) while the couple is making out by the water.  He skewers the couple with a pitchfork and leaves a single red rose in Rosemary’s dead palm.  The murder is never solved.

Mark's poofy hair - a young Walken?

Flash forward another 35 years and we discover that Avalon Bay is reviving the Graduation Dance for the first time since the murder.  And, you guessed it, the murderer is back preparing for another killing spree because he still can’t seem to get over losing his girl to the white suit guy.  The film centers on Pam and her boyfriend Mark, a local police deputy with poofy hair, who attempt to stop the Prowler.  Pam perfectly embodies the helplessly stupid slasher heroine while Mark plays his role as the overeager policeman.  The town sheriff is conveniently out of town on a fishing trip and a lot of unnecessary scenes show him handing over the reins of the town to Mark.  We get it – he’s inexperienced.  Once the dance starts, the killings begin and the rest of the film is somewhat of a who-done-it sprinkled with slayings.

If you haven’t figured out who the killer is within the first 15 minutes of The Prowler, then you’re probably watching this while drinking.  Maybe I should’ve had a few before my viewing.  The Prowler is slow-paced, unsurprising, and ultimately forgettable.  It is often compared to My Bloody Valentine, which came out the same year (though I’m not sure which was first) and I’d have to agree that the killers’ appearances and plot lines are strikingly similar.   I should say that a scene featuring a deadpan hotel clerk is quite enjoyable and I would be remiss if I did not applaud the legendary Tom Savini for his excellent effects work in this film, which is the reason The Prowler gets any attention from horror fans.  Still, these two things aren’t enough for The Prower to transcend its otherwise unremarkable parts.  It’s not that it’s terrible – it’s just so average.  Instead of belaboring this point further, let’s just look at some of Savini’s work in The Prowler.

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Latest Rental Reviews: Bad Zombies And Sexplotation

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.

Return of the Living Dead 5, Rave to the Grave.

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.

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Devil – Shyamalan’s Twists In Tight Spaces

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.

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Eclispe Review

EBJ

[Editor's note: Chris is the braver half our two-writer staff, having willing sat through another Twilight film.  I think we owe him a debt of gratitude.  Stand up, Chris, and take your applause.]

Ok, let’s get this over with. The third chapter of the Twilight Saga is upon us, and teenage girls everywhere are sacrificing small animals to their Robert Pattinson alters in their goth-ed out bedrooms, but does Eclipse offer any value to the rest of the world, or guys that get brought to midnight showings by their girlfriends…on opening night?

Well, the story starts out in that same damn field with Bella (Kristen Stewart) and Edward as he begs her to marry him, yada yada. Meanwhile in Seattle: trouble is a brewing, some random guy is attacked and turned into a vampire. Back to Bella’s self important life, where despite the fact she clearly told Jacob (Taylor Lautner), in the last flick, that she chose Ed, she still wants to see Jacob so she can torture the last bit of dignity out of him. Jacob motorcycles over to her high school to gladly entertain the notion, and of course, Bella hops on the back of his bike and wraps herself around him with the stipulation that her vampire-boyfriend should be okay with this even though he and Jacob are instinctual supernatural enemies and Jacob clearly wants to get his doggy style on with her. Meanwhile in Seattle: More people are popping up murdered or missing. Cops suspect gang violence. I suspect an unresolved, overdrawn-out plot element with curly red hair hair from the last two films.

Long story short- The above formula continues for some time. Bella wavers between choosing to become a vampire hence alienating her wolf boy and family forever or growing old normally and loving Jacob. While that typical teenage girl flip-flop with a supernatural twist plays out, matters continue to get worse in Seattle and Alice Cullen (Ashley Greene)-via her Jedi skills- realizes that the carnage in the city is the for the purpose of breeding a vampire army to hunt Bella, which is also bad because this indiscreet killing will attract the attention of the Volturi-the stereotypical Euro-trash vampire, supernatural police of the Twilight world. Them sniffing Seattle worries the Cullens since they were ordered to “turn” Bella in the last movie and her lingering humanity might be problematic.

With a horde of newborn vampires approaching and the possibility of the ancient Volturi rolling dropping by while their in the neighborhood, the opposing vampire and wolf clans decide to unite to weather the storm together. This would be really epic if the battle wasn’t for the purpose of protecting one whiny teenage girl who has constantly placed these two ancient clans and cultures at risk for two and half films now. Even though both families can clearly see she is messing with both of their respective “sons,” the wolves and vampires unite for one epic battle that could easily be avoided by tossing one ungrateful teenage girl to the wolves…err the vampires, maybe the Volturi … you know what I mean!

The Good: The writing is self aware of the ridiculousness of its own love triangle and often laughs at itself with clever dialogue by some of the more likable characters, namely Bella’s father, Charlie (Billy Burke). Without the love story, the wolf and the vampire history would almost be intriguing. Eclipse offers some interesting views into some of Cullens’ pasts, and while Rosalie’s story is your typical I Spit on Your Grave formula, Jasper’s brutal past offers more intriguing insights into why he’s been such a tool for two films.

Horror fans and action fans have a much higher body count and dismemberment factor to look forward to, but the imagery is mostly minimalist as the director has the fact that vampires are made from that stupid glittery stone substance to avoid too much blood flow and a higher rating than PG-13.  At the end of the day, it’s still a dark romance, but Eclispe has a storyline that moves much faster than the previous two film, so don’t worry about having to sit through another half hour of Bella lamenting how awful her teenage life is in her diary.

I know the feeling...

I know the feeling...

The Bad: While I won’t rehash the awfulness of Bella’s self important–I don’t know why I hang all over Jacob in front of you, Edward–attitude, the film does have some pretty cliched and obvious writing. Aside from the two groups of enemies having to unite to face a common enemy routine, the film just has a way of spelling out what is about to happen. Every time there’s a flashback it tends to be blatant foreshadowing as if we can’t guess that this out of context story about an ancient wolf woman having to spill her own blood is going to have some later meaning.  Without giving away any “spoilers,” it’s safe to say the film telegraphs its punches, just a touch.

Another bit of half-assed writing introduces the fact that new born vampires are the strongest and that’s why we’re supposed to be afraid for the characters in this big up coming battle. What kind of backwards mentality is that? Why are the Volturi so feared than? Couldn’t a bunch of young vampires over throw them if that’s when vampires are at their strongest? Maybe trying to make sense of Twilight logic is unwise….Moooving on.

and The Ugly…

While I was impressed with the introduction of the Volturi in the last movie their direction was pretty weak this time around. Dakota Fanning and co., outside of their of Italian throne room, looked more like the type of losers that hang out in the mall between Hot Topic and Spencer gifts on Saturday nights than vampire royalty. Fanning’s evil Darth Vader presence seemed silly this time around. Considering they’re probably going to be the central storyline of the next two (yes, Breaking Dawn is going to be split) movies, they had better work on their creepiness.

Fin-

What can I say?  It’s Twilight, people. If you’re into dark romance, then the film offers the typical trappings of a tortured love triangle and decent lighthearted humor; for the rest of the world, at least, its faster paced and less fluff filled than the other two movies.

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Splice’s Trailer Lied to You All!

DrenOn May 10th, I found myself initially intrigued by Splice’s movie poster, and then subsequently rolling my eyes at the trailer. Readers of the review I posted will remember my panning of it as just another cliched attempt to rehash Mary Shelley’s format and splice it with modern problems in order to sell a Sci-Fi horror film. After sitting down with this flick, on a Tuesday afternoon with the ten other people that were only willing to chance seeing it with discounts ticket prices, I discovered I was wrong and had, in haste, committed the crime everyone’s kindergarten teacher warns about with that stupid adage of books and covers. Instead, I found myself watching a character driven piece about a romantic couple, Sarah Polley and Adrian Brody, who create a specimen, “Dren”, with human and animal DNA after their employing company refusing to support that taboo line of research. Why did I jump to conclusions about it being a cheap genre piece? Frankly, because, the trailer went out of its way to market it that way.

Splice isn’t even a horror film, but you’d be hard pressed to figure that out from the trailer’s dark music, sound spikes, and clever editing that indicates a film loaded with creepy jump scenes. Trust me, there aren’t many and the trailer actually manufactures jump scenes by inserts sound spikes and cuts where there are none. With the except of the last five minutes that takes one of the films notorious twists, little argument can be made about calling Splice a horror film. Again, it’s not.

splice-2So what is Splice? Well, its mostly an examination of genetic engineering and the possible effects it could have on the people who dare to mess around with it. This is fair warning for people who get annoyed at preachy-ness this film and its “what’s the worst that can happen” line/motif are very ANTI-genetic engineering.  However, the film does make a good case. Well, sometimes…

The problem that remains is that Splice tackles issues and character development within its run time of one hour, forty-four that you’d be hard press to cover in two hours and forty-four. Instead of well calculated development, the audience experiences WTF moments about every twenty minutes as the story unloads a tall house cards worth of twists with very little ground floor to support it. (I’ll give the minor spoiler alert, here, but this film doesn’t really have any Sixth Sense caliber delivery so don’t feel that shy about reading on.)

While the audience is offered a key-hole glance into a Polley’s character’s childhood, an abusive mother, it is hard to believe the transition of her attitude towards the clone “Dren,” which one moment has her treating Dren as her child and in the next Polley starts ripping pages out of Kathy Bate’s Misery playbook. Also, some scenes hint at an attraction between Brody’s character and Dren, but when Polley catches him doing something with Dren that Hallmark doesn’t make an apology card for it tends to feel rushed and unbelievable. When you’re in the theater scratching your head saying “Really?”, it’s never a good sign. While the twists did offer an interesting texture and depth of intellect to the storyline, they were always delivered without enough precedence to make them anywhere near believable.

Eventually after a few more WTF moments, the tension revolving around how Dren should be treated paired with Brody and Polley’s company pushing for results leads up to a final twist that is obviously coming after it’s blantantly foreshadowed. I just yawned as it went down and took the last transition numbly while receiving the trailer’s promise of  a horror film, a least for five minutes. Then it’s over, and we have  to hear that “what’s the worst that can happen” line one final time.

Worth watching? Kinda. It was different, and different goes far in my book these days, but “rushed” is never a word you want a critic to describe your story line with and that’s the only way I can describe it at film’s end. However, if you’re in the mood for something out of the ordinary then go check it out. What’s the worst that can happen?

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Paperhouse – Being A Kid Is Scary, Damn It

235229.1020.AI used to have this recurring nightmare when I was about 10-years-old.  It was my birthday and, as was customary amongst my group of friends, I was having a sleepover at my house.  The activities were typical – pizza, video games, a viewing of Dumb and Dumber, and perhaps talking about the girls we refused to admit we had crushes on.  After everyone had fallen asleep in their respective sleeping bags, I would remain awake in fear that something was off about this night.  Nick had been acting strangely, I think.  Before long, he (or another friend, depending on which night I was having this dream) would promptly rise from his slumber, reveal himself as a demon, and proceed to stalk me and my other friends through the neighborhood.  When the demon would catch one of us, he’d “infect” that person, so I never knew who to fear at any given time.  It’s amazing that my mind made that up without ever seeing The Thing until much later in life, no?  I’d wake from this nightmare and sometimes, when I had people sleep over, I’d secretly fear this scenario was going to unfold before my eyes.

I guess the point to this little anecdote is that the lines between dreams and reality are less rigid when you’re a child.  I was reminded of this last night by a lesser-known English film called Paperhouse, which Jay Clarke from The Horror Section kindly mailed to me being the nice guy that he is.  I’ve been meaning to sit down and watch it for some time as I’ve heard only good things about it, including the fact that it was directed by Bernard Rose who later went on to do Candyman, a personal favorite.

Paperhouse begins when bratty 11-year-old Anna Madden (Charlotte Burke) comes down with a glandular fever on her birthday in the midst of class.  Prior to feeling ill, she is shown drawing a house on a piece of paper.  It’s a simple thing, like most of us have drawn at one point or another; square frame, rectangle roof, 4 boxy windows, a door, and a fenced yard.  After causing a disturbance in class by fighting with a classmate, she’s sent to the hallway where she passes out and seemingly arrives in the dreamworld she just drew.  She stands up in a field and runs her way toward the surreal house.  Before she can enter, she wakes up surrounded by concerned classmates and her teacher.

Screen shot 2010-05-31 at 10.05.33 PMAnna’s mother comes to take her home and reveals that she planned to give her a riding lesson for her birthday that afternoon but it will have to be postponed due to her illness.  Desperate to not lose her chance at the lesson, Anna lies that the fainting was a hoax so she could get out of class.  Of course this backfires and her mother forces her to return to school where she takes off with an older girl to put on makeup and play hide and seek near an abandoned railroad.  Once reaching her hiding spot, a dark tunnel, she passes out again and reenters the dreamworld.  This time she makes it to the door only to find that it is locked and she cannot enter.  She awakens after a rescue party finds her.

When she’s told to stay in bed for a few days, Anna has nothing to do but add to her drawing and see what happens the next time she sleeps.  First she draws a boy looking down from one of the windows.  When she arrives in the dreamworld, she discovers that the boy, Marc, cannot let her into the house because he doesn’t have legs (she didn’t draw them) and because the house doesn’t have stairs.  The boy warns that she should run away because the house is dangerous.  She ignores his warnings and later draws stairs and legs.  The stairs manifest themselves correctly, but the legs creepily appear disembodied and shatter.

Screen shot 2010-05-31 at 10.06.16 PMAs her illness progresses, Anna’s time in the dreamworld begins to outweigh her conscious moments and strange overlaps appear between the two.  She discovers that her doctor is treating a boy named Marc who is suffering from muscular dystrophy and cannot get out of bed.  It seems that her artistic endeavors impact Marc in real life as well.  Her absentee father who frequently is away on business trips and struggles with alcoholism also begins to appear in the dreamworld as a villain after she draws him, gets frustrated, and scribbles out his face.

The rest of Paperhouse is a journey that rides the border between dreams and reality.  We never really know what is going on or why Anna is suddenly able to impact others through her little paper drawing.  Rose offers no solid explanation and, without revealing any more plot, we’re left to interpret the conclusion in any number of ways.

I really didn’t know what to make of Paperhouse after it finished but the more I think about it, the more I realize I enjoyed it.  The film’s surreal imagery, moody soundtrack by Hans Zimmer, and gritty cinematography take you right into Anna’s dreamworld.  It’s a PG-13 film that I suppose could be classified as a “kid’s movie” but I don’t think that’s a fair designation because it deals with themes geared toward an adult audience that perhaps remembers what it’s like to be a kid.  What I found most interesting was how it explores the connection between real life troubles and the subconscious/unconscious.  In a way, Paperhouse is really an in-depth character study of a troubled young girl.  She’s been all but abandoned by her father, acts out in school, and as a result is lonely.  All of this manifests itself in the dreamworld where her father is a menacing lunatic and she desperately tries to make a connection with Marc.  Rose uses the dreamworld to show how tumultuous a child’s imagination can be – sunny skies and amber fields one moment, then storm clouds and earthquakes the next.  It’s not completely a horror movie but it really feels like one at moments, especially when Anna makes a drastic change to her drawing that you know will bring about nightmarish consequences.  It’s instant dread when you see her close her eyes.

I’m not sure what to make of the ending and can’t help wonder if Rose doesn’t feel the same way.  There are so many themes presented that it might have been impossible to tie them up in a rational way.  I could ponder on this one for a while and I still feel like I’m missing some of the meaning but regardless, Paperhouse surprised me pleasantly.  On a side note, the version Mr. Clarke provided me was taken from an old VHS tape and it made me feel nostalgic for those imperfections and tracking lines on the screen.  I miss those days.  Anyway, this one’s tough to find as there’s no Region 1 DVD out there but there are plenty of bootlegs around I’m sure.  Just ask me if you’re interested…

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Alone In The Dark II – Disgraceful. Will The Real Edward Carnby Please Stand Up?

Carnby1The other day I sat down and watched, against my better judgment, Alone in the Dark II (2008). I got nostalgic and soon found myself suckered in with the mentality that it couldn’t ruin one of my favorite childhood franchises worse than Uwe Boll did. I was dreadfully wrong.

Growing up, Alone in the Dark’s signature hero, Edward Carnby, was the Chris Redfield before there was a Chris Redfield. He could shoot his way through a house full of zombies, and if he ran out of bullets he’d a grab a knife from the cutting board or even the cutting board itself and crack open some rotted heads. If that didn’t work he would just throw some killer head-butts and crescent kicks. Let’s see Redfield do that.alonedark_nightmare_screen001

However, with superior graphics, the Resident Evil franchise took the spotlight away from its spiritual grandfather, so Alone in the Dark attempted to revamp for the new millennium with Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare (2001) which moved Carnby and the franchise out of prohibition era America into modern day with some lame explanation about the character being a descendant in some secret organization that passes down the name… really a load of marketing garbage to try to compete with Resident Evil. Carnby, himself, was transformed into a Fox Mulderish wise cracking, early thirty-something, and if that wasn’t bad enough they even paired him with a red-head love interest and threw some government agency conspiracy into the mix.

Unfortunately, this “X-file” that no one should have opened gave Uwe Boll, the worst German since WWII, an idea. And when Uwe Boll gets an idea, a beloved survival horror title becomes a disgrace.

aloneinthedarkslaterBoll’s “brilliant” vision of bringing Alone in the Dark (2005) to the screen cast Christian-we thought your career was over-Slater as Carnby while Tara-bad boob job-Reid played the Dana Scully-ish character. The movie was mess of bad slow motion, half-assed CGI monsters,  plot holes, and Stephen Dorff – the guy you wouldn’t know if he wasn’t the villan in the first Blade movie – who brought plenty of terrible over-acting as the psudeo-villian that, of course, turns good just in time to save the day. While Slater was, in retrospect, a passible Carnby, the movie itself was terrible and only loosely based on anything anywhere in the games.

After the dust cleared from that mess, I was content on going back to playing the original trilogy on an old laptop and forgetting about the other two massacres until Atari decided they were going to try to make everything better by resurrecting Carnby in 2008 with the simply titled Alone in the Dark, which did its best to try to create a plot that would completely discount everything that happened in The New Nightmare and Boll’s piece of trash by simply pretending the game, and the horrible movie based on it, never happened -what I like to refer to as the Highlander 3 maneuver. Nevertheless, this new Alone in the Dark expected us to swallow the fact that Carnby Rip-Van-Winkled it sometime during the Hoover administration and woke up in modern times.  Iwould be wiling to swallow this if the gameplay wasn’t a mess of innovation for the sake of it, an over extended mutli-genre debacle, and filled with more bugs than an apartment in Baltimore. At least, I was sure now that the franchise couldn’t get any worse?Carnby 5

Then I sat down and watched Alone in the Dark II (2008). Although, why it has the right to be a “2″ to anything still remains cryptic. The original game to bear that title was about zombie pirates turned bootleggers kidnapping a little girl during prohibition and this is definitely not that. You could try to make the case that it’s a sequel to the Boll monstrosity, but honestly you would have to get some military quality bungee to make a stretch like that since the plot bares no resemblance to anything Alone in the Dark. Maybe most insulting is that Carnby is now portrayed by Rick Yune, whose ethnic background is completely different than that of the character he is portraying. Real good continuity, people! Perhaps the producers should just be honest about the fact that they just stamped the franchise name on their crappy movie and put Carnby’s dog tags on Yune’s horrible character because they wanted people like myself to get suckered into watching it.

RICK YUNEHowever, if the film was even average I wouldn’t have cared. Instead, it unloads its abysmal writing by kicking off with a shootout/chase scene that has something to do with a witch, a dagger, and some group of demon hunters that run around firing big guns at bad blurs of CGI while yelling poorly acted lines to each other through cool stylish headsets. Carnby somehow, which remains puzzling  (yes five minutes in and its already confusing)  becomes involved with the dagger, gets stabbed with it, and spends the next half hour being carried around by the demon hunters group. While Carnby is lying around bed whining, Lance Henriksen – who we want to like because he was Bishop from Aliens – goes on this whole rant about how he’s not going to get involved, probably setting up the reluctant hero that has sacrifice himself cliche. Then we cut to more shootouts with the CGI blur.

If you haven’t surmised it, the film was unwatchable, made Uwe Boll look like Martin Scorsese, and I couldn’t even force myCarn1self to finish it, which leaves me with one nagging question. Do I want there be to another Alone in the Dark anything?  It’s a really sad reality because this series had some strong potential back in 1992. Back then, there wasn’t anything like it. Dark halls, puzzles, guns, and Lovecraft style creepiness: footprints in the distance and macabre sneaking up on you from behind every corner had never rooted itself in the world of gaming. This franchise should have developed into something fantastic as technology improved. Instead, we get a character that’s completely revamped too many times, too far separated from his tough-as-nails Charles Bronson meets Macgyver roots, and four bad attempts at trying to have this franchise claim a foothold with a new generation. Can the real Edward Carnby please start cracking some more heads with a frying pan, and maybe box the hell out of Uwe Boll, until we get another decent entry into the franchise?

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The Descent: Part 2 – No Light In The Darkness

d2This 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?

descentNope.  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.

descent3Gore 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.

I know.  That's how I feel too.

I know. That's how I feel too.

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.

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Triangle – Sailing On The High Seas Of Repetition

triangleThis post contains spoilers

Since we’re on the topic of tired cliches, I just watched Triangle, a film I’ve read many positive things about from other horror bloggers and online reviews.  One overzealous Netflix reviewer went as far to proclaim, “A++++ Wow, this movie kept me completely mesmerized, transfixed and eyes as big as saucers for every single frame!!”

Damn.  Mesmerized and transfixed, huh?  Clearly, we weren’t watching the same film.  The one I watched was predictable, repetitive, and average at best.  There’s no way for me to convey my thoughts about Triangle without spoiling some if its mysteries, so stop reading here if you’re set on wasting 98 minutes of your life on it.

Still with me?  So, how many of you have seen The Abandoned?  How about Horrorfest 4′s The Reeds?  Shit, how about Groundhog’s Day?  You guessed it – Triangle‘s plot hinges on a re-occuring loop of events.  Sure, that alone isn’t enough to condemn the thing, but when a movie is touted as “mind-bending” or “thought-provoking”, I’m expecting that if it relies on a familiar narrative device, it at least takes it in a brand new direction.

Unfortunately, Triangle confuses quantity for quality.  Rather than putting a refreshing twist on a staid concept, it simply repeats that concept over and over until you wish you too were trapped in a time loop in the Bermuda Triangle instead of watching this movie.

The film follows Jess (Melissa George) as she embarks on a sailing trip with some friends off the coast of Florida.  Prior her departure, she’s seen at home with her autistic son, cleaning up a spilled cup of watercolor paint and then stuffing her duffel bag into the car trunk.  Upon her arrival at the boat dock, Jess is clearly in bad shape – disoriented, only semi-sure that her son is at school, and looking likely to spend her afternoon vomiting off the side of the boat.  But that doesn’t sway boat captain and friend, Greg, who is happy to take her aboard anyway.

Before long, some nasty weather appears out of nowhere and capsizes their boat, leaving them stranded in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle (not that they ever mention that location – I guess we’re just supposed to assume based on the title).  After a while of drifting on the open ocean, a huge ship appears and seemingly rescues the group.  Only – you guessed it – this isn’t your ordinary ship.  No, I’m not talking Ghost Ship proportions, but the entire vessel appears to be empty as the friends walk around looking for a captain or crew.  Still, there’s evidence that someone has been here before – a banquet hall stocked with food, a photo of the ship framed in a hallway.  Finally, Jess and Greg find cabin 237 (subtle nod to The Shining – Kubrick, not King) where the sink is running and “Go To Theater” is written on the mirror in blood.

Picture 1Once the group arrives at the ship’s theater, things get all kinds of crazy and Jess gets accused of shooting and killing her friend Downey.  She vehemently denies it, saying she was just outside with another of their friends.  Before they can get to the bottom of it, a madman in a burlap sack (not so subtle nod to Friday the 13th Part 2) begins to shoot them with a shotgun.  As the sole survivor of the shooting, Jess manages to beat her assailant up so badly that he climbs up on the ship’s rails and apparently commits suicide.  But before falling, he shouts something about “having to kill them to escape.”  Promptly after the assailant’s death, Jess looks overboard and to her horror sees their capsized ship, complete with the entire group of friends (including herself) screaming for help.  Begin the doppelganger cycle.  Or are we already in it?  I think we are.

The cards are out on the table – Jess is trapped in some strange cycle that she’s evidently been trying to get out of for years.  The rest of the film proceeds to show the loop from a variety of angles – from the perspective of the burlap sacked killer, who we learn is actually Jess trying to escape from the cycle and also from multiple other versions of herself.

I suppose it could be fun to try to figure out where exactly the loop begins, how it happened, or if it’s really a manifestation of her own mental instability but the problem with Triangle (for me, at least) is that I don’t care to.  From the very beginning of the film, it’s painfully obvious that we’re headed for a loop plot.  How many times does Jess have to say she’s experiencing deja vu or feels like she’s “been here before”?  After the loop has been revealed, we’re forced to watch the same footage multiple times with subtle differences that, I guess, are supposed to be shocking.  And just when you think the layers of the loop have all been revealed, another 7 are thrown on top.  It’s just overkill.

Oh, yeah - this part again.

Oh, yeah - this part again.

Please, please, please don’t get me wrong.  I love movies that make me think.  A good film should make you think long after you’ve watched it and Triangle did indeed make others think deeply.  It just failed to inspire that reaction from me.  I didn’t find it at all scary either, which is another matter.  So what you’ve got here is a post full of verbal diarrhea about this film.  Am I wrong to be so unenthusiastic about Triangle?  What do you think?

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