I’m not a Martin Scorcese fan. Normally, I attribute this to the subject matter he deals with. I’m not into the gangsters or the dumbass, abusive boxers, and that tends to overwhelm my opinion of his technical prowess, which is considerable.
Instead of doing the eight movies in three days, we did the movies in five, and I don’t actually think that made much of a difference. You have to wonder, particularly around the fourth or fifth movie (usually toward the end of day 2) whether or not fatigue is weighing on your judgment.
Way back in 2006, when the very first Horror Fest was, and they had some advertising budget, the After Dark folks tried the angle of “horror movies TOO INTENSE for regular release”. This was two years after Saw had been released to general popularity, however, and none of the movies came anywhere near that level of intensity (to say nothing of gore).
Another first time outing for the revenge story The Final, though director Joey Stewart has a substantial assistant director credits. Writer Jason Kabolati has a few credits, too. And the cast is fairly experienced, too. I mention this for no reason in particular.
A group of six young adults rent a boat for a weekend to go out in the marshes. What could possibly go wrong?
If you wanted to put a label on what it is I dislike about “Usher” movies like Skjult, you could use “Dread” pretty accurately. Dread, of course, is not wanting to confront something, generally out of fear. For me, dread quickly turns to boredom and sleepiness. (Just get it out of the way already!)
We started our third day of the Horror Fest with the Norwegian flick, Hidden. One of my idiosyncratic movie genre labels is “Usher” (after Poe’s tale “The Fall of the House of Usher”, not the hippity-hoppity guy). In an “Usher” movie, it is clear that the main character(s) is(are) doomed from the opening scene from events that have occurred in the past. Whatever struggles seem to grant any kind of light or hope of escape are merely teases; there is, in fact, no plot movement whatsoever because the plot happened before scene 1.
This is another movie where the cast and crew were around. In fact, we kept seeing the director hanging around in the lobby while we killed time between movies. In a lot of ways, this movie is the antithesis of The Graves. The direction and editing is fantastic: It’s smart, funny, campy, sharp and pops.
If you’re a regular reader, then you’ve probably grasped that I don’t care particularly for trashing movies. There are a lot of reasons for that. It is fun to make fun of movies, of course, and I can certainly rail with the best of them about things I don’t like.
On the scale of unpromising horror premises, “college kids trapped in house by maniac” has got to be in the top…one. So, when Kill Theory starts with a maniac being released by a doctor and we cut to a bunch of college kids in a van on a way to the Rich Kid’s dad’s lake house, I was not optimistic.
I pondered last year how long the After Dark Horrorfest could go on, with so few people in the audience. This year, there are a total of four venues in all of California, and the closest one (by a margin of 50 miles) is the dreaded Beverly Center 13, located in that monstrous mall in downtown Beverly Hills.
The Boy and I snuck in a Saturday Matinee in the hopes of seeing Paranormal Activity while avoiding—well, let’s be honest, the public, who can’t really be trusted to shut up and actually watch a movie these days. Particularly, since one of our last horror outings (The Orphan) had taken place in a theater full of rowdy teenagers, we’d hoped an early Saturday show would be mostly empty.
It wasn’t, unfortunately. But the audience was quiet, leading me to suspect that alcohol plays a factor in teen jerkiness, maybe more than the teen part even.
This movie, the brain child of writer/director/former video game programmer Oren Peli is actually nothing more than a classic Old, Dark House story. Which means, seriously, a bad audience will ruin it for you.
This movie has one of the slowest buildups for a horror movie I’ve seen in a long time. Well, for a good horror movie. The movie is absent any gore whatsoever—you’ve seen worse on “Law and Order”. The horrors, very literally, are bumps in the night.
Actually, those are some of the more overt horrors. A couple of others are a door that moves about six inches, and one of the characters just standing there.
You get the idea. It’s all in the telling. Oh! And sleepwalking! I haven’t seen sleepwalking used to be scary since, what, 1943’s I Walked With A Zombie?
The story is that Katie and Micah have been living together with a bit of poltergeist phenomenon. It’s been getting worse and rattling Katie, so she calls in a psychic. In this interview, we come to understand the Katie’s been having this problem most of her life. The psychic decides that it’s not your average restless spirit, but a demon, and he doesn’t do demons. Call the local demonologist.
Against this backdrop, the glib, cocky Micah goes through a number of changes. Katie, of course, believes and is very respectful of her demon while Micah goes from thinking on the one hand that it’s all silly and psychics are worthless, to being excited about the prospect of catching interesting film footage and actually stirring stuff up.
And while this is all hand-held video, for good stretches the camera is mounted, meaning much less of the shakes.
It’s actually got a very real feel to it, much more so than Blair Witch, and if Zombieland is a sort of low budget, the budget for this movie is said to be eleven thousand dollars. Most of the chills are ghost-story type things, such as a door opening slightly or a sheet billowing, but there are some interesting footfalls and a bit of special effects at the ending, too. It’s all lightly done, though.
Adding to it is that Micah and Kate (the actors’ real names) have a very real look to them. Kate is “Hollywood fat” which is to say, not fat at all, but probably fifteen to twenty pounds heavier than they’ll let her be if she’s in anything else. (Remember how skinny Heather Donahue got after “Witch”. Scarier than the movie.)
Anyway, rather realistically and conveniently, her boyfriend tends to leer a bit when he’s got the camera on her. A little less realistically is that she wears bras to bed. (I guess not unheard of, but it reminded me a bit of Megan McCain’s just lying around the house picture.) A couple of other things like that sort of caught my eye. (Like, why don’t they change sides in bed? Well, the camera shots are better that way and it probably wouldn’t make any difference story-wise. Still, that’s what I would’ve done.)
But when you’re picking nits at this level, you’ve got yourself a solid picture.
Couldn’t figure out why it was rated R when it was over. I guess there was some swearing? (I don’t usually notice.) But I’d guess it was more that that’s what the filmmakers wanted. PG-13 would’ve been more than adequate. It had an “R” feel, though.
I like “house” movies; always have. But this is an especially good one.
The Boy was less impressed. You could say we were flipped on this and Zombieland. I liked the slow buildup, he thought it was too slow. Also, Zombieland is more lighthearted, whereas this movie gets more and more serious every passing scene, despite a lot of humor.
Nonetheless, not only were people quiet during this movie, most stayed quiet well after the final scene, not really sure if it was over. Even the people who decided it was over left quietly. Pretty amazing, really.
Using the template established by 28 Days Later, and bouncing off a little Shaun of the Dead, the new movie Zombieland gives us a fun-filled romp across a zombie-filled American West.
What more do you need, really?
Well, if you’re The Boy, a lot more. I had a hard time getting him to see this one. The potential for stupid was huge, and director Fleischer, along with writers Reese and Wernick, don’t have a big dossier. I kind of blanked on Woody Harrelson—whom he actually knows from a bunch of movies at this point—and while I remembered Jesse Eisenberg from Adventureland, I had forgotten that Emma Stone was his love interest in that movie, as well. Abigail Breslin from Little Miss Sunshine rounds out the core cast.
But he doesn’t usually go see movies because of the actors anyway.
But I persuaded him and he loved it. It’s a brisk movie, just an hour-and-a-half which is pretty solidly plotted, and mostly pretty light for a post-apocalyptic movie. It dispenses with a number of the genre traditions set up by Romero’s Night of the Living Dead to good end. It’s not real scary, despite a few good shocks in the beginning, but it is massively gory.
Possibly the goriest I’ve seen this year. Possibly the goriest last year, too.
The gore is very sincerely done and well-executed. For a relatively low-budget movie, it does a very convincing job of gore-spewing and head-smashing and so on.
If you’re squeamish, in other words, steer clear.
Anyway, the plot basically concerns Eisenberg as an unlikely survivor who crosses path with the more macho Harrelson as they journey to their respective homes. Harrelson’s character likes to call everyone by their home town, so Eisenberg becomes Columbus, while he’s Tallahassee. Stone and Breslin are Witchita and Little Rock, respectively.
Columbus, formerly a shut-in, has managed to survive by compiling a simple list of rules he always follows. Things like strapping on the seatbelt and being extra-cautious of bathrooms—the latter being a virtual zombie movie cliché. These give the movie a nice start, funny and in good contrast with Tallahassee’s more ad hoc style of engagement.
This is mostly dropped in the middle of the movie which may or may not have been a good idea. It resurfaces again toward the end. I have to say, even at ninety minutes, I actually thought the end of act 2 and the beginning of act 3 was kind of a drag.
The movie is really well plotted up to this point. There’s a gag bit in the middle which is hilarious but seems to end the movie’s drive.
Still it all ends well enough, and there were a lot of ending clichés avoided as well. Where Shaun of the Dead ends with an excellent (but very standard) zombie beatdown, this stays true to it’s own feel, which is nice.
I’m being vague about details because a lot of the delight of this movie comes from its originality, and the light character arcs which manage to be pretty good despite being very light.
If you can get past the (over the top) gore, you can have yourself a good time.
Thirty years ago a bunch of kids went out to the woods and a young director made a balls-out horror movie by hanging from the rafters, attaching to cameras to 2x4s and running with them, and (according to some rumors) attaching cameras to motorbikes and nearly running down actors.
The uneven mess that resulted (Evil Dead) made an impact. It created a genre. Inspired a generation. Accidental camp and genuinely effective moments created a uniquely harrowing experience. I’d say it launched a career, but it was 10 years before Sam Raimi got a shot at a real movie (Darkman).
He remade Evil Dead as the much better Evil Dead II, which substituted the accidental camp and amateurishness of the first with an almost bizarrely acute awareness of how horror and humor overlap, and how you could make an audience laugh, squirm and scream at the same time.
This distinguishes it from the grimly serious style of horror and the wisecracking style. This is the William Castle-style, the James Whale-style, and it’s remarkably refreshing. Raimi may try to gross us out, but there’s no sadism in his film. At the same time, he’s never letting his characters out of the vice: they don’t get to laugh along with us, no matter how absurd the situations. And there are are a lot of absurd situations here.
The funny thing is, Sam Raimi claims to not even like horror movies. (Hence the near complete transformation of the Evil Dead series to action/comedy in Evil Dead 3, Bruce Campbell vs the Army of Darkness.) But there were occasions to think he missed the genre: The stark presentation of A Simple Plan and the horror overtones of The Gift certainly suggested it, but nothing moreso than the use of his Evil Dead camera tricks and stylistic approaches for the surgery scene in the excellent Spiderman 2.
Well, most (but not all) of those tricks are present in Drag Me To Hell. In fact, there’s a seance scene that could have been right out of the original movies, complete with a floating body, and vocal distortions saying a line very close to “I’ll swallow your soul.” (The only thing conspicuously missing is Raimi’s trademark zoom-stop, where the camera zooms in and stops when something makes a big noise.) Which isn’t to say he doesn’t have a few new tricks in his repertoire.
Still one thing hasn’t changed in three decades: Nothing is scarier than an old woman with cataracts who vomits goo.
So, what do we have here?
Christine Brown is a girl from down on the farm who’s trying to make her way in the big city, and has made it to bank loan officer. She’s landed rich guy psych professor Clay Dalton and she has a nice home in the Hollywood Hills. (A little too nice, I think, to be realistic. It’s not big, but those places are expensive.) Her big problem is that her boss is considering new-guy suck-up for the position of Assistant Manager, because she’s maybe a little too sweet.
Enter the old gypsy woman. Yeah, you heard me. Next to ancient Indian burial grounds, there’s probably nothing more hack. But it’s okay. This is a carinval ride: The point is not breaking new thematic ground but to scare you with the familiar. (A harder trick if you think about it.)
Anyway, the gypsy is behind on her payments and already has had two extensions. But Christine’s manager leaves it to her: extend again or foreclose. I won’t say what she decides to do here, but I will say she ends up with a curse on her. ‘cause, you know, that’s what the movie is about.
This is a tightly compressed movie where Christine ends up terrorized by an evil spirit (called the Lamia) and she’s got three days to get rid of the curse or end up being dragged to Hell (do not pass go, do not collect $200). Along the way, she gets beaten up, terrorized, betrayed and rebuffed in attempt after attempt to make things right.
She looks for help among the gypsies, with a spiritual reader, and finally with the Lamia’s old nemesis. The climax of the film has the previously mild-mannered Christine pushing herself to the limit to rid herself of this curse.
And then there’s the “twist” ending. The Boy and I were of two minds about it. We both saw it coming. I saw the device they used to set it up, but got distracted by the expertise of the execution. He thought, “Well, this is how they all end,” and so was just disappointed by it when it finally came.
So, we both agreed: Excellent movie, disappointing ending. Again, the execution here is top notch. It’s just the way Raimi chose to end it was just very typical.
Still, hard to complain: Genuinely good horror movies are few and far between. This one was, in turn, scary, funny, clever, involving, suspenseful, squicky and just plain fun.
I’ve heard that Raimi was disappointed with the third Spiderman movie, and has said that he wasn’t given the creative freedom he was given with the first two. And also that that would be his criteria for moving forward. I tend to believe that, and would rather have him make fewer and lower-budget films he has control over rather than lots of big budget films he doesn’t.
Don’t drag me to hell for saying so.
It’s a trope of horror stories that the (typically doomed) protagonists are not happy-go-lucky types with the world at their command. Unhappiness, disease or other disturbance is usually the lot of characters about to be visited by some supernatural evil.
Which, you know, kind of sucks for them, quite apart from all the horror they’re about to go through.
There’s a difficult line to tread here. At it’s best, horror is often (but far from always) an analysis of real life problems, but for movie horror in particular, you don’t necessarily want to create a grim story where beleaguered people suffer increasingly horrible fantastic events, while continuing to suffer realistically horrible events.
Which is the line that The Haunting of Connecticut treads very carefully, and maybe not always successfully. This is the “true” story of the Campbells, a financially stressed couple with three kids whose oldest has cancer. The father (played by stalwart character actor Martin Donovan) is a recovering alcoholic whose fledgling contracting business drains the family bank account, while the mother (by longtime Maelstrom favorite Virginia Madsen) shuttles the sick kid (Kyle Gallner) back and forth from Connecticut, where he receives treatment, to their home in…some place eight hours from Connecticut.
OK, this didn’t bug The Boy (and wouldn’t have bugged me at that age, either), but I confess to finding it uncomfortable enough seeing a child (Gallner is in his 20s but he’s playing a teen) racked with cancer and suffering from chemo and radiation to where I tend to demand more out of a movie that uses those things as somewhat incidental story elements.
Anyway, the family makes the logical conclusion that they should relocate, at least temporarily to Conneck-ticut. (Pronunciation courtesy of recent birthday girl Katharine Hepburn in, I think, Philadelphia Story.) But the only suitable place they can afford has some history, so they pass–until the trip gets to be so long, Madsen can’t bear to put her son through it any more and so settles on the house with the history.
The movie gets off to a slow start this way. Unlike many horrors where we have a hard time seeing why the characters don’t extract themselves sooner, this one puts us pretty squarely in reasonable shoes. We see how they got there, and the initial signs of hauntings are experienced almost exclusively by the sick kid–who is undergoing treatment that apparently might cause hallucinations–we see why they stay.
In fact, it’s not until relatively late that anything indisputably supernatural occurs. There was a point where it looked like it might all be in the kid’s head, which would’ve been an interesting twist, though not the marketing boost that a supernatural “based on a true” story is presumed to be.
Rounding out the fine cast is Amanda Crew as the niece-who’s-handy-for-the-shower-scene and another stalwart character actor, Elias Koteas, as the priest with all the answers.
So, good acting. Pacing that starts slow but picks up about half-way in and stays pretty solid.
The Boy liked it a lot, and more than I did, but we both appreciated the change in tempo and character, as the movie got more supernatural, and the ending, which wasn’t the sort of knee-jerk nihlism that plagued the After Dark horror festival.
Maybe due to the Amityville connection–the couple that pimped the story when it “happened” back in the ‘90s, were the same couple that pimped the Amityville Horror–it felt a little bit like a throwback, but overall this is a decent movie.
True story? Not so much.
You almost have to admire a movie that completely invalidates its own predecessor in the first few minutes.
WARNING: Once again, here be spoilers.
The first 6-7 minutes of Part 2 recaps the last several scenes of Part 1, and ends with the sole survivor of Part 1 (Adrienne King) getting a screwdriver to the head. After which, the killer politely removes her tea kettle from the stove.
Part 2 is full of unintentionally silly things like that.
But the big ol’ plot flaw is, of course, Jason Voorhees, ghost of the first film, ends up the slasher in this, and most of the remaining movies. He’s not a supernatural force, though, he’s a kid who grew up in the wild.
Wait, what? Didn’t his mother kill everyone for letting him die? Are you saying she wasn’t a mother-of-the-year candidate as she pretended? Jason wasn’t really dead at all?
This movie takes place five years after the last one, so that young Jason could grow up. Lest you find yourself inclined to give the film makers credit for even that, I remind you that Jason died in 1958. That was spelled out in Part 1. He dies, the there are murders the following year, the camp burns down.
So, were he not an undead creature, he’d be in his 30s by part 1. Unless we are to presume that the first movie takes place in 1960 and this one in 1965. (Pay no attention to the jogging suits!)
Well, a sequel was needed. This one has even more sex and maybe even more violence than the last and because there’s no need for a Scooby-Doo reveal, it has the more plausible hulking figure of a grown-up Jason doing his dirty deeds.
Oh, he’s gonna get those counselors back for…for…for…um…chasing him off and forcing him to live in the woods while convincing his mother he had drowned.
No drugs in this one, unless you count alcohol. Actually, if memory serves, there’s really not much drug use in any of the movies. That’s one of those things–like the virgin living–that comes more from fuzzy memories.
Much like the original movie, it doesn’t really matter who survives this one. But we know when Amy Steel starts to sort-of defend Jason that she’s the one. I love the little speech she gives when she’s trying to be sensitive to what Jason might have become, “What would he be like today? Out of control psycho? Frightened retard? Child trapped in a man’s body?”
Well, whatever he is, he managed to track down the survivor from the first movie, call her on the phone, pick the lock on the door to her house–remember, she’s having constant nightmares five years later, no way does she not lock the door–and ninja up behind her despite the hard-soled “casual elegance” shoes, which he’ll later change for a pair of shiny black ones.
So, obviously not “full retard”.
I believe this is the first movie to give us the full-on cheat shock. When the guy in the wheelchair–you heard me–gets it, the camera closes on him from front and back. There’s no one around. When it gets in close, an arm with a cleaver comes out of nowhere to chop the guy across the face. But in order for that angle to make any sense, Jason would have to be kneeling or crouching at a 45 degree angle in front of the guy, and we’ve already seen there’s no one there.
This pales compared to when he garottes ol’ Crazy Ralph from behind a large tree! Long arms, that guy, to reach with the garotte over the top of the tree and then bring it down in front of Ralph’s neck. Or maybe he nun-chucked it.
Stuff like this, which ultimately becomes the hallmark of the F13 series, really destroys any chance to achieve suspense, unless it’s the sort of suspense you get from wondering when Bugs Bunny is going to let Elmer Fudd have it.
About the wheelchair thing: It’s not until Kane Hodder takes on the role of Jason in the 7th movie that there are any rules to his behavior, and so the Jason of the early films is just not a very nice guy. Guy in wheelchair? Fair game. Children or animals? Fair game.
This movie does less sproingy-body tricks than the previous, presumably because Jason doesn’t have his mother’s engineering savvy (though he does manage to make himself a nice rope-tree trap), but it has a particularly odd scene where Jason kills a couple in bed, hangs the guy’s body up on the wall, does something unknown with the girl’s, and then gets in bed and waits! Because he knows, I guess, that someone will come looking in that bed soon enough. (Nobody would think of letting a young couple be undisturbed for the night, I guess.)
What’s awesome is that he then hides all of the bodies, but without ever leaving the house. I think he even manages to take one of the bodies to his forest hideout, too, while in pursuit of the surviving counselors. You wish you were that creative.
Despite his teleportation skills, Jason’s pretty weak in this one. He gets knocked over by the slight Amy Steel, she kicks him in the groin, and she confuses him by dressing like his mother. (Hello, Oepdipus!) He stands on a rickety chair to fool the girl under the bed into thinking he’s gone. (Say what? What kind of killing-machine slasher doesn’t just drive his pitchfork through the bed, like he’s done so many times before?)
In a weak attempt to recreate the thunder of the original, the two survivors “kill” Jason–who wears a flour sack over his head in this one–only to crash through a window and grab the girl sans mask. (He looks like a cross between the Elephant Man and Jack Black as the farmer in this Mr. Show sketch, “The Farm House Musical”.)
Inexplicably, Amy Steel (“Ginny”) is left alive while the hapless John Furey (“Paul”) simply vanishes. No rhyme or reason, except perhaps to give the series a protagonist.
Somewhat amusingly, Adrienne King, the survivor from Part 1 wasn’t offered a big role in Part 2 due to a miscommunication–and Amy Steel wouldn’t take any role in Part 3 on her agent’s advice. At least Steel and Furey would go on to have real careers, even as F13 would go on to lack any semblance of continuity.
Gore-wise, this one is particularly uninspired. A lot of slit throats, an impalement (a twofer!) and members of the cast seem to just vanish. (They actually do: They go into town, never to return, not even when the police are hauling away Amy Steel at the end.)
The next entry in the series would rip off a few of the original movies’ deaths, but would at least provide some particularly creative new ones–and in eye-popping (heh) 3D. It would also be the first film not to take place on Friday the 13th. (Not that this ever seemed to be a prominent feature in any of the movies. Let’s be honest, they called it “Friday the 13th” because they needed a holiday and “Groundhog Day” just doesn’t sound very scary.)
In honor of the upcoming explosive remake of the film-series equivalent of “The Guest That Wouldn’t Leave”, I thought I’d review the original series. The remake already cracks me up, with the extended trailer being a second-long shot of everyone killed in the movie. (13 people, get it?)
Suspense is over-rated, I guess. Although one of those 13 looks like it might actually be the mad killer his own self, so there’s some suspense there if you don’t know that it’s impossible to kill a successful horror villain.
WARNING: I’m going to spoil like crazy since the movie is almost 30 years old, and it was pretty well spoiled on the day it came out.
As a little background, I should note that I rather despised this series as it was happening. I saw one in the theater. I saw the first one on TV because I’d heard so much about it. I saw the third one in the theater, because it was in 3D. (I saw, I think, all of the 3D movies that came out in the ‘80s, and they had two things in common: They ranged from bad to unimaginably awful, and the glasses made my eyes hurt.) That was about it until long after the series ended (the first time) in 1993.
For various perverse reasons that would require you to report me to Children’s Services, I’m not going to explain how it is that I’ve become something of an expert on the series. You’ll just have to take it on faith that I am, and that I’m very, very sorry for what I’ve done.
Anyway, over time, I began to appreciate the sheer awfulness of the films. They’re not just bad singly, they’re bad as a series. Jason Voorhees is an iconic slasher now, of course, but it took six movies to come up with the complete ensemble and “character” that he’s now recognized as–and which only lasted for the next two movies before the series ended with the ninth. (Though the modern “reboot”, of course, skips all that.)
The basic premise of the film is simple: Halloween had cost less than half-a-million to make and made nearly $40M, couldn’t similar returns be had for an even cheaper movie that stole the best ideas?
If you think I’m being snarky, I’m not really: One refreshing thing about F13 is that nobody making that first movie had any pretensions whatsoever. The various interviews of cast and crew that can be found start with, “Well, I needed the money and …” Betsy Palmer needed to buy a car (scroll to last question).
The story itself borrows more from Scooby-Doo than Halloween: Mysterious disappearances at a summer camp are caused by a completely unknown character who is unmasked at the film’s climax. (In the above article, Palmer says that she told director Cunningham that it was unfair only to show her at the end, but that he was right. I’m unconvinced. It did feel like cheating.)
As I said, they’re stealing from Halloween, which basically had a slasher who was hung up on sex and fond of posing bodies in freaky ways, so they base the story around naughty counsellors who have sex and smoke pot, and really does some very elaborate body posing. I mean, we’re talking wires and pulleys–it’s extensive.
Which adds to the absurdity when we discover that 54-year-old Betsy Palmer is the culprit. Not only is she able to easily dispatch virile young Kevin Bacon (and his prominent penis), she’s able to lift bodies into trees and cause them to fall out at appropriate moments.
She kills Bacon by grabbing his forehead from underneath the bed–hella long arms–holding him down, and driving a knife or spear through the mattress, through his spine and out through the front of his throat. And then turning it.
So, it’s not just a cheat, it’s a ridiculous cheat. And then Palmer finds herself challenged trying to dispatch the frail Adrienne King. Their fight scene is, admittedly, pretty intense.
Oh, what? You wanted to hear about Kevin Bacon’s penis? It’s not a big deal (ha!), he waves it around more than Harvey Keitel. It may be accidental in this film but during the swimming scene, he’s wearing a very, very tight Speedo-like brief. Did I mention that he’s circumcized?
The scene where young Jason Voorhees makes his appearance (to the “Love Theme from Friday the 13th”) is definitely a shocker though it, too, makes no sense. We have to assume that he is some sort of undead creature, since the whole impetus for the slaughters was his death. (Plus, the flesh is falling off his skull.)
Or we could assume it was just a dream.
The next movie will completely undermine any logical or even coherent supernatural explanations for what Jason is or was.
A lot of imagined slasher conventions grew up around this series. For example, because Michael Meyers of Halloween killed everyone but the virginal Laurie Strode, there’s this imagined cliché that the “good girl” is the survivor. But as a veteran of ’80s horror movies, I can assure you there seldom was a good girl. And in this, first in the series, Jason’s first modern victim doesn’t have a chance to do anything. She’s just killed for having the audacity to apply for a job at a summer camp.
The survivor, Alice (Adrienne King), is not a good girl, either. Although she’s not shown having sex with the camp director, the implication is there. She is shown smoking weed, too. Although the “one female survivor” trope is the rule for, I think, most of the movies, the big problem here is that the characters are bland enough to completely interchangeable.
Now, if the purpose of the movies is to showcase gory special effects, we can give at least the first movie its due: This was pretty graphic stuff for the time, and fairly convincing. Of course, as time has passed and movies have gotten shorter and shorter shots, those full 2-3 second gore shots have aged very poorly.
High definition makes it even worse: You can pretty much see how all the effects were done now. In fact, in some shots, the fake skin is so obvious as to make you wonder how you ever fell for it.
This movie duplicated Halloween’s box office success but lacked a director like Carpenter whose idea of hell would be producing sequel after sequel of the same crap. Hence, the next eight movies.
Believe it or not, the series goes downhill from here: Way down.
I may have misled Knox in my recommendations post by referring to Borderland as not torture porn. I see my reviews at the time suggest otherwise but apart from a gory opening, I’m not remembering the details. As I recall, the horrors were less flamboyant and more banally real–making them all the more horrible.
I remember mostly being concerned about it, rather than it actually happening. I’ll review it when I can and see if my recall is correct.
Meanwhile I’m watching Captivity, which caused a kerfuffle when it came out because of its posters. The kerfuffle struck me as dumb. It is torture porn, though, by my definition. The movie’s sole purpose seems to be to degrade Elisha Cuthbert. Her abuse, interspersed with other women being abused, dominates the first half hour. The second half hour is more abuse, with another person being abused alongside her.
The final half hour is the big reveal, the why, the twist ending. The entree into this part is really, really stupid, but that’s not the point, really. The point is, we’ve had an hour of torture up till now, there’s nothing you can bookend it with that makes this movie not about sadism, or that makes it a documentary, or anything other than enjoying that first hour at some level.
The script was co-written by schlockmeister Larry Cohen, who recently wrote the tight Phone Booth and Cellular but who goes back to the blaxploitation days and the It’s Alive series. He also directed one of the better “Masters of Horror” episodes. No big shocka, though, he’s a working man, and someone probably said, “Hey, Larry, whip us up something Saw-like.”
The real gut-punch, though, is that it’s directed by two-time Oscar nominee Roland Joffe, who achieved fame with The Killing Fields and The Mission–which was referred to as something akin to torture porn at the time, unfairly, in my opinion–and then went weirdly off the rails by directing (at least in part) Super Mario Bros., the first ever video game movie.
Freeman Hunt (whose blog is missing from my roster on the right, I just noticed) maintained in an earlier thread that the Saw movies were just about torture–that that was all that was going on. But here you see when that really happens. Cuthbert is simply tortured. There’s no suspense, really. She’s going to be tortured, she can’t do anything to stop it, there’s no transformation that can occur, she’s done nothing wrong other than be pretty and famous.
If you just can’t tolerate the gore, all the reasons for it–however, good–won’t change that. If that’s what you’re into, then you don’t care about the reasons. But if you see it as just another color in the palette, then there’s minimally an aesthetic and maximally a morality to how it’s applied.
Knox asked me which films I would recommend from previous After Dark festivals, and whether they were things you could actually view on (e.g.) Netflix. Last question first: Yes, they’re all get-able through Amazon.com and get aired on FearNet and sometimes the Sci-Fi channel, so I have to assume they’re available through Netflix as well.
I wouldn’t recommend watching any horror movie on a network that has commercials, with the exception of FearNet because FearNet only puts one commercial break in, early on. (They do the noise at the bottom of the screen, though, which is nasty.)
Recommending movies is a much harder process, because it’s highly personal (and doubly so for horror) and the experience tends to be different at home which affects some movies more than others.
But assuming you’re not a horror fanatic, there are a few recommendations I can make pretty comfortably.
Borderland is probably the most genuinely frightening film of the three festivals, not because it’s based on a true story (which is usually an excuse for lameness) but because it’s so very, very plausible. Americans down in Mexico end up crossing paths with a violent gang. Sean Astin plays a very creepy role. I remember being concerned that it was going to veer into “torture porn” but the horribleness is mostly kept at a very real level–that is, you know, in real life, we’re more rattled by things that we brush off in horror movies–and is still very effective. (UPDATE: My reviews at the time say it is, actually, torture porn-style violence. So, use caution.)
The Gravedancers is probably the most fun. It stars “haunted house” and goes “Poltergeist”, with more than a nod to “Scooby Doo”.
Rinne (Reincarnation)is probably my favorite movie of the three festivals, but it’s not for everybody. It’s a mystery, you have to be very attentive, and it breaks Blake’s law of movie reincarnation (which is that audiences reject using dramatically different actors for the same characters). But it “made sense” to me. (It reveals “the rules” and “follows the rules” without being predictable.) Apparently some people find it slow, though. Subtitled. Must be relatively immune from “they all look alike” syndrome.
I love the atmosphere in Unrest, which is powered almost entirely by the verisimilitude of the situation. The corpses are not just realistic, they’re real. The writer/director having been a med student gets the feel just right.
In an entirely separate way, I loved the “realism” of Mulberry Street,which comes from the setting and the truly excellent characterization. I get the idea that the writer/director pulled his friends out of the neighborhood and said “Here, be in my movie.” Which may be totally false–because they all do their lines excellently and without sounding stilted–but it feels that way. The movie runs out of steam when it goes into standard zombie/plague mode, sort of ironically, or this movie would be a horror classic.
I can’t really recommend The Abandonedbecause I didn’t like it. But I don’t like this kind of movie. No matter how well done, if I know the characters are doomed from the start and yet the movie is going to make them go through the motions of surviving, I get both bored and pissed off. But for whatever reason, this movie is the only one they show on pay cable so maybe it’s a good example of a kind of movie I really dislike.
In the horror-like-Buffy-the-Vampire-Slayer-is-horror category, there’s The Deaths of Ian Stone.This is one of the few films that had a real budget, like $14M or something. It shows. And while it’s darker than Buffy, it feels like it could be a pilot for a Buffy-like series.
Butterfly Effect: Revelationhas a similar feel. I mean, the whole premise isn’t far off from “Quantum Leap”, which always threatened to scramble Sam’s brains. They just do it in this one.
Out of the 24 films, then, I’d feel comfortable recommending six pretty strongly. Sturgeon’s Law and all that.
If you’re okay with campy low-budget type flicks, then I can add Tooth & Nail,Nightmare Manand Autopsy.The camp in T&N may be entirely accidental but director Kanefsky (Nightmare) knows the limits of his medium and knows a laugh is as good as a shriek–and Autopsy is so completely committed to the “funhouse” style, it’s unimaginable that they didn’t know exactly what they were doing.
So, those are my recommendations.
Except for Autopsy, there’s not really any heavy gore in any of them (and the gore in Autopsy is right on the line of horrific/comic). Oh, there’s a compound fracture in T&N, that’s always good for an “ew”, and the majority of Unrest features half-dissected corpses as props. (I’m trying to remember if there was a lot of gore in Borderland. If there is, I’ve blocked it out.)
For hardcore fans, most of the movies have something to recommend them. And for would-be filmmakers, these would have to be interesting if only to examine: a) how much can be done on so little; b) how easy it is to go off the rails.
But for entertainment, the six abovementioned are worth the 80-90 minutes.
I was pleased when the credits started rolling and this turned out to be a Korean film. ADHF #2 didn’t have any foreign films, and were it me, I’d be trying to push the foreign stuff, since you have the chance of a high quality film that can’t get access just because it’s subtitled. Also, my favorite film of ADHF #1 was the Takashi Shimizu (of The Grudge–trust me, he’s better in Japanese) film Rinne.
This film is actually similar in some ways to The Grudge, in the sense that there’s a curse causing people to act out their jealousies by killing their rivals. Call it The Blame.
The problem with all of these abstract-concept-comes-to-life films–and other killer ghost story movies like The Ring or One Missed Call–is that without defining some clear parameter for your boogen to operate in, you give the game away that you’re just making it up as you go and ending the movie in the 6th reel.
Really, it’s vital for a horror movie to have rules. (Or any fantasy film.) Without it, you’re not performing the “trick” of art that your audience wants.
For example, The Ring is powered by the idea that the ghost can be stopped by doing something for it. That gives the characters a task to undertake that can help them avoid their fate. Then, when the truth is revealed, this gives them another, different task. This is good.
Another good example can be found in The Sixth Sense, even though the characters and the audience are not ever made explicitly aware of the rules. In fact, it can be fun to go back and look at all the clues (the colors, the effects, etc.) that indicate when ghosts are around.
Without rules, the audience feels cheated, which is unfortuantely what happens here. I’m not going to rag on this movie much because it wasn’t boring, which is the absolute worst crime for a horror film (or perhaps any film, although being unfunny may be even worse).
Basically, anyone can turn on you at any time. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. Worst of all, one of the characters admonishes that you can’t even trust yourself. Well, that’s like the deus ex machina of any horror story, since you can always end it by having the character do soemthing unintended by fooling with their perception. That can done well, but it’s very tricky. (See Fight Club for a good example–but once again there are rules.)
The end tries to make us believe that, somehow, the events of the film are set into action by the characters, as if they had control over it all along, but that just feels like a big cheat. There’s no reason for it and no control.
So it wasn’t the worst we saw, but it was disappointing. It should have worked: The whole concept of your family and friends having the urge to kill you–which you know they all do, or is that just me?–could’ve made a tight, paranoid film like Bug.
Instead, the film is unfocused, having the lead meander about as person after person harms or kills themselves trying to kill her.
Then the movie tags on an epilogue which would’ve perhaps helped the film hang together had it been filmed with the lead and stuck at the beginning of the movie, but just ends up feeling like a cheat.
Kind of a disappointing ending to the whole festival, which itself was kind of disappointing.
Doppelgangers were big for a brief while in the ‘70s, but they’ve had a resurgence of late because of Geoul sokeuro (remade as Mirrors). And, actually, if I’m not mistaken, the evil doppelganger is a common “effect” in Asian horror, if not as an entire plot. (That is to say, I think there are a lot of Asian horror movies where a person sees an evil version of someone else.)
This was actually our “big name” movie, even more so than the mad doctor flick Autopsy, which we saw yesterday. This one featured the hot (in more ways than one) Lena Heady (of 300 and “The Sarah Connor Chronicles”) and Richard Jenkins (who should get an Oscar nom for The Visitor but it’s not looking good).
And, essentially, what we have here is Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
It’s so, so boring.
I mean, okay, it was obvious to us within the first few minutes what was going on, but you know, I can watch Invasion over and over again, even though I know exactly what’s happening. The ’50s one or the ’70s remake, even. (I draw the line at the two latest ones, though.)
This has the similar problem as Slaughter in that they expect atmosphere to carry them through the uneventful parts, and it just plain doesn’t. Remember that all eight movies are under 90 minutes–this one was really short, they say 88 minutes but I’m thinking under 85 if you don’t count the credits.
But it seems so much longer.
You’re waiting for something to happen. And waiting, and waiting. There are two or three good chilling moments, but that works out to nearly a half-an-hour of nothing in-between them–or it would, if they were spread out, which they’re not. They all come at right around the same point.
And the reveal is tortuously slow.
Despite the good production qualities and acting, this would be my pick for worst of fest.
OK, let me see if I can think of something else to say about it. Well, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, really. Which was something of a trend this year: Directors and writers so obsessed with having a “twist”, they make their whole movie nonsense–and then the twist is actually “generic horror ending #4”.
I don’t find windows particularly menacing, I’ve discovered. I don’t find the London skyline very menacing, though I do wonder what’s up with the giant penis building and the Brobdingnagian Ferris wheel. Dripping water doesn’t threaten me. Whatever technology they have that allows them to simulate (or just super slow down) car collisions is cool, but not really very interesting after the 14th or 15th time you’ve seen it.
Seriously, there’s a car collision which is the focal point of this movie, but the actual purpose it plays in the story is murky. That is, it hides behavior from the main character that is part of the Big Reveal, but since the events of the Big Reveal occur before the collision, there’s no real reason for the events prior to the Big Reveal to have occurred at all.
The ultimate problem, though, is that while the menace in Body Snatchers comes from an increasing awareness of the intent of the invaders and the scope of their plan, at the end of this movie, you don’t know anything about the doppelgangers. Why are they doing this? Are they just evil? If so, how is the premise of the movie even possible?
As I said, worst in show.
Another in the generically named series, this was probably our favorite movie of the day. It’s also misnamed: There are, in fact, no autopsies. This reminds me most, I suppose, of Horror Hospital, from the mid-70s.
A bunch of college-age kids get into a car accident and are taken to a hospital (in New Orleans? Katrina is mentioned!) whereupon they one-by-one get to “see the doctor”.
This is a mad-doctor-tries-to-save-his-wife movie, in the vein of The Brain That Wouldn’t Die, e.g. It’s really kind of old school. And it helps that the mad doctor is none other than the T-1000 himself, Robert Patrick.
And, speaking of James Cameron alumni, in the Nurse Ratched role, we have none other than Jenette Goldstein (Sgt. Vazquez in Aliens, John Connor’s foster mother in Terminator 2), looking more than a bit frumpy if not downright frowzy.
This is the movie equivalent of a fun-house ride. There are a lot of set-ups for scares, and the scares and done knowingly, in such a way that you’re set up for one thing but get a completely different surprise. These don’t always make sense but, seriously, why should you care?
This is also the first movie that wasn’t unrelentingly grim. There are some good, deliberate laughs in the movie. And this movie gets the “best image” award for the fest (so far), involving a great deal of let’s say “floating viscera”.
It’s a little bit campy and a lot creative. A fun, fast-moving watch!
Basically, our movie features the interesting face of Patrick O’Kane as Dwayne Hopper, a cop who’s been brooding over the loss of his boy since his abduction 10 years previously. He’s jeopardized his job and is on the verge of losing his family. When we meet him, he’s about filling in for a friend on the night shift at the precinct.
The residents that night include a “usual” (who amusingly turns out to be an eco-terrorist) and a guy named Roland Perkins (portrayed by excellent heavy Richard Brake, who played Joe Chill in Batman Begins) who tried to flee a traffic stop. As the night progresses, Dwayne becomes more and more convinced that Perkins is the serial abducter who kidnapped 14 kids ten years ago.
The title is, of course, the giveaway there.
So, this part of the movie works. A little mystery, some nice interaction between O’Kane and Brake.
The next part of the movie involves the 14 Perkins “kids” but is, essentially, a zombie movie. O’Kane powers this, as he becomes determined to rescue his daughter (the gorgeous Shayla Beesley) and his wayward wife (Mihaela Mihut). All three do a good job here and the build-up to the final act is pretty good.
At last, they decide to barricade up in the police station. A logical choice on paper, this is where the movie falls apart. After risking life and limb to get to the police station, they move around dangerously and ultimately decide they need to leave. Rather than, say, holing up in a cell until at least the morning.
This act only has the vestiges of the family dynamic from the second act, and Dwayne’s hope that he can somehow connect again with his long-lost son.
The ending goes totally obvious and cliché, unfortunately.
Director Craig Singer’s last appearance at the fest was at the helm of #1’s Dark Ride, which suffered from a similar problem: The first third of the movie is funny, referential (to the slasher genre), and fast-moving. When they finally get to the amusement park, it’s as if amnesia set in, and they were unaware anyone had ever directed a slasher-in-a-funhouse flick.
So, hey, you know, this is better.
Inspired by true events. Few words strike fear into my heart than those. Usually it’s a poor substitute for a well-plotted movie with a lot of really awful stuff that’s based on nothing but the film maker’s attempt to pander to the lowest common denominator.
The generically named Slaughter claims to be so inspired. How generic is the name? Well, I thought this Slaughter was the one where a bunch of actors find themselves in a Japanese snuff film. When, in fact, this is the Slaughter where a woman on the run from an abusive boyfriend finds herself on a farm populated by menacing rednecks.
The Boy opined that he would like to see rednecks be cast as the heroes once.
The “true events” may be a 100 year old story where a farm family lured city folk to their doom to steal their stuff and then fed them to their pigs. (I think I saw that on HBO’s “Autopsy”. ) That sort of fits, though very loosely.
Anyway, the story as it’s told here is that Faith (Amy Shiels) is fleeing her abusive boyfriend, and ends up befriending Lola (Lucy Holt) and staying with her at the family farm. The first half of the film abounds with menace: Men in clubs, the old boyfriends, the men at the farm–hey, they don’t call it menace for nothing.
This film’s biggest problem is that the menace is dull, virtually Lifetime movie-of-the-week girl stuff about Faith and Amy’s horrible upbringings. This does come in to play later, but that doesn’t actually make it any less slow.
When the action gets going, the movie picks up tremendously. It veers into a slightly unexpected territory and plays out in slightly unexpected ways. It only goes off the rails at the end–which, unfortunately, is the by-word for this festival’s movies. (Four, maybe five, depending on how you reckon it, out of the six movies so far have pretty much gone the “everyone dies” route which is just a cheap out.)
The only other thing I’d add, maybe weirdly, is that the actresses seemed to old for their parts. It’s not something I notice, usually, but Faith is between 18-21 and Amy is under 18. This is important to the plot, but I would’ve guessed both girls were in their mid-20s.
Verdict: The action parts are better than the scare parts.
Inbred hillbilly cannibals menace city folk.
Sure, we’ve seen it before. But have we seen it in Tasmania? I think not! (Joe Bob Briggs is going to sue me for stealing his shtick.)
Leigh Whannel is best known as the writer of the first three “Saw” movies and producer of the whole series. But before that, he was an actor, as he is here, in this rather by-the-numbers hillbilly horror flick.
Seems his movie-girlfriend is on the hunt for a rare Tasmanian beastie (which I believe they have found but don’t disclose the location of in real life) and also for answers as to her sister’s drowning eight years previous. He invites jerky buddy along for the trip and buddy brings along girlfriend, so that we have plenty of potential victims.
Before you know it, they’ve pulled up in a small “town” in out-of-cell-tower-range territory and are being menaced by the locals. Although the locals actually seemed pretty nice to me. Maybe it’s just the Aussie accent.
Actually, tThe accents are somewhat Irish which is confusing to me since I didn’t know if they were Aussies trying to do Irish accents or if some Aussies actually have Irish-ish accents.
Then they’re 10 miles into the out–well, not the Outback because it’s Tasmania, but whatever the Tasmanian equivalent is–and walking around trying not to fall into mineshafts.
The jerky guy–who’s really very jerky–brandishes a crossbow, which upsets the lead, but I was thinking if it were me, everyone would have a pistol, a rifle, a knife and possibly some small explosives (or optional automatic weaponry).
There’s not much to write here because it’s mostly pretty standard, with a little twist at the climax which sort of gets untwisted at the end, which gives us a kind of twist-ish stinger. Except it wasn’t surprising in the least. It was sort of like, “Oh, yeah. I guess that makes sense. Or something like it.”
Not horrible, and less cliché-driving than From Within (which was really merciless as far as the stereotyping goes), still a lot less than I was hoping for.
Butterfly was definitely the winner of day 1.
I didn’t see the first Butterfly Effect due to my severe allergies to Ashton Kutcher. (I don’t know why. I barely know who the guy is. I’m probably just pissed he wouldn’t do a sequel to Dude! Where’s My Car?) So I don’t know what, if anything, this has to do with the previous two movies.
I didn’t see the second installment because I blinked.
The basic premise is that the lead character can change the past by–em–well, he time travels by sitting in a bathtub fill of ice in the dark. I gather that this is given a more plausible treatment in the first film but in this one we don’t waste any time justifying it. (In fact, I think they get around it by saying he doesn’t actually time travel.)
Look, the guy can time travel, let it go already. Think of it as “Quantum Leap” with gore and a gratuitous sex scene.
When the movie opens, he’s doing what he does for the cops: Basically, he travels back in time to the scenes of crimes and IDs the perps. This falls within the confines of “the rules”, the things you can and can’t do without frying your mind or unleashing the dreaded butterfly effect.
The butterfly effect, of course, is when you make a change, however minor, to the timestream. The ripple effects from that cause massive changes in history, and in the case of this movie, the time-traveler ends up with a mashed-up memory of both timelines. (I think. It’s a little hard to tell what the main character knows and doesn’t know.)
So, the trouble begins when a childhood friend–the sister of his murdered girlfriend, in fact–exhorts him to use his talent (nobody knows the icy bath thing, they just know he knows stuff) to clear a wrongly accused man about to be put to death and to find the real killer.
But going back to your own life causes all kinds of problems and God help you if you change your own timeline.
You can see where this is going, can’t you?
Every time our hero goes back in time to right something, he wakes up in a new present with new people dead and his own life worse off than before. Before you know it, he’s created a serial killer and gone from taking care of his shut-in sister (whom he saved in a previous incident but at the cost of his parents dying) to being taken care of her.
The sister, by the way, is played by Rachel Miner, who I always figure should be the daughter of horror-meister Steve Miner, but doesn’t appear to be. Ms. Miner has the distinction of being the only actress I know of who has appeared in all three Horrorfests: In #1, she was the eponymous Penny Dreadful and in #2, she was in the much enjoyed Tooth and Nail.
The Boy liked this one a lot, as did I. Chris Carmack in the lead has to play an increasingly confused and unstable character, and you do feel sorry for him even if you wonder how smart he is to keep going back trying to fix stuff.
The aforementioned gratuitous sex scene is pretty funny, just because it goes on way longer than necessary, only to end with a “I guess I’m just not in the mood.”
Anyway, this film does follow a nice dramatic arc, pulls you in, gives a sense of real danger, and then a pretty satisfying climax and denouement. There is a certain preposterousness to it, even accepting the time-travel stuff. The plot hinges on a looseness in “the rules” that isn’t really explained or justified, and the ending is a little too neat (though with an obligatory “…or is it?” feel).
But, hey, not complaining. It was different enough and fun enough.
A curse afflicts members of a small town, causing them to “commit suicide”. Crazy Christian community members decide to blame the local witches.
Sure, we’ve seen it before, but have we seen it…uh…have we seen it…have we seen it…
OK, yeah, we’ve seen it. There’s nothing really original about this film. The old “witch’s curse” thing hasn’t really been big since the ‘70s, but they’ve sauced it up a bit with Japanese-style horror effects. Actually, come to think of it, that part is highly reminiscent of Mirrors.
The boy pronounced it “run of the mill”. At the same time, we both agreed it wasn’t boring. One reason is that it’s mercifully short. Another reason is that the general production quality is good: Good cinematography, good acting, lighting, sound, etc.
But it is relentlessly clichéd: Screenwriter Brad Keene wrote one of my favorite films of the first After Dark Horrorfest, Gravedancers. It was also rife with clichés but it sort of takes them to the wall, with the movie getting progressively more outrageous. It was a light, sorta funny-scary that moved from “haunted house” to “Frighteners”-style.
This one starts as standard coven ‘n’ curse and ends that way, too, though I guess you might give the ending a few points for not totally Scooby-Dooing out. It has a kind of a “Twilight” vibe, too, with the Christian girl liking the, uh, Witch boy.
Curiously, IMDB lists this as having a planned sequel for 2010.
There’s a peculiar problem with this sort of film: It’s almost necessary (apparently) for the Christians to be clueless and powerless against the real witchy, and to show them as narrow-minded bigots. At the same time, they sorta have to be right. So we’re confronted with at least one character who has to be both sympathetic and murderous.
The movie could’ve been better without that constraint. If there’s a plot more stale than “small town narrow-minded Christians go wrong” I am not aware of it.
I actually enjoyed this more than the first film last year (Unearthed) which, while beautifully produced, was really dull.
There’s some well-worn ground in the new little flick Baghead. Four actors who long for bigger and better careers are inspired after watching a (amusingly pretentious) low budget film to go into a cabin in the woods to make their own picture. The sexual dynamics between them are ambiguous on the one hand, and on the other, one of them dreams of a man with a bag over his head, and turns them down the road of making a horror movie.
Until Baghead starts making his presence known and they start disappearing one by one…or do they?
So we have a relationship movie about guys making a movie, that’s also a horror movie about guys making a horror movie.
It works pretty well. Someone on IMDB compared to the Coen Bros., but this is no Blood Simple. That said, it’s not bad.
Our characters are: the handsome one (Matt, played by Ross Partridge), the nebbishy one (Chad, played by Steve Zsiss), the older-and-wise blonde hottie (Catherine, played by Elise Muller), and the new blonde hottie (Michelle, played by Greta Gerwig). Matt and Catherine are “beyond labels” in their relationship, while Chad is crushing on Michelle. Michelle, of course, is crushing on Matt, which pisses Catherine off. Chad is resentful of Matt, who he thinks gets all the girls, but Matt isn’t doing too well, apparently, since he broke up with Catherine.
Somebody shoot me.
This stuff’s all right. There’s a lot of drinking. And scheming. But it’s a bit slow.
It’s also a bit familiar. I kept wondering if I knew these actors or I just knew a lot of people like them.
Baghead livens up the proceedings but the movie sort of plays with being a horror movie without ever actually being a horror movie. That’s not necessarily bad, except for me finding that, when they finally commit at the climax of the movie, I was curiously unimpressed. I didn’t buy it whole hog. The filmmakers didn’t convince me that they would actually allow the things to happen that I was seeing.
Part of this is the limit of low-budget-ness. The camera’s at a pretty removing distance most of the time. Part of it is the limit of the story, though, too. There’s a sleight-of-hand that’s not very convincing even when it’s all laid out at the end.
But, all-in-all, not bad. Short. Fairly thoughtful. They do manage a few good scares, though I would hasten to point out that that’s a relatively easy task compared to making an effective full-on horror movie.
Nonetheless, no point in critiquing it for not being what it’s not trying to be. It does what it tries to do fairly well. So, good work to the Duplass brothers who wrote and directed.
Update for Ace of Spadesers: Thanks for clicking through and thanks to Ace for the link. You can click on the poorly maintained “reviews” keyword below to see some other bits of criticism I’ve written (mostly movies, some books, the occasional game). I do quite a bit of horror, so you might look at that and also post-apocalypse stuff is big. Still, some prefer the pointy breasts (start at the bottom of that link if you want to see how it all got started). Also, there’s a little slice-of-life series called Conversations from the Living Room. Thanks for stopping by!
I am adding the following annotation to my will:
Should I die in mysterious and violent circumstances, please do not allow them to portray me as a jackass in the horror movie portrayal of my final hours.
We went to The Strangers today which was “inspired by true events”. Since the entire movie takes place virtually without any interaction with anyone with any insight into what could have happened, what we have is a broad imaginary reconstruction between two real bookends, as we’ve seen before, many, many times.
Actually, in this case, the story is entirely fictitious, except that some people, somewhere, at some time, have been terrorized during home invasions.
That said, this a pretty good entry in the home invasion genre.
Now, the home invasion picture is usually an unpleasant affair: A gang of thugs invades some poor middle class (usually; occasionally wealthy people are the target) and the next 60 minutes are spent torturing and humiliating the poor bastards. Sometimes, at the end of the movie, a woman is offered a chance at revenge.
Nasty business, where the only suspense comes from wondering what horrid thing will happen next. (The quintessential such movie is Wes Craven’s execrable Last House on the Left.)
In The Strangers, however, the villains break a lot of rules. While no actual home invasion would miss these rules, the action is the better for it. Instead of subduing them, the three psychos terrorize them for the bulk of the movie.
Some good starts, nice atmosphere, creepy moments, even if it all feels sort of familiar.
So, what about the stupid parts? Well, at one point, the victims have a fully operable shotgun with lots of shells. At that point, you know, it should’ve been game over. The characters’ behavior wasn’t unbelievable, but it was stupid.
The other dumb thing is that, after the bad guys have demonstrated an ability to show up inside the house and move through it silently–whenever they feel like!–the man goes off to do something and tells the woman to stay behind, and he takes the gun with him! This one is a little less believable.
Overall, a watchable flick. Though it did strike me while watching it that horror movies, in particular, are far more effective in the theater. The lead couple (Scott Speedman and Liv Tyler) do a good job, and the movie comes in at a brisk 80 minutes or so.
So good work to Brian Bertino. But don’t let them make a movie like this about me.
Well, that sums up the eight movies.
Eight movies in three days. Eight horror movies in three days. I wonder why I do it to myself.
I’m glad the After Dark guys dropped the whole “too extreme” nonsense. These were actually milder films than many of the films released this year. And this isn’t a bad thing; people mistakenly think that Saw pushed the boundaries of gore when, of course, the ‘70s were littered with movies that make Saw look PG-13.
They just weren’t mainstream. Saw brought cleverness along with the gore, and in particular, allowed you to internalize the horror by imagining yourself in the situations portrayed. (After all, a maniac sawing off a leg is pretty mild, but sawing off your own leg at the risk of your family being killed–that brings it home a bit.)
I’ve heard the “fest” hasn’t done so well this year which is a shame, I guess. As challenging as it is to sit through them all, it’s fun and I’d hate to see it go away so soon.
Feel free to comment here or, if you like, go to the Loaded Shelf and put up your opinions there. You can also enter our book giveaway!
The last movie we saw was probably the biggest budget flick. Not for any special effects but for name actors.
Frank Whaley, Traci Lords, Gabrielle Anwar and Dina Meyer star with George Newborn and co-writer Dan DeLuca as grownups who (as kids) were institutionalized together as part of a behavioral experiment (and such things did happen, although this is not based on any particular incident as far as is detectable). They meet at the funeral of one of their friends and relive aspects of the past as the memories return.
So, sort of a The Big Chill with ghosts.
Last year, you may recall, I gave up on the fest with The Abandoned, which is a genre of film I just don’t care for. This movie actually falls in to the same genre—as becomes apparent when the six travelers drive past the same house over and over again—but this wasn’t so off-putting.
The good parts of this film include the acting, the setting, and the back-story. Well, sort of on the whole back-story thing. The problem with this movie is that it never decides what it wants to be.
Tantalizing things are hinted at. Nothing is ever truly settled upon. I suppose this could work. But here it just leaves questions without any strong motivation to pursue the answers to.
Obviously, these characters know each other and know that they know each other. But they don’t know that they were institutionalized. Or maybe they do, but they don’t know for how long. Or what happened while they were there. They’ve committed some kind of terrible crime; but in actual fact what is finally described sounds more like an accident of childish ignorance.
There’s an implication that they lack the capacity for guilt, and so are sociopathic, yet nothing at all about their characters suggests anything extraordinary about their emotional state (under the circumstances).
The stinger seems to be a pointless flashback. But it might be suggesting that none of what we’ve seen actually happened.
The characters are being tormented by a ghost. Or they’re doing it themselves.
Here’s the thing: The frisson in horror comes from a re-adjustment of perspective. Think of the marvellously chilling scene in Misery where James Caan discovers how tiny Kathy Bates really is. Think of the aftermath of the Alien bursting out of John Hurt’s chest and the realization that everything has changed forever—and things aren’t going to be okay.
I’m avoiding spoilers here, so I won’t detail The Sixth Sense, The Others, and similar films where the chilling parts were often twists in the story line. The only way it works, however, is to take an unclear or incorrect audience perspective and throw it into contrast by illuminating something previously unknown.
In other words, we have to see how small Kathy Bates is in order to throw our view of her as a psychopath into contrast. We have to see the hulking killer Malcolm and understand his relationship to the vulnerable hooker Paris in order to make everything come together in Identity.
If we have no clear idea what’s going on and are presented with imagery that suggests yet another unclear idea, we get no frisson. And that, in a nutshell, is what’s missing from this potentially classic film.
I love a good post-Apocalyptic thriller. It’s too bad one’s never been made. No, no, there are a few—very few—classics of the genre, but mostly they’re quite bad. And perhaps worse than just badness, they’re stupid. Take the Triple A title Children of Men: It posited all kinds of horrors that stemmed from women not being able to get pregnant, and missed the obvious ramifications of such a situation. (For example, if youth is exceedingly rare, it would also become exceedingly valuable; the idea that there would be youth running around unemployed seemed far-fetched.)
No, it’s really best if the whole reasons behind the apocalypse are ill-defined and not much discussed.
Tooth and Nail brings the stupid with its theory of apocalypse being “we run out of gas”. And the world collapses so quickly and thoroughly, there’s no time to adapt to coal, nuclear, natural gas, or whatever. Why? Because everyone floods south to warmer climates and wars ensue. As we all know from history lessons, prior to the refining of oil, everyone had to live in temperate zones.
Despite the apparent amnesia regarding “fire”—something that might have been handy with a bunch of people running around Philadelphia in light clothing—the heroes of our film seem to have acquired virtually no survival skills in their two or three years in the apocalypse.
I’m gonna keep ripping on this movie for a while longer, so you might be surprised to know that I did enjoy it quite a bit. But make no mistake, it’s dumb enough to have been a Michael Bay film.
And it really served no purpose to make this a post-apocalyptic thriller, except as a premise for locking up a bunch of college kids in a hospital so that a bunch of cannibals could come after them. Surely they could have thought of something else. Even the setting was dumb, though: Anyone who’s ever been in a large, modern hospital could tell you that six people could hide for weeks without being found by a dozen or so people searching for them.
In the dark.
So, the premise of the movie is that Ford (Rider Strong again!), Viper (Michael Kelly) and Dakota (Nicole DuPort) are out scavenging one day when they come across an injured girl, Neon (Rachel Miner). They bring her back to the hospital, where Professor Darwin (Robert Carradine) sets her to work fixing the water purifiers.
‘cause, you know, there’s a real shortage of water in Philly. Or maybe running out of gas ruined the water, even though everyone has moved south.
This causes stress because Viper (Michael Kelly) doesn’t trust Neon and wants to spend time fixing on the barriers instead of the damn water purifiers like the Professor wants. We never see “the barriers” by the way. When Michael Madsen and Vinnie Jones, and their band of cannibalistic freaks invades the hospital, they walk in through one of the “dozen” entrances to the hospital.
Because, you know, despite civilization collapsing into violence, you wouldn’t worry about finding a defensible position to settle down in.
You also would be sure to let everyone follow their whims as far as relationships, even if it meant two of your young men were without women and therefore ties to your group. (Darwin is hooked up with Dakota, Torino is hooked up with Ford, and Viper and Yukon are celibate because Victoria is picky enough to make good on that “last man on earth” threat.)
You may have noticed that while our crew hasn’t picked up any worthwhile skills, nor done anything but sit around contemplating the future, they have found the time to rename themselves after automobiles.
Things go bad when Neon fesses up that she was fleeing a bunch of cannibals who will now be coming after Darwin’s gang. Needless to say, our crew acts like an apocalypse-hardened team who is used to defending themselves against any and all attacks.
Ha. Just kidding. They act like a bunch of pampered college kids who don’t know how to fight, strategize or set traps.
I should probably point out that if you love uber-nerd Robert Carradine and tough guy Michael Madsen like I do, you will want to keep in mind that, generally, the big name on a low-budget horror flick works for a couple of days. The star gets quick cash and the movie gets the name on the box. (I hope that’s not too big a spoiler.) Interestingly, Madsen is one of the producers of the film.
The movie actually gets increasingly preposterous. At one point, one of the characters suffers a compound fracture. No problem, right? These guys have been living in a hospital for 2-3 years, they’ve probably been studying first-aid, bandaging and splinting techniques, even minor surgery. They have all the supplies organized; that’s the smart part of using the hospital, right?
No, they never bother with any of that. This leads to a whole bunch of giggling in the audience whenever a medical matter comes up.
I could go on like this. Really. For days. As I said, nobody does post-apocalyptic stuff right. It takes too much thought. We’re all way too comfortable to think through what life would be like without society to take care of us.
The upshot, though, is that if you’re a master at suspending disbelief, this is a fun little movie. Carradine and Madsen’s brief performances are what you’d expect, and Vinne Jones (X-Men 3’s Juggernaut) is over the top. Rider Strong turns in a typically good performance, and I thought Alexandra Barreto and Michael Kelly were fairly believable characters in a context where little was believable.
One thing that makes the movie work is that it moves. Not to draw ridiculously high comparisons, but Road Warrior is not really less absurd than this film, but it also moves. That’s how you keep people from questioning the absurdities. (Where the hell do they get their tires from in that movie?)
The other thing that makes it work is the interplay between Rachel Miner and Nicole DuPort. Not unlike Emmanuelle Vaugier in Unearthed, neither actress looks particularly plausible as the strong-headed tough-minded leader in a crisis situation. Miner’s eyebrows are exquisitely sculpted and her skin flawless while Nicole DuPort’s hair looks salon styled whether she’s just set a bone or painted herself with half-camouflage/half-tiger face paint.
I guess you could say the film was thought-provoking, since I’ve been rambling about it for so long, but really, you shouldn’t watch this film with any sort of pretensions. There’s a review on IMDB talking about its Nietzsche-ian undertones, for example, and I think that’s probably setting the bar a little high.
But some folks would say that Children of Men was thought-provoking, where I would say a speculative fiction movie needs to make sense on its own terms before it can actually provoke thought about real life.
The home stretch of our festival experience began with Rolfe Kanefsky’s Nightmare Man, probably the lowest budget feature after Mulberry Street. Curiously enough, the effects used on Mulberry Street allowed me to watch the whole thing without thinking, “Wow, this was shot on video.” (And Mulberry was even shot on mini-DV, which I understand is even crappier than regular video.)
The outdoor day shots, especially the tracking shots, absolutely scream “shot on video”, which definitely kicks in some prejudices. (Think “Spanish Soap Opera”.) Once the night rolls in, though, the camerawork is nice enough to distract from the cheapness.
Anyway, the story concerns the emotionally fragile Ellen (Blythe Metz) whose dim-witted husband William (Luciano Szafir) is having her committed, as she is constantly haunted by nightmares. (I don’t think you can actually commit someone for having nightmares, no matter how real, or even outright schizophrenia unless you can prove a danger to themselves or others, but roll with it.) Oh, and I guess William isn’t really dim-witted, but he really seems like it.
Actually, all the men in the movie seem dim-witted, when you get down to it, even “Night Court”’s Richard Moll, who has a small role as a cop.
Kanefsky does a lot here with his budget. The story moves along with the action, giving us a bit more than the usual “10 Little Indians” plot, and he’s not afraid to exploit comic moments when they arise. This is smart, the audience is going to do it unless you do it for them—as in Tooth & Nail—and the movie ends up feeling like it’s still under his control, when the big reveal happens in the third act.
We happened to see Rolfe and Esther Goodstein in the lobby on Friday handing out autographs for this movie and she was pushing the surprising twists and turns at the end. I’m sorry to say that I knew more-or-less exactly what was going to happen from the opening scene of the movie, sans a few details that didn’t fill in until Tiffany Shepis showed up in the second act
I’m not good at that sort of thing, really. I didn’t see The Sixth Sense coming, for example. (But all subsequent M. Night Shyamalan movies have been devoid of surprise for me because I know how he thinks now.) But really, there was only one way for the story to go.
The key thing is that you have fun getting there.
Veteran Tiffany Shepis is as believable as any of the other 90lb-5’3” ass-kicking chicks we saw over the weekend but I’d give a special nod to relative newcomer Blythe Metz. She never gets to Brinke Stevens level crazy—it’s not really that kind of film—but you feel like she could.
The only real negative on this film for me was the stinger. The final battle makes everything as plain as need be as to what’s going to happen after the credits roll. The subsequent scene gilds the lily.
Although I’ve never read anything that mentions it, I think it’s apparent that the Evil Dead series was a big influence on Kanefsky. There are definitely worse influences to have.
“By the numbers” was probably the watchword for Day 2. Our second film, Mulberry Street, was a by-the-numbers modern zombie flick, only instead of zombies/ghouls, we have wererats.
But that description doesn’t really do this film justice. It excels in some ways and falls down in some others. First of all, this film is New York. Lower East Side, Bowery-type New York City. I’m no expert on the city, but it felt completely authentic to me.
The characters are drawn wonderfully, too. Co-writer Nick Damici plays ex-boxer Clutch, single father to war vet, the striking Kim Blair. The feminine touch in the parenting done by Coco (Ron Brice) a gay black man with feelings for Clutch, and no hidden resentment toward aging beauty queen Kay (Bo Corre). We have a cranky superintendent, a Vietnam war vet, an Anzio(!) war vet, and just buckets of local character.
This stuff is mostly lightly touched upon as the story unfolds of Manhattanites being infected by rats with a disease that turns them into flesh-hungry were-rats. That’s the good.
It’s so clearly New York, that the introduction in the middle of a long montage accompanied by a blaring folksy tribute to New York makes you want to say, “OK! We get it! It’s New York! It’s weird!”
But the thing that really sinks this film is its lack of focus. It’s sort of 28 Days Later in the Bowery. The rat-people are killing people for food, but in the worst tradition of the zombie flick, they’re also turning them into rat people, and only the needs of the plot determine who gets what treatment.
It’s really a shame, too. This is a movie you just want to be better. Apparently, it was made on $60,000, but I didn’t actually see that as it’s weakness. In fact, the video is made deliberately grainy and cheap looking to considerable effect.
It just needed a tighter plot.
We closed the first night with one of my least favorite genres: The crazy cult coming to cill, er, kill you genre. These were big in the ‘70s and were usually unpleasant affairs, both predictable and unsatisfying. They also tended to feature, as a “twist”, an actual appearance by Satan or some other demon at the end.
So I sat down to this one—which had a dismal 3.8 rating on IMDB—with more than a little trepidation. And the beginning is grotesque, probably the goriest thing we saw all weekend. Yet the movie holds together by being dedicated in its realism and tightly focused. (It claims to be “based on true events”.)
Brian Presley, Jeff Muxworthy and Rider Strong play three post-grads on a “last fling” to Mexico who fall afoul of a Santeria cult looking for, em, emotive contributors to their black magic. The cast is rounded out with excellent performances by Sean Astin (in an almost Dennis Hopper-ish role), and Mexican actors Damian Alcazar and the gorgeous Martha Higareda.
The cultists are menacing and arrogant, with my favorite being Marco Bacuzzi, who reminds very strongly of the great Michael Berryman. And yet, there’s no cheating: The director doesn’t try to straddle the line convincing you these guys are supernatural; he gives you the facts, and dares you to believe them.
The film is actually only marred by (God help me, I’m not making this up) a political statement. Muxworthy plays jerky, greedy, Republican Henry who hates the poor and can’t figure out why his friend Ed wants to go dig ditches in Malawi. He also talks trash and buckles when the pressure is on.
I suppose with Joe Dante’s shameless episode of “Masters of Horror” (“Homecoming”), even horror can’t be spared the daily grind of partisanship. But I have to wonder: With party enrollment dropping to all-time lows, does it really make sense to possibly alienate most of your audience? (I’m a decline-to-state and always have been, and I was appalled by the gratuitous slap.)
Besides, if he’d really been a Republican, he would have had a gun, right?
OK, enough stereotyping. Zev Berman is clearly a talented director with a good eye for story. Let’s hope he uses it to make good movies rather than making “important” movies.
This was Day 1 for us, and Borderlands ended it on a high note. Day 2 would be less enjoyable, unfortunately.
The Deaths of Ian Stone
Probably my favorite premise of the festival: A man is killed by some sort of crazies/monsters, then wakes up in a new life, only to be killed by them again. And over and over. Groundhog Day, if the groundhog had a chainsaw and a bad attitude.
But in fact, this feels at first more like Dark City meets The Matrix, with some sort of alien force rearranging reality for some reason we are unable to fathom. Another thing that we’re unable to fathom is why Ian Stone is an American (Mike Vogel) living in London.
No, I guess that’s not really important but it does sort of stand out without ever being explained.
The middle of the movie drags a bit, as we get some torture of our hero, and some dominatrix-inspired costume changes for hot ‘n’ sexy Jaime Murray (best known to Americans as Dexter’s “anonymous” sponsor on Showtime’s Dexter).
The movie actually veers away from horror into more of an action style that reminded me more of “Buffy” and “Angel” than anything else, and I didn’t really care for that, but overall this was a fun flick.
Oh, won’t someone free the horror movie alien from the grip of H.R. Giger? Ever since Ridley Scott’s seminal 1979 film, Alien, it seems like all malevolent aliens are slime dripping, mouth articulated, baroque-carapaced xenomorphs.
In this movie, the alien is mixed with a little bit of predator as well, though that aspect of the film isn’t strongly fleshed out. More strongly fleshed out is the overwrought plot, concerning hot ‘n’ sexy Emmanuelle Vaugier as the sheriff of a small town haunted by a terrible mistake in her past as hot ‘n’ sexy Tonantzin Carmelo does plant biology for Grandpa Russell Means (who’s apparently taking a break from delivering anti-pollution PSAs) while hot ‘n’ sexy blondes Beau Garret and Whitney Able breakdown after picking up hot ‘n’ sexy hitchhiker Tommy Dewey. Did I mention the hot ‘n’ sexy drug dealer/pimp Charles Q. Murphy who runs out of gas? No? Consider him mentioned.
Despite being awash in clichés and unlikelihoods, I was actually pretty impressed by this film at first. The cinematography exploited the beauty of the New Mexico setting (even if it was shot in Utah) and you can’t really complain about a horror flick putting a hot and sexy chick in a role, no matter how improbable the role.
And, in this case, Vaugier is reprising Ben Affleck’s role in Phantoms. Funny thing is that while she’s 31, which is a perfectly respectable age for a sheriff, she looks 20, and since she’s supposed to have hit the skids, she doesn’t really come off sheriff-like. I’d suggest this was a bad combination. It’s made worse by the fact that her backstory is just noise, unlike Affleck’s character in Phantoms.
And, seriously, why would anyone say, “Yeah, Affleck was the bomb in Phantoms! Let’s remake it with hot chicks!”
But they did and it almost works. There’s competent groundwork in the filming, editing and music. The story is, as mentioned, derivative and overwrought, but even that’s not really the death knell. The thing that kills this movie? The alien itself.
It’s a common problem with low-budget monster flicks and I hate to bash them for it but it’s truly disastrous. I think at some point they had a puppet-type alien, and where that is used, it’s okay, but whenever CGI is used to show the thing moving, it totally destroys the atmosphere. This is compounded by the fact that the creature isn’t running around in shadows but is mostly fully lit up.
So, it’s diminished by being an Alien rip-off to begin with, and knocked flat by being poorly animated, until all you’re left with is a mess of a story that rips off Phantoms, Alien and Predator.
Nonetheless, I was still optimistic going into the next film.