Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A Christmas Horror Story

A Christmas Horror Story

The four stories in A Christmas Horror Story take place in the fictional town of Bailey Downs on Christmas Eve, perhaps a happy accidental nod to the George Bailey character in the Christmas classic It's a Wonderful Life. They are woven together by Dangerous Dan, a local radio DJ played by William Shatner who works as a narrator of sorts for the film. This character is much like the Adrienne Barbeau character in another recent holiday horror anthology, Tales of Halloween.
Each story in A Christmas Horror Story seems to be created for true horror fans. They are dark and detailed with often brilliant color schemes that highlight both the classic feel of Santa Clause and the underlying evil of Krampus, both of whom play roles in the film.
The stories include a family looking for the perfect Christmas tree in a not so perfect place, a not so joyous Christmas spirit, a student documentary that turns Christmas Eve into a not so silent night, and a North Pole zombie fest full of not so friendly elves. The theme throughout the film is “not so”. These characters experience a not so merry Christmas, and it's not that they asked for it or wanted it, but they did unknowingly bring it upon themselves by making not so good decisions that underline the fragility and weakness of the human condition. These back stories and character flaws are introduced as each story unfolds and the characters find themselves in hellish and unimaginable scenarios. The film is well written and well made with a variety of horror stories that are as different from each other as Santa Clause is from Krampus. The cast in each segment all give solid performances and this is a major win for the film as it plays it's horror straight and not for laughs. One weak performance can throw off the believability or wreck the suspension of disbelief in such genre films.
I've heard this film referred to as a comedy-horror, but I found it to have a quite serious tone. Sure, Santa fighting zombie elves that speak insults like a possessed Regan from The Exorcist is amusing, but every aspect of these stories aren't played for laughs, they are played to frighten and thrill. And that is exactly what they do! A Christmas Horror Story manages to be a horror movie that is entertaining, full of surprises, has a strong focus on horror, and is a lot of fun! There are several strong moments that kept me thrilled and smiling including a bloodthirsty Elf using a tree as a battering ram to break down a door, a (not so) dead girl makes a startling first appearance, and an epic battle between Santa Claus and Krampus, the ultimate showdown of Good Vs. Evil!
I highly recommend this movie to every horror fan. Instead of the family, feel good movie or holiday slasher classic, watch something different and new this Christmas and check out A Christmas Horror Story and have a merry and gory and fright filled Christmas!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Charlie's Farm

Charlie's Farm

Charlie's Farm tells the story of four friends who are looking to do something different, looking to go on a little adventure. One of them gets the idea to go see Charlie's Farm, a homestead in the middle of nowhere that was the site of a murderous, cannibalistic family (headed by Bill Moseley in his usual, scene stealing performance) who were killed by a mob of local townsfolk many years before. The family's son, Charlie, was never seen after that night and while many believe he is dead, some say he still wanders the farm to this day.
Charlie's Farm begins with a great opening sequence showing two hopeless victims who are trying to escape a killer. The two are trapped in a basement and the scene is lit with a dingy green light that gives the picture a dirty and eerie feel as we hear heavy and fast footfalls above; this killer is a big guy. When the two meet their inevitable demise it's rough and quick and brutal with wonderful blood splatter sounds.
Unfortunately, that's the best part of Charlie's Farm.
We cut to a group of friends who are bored and decide to go see Charlie's Farm, the infamous scene of gruesome killings. What follows is a generic road trip sequence, complete with goofing around in the car as happy, upbeat music plays, as they travel several hours to the farm.
The idea of going to the legendary farm becomes almost an obsession with Jason and Mick (Dean Kirkright & Sam Coward), but it is never really understood why. Other than being bored and hoping to see “some cool shit,” no reason whatsoever is given for their sudden and strong desire to see the place. It's not as if they are counselors at a camp or break down near the farm or get lost on it, no, they just choose to go there. With no conceivable connection between the characters and the location that is the name of the film, I as a viewer felt a bit lost during Charlie's Farm with nothing to really latch on to or care about. Even with several warnings not to go to the farm, including some resistance inside the group from Natasha (Tara Reid), they are blindly determined to see it and push on. And with no one or nothing to ultimately root for, Charlie's Farm feels like a flat and lifeless picture.
The movie isn't without it's bright spots. The dialogue is written and delivered the way people speak and this helped the characters seem like actual people and I appreciated that attention to detail. Another part of the film that pays attention to detail are the special effects. There are some creative kills with solid practical effects work, a job well done by the effects team! And while the group is exploring the farm there are some beautiful shots of the surrounding scenery like old farm equipment, rusted fencing, and twisted up barbed wire.
When Charlie himself shows up (Nathan Jones), he is a big friggin dude. He looks like a hillbilly version of a possessed Sabertooth from the X-Men movies. Charlie grunts and yells throughout his killing spree and I found him a lot more effective in that opening scene where his quick, menacing, and heavy footsteps was enough to be terrifying.
And Kane Hodder shows up in a throwaway and meaningless role.
While Charlie's Farm isn't a terrible film, the good aspects of the movie aren't enough to save it, as it is a by the numbers slasher flick that doesn't try to offer anything new, it just...is.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Krampus

Krampus

While Krampus isn't exactly an “independent” horror film, I still found it necessary to review for a few reasons. One, it is the horror genres big offering for the holiday season. Two, it was written by Micheal Dougherty who is responsible for the cult, horror hit Trick r Treat. And three, it just looked awesome!
Krampus tells the story of Max, a pre-teen boy who wants Christmas to be like it used to when he was a younger child. While holding onto a belief in Santa Claus and the magic of the season, his family seems to have lost touch with the Christmas spirit. When relatives come to visit, the family dysfunction comes to a boil and Max loses hope and gives up on Christmas cheer thus unleashing the evil spirit of the holiday, the shadow of St. Nicholas, Krampus!
From the opening moments of Krampus, I knew I would love this movie. The opening credits play over slow motion filming of mad and frenzied holiday shoppers tripping over each other, trampling store employees, and fighting over items they want to buy. The silent scenes are accompanied by comforting Christmas music that plays over the juxtaposing crazed images. This opening sets the tone for the entire rest of the film: it's funny and terrifying, and brilliantly mixes a holiday horror story while relaying a classic Christmas message of family at the same time.
Krampus works so well because it is a a film that pays attention to detail. With a character based depiction of the average family, the stress and nostalgia of the holidays, and a blatant admiration for classic holiday movies, Krampus creates an atmosphere that almost every movie goer can relate to. A brilliant homage is paid to classic Christmas specials with a flashback sequence that is told using CGI that simulates the look of Rankin-Bass stop animation. The film also has the shadow of Gremlins hanging over it with the murderous little toys brought by Krampus squealing in high pitched mischievous giggles like the Gremlins themselves and the young Max (Emjay Anthony) resembling a young Zach Galligan.
The entire cast is spot on here and the comedy plays well within the horror. Adam Scott and David Koechner play off each other nicely as the two fathers with opposite view points on almost everything while Allison Tolman is very effective and funny in a subtle and strong performance. But it is the always great Toni Collette who stole the show for me. She plays the mother of Max as caring and sensitive and doing her best to have a nice holiday. But when the evil Krampus and his sack of killer toys come down the chimney, her performance takes on a tough edge that I found captivating.
Krampus moves at a quick pace and it doesn't take long for the horror to settle in. The film is filled with random, loud noises when Krampus comes to town that are truly terrifying! The sounds swirled around the theater like the snowstorm on the screen and filled it with roar like screams and bangs and thuds and stomps that sounded like an intensified and possessed version of Jurassic Park. Giant killer Jack-in-the-boxes, little murderous gingerbread men, demonic dolls, and ghoulish elves invade their house and fill the screen in a holiday horror masquerade massacre of a climax that is an absolute balls to the wall blast to watch. Computer graphics are blended well with the many practical effects to give Krampus and his tidings of evil the look of a 1980's creature feature while the music of the film reflected the mayhem and horror of the situation with a touch of evil playfulness.
With Trick r Treat and now Krampus, Micheal Dougherty is 2 for 2 with creating classic movies to represent a holiday. Krampus is a big movie in every way, big on fun, big on detail, and big on storytelling. I'll find my way back to the theater to see it again before Christmas and it will find it's way into my regular yearly rotation of holiday must watches!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Similars (Los Parecidos)

The Similars (Los Parecidos)

The Similars is the second feature length film from Mexican writer/director Isaac Ezban. The movie takes place on October 2, 1968 and it is a dark and very stormy night. It's a torrential downpour and eight strangers find themselves waiting in a remote bus station trying to get to to Mexico City. With the buses delayed due to the weather and no taxis willing to make the long drive to the station, the group struggles to find a way out of the bus station. Amidst their struggle and frustration being stranded at the station, they all start experiencing a strange phenomenon.
To say more of the plot would be entering spoiler territory and as with Ezban's 2014 feature The Incident, the less you know going in, the better. The Similars is high-concept storytelling at it's best; it takes a simple plot and runs with it while never losing sight of what it is trying to accomplish. Ezban makes The Similars work so well because after the initial set up, the plot is driven forward by the characters and every scene further develops the story. It was a completely mysterious and joyful experience watching this film because once the “strange phenomenon” starts to take place I had no idea where it would end up and I was mesmerized right through the end credits! The Similars is a throwback homage to old Twilight Zone episodes and Ezban pays those classic stories the best kind of compliment by bluntly allowing their influence on him to shine through without making it seem like he was ripping them off or simply mimicking them. He is the kind of filmmaker who knows his influences well and wants to celebrate them but has his own strong vision that makes his work seem fresh and exciting.
The Similars is a special film that had me feeling like a kid at a Saturday matinee. With the very faded color scheme that gave the film an aged, black and white look mixing with the crispness of the picture, The Similars felt like a strange yet familiar dream world. The excellent cast of actors elevate the dream world aesthetic of the film by portraying real people experiencing a hellish nightmare even as the direction hits upon tones of humor and outrageousness. The audience I saw this with laughed several times at genuinely funny (if not a bit disturbing) scenes. The tone of the film is superbly blended as The Similars pushes itself further into Twilight Zone territory by putting the audience in an uncomfortable and unimaginable and terrifying scenario and allowing their only means of release be either a gasp or a laugh. It's brilliant storytelling, and I can't wait to watch it again!
The Similars is a film that almost requires you to know as little as possible before you see it. Part of the pure enjoyment is watching the characters deal with this nightmare scenario and watching the events unfold right up to its smart and expertly tied together climax. Isaac Ezban has set the bar very high for himself, and I am very excited to see what he does next.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Bite

Bite
 
With over a thousand new types of insects being discovered every year, how are humans able to fully understand them? How could we know what they are all capable of? This is the question at the center of Bite, the new horror film from Black Fawn Films.
Bite tells the story of Casey (Elma Begovic), a bride to be who goes on a tropical bachelorette party getaway with a few of her girlfriends. While in paradise she gets bit by a bug that at first seems like just another bug bite, but upon returning home Casey starts to develop insect like traits...
Bite is one sticky, oozing, slimy mess of a film. And I mean that in the best way possible. It is old school body horror mixed with modern anxieties that features one hell of a performance from Elma Begovic. It is hard to believe that Bite is her first leading role in a film, she absolutely commands the screen, especially during and after her body begins to transform into an insect like appearance. I was thrilled watching her in full on insect mode, her head twitching with breakneck quickness, her eyes focused and sharp, and her body and movements seemingly leading her instead of the other way around. She was absolutely fantastic, and the rest of the cast all turn in solid performances.
The script does a good job fleshing out the characters and giving them more to do than just exist in a horror movie, Casey in particular. There are back stories and real life drama going on amidst the body horror transformation. Casey is unsure of her coming marriage to Jared (Jordan Gray) and kudos to the writers for making him a cool guy who has his life together and not some easy to hate villain type. This makes Casey a more complicated character because it's hard to see what she is unsure of, and Begovic works these complexities superbly in a sensitive and sympathetic performance. The same can not be said for the future mother-in-law character as she is written a bit over the top with an unexplainable disdain for Casey.
As Casey locks herself in her apartment throughout the transformation and the inevitable changing of her habitat begins, it becomes an insect haven of horrors. We get thousands upon thousands of tiny little eggs that are constantly sliding around through thick, mucus like slime that covers every square foot of the apartment. They slide off of tables, slide down the walls, collect in slippery, sticky puddles on the floor. Where do all of these slimy eggs come from? Casey begins to throw them up along with gobs and gobs of thick drippy goo. Like I said, Bite is one sticky, oozing, slimy mess of a film. Casey's apartment becomes a dark brown sinkhole of slime adorned with giant, wicked cob webs that envelope her victims when she begins to crave human flesh.
The atmosphere in Bite is masterfully created and the strong and committed performance from Elma Begovic and the rest of the cast make this a fun and effective creature feature. The music really ties the entire film together as it is reminiscent of old school horror films from the 1940's and 1950's with it's blaring horn and brass score that sounds both terrifying and magical.
Black Fawn Films really put themselves on the map for me with this one and I would recommend to everyone that you check them out and their new film Bite because it is a fun and wild ride.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Hive

The Hive

The Hive tells the story of a young man named Adam (Gabriel Basso), who wakes up in a filthy secluded cabin not knowing who he is, how he got where he is, and has to figure out how to save Katie (Kathryn Prescott), the girl he loves. The film plays out like Memento mixing flashbacks and the present as Adam has to put the pieces together from the clues he's left himself to figure out what is going on. We find out early on that a virus has infected him, Katie, and the human race that essentially takes over the mind and plugs it into one giant collective thought machine, creating a zombie/drone like race.
It's a hefty storyline for sure and The Hive offers something to say about the world being constantly plugged in and online with a growing addiction to social media. One pivotal scene in the film even hits it on the nose as a character explains the possibility for humans to share thoughts directly from mind to mind in what he calls, “the ultimate social network”. There's a lot of respect that must be given to a film that attempts to tackle such cultural issues in a creative and symbolic way, and The Hive certainly has that going for it. Another success of the film is it stylistic look and remarkable make up effects. The film is edited with constant quick cuts that make for a relatively fast pace and creates a sense of urgency for the main character to fight against. The quick cuts can also get a bit distracting after a while as it almost feels like there's more to keep track of in the film than is actually being presented. The make up and practical effects here are simply beautifully done. It's very reminiscent of the look Evil Dead (2014) had; very brutal and detailed as the virus infects the people. The lighting also emphasizes the make up with a very bleak and sterile look that makes the random blacks and reds on people's bodies really stand out.
One problem the film runs into is there are scenes that are dialogue heavy to explain what is going on and to connect the film together that seem longer than they are because they are surrounded by such quick cuts in the other scenes. I also felt that there was a bit too much explanation needed to make the lofty premise make sense to the viewer.
Perhaps what really saves The Hive, along with the appearance of the film and effects, are the performances from the entire cast. The film doesn't call for a one man show from Gabriel Basso but it does essentially rest on his shoulders and he does a solid job here. He is able to successfully portray a wide range of emotion and also comes across as likeable and relate-able with an everyman vibe. Kathryn Prescott also does a good job in her role and Gabrielle Walsh does fascinating and chilling work with her eyes and face as the doomed Jess.
While I didn't love The Hive as much as I wanted to, I did find it to be a pretty decent horror flick with amazing effects and solid performances. It also has something to say as a reflection of our social media obsessed and constant thought sharing culture. That's enough for me to see what writer/director David Yarovesky does next.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Last Girl Standing

Last Girl Standing

I was lucky enough to see Last Girl Standing at this years Eerie Horror Film Fest in Erie, PA. The film pitches a unique idea that instantly interested me: what happens to the final girl after the horror movie ends? The idea has been explored before in sequels such as Friday the 13th, Part 2, where Adrienne King's Alice gets killed, Neve Campbell throughout the never ending twists and turns of the Scream series, and countless others like that. But what would happen in the real world to somebody who survived a killer straight out of a slasher movie?
Last Girl Standing focuses on the life of Camryn (Akasha Villalobos), the only survivor of a brutal massacre during a camping trip with some friends only to still be haunted five years later by the terrible memory and image of the killer. The killer wore an animal head with horns over his own in a sadistic manner and it was truly a disturbing sight! For a killer who is only on screen for about 5 minutes (he gets killed), the filmmakers did a good job in making him memorable.
Camryn has been living a quiet life in an apartment that looks like she hasn't finished moving into and working at a dry cleaners since the incident happened. Actress Akasha Villalobos does a stellar job in portraying the paralyzed stillness and tortured silence that Camryn's life has become. There are scenes that show her brushing her teeth when she will suddenly stop and look at her closed shower curtain as a heavy breathing fills the bathroom, unexpectedly back in the grip of the killer. These are powerful moments that are very effective and show the sudden dread that can take over her life at any moment. She may not have died that night in the woods, but her life stopped and Villalobos superbly encompasses this feeling in her performance.
When a new employee gets hired at the dry cleaners, Nick (Brian Villalobos), the visions Camryn has of the killer start to intensify. This is in conjunction with the 5 year anniversary of the killings and Camryn seems to not trust the new employee. Late one night a break in happens at the dry cleaner when Camryn is there alone and she sees glimpses of the killer and swears he is after her again. When the cops come, they advise her not to be alone and, having no where else to go, Nick offers his place where Camryn meets his roommates.
The film takes it's time as Camryn establishes relationships with these people and seemingly makes friends with most in the group. Although her visions of the killer resume as well as the belief that he is after her, she appears to have a support system with these new friends in place to help her. While the group question her believability and sanity, it is clear that something is following Camryn, they just aren't sure what. The pacing of the film is slow and really takes it's time to build up to it's final act. Don't get me wrong here, the slow burn approach is very effective and serves a purpose as it strongly establishes the necessary relationships that come in to play later in the film. After being immersed in the world and characters of the film, the viewer's patience is more than rewarded with a brilliantly set up ending full of chaotic slasher goodness! It's pacing reminded me of another brilliant independent horror gem from the past year called Pieces of Talent.
Last Girl Standing is a character study of the idea of 'The Final Girl' and what realistic effect such a label from a horrible situation could potentially have on a person. It's a smart horror film with great production value and strong performances from the whole cast. Last Girl Standing is on the festival circuit as of this writing and if you get the chance to see it do not pass it up, it will be the movie you are talking about when you leave.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Tales of Halloween

Tales of Halloween

Tales of Halloween is an anthology of 10 films that all take place in a small American town where the townsfolk are terrorized by ghosts, ghouls, aliens, and killers on Halloween night. Inevitable comparisons to Creepshow and the more recent Trick 'r Treat are justified and expected, but Tales of Halloween does more than enough to stand on its own in the anthology sub-genre.
Tales of Halloween is a love letter to Halloween itself and all the myths, superstitions, and lore that surround the fun and spooky holiday. There are 10 stories in the film that could only be expected to happen on Halloween and yet seem unexpected to the towns people they happen to. It takes itself seriously but leaves plenty of room for humor, mixing the scares and the laughs extremely well. There are plenty of practical effects on display that give the film that fun, lived in, old school horror feel. The makeup and lighting are also utilized to benefit the film and add to the creepy feel and atmosphere. One segment in particular had one character as a red witch who was shown in very effective red and black makeup with strobe light like movements and lighting that worked wonderfully and was truly terrifying.
There is some great talent walking around the streets of this doomed town throughout the 10 films in Tales of Halloween. We see Lin Shaye, Pat Healey, Tiffany Shepis, Barry Bostwick, Kristina Klebe, a blink-and-you'll-miss-her Felissa Rose, and a handful of others populating the stories. The one appearance that got me the most excited and felt like hearing a comforting blast from the past was Adrienne Barbeau as a disc jockey who worked as a narrator of sorts throughout the film to help tie the stories together. As soon as her voice came through the speakers to open the film in that smooth, inviting tone from “The Fog”, I had a big smile on my face and I was hooked! The actors didn't have a lot of time to flesh out characters or create many memorable moments due to the length of each short film, but I was impressed once again by Alex Essoe in her short time on screen, the first time being her commanding performance in Starry Eyes. She's incredibly talented and I eagerly await her future films and performances.
What makes Tales of Halloween work so well as a whole is a noticeable effort in the writing to provide original and fresh feeling stories. 'Sweet Tooth' offers a fantastic new Halloween legend, 'The Night Billy Raised Hell' provides the ultimate revenge trick on an unsuspecting young trick or treater, and 'Bad Seed' ends with a sinking feeling of lost hope. I could not begin to guess where a story was headed or how it would end once it began. The quick pace of the film was helped by the fact that every segment seemed to be about the same length. And while some stories weren't quite on par with others, there was no filler here and the film is solid throughout its run time. The stories were written with a Halloween loving audience in mind and the result is an anthology of films that are full of tricks but leave the viewer with one giant treat.
Tales of Halloween is available on video on demand and any fan of Halloween or horror should definitely give this film a watch, it's an all around great time!

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Final Girls

The Final Girls

The Final Girls is the latest film in what seems to be a nostalgic era in horror as the style of the 1970's, and more so the 1980's, are influencing a lot of new releases. The Final Girls offers a brilliant twist on the new throwback theme when a young woman named Max (Taissa Farmiga) is grieving the loss of her former 1980's scream queen mother Amanda (Malin Akerman) and gets mysteriously pulled inside the world of her mothers most famous slasher, Camp Bloodbath! Together with her friends and reunited with her mother from the movie, the group must fight the films maniac killer!
From the very opening scene through the closing credits this film is everything I was hoping it would be: fun, fast paced, funny, touching, inventive, and just a damn good time! The way it mixes the modern group of friends with the carefree, 1980's camp counselors from Camp Bloodbath is both hysterical and satisfying. The conversations and interactions between the groups works on two levels: one being the modern teens and the teens from 30 years ago, and the other is the movie watchers and the actors in the movie. Watching the two groups work together to stop the killer is fascinating as they both offer know how of the world of the film in different ways and play with horror tropes that leads to a brilliant chemistry amongst the entire cast. The actors work so well together here in their meta situation that you actually feel like a part of the group, you're invested in these people and the events that take place.
The heart and soul of the film lays in the relationship between Max and her mother Amand (her character name is Nancy in the Camp Bloodbath movie). Taissa Farmiga and Malin Akerman work remarkably well together and share several captivating moments. Akerman will steal your heart in the first 5 minutes and Farmiga's promising career is turning into a stellar body of work. Other standout performances in the film are Adam DeVine as a sex obsessed jock type and Angela Trimbur who is freaking hilarious. I'll never listen to Cherry Pie by Warrant the same way again!
The Final Girls also offers some real deaths within Camp Bloodbath and utilizes the most clever use of flashback I've ever seen as they explain the back-story of the killer. The final act of the film has some beautifully shot scenes and sequences on display. One such sequence is a chase scene that had me watching with a big mesmerized smile on my face. The 1980's inspired score infused with modern sound is the cherry on top of this awesome movie.
The Final Girls is an example of everything coming together on a film and catching lightning in a bottle, it's that good. You don't have to be a fan of horror or slasher films to enjoy The Final Girls, you just have to be a fan of great movies. Of course, being a fan of horror just makes it that much sweeter. This is an absolute must watch.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Lost After Dark

Lost After Dark


Lost After Dark joins a growing sub-sect in the horror genre as a throwback to the slasher films of the 1980's. With the tag-line. “And you thought the 80's were over,” Lost After Dark takes place in 1984 and tells the story of a group of high school teens headed to a cabin for the weekend. A familiar story for sure, but the movie is a good time full of nostalgia and plenty of good ole fashion slashing!
We meet our group of teens in the usual manner as they prepare for a school dance. Of course, they plan on skipping the dance and heading to the cabin without there parents knowing. As the plans unfold we see the group of teens being teens and relationships being established as they talk about sex, make raunchy jokes, and steal a school bus to head to the cabin.
The early goings in the film have very little to no music playing behind the scenes. They are all simply filled with dialogue with the occasional temporary burst of an 80's pop song playing to liven things up and put the 80's era on full display. These scenes are not boring however, the actions of the characters are definitely pushing things forward as they talk. The only time music plays is after the bus runs out of gas on a dark, deserted, road surrounded by woods and we get hints of the group being watched by the killer as they figure out what to do, and it's a deep dreadful score. This reminded me of those slashers from the 80's when music didn't play over every scene in the beginning like they seem to in today's horror films.
With no particular stand out performance, the cast does a solid job and has a decent chemistry together. The group is a believable group of friends and there are no characters who are douchebags; it's a pretty like-able group. So when the bodies start to pile up, we actually kind of care about these folks.
When the group spots an old abandoned, (or so they think), house to spend the night in, there time left alive starts ticking down as they are stalked by a cannibalistic hillbilly killer named Joad. The time spent exploring the house seems to drag on just a tad too long and it slows down the pacing of the film here as not too much happens except the usual pranks and scares the group plays on each other. Throw in a little character development and some shots of the group being watched by the killer and the house exploring sequence is saved from being a real mood killer.
Once the first kill happens the pace picks right back up and it's full on slasher time! The kills provide plenty of blood and gore with a couple of them even making me cringing a bit. One kill in particular involving a broken window and an eyeball was relentless in it's build up and created an “oh shit!” moment. As for the killer, Joad, the film doesn't go out of it's way to hide his appearance too much and it was refreshing not to see a deformed face or half man, half monster appearance, he was just a regular looking human, albeit a very tall, evil, and bearded human, but a human nonetheless.
To add to the 1980's feel of the film, the movie displays a dark yet slightly faded and greyed over picture complete with random film scratches and rough around the edges edits between some scenes. It's a nice touch that is thankfully not overdone. There was one questionable choice showing when film slips off it's reel and melts by projector heat around the 1 hour mark that I did not care for at all. I get the vintage possibility and retro feel they were going for but it was very distracting. Thankfully it was a brief moment and I quickly got over it.
Overall, Lost After Dark should be a satisfying watch for any fan of the classic slashers from the 80's or fans of old school horror in general. It delivers on the feel, the kills, and the fun factor and that's all a horror fan can really ask for.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Cooties

Cooties
 
Cooties takes the tired and redundant zombies sub-genre and playfully injects it with some fresh life. It tells the story of a zombie outbreak amongst school children during summer classes when the students consume some tainted chicken nuggets. The opening credits show the chicken nugget making process in great detail in a sequence that's even more vomit inducing than any of the blood and guts zombie effects that come later. When the outbreak takes over it's first victim, a little girl in blonde pigtails, the visible disease causes taunting by the other school kids which leads to them being attacked and infected. Not long after that more kids become infected and it's an all out war between the zombie student body and the few surviving faculty. In a clever twist, the adults can't turn into zombies because they have already gone through puberty, hence the term 'cooties'.
This movie is an all out blast and one hell of a good time! It reminded me of those fun horror-comedies of the 1980's that have gathered such a following over the years such as The Return of the Living Dead and Re-Animator. Even the poster of the skeleton hand holding the lollypop is meant to invoke the skeleton hand ringing the doorbell on the poster for House. So yes, this movie seems to know it's history and uses it very effectively and successfully.
The writing, the cast, and the fast pace are all what make Cooties work. The dialogue is very funny, especially several exchanges between Elijah Wood and Rainn Wilson, these two were spot on in their performances here! Elijah Wood is the perfect life-didn't-turn-out-the-he-planned-had-to-move-back-home boyish dreamer as Clint and Rainn Wilson pulls off the past-his-prime-let-himself-go disillusioned small town gym teacher as Wade with tremendous ease. In the middle of these two is Alison Pill in a very charming and sweet and funny role as Lucy, Wade's girlfriend. There is also very strong and funny supporting performances from Jack McBrayer and Leigh Whannel. Great chemistry among everyone and fun, committed, and energetic performances from them all!
The writing allows for some sympathy and consistent, scattered characterization for all three of the characters that really nailed these folks down as real people. One scene in particular that was both relate-able and touching between Wood and Pill had the two connecting over a conversation about the paths their lives took and the current state of their flailing careers. And that happens while there are little zombie children wandering the school looking for them! It's a great balance of writing between the horror of the zombies, the comedic absurdity of the situation, and the characterizations of the people.
Cooties gets off to a fast start and sets up the story well and then it's a roller coaster ride through the child zombies and adult shenanigans as they figure out how to deal with what's happening. There are plenty of laughs and action along the way, lots of child zombie gore, and tons of fun. Seeing Rainn Wilson clothes-line 4th graders and spout one-liners like Bruce Willis in Die Hard while wearing silver aviators like Sylvester Stallone in Cobra truly is priceless. Go watch Cooties because it's a great freaking time!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Summit

Summit

Summit is a movie that tells a pretty simple story: 5 college friends head off to what is supposed to be a getaway ski trip but end up arriving at the wrong place, an old abandoned farm house in the middle of nowhere. Throughout the review I will leave out a couple key plot points because they could be seen as spoilers. I will just say the group gets stranded at the house for longer than they anticipate.
Other than a well written dialogue filled scene in the very beginning, Summit is a solid character driven horror with relationships between the group explored through conversation and actions and not direct, out of place, awkward sounding exposition. The group of friends is like a group out of Friday the 13th stopping at Camp Crystal Lake, except it's not as simple as a masked maniac chasing them down and killing them one by one. When they arrive at the abandoned house in the middle of the night and decide to investigate, they come to the conclusion that the GPS must be broken. With nowhere to go and not being sure where they are, the group decides to stay in the old house and try to find something nearby in the morning when it is light outside.
We learn early on that one character is a bit of a practical joker and this character insight helps the tension when the group is walking through the house at night to ensure there is no one in it. The audience expects a boo scare or a joke and although we do get one, it is early on in the scene and a minor moment. After that we expect a fake scream, a door to slam, or a loud bang all in the name of a joke but it never happens. The audience is left with several moments of holding their breath as the group wanders from dark room to dark room with the sounds of their footsteps on the dusty floors and the opening of creaky doors serving as the soundtrack. It's a great moment in the film and a promising performance from the filmmakers for creating such a patiently crafted and tension building sequence.
The picture itself looked great. The night scenes were dark with enough lighting to see the actors and the exterior snow scenes during the day were clear and sharp and not overexposed. While some of the group were exploring the outside surroundings of the abandoned house hoping to find a neighboring house or a road with cars, the endless snow and abundance of dead trees create a disorienting environment and feeling of never-ending sameness in terms of landscape. This highly increased the dreadful feeling of being lost and really added to the 'middle of nowhere' reality of the film.
This is where a greater horror than a masked maniac creeps into the group. Terrifying human elements are at play here as the group struggles to stay together mentally through exhaustion, fear, and no food or water. Their minds (some more than others) start to create situations that may or may not be real. Atmosphere plays a major role, this is a haunted house story without ghosts. The ghosts are the people inhabiting the house and the haunting is in their minds. This confused and clouded state combined with character developments and relationship complications lead to a boil as things spiral out of control and lead to an ending that could not have been seen coming at any point in the film yet was slowly built to from the first few scenes. There's an excellent sense of character and direction in the writing that held my interest the entire duration of the movie.
Summit asks what if? What if a group of people in the modern world got lost and couldn't rely on their modern conveniences like GPS or cell phones to help them? What if it was cold with no food or water? What would happen and how would they survive? Could they survive? I recommend seeing Summit if you are able to and watching this scenario play out in this well paced thriller/horror story that demonstrates the fragility and darkness of the human mind.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Killer Rack


Killer Rack

Killer Rack is a horror-comedy about plastic surgery gone horribly wrong. Or, rather, it's a comedy-horror about boobs, flesh eating boobs, from a plastic surgery gone horribly right according to Dr. Thulu (Debbie Rochon), the mad cap unauthorized plastic surgeon who performed the operation.
Star Jessica Zwolak plays Betty, a hard working, girl-next-door type who feels ignored in her relationship and at her job because she lacks big boobs. Her well endowed co-workers are getting promoted and her loser boyfriend would rather go to the strip club than fool around and have sex with her. So after seeing a questionable breast enhancement commercial, Betty decides to go for a consultation with Dr. Thulu that ultimately leads to the operation and new bigger boobs. Of course she'll soon discover that her new killer rack is just that, 2 flesh eating mammary monsters with an appetite for human flesh!
Before the operation takes place, Killer Rack establishes itself as an off kilter world with a heavy Troma influence with outrageous sight gags, endless sexual and anatomy themed jokes, and an array of over the top and whacky characters. All of this is highlighted by Lloyd Kaufman himself as Dr. Foin and some garbage cans in the film being labeled Tromaville. Kaufman's role is anchored by a hilarious song and dance number featuring a crazy catchy tune exclaiming, "all you need's a pair of airbags..."
Everyone in the cast is very dedicated to the zany and goofy tone of the film and there is a cohesive feel among the actors and performances that reflects strong direction from Lamberson. There is a general sense of a good time had by all on set that successfully translated to the screen and can be felt by the audience.
Lead actress Jessica Zwolak has an easy going, every girl quality. She is sweet and believable and completely charming in an absolutely wonderful and funny performance. Her portrayal of Betty is easily the heart and soul of the film as she is extremely likeable from scene one.
Debbie Rochon as quack Dr. Thulu is at her crazed & comedic best, it's a lot of fun to see her being funny. Rochon always carries that crazy glint in her eye from film to film and this one is no different except this time it's accompanied by laughs instead of screams.
Do all the jokes land successfully? No. But Killer Rack has multiple jokes and gags in every scene and it's shotgun blast approach goes for broke and the audience I saw it with had constant laughter throughout the film.
It is very funny and very confident in what it is: an outrageous and ridiculous screwball tale about boobs that eat people. And I loved it.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Bloodsucking Bastards

Bloodsucking Bastards


Bloodsucking Bastards is not your typical work office comedy, it has a bit of a twist. It starts out feeling like a raunchier version of Office Space but we soon discover that this office isn't just about pushy bosses annoying their reluctant employees. This office comedy features vampire bosses who want to turn the workers into vampires themselves! And with that the ultimate battle for office supremacy begins: the human employees vs. the vampire bosses.
Bloodsucking Bastards is an absolute blast and fun as hell! I found myself laughing out loud several times throughout the film and genuinely having a good time. There are a couple of reasons as to why the film works as well as it does. Number one is the cast, they are all perfect in their roles with Fran Kranz and Joey Kern cracking me up with their spot on delivery and timing. The guys play a group of foul mouthed, childish, and harmless slackers with soaring confidence and believability. Watching them on screen was like witnessing a group of 20-30 something friends on a Friday night at the bar. Bottom line is they were very funny!
In contrast to the rest of the group of guys, Fran Kranz plays the straight laced, somewhat uptight employee gunning for a promotion and Emma Fitzpatrick as the cool girl of the office that everyone seems to have a crush on. Although they play the straight and “mature” characters, they are still very funny with their expressions and dialogue. In addition to the casts comedic abilities they all worked together with a great chemistry that gave the movie a comforting and inviting feel.
The script is the other reason why the film works so well. It's very funny and the characters seem written for these people. The dialogue is fast and snappy and the pacing is quick with no scenes seeming unnecessary. The jokes are funny and several sight gags work extremely well. One gag in particular that had me laughing well into the next scene was when Joey Kern's character explains when he first noticed the vampires in the office. It's brilliantly set up and filmed.
When the vampires come out, the film turns into a mini version of From Dusk Til Dawn with a lot of fighting happening in the small space. The make up for the vampires is decent and it was refreshing to see make up and practical effects being used with no or very unnoticeable CG. Bloodsucking Bastards manages to pull off something very difficult and that is while vampires are dying with stakes through their hearts and the blood is literally painting the walls red, they are able to maintain the comedy through the carnage and it makes for a fantastically fun final act!
On a comedic level, the film is a huge success and it blends in the right amount of horror and enough blood to satisfy genre fans. Kudos to the filmmakers and all involved because Bloodsucking Bastards definitely does not suck.
Bam snap!

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Backcountry

Backcountry
 
Backcountry is based on a true story and is written and directed by Adam MacDonald. It tells the story of two campers, Alex (Jeff Roop) and Jenn (Missy Peregrym), and how their relaxing getaway in the woods turns into full on life altering horror when they realize they have gotten lost and are being terrorized by bears. Now it's man vs. nature in harrowing game of survival.
The characters of Alex and Jenn are really the only two people in the movie, save for an unexpected guest early on played by Eric Balfour, so it's very important that we like these people and care about them. If we don't then the movie suffers tremendously because the tension will not be there as we root for them to survive. Luckily the two leads, Roop and Peregrym, portray very likeable people and a very relate-able relationship. They're good looking, but not in a distracting way. They're smart, but not unbelievably so. They goof around, they bicker, fight, apologize, and seemingly enjoy each others company. In other words, they are real people. They could be our friends, our neighbors, or even us. So I liked these people and was invested in them from the beginning. The writing supports the performances by allowing the viewer enough natural feeling exposition to understand their back story and the state and strength of their relationship. Kudos to all involved for making the characters really come through like that, especially Peregrym whose fear comes through in her eyes, her voice, and her whole body with off kilter movements as she is forced to adapt to the situation.
The music and sound work to really enhance what the film wants to say. The score has a backwoods twangy sound mixed with adrenaline filled beats to support the locale and action in the film. To accompany the calmer moments in the film there are soft, almost dreamlike tones that invoke the tranquility of nature, as well as the love between the two leads. Of course, this is a story about people lost in the woods being hunted by bears so the score also provides loud, sudden doom-like shots that drag out like a bad feeling. The sound picks up every leaf crunch, every singing insect, and all animal footfalls perfectly and makes the viewer feel alone in the woods with these people.
And finally the scenes with the bears are downright terrifying. The strength and rage of the bear is shown in a ferocious attack that is full of spit-filled snarls and throaty roars. The bears seem to know their territory so well and display a relentless pursuit that cloaks the woods in a sense of futile doom while the characters scramble to survive. One brilliantly filmed scene has Alex and Jenn sleeping as a bear approaches their tent. The filmmakers were very smart to keep the camera inside the tent and only show the silhouette of the giant bear on the outside as it curiously wanders the perimeter of the tent, pressing it's face against the thin walls and opening it's mouth as it breathes, creating a mold of itself on the flimsy shelter. All of this happens as we see Alex and Jenn in frame sleeping, blissfully unaware of the danger that lurks mere inches from them. It's a fantastic sequence that reminded me of Freddy Krueger pushing through wall above a sleeping Nancy in A Nightmare on Elm Street.
Backcountry is an example of what can happen when man is out of his element and just how quickly life can turn into a living nightmare. It's a solid thriller that kept the tension high as I watched it. I would just suggest that you watch this AFTER your camping trip.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Turbo Kid

Turbo Kid

Turbo Kid is like no other film I've seen all year. It's a throwback to 1980's post apocalyptic action films but it also feels very fresh and vibrant. It follows a young man who lives in the Wasteland and one day finds a suit that gives him superhero like powers (kind of). Now known as Turbo Kid, he sets off to save his new found friend, Apple, and fight a tyrannical maniac.
Turbo Kid is very self aware and knows exactly what it's doing. It walks a fine line and pays homage to the 1980's in a brilliant way that never feels forced or cheesy or too obvious. And yet, it does all of those things. That may sound nonsensical but the secret to this films success is the excellent cast that it has assembled. It's the main focus of my review because if even one character were played differently I don't think the film would have worked as well as it did.
The 1980's was a big decade. Everything was big: the hair, the music, the movies, the money. And Turbo Kid is full of big performances within a big concept. Everything compliments everything here, right down to the big pulse pounding synth score that rides smoothly under the colorful images on the screen.
The casting here is key. Michael Ironside as the main villain is a brilliant choice because the man just exudes that big evil crime boss feel. His natural bad guy glare works overtime here and puts a visual to his bad guy personality. One look at him and you know he's bad news, and all of this with only one eye as the other is covered with a patch. Munro Chambers is perfect as Turbo Kid, he has a slightly boyish face and knows how to utilize it to enhance his lingering innocence as he reads of superheroes in comic books with youthful enthusiasm. He also knows how to express reaction to the dark side of life in the Wasteland and by the end of the movie there is an obvious change in Turbo Kid and Chambers already seems more grown up. Finally we have Laurence Leboeuf as Apple. It didn't take long for her over the top exuberance and constant big smile to win me over. She is exceedingly expressive, energetic and charming and has the most stunning eyes I've ever seen on film. Even Edwin Wright as evil, silent henchman Skeletron makes the best of his character. Besides glaring out of his Quiet Riot like mask, he is very twitchy and quick with his movements and that adds immensely to his madman image.
Perhaps the smartest move the film makes is to keep Turbo Kid himself, surrounded by this big world with big characters, small. He is not a big character with a big personality, he simply has a big destiny. In that way he reminds me of Luke Skywalker.
What makes Turbo Kid ultimately work is it's heart, superb cast, and attention to minor details. The classic 1980's Viewfinder that they look through with wonder, the big plastic spokes on the wheels of Turbo Kids BMX, the Nintendo like sound effects that accompany every bleep and bloop of technology and blast from Turbo Kids glove are very charming and intoxicating. It creates not only a world for these characters but an atmosphere to go with it, an atmosphere that many viewers find nostalgic and comforting yet just far enough away from that it feels like a distant and unrecognizable existence.
This movie believes in what it's doing and what it's going for, and that makes it easy for an audience to get swept up in it and feel the same way. Turbo Kid felt more like an experience than a movie, more like witnessing the lives of these people than watching a story, and to me that's as good as movies get.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Nightmare

The Nightmare

The Nightmare is the new documentary from Rodney Ascher, the director of Room 237 which delved into Kubrick's The Shining. Much like Room 237, The Nightmare is a documentary that focuses on the human perception of reality as opposed to a factual or scientifically based approach. The subject matter here is sleep paralysis, a topic that is more frightening than your average horror film setup because it is a real condition.
The Nightmare has a pretty simplistic approach to what it wants to say: it films 4 subjects telling of their sleep paralysis condition and reenacts their stories as they tell it. The scenes play out like a Hollywood horror movie as the people explain what happens during sleep paralysis in voice over. The scenes are played up for maximum effect and are executed superbly to create an extremely creepy atmosphere. The people tell of shadow men in their rooms at night, seemingly alien visitors, and demons whispering into their ears. All of this as they lay awake paralyzed and helpless, just waiting for the episode to end. These reenactment scenes are very scary and make great use of sound and music. The music is very eerie and full of tension and the sound is created to stay with you, especially the voices of some of these unwanted nightly visitors. There were a number of times I felt the hair on my arms stand up, that's how effective and chilling these stories are portrayed, with one moment in particular that made me literally jump!
An interesting choice that I thought worked well was that as the movie jumped back and forth from the 4 people and their experiences it separated each segment with a quote from the upcoming segment that wasn't said yet. It gives the viewer a kind of precursor as to what will be addressed or discussed and works as a link among the people and gives the film a nice sense of unity.
The interviews themselves are dimly lit with the camera set back a little ways so the viewer sees the subject lit up and a lot of the darker room in which they sit. As they tell the terror of their sleep paralysis, it is almost as if we expect to see long and lanky shadow men come out of the dark areas that stretch across the room behind them. It's a nice touch that plays on the confusion and terror of sleep paralysis itself by blending awakeness with sleep, reality with dreams, and lightness with the dark.
The Nightmare is a new breed of documentary. It relies on story to tell it's truth. The Nightmare never gives us any scientific research on sleep paralysis or any potential physiological explanation as to why this condition occurs. And perhaps it doesn't need to. The condition is very real and extremely scary to the people that suffer from it and no explanation will comfort them. The viewer is given lore and legends from around the globe that span all time depicting the terror of sleep paralysis and maybe that's comfort enough to the victims of it, knowing they are not alone in their suffering. Then again, they all suffer alone when sleep paralysis hits, and that is absolutely terrifying. Watch this movie and be warned: some of this might seem familiar to some viewers and you'll probably go to sleep a little nervous.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Spring

Spring
  
Spring is the latest feature from collaborators Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, both working as directors here. It's about a young man named Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci) who takes a sudden trip to Italy to get away from his suddenly deteriorating life. While there Evan begins a passionate, whirlwind romance with a young woman named Louise (Nadia Hilker) who has an ancient, dark secret.
Spring is a movie that has a most unusual mash-up to set up it's story: it's Richard Linklater meets David Cronenberg, Before Sunrise meets The Fly. And it works beautifully. We get plenty of Evan and Louise walking through the streets of Italy getting to know each other and having conversations about their pasts and beliefs. It's a movie that takes it's time, you spend as much time getting to know these characters as they spend getting to know each other. And that's the charm of the film, you LIKE these people and their relationship with each other.
But all is not what it seems. From early on we hear music that warns of something coming, something beneath the surface. A soft and yearning piano plays as a deep swell rises underneath the spaced out and lonely notes taking them over and warning of danger. It's simple and effective music that prepares the viewer for the scattered scenes of Louise fighting back what she really is: a 2,000 year old monster of sorts who takes injections to maintain her human form when she starts to break out into her monster self. The scenes where we see Louise as the monster are well shot and frightening, the camera almost seems dizzy filming her as she moves in frantic stutters and devours animals to satisfy her craving for flesh. All the while Even grows more suspicious that something isn't quite right.
Throughout the movie there are plenty of shots of nature and bugs and insects, lots of worldly sounds and animalistic noises mixed in with the sound of people and human commerce. Much like the relationship between Evan and Louise, there is a joining of human nature and mother nature interspersed throughout the film. It shows these two habitats can live and coexist together in one world. It's a smart and effective nod to the different species in the world and a nice compliment to the two main characters and their story.
Perhaps the most successful outcome of this movie is that it makes you believe in love and therefor you believe in the film itself, you completely buy in and root for it's characters. The biggest contributor to this is the performance of Lou Taylor Pucci. The success of the film rests mainly on his shoulders; if we don't believe in him, we wont believe in the love we see on screen. Pucci nails everything the role demanded, he gives a fully realized and sensitive performance. He's so comfortable as this character, so natural and effortless that I felt the pain and feeling of loss that Evan was experiencing. Pucci is a very promising and talented young actor.
Spring is a beautiful story with horror at it's heart. It asks the question, “how powerful is love?” and runs with the question and the answer. Thanks to the two leads, Lou Taylor Pucci and Nadia Hilker, and a thoughtful script, the film never falls into schmaltzy or overly sappy Nicholas Sparks territory. It plays it straight and thinks through it's story. It's a different kind of love story and a different kind of horror story and it's very well done.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead

Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead

Wyrmwood is the advertised Mad Max meets Dawn of the Dead mash-up from writers Kiah and Tristan Roache-Turner, with Kiah also directing. The story is about a virus that ushers in the zombie apocalypse. Amidst the chaos of roaming packs of flesh eating zombies in the Australian Outback, a mechanic named Barry (Jay Gallagher) is looking for his sister Brooke (Bianca Bradey) who was kidnapped and experimented on by a deranged mad scientist like doctor.
The opening scene is bloody and tone setting and shows a rag tag group dressed in random and worn out and beat up sports gear like helmets, shoulder pads, and hockey masks. The group comes out fighting zombies looking like Slipknot on a battlefield.
As the story is set up and the virus descends upon the living, we see a number of people turn into zombies. One in particular will leave it's imagery in my mind for a long time. The photo shoot sugar skull zombie is fantastic and terrifying, a maniacal bloodthirsty thrashing rag doll of fury and color and is one of the most memorable zombies I have ever seen.
When it comes to the zombies, the sound is very effective and haunting. This isn't the clogged up, blood rattled dry wheez breathing of The Walking Dead, it's an all out siren scream that sounds like a drowning horse being ravaged by a pack of animals. It's disturbing and unnerving and freaking awesome.
The lab where Brooke is held hostage is portrayed like a house of horrors come to life. We see grisly and gut covered computers and keyboards, human experiments and zombies restrained to the blood soaked walls angrily wiggling and fighting to be free. all overseen by a disco dancing deranged doctor.
Jay Gallagher shows shades of Bruce Campbell from The Evil Dead movies in his performance sometimes and it meshes greatly with the vibe of the movie. One scene in particular has his face sprayed and covered in blood and I couldn't help but think of Ash fighting the Deadites. There's even a scene when Gallagher loads up a gun and says, “fuck yeah,” that is seemingly his version of Campbells “groovy”. Don't misread here though, it's an overall serious portrayal of a grief stricken man who lost his family to the virus and he does a great job here.
I haven't even gotten to Bianca Bradey yet. While she spends the majority of the movie held hostage in the house of horrors lab, she makes the most of her screen time. Even tied up in the lab her stare alone is enough to knock you out and her icy cool delivery of lines like, “you want a zombie? I'll get you a zombie,” turned me into an instant fan. She is a powerful screen presence and has one hell of a commanding aura about her. Her role here reminded me of another great performance I saw recently, Nicole Alonso in Crawl or Die.
Wyrmwood reportedly took 4 years to make, being filmed on weekends and around everybody's work schedules. It sounds like a draining and daunting task to take on. But the end result is a damn awesome movie that is one of the best zombie movies to be seen in years. I loved Wyrmwood, I loved every minute of it. This movie is a horror fans dream. It's the kind of movie you want to make with your friends: a brilliant love letter to horror that also stands strong as it's own story. Wyrmwood also manages to add a new twist to the zombie mythology that worked beautifully in the world of the film.
Do yourself a favor and watch this immediately, and then watch it again with all your friends. The movie is loud and gritty, colorful, fast, and a bloody good time. Movies like this is why horror fans are horror fans.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Cut!

Cut!

Cut! poses a pretty simple yet interesting concept: a couple of aspiring filmmakers plan on scaring people in real life and filming it to turn into a horror movie with genuinely fearful performances. But what if the scaring goes too far? What if someone really gets hurt? What if someone gets killed? Does that all then just become part of the movie?
These are the questions that are raised throughout Cut! as we see the two main characters get deeper and deeper into their desperate situation. Lane (David Banks) and Travis (David Rountree, also writing and directing here) are two wannabe filmmakers who find themselves working for a production company that is soon to close it's doors due to bankruptcy. In one rather fun scene, we see the two at first seem desperate to get Gabrielle Stone (playing herself) to star in one of their upcoming movies and when she says no, Lane (an ex convict with a chip on his shoulder) begins to tell her off in a way that all but guarantees no future contracts with the rising indie film actress. It's a scene that shows where these two are in their career and in life: they are out of options and have nothing left to lose.
When the idea arises to set up and film real people in life threatening situations, the two men turn to prostitutes. They bring a girl to a dark and secluded room and say they'll be right back. Instead, a large homeless man who has been paid off by Lane and Travis enters the room and proceeds to pretend to kill the girl so that her terrified reactions can be filmed and spliced into a movie. But the homeless man really kills her and so begins the descent of the two men into a dark and twisted scenario that has them taking the lives of their "actresses".
Some interesting inner struggle takes place throughout the film as well as struggle between the two men; Lane is all in on the experiment and Travis has serious concerns but he never seems to fully commit to them and instead goes along with the plan for the most part. Fame and ultimately a sense of purpose are what's at the center of Travis and Lane's actions. They are so consumed by their dream of being filmmakers and distraught by the closing of their failed production company and careers so far that they they have lost touch with what film is in the first place: an imaginative platform to create and tell a story. Instead, they are so stuck in the emptiness of their reality that the only story they can create is by stealing moments from other peoples real lives. And, in the end, their actual lives as well.
There are a few pretty decent and bloody and intense scenes here and there (one involves a bathtub and a saw) but I was left feeling underwhelmed by the movie. The trailer for the film promised a brutal and bloody experience, but about half way through the movie itself I was feeling disappointed that that wasn't going to be the case and I started to lose interest.
Cut! definitely had me thinking about fame and how far some people will go to achieve it, and kudos to the filmmakers for that. But I never felt very invested in this movie as the story focused a bit too much on the characters and left me longing for that bloody movie that was promised in the jarring trailer. Don't get me wrong, I love character driven stories, I just feel as though the script and the acting ability of the two leads weren't up to the task of creating sympathetic characters in such a twisted situation. Also, the filmmakers couldn't help themselves and threw in a ridiculous twist at the end that couldn't possibly have surprised a single viewer. Overall, Cut! seems to squander it's interesting premise with a weak script and suffers from somewhat unconvincing performances. It isn't a bad movie, but it isn't a very good one either.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Maggie

Maggie
 
Maggie is the directorial debut from Henry Hobson and is a refreshing take on the very saturated zombie drama. It tells the story of Maggie (Abigail Breslin) who becomes infected with a disease that turns people into flesh craving zombies. The onset of the disease and the transformation from human to zombie is not instant or quick as in other films, it takes 6-8 weeks to turn. While the disease slowly sets in and takes over, Maggie's father Wade (Arnold Schwarzenegger) stays by her side as long as possible.
If there is one word I had to choose to sum up this movie, it's beautiful. And everything comes out of this beauty that the film so eloquently exudes: the performances, the characters, the setting, the emotion. If Terrance Malick were ever to direct a zombie film, the result would be Maggie. I absolutely loved every minute of this movie.
Hobson's directorial debut is very strong and extraordinarily well realized. The atmosphere and world is dark, dreary, beautiful, and real. The way the zombie sickness is handled and portrayed really turns this into a story about the loss of a life as opposed to the undead. These characters are our neighbors, our friends, and our children and their turning isn't played for horror or gore, it's drawn out and sad and emotionally exhausting. To add a sense of urgency and emotional punch, there is a constant underlying pulse to this movie; throbbing low, gritty beats and sorrowful music. Hobson had a clear vision for this film and it shows. The viewer is also left with the impression that the only way this film works effectively is with strong and believable performances from the cast, particularly Maggie and her father Wade and their relationship.
In great contrast to his Hollywood image, Arnold Schwarzenegger is searching to be a hero here. He knows he can't save his daughter from the inevitable but he also gives the subtle impression that his little girl will always be his little girl and perhaps it will be ok. He's very still, very quiet, and let's his weathered statuesque features display the coldness and stillness he feels inside while showing great emotional depth with his eyes. It's a very touching and loving and grounded performance from the former action star that left me feeling that Arnold still has something left to show us as an actor. It is, in my opinion, one of the best performances of the year so far and of his career.
I give credit to Abigail Breslin for getting such a great performance out of Schwarzenegger. She gives such a heartbreaking and remarkable performance as Maggie that all Arnold had to do was absorb and play off of her emotion. Yes, she is THAT good. Breslin is so natural here that this almost feels like a documentary of her instead of a character in a film. There is one bloody scene where she first displays the growing effects of her zombie sickness and I couldn't take my eyes off her. Her tears were real, her fear was real, and her mad, confused hysteria was heartfelt and riveting.
Maggie is a powerful and fantastic story that every horror fan, every zombie fan, and every fan of film should see. Abigail Breslin gives a performance that has me checking her future projects and Henry Hobson delivers a movie that has me anxiously waiting to see what he does next.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Extraterrestrial

Extraterrestrial

Extraterrestrial is a film from The Vicious Brothers (Grave Encounters) and the story puts a nice little twist on an age old horror plot line: college kids going to party at a cabin in the woods. But instead of zombies or evil spirits coming to crash the party, this group of coeds gets a visit from aliens. And with that fun sounding set up, let the party begin.
April (Brittany Allen), accompanied by her boyfriend Kyle (Freddie Stroma), is sent by her mother to take pictures of the family cabin to get ready to sell it. This automatically makes the characters a tad more relateable as they are being sent to the cabin for a reason and not just to party. April seems genuinely sad that they are selling the cabin, as that and her parents divorce symbolizes the loss of her childhood and innocence. But Kyle invites some friends and the partying begins as soon as they arrive.
There is a nice human element in the movie as April and Kyle are in danger of reaching the end of their relationship, and right in the middle of an argument we see a UFO fly over the cabin and crash not far away. It's a fantastic touch that ups the stakes and makes these characters that much more human, and that the UFO interrupted and crashed right in the middle of a dramatic scene was jarring and unexpected and very well done.
From here the movie only speeds up and we get plenty of action and scares as the group fights/runs from the aliens. The ensemble cast as a whole is pretty decent all around, there are no bad performances that distract from the other actors at all. The standout is definitely Brittany Allen, who does an excellent job here and conveys a lot of raw emotion. Her performance reminded me greatly of another breakout performance from last year, Alex Essoe in Starry Eyes. We also get a nice little turn from Michael Ironside as a pot growing Vietnam vet who may not be as crazy as he first comes across.
The movie does offer a number of old cabin-in-the-woods/horror standbys such as finding a bunch of home grown marijuana, a fallen tree blocking “the only road back to town,” and lots and lots of rain. But these tired horror tropes almost feel like old friends at this point and given the alien twist in this story it was almost comforting to see them still show up as obstacles regardless of what/who it is that is terrorizing our main characters. There is a very well done moment where they acknowledge the rainfall when it stops when Kyle notices and says, “at least it stopped raining.” The reason for the rain stopping and the way the sequence was filmed is great stuff.
Extraterrestrial is a dark movie washed in alarming reds and blues and greens. The aliens are tall and lanky and nightmarish and when a character is taken aboard their ship it is a gruesome and terrifying scene. The soundtrack is full of loud and clunky, electronic mechanical sounds, deep blaring horns and loud drums for a heroic and constant danger feel at the same time. It's a big and dramatic feeling movie with great effects that reminded me of the films of the 1980's, a sort of Close Encounters/Evil Dead/Fire In the Sky mash-up and I thoroughly enjoyed it. As of this writing it is currently streaming on Netflix and you should definitely check it out.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

SICK: Survive the Night

SICK: Survive the Night
  
The SICK are the result of an epidemic outbreak that turns people into bloodthirsty zombies that roam and have taken over the land. While scientists try to understand the epidemic and how to control it, teams of survivors travel in groups fighting to survive. When Dr. Leigh Rozetta (Christina Aceto) leaves the safety of her underground government facility to return to the house that she grew up in, she finds herself trapped there for the night with two survivors fighting for their lives.
This is the set up for SICK: Survive the Night, a slice of life zombie flick from director Ryan M. Andrews. The SICK are very effective here. They wander and drag themselves around until they see a live human, then they become full of rage and run towards their prey and completely maul them as they eat them alive. It's a nice little twist to see this mad spark in the zombies. They don't slowly eat people as they slowly fall apart and decompose, they ravage them with their eyes looking like demon snakes. These aren't your father's zombies.
The look of the film is interesting. The outside world during the day has a pale faded yellow and cold look to it, while the interiors of the windowless government facility is washed out in over white fluorescent lighting. It gives an already-dead feeling to the living, who's survival and existence have become fighting off and understanding the dead. The night scenes are very sharp and almost appear more colorful than the washed out daytime. This suggests a clearer focus to the lives of the living as the SICK are more active at night and the survivors must be on the top of their game.
The acting in the film is pretty good on the whole. Some of the military speak and mannerisms come across as a bit unconvincing but overall everyone puts in a solid effort. Richard Sutton and Robert Nolan as the survivors Seph and McKay do some nice work and have the appropriate chemistry of people who have been around each other for a long time but don't necessarily like each other. A standout in the film is Jennifer Polansky. She has the tough, bad girl appearance of Gina Gershon and the attitude to back it up. Her delivery is confident and daring and she plays the ready-for-anything character of Claudia nicely. She by far has the most interesting character in the film and I enjoyed every second she was on screen. I only wish she played a bigger part. We are also treated to a wonderfully mad little performance from Debbie Rochon in a small role as a doctor sending out a video feed of herself as she tries to understand the disease and communicate it to others.
Director Ryan Andrews knew to create sympathetic characters to enhance the bleakness of this world populated by the SICK and there are some nice little back stories here and moments to go with them. One moment has Dr. Rozetta in her old room as the camera pans some of her old belongings. She then pulls out a blue dress to wear that contrasts greatly with the current situation and seems wholly inappropriate. It's a small touching scene that reminds us that we are all human with pasts and memories regardless of how un-human we seem in dire circumstances.
SICK is a bleak and grim film, it doesn't reinvent the zombie wheel but it doesn't try to. The movie is smartly done and showcases some very engaging zombies while allowing for plenty of human drama to play out as the characters are stuck inside the house together amidst the chaos and unknown of the SICK outside. It's a solid film, and I recommend it.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Crawl Or Die

Crawl Or Die

Crawl or Die opens amidst chaos on a group fighting and on the run from an evil force and wastes no time letting you know what you're in for: a dark and dizzying and hectic ride. And what a ride it is. It's endlessly claustrophobic, very dark and borderline hopeless, full of heart, and enormously entertaining.
The plot is simple: a special forces unit is to capture the last fertile woman alive on planet Earth who hasn't been infected by a deadly virus. They are to then transport her to Earth 2 where civilization will start over. But really it's not that simple. The team is trapped in an endless maze of underground tunnels and are being chased and hunted by a deadly alien creature.
The movie creates suspense and tension in several effective ways. The tunnels and spaces are so claustrophobic that it feels like the characters are crawling through their own coffins from an enemy that could lay just beyond the edge of the darkness. Every shadow caused by their flashlights could be the movement of the creature on the attack. And when the creature does attack, the viewer is treated to a lack of music as the whirring screech of the monster takes over and the sounds of struggle and death and feeding are enhanced. These are startling moments that I thoroughly enjoyed. The movie itself uses sound very smartly. There are constant creaks and tappings and wind and growlings, some close by, some in the distance and all the noises seem to add to a constant hum the movie has. It's a hum that reminds the viewer that something is out there and nowhere is safe.
The acting is solid all around but rests primarily on the shoulders of Nicole Alonso. She will face inevitable comparisons to Ripley from Alien, and that is a compliment in itself. But Alonso isn't merely an actress here, she isn't only a character, she is a full on force that has taken on a life of it's own. It's an exhausting, gritty, and determined performance that by the end left me breathless.
Crawl or Die is supposed to expand into a trilogy and if that's the case then sign me up for parts two and three. It would be a pure pleasure to see Nicole Alonso further develop in a Crawl or Die trilogy and to see what else writer/director/editor Oklahoma Ward can do in this world he so brilliantly created.
Crawl or Die is a little movie with big ambitions. It uses small spaces to create big suspense and discomfort. It uses little dialogue to create a powerful feel of urgency and isolationism and little lighting to create an atmosphere of fear of what lies in the dark. It also shows how far we'll go to survive and how hard people will fight for their lives. Crawl Or Die is independent film at it's best and I can't recommend it high enough. Don't crawl, run to this one.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Killer Mermaid

Killer Mermaid

Killer Mermaid opens with a quote from Moby Dick warning of the dangers and mysteries of the sea and then we see a couple having fun on vacation in a home movie style presentation with tropical tinged dance music playing over the scenes. We now see the couple having a playful and flirty conversation by the sea. A strange fisherman shows up and the scene ends with the girl killed with a hook through her neck. It's a cool kill and a cool opening sequence that sets a fun, danger-is-lurking-in-the-shadows tone. It's too bad the movie goes slightly downhill from there, although it is not a total loss.
Now that a back story has been established and the killing introduced, we cut to the story and see two girls, Kelly (Kristina Klebe), and Lucy (Natalie Burn), arriving on vacation. The two leads have a good chemistry and hold the first half of the movie together. Within the first 10 minutes it is obvious that the movie takes itself seriously and is not a comedy horror or goofy or campy in any way. I appreciated that about Killer Mermaid: it wants to be a true tale of horror and presents it's characters as real people living in the real world.. The acting is solid, especially Kristina Klebe who seems to have a natural depth to her, she is a very talented actress
A problem the film suffers from is there are continuous shots that unnecessarily pan slowly over the female bodies and this seems distracting from the serious tone the movie is striving for. It plays as an adult horror movie but relies on juvenile gimmicks like this and it seems to conflict with itself. Another juvenile gimmick is an awkward dance segment in the living room of a house after the girls meet up with a couple other friends. It would have played better in a club setting but instead it seemed tacked on to include the obligatory “we're on vacation and having fun” dance segment.
The four friends then travel by boat to check out an abandoned military base on a small island. Here we see the same strange fisherman from the beginning that killed the girl with the hook. When he is seen dumping “food” down a well on the abandoned military base, the group knows something is wrong. The fisherman begins to chase the group and at this point the movie has a real slasher feel to it. As they run underneath the military base from the killer through mazes of dark tunnels, a nice claustrophobic atmosphere is created and it's the strongest sequence in the film.
Unfortunately the movie really holds back on the gore here. After the great first kill in the beginning, there is no thought to the kills that follow and they seemed watered down. There are loud ominous horns playing during the kills but the images on the screen can't match the music to back it up.
We finally see the killer mermaid with 28 minutes left, a major fault of the film. It is not built up enough to pull off this long wait.
Overall I did not love Killer Mermaid, but I didn't hate it either. I admired the film for sticking to it's serious tone and trying to create an original horror idea. However, it couldn't help but slip into some obligatory horror tropes that left me feeling like the film and story didn't have confidence in itself. As of right now it's on Netflix streaming and is worth checking out if you're home one night with not much to do. A major plus in the movie is Kristina Klebe, I look forward to seeing her in other things.