"Hellbound: Hellraiser II" A sequel worthy of the Original


Read my review of the original “Hellraiser”

Released about a year after the original, Kristy is back as well as Pinhead and the Cenobites, which could also be the name of an awesome 80s metal band.  Nevertheless, like most women who survive a horror movie, Kristy is now confined to a mental hospital.  She is being treated by Dr. Channard and his young assistant Kyle.  As a hobby, Dr. Channard has been obsessed with death and searching for a doorway to hell.  After hearing Kristy’s story he thinks she is key to him finding it.

We get a number of flashbacks to the original, Kristy’s father Larry is now stuck in hell while her evil stepmother Julia is looking to be reborn and take revenge on Kristy after being killed off.  A lot hinges on the bloody mattress that she died on and the infamous puzzle box used to summon the sadomasochistic Cenobites.  Dr. Channard steals this mattress and bare with me, feeds it one of his patients.  This starts the resurrection process as we saw in the first film with Frank.  This time Julia comes back to life as a skinless, bloody mess looking for more victims to make her whole again.

While in the mental hospital Kristy makes friends with a quiet blonde girl named Tiffany who is about her age who has a talent for solving puzzles.  She could definitely come in handy when it comes to the puzzle box.  Kyle tries to help the girls but Julia gets rid of him pretty quick.  Tiffany is then able to open the puzzle box and the doorway to hell.  The girls not only need to fight off the evil Dr. Channard and Julia, but Kristy is hoping to also find her father.  Not to mention Pinhead and the cenobites who just love to dole out equal amounts of pain and pleasure to everyone.

Similar to the first film the practical special effects are amazing, but we do get another dose of cheesy optical and lighting effects which in this case can be forgiven.  I would have liked to have seen more of Pinhead and Cenobites as most of the story revolves around Dr. Channard and Julia.  In that area, I can help but feel a little cheated but overall it’s a decent sequel worthy of the “Hellraiser” name.

"Sinister 2" Another Unasked for Horror Sequel


Before getting into this review please take a moment to check out my thoughts on the first film “Sinister”

For the sequel, we have a new family and this time a female protagonist in the form of a single mother named Courtney, played by Shannyn Sossamon.  Her and her twin boys, Dylan and Zach, are on the run from her abusive ex-husband and have found a place to lay low for a while.   The only returning character from the first film is Deputy So and So (James Ransone), who is now credited as Ex-Deputy So and So.  They keep up the running joke of never giving us his actual name.  He’s been on the road trying to stop the string of murders caused by the Pagan Deity Buguul.  

“Sinister 2” seems to fall into the horror sequel trap of rehashing what worked in the first film.  The filmmakers resort to investigating strange noises and more creepy 8 mm films that were created by the supernatural kids under Bughuul control.  The whole supernatural dead kids angle is a little strange as only Zach and Dylan can see them.  They choose Dylan and force him to watch the grainy and choppy 8 mm films showing families getting murdered.  Courtney and Ex-Deputy So and So start to develop a sort of relationship when her ex-husband Clint comes roaring with his truck trying to gain custody of the kids.  So and So stands up to him and cop he brought with him and they eventually leave.  It seems like this story really has nothing to do or anything important to say.  While it tries to explain the origins of Bughuul is just not at all scary or all that interesting for that matter.

The ending gets a bit of a twist as Zach is now the one who has been brainwashed into killing the family and how he gets them all tied up on crucifixes like scarecrows I do not know.  Anyway, things fizzle out and we are left with more nonsense.  By the way who develops the 8 mm film? No to many labs out there and for snuff films? Just a few holes in this swiss cheese of a film. 

"Super Dark Times"


“Super Dark Times” delivers what it promises.  The film is dark and honest look time at the lives of a few teenagers living in suburban America and an event that will change all of their lives forever.  Although this promising film does suffer from a third act breakdown all of the stuff beforehand is well executed.

The story is grounded in a typical suburban American reality, Zach and Josh are best of friends who spend their days at school and riding bikes around their small rural town.  They hang out with a few other kids Charlie and Daryl.  Daryl is a character that everyone can probably remember knowing growing up.  He is the foul-mouthed fat kid, who tries way too hard to be liked.  With not much to do the teens wander around on their bikes usually ending up at someone's house.  The characters and dialogue feel extremely naturalistic and true to life which sets this film apart.  Stereotypes are held to a bare minimum and the characters feel lived in.  While at Josh’s house, they go into his older brothers room, who is currently in the Marines, and find some weed and a samurai sword.  Josh tells them to leave the weed, but they go outside and horse around with the sword.  What could go wrong right?

Daryl’s constant harassment of the others and the fact that he actually stole the weed pisses off Josh and they get into it a little bit.  But when Daryl sucker punches Josh, who is currently holding the sword, an unfortunate accident occurs.  Daryl is stabbed deeply in the throat and everybody freaks out.  This scene is hard to watch and its graphic realism is something that cuts to the core of anyone who sees it.  All three teens panic and cover up the body, they get rid of the sword and make a pact not to tell anyone.  This obviously creates a heavy sense of paranoia, guilt, and anxiety that takes this film to its ultimately unsatisfying ending.  Also at this time, Charlie’s girl crush at school starts to show interest in him.  Charlie is the heart of the film and the character the story primarily follows.  His journey is our journey.  His friendship with Josh quickly spirals into paranoia and fear of each other.  Although it's hard to say what a person would do in this situation you assume one if not both of the kids will crack under the pressure.  What Josh does seems to betray the strong sense of realism that the film has built up.  I’m not saying it couldn’t happen, but it just felt wrong.  This is a film about morality and doing the right thing and when you’re a teenager this can be very tricky.

“Super Dark Times” draws comparisons between 2001s “Bully” and 2004s “Mean Creek” although to me “Super Dark Times” feels more authentic while “Bully” like its title is more mean spirited.  Both films involve a sort of misguided revenge, while “Super Dark Times” revolves around an accident.  While made for under a million dollars “Super Dark Times” looks and feels like movies ten times its budget, as the characters really shine.  This is definitely a film to see despite its wayward ending.

REVIEW - "Mean Creek"
REVIEW - "Bully"

Bill Maher's "Religulous" is a Laugh Riot!


Comedian Bill Maher is a man who doesn’t shy away from taboo subjects, he once has a TV show called “Politically Incorrect” and currently has a long running talk show on HBO called “Real Time with Bill Maher”.  The 2008 documentary “Religulous” takes a hilarious and unflinching look at religion and all its forms.

Maher had an interesting upbringing himself with his father being roman catholic and his mother Jewish. Obviously, when you start questioning peoples beliefs you’re going to run into some resistance, but Maher approaches this as a person with an open mind and doubt at its core.
Maher’s trademark sarcasm and quick wit have made him both a champion for his far left leaning supporters and a lightning rod of controversy for conservative America.  “Religulous” makes the point that “Religion has been detrimental to human progress”.  

Maher visits with numerous religious leaders and followers primarily in the American Midwest (the Bible belt) and asks simple questions that usually end up in laughs and awkward silences. Religion is quite the business and is very adept at exploiting peoples beliefs to fund lavish lifestyles for clergy members.  Maher travels to Florida to a Christian themed amusement park called “The Holy Land Experience” and interviews Jesus, who is some dude on a summer job. The park re-enacts the crucifixion and of course has a gift shop.  Maher’s presence alerts the staff and security similar to when people see Michale Moore with a camera crew.  In his travels, Maher brings up the very real issue of God and Nationalism.  While America is supposedly a melting pot of cultures, ideas, and freedoms it has always been fully enmeshed in Christianity.  

Maher interviews a number of Muslims who defend their beliefs and characterize their wrongs and denials as “politics”.  When it comes to Scientology and Mormon’s Maher has a field day in pointing out the eccentricities of these newer religions and their truly bizarre origins.  No matter what religion a person is affiliated with, how do these people come to believe the things they do?  Is it indoctrinated at youth like in the documentary “Jesus Camp”?  To take everything on blind faith is quite dangerous and detrimental to society as a whole.  All too often beliefs are forced upon people and this also very troublesome.  Religion and politics always get mixed up together and are usually dealt with in a serious and contentious manner.  That’s why it's such a breath of fresh air when a guy like Bill Maher can bring some humor and levity to such subjects.  Sure he can be a pretentious smart ass but he is not afraid to ask uncomfortable questions.  It looks like he could’ve made a good lawyer since he is so good at making other people look like idiots.

I found “Religulous” to be a laugh riot and Maher to be a lot more palatable than Michael Moore.  Larry Charles, who directed “Borat” a few years earlier, directed this film as well.  Although Maher is not Borat, he still gets the same amount of laughs.

The Controversial and Thought Provoking "Jesus Camp"


It’s been true since the dawn of time if you want to stir up intense debate and controversy just bring up religion or politics.  The 2006 Oscar nominated documentary “Jesus Camp” is full of both.  Directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady focus their attention on the far right Evangelical Christians of middle America.  No matter what your personal beliefs are this film stirs up passionate responses on both sides.

We meet Becky Fisher a Pentecostal children’s preacher who holds these camps that indoctrinate children into a way of thinking.  They are told they are soldiers in a war to reclaim America for Christ.  Becky and the other adults in the greater scheme of things are using children as pawns to actively recruit others.  This whole practice sounds similar to how Nazi Germany used the Hitler Youth to push their agenda.  It’s a sickening practice that desperate and fearful extremist use to serve their own twisted ego’s.  Kids of course just want the love and attention of their parents and will do anything to get it so they just go along with it not really knowing what they are doing or what it all means.

The families involved in these camps look to be lower middle class families and this is punctuated by a young boy that the filmmakers choose to follow.  Levi is a 12 year old boy and a stereotypical trailer park kid with baggy clothes and a long rat tail running down his back.  He has bought into all of these teachings and preaches himself.  While most of the kids interviewed seem either extremely nervous or extensively coached, Levi has confidence and belief in what he says.

The filmmakers also make it abundantly clear the beliefs of the Evangelicals.  The theory of evolution is heresy and global warming is a political myth.  That Harry Potter is the anti-christ meant to lure kids to Satan (seriously, I’m not joking here).  It is mentioned that 75% of homeschooled children are evangelical, which points to a deep mistrust in society at large.  The filmmakers then follow Levi and some other kids as they visit Colorado Springs and the church of famed minister Ted Haggard.  Hagged also happened to be the President of the National Association of Evangelicals.  The camera follows him on stage as he makes a number of off-color remarks about gays.  But wouldn’t you know a little after this film was released Haggard found himself embroiled in a scandal with his own gay lover/drug dealer.  The Hypocrisy just doesn’t get any better than this.  Religion is just a business like any other with usually the poorest of people giving money to the rich for “salvation”.  

In conclusion, the way a person chooses to live their life is totally up to them, but when it comes to extremists and using children to fight your battles is cause for concern no matter what you believe.  The question of whether these Jesus Camps actually do harm to these kids is up for debate like everything else.  Is it child abuse?  Where Becky Fisher’s methods a little too intense?  Religion is one of those topics that raise existential questions like Mankind’s attempt to rationalize its own existence an will continue until we as a people finally destroy ourselves or as Evangelicals believe the return of Jesus Christ. I won’t be holding my breath.