“Frozen” is one of those high concept nature survival stories that test the limits of human endurance. It’s the story of three friends that go skiing and end up getting trapped on a ski lift. It’s a very small movie in scope as the majority of the action takes place in the ski lift with just the three characters. This presented wrier/director Adam Green with several technical challenges as they were really at the actual location and not in a studio. Then there is the problem of how you make it as terrifying as possible given the limited resources?
“Frozen” stars Shawn Ashmore (X-Men), Kevin Zegers (Dawn of the Dead remake) and Emma Bell who now can be seen on the AMC show “The Walking Dead”. All three actors give incredible performances. Unlike a lot of horror/suspense movies you actually get to know and feel something for these characters. How do they deal with being stuck a hundred feet off the ground in sub zero weather? Some of the choices they make might seem a little strange, but they are freezing and in a state of shock and panic so you can sort of forgive some of their more idiotic choices.
As they try to figure how to get down, Dan (Zegers) decides to jump. With the ground being as hard as concrete this does not go well. It is also one of the nastier gore scenes in the film, and Dan’s situation doesn’t get any better as a bunch of hungry wolves hear his cries for help. This creates a sort of problem as wolves really aren’t the blood thirty predators they are always made out to be so it’s just another instance where the film has taken certain liberties to make the story more terrifying. Which can be distracting, but with in the context of the film it can be forgivable. Of course I’m a little bias and willing to let these things pass.
This is the kind of movie where you either really like it or think it’s pretty stupid. In my opinion “Frozen” is a pretty cool movie (pun intended). It gives you deep character development, psychological tension and suspense and I love the fact that everything was shot on location with the actors stuck in the freezing cold for hours at a time. Yes I’m rather sadistic I like to see actors in real physical pain. They are then able to give a more authentic performance. Suffer for your art! “Frozen” is available on blu-ray and DVD and is packed with tons of glorious extras include a commentary by Green and the actors. Check it out.
After his breakthrough horror splatter hit “Hatchet” Adam Green teams up with friend Joel David Moore to write and direct the suspense drama “Spiral” which also stars Moore in the lead as “Mason” as an intensely quiet and withdrawn painter who works at an insurance company call center. This movie is quite the departure from the blatant blood and gore of his previous film.
“Spiral” is really a hard film to classify. It’s not really horror, but more of a character drama that happens to have an overall theme of terror. It’s also about the nature of friendship between two friends. Zachary Levi (who now plays “Chuck” on the NBC show) is Mason’s long time friend Berkeley who knows Mason has some serious issues. There is also Mason’s relationship with women, Diana in the beginning and Amber (Played by Amber Tablyn) for the majority of the movie. The movie continues to tease the audience as to weather Mason is a killer or just and average guy dealing with some pretty heavy emotional issues.
Mason appears to be a very meek and neurotic guy. He lives alone in an apartment where he paints portraits of women who pose for him. Is Mason as benign as he looks or is there something else brewing inside his tall, lanky body? Joel David Moore’s portrayal of Mason is pretty dead on and definitely makes this movie what it is. Zachery Levi is also very strong as the friend who is really in denial that his friend really needs professional help. Amber Tamblyn’s character of who else Amber is probably the weakest of the three but in a movie as well acted as this one, she still does give a decent performance. What does she see in Mason anyway?
Spiral builds to a suspenseful and sort of obvious climax, but when Mason goes to Berkley for help after an “incident”. The rug is pulled out from you in a brilliant “oh my god” twist, but is it the truth or is it just what Berkley wants to believe. He then comes to the realization that Mason isn’t quite what he appears to be.
My next three reviews will focus on the extremely talented young writer/director Adam Green. Adam is apart of a group of New England born and bred filmmakers who seem to be taking the independent horror genre by storm. Guys like Eli Roth, Paul Solet, Joel David Moore and others have been involved in some of the best horror movies in years. These filmmakers are movie fanatics in there own right and create films with their fan base in mind. Adam Green’s breakout hit was the 2006 slasher spectacle “Hatchet” that tells the story of Victor Crowley, a viciously deformed killer that stalks the New Orleans bayou.
For his first big film Green was able to corral a horror director’s dream of a cast. Robert Englund of Freddy Krueger fame opens the movie, playing an alligator hunter, who is out with his son when the run into some trouble with Victor. Kane Hodder, who was “Jason” in a handful of the Friday the 13th movies, plays Victor Crowley. He also doubles as Victor’s father in a flashback. Horror icon Tony Todd of “Candyman” fame also has a cameo as Reverend Zombie.
The plot of “Hatchet” follows a bunch of college aged kids at Mardi Gras. Ben, played by Joel David Moore gets sick of all the drunken debauchery around him and leaves the group with one his best friends Marcus coming along. Looking for some cheap thrills they board a pontoon boat with an eclectic group of people for a haunted swamp tour of the bayou.
Although the story of Victor Crowley and the woods setting is quite similar to Jason and the Friday movies, Green does do his best to differentiate then. There are homage’s to other classic horror films that only fans will recognize. A line here a scene there, its all pretty subtle. Green knows his audience and fan base well because he is one of them. The kills and gore effect are pretty spectacular, so big props go out to the make-up and effects departments. With a total budget of only a million and a half they defiantly seem to get their money’s worth.
This is definitely a better than average entry into the vast horror market and sees the birth of two new horror icons to look forward to seeing more of, Adam Green and Victor Crowley. While Hatchet 2 was filmed earlier this year and made it onto a few theatres a DVD release date has not yet been set.
The Rockport Review is 1 Year Old!
My how time flies. It’s been a little over a year since The Rockport Review came to be and I am still reviewing movies that have been overlooked or need a second viewing. There have been 65 reviews in all so far in year one, mostly if not all have been horror/thrillers. I do happen to have a fondness for these, especially the glory days of the 1980’s slasher flicks; it was a great time for many talented directors like Craven, Carpenter, Cronenberg and slashers like Jason, Freddy and Michael Myers.
In 2011 I will continue to give thoughtful recommendations to help keep your Netflix Queue full of hard to find and rarely seen gems. I will also start to profile and feature some of my favorite actors and directors and review their films as a whole. If there is anybody out there reading this please feel free to drop me a line or comment on my reviews to email@example.com.
Below is a link to a rough cut of my own stop motion short film called “Wally” that I have posted on You Tube. Enjoy!
When the guys behind the most recent “Saw” movies had some extra time in their busy schedules they made a small independent horror film called “The Collector”. Since the “Saw” movies they were apart of were nothing but pure crap, I was a little hesitant about watching this movie, but I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised at how effective and entertaining it was. This is a real sleeper hit in the cluttered world of horror.
Released into a few theatres in 2009 and now on DVD, this movie really delivers the goods. High suspense, brutal violence and gore and characters you actually like for a change. Our hero is Arkin is a small time crook trying to turn his life around, he has a young daughter that lives with his ex-wife. His ex is in deep with some loan sharks and needs money by the end of the night. He has been working a construction job at this rich families home and decides the only way to get the money he needs in a hurry is to rob the place. Things start out well until he runs into the Collector. Kind of like showing up at a party wearing the same dress. These two are on quite the collision course.
Since this movie has so much going for it you tend to ignore the clichéd and ridiculous moments like a strip club scene, Arkin just wants his family back, and the killer that wears a mask not to mention several others. “The Collector” really shines in its building of suspense and the cat and mouse games played by Arkin and the killer. Most of the action takes place in this big opulent house, where they are fully aware of each others presence. The Killer also seemed to have the time and the resources to rig up meticulous traps in each room (this is the ridiculous part) to make Arkin’s life a bit more difficult. While Arkin just wants to rob the wall safe and leave. The Collector wants to torture and kill the owners and who ever comes by. The traps do seem to be obviously inspired by the famous “Saw” traps although with a sort of twist.
As the title advertises the killer collects one live victim and stashes them in a red trunk from each of his crimes. Will Arkin be added to his collection? The ending has its own little twists and turns that are pretty amusing. “The Collector” is definitely worth a viewing or two and a buy if under $10. Hopefully after “Saw” has run its course, these guys will use this gem to make even better films.
Combs plays physicist Crawford Tillinghast who along with Dr. Edward Pretorius create a machine called the Resonator. When turned on it creates a distinct frequency that stimulates the Pineal gland in the brain, allowing a person to see an alternate dimension of reality. It’s explained as a kind of sixth sense. What they see and experience is not all that pleasant as Dr. Pretorius is consumed by the machine and presumed dead. Crawford is hauled of the looney bin only to be released into the custody of psychologist Dr. Katherine McMichales.
Back at the lab which is located at 666 Benevolent St. Crawford shows off the Resonator to Katherine who becomes obsessed with it. When the Resonator is turned on they are introduced to the new Dr. Pretorius, he is hideously mutated and completely insane. His pineal gland juts out from his forehead like an antenna. The special effects are pretty dated and the creature makeup is pretty well done, but campy at times. The overall story is quite bizarre, but still engaging and entertaining. For comic relief we have Bubba Brownlee, and ex football player turned cop, played wonderfully by Ken Foree. Our three protagonists fight for survival against the Resonator and the evil Dr. Pretorius. This movie is a quick 86 minutes, just enough to keep the story moving at decent pace.
“From Beyond” is available through Netflix Instant Streaming video.
The Human Centipede
The story line is quite generic and could be lifted from numerous other horror films. Two American college girls traveling in Europe are on their way to a party when their car breaks down in the countryside. Both girls are extremely annoying and shallow New Yorkers who brave the rain to find a house occupied by a mad German doctor/scientist, played by Dieter Laser (I love that name). Perhaps the best part of the movie is Laser’s performance as the insane doctor who will stop at nothing to create this monster.
Along with a Japanese guy, it is explained that the surgery will connect the three young people ass to mouth to create a “medically accurate” new animal. And why does he want to this? Probably either for shits and giggles or to launch a new German fetish porn site. The movie promises a Human Centipede and you eventually get a Human Centipede. While there are some sick and twisted images, it really does little to create a sense of empathy for the characters that are in the unfortunate positions. Then comes the question of once you’ve created a Human Centipede, what do you do with it? He takes it out in the back yard for a bit, then at night he locks it up in a cage
Tom Six is currently in post production for next year’s sequel which promises a longer centipede and hopefully a better plot. He set the bar pretty low for the first one, so hopefully the sequel will cash in on the problems of the first one.
Trick ‘r Treat
When John Carpenter’s milestone horror film “Halloween” came out in 1978, it changed movies forever. Now every holiday has at least one horror movie made in its honor, from “Mother’s Day”, “Thanks Killing”, and numerous Santa Slashers. Usually these movies were pretty bad, but Michael Dougherty’s 2007 film “Trick ‘r Treat” is a fun, scary, and enjoyable movie that is rarely made anymore. It’s actually quite amazing that it was even released at all. It was shelved by Warner Brothers for over two years because of “questionable content” and other studio related politics. The way that it is made and in the context of the material it is a crime that it took so long to come out. It just became available on DVD and Blu-Ray last October.
Trick ‘r Treat is like an old comic book as displayed in the opening credits. It weaves together five scary stories on your average Halloween night. Each story focuses on how people of different ages experience the holiday. A great cast was assembled to bring these stories to life. Anna Paquin, Brian Cox, Dylan Baker & Leslie Bibb all have fun roles and give great performances. Also appearing throughout the movie is “Sam” a seemingly little kid dressed up as a pumpkin who symbolize the terror and frightfulness of Halloween. Almost like a grim reaper, he makes sure all of holiday rituals are followed and punishes those who don’t play along.
Some of the reasons this movie took so long to be released is the number of kids that are offed. A bus load of special needs kids is purposely driven of a cliff and an elementary school principal moonlights as a serial killer. All of the Halloween stories and myths about the holiday really seem to ring true. Like “A Christmas Story” this is a movie that you can watch over and over every year. It’s well written, well made and just a heck of a lot of fun.
This early 80’s slasher film by Joseph Zito is a horror classic. Tom Savini’s make up effect are simply amazing. When you look back at a film like this you really appreciate the time and craftsmanship that goes into these practical effects. In the time before CGI, problem solving and creativity was at an all time high. It is no surprise that these days with computer effects so readily available, filmmakers have become lazy and over reliant on effects to save their films.
The “Prowler” is the story of a soldier coming home from WWII to find out that his girlfriend Rosemary has left him. This doesn’t sit well with our soldier as he stalks and pitchforks a young couple at a college graduation dance. The Prowler always leaves a rose at the scene as his calling card. The Prowler as a character is a little weak. He is dressed head to toe in a WWII uniform and uses either a pitchfork or a bayonet to kill his victims. He is not as scary or as menacing as some of the other more infamous 80’s killers like Jason, Freddy or Michael Myers. But as I mentioned in the beginning the kills are phenomenal and make this film what it is.
After the intro, the story jumps ahead 35 years to the present (1980) to the same college as students get ready for the first graduation dance since the double murder. Classic 80’s clothes and hairstyles are always great to see, even if it is for cheap laughs. Our heroes are Pam, a beautiful blonde haired student and Mark, a big haired young deputy. The Sherriff goes on a fishing trip leaving Mark on his own for the weekend to cover the big dance. Like a lot of horror movies, the “Prowler” is not big on plot. The supporting characters are your average stupid college kids that make it way to easy for the Prowler to have his way with them. Pam and Mark piece things together and eventually wind up face to face with the killer. He is unmasked in the struggle and it kind of felt like an episode of Scooby-Doo. Pam survives the ordeal and when she returns to her dorm she gets a final scare. Zito and Savini got back together a year later and did “Friday the 13th Part 4.
Both DVD and Blu-Ray edition have a commentary track from Zito and Savini along with a featurette about the effects.
Evil Doll Movies #4
When the movie “Saw” hit it big at the box office, director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell where thrown a bunch of money to make another horror movie. They made “Dead Silence”. Inspired by the creepy tricycle riding doll from “Saw”, they made a ghost story about an old ventriloquist and her doll. Mary Shaw is sort of an urban legend they created; she had no children just dolls, if you scream she’ll rip your tongue out or something like that.
Ryan Kwanten, who now stars in HBO’s “True Blood”, plays Jaime a grieving widow investigating the mysterious murder of his wife. That’s right a horror movie without a hot female lead. What gives? Donnie Walhberg plays the detective on the case; he also plays the lead cop role in “Saw 2”. He plays the usual gruff investigator who always seems to using his electric razor. Jaime comes from a wealthy family and his step mother, played by former super model Amber Valetta, is only there to be apart of the big final twist ending. The whole Mary Shaw myth and legend is not that scary and her back story is completely unoriginal and feels tacked on. The filmmakers use a lot of effects and bullshit to mask that fact that this story is pretty weak and not all that scary.
Billy is the name of Mary’s ventriloquist doll (also the name as the “Saw” doll) that seems to briefly come to life somewhat by Mary’s spirit or something. The other dolls just seem to move their eyes, which is creepy, but it has been done so many times that it does very little to actually frighten you. This is your basic gothic ghost story, which is code for boring. The whole male lead thing really through me off. Coming from the guys who made “Saw”, I guess I was expecting a whole lot more. This known as the M. Night Shyamalan effect. It sets the bar pretty high which will inevitably set you up for disappointment. This movie is really nothing special as it floats in a sea of mediocrity. Check it out if you find it on cable or satellite, but don’t pay any money to see it.
Evil Doll Movies #3
After the mild success of Stuart Gordon’s “Dolls”, producer Charles Band decided to fund the “Puppet Master” franchise. Currently there are nine films in this campy and purposeless franchise.
The first of these low budget films was released in 1989 to minimal success. Although it does have enough of a cult following to spawn so many sequels, this is one cult that hasn’t brainwashed me into following.
The movie starts at the Bodega Bay Inn in 1939. An old puppet maker who has the ability to bring his creations to life is being hunted down by two guys in sunglasses and trench coats. After hiding the dolls in the walls (hey that rhymes) he kills himself. There is this long puppet POV sequence of him going through the hotel and for some bizarre reason nobody seems to notice him. This is really the least of the movies many, many flaws. Ancient Egyptian spells, witchcraft and telepathy fill in the so-called plot. It seems to go for more of the campy B movie horror then for real terror and suspense. The puppets themselves each have there own distinct look and personalities, which is probably the films only good point. The animation of the puppets is also very strong. The human actors should have followed the puppets lead. The film looks very 80’s in the clothes and hair styles, but good character development and story is never out of date. This movie is what it is and has a very select audience.
Evil Doll Movies #2
The Child’s Play franchise with the loveably insane Chucky doll has become a pop culture icon. With five films and more to come, it hasn’t quite reached the legendary status of Jason, Freddy, and Michael Myers, but Chucky continues to slash his way to the top.
Tom Holland directed the original 1988 film as well as the Stephen King adaptations of “The Langoliers” and “Thinner”. Set in Chicago this is the story of a widowed mother (Catherine Hicks) and her son Andy (Alex Vincent). Andy is having a birthday and wants a “Good Guy” doll. It’s kind of like the boys version of a Cabbage Patch Kid. His mother buys one from a street peddler and Andy couldn’t be happier. Little do they know that the doll is inhabited by the soul of a serial killer the lakeside strangler Charles Lee Ray. Chucky talks to Andy, but when things start to happen and he blames the doll. Obviously nobody believes him, even his mother.
Chucky is pure satanic evil with a dirty mouth to match. Like Freddy Krueger he has a string funny one-liner that go to embarrassingly bad lengths in the later sequels. Chris Sarandon plays a detective investigating the mysterious murders and is finally convinced that Chucky is to blame. But who will believe him? This movie also has several of the now more familiar horror clichés. The fake scare followed by the real one, Chucky comes back to life about three times, nobody believes the little kid. The doll effects are pretty good, and Chucky seems to be acting circles around Sarandon’s character. All in all the acting is quite good as well as the production values. This is another classic essential 80’s horror movie. What a decade!
Evil Doll Movies #1
When it comes to the horror movie genre there are several well known and defined sub genres. You got your slashers, aliens, vampires, werewolves, supernatural and numerous others. For the next few reviews I will be focusing on the Evil Doll movie. The biggest and most notorious of these is the “Child’s Play franchise.” Chucky the Good Guy doll has become a household name when it comes to diabolical little toys. There is also the vast collection of “Puppet Master” films produced by Charles Band. One of the more recent (and forgettable) of these is “Dead Silence”. These movies are effective when they can prey on the primal childhood fear of your toys coming to life to kill you. But with any movie in any genre you need a good story and good characters.
For this review I watched “Dolls” by Stuart Gordon. Gordon’s first film “Re Animator” is a cult classic that is a must have for any horror fan. “Dolls” is a very short 75 minutes and any longer would really be too long. This is not a great movie, but there are a few gems within its short life and as a whole it falls rather flat.
In the time before CGI, these numerous dolls were all meticulously hand crafted and brought to life (and death) through stop motion animation. The animation scenes are really pretty cool and by far the best part. The acting is absolutely dreadful, except for maybe the seven year old girl. The story is also rather weak. A family is traveling a deserted road when a pot hole blows out a tire. The seek refuge in a big scary old house inhabited an old doll maker and his wife. A few other characters pop in along the way including two punk rock teen girls seemingly pulled straight from a Madonna video. The many dolls throughout the house look pretty creepy as it is, until they start moving their eyes. After everybody goes to bed the dolls come out to play. Like a said before the plot is pretty thin and most of the characters are around only to be victims. If your feeling nostalgic for 80’s horror gives this a shot.
Black Snake Moan
On the heals of his critically acclaimed film “Hustle & Flow writer/director Craig Brewer released “Black Snake Moan” in 2006 to more praise. Although not as popular as “Hustle” this movie was overlooked by many and was in and out of theatres way to fast.
Set in the Deep South, which is a character in itself, this is a story of redemption. Starring Samuel L. Jackson, who seems to be in about ten movies a year, hits a good note here. He plays Lazarus an old blues musician who finds himself at a sort of crossroads in his life. His wife has left him and another woman is about to come into his live and really test his faith. This woman is Rae, played by Christina Ricci. She is your average town skank, with heavy issues or her own. Her boy friend Ronnie is played by Justin Timberlake, who in all of his movie roles so far has shown to be a damn good actor. Ronnie has signed up for the Army, but suffers from debilitating anxiety attacks. When he leaves for boot camp, Rae is left alone and vulnerable.
After a wild outdoor party, Ronnie’s brother tries to get with Rae and is turned down. This does not sit well as he explodes into a violent rage and beats Rae half to death. She is dumped and left for dead on the side of the road. The next morning Lazarus finds her and takes her in. Rae is the white she devil that tempts Laz at every opportunity. His only concern is making her well and ridding her soul of this “wickedness”. To protect themselves from each other (and themselves) he chains Rae to the radiator. He helps Rae deal with her abusive past, while she helps him rediscover his purpose in life. The sweaty southern atmosphere and the superb acting by Sam Jackson really make this movie work. Although the story is a little unreal the movie just works and I applaud the filmmakers for making such a movie!
“Teeth” is a funny and not to subtle message to the male gender around the world. It is based on the age old cautionary tale of Vagina Dentata. The story about an innocent young girl with a vicious set of chompers between her legs. It is a story that has been told for centuries by many cultures not only warning young people of the dangers of sex, but also to discourage rape and promiscuity.
Mitchell Lichtenstein is the writer/director with the cohunes to bring this story to the screen in a funny, cringe inducing way. Dawn O’Keefe is played perfectly by Jess Weixler, a girl who has had to deal with this abnormality all her life. This type of story, like the movie “Ginger Snaps” (which I reviewed earlier), is also a clear comment on female puberty and there burgeoning sexuality.
Dawn is an outspoken advocate for abstinence and gives lectures to young school kids to wait until marriage. When she starts seeing a guy from school they try to take it slow, but since he is a guy he pushes her beyond her boundaries. When things start to get to serious her body reacts and he loses an important part of his anatomy. Although the premise is a little ridiculous, it is still quite an entertaining experience.
As she starts to learn more about her body, she begins to take back some control over her life. Her first visit to the gynecologist is an absolute laugh riot. Dawn always seems to be surrounded by the creepiest guys who want only one thing. Come on were not all like that! Ryan finally enters the picture to redeem the male gender and tame her teeth. Is he up to the task or will he just be another loser? This is a great date movie for open minded couples. Check it out!
The Girl Next Door
This movie is based on the book of the same name by Jack Ketchum; which is also based on a true story. Not to be confused with the teen sex comedy of the same name from 2004. This film was made a few years later and although it does have teens and sex, the story lines are worlds apart.
This is the true story of two sisters who were orphaned back in the late 1950’s when their parents were killed in a car accident. Meg is the older sister at about 15 and her sister Susan is about 10 or 11. Susan is also a recovering polio survivor and has to wear leg braces. These girls taken in (or pushed upon) by Aunt Ruth a popular neighborhood spinster. All of the neighborhood boys hang out at Ruth’s, they range in age from about 8-15, she gives then beer lets them smoke and so much worse.
The story is told through flashback by David, the one boy who sought to save the girls from the evils that happen in the basement of Ruth’s house. David and Meg meet on a few occasions and strike up a nice friendship, but when Meg tells him that that she and her sister are not being fed, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Ruth is brutally strict to the girls and purposely humiliates Meg in front of the boys. Things rapidly escalate, when Meg goes to the police about the abuse. Meg is then tied up in the basement and stripped naked with everybody present. Ruth rants to the boys her slanted views of young women, but tells them not to touch her. This doesn’t last long.
This movie works on so many levels; it’s a brutal psychological horror film, an intense character study, and a coming of age story. Ruth is obviously severely disturbed, but doesn’t know it. David feels powerless to stop Ruth and the other boys. Susan is abused, but not beaten; she is also forced to watch as her sister is tortured by the boys. This movie goes to the darkest places you can imagine. Some scenes are just as brutal to the audience as they are to Meg. David plans an escape attempt for the sisters but that too is snuffed out by Ruth. Can this story have a “happy” ending? Doubt it. It is an intensely heart wrenching film that will stay with you for days. Like most movies that claim to be “true stories”, parts were probably embellished and made more dramatic but the core story is still disturbing beyond belief.
Dawn of the Dead (2004)
Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake of the classic George A. Romero zombie movie “Dawn of the Dead” was a milestone in many ways. It helped launch Snyder’s career and has since directed “300” and “Watchmen”. “Dawn” is a spectacular remake, some say better that the original. It introduced us to the fast, sprinting zombies. It did however also help set in motion the trend of remaking every old horror they could dig up no matter how bad it is.
“Dawn” follows in the original films foot steps, but it also blazes its own trails too. When the zombie apocalypse is upon us, a group of survivors led by a nurse (Sarah Polley) and a cop (Ving Rhames) they find solace in The Crossroads Mall. This was a big statement in the original film, about the countries growing consumerism. Barricaded in the mall and surrounded by hordes of the undead, they must figure out a way to survive and come to terms with the fact that everybody they know and love is gone.
“When there is no more room left in hell, the dead will walk the earth” This is a great line spoken by a preacher, just before the station goes off the air. As with most survival horror films, this group of diverse people must learn to work together if they want to survive. The acting and character development is quite good for a horror movie. You know these people and want them to survive. As I mentioned earlier, the classic images of slow moving zombies has been given a serious makeover. These flesh eating freaks are like Olympic sprinters, making them a frightening real threat. The make up effects and CG and very well done for most part, and the gore makes it well worth the price of the unrated DVD. This movie is literally unstoppable as it continues in snippets right though the end credits.
Zack Snyder’s vision and filmmaking sense is just what this generations needs. With “300” being another monumental hit, he seems to have a bright, limitless career. Please, please don’t be another M. Night Shyamalan.
Repo! The Genetic Opera
“Repo!” is a very unique film that almost never gets made. It is an attempt to recreate a movie experience in the same vein of the 70’s cult phenomenon “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”. Director Darren Lynn Bousman who created the Saw franchise really has puts his heart and soul into making Repo, but it is made for a very select audience.
“Repo!” takes place in a distant future where organ failure is a worldwide epidemic. The Geneco Corporation will provide you with the new parts and financing, but miss a payment and the Repo Man will come to collect. Earlier this year a very similar movie with Jude Law and Forest Whitaker called “Repo Men” was made with mixed results. Thank got it wasn’t a musical as well; although it would be worth the price of admission to see Jude and Forest sing a duet.
More than anything “Repo!” seems to be a big exercise in style over substance, but saying that I have to admit I did buy the DVD. The storyline is pretty average and melodramatic. Being that it is a musical; the songs are pretty good but not great. All the metal and modern rock songs do fit the movie well and compliment the films bleak and gory landscape. Now looking at the acting, I never thought I would say this until hell froze over, but with a cast that includes Paris Hilton, the acting was pretty good. Paris plays the surgery addicted daughter of Geneco’s president Rotti Largo, played by Paul Sorvino. Opera singer Sarah Brightman plays, wait for it, opera singer Blind Mag, in her first acting role. Horror genre favorite Bill Mosley is cast as one of Rotti’s son’s. Mosley is a character actor who is just about perfect in every role he plays from all the Rob Zombie films to the little independent movies.
“Repo!” is an interesting little experiment of a film and a good addition to your Netflix Queue. Also to set the record straight “Repo!” is really no “Rocky Horror”.
“The Ruins” is author Scott Smith’s second novel to be made into a feature film, with the first being Sam Raimi’s “A Simple Plan” in 1998. Whether a movie ever lives up to the book is always up for debate. Some of the things from the book are shifted around and changed but it does still keep its framework and essence.
“The Ruins” is the story of four American college kids who are vacationing in Mexico, when they decide to go with a few others to visit some ancient Mayan ruins. These ruins are covered with a green flowering plant that seems to be alive. Director Carter Smith and the filmmakers had the tough job of making these plants scary. With any horror movie it’s only as scary as your killer, case and point Jason, Freddy, Michael Myers. So how do you make plants scary? Sound effects, CGI, and some pretty decent acting.
As the group reaches the sacred ruins they are surrounded by a bunch of angry and armed locals who since they came in contact with the plants are not allowed to leave. The locals scream at them in a language they don’t understand. Just like in Eli Roth’s Hostel movies, the filmmakers really make the point that today’s young Americans that venture into other countries have this cocky air of invincibility. When things start to go wrong they basically think, somebody has to be looking for us, were Americans. And people wonder why some countries around the world hate us.
They are suppose to be meeting there German friend Mathias’s brother, who is researching the ruins. His stuff is there but he isn’t. There is a pulley system to lower people down into the darkened abyss of the ruins and when they hear a cell phone ring, Mathias is convinced it’s his brothers. As he is lowered down the rope breaks, we then come upon what I’ve said before is my favorite disgusting injury, the compound fracture. This is where the real horror starts as they wake up the next morning to realize that the plants vines are slithering into their wounds. The vines act like parasitic leeches drawn to blood. They move just under your skin like worms. Eeeewwww! Then the real blood and gore is put into motion. They cut of Mathias’s legs with nothing more than an oversized pocket knife. Another girl is obsessed with cutting out the vines from her body, making a horribly bloody mess of herself. Being in the deep jungle these civilized people slowly turn into barbaric savages who will do anything to stay alive, with little or no hope of rescue. They did tack on a typical Hollywood ending that will allow for a possible sequel. Overall this was a pretty decent movie, the gore effects were top notch, and I’ve got to say they did a pretty good job with the plants. I mean who isn’t afraid of homicidal parasites. It’s a pretty bleak movie, but hey its horror.
“Orphan” has to be at the top of the list when it comes to evil kid movies. It’s a rare studio made (Warner Brothers) horror movie that is not a remake or a neutered PG-13 attempt. With quality first rate actors like Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard and the unforgettable Isabella Furhman as Esther, it brings this movie to higher level. It has one of those big twist endings that you will probably either really love or really hate. I’m on the really love side as I though it is what made this movie completely crazy and enjoyable.
John and Kate are a pretty well to-do couple that live with their two kids in a house that John designed. Their daughter Max is hearing impaired, while Daniel is your typical older brother. When Kate has a miscarriage they decide to adopt. The fact that Esther comes from an orphanage and does such nasty things aroused a bit of controversy, but with the ending those claims really don’t hold water. Esther came from Russia to live with her first American family, but tragedy struck as the house burnt down, killing everyone except her. She speaks in a very believable accent and dresses in a peculiar way which gets her teased at school. Like a lot of girls Esther is a master manipulator who likes to play people against each other and will do anything to get what she wants. The movie also seems to really explore the social dynamics of kids. How they socialize at school, home, and at the park.
The acting of the three kids is nothing short of remarkable. Aryana Engineer, who plays Max, was 7-8 years old when filming and is actually hearing impaired. I personally think there is nothing better than to see little kids swearing, as they sprinkle in a few f-bombs here and there. It just gives the story a bit of uneasy edginess that lets the audience know that the filmmakers are not afraid to go there. The violence is also quite raw and brutal. Esther successfully turns John and Kate against each other, when Kate keeps blaming her for a string of “accidents”. John refuses to believe her and that is one of the movies short comings, as it drags on to ridiculous lengths. I won’t give away the ending but I’ll say again that I though the ending was a fun and surprising jolt that really makes this movie memorable.
American Director Vincenzo Natali’s latest film “Splice” opened last month for a short time and is one of the better movies I’ve seen so far this year. Hopefully it will find a following on DVD. His 1997 debut feature “Cube” has become a low budget cult classic. This incredibly inventive and creative film holds you from the very first frame to the closing credits.
“Cube” could be described as a thrilling and suspenseful mathematical mind fuck. The plot revolves around a group of strangers who are being held captive in a maze of cubed rooms. Why are they there? Who is doing this? These are the two biggest questions asked, and I applaud Natali’s decision to keep these questions ambiguous.
The group of seven characters is composed of a cop, a doctor, a teen girl, an autistic man, an ex-con, a mysterious twenty something guy, and another older man. Although the acting could’ve been better they do the best with what they are given. Made for under a half million dollars, the production values and visual effects don’t suffer. Some of the rooms are booby trapped, and this made me think that this film was likely a big influence on the “Saw” series. Although the Saw movies take the torture and gore to extreme levels, while Cube is more character driven. The rooms all have a certain color and ID numbers with which they must try to figure out what it all means in order to get out alive.
The real genius of the film is that these people are just there for no apparent reason and they don’t know how they got there. Nobody is watching them; they’re no cameras in the rooms. Is this some kind of military experiment? Where exactly is this cube structure located? Who built it? This question is only slightly answered. The cubes eventually start to take its toll on the inhabitants and some start to lose their minds. Themes of claustrophobia, panic and paranoia run throughout the film. Of the seven people trapped inside only one is able makes it “out”.
There was a sequel made in 2002 called “Cube 2: Hypercube” which is not half bad, it is equally mind bending as the original but with gratuitous use of obvious CGI, but in this kind of movie is just seemed to fit.
“Martyrs” is the final film in my reviews of the new French horror wave. All four of these films were extremely thoughtful and well made. Nothing exemplifies this more than “Martyrs”. This film could be accurately described as art house existential horror. Written and directed by Pascual Laugier, his film goes the distance when it comes to creativity and graphic brutality. Dealing mostly with the psychological effects of torture and what lies beyond human suffering.
The film opens with a disheveled young girl running from a warehouse. This is Lucie she has endured quite a lot while being held captive by a group of unknown people. She is sent to an orphanage and obviously has some severe psychological and physical trauma. She eventually becomes friends with Anna, a girl her age.
The film flash forwards 15 years to your basic family of four having breakfast and conversation when there is a knock at the door. The father goes to answer it and finds and hooded stranger with a shotgun. This person coldly and brutally massacres the whole family. The stranger is Lucie, she feels that the parents of this family were responsible for the torture she endured as a child. She calls Anna who comes right over to deal with the mess. Anna has always taken care of and felt sorry for what happen to Lucie and little by little has gotten in over her head in helping her.
Lucie has been fighting her inner demons for years and this get kind of confusing as Laugier actually creates a woman like creature that continues to attack her. Upon first viewing it’s hard to tell what the hell to make of her. Despite Anna’s efforts Lucie commits suicide.
Anna further investigates the house and finds a hidden passage way to an underground facility that is the headquarters to a secret society whose mission it is to contact the other side, to find out what lies beyond death. Certain people, mainly young women are chosen to be martyrs. These people are systematically tortured and psychologically broken till they reach a certain point where they transcend the pain and suffering to enter into a new consciousness.
Anna is captured whiles snooping around the place and is subjected to the same torture that Lucie endured. After Anna has been broken it is time for the next stage. Are you ready for this? She is taken into another room and skinned alive, except for her face. She doesn’t scream or seem to feel any pain, she has transcended. She survives this procedure and whispers into the ear of the older women who seems to head this society. The Madam calls a meeting to share the news of what she has heard. If you want to know the rest watch the movie, sucka!
This film definitely “transcends” your basic horror movie and goes places we have rarely been. This secret society is composed of rich elderly white people. I guess they want to know what to expect. Sadly, there is an American remake in the works and no matter what they do; it could never come close to matching the stunning effect of this film.
This is the third of four reviews of the new wave in French horror. “High Tension” or “Switchblade Romance” as it is also called was made in 2003 and was the movie that really set this whole wave into motion. Director Alexandre Aja whose American film debut in 2006 was the remake of “The Hills Have Eyes” was given rave reviews earlier on my blog. His next film “Mirrors” was a huge disappointment and now with “Piranha 3-D” will be hitting theaters later this summer. Let hope for the best.
“High Tension” is a well paced, well made horror classic until the final act almost kills it in a hugely illogical WTF twist. Two female college students Marie and Alex drive out to Alex’s parents place in the country to study for exams. Marie is a tall, muscular and smart girl with a very short blonde haircut that reminds you of Mia Farrow in “Rosemary’s Baby”. Marie and Alex are best friends, but even though they talk about possible boyfriends. Marie seems to be more interested in a serious relationship with Alex. When everybody goes to bed, just like in the previous movie “Inside”, a knock at the front door in the middle of the night set the rest of the movie in motion.
A stocky older man dressed in a grungy old work jumpsuit and a baseball hat goes to town on Alex’s family. He is a silent evil force to be reckoned with, kind of like a Michael Myers type killer. Marie and the killer play this kind of cat and mouse game and is able to stay hidden. The kills are quite brutal and visceral. Even their little boy is dispatched with as he tries to escape into the corn field. The killer takes Alex with him to who knows where, while Marie is able to tag along without him knowing. There is a tension filled scene at a truck stop, when the killer becomes aware of Marie. These two have it out in the woods later and this also starts the completely bullshit third act. I give the filmmakers credit for having the balls to take the story in this direction, but with everything we’ve seen so far, this last part really makes no sense. That being said I still think this is one of the best horror movies in the last decade. The characters are smart and so is the script. It piles on the blood and gore and is thoroughly satisfying.
The second film in my reviews of the new French horror wave is called “Inside.” It was released on DVD in the U.S. in early 2008 and is only for the true hardcore horror fans. Many movies have used pregnancy as a basis for a horror movie, but “Inside” takes it in a different direction. This was the first feature film for directors Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury.
The story opens inside the womb of Sarah, a news photographer, when a huge jolt sends her four month old fetus crashing into the wall of her stomach. We then see that there has been a car accident and her husband has died. It’s four months later and her baby has survived; she is ready to get a c-section the next day, when there is a knock at her door. It’s a woman who wants to use the phone, Sarah is skeptical and denies her. The woman knows her and starts talking to her by name. After being harassed Sarah calls the police, they check things out and say they will check back again later. The tension, suspense and mood are kept high throughout the films 83 minutes.
What is unique about this movie is that even though Sarah is pregnant, the story and the horror is not about her fetus. It’s not evil or the spawn of Satan, it just a regular baby that just wants to be born. As Sarah is sleeping, the mystery woman has made her way inside (there’s that word again) the house. She grabs a scissors in an attempt to cut the baby out of her. She doesn’t get too far for when she pierces Sarah’s belly button, she awakes and is able to escape to the bathroom and lock the door. Just who is this woman anyway? Like the movie “Frontier(s)” it takes place near Paris where race and political riots are happening (a lot of angry people over there.)
The rest of the movie is an extremely bloody test of survival. Other people will enter the house but will not be coming back out. The blood and gore effects are top notch and brutally realistic. The acting is also much better than you would expect from a film like this. All capped off with an ending so nasty you’ll literally puke in your popcorn. So why would you want to see a movie like this? Because you are a sick, sick, person. It’s also great entertainment! It’s not for 85% of people, but for a select few it will be a rare journey into severe depravity. Buy it today on DVD!
I will review all four of these films in the coming weeks with the first one being “Frontier(s). This film starts out in Paris as political protests and riots consume the city. A group of young activists (three guys, one girl) get in over there heads. After a robbery they get into a shootout with the police and take down an officer. They split up as one of there guys is also shot. They head for the country and plan to eventually hideout in Amsterdam. The rest of the story is a mix of “Hostel” and Texas Chainsaw Massacre”. This movie is a prime example of what is now called “torture porn”. It’s an orgy of gore, sadism and downright nastiness that for horror fanatic like myself eat it up like a cannibal to human liver.
This is not a cheap movie that was haphazardly slapped together. Writer/director Xavier Gens has crafter a multi layered story with political and social commentary. The group of young radicals, who also happen to be Muslim, stop off at a hostel in the French countryside only to find it being run by a group and murderous cannibal, who are lead by a former Nazi. I know it sound a little like a cheap B movie but Gens pulls it off. I’m not saying this movie is not without its flaws, but it is still a very intense ride.
The DVD leaves a little something to be desired as there are no special features of any kind, just the film. Yes it is subtitled, but hey get over it. Don’t limit yourself, add Frontier(s) to your Netflix Queue today!
Survival of the Dead
Stir of Echoes
This movie starring Kevin Bacon is based on a story by famed author Richard Matheson, whose other work includes “I Am Legend”, “The Box” and “What Dreams May Come”. Director David Koepp is better known as a screenwriter who has written numerous blockbusters like the Jurassic Park movies, Spider Man and Panic Room.
“Stir of Echoes” is a decent ghost story, but has its flaws. Set in suburban Chicago Bacon’s character of Tom is your average blue collar worker. One night at a neighborhood party he allows his sister in-law to hypnotize him. This seems to open a door in his mind that allows him to be a “receiver” of the pleas of dead people. His son also seems to have this ability. In several scenes the kid is talking to his friend Samantha who is nobody else can see. Samantha was a teenaged girl from the neighborhood who disappeared six months back. Little kids being used as a medium for the dead to air their grievances is getting to be a pretty tired plot device in my opinion.
Tom starts to have visions and hallucinations of a horrific crime and is haunted by the ghost of Samantha. Tom goes back to his sister in-law to if she can fix him. All he finds out is that he has to start digging in his back yard and buy large quantities of orange juice. Kevin Bacon, orange juice, their must be another breakfast reference somewhere I missed. Tom completely digs up the yard and apparently didn’t hit any gas or power lines. He is obsessively digging for the truth, yet his hands look fine. My hands would be a bloody mess after a half hour. He asks around the neighborhood and the police about Samantha’s case, but they brush him off. As is customary with most movies like this there is a scene where Tom has to go down into a dark and creepy basement, and an extremely tired use of a bathroom mirror gag.
So does Samantha get her justice from beyond the grave? Are the neighbors harboring secrets? This movie is pretty formulaic in its story telling but it is pulled off well enough to be somewhat entertaining. The producer also thought so well of it that they made a direct to DVD sequel starring Rob Lowe.
Swedish director Lukas Moodysson’s “Lilja 4 Ever” is a bleak, heartbreakingly honest story about the lives of young people in the former Soviet Union. His debut film “Show me Love” was reviewed earlier on this blog. In his writing and directing he has shown a great ability to bring out honest emotions and humanity to his characters.
Lilja is a 16 year old girl who lives with her mother in a cold concrete housing complex in Estonia. She starts out as a beautiful, morally strong girl who just happens to be in a terrible situation. Through an agency her mother has found a Russian man who lives in America to marry her. Lilja is thrilled and thinks she is going too, but hold on she is to be sent for later. After her mother’s departure, Lilja is moved into an even smaller, even dirtier complex by her cold and angry Aunt. Lilja’s only friend at school betrays her and is left completely alone. She meets Volodya, a 12 year old boy living in the same complex who complains that his father is “crazy”. After being kicked out Lilja allows him to stay in her apartment as long as there is no “funny stuff”. These characters have had to grow up fast and have little hope of making anything for themselves but still find the courage to move on.
With no money to buy food and her Aunt refusing and unable to help; Lilya is forced to sell herself at a disco to pay the bills. On her way home one night she meets Andrei, a good looking, well to do man, who is quite out of place in this environment. He tells her that he doesn’t want sex but to be her friend. After a few dates he talks her into to moving to Sweden where he could get her a good paying job. This is all too good to be true and everyone but Lilja can see it. She is so blinded by her hopes and dreams that she is willing to do anything. Deep down does she really believe him? What will happen to Volodya? This is what makes the last part of the film that much more heartbreaking. Lilja arrives in Sweden without Andrei, who says “he’ll be there in a few days”. She is picked up at the airport by another man who takes her passport and brings her to a decent looking apartment, but the door locks from the outside. Just as we suspected Lilja has been sold into prostitution, and let’s just say Volodya doesn’t fair to well by himself. The film does end on a peaceful note, but at what cost?
Directed by Oren Moverman, “The Messenger” is about least desireable job in the military, Casualty Notification Officer. Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson lead a pitch perfect cast in this intensely emotional film. Staff Sergeant William Montgomery (Foster) is back home recovering from a bomb blast when for the last three months of his service time he is assigned to a local Casualty Notification Team. It is Captain Tony Stone’s (Harrelson) duty to show him the ropes. Stone, a Gulf War vet who never saw any real combat, is a recovering alcoholic and a very lonely man. He is like a hollowed out steel statue of a man, who has had to always keep a stern dignified face while delivering the worst news a family could possibly get. Sergeant Montgomery is a very skilled, very smart soldier but wonders how long he could last and against all protocol and judgment starts up a relationship with the widow of deceased soldier, played by Samantha Morton. This relationship is handled very well and like the rest of the film is grounded in reality.
The notification scenes are absolutely heart wrenching and feel as real as it gets. Director Moverman really did his homework on the material and wrote a fantastic script. He then surrounded himself with a group of the finest actors and craftsmen around and made a truly moving film. As for Woody Harrelson you kind of forget how good an actor he is. After last summers horror blockbuster “Zombieland” he proves time and again the kind of range he has. Then there is Ben Foster who has quietly built a reputation as one of the finest actors around with roles in big budget films and small independent films like this one.
The DVD has a 25 minute documentary about Casualty Notification Officer, a commentary track and a few other extras. A definite must see!
Stuart Gordon’s original horror masterpiece is an absolute classic that can be seen again and again. The insanely realistic gore and effects is like nothing seen before. Released in 1986, it got some pretty damn good reviews for a horror movie. Re Animator is pure 80s horror at its very best.
Jeffery Combs plays Dr. Herbert West, a grad student studying medicine, the brain in particular, at the fictitious Miskatonic University in Massachusetts. He previously studied in Switzerland with Dr. Gruber, who died under mysterious circumstances. Dr. West has developed a fluorescent green serum that when injected into the base of the brain can reanimate the dead. Dr. West follows in long line of Frankenstein like mad scientists who try to conquer death.
West rents a room with the star student Dan, who is also dating the Dean’s daughter Megan. Megan is by far the weakest of the actors and was probably only cast for her nude scenes, but hey it works. The other actors perform as expected while the real star of the show is the effects. The practical, before CGI ruined everything effects. The script wasn’t written by Shakespeare, but it doesn’t hurt the film. Did I mention how crazy the effects were!
Anchor Bay has released a 2-Disc DVD loaded with every feature imaginable and is definitely worth picking up.
Show Me Love
Internationally acclaimed director Lukas Moodysson’s 1998 film “Show Me Love” is a brilliantly scripted teen drama/comedy that has been compared to “American Pie” in its real life depiction of teenagers. This was Moodysson’s first feature film and one of Sweden highest grossing films ever.
The story really touches on a wide variety of human truths that apply to teenagers as well as parents all around the world. The basic culture of high school is the same no matter where you live. In the small town of Amal, like many American towns, teens have little to do and are bored to no end. Agnes is just turning sixteen and her family moves quite frequently, leaving her with few friends. She is a social outcast and rumored to be a lesbian. Her parents are loving and supportive but not in a fake, condescending way. They are not your typical teen movie parents who are usually either absent or played as out of touch buffoons. On the other side of the spectrum there is Elin, the most popular girl in school, but does this mean her life is some how easier? Not by a long shot. Being beautiful has its downside. Elin and her slightly older sister Jessica have your basic love hate relationship. They hangout with each other all the time but constantly argue and fight only to make up.
High school can be and usually is the most volatile time in a person’s life and often lays the foundation of who we are as adults. Will Agnes and Elin’s relationship last? Who knows, but the bigger message of this movie is over coming what other people think of you and becoming your own person.
Ray’s mother keeps a tight leash on Ray weather she needs him or not. If she has to suffer, Ray should too. As the saying goes misery loves company. He is kept as a virtual prisoner in the same house he grew up in. The urge to free yourself from your parents starts at an early age for many and when freedom is finally achieved, returning for any extended period of time can be a huge psychological blow. Ray is even pestered on numerous occasions by the dog when trying to get some bathroom privacy (think of the title.)
When Ray is able go out he starts up a relationship with a neighborhood high school girl named Toni. Just what he needs more awkward relationships and complications. He also hangs around a bunch of guys who aren’t really friends, but its the only other option. When you have a few months to kill, and limited options how do you pass the time? Ray is a regular, nice guy and director Russell make you feel every cringe worthy moment.
Although funny at times, this really is a dark and disturbing movie and is not for everyone. Made on a budget of about $200,000 in the summer of 1993, it was also shown at the 1994 Sundance Film Festival were it won the Audience Award. If you like your movies on the edge give this one a look.