"Splinter" Clever Horror in a Familiar Package

Splinter
2/26/2010

Splinter is a creepy sort of virus, monster movie that is quite original when it comes to its creature designs, but as for the rest of the story there is a little something to be desired. Toby Wilkins, who has mainly worked in special effects, has garnered a lot of praise in this indie flick for his directing abilities. This film got him his next job of directing The Grudge 3.
Seth and Polly are a young married couple from the city who are going on a camping trip to celebrate their anniversary. Seth is an intellectual city dork, while Polly is a hot, kick ass chick that makes all the decisions. How they ever got together is a complete head scratcher. Seth is working towards a Ph. D in biology, even though he is completely inept when in nature. Our modern society has lost touch with nature and the world around us. After Seth accidently breaks the tent trying to put it together they decide to stay at a motel. Before they get there, they are car jacked by Dennis and Lacey a kind of Bonnie and Clyde on there way to Mexico. After getting a flat tire the group ends up at an empty gas station where the bulk of the story takes place.

The Splinter monster is a parasite that clings to a host and grows spiny quills. As Seth explains it operates on a molecular level. It hunts by attacking heat sources. Lacey the drug addicted girlfriend is the first to fall victim to the monster. There is a really cool scene when Lacey’s hand is cut off and turns into a spider like creature that scurries around the floor inside the station. The violence and gore effects are pretty effective and well done. In another great scene, Seth has the gory job of cutting off Dennis’s arm with a box cutter, when it becomes infected. A golden rule when it comes to horror movies is that cops are never any help. That is true in Splinter as a female cop is dispatched with in a particularly gory fashion. Splinter builds a great deal of suspense in the fact that it doesn’t have a score or music in it.

As they try to survive their situation they notice that if they stay cold or in the freezers they will be invisible to the monster. This would make sense since they know it hunts through heat, but our characters fail to put two and two together until near the end of the movie. It gets worse when they help Seth lower his body temperature, so he can go outside and get the car. This is completely ridiculous and is truly far fetched, but can it be forgiven? This is a good movie that strives to be great and gets so close. Like most horror film the last frame sets up a possible sequel.

"Dance of the Dead" A Teen Comedy with Zombies!

Dance of the Dead
2/24/2010

Any story can be made better just by adding zombies! In the mid to late 1990’s theatres were jam packed with teen comedies like the “American Pie” films, “She’s All That”, and “10 Things I Hate About You”, just to name a few. Together with the recent onslaught of zombie movies it was only a mater of time. In the spirit of “Shaun of the Dead” and the recent “Zombieland”, “Dance of the Dead” is a hilarious mix of these genres.

Released in 2008 and directed by Gregg Bishop, “Dance” was one of the biggest surprise indie horror hits of the year. The teen comedy portion of the film is played like a parody of the 90’s films, while really developing a group of likeable characters. All of the stereotyped high school cliques are present and accounted for. You have the stoners, the cheerleaders, the sci-fi club, the rebel, and the rich kids. If they want to survive the zombie apocalypse they need to learn to work together. As with all teen movies the action revolves around the prom.

The cause of all this zombie mayhem is the irresponsible dumping of toxic waste by the local nuclear plant. This is just an all around fun movie that is probably even better when seen with a group and a few beers. As with all great comedies the humor derives from the character and the ridiculous situations. Director Gregg Bishop also loads up the movie with a number of homage’s to earlier horror films like “Evil Dead”, “Night of the Living Dead” and a nod to classic Quentin Tarantino style filmmaking. I will leave you with a quote from our main character Jimmy “Yum, yum, come get some”.





"The Children" Creepy Kids and they're BRITISH!

The Children
2/21/2010

There is a long and storied history of horror movies dedicated to evil kids. The original 1960 “Village of the Damned” set the standard and other movies such as “The Bad Seed”, “The Omen” and most recently “Joshua” and “Orphan”. Many have been remade and studios keep churning them out.

Tom Shanksland’s 2008 film “The Children” follows two related families as they celebrate Christmas. Both are upper class modern British families that can be a little annoying at times but the plot is grounded by a sort of twisted reality. This film and all other evil kid movies always pose the same question. Under the circumstances, could you kill your own children?

We never really get an explanation as to how and why the kids turn on the adults, but upon arrival at the relatives house one of the children gets sick. This doesn’t raise any alarms as kids do get sick a lot. Never underestimate the power of a prolonged blank stare of child to really creep you out. All of the kids eventually get sick and turn a family dinner into one big tantrum. After this “accidents” start happening. The cat goes missing; one of the parents is KO’d by a runaway sled. The kids start to take over and the parents lose there ability to control their own kids (if they ever had it to begin with). These kids need some serious discipline, but the parents refuse to slap them around an put them in there place. As things really start to get bad, the parents all seem to be in a state of denial and are powerless to take any action. One of the mothers is lured onto the money bars and eventually falls backwards and breaks her leg. The compound fracture as I mentioned in a previous review is just about the most gruesome injury I can think of. The adults and teenage daughter seem to be unaffected by this “virus” or whatever the kids have been passing around. The teen girl seems to be the only one that takes care of business when it comes to the disposal of these evil little bastards.

What is really disturbing is how the kids manipulate their parents into there doom. I don’t have kids but I can see how no parent can resist the cries of their kids even if it means they want to kill you. The ending is somewhat confusing, but all in all “The Children” is a pretty decent film. Its well made and acted for the most part as compared to “Offspring” in my last review.


"Offspring" Jack Ketchum's Novel Brought to Life

Offspring
2/19/2010

This is the third book by horror author Jack Ketchum to be made into a movie, the others being “Red” and “The Girl Next Door”. “Offspring” is based on the book "Off Season" published in 1980 and was his first novel. It was deemed very controversial for it grotesque violence. The movie was made last year from Ketchums’s own script and directed by relatively new director Andrew van den Houten.

The movie was obviously made on a very small budget and except for the violence and gore it really shows. Even though Ketchum is credited with writing the script, he should really stick to novels. The dialogue is utterly comical, there is a paper thin plot and together with terrible acting it can be a chore to watch. This film can really only be endured by either hardcore horror fans or Ketchum Fans. This movie has clichés galore for every taste, the retired alcoholic cop, the small town police force, and the angry ex husband on a mission. Revealing past events in the form of old newspaper clippings is another one that is used in about 80% of all horror movies. The story, like the book, takes place in the coastal Maine town of Dead River (the ominously named town).

The story of “Offspring” involves a clan of feral savage. Think of Deliverance meets pissed off Native Americans. The reason I chose to write about this particular movie is for its depiction of the clan. This film is similar to the book in that it doesn’t shy away from anything. This is a balls-to-the-wall bloody horror spectacle. It has kids killing adults, dead babies, cannibalism and so much more. Our main characters are quite one dimensional, like cattle being led to the slaughter. But they are not annoying like a lot of horror movies. With a bigger budget a lot more talent this could be a decent flick. For example, although the story takes place in Maine, an up close scene with a police car in the foreground is obviously from Michigan (which is were the film was shot). However, I did like how they used sound to heighten the suspense and creepiness.

The Clan members themselves which are mostly children, are well played. The actors really dug into these intensely psychotic roles. The violence and gore is also quite impressive and well done. Now that we know where all the money went, you can understand why the rest of the production is quite poor. Like I mentioned before if your not a hard core horror fanatic like myself I wouldn’t bother with this one.


"The Descent" Chicks with Piks!

The Descent
2/15/2010


The Descent is one of the most nerve shredding and scariest movies of the last decade! This was British director Neil Marshall’s second feature film. His first was the brutally vicious werewolf movie “Dog Soldiers”. Neil has a great feel for the horror genre and it shows as there are several homage’s to classic horror films within this movie.

The Descent is a unique film in that it has an almost all female cast. The only male meets a nasty end less than 10 minutes in as his family is involved in a car accident. The man’s wife (Sarah) and daughter (Jessica) survive. Throughout the movie there are small clips of Jessica holding a birthday cake that also comes into play in the UK version ending (more on that later). One year after the accident Sarah meets five of her girlfriends at a cabin for a cave exploring expedition in the Appellation Mountains. There’s nothing like a little spelunking to relive some stress, I guess. This was an all British production that was also filmed in Britain but was set in the eastern United States. It must be our fine American Mountains. All the women are well cast and relatable. At times it can be hard to tell a few of them apart with all their gear on, but the filmmakers do make a conscious effort to avoid any confusion. When they get down in the caves, anyone who is even a little bit claustrophobic will totally freak out. These women are constantly squeezing through tight spaces creating a very tense atmosphere. Since the caves are completely dark the only lights the filmmakers use are the ones brought down by the women. A lot of scenes are lit by flares, giving everything a menacing red or green cast to it.

As they explore deeper and deeper into the caves one of the girls slips down a slope and we get see one the most disgusting injuries known to man (or woman), the compound fracture. Maybe it’s just me but seeing bones protruding through your flesh is just not right. Anytime this happens in a movie you know they are so done for, this was no exception. The bad new continues to mount when they start seeing things. This is our introduction to the Crawlers. These possibly former humans have evolved and adapted to suit their environment. They are completely blind, but have heightened sound and smell. The action between the women and the crawlers is intense and frenetic. This crazy action has its consequences when one of girls mistakenly kills another. What makes this film so scary is the fact that the crawlers are blind. In many instances the women are face to face with them or hiding just inches away. The women get split up and despite their best efforts start to die off. Our main character Sarah turns into a modern incarnation of Sarah Connor from T2. She is quite the crawler killing bad ass.

Like I mentioned in the beginning, the ending has two different versions. The U.S. version has Sarah escaping from the caves and driving off. While the U.K. version adds another scene on top of that making it a much ominous ending. U.S. audiences prefer happy endings, hey who doesn’t. The Brits I guess.


"The House of the Devil" Ti West's Tribute to 80s Horror

The House of the Devil
02/13/2010

The 1980’s were a golden age for horror movies, and many filmmakers today try to recapture that magic in their own films. Director Ti West’s film “The House of the Devil” is yet another example, and for the most part succeeds in his efforts. Making a period horror film for under a million dollars is in itself a great accomplishment. This movie is not without its flaws though.

The movie centers on Samantha, played quite well by Jocelin Donahue. She is a college sophomore looking to move into her own apartment and get away from the dorms and her inconsiderate roommate. Her best friend is Megan, complete with 80’s hair and attitude. Samantha replies to an ad for a babysitter and sets up to meet the man on the phone, but he stands her up. Being that there are no cell phones we get to see long lost items like pay phones and rotary phones, ahh that brings me back. The man calls Samantha the next day to apologize and to offer her more money. Megan drives her over to the house and they meet a tall older man with a cane. He comes clean that its not you average babysitting job and ups her pay. She accepts $400 for a few hours of work.

As you might have guessed the movie is called “The House of the Devil” for a reason. Instead of babysitting a child, Samantha’s job is to watch over “mother” who is in a second floor room. A great deal of the movie involves Samantha roaming the house and checking things out. Like most babysitters she’s bored has some time to waste. She calls Megan a few times but she has yet to return home. We see that Megan’s fate is one of films best and surprising horror scenes. This film has angered a lot of casual horror fans in the fact that there is not a lot that really happens. It’s a very slow burn type of story and very atmospheric. This makes the last fifteen minutes of the film that more intense. That family has something horrific in store for Samantha when they return. My biggest gripe with the film is the completely illogical final minutes. Maybe that has something to do with the 80’s time period but its just like, really?

All in all this film is made for a very specific audience and not many people will ever see it, but for director Ti West this is another stepping stone in what looks to be a growing career. He has most recently finished making Cabin Fever 2 and will be filming “The Innkeepers” soon. For horror fans he is definitely a talent to keep your eye on.

"The Tracey Fragments" More Ellen Page!

The Tracey Fragments
2/11/2010
The way this film is presented is like nothing you’ve seen before! Canadian director Bruce McDonald’s experiment in filmmaking is a pretty wild ride to watch. The film is played out in several different fragmented scenes that are all playing at once. It really puts you into the mind of the main character Tracey Berkowitz, played perfectly by a yet undiscovered Ellen Page.

Tracey Berkowitz is as she states “just a normal girl that hates herself”. She is a rebellious outsider who gets mercilessly picked on at school (mainly by the girls). They refer to her as “it” because of her androgynous look. The story revolves around her search for her odd little brother Sonny. We first see Tracey in the back of a city bus wrapped in a shower curtain, talking about her life. It is the middle of the night in winter. Just how did she get to this point?

Her parents are always at odds with her. When she gets in trouble at school for mouthing off to a teacher she is grounded and forced to watch Sonny. The scenes with her psychologist are quite strange in the fact that even though Dr. Hecker is supposed to be a woman it is obviously played by man. This further reinforces the idea that the movie is based on Tracey’s thoughts, feeling and point of view. She has also some how convinced Sonny to act like a dog the whole time. They go outside and run around in woods and snow when Tracey sees her new crush Billy Zero drive up to her. This scene is shown towards the end of the movie, but is the event that puts the whole story in motion.

While searching for Sonny she runs into numerous low life characters, most notably Lance from Toronto, who say’s he has seen Sonny. They go back to his apartment and he seems to be a nice guy, but what’s his angle? Tracey starts to get in over her head when a tough guy comes looking for Lance and Tracey is caught in the middle. She barely escapes with his life and we find out why she is riding the bus wrapped in a shower curtain. Tracey’s world is cold, brutal, and unforgiving. All the people seem out to get her, while the only person that really accepts her for who she is, is her brother. The end result of the story is very heartbreaking and disturbing, but the way we get there is very interesting and entertaining. Tracey’s character follows a long line of people who live in the margins of life and are happy to be by themselves and live life on her own terms. Ellen page totally owns this role, and is kind of similar to her break out role in “Juno”. This is definitely a movie that has to be experienced.

"Hard Candy" Ellen Page Rocks the House!

Hard Candy
2/7/2010

This little indie flick introduced us to Ellen Page and director David Slade. Made for under a million dollars, the film made a big impact thanks its stand out performance by Patrick Wilson and the aforementioned Page. This film was shot with only four main actors over an 18 day period in California. Since then Slade has gone on to direct “30 Days of Night” and the upcoming Twilight film “Eclipse.”
Ellen Page plays Haley, a 14 year old girl, who meets Wilson’s 32 year old character, Jeff, over the internet. They decide to meet at a coffee shop to talk. Jeff is a photographer and interested in a lot of the same things as Haley. This in itself is a little creepy and unnerving. After a little pushing and teasing (the t-shirt Scene) Haley gets Jeff to invite her over to his apartment. The whole film has an unnerving balance to it. While Haley is far more mature that her 14 years, Jeff should surely know better. At his apartment, Jeff offers her alcohol and she accepts. They talk and Haley wants her picture taken. The story then does a complete 180 degree turn as Jeff’s drink has been drugged. Haley ties him up and holds him prisoner and interrogates him on the other girls he’s done this too. She wants him to admit he is a sick and twisted pedophile, but it he? He has obviously made some pretty poor decisions, but does he really deserve what Haley has in store for him?

Page is an actress that can convincingly play someone much younger that she really is. Although it wasn’t much of a stretch in this film, as she was 17 during filming. Her shy girlish demeanor quickly transform into the smart, bad ass chick that physically and mentally tortures Jeff. You could say in some scenes that Jeff could easily over power Haley and take back control, but what can he do, she’s only 14. No matter how you look at it, it’s going to end badly for Jeff.


There is one disturbing scene where guys everywhere will cover their eyes and run away screaming. Haley decides to castrate Jeff to teach him a lesson; this is a difficult scene to watch no matter who you are. Does she really go through with it? You’ll have to watch. The back and fourth between these characters is what elevates this film into something more that your average revenge fantasy film. The only problem I have with it is the ending. I can see how they arrive at it, but don’t really agree with it. They never really tell you who Haley really is and her motivations for are kind of alluded to, but are still kind of fuzzy. This film is an intriguing little nugget that should be seen.


"The Hills Have Eyes" (2006) - Buckle up!!

The Hills Have Eyes (2006)
2/5/2010


Very few words can make a hardened movie fanatic like me cringe more then when I hear “remake” or the now popular “reboot.” Studios will only remake successful movies that they shouldn’t touch to begin with. Because nobody in there right mind would remake a piece of crap that actually deserves to be remade. No matter how good or bad the remake is they still make money due to sheer name recognition and curiosity. Now you must be thinking this is going to be a negative review. This movie is the exception to the rule. The original “Hills Have Eyes” was made in 1977 by Wes Craven, and it was mediocre at best. The job of remaking this film was given to French director Alexandre Aja who’s horror film “High Tension” was completely awesome (if you can ignore the illogical ending).

Aja and his writing partner Gregory Lavesuer took Craven’s original script and made into one of the sickest and taboo busting horror films in years. Filmed in Morocco to look like New Mexico, it really looks like the surface of Mars. This movie is like a shotgun to your senses. Although it is based on some well known horror clichés, it just works.

The basic premise of the “Hills” movies goes like this. Back in the 1940’s and 50’s the United States did extensive Atomic bomb testing in the Nevada and New Mexico deserts. A group of miners were caught in the fallout and have been hideously deformed and now have a taste for human flesh. These mutants live in the abandon mine shafts picking off tourists. The bomb tests and radiation deformities are based on fact, while the whole cannibalistic mutant tribes are not (maybe).

The Carter family is taking a summer road trip to San Diego. They’re driving a Suburban with a refurbished Airstream trailer in tow. All of the characters are very likable and down to earth. Real characters, not just one dimensional stereotypes. They stop at the ole clichéd dilapidated gas station with the one crazy attendant, which is the very definition of a tourist trap. The man has a deal with the Hill people. The Carters take a short cut suggested by the attendant and run to a trap that cripples their Suburban. Stuck in the middle of the dessert, they try to make the best out of the situation. Little do they know they are being watched. The mood, atmosphere, and music add the perfect touch of edge of your seat creepiness. When the Hill people make there move on the Carter’s all bets are off. The filmmakers hold nothing back; this sequence of events is so utterly disturbing it will rock even hardcore fans. I don’t want to give away too much, because this is a movie that has to be experienced. Although this is a crazy story, it seems to be grounded in a sort of reality. This is an extremely rare occurrence when a remake is far superior to the original. There are two version of film available “R” and Unrated. There was a sequel made the following year that is very average.


"American Psycho" An American Masterpiece!

American Psycho
02/02/2010

American Psycho is based on the insanely gory and controversial book by Brett Easton Ellis. The author has had several of his books made into movies such as “Less than Zero”, “Rules of Attraction”, and 2009’s “The Informers”. American Psycho is a book some thought to be unfilmable, but writer and director Mary Harron brought the vile character of Patrick Bateman to life in movie that is more of a dark comedy than your average horror movie.

Harron was also able to get such name actors as Reese Witherspoon, Willem Dafoe and Jared Leto. Not to mention Christian Bale, a largely unknown actor at the time, who landing the role of Patrick. Although Bale has been acting since the late 80’s in such films as “Newsies” and “Swing Kids”, it wasn’t until “Psycho” that he really started to appear on people’s radar. His performance was nothing short of spectacular. If you really want to see a shocking comparison of his work, watch “The Machinist” and “Batman Begins” back to back. Bale is a man fiercely loyal and committed to his craft.

Set in the late 1980’s New York financial district, American Psycho is a vicious satire on 80’s materialism and extreme narsarcism. Patrick Bateman is an investment banker for Pierce & Pierce, where everybody looks the same and it’s all about how big your ego is. In an early scene we see Patrick, in his high rise apartment, go though his morning routine and in a voice over he says, “There is an idea of a Patrick Batemen, but I’m simply not there” If there is any emotion Patrick shows its greed and disgust. When his nightly blood lust starts to take over and he states “my mask of sanity is about to slip.” He is sent over the edge by a business card. All the guys are showing off their new cards when colleague Paul Allen sends Patrick into a panic with a card that is better than his. This cannot stand and Paul eventually gets and axe to the face.

To fill out the 80’s vibe there is a lot of hit music played and talked about during some of most important scenes in the film. Huey Lewis and the News, Phil Collins and Whitney Houston to name a few.

Reese Witherspoon has a small part as Evelyn, Patrick’s so-called girlfriend, who is always badgering him to get married. Patrick really couldn’t care less about her and is only going out with her to “fit in”. Besides he has a mistress named Courtney. Jean his secretary is the most down to earth and “real” person in the film and in Patrick’s life. Jean agrees to dinner with him, but at his apartment he can’t go through with killing her and tells her to leave. Although when it comes to prostitutes he has no problem killing them. In one of the most insanely crazy scenes I’ve ever seen, Patrick fully nude and covered in blood chases a prostitute through his apartment building with a chainsaw. Bale completely inhabits this role and is totally insane. The final third of the film shows that Patrick has completely lost it and bears his soul to his lawyer’s answering machine. What happens the next morning really drives home the themes of the film.

The novel is extremely explicit in the violence and gore, while the film mostly leaves it to your imagination. The real horror comes from the character of Patrick Bateman, who seems to channel Hannibal Lecter in some scenes. There was an absolutely dreadful sequel made in 2002. It didn’t have any of the cast and crew from the original and is just pure trash. The original film made my list for best films of the decade for the 2000’s and continues to be one of my personal favorite films.