Friday, December 30, 2011

The 5 Worst Flicks of 2011

I’ve seen a few sites proclaiming that 2011 was a terrible year for horror. I couldn’t disagree more. Then again, you know critics usually just enjoy complaining. I do agree, however, while there was some outstanding horror that came out this year, there was some crap too. Before I get into the 10 best, let’s get the worst 5 out of the way, shall we? Why do I only do a bottom 5? Because I want to recognize twice as many good flicks as bad ones. Number five on this list is the only one that doesn’t get the dreaded “two severed thumbs down.” It actually got one up when I reviewed it earlier this year. The rest of them get a solid two down. Nathan says there was enough good stuff that came out this year that you have absolutely no reason to check any of these out.

5: Ticked-off Trannies With Knives

Talk about an irresistible title just not delivering. Despite a couple of good performances, this movie was a chore to sit through. First of all, I am not one of those “gay automatically equals funny no matter what” people. If you are, you might find the nonstop catty banter between our five lead queens entertaining. I, however, found it grating, especially for the half hour where this flaming chit chat was THE ONLY THING HAPPENING! The comedy scenes, particularly the “speech impediment on the phone” bit, were terrible. My main issue with this flick was the faux grindhouse crap. If you look at my top 10 for the year, you’ll see that I love this style when it’s done well. It’s kinda like sushi. Done well, it’s amazing. Done badly, it makes you wanna vomit. The easiest way to do it badly is to just shoot digitally and then add in a ton of lines, fake grain, burned film and missing reel gags, and other faux 70s/80s touches. It comes across as artificial and irritating. When my top 10 of the year comes out, you’ll see multiple examples of how to do this subgenre right. TOTWK is a good example of how NOT to do a neo-exploitation flick. One thing I will give it credit for is that the filmmakers stood their ground when GLADD got their panties in a bunch over the flick. Any movie that takes the piss out of any of the special interest entitlement groups can’t be all bad.

4: Shark Night 3D

Rednecks have stocked a lake with sharks, fitted the sharks with cameras, and are luring college students to the lake so they can broadcast the shark attacks on the internet. A man has his arm bitten off, and 20 minutes later he’s Rambo-ing into the water with a harpoon, using his dripping stump as bait. A great white is roaring and snatching a sea-do out of the air. With content this incredibly ludicrous, how could I not love this flick? After all, I love Syfy originals, which this movie had a lot in common with. Well, there are two big differences. First, you know what to expect from a Syfy flick, but this was actually a big budget Hollywood theatrical release. I expect more from a flick I have to hand over 15 dollars (gotta tack on the extra 3D ) to see. Second, Syfy originals have no illusions about what they are, and therefore don’t take themselves seriously. Shark Night thought it was freakin’ Jaws or something. Took itself WAY too seriously. What really got to me was that it failed to deliver on the one thing it needed to work. Why do you watch shark attack movies? Right, to watch the sharks shred people. Why do you watch idiotic B movies? Right, tits and gore. It certainly isn’t for the bad CGI sharks! This movie, being PG-13, couldn’t have any of that. Actually, it did have the bad CGI sharks. If it had been gory or sleazy, it might have been fun enough to pull this off. Basically, it’s Piranha 3D minus any of what made that flick enjoyable. It’s not even so bad it’s good. Let this one sink and go watch Sharktopus again instead.

3: Battle: Los Angeles

I have no problem with action flicks. In fact, I don’t have a problem with big, dumb, loud action flicks. Sometimes you just want to watch shit blowing up. I’m cool with that. In other words, I’m not going to crucify this flick for the bad acting and mindless, cliché plot. Hell, I’m not even going to harp on its reliance on crappy CGI, and you all know how much I hate that. What I am going to bust this film’s balls over is the fact that there is, to the best of my recollection, not a single static or fluid shot in the entire film. Third person shaky cam without a thematic justification is a cancer eating away at the art of cinematography, and this film was the year’s worst offender. It looked like it was shot by a bobble head doll with Parkinsons and edited by an epileptic crackhead. It’s non stop shaking camera, lens flares, flash pans, split second edits, and bad framing. Here’s a little test. Take any random scene from any movie and play it on frame by frame slow motion. If, in more than 1/3 of those stills you can’t tell what the hell you’re looking at, then whoever shot and directed that movie have no idea what they’re doing and should never be allowed near a film set again. Such is the case with Battle: Los Angeles. The shooting style renders this flick unwatchable. There was even talk of releasing this in 3D. I think my head would have exploded. The fact that it made over 200 million worldwide makes me weep for the film industry.

2: Priest

I’m going to call my congressman and see if I can get him to introduce a constitutional amendment that would forbid Paul Bettany and Scott Stewart from ever making a movie together again under penalty of death. I’m not normally one for asking the law to intervene, but Priest ended wide open for a sequel. Preemptive measures are needed.

The last abomination this duo unleashed, Legion, was number two on this list last year. That film was barely saved from number one by a film that took a big, steaming dump on the legacy of a beloved franchise. The more things change the more they stay the same, huh? This movie had a very interesting setting; a dysopian wild west. That could have been cool, but they did nothing with it. The internal struggle of a man of the cloth who enjoys killing is referenced specifically, but never explored. That could have been cool too, but again they did nothing with it. What they did do was give us the worst CGI monsters since I am Legend, the talkiest action flick since, well…Legion, and some of the most blatant Matrix rip-off action sequences since House of the Dead. Bullet time and slow-mo spinkicks were novel at the time (well not really if you were a fan of Hong Kong cinema) but hasn’t it run its course? Apparently not.

The heavy handed anti-religion message only plays for the first five minutes before the “ok ok we get it” sets in. The plot is predictable even though a lot of the plot points make absolutely no sense. Paul Bettany does his best to channel John Wayne but ends up spending the whole movie looking like he’s trying to remain stoic while wearing sandpaper briefs. His gunslinger sidekick is just stupid and unnecessary. They had a pretty decent animated prologue and put shaky cam in it. Shaky cam in animation! I’m not kidding. Did I mention how bad the CGI “vampires” are? Basically aside from some of the visuals of the city and desert landscapes there is nothing in this film that was done well. It was better than Legion; but that’s like saying being stabbed 4 times in the eye with a rusty icepick is better than 5.

1: Hellraiser: Revelations

I thought the Hellraiser series had gotten as low as it could go. The first two were brilliant, the second two were damn good, and everything that followed was crap. To paraphrase a classic Pinhead line, however; “Down the dark 75 minutes of Revelations, even Deader will seem like a memory of Hellraiser 2.”

When I head there was a new Hellraiser coming out, I was not enthused. When I heard that Doug Bradley wasn’t playing Pinhead, I struggled to maintain an open mind. If he agreed to Hellworld but wouldn’t do this one, I should have known what was coming. When Clive Barker said in no uncertain terms that he disowned this flick, the true dread set in. I was right. This flick is terrible. It looks like a bunch of out of work, semi-professional, and slightly less than semi-talented filmmakers and actors were sitting around bored and someone asked “what should we do tonight?” and decided to make a Hellraiser movie. The story goes that Stephen and Nico head off to Tijuana, drink tequila, find the puzzlebox, kill hookers, and disappear. One year later their families get together, one of the boys mysteriously shows up, and all hell breaks loose.

The acting in this flick is laughable. When Stephen is doing the wide-eyed trance-talking bit by the pool, I dare you not to crack up. When he goes into crazy mode near the end, it’s even worse. The moment when skinless Nico pops out of the mattress and says, in a Keanu Reeves “Bill and Ted” voice “Her blood brought me back” and pauses dramatically for 10 seconds is classic. It looks like he couldn’t remember his line after 10 seconds so he just started gnawing on the hooker. The families are vapid and have less personality than the puzzle box itself. What do you do with boring characters like that? You have them spend half of the damn movie just talking of course! They’re all incredibly stupid to boot. A found video camera holds the story of what happened to your sons, but you would rather wonder and debate than watch it? When things start going all “hellified” around them, they come up with the most idiotic explanations possible. There’s really not an interesting character in the flick, and unfortunately that includes Pinhead.

Pinhead this time around is played by…oh who the hell cares what his name is? He doesn’t have the air of dignified menace or the stage presence to do the character justice. He plays it too energetic and stereotypically evil. What makes Pinhead work is the cold detachment he displays. This guy plays him like a Bond villain. He even constructs a mini-me. Sounds stupid? It is. He doesn’t look right either. He looks like someone wearing a pinhead Halloween costume cobbled together from stuff they found at Hot Topic and Party City. The crisp lines that portrayed the strict order and almost regal manner of the Black Pope are replaced with something a 13 year old My Chemical Romance fan might try on their face. I’ve seen much better Pinheads at Dragon-Con. The great Pinhead one liners are gone. Even in the crappier sequels Pinhead always at least got a few great lines. In this one he sounds like a bad goth poet. I’m going to stop talking about Pinhead now before I break something.

Anyway, the story rehashes the “skinless hedonistic fiend back from hell needs you to kill for him” deal from the first two, while throwing in a lame home invasion plot and the obligatory found footage sequences. There are so many things that scream “rushed and lazy filmmaking” here. Pinhead apparently lives in the puzzle box now. He wanders around a room with chains making goofy faces while listening to the conversation from the room the box is in. It’s just like the bottle in I Dream of Genie. What the hell? There’s a scene where a character looks up “cenobite” in the dictionary. That’s the best exposition you could think of? The “teenage” daughter is at least in her mid 20’s. Why are there Asian hookers in Tijuana? The “twist” ending is just plain dumbfounding and, horror of all horrors, sets up yet another sequel.

In all fairness, there are two things I liked about this flick. They brought the twisted sexuality aspect of the mythos back; albeit in a hamfisted way. We even get a momentary incestuous make out/feel up. At least they tried to be deviant. The gore is practical and looks pretty decent for the most part. Had Doug Bradley returned, the movie had more development and shooting time than the reported two weeks, and the script been seriously reworked, this could have been decent. As it stands, the two bright spots are not enough to justify the agony sitting through this movie. This movie’s sucktitude will be legendary even in the Hellraiser series. It has such fail to show you. Sorry, I couldn’t resist. Ok I’m gonna paraphrase one more quote here, but it’s not Pinhead. It’s Dave Chapelle as Rick James. I wish I had more hands, so I could give this movie four severed thumbs down! Hellraiser: Revelations, you are the worst horror movie of 2011. Congratulations.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Cryptmas from Son of Celluloid

It's that time of year again Cellmates. Time for slay bells, krampus, "he sees you when you're sleeping," a big 'ol cup of cheer, donning now your gay apparel if that's what you're into, giddyup jinglehorse, Jack Frost ripping at your nose, and all that other festive stuff. It's a time for giving gifts to those who are special to you. That's where you guys come in. I love my Cellmates. I've said it before and I'll say it forever, you guys are the best readers a blogger could possibly ask for. That's why I posted this link so you can all download Have Yourself a Scary Little Christmas, the Tales From The Crypt Christmas album. This being our first Christmas together and all, I really wish I could give you each a present individually. Unfortunately that would be both a logistical nightmare and REALLY damn expensive. Instead, consider this my little present to ALL of you.
Now I know I usually don't post download links. Here on the blog I do not take an official stance on piracy one way or the other. That's your business. Just know that if I thought posting this would hurt Tales From the Crypt, a franchise I love, in any way, I wouldn't do it. This came out in 1994 and has been out of print for years. The only way to get one is to buy it secondhand (at a ridiculous price), so no one is getting any royalties any more anyway
. Therefore you can get this one guilt free folks. I love this CD. Songs from it have been finding their way onto my holiday mixes for years. It's 15 tracks of twisted ghoultide fun starring the original voice of the Cryptkeeper, John Kassir. My personal favorite is We Wish You'd Bury The Missus. It's the perfect music to put on while you rip into your presents like a rabid psychopath in the morning. Just click on the album cover for the download link.

Once again I'd like to wish you dear readers, your loved ones, and your victims a Merry Christmas. I hope you enjoy the tunes, may you get everything you axed for, and God bless us, every one.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Review: Rubber

What the green hell did I just watch? Rubber is, um, interesting. I went to film school, so I am no stranger to esoteric films, films about nothing, surrealistic absurdist avant garde blah blah blah, but this flick is the most “just plain whacked out” cinematic experience I’ve had in a long time, and I watched Subconscious Cruelty last week. This is not to say that it’s a bad film. On the contrary, it’s an extremely well made piece of whatever that was. It was, for the most part, entertaining. The thing is, I'm still not sure what that movie is about, if anything. Maybe I’m just thinking too hard on this one.

I’ll describe the first scene for you. That should tell you what kid of trip you’re in for. A man stands on a road littered with chairs. He’s holding about 30 pairs of binoculars in his hands. Then a car drives up out of the distance, swerving to hit every single chair. When it stops, a man in a police uniform gets out of the trunk, is handed a glass of water by the driver, and addresses the camera. He asks questions like “Why was ET Brown” and “In Tobe Hooper’s Excellent Chainsaw Massacre (?), why don’t we ever see the characters go to the bathroom or wash their hands?” The answer to all of these questions is “no reason.” He tells us that all films are, and life itself is, filled with “no reason.” The film we are about to see, in fact, is an homage to “no reason.” He pours the water out and gets back in the trunk. Then binocular guy hands them out to a group of people standing in the middle of the desert and tells them to enjoy the movie. THAT is the opening minute of the film. Um, what? From there we see the story of a homicidal, psychokinetic tire. A Christine and Carrie amalgam perhaps? Anyway, the tire is pursued by the police while the onlookers with the binoculas, um, look on. Yeah, trying to summarize the plot is pretty much a lost cause. Screw it.

The acting varies in quality. Two performances really stand out. Robert is great as the tire. Considering this is his film debut, he displays the screen presence of a seasoned veteran. He has more natural charisma and acting chops than a lot of the most popular actors of today. I think this might be the beginning of a long and fruitful career for Robert. Stephen Spinella is also great as the sheriff. His deadpan delivery in the midst of the most ridiculous situations anchors the film. He keeps the wacky from becoming too silly, if that makes any sense. Unfortunately, a lot of the supporting characters are pretty flat and/or amateurish. Given the nature and theme of the flick, that may have been intentional however.

From a technical standpoint, Rubber is outstanding. I have absolutely no idea how they got some of the shots with the tire. It will roll forever, stop, change direction, and start rolling again with nothing touching it. I can figure out 99% of the special effects I see, but that one has even me baffled. The cinematography is outstanding, so it is always interesting to look at. The most interesting aspect of the film for horror lovers will probably be the exploding heads. Rubber is chock full of exploding heads. I’m not going to actually go back and check this, but I think it had more exploding heads than the entire Scanners trilogy combined. They look great too.

One issue I had with this movie is the amount of time we spend watching the tire roll. At times it feels never ending. Seriously, there is probably a combined half hour of a tire rolling. That’s it. I understand that it was an artistic choice and fits the “no reason” theme, but that doesn’t make it fun to watch.

The no reason thing itself trips me up. The film purports to have no reason, and things do seem to happen at random throughout. There is a linear story of sorts, but the surrealism takes center stage. It’s played for laughs to a point, but the pace is too slow and the delivery is too deadpan to really count as a comedy. At the same time, my degree-warped brain is screaming at me “Of course there’s a deeper meaning and a reason behind what’s going on.” Movies like this NEVER have “no reason.” It’s pretty clear from the scenes with the onlookers and the closing shot that some kind of commentary about spectatorship and film itself is being made. I think. Maybe I’m reading too much into it. Dammit. I’m so confused.

In conclusion, I don’t think I can really rank this movie at this time. I am of the opinion that, like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Clockwork Orange, The Wall, Donnie Darko, or Gothic, this movie can only truly be understood after it’s been watched under the heavy influence of hallucinogenic drugs. I was WAY too sober when I watched this. I definitely recommend it. It’s something you really do need to see for yourself. As far as severed thumbs go, I’m gonna have to track down some mushrooms and watch Rubber again. Then I’ll get back to you. Without them, this flick is just too jam packed with WTF. Nathan says check it out.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Review: Hostel Part 3

Don’t feel bad Hostel. It’s ok. You’re in good company. It happened to Hellraiser. It happened to Pumpkinhead. It happened to George Romero’s “of the Dead” flicks as well as Return of the Living Dead, Re-Animator, and Candyman. I’m shocked it didn’t happen to Saw. It will probably end up happening to Paranormal Activity. Hell, if the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street series had started 15 years later it probably would have happened to them. It’s not as big of a deal now, and it doesn’t carry the same stigma it did a few years ago. You aren’t the first franchise to start out in theaters and then have the later sequels go direct to DVD. Yes folks, the third in the series is coming to DVD next week, and while it doesn’t match up to its predecessors in some ways, it does hold its own.

Apparently the Elite Hunting Club has taken to franchising, as they now have a branch in Las Vegas. You know, if I had to think of somewhere in America where a place like that could exist, Sin City would be it. Good Choice. Anyway, four buddies meet in Vegas for a bachelor party. At the casino they meet up with two lovely ladies who invite them to a mysterious club far from the strip where things get “a little freaky.” Do I really need to go any further? Yeah, didn’t think so. We all know where this is going.

The first thing that strikes me about this movie is how is has a completely different atmosphere than the first two Hostel flicks. The first two had an exotic feel during the early part of the proceedings, and a grimy, dimly lit, dungeon like atmosphere once the killing got underway. By relocating it to Vegas, they traded the exotic quality of the previous vacation destinations for Sin City sleaze. While the other countries were otherworldly, Vegas is familiar. It feels even more like something that could actually happen to you. In contrast, the dank, gritty realism of the underground torture chambers is replaced by a new, modern, high tech, swanky facility. This time instead of taking place in the dark, the nightmares are neon lit. It has become a spectator sport, with wealthy gamblers betting on things like how many arrows it will take to kill someone or what the victim will say when they beg for their lives. This gives the proceedings a completely different flavor, and fits perfectly with the relocation to America. It also has a little bit of a futuristic, dysopian feel. While I really dug the style of the first two, I like the fact that this, the first Roth-less film in the series, forged it’s own identity instead of following the formula too closely. That’s a quality some of my favorite franchise flicks (F13 6, NOES 3, Bride of Chucky) have shared.

The first two were both deeper and shallower (I looked, yes it is a word) script-wise than this one. Let me explain. While a lot of reviewers said that the first two were nothing but a showcase of violence, that isn’t entirely true. Just below the surface were metaphors about the sanctity (or lack thereof) of life, criticism of American foreign policy, commentary about capitalism, etc. There was a lot going on there that people, for the most part, couldn’t look past the gore to get to. That being said, the stories themselves were very straightforward and didn’t have a lot of twists. This movie is the opposite. While you could apply a message about the nature of American entertainment and the victimization of society by the rich elite, that would be a little forced. What this film lacks in deeper meaning compared to the first two it makes up for in story. There are a few very well done plot twists in this one. It’s more story driven, rather than being effects driven (Hostel 1) or character driven (Hostel 2).

The other main difference, and the only one I really don’t like, is the violence. Those who decried the first two as just…(DISCLAIMER: I hate this term. It’s dismissive, pejorative, and just plain idiotic. We as horror fans, and reviewers in particular, need to rise up and stomp out its use. I only use it here because this, along with Saw, was where the term gained prominence and to discredit those who have used it. Know that I spit it out with the same contempt as the name of Fred Durst)…torture porn will be happy to know that the torture has been toned down. I don’t get that. This is an unrated DVD, so why tone it down? The violence that is there is sometimes inspired, but the execution isn’t very explicit by Hostel standards. The torture is more “high concept,” which some will find lessens the impact and others will find more intriguing. It’s all about taste on that issue. What can’t be disputed is the terrible CGI. When are you people going to learn dammit? It looks like shit! Go practical. They did do some practical effects, and they all look pretty good, but when they resorted to CGI it just looked bad. For example, there is one scene involving Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches, who are always welcome (I love my Maddys), but at one point they animate them and it becomes laughable. They also aren’t carnivorous, but I’ll let that fact slide. There is also a scene at the end where they go for an effect that was clearly WAY beyond the budgetary limits, so they completely animate it. It looks horrendous. A message to filmmakers; if you can’t afford to do an effect right, rewrite or figure out a way not to have to do it at all.

As far as the characters go, they’re somewhere in the middle between the obnoxious “would you just die already” douchebagery of the first and the well drawn, sympathetic cast of the second one. The characters aren’t exactly fleshed out, but they are all distinct and actually have motivations. All of the actors do a good job, although they all have that generic prettyboy/girl look. Can we not find some interesting looking actors and actresses folks? The performances are above the usual direct to DVD standard though. John Hensley (Teeth, Nip/Tuck) is particularly great as Justin. The wisecracking cripple has some amazing lines, and is probably my favorite character out of the whole series.

Random Thought #1: That DVD cover is stupid. Just stupid.

Random Thought #2: I love it when sequels use the word “part” as part of the actual title. Hostel Part 3 is so much cooler than Hostel 3. I don’t know why, that little touch just makes me smile.

Random Thought #3: There is a GREAT kill near the end involving a car. It’s something I’ve never seen before, which is commendable. It’s also just plain mean, and the way the actor committing it plays the scene had me laughing out loud. It’s ruined, however, by the godawful CGI. Whoever came up with that idea; you deserve extreme props. Whoever actually executed it; you deserve an extreme kick to the dangly bits.

Overall, Hostel Part Three falls down in the gore department, but delivers in the story department. It’s more of a thriller based around a torture facility than a torture flick. Whether you liked it better the other way, like this way better, or appreciate both (like me) is up to you. The acting is good despite the actors being, for the most part, run of the mill. I would like to see the series continue like this, showing us an Elite Hunting facility in a different part of the world each time and tailoring the flick to that country’s culture. It’s as competently directed as you would expect from Scott Speigel. I wouldn’t say it’s as good as the other two in the series, but taken on its own merits it’s better than the majority of the DTV pack. The only thing I can really call it out on is that horrible CGI. Looks like sometimes what happens in Vegas stays on DVD and Blu-ray. One and a half severed thumbs up. Nathan says check it out.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Review: Puppet Monster Massacre

I wanted to like this movie so much more than I actually did. I dig puppets. A lot. On the heels of absolutely loving The Muppets, I was in the mood to see some puppet horror, which I haven’t seen very many times before. Unfortunately, what I got was a pretty dull flick that I wouldn’t have enjoyed with live actors either. It had a few inspired moments, but overall puppets weren’t enough to save this one.

The story is basically a House on Haunted Hill setup; five “people” are invited to win money by spending a night in a spooky old mansion. They include a wuss who wants to reopen his family’s store, the girl he’s too scared to ask out, a punk couple, and a horror nerd. When they get there, they discover that the house is owned by a mad scientist who has history with all of their families and intends to right past wrongs via his pet monster in the basement.

Does the movie bring the funny? Well, it’s very hit and miss. For the most part, no, it doesn’t. Most of the jokes fall flat or stretch out forever. The one exception is Raimi, the horror nerd. The lion’s share of the good comedy belongs to him. The other characters have a couple of good moments, and puppet nudity is always good for a chuckle, but unless you think a room full of flatulent bunnies is hilarious, the humor is way too inconsistent. What about the scary? We do have a good bit of puppet mayhem, which is mostly CGI, but it’s pretty entertaining when it occurs. The monster is pretty cool looking too.

The characters are problematic. There are only three that didn’t make me either groan or yawn the whole time; Raimi, Dr. Wolfgang Wagner, and Grandpa. Unfortunately, we spend a comparatively small amount of time with them. The rest of the characters, who make up the bulk of the running time, are so flat that it would have taken an actor with incredible charisma to make them interesting. A puppet and wooden voice acting just didn’t do the trick. The fact that the film is very dialog heavy, yet the dialog wasn’t very good, doesn’t help at all.

That isn’t to say that the movie doesn’t have its bright spots. The sequence where Dr. Wagner recounts his history with the families is brilliant. That part is actually animated, and was quite effective. Raimi is a fun character, and he has the one running gag that doesn’t get old after a minute. Some of the CGI backgrounds look cool, and some of the lighting is great. The actual monster is a lot of fun too. The scene at the end where it goes on a rampage is good, it just goes on way too damn long.

Actually, the problem with the flick as a whole is that it’s too damn long. This would have been an excellent short. It’s not a good feature however. There is about 15-20 minutes of really good stuff padded with an hour of tedium. Had it been a short, I probably would have loved it. As it stands, if you keep a heavy finger on the fast forward button, there are a few moments of fun to be had. This flick tried to rely too heavily on the puppet gimmick to improve a lackluster script, and it just wasn’t happening. One half severed thumb up. Nathan says if you want to see puppet horror, track down Once Upon a Time in the West and check that out instead.


Review: Creature

Creature has pretty much been universally panned. Bloggers and critics have slammed it as the worst horror movie of the year. It’s not. Not by a long shot. Personally, I don’t see what the hate is about. This isn’t a “good” movie by any stretch of the imagination. It is, however, entertaining, which is a lot more than I can say for a lot of the horror output lately. The ire may be stemming from the fact that director Fred Andrews has lashed out at the blogging community for taking a big steaming collective dump on his baby. Not a good idea for a low budget horror filmmaker to piss off the blogging community there buddy. Anyway, I’m just gonna ignore that and rate the movie based on its merits, or lack thereof.

We have a couple of ex navy seals, their girlfriends, a couple of friends, someone’s sister, hell I forget how they all fit together, let’s just say, as Joe Bob would have, we have a bunch of spam in an SUV. The spam in an SUV is driving to New Orleans when they stop for gas in the swamp. Intrigued by a local legend about a gator man, they decide to check it out. Bad idea. Lockjaw the gator-man is the real deal, and the locals worship him as a god. Chomp.

Let’s go with the bad first. The acting is, for the most part, god awful, especially Mehcad Brooks as the lead. Wow he was bad. What little gore there is isn’t very convincing. The story has logic and believability holes the size of Louisiana itself. The gator man suit is laughably dumb looking. It’s not very original, as evidenced by the gas station scene. It is a carbon copy of the one in House of 1000 Corpses, complete with a “ya’ll think us country folk are real funny like” speech and Sid Haig drawing some kids a crude map to check out a local legend.

The thing is, some of the very things that are the weaknesses of the movie are why I dug it. This flick has a refreshing old school feel. I can absolutely see this being something I would have run across in my video store prowling “5 VHS for 5 dollars” days. True, the story doesn’t make a hell of a lot of sense, but nevertheless it contains enough incest, strange transformations, cannibalism, swamp cults, and backwoods weirdness to keep the proceedings fun. Most of the acting is bad, yes, but it’s a goofy sub b-grade horror flick. Did I mention that it’s got Sid F’n Haig? He rules in ANYTHING. Plus, the Spiderbaby line made me laugh. No matter how bad that monster suit is, I love the fact that they went the rubber suit route rather than CGI. They also had the good sense to get nearly every female member of the cast at least topless. This does bring me to one thing I’ve noticed in movies lately. In the old days, if you went after girls to put in your movie just to be topless, you got some curvy ladies. What’s up with these meagerly endowed anorexic chicks that have taken over the genre? Now don’t get me wrong, I prefer real boobs any time, but…you know what, I get accused of being sexist on this blog enough. I’m going to stop this rant right there.

How this movie got a 1,500 screen theatrical opening I will never know. It’s a good straight to DVD level flick and that’s about it. It’s like a really good Syfy original, but made with the spirit of low budget direct to video 80’s fare. No, it isn’t technically good and yes, it’s sadly lacking in gore, but all of the other gripes are normal bad movie shortcomings. If you like bad movies, you could do a lot worse than this. After all, you have Sid Haig, gratuitous nudity, and a stupid looking rubber monster with a ridiculous backstory. I don’t know about you, but those 3 things alone are enough to get me to watch anything. One severed thumb up. Nathan says check it out.


Review: Hellraiser Revelations


I really don't feel the need to waste a lot of words on this flick for three reasons...

1. I'll be making my worst of 2011 list in about two weeks, so the latest in the Hellraiser series will most definitely be coming up again soon enough.


2. Clive Barker already said it better than I ever could. On twitter he stated;
"Hello, my friends. I want to put on record that the flick out there using the word 'Hellraiser' is no f*cking child of mine. I have nothing to do with the f*cking thing. If they claim its from the mind of Clive Barker, it's a lie. It's not even from my butt-hole." Ah Clive, ever the wordsmith.

3. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, in that case...


'Nuff said. Two severed thumbs down. Nathan says do not check it out.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Review: Tucker and Dale vs Evil

In the past year or so, I have become somewhat burned out on horror comedy. It seems like almost every horror flick that comes out these days has it’s tongue in its cheek and its head up its self referential ass. I was reminded of this at the Buried Alive Film Festival recently. There were a lot of great submissions, but very VERY few straight ahead horror movies. I was just getting sick of the glut of funny scary hybrids, well done or not. Then one came along and reminded me just how brilliant that combination can be when done right. Thank you Tucker and Dale vs. Evil for resurrecting my faith in the sub-genre.

Since I’m really not sure how to give you a synopsis without giving away any of the hilarity, I’m going to do something I rarely do; use the official synopsis. Tucker and Dale are two best friends on vacation at their dilapidated mountain house, who are mistaken for murderous backwoods hillbillies by a group of obnoxious, preppy college kids. When one of the students gets separated from her friends, the boys try to lend a hand, but as the misunderstanding grows, so does the body count.

This movie is how a horror comedy should be done. I wonder how, with the overabundance of parodies, send ups, satires, and skewerings of the horror genre recently, no one came up with the “maybe those creepy backwoods locals are the normal ones” premise already. The way the film turns the Deliverance/TCM/I Spit on Your Grave/Hills Have Eyes informed expectations of “the backwoods locals terrorize the city folk” flicks is nothing short of brilliant. Sure, once you know the central joke, you see a lot of the twists coming, but it doesn’t make them any less effective. For example, when you see the wood chipper, you know exactly what is going to happen. Someone is going into that wood chipper. No, that isn’t a spoiler, it’s in the trailer. How someone comes to find themselves in the wood chipper is the funny part. We know where this is going pretty quick, but it takes some unexpected turns, along with some “they’re not going to…holy shit they did” turns, to get there. Too often horror comedy devolves into telling a hackneyed story with a knowing, and often obnoxious, wink. Instead, this one inverts those old wilderness horror chestnuts in familiar yet fresh ways. The dialog is also well written, maintaining excellent comic timing throughout as well as delivering some lines that, while funny in general, will have extra significance to hardcore horror fans.

The strongest aspect of the flick is definitely the acting. Not enough can be said about the chemistry between Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine). They are the best comedy team to come along in quite some time. These two play off of each other so well that they really do seem like best friends who grew up together. They take turns being the straight man to the other’s buffoon. It’s pretty established that I’m picky when it comes to comedy, and one of the things I hate most is when it feels forced. Dale’s soft spoken delivery and Tucker’s hilarious facials add up to some of the most naturally funny moments in a long time. These two carry the film and I’ll be very disappointed if we don’t get to see the further misadventures of these two.

The rest of the cast pulls their weight and doesn’t overshadow the central duo. Jesse Moss as Chad goes a little overboard in the second half of the film, but it’s not terribly out of place in a movie like this. If a popped collar isn’t a sure fire sign that someone should die, I don’t know what is. That goes for real life too. Katrina Bowden is great in her role as the girl caught in the middle of the bumbling rednecks and her overzealous and misinformed friends. The rest of the cast basically play incidental bit parts and no one really has a chance to shine, but everyone is spot on.

The movie does lose a little bit of steam near the end. For the majority of the film, it’s more comedy than horror. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of gore, and it’s well done too. It’s just all played for laughs. When the film tries to get a little more serious, it goes from being great to being good. It only loses momentum for a moment though. The final sequence is old school horror with humor mixed in rather than the other way around. It still works, and the pitch perfect tone is restored by the end of the flick. It makes me wonder how the filmmakers would fare with a straight horror movie.

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is the best horror comedy at least since Zombieland, maybe even since Shaun of the Dead. Yes folks, it really is that good. There isn’t anything that’s not to love about this movie, even with the slightly slow few minutes in the middle. The bar just got set much higher for independent horror comedy. Unless something drastic happens in the next 2 weeks, this is definitely a top 10 flick for the year. Two severed thumbs way up. Nathan says check it out.

Review: The Woman

No one, I repeat NO ONE, portrays the depravity lurking within the human soul as chillingly and effectively as Jack Ketchum. If you aren’t familiar with Ketchum’s work, go read Off Season, The Lost, Old Flames, Joyride, Broken on the Wheel of Sex, or (if you’re feeling too good about humanity) The Girl Next Door. At the risk of losing horror cred, I couldn’t finish TGND. I’m going to repeat that, I, Nathan Hamilton, the Son of Celluloid, dyed in the wool gorehound and all around sick bastard, got halfway through that book and decided to tap out. I think it was the combination of my biggest hot button, which is child abuse, with the fact that it’s based on a true story. The movie version is one of only two movies I have ever seen that I describe as “disturbing.” We’re not here to discuss that one, however. Let’s discuss the latest cinematic rendering of Ketchum’s humanistic brand of darkness, The Woman.

The Woman is a loose sequel to Offspring. While on a hunting expedition, Chris Cleek, a lawyer, discovers a female member of the feral cannibal clan introduced in Offspring living in the woods. He kidnaps her, chains her up in the cellar, and enlists the help of his family to “civilize” her. As time goes on, it becomes more and more apparent that Chris’s intentions may lie more towards torture than domestication.

This is not the first time Ketchum’s work has been adapted for the screen. Offspring, The Lost, The Girl Next Door, and Red all mined his material. The Woman is the first time Ketchum has collaborated with a filmmaker to produce a movie and book of the same story simultaneously. It is also the most successful translation of the twisted heart and slimy spirit of Ketchum’s written work onto screen yet. His books have a certain way of portraying situations in such a straightforward manner that things that would normally be unthinkable are easily accepted. Then, as the degeneracy escalates, you suddenly realize the level of debasement on display just in time for it to be taken to a new level. The movie achieves the same technique. I think this is more due to Jack Ketchum’s writing than Lucky McGee’s direction though.

Lucky has yet to really grow on me. I wasn’t nearly as blown away by May as the rest of the horror world seemed to be, and there are big problems with this one. First of all, and the most glaring to me, was the bizarre choice of soundtracks. The movie is full of post grunge soft indie rock college radio fodder by Sean Sepillane . It doesn’t fit the mood of the film at all and is actually quite distracting. It’s like they lifted the music from a bad late 90’s slacker dramedy and pasted it over a horror flick. Maybe it was meant to be “ironic.” If so, it doesn’t work at all. The music just plain drove me batshit. The cinematography ranges from a few cool shots to passable to just plain pedestrian. The “rapid fire editing whenever a ferocious attack is going on” cliché is present also.

Then there is that constant question of “how has this guy never gotten caught, and why has his family not done something about him when the opportunities are wide open?” It seems like a glaring plot hole until you realize that this dynamic happens a lot in abusive families. Still, since this dynamic is so out of the ordinary, I would have tweaked the characters and situations a bit to make it seem a little less ridiculous to the audience.

The acting is generally good across the board. I’ve seen Sean Bridger’s performance as Chris Cleek criticized for being too “over the top,” but I think he conveys the barely contained insanity lurking just below the surface of the character well. Pollyanna McIntosh is fantastic as the feral woman. I had no idea there were actual people named Pollyanna. I thought it was just a Haley Mills flick. Anyway, Tommy Nelson gives the most chilling performance of the movie as Chris’s son and monster-in-training Walter. In Offspring he was good as the heroic kid, but in the sequel he shines (as a different character) with the kind of malice only teenagers are capable of. If he didn’t have that unfortunate puberty thing going on, I would be hailing him as the genre’s next great creepy kid. The rest of the cast does a decent enough job, but they’re rather one note. This especially applies to Lauren Ashley Carter as the oldest daughter and the most sickly looking woman on earth, Angela Bettis, as the wife.

Overall, I enjoyed this film quite a lot. I believe that that had a lot more to do with the fact that it felt like a Ketchum story come to life than it actually being all that good cinematically. Jack, you are a master. Just keep on doing your thing man. Lucky McKee, well…it felt like you were just there to get the writer’s vision onto the screen. Kinda like Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark was a Guillermo del Toro movie rendered by Troy Nixey. Luckily, Lucky did well enough this time, so I’ll give him one more chance to really impress me before I write him off. One and a half severed thumbs up. Nathan says check it out.

By the way, it’s also out in book form. I have yet to read it, but still have no problem confidently telling you that you should check that out too. How can I be so sure? It’s Jack F’n Ketchum. Unless it’s She Wakes (which kinda sucked) you can’t go wrong with him.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Catching Up: Found Footage Edition

I’ll admit it, I’ve been lax in keeping up with the new releases lately. I’ve had a lot going on, and I’ve got some catching up to do. Luckily, I’ve got discount theaters in my area. I don’t know if you had the luck to grow up in a town that had these, but they’re great. After their theatrical run, they hit the Dollar Theaters theaters. We always called it the “Dollar Theater” because tickets were always a dollar. Duh. Back in the day, popcorn and drinks were a dollar too. When I moved to Savannah, I was shocked and dismayed there were none. It took a long time for that blow to soften. When I came back, the theaters were still there, but the price had doubled, but we all still refer to it as the Dollar Theater. How can you ague with 1.99 for a movie? If it’s one of those you just kinda want to see, or one you just couldn’t find time to catch, these theaters are invaluable. We have two, Town Center and Venture Cinema 12. Town Center is the one we went to as kids, but the sound sucks there. Venture is awesome. God bless you Venture Cinema 12! Anyway, I just caught up with two recent found footage flicks.

Apollo 18:

When the found footage idea was introduced in Cannibal Holocaust (it’s the earliest example I’m aware of, though it probably isn’t the first), a couple of films stole it. Then when Blair Witch Project became a mega-hit in 1999, Hollywood started to take notice. Then, in 2007, the emergence of cheap and readily available video technology via smartphones and digital camcorders combined with the success of Paranormal Activity, and the damn endless shaky cam scare extravaganza was off and running. Suddenly everyone and their mom is making one of these, and just about every twist that can be put on these usually formulaic cash-ins has been exhausted…except one.

It’s a longstanding joke that when a franchise is completely out of ideas, the last place left to go is space. The last Friday the 13th was in space. The last good Hellraiser was in space. Leperchaun made a trip there before landing in the hood. Critters 4…well, you get the picture. It looks like the same goes for ridiculously overused, gimmicky subgenres. Now that there is nothing new to do with found footage, Apollo 18 takes it into space. Surprisingly, that hackneyed cliché is the one thing this flick has going for it. Isolation is a classic hallmark of horror, and it doesn’t get much more isolated than the freakin’ moon. This movie uses it to it’s fullest potential. It really does feel isolated. The moon, with its stark landscape, deep shadows, silence, and general air of mystery makes for a great set. It looks creepy as hell. The concept of being stranded in outer space with a camera is intriguing and lends itself very well to the limitations of the found footage concept. I think it could have worked brilliantly if this had been, well, a better movie.

My first problem is that it just moves too damn slow. For the first half hour, this is actually an asset. I kept thinking that if they had taken the flick right up to just before the reveal of the monster, then gave us one shot vaguely showing it, this could have been a good short, or maybe a high concept Outer Limits episode. As it stands, once the threat is revealed, we know exactly where the movie is going, but it plods along so slowly to get there that I lost interest WAY before the end. That’s especially not good in a movie that’s only 86 minutes long. Maybe some of that padded time could have been given to character development. When you’re spending the entire movie with three characters, you need to have the audience identify with at least one of them. These guys are as cookie cutter and one note as they come. If they had taken twenty minutes out of the second half and devoted it to some on ship banter that conveyed who these guys are, it would have helped the movie immensely. Better written dialog would have helped too. Also, I know it’s supposed to look like it was shot under duress 40 years ago, and it does (kudos on that realism), but there is a limit to how bad and distorted the footage can be and still me fun to watch. It’s supposed to look like crap. Problem is that it does.

You all know I don’t like to give spoilers, but I’m very tempted too because the threat is something incredibly stupid. They should have left it ambiguous. I mean, what kind of a monster is…no, I won’t do it. Those of you who are really into found footage movies will want to see this one. It actually does attempt to do something novel with a played out motif, even if it does still utilize all of the “darkness with the camera as the only light” style clichés. It’s not really as bad as I made it sound; it’s just below average. The stupid monster doesn’t help. They really could have come up with something more menacing than…stop it Nathan. Seriously though, there’s only one solitary shot where the big threat is remotely scary. They just look like…Anyway, I’m going to be generous and give Apollo 18 one severed thumb up. Hopefully it represents one giant leap towards the end of the found footage wave. Hermit crabs on the moon! How dumb is that? Freakin’ hermit crabs! There, I said it. Nathan says check it out, but don’t expect much.

Paranormal Activity 3:

The third sequel to the film that really kicked off the current found footage glut (REC and Cloverfield helped too) had the advantage of following a sequel with almost no redeeming qualities. I loved the first PA flick, and while I wasn’t holding out any hope that a major studio sequel would have been nearly as good as the indy original, I was still angry when PA2 sucked like Heather Brooke. If you don’t get that one, don’t google it at work. Anyway, considering how bad 2 was, I went into 3 with the lowest of low expectations. It turns out that I was pleasantly surprised.

As I’m sure we all know by now, this is actually a prequel. It shows what happened when Katie and Kristi were young, as alluded to in the first movie. The problem is, how do you have a bunch of “found footage” from 1988? Have the girls’ mother’s boyfriend be a wedding videographer, that’s how! It seems that Kristi’s imaginary friend Toby isn’t so imaginary. Do I really need to summarize the plot here? We all know what’s coming. I think that’s the core of the reason I liked this one so much more than part 2. After the first one, we were wise to what was going to be thrown our way. Something a little different had to be done. Part 2 tried to pretend to be a suspenseful, subtle slow burn creepfest like the first with some major effects thrown in. It was handled in such a hamfisted way, however, that it just seemed like a really bad remake of part one minus anything that had worked the first time around. In part three, they say “to hell with subtlety and trying to be like the first flick.” We get much more of a straight forward, broadly played ghost story, and the experience is much better for it.

This movie does lot of things right. It has the most likeable cast of characters of any flick yet in the series. The cast does a good job, particularly the two young girls. I loved the “fan-cam” idea. It showed what I like to call “stoner ingenuity” in the way it managed to not have all of the “unmanned” shots be static. The second flick tried to have the glacial pace of the first, but failed to create any suspense, making it a chore to sit through. PA3 has no suspense outside of a couple of isolated sequences, but the goings on are lively enough that it doesn’t get boring. There are a couple of “fake” scares that, while cheap, are brilliant in the way that they play with the audience’s expectations. One of them even got me. Yes, it was the first time a jump scare has worked on me in a good long while. Well played. The ending may be a little out of place, and may ape The Last Exorcism a bit, but it introduces an interesting new wrinkle into the story. It’s also nice to see the undeniable creep factor of Teddy Ruxpin finally put to good cinematic use.

That’s not to say that the flick is without its problems, however. The main issues are the gaping holes in the logic. In the 80’s, the kind of equipment and the sheer amount of video tapes this guy has would cost a damn fortune. Yet it is discussed in the flick how he has no money. Also, there are a lot of shots of him watching the footage and noticing something. He says at one point that he has 18 hours (one tape in each of 3 cameras) of footage to review every day. Are we supposed to believe that he has a camera on him at all times while watching the footage? Isn’t that stretching the believability of the found footage conceit a little bit past the breaking point? My other issue is the obligatory “running frantically through the dark house lit only by the camera light” scene, which I hate. Then again, calling a Paranormal Activity flick out about that would be like chiding a Halloween or Friday the 13th flick for having a girl fall down while being chased, now wouldn’t it?

One thing I don’t get is the trailer. Misleading trailers piss me off. Remember that cool shot of Adrian Brody with all of the triangle laser sights on him from Predators that wasn’t in the movie? That pissed me off. The cool shot of Machete with the coat full of knives? Not in the movie. The “McLovin/sexy hamburger” line, the cow from Twister, the circular saw shot from that terrible Stepfather remake? All not actually in their respective movies. This might be the worst offender ever though. Watch this trailer.

The knocking game isn’t in the movie. The burning house isn’t in the movie. Kristi jumping off of the banister isn’t either. Mother watching the footage? Nope. Mother saying “We’re getting out of here” before being drug through the air and thrown on the bed? AWOL. The whole scene of the water being thrown on the ghost? No es aqui. The demonologist/psychic/whatever the hell he is saying that it has something to do with her side of the family and being smashed into the table? That CHARACTER isn’t even in the movie. I’m not sure, so don’t quote me, but I don’t remember the “Carol Anne” line being in there either. What the hell? I have a feeling the burning house thing might play into later sequels because of a date discrepancy, but what happened to the rest of that stuff? I hate it when studios do that.

A lot of things about the story don’t add up in light of the events of part 3, particularly some of the things said about the girls mother in part 1 and 2. The filmmakers also left multiple avenues open for sequels. That fact coupled with PA3’s record breaking box office returns make it pretty obvious that this is just the beginning for this series. It’s the new Saw, and is destined to become a Halloween tradition for the next few years. Lets just hope it doesn’t follow Saw in the fact that 3 is the last good one. I’m hovering somewhere between one and one and a half severed thumbs up for this one, but I refuse to start doing quarter thumbs. Nathan says check it out.

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