Friday, August 30, 2013

Celluloid Soapbox: Am I The Only One?

Celluloid Soapbox is a new feature on SOC.  Normally I keep things pretty positive around here.  Every now and then, however, I need to blow off a little steam.  From now on, any time you see the words "Celluloid Soapbox," you'll know that I'm about to launch into an angry tirade about someone or something that I feel is a blight on horror movies or the horror community.  I warn you Cellmates, it's rant time...

As I read reviews of You’re Next, a movie that I enjoyed, I’m noticing something that, in all honesty, has irked me for a long, long time.  There’s an element in that film which illustrates a trend that I feel is a cancer eating away at the heart of modern filmmaking.  It’s something that has all but ruined the fine art of cinematography and threatens to negate the artistry of fight choreography and visual effects in general.  What bothers me most is that I don’t see anyone else mentioning this blight on modern cinema.  I’ve been accused quite a few times of sounding like a broken record about this subject, but as long as it persists, I’m going to call it out.  I’m speaking, of course, about shaky cam and the silence of my fellow shaky cam haters.

As a FFF, Cloverfield gets a pass.
I do have to qualify my hatred a bit.  While I’m not a big fan of most found footage flicks, that’s not what I’m talking about at all.  You see, when the film is shot from the actual perspective of a character in the story, it makes sense.  Even in a movie that’s not a FFF (found footage flick), if we’re supposed to be seeing the action from a character’s point of view, it makes sense.  When the camera is the omniscient cinema gaze of the audience, which is a pretentious, film school way to say that the camera is outside of the action representing the viewer who sees it all, there is no excuse for it to be bouncing around like Mohammad Ali shot it.

I get the theory behind why people do it.  It’s supposed to make the scene seem frantic and intense by not allowing the viewer to get a good look at what’s going on or take in all of the information on the screen.  You know what else that’s a description of?  Poor framing.  Bad camera work.  Crappy directing.  If your camera tricks basically have the same effect as a good old-fashioned Ric Flair thumb to the eye, maybe you shouldn’t do it.  Actually, the real reason a lot of directors employ this technique is to mask their inability to build tension or properly choreograph an action sequence.  Yeah, you heard me.  Most of you use shaky cam because you suck.  Here’s a rule of thumb; if you take 10 screen shots from any scene, you should be able to tell what’s happening in at least 8 of them.  In You’re Next, there were times when you couldn’t even tell what character you were looking at.  Is that really supposed to add realism?  Sorry, but at the first sign of danger I don’t suddenly turn into an epileptic bobble-head.

For those of you who say that it really does lend energy to a scene, I want you to watch this.  In my mind, this is one of the greatest action sequences ever filmed.  It’s from The Wild Bunch.  Just watch…

What did you see?  Motivated camera movement.  Rapid fire editing with expert timing.  Amazing shots.  A truly adrenaline-pumping action sequence.  You know what you didn’t see?  Shaky cam.  Now explain to me again how you need it to convey the intensity of a scene.  Name ONE action sequence where some inept cameradolt is shakin’ it like a Polaroid picture is as effective as that.  Yeah, that’s hat I thought. Make an actual shotlist, hold the damn camera still, and have a little respect for your craft.

I’m well aware that shaky cam is not a new phenomenon.  Hell, its use was being argued in Cahiers du Cinéma decades before I was even the fetus of Celluloid.  The difference is that back then it was used occasionally.  Now virtually every new film I see employs it to some point.  The vast majority of what I watch is horror, so logically that’s where I ‘m assaulted by it the most. Honestly, what percentage of kill scenes in horror flicks from the last 10 years didn’t have shaky cam?  Ten?  Twenty?  It’s a freakin’ epidemic!  The first time I really noticed it was in 28 Days Later, a film that many consider a modern horror classic.  I can’t stand it.  I remember leaving the theater and saying “why the hell did they spend money on good zombie makeups and not even let us get a good look at them?

Chernobyl Diaries, a definite shaky cam offender.
Shaky cam action/chase/kill sequences aren’t even the biggest offense.  What makes my blood really boil is when nothing is happening and the camera is wobbling.  Even if you subscribe to the argument that shaky cam helps action, what’s the excuse for that?  If two people are having a calm conversation, the camera should not be bobbing and weaving.  That’s just bad camera work.  You used to get  fired if you couldn’t hold the damn camera still. Now it’s a prerequisite.  If you want to shoot hand-held, find someone who can do it well.  Otherwise, bite the bullet and get a tripod.  Don’t tell me it’s a budgetary constraint.  You can get one at Walmart for twenty bucks.

Don’t get me wrong; there are rare occasions when shaky cam can be effective in the hands of a skilled craftsman.  There’s shaky cam in Dr. Strangelove.  It fit the gimmick of Natural Born Killers perfectly.  The Cohen Brothers use it with varying results.  The opening battle scene of Saving Private Ryan is brilliant.  Kinji Fukasaku used it in almost all of his movies, from the underrated Battles Without Honor and Humanity to the landmark Battle Royale.  Then again, shaky cam also caused his prostate cancer.  No, seriously.  It actually says so on his Wikipedia page.  Look it up.  You can always trust Wikipedia, right?  Anyway, the difference is that they used it to flavor already great films/scenes.  Take the Saving Private Ryan scene for example.  The shots themselves, the editing, the sound design, the performances; they were all great without the shaky cam.  It wasn’t the driving idea behind the look or action.  In far too many scenes these days, shaky cam is the only thing it has going for it.  If the camera was still, it would look like shit.  Then again, there are some otherwise great scenes that are ruined by it.  I guess what I’m saying is that it can be good as an occasionally used tool.  The problem is, it’s the only thing in a lot of filmmakers’ toolkit. In cases like Michael Bay, shaky cam is a lame-ass tool weilded by a lame-ass tool.  I couldn’t resist that one.

Maybe I’m just behind the times and just not down with the way movies are made these days.  Am I just an old schooler yelling at those damn kids on my lawn?  I mean, people in the 30’s said James Whale was destroying the art form by moving the camera too much. Today, film buffs, including me, consider him a visionary.  In his heyday, people said Mario Bava’s swooping, flowing, fluid camera work would make people sick.  The maestro’s camera acrobatics are a far cry from the quease inducing extent it’s gone to now.  These days there are filmmakers who build an entire career out of looking like their cameras are mounted on jackhammers.  And NO ONE calls them on it.  That’s how bullshit like Battle Los Angeles happens. 
Side note, I'm not even taking into account all of the issues raised by movie goers who are susceptible to motion sickness.   That's a whole different can of worms.  I'm just arguing for those who, like me, are sickened by crappy craftsmanship on the screen.
So I guess my question is this… am I the only one who loathes third person shaky cam?  I never see it mentioned in reviews, and I can’t help but wonder why.  Do you truly think it’s an effective cinematic technique?  Do you just ignore it?  Have you just accepted that it’s the way things are and there’s no point in bitching about it?  Is there a widespread Parkinson’s outbreak among cameramen and I’m just being an insensitive asshole?  These are not rhetorical questions, Cellmates.  I implore my fellow movie fans to sound off.  I want to know what you think about this.  If you’re sick of it like me, let’s take shaky/wobble cam to task.  Let’s do our best to drive it back to the cinematic hell it came from.  If you’re not, please enlighten me as to the style’s merit.  In the meantime, I’m going to keep the horror world accountable.  Edmund Burke once said “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”  Shaky cam is a true evil (and not in a good way) threatening the artistic medium I love.  As long as hack filmmakers use it to hide laziness and good filmmakers kowtow to the trend, I’m going to do the only thing I can… continue to be the lone voice crying out in the wilderness.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

What A Short, Strange Trip: A Review of Dropping Evil

Gather ‘round, it’s story time boys and girls.  Back in college, I used to ride MARTA, Atlanta’s mass transit system, from the dorm to the campus every day.  On this particular morning the only seat available as next to a bum.  No one else wanted it, so I took the bait.  Immediately he started talking to me.  What followed was a 15-minute tirade that went from the government to aliens to god to whores to the police to telepathic animals and everything in between.  I had no idea what the hell he was talking about, but I was transfixed.  It was confusing, insane, and fascinating.  We got to my stop, and my friends told me it was time to go.  Well, I didn’t make it to class that day. I rode that train all the way to the end of the line because I had to see where this guy’s diatribe was gonna go next.  He stunk horribly, but I was willing to look past that for the sheer bizarro trip he was taking me on.  When he finally shambled away from me, my mind felt like it had been raped by a psychedelic angel.  I knew that if I pondered what he had said it might do irreparable damage to my brain, but the experience of his rant was just so beautifully, profoundly f**ked up that I was glad I ignored the stench and took the ride.  Why am I telling you this?  Because watching Dropping Evil was a lot like that MARTA ride.

Synopsis: After his group of friends slip him some LSD during a camping trip, the ultra-nerdy and God-loving Nancy begins to hunt them down one by one after the drug reveals their “true” natures to him. But a mysterious corporation is very interested in this teenage blood bath, and has their own plans to control and contain the evil that has been unleashed, luring the doomed teens to a mysterious cabin in the woods where they can be studied and developed into something even more sinister.

Technically, this is not a good flick.  Its shortcomings walk the fine line between damning and endearing though.  The camera work is pretty shoddy at times.  The high schoolers look to be in their late 20’s.  There are a lot of sound issues.  The acting ranges widely in quality.  Armin Shimerman, who some of you might remember from Buffy or Deep Space Nine, acts circles around the rest of the cast.  Tiffany Shepis, who I’ve always felt is underrated as an actress, is good in her small role.  My favorite moment in the film belongs to her.  It made me laugh and jump in the space of about three seconds.  Fred Williamson does his usual Hammer thing as Commander Death Blood.  Yes, that’s actually the character’s name.  The main four “teens,” who all look to be in at least their late 20’s, are decent.  Zachary Eli Lint is just plain weird as Nancy.  Why a psychotic Jesus freak’s forearms are covered in cutesy skull and heart tattoos is never addressed.  It’s very obviously micro budget.  That’s not a drawback as far as I’m concerned, but I know it would turn some less adventurous viewers off.

This flick also doesn’t make a damn lick of sense.  Many will see that as a failing on the part of the filmmakers.  Honestly, I don’t think it’s supposed to make sense.  It starts out normally enough, looking like any other generic “kids die in the woods” flick.  Then it starts piling on the weird.  God is missing, zombies are rising, there are ancient beings in the form of Ms. Shepis and a Scandinavian version of Nathan Explosion, nuns in monochrome, biological experiments yield eyeball cameras and Cronenbergian bioguns, a tactical strike team films their activities with VHS camcorders, and a generic mysterious evil corporation is doing, um… stuff.  None of it even comes close to coherence.  This one just throws every concept possible at you and says, “No, we’re not going to explain it.  You got a problem with that?”  I admire this flick’s moxy and ambition.  I’m pretty sure the budget for this flick included an allowance for hallucinogens to fuel the writing sessions.  Enough concepts for 10 movies are stripped to less than bare bones, duct taped together, and presented for the world to scratch their heads over.  I’m cool with that.

As usual, Wild Eye excels as far as the extras go.  They’re like the Scream Factory of schlock.  Here we get three shorts that serve as sequels to the film.  I’m not sure why the filmmakers decided to do it this way.  The movie is only 72 minutes.  Why not incorporate them into the main narrative?  As it stands, you really need to watch the whole package (film, shorts, deleted scenes, etc.) to get the whole story.  Even then, it doesn’t explain shit.  The cover art, by the way, is pretty bad ass.
I really dug Dropping Evil.  It will leave you shaking your head in disbelief, but you’ll be laughing as you do. If you’re the type that considers a 3 million dollar flick a “low budget indie,” this might not be your cup of tea.  It’s not glossy at all. It’s got a lot of cracks in its armor.  What it does have going for it, though, is originality, an interesting voice, and sheer WTF factor.  I often compare the different types of independent horror films to choosing between two types of women.  One is gorgeous but boring and prudish.  The other is just alright looking, but she’s fun and kinda kinky.  I’m sure you can figure out which one this flick is.  I’ll pick the latter every time, and Dropping Evil is well worth spending the night with.  7 hitchhiker presidents out of 10.  Nathan says check it out and SUPPORT INDEPENDENT HORROR!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Update: The Universal Monsters Hot Wheels Have Been Found

WAIT!!!  Before you read this, go to THIS LINK.  Have that song playing as you read this post.  Also, imagine these words in the 40's Universal trailer font.  Ok, now read…

The greatest monsters ever to stalk the silver screen bring you die cast horror spawned by the devil!  Six spine-chilling vehicles mean five times the chills!  Feel the madness as terror grips your local seasonal items aisle!

RECOIL IN HORROR as Hot Wheels tries to tell you that the bad ass Bride of Frankenstein ’59 Cadillac Hearse is actually a “Funny Car!”

THRILL to the Wolfman’s rape van!

GASP at The Creature from the Black Lagoon’s… what is that?  A low flow?  What the hell is a low flow?  Do those actually exist?

DRACULA.  FRANKENSTEIN.  THE MUMMY.  They’re all here in the greatest 4 heeled, blood soaked orgy of scares ever to be mounted on a display card!

I captured these elusive ghastly beasts at Kroger.  It’s been whispered that they lurk in some Walmarts too (mainly in the midwest and west coast areas).  Do you have the guts to collect them all?  Can you handle any more hyperbole?  Yes, Universal Monsters Hot Wheels are finally hitting shelves.  Get them now... or else!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Violence of the Lambs: A Review of You're Next

SPOILER ALERT:  It’s virtually impossible to review this flick without giving away one major surprise.  It’s not a surprise in the plot.  You know me, that’s not how I roll.  It’s actually a spoiler as to the nature of the film itself.  Other reviews have spoiled that surprise already, but I think it’s only fair to let you know ahead of time.  It probably wouldn’t effect your enjoyment of the flick, but if you want to go in completely blind you may want to hold off on reading this review until after you see the movie.  There.  Now you know.  I don’t wanna hear anyone bitching later.

When I first saw the trailer for You’re Next, featuring the masterful musical choice of Lou Reed’s song Perfect Day, I thought I knew what the flick was going to be.  I was expecting just another entry in the recently very popular home invasion subgenre.  A different, hopefully better, take on The Strangers’ formula.  Little did I know that the film’s promotion had pulled a fast one on me.  I was expecting gritty violence.  What I got was gritty violence and… laughs.  Lots of them.  You’re Next, a movie I expected to be a run of the mill survival horror flick, turned out to be the best horror comedy so far this year.
Synopsis: When a gang of masked, ax-wielding murderers descend upon the Davison family reunion, the hapless victims seem trapped...until an unlikely guest of the family proves to be the most talented killer of all.
All too often with horror comedies, the delicate balance between the two elements is mishandled.  You’re Next walks that line well.  The audience at the screening I attended roared with laughter, but the jumpier members of the crowd shrieked a few times too.  The scares and laughs are placed perfectly, setting each other up with expert timing.  As far as the comedy goes, it’s superb.  Writer Simon Barrett has crafted one hell of a screenplay.  It’s not so much poking fun at the genre as it is telling a serious story with funny characters.  The dialogue is great, particularly the interplay between the family members.  If only the bickering at my family reunions could be this entertaining.  While we’re talking about the screenplay, I like that Barrett plays most of his hand early, trotting out the big reveal early and letting it play out slowly.  That was smart.  There are still a couple of twists left (that the astute horror fan will see coming a mile away), but giving away the main one before the audience gets the chance to call it was a good move.
Of course, that screenplay wouldn’t mean a thing without actors who could do it justice.  The cast definitely does well with the material.  AJ Bowden is one of my favorite current genre actors.  Mark my words, one day he will be a cult favorite and will be charging stupid amounts of money for his autograph at conventions. He’s excellent in this flick, but I feel like he was underutilized.  I think he should have played Nicholas Tucci’s role and vice versa.  They’re both very good, but I think that casting switch could have played a little more to both of their strengths.  Rob Moran and horror stalwart Barbara Crampton are splendid (I told you I would bring that word back) as the parents.  The true standout is Joe Swanberg.  I don’t know if he’s a giant bag of douche in real life as certain members of the press have asserted, but he certainly portrays one convincingly.  He gets most of the best lines, and his delivery is on point.  Sharni Vinson also shines but, at this point, the less said about her role the better.
On the horror side of things, we’ve got some well-executed jump scares.  A couple of the particularly enjoyable ones play off of the background/foreground model a-la Halloween.  There’s also some commendable gore.  The best part; it all appeared to be practical in the close ups.  In fact, there’s a refreshing overall lack of obvious CGI in You’re Next.  Other reviewers have lauded the film’s suspense, but I didn’t find that to be the case.  Then again, a movie really has to operate well outside of normal horror tropes to keep me guessing.  From the reaction of the crowd, it appeared that those less jaded than I spent at least some of the movie on the edge of their seats.
There is one huge, glaring problem with You’re Next, though.  I HATED the way it was shot.  Outside of found footage movies, where shaky cam makes sense, this is the most spastically jerky movie I’ve seen in years.  I already hate shaky cam action sequences, but this goes above and beyond.  The camera can’t even hold still when nothing is happening.  There is absolutely no excuse for the camera to be bobbing and swaying during a scene of a couple lying in bed talking.  In the “dinner attack” scene, the camera is jumping so spastically that it’s sometimes impossible to even tell which character you’re looking at.   Director Adam Wingard has been criticized before for his excessive use of the “cameraman with Parkinson’s” technique.  It’s a damn shame too, because there are a handful of sustained shots and slow motion sequences that look fantastic.  I weep for the movie this could have been if it was shot well.  If you’re susceptible to motion sickness, you might have issues with this one.  I don’t have that problem.  I’m just nauseated by crappy filmmaking.
Random Thought #1: One of the creepy animal masks the killers wear is very similar to one worn by a WWE wrestler that debuted recently.  I lost count of the times I heard the name “Wyatt family” spoken in the audience.  Brilliant marketing.  Well-played Vince.
Random Thought #2: I expect to see a lot of lamb masks this Halloween.
Random Thought #3: There are times when an amazing synth score straight out of the 80’s kicks in.  It is truly beautiful.  Retro done right.
Random Thought #4: If I do another edition of The Horror Movie Darwin Awards, there’s one in this flick.
You’re Next was a pleasant surprise.  Usually I complain about misleading advertising, but I like being thrown a curveball now and then.  I laughed the whole way through, either at the wit of the flick or the screams in the audience.  It’s well acted, well written, and well paced.  The only problem is the terrible camera work.  If nonstop shaky cam doesn’t bother you, then disregard that part of the review.  It seriously hampered my enjoyment of the movie.  It certainly didn’t ruin it, however.  You’re Next was a damn good time.  Plus, they get points for using the right form of “you’re.”  A surprisingly fun flick that delivers a lot of chuckles and a few jolts.  7 “creepy sheep” out of 10.  Nathan says check it out.

Monday, August 19, 2013

At Midnight, I'll Give Away A One-of-a-Kind Coffin Joe Figure

My readers.  My friends.  My Cellmates. I love each and every one of you.  I want you to keep that in mind when I say that every now and then I f**king hate you!  This is one of those times.  Of course, I say that purely out of jealousy.  You see, you guys all have a chance at winning one of the coolest things I’ve ever given away here on SOC.  Something unspeakably bad ass.  Something I really want to keep for myself, dammit.  Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, this one of a kind custom Coffin Joe figure!

For those of you uninitiated into the cult of José Mojica Marins, oh man are you missing out.  This South American horror maverick embodies the spirit of independent cinema every bit as much as John Waters, Kenneth Anger, or Astron-6.  His transgressive, hallucinogenic films have always been both popular and controversial in his native Brazil, and are finding more and more of an audience around the world partially thanks to a 2001 documentary.  I make no claims about the legality of it being on youtube, but for what it’s worth you can watch it here…

Marins has made over 50 exploitation flicks, but his greatest creation is, inarguably, Coffin Joe.  Known in Brazil as Zé do Caixão, his top hat, cape, and long fingernails have become so associated with Marins that he and the character are almost indistinguishable.  The diabolical mortician hates religion, despises mankind, and is only interested in finding a woman capable of taking his pure evil seed.  Coffin Joe is one of the greatest horror characters ever devised, and in a perfect world his amazing speeches would be as quoted as anything Freddy Krueger ever said.  There’s a Region 2 DVD box set of most of the  Coffin Joe flicks (all except Embodiment of Evil and The Bloody Exorcism of Coffin Joe) that can be had for under 30 bucks.  It’s the reason I bought a region free player in the first place.  If you’ve never seen one of his films, you owe it to yourself to track these titles down NOW!

-         At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul

-         This Night I Will Possess Your Corpse

-         The Strange World of Coffin Joe

-         The Awakening of the Beast

-         End of Man

-         The Bloody Exorcism of Coffin Joe

-         The Strange Hostel of Naked Pleasures

-         Hellish Flesh

-         Hallucinations of a Deranged Mind

-         Embodiment of Evil

I first became aware of the incredibly talented Jacob Klingele when Guts and Grog gave away an amazing custom figure of a Nixon Vixen from Dear God No!.  I found out it was the work of the man behind VonKlingele Kustoms and had to contact him.  Throughout us talking, he kindly agreed to make a figure for me to offer to all of you.  When I started thinking of who I had never seen a figure of that most deserved one, Coffin Joe was the first name that came to mind.  I thought about others, but none could unseat him.  Now that I see this unholy creation, I’m awestruck.  I’m sure you all agree that it’s incredible.  Obviously, Jacob is the guy to contact for all of your custom figure needs.  I warn you though, I can’t promise that having this fun sized effigy of the wicked one himself won’t have strange effects on you.  You may see spiders and snakes coming out of the walls.  You may be inundated with visions of hell.  You may find yourself unable to cut your fingernails or resist pontificating about the “continuity of blood.”  You may find yourself constantly surrounded by beautiful, topless women.  Results may vary.  I also want to reiterate that this figure is a one of a kind custom.  Whoever winds up with this will own the only one in the world.  How cool is that?

So, how do you take this prize home?  There are two steps…

  1. You must “like” both the Son of Celluloid and VonKlingele Kustoms facebook pages.  Yes, this is a requirement.
  2. I want to know that this bad boy is going to an actual Coffin Joe fan.  Leave a comment on this post with your email address and something about why you dig Coffin Joe.  What you like about his movies, your favorite of his flicks, your favorite quote, his beard’s sexy, he’s the reason you grew 3 foot long fingernails, whatever.  Just say something to let me know that this killer prize is gonna go to someone who will fully appreciate how cool it is.
That’s all there is to it folks.  On September 2 I’m gonna throw all of these names into my top hat (because it’s oh so apropos) and randomly pick a winner.  The only restriction is that, due to the recent ridiculous spike in international shipping rates, this one is unfortunately only open to US residents.  Sorry.  Blame the USPS.  So, that gives you two weeks to enter to win and go check out the killer stuff VonKlingele Kustoms has to offer.  As for me, I'm going to the crossroads by the graveyard. Anyone want to follow me?

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Review: Dead Woman's Hollow

I need to have a little talk with the female Cellmates out there, particularly those of you who haven’t ventured outside of the city much.  In addition to being entertaining, horror movies can also teach us survival skills.  One of those lessons that is often ignored is “stay the hell out of the woods.”  You don’t think they named a movie “Don’t Go In The Woods” just because it was a catchy title, do ya?  Well, maybe they did, but the truth of the matter remains.  Think back to every horror movie you’ve ever watched.  Has going into the woods ever turned out well for anyone?  Not often.  You know who it works out for? Those who are familiar and comfortable with the woods.  In other words, not city folks.  You’re especially in trouble if you have sex in the woods.  That’s a good way to end up raped, slaughtered, raped again, and eaten by some backwoods loon.  The problem is, getting it on out in the forest is a big romantic fantasy for a lot of people.  I want all of you ladies to have the opportunity to experience that, so I’ve decided to selflessly offer my services in your best interest.  I’ve lived in the big city, but I was born in the mountains of North Carolina and spent my childhood in rural Georgia.  I’m very familiar with the woods.  I practically grew up in them.  Horrible things can happen if you’re out there with the wrong guy, so wouldn’t you rather choose a man who knows what’s up in the underbrush?  Now, I know that offer might seem self-serving at first glance but I assure you, ladies, my concern is solely for your personal well-being.  I’m here to help because I wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to any of you.  So before you run off into the woods with city boy, think how much safer you’d be with SOC.  Your life may just depend on it.  Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about Dead Woman’s Hollow. 

Synopsis: “Along the Appalachian Trail, Jen (Mel Heflin) and Donna’s (Sarah Snyder) college project to find peace in a bruised and battered world runs into the true face of fear and evil… Leroy (Boodle Montgomery).  The story of Dead Woman;s Hollow unfolds by following a murder investigation by Sheriff Hatsley (Charles Dawson).  The crime reveals many layers to the quest of truth.  The true horror being our ability to hate and the true fear of the killer in us all.

The number one thing this movie has going for it is atmosphere.  A lot of people who do backwoods/small-town horror play it as way too sensationalistic.  That’s when things like some of the Wrong Turn sequels happen.  Dead Woman’s Hollow has the good sense to keep things low key.  I’m not sure where they shot it, but it had an authenticity that comes with small rural towns.  It reminded me of a lot of places in the mountains of North Carolina.  Speaking of the shooting locations, the outdoor photography is absolutely gorgeous.  They definitely took full advantage of the picturesque terrain.  Everything has that hazy fall pallor that I love. 

Another factor that goes a long way towards the atmosphere is Sheriff Hatsley.  I don’t know if it comes more from the way that John Taylor wrote the character or the performance of Charles Dawson (or both), but he comes across as very believable.  Most movie “small town sheriffs” are shallow stereotypes; just obnoxious for no good reason.  This one has some actual depth.  He seems like he may have been a good guy at one point, but the middle of nowhere beat has ground him down to the point that he’s become a dick with a badge.  It’s a well-drawn character that’s played very competently, making it a joy to watch.

Dawson’s is not the only performance that deserves high commendation.  You know those huge rock mounds that sometimes surround railroad tracks?  Well, the flick opens with Maura Housley stumbling out of the woods naked and climbing up one of those.  Yes, she’s naked and barefoot crawling over rocks.  Now THAT’S dedication to a role.  Major kudos to her for being willing to go the extra mile.  I have an amazing mental picture of her talking to her grandkids one day far in the future.  One of them says something about how easy it is to make a movie now that CGI has taken over.  Maura waves a wrinkly fist at the young whippersnappers and bellows “CGI?  In my day we had to crawl naked over huge piles of jagged rocks in the freezing cold to make a movie!”  The kids roll their eyes and say “Yeah right.  Whatever, grandma.”  She then hobbles to the shelf, pulls out a copy of this movie, brushes away the cobwebs, and proceeds to scar the ungrateful little bastards for life with scenes of granny’s naked, bloody ass crawling over the rocks.  That thought made me laugh harder than it probably should have.  Yes, these are the things I think when I see bloody, naked chicks stumbling down train tracks.  I should probably seek professional help.  What was I talking about anyway?  Oh, Dead Woman’s Hollow.  That’s right.

Another aspect of the flick that I found interesting, and kinda refreshing, is that there are no good guys among the main characters.  Some of the townspeople, like the shopkeepers and secretaries, seem nice enough.  The story focuses on the unsavory folks, though.  As I said, the cops are pricks. Leroy, the killer, is kept mysterious.  He has a great look, but he’s damn hard to understand sometimes.  The ladies are competently played, but the characters are way too bitchy to elicit any kind of sympathy.  The concerned boyfriend might have a violent history.  The rednecks that bring one of the victims to the hospital even turn out to be assholes.  Hell, everyone in this movie is a shade of gray.  I like that approach. 

One thing that I do have to call the movie out on is the editing.  First of all, while they are traversing some really pretty terrain, there is entirely too much footage of the two female leads walking through the woods.  That could have been tightened up by a couple of minutes at least.  Second, some of the dialog scenes need some work.  When there is a shot/reverse shot conversation, there will be a second too long between the previous line and the response.  It makes the scenes play very awkwardly.  This is most evident in the diner scene.

The diner scene!  I almost forgot to talk about the diner scene.  I’m not sure what was going on there, but it seemed like it was lifted from a completely different movie.  The afore mentioned dialogue editing really gave it a bizarre feel.  Then there is the performance of Dan Miller.  I’m not sure what he was going for, but it’s completely bonkers.  I’ve never seen him in anything else, but I kinda got the feeling that he’s being natural to an extent because I don’t see how those acting choices would make sense.  I’m sure it’s intentionally comical, but it’s just so weird that when coupled with the strange pace set by the editing in the scene, it gives the scene a completely different atmosphere from anything that happens before or after it.  It’s almost like it’s not happening in the same reality as the rest of the story.  Although, I now feel compelled to track down the other two flicks he’s been in.

The flick does end with quite a bang.  The final 9 minutes are a taut, engrossing, well-staged piece of cinema.  Everything from the way the minimal lighting glistens off of the sweat on Charles Dawson’s head to the subtle desperation creeping up into Koran Dunbar’s bravado works together perfectly.  It all leads up to a wonderfully downbeat and nihilistic as hell ending that did my cynical little heart good.  Some people like for the good guys to win in their movies.  Others prefer for the bad guys to win.  There’s a place for both, but I always dig endings like this one where nobody wins.

Random Thought #1: The soundtrack works very well in the context of the film.  Some of the musical choices were downright inspired. 

Random Thought #2:  The scene between the Sheriff and Ranger Swanson (think a backwoods bumbling R. Lee Ermy) is hilarious.  Maybe my favorite moment of the flick.

Random Thought #3:  It would have been nice to get a little more background on Leroy.  Maybe see his lair or something.

Random Thought #4:  The identity of the naked chick in the beginning is only mentioned twice in the middle of the movie, less than a minute apart.  I don’t know if I sneezed or took a drink or the dog jumped on me or what, but I totally missed it.  This, coupled with the batshit diner scene and one photographic inconsistency, led me to believe that this was some kind of Lynchian mindf**k with a character having multiple fates and being played by multiple actresses.  A second viewing later, it all made sense.  They really should have mentioned her at least one other time.  On the other hand, I think I might have even liked it better when I thought it made no sense at all.  Then again, I may or may not be nuttier than squirrel shit.
Featuring a lot of the same talent behind a flick I really dug a couple of years ago called Leach, Dead Woman’s Hollow is a cool indie thriller.  It’s got a few rough patches, but it more than makes up for those with a lot of heart, some good acting, atmosphere to spare, and a finale that will punch you in the gut.  It’s also a flick with something to say if you read between the lines.  Congratulations to Libby McDermott for turning out a movie that’s both dark and fun on her maiden voyage in the director’s chair.  Now if I can just figure out what’s up with Dan.  Hit up Dead Woman’s Hollow’s facebook page HERE to get your copy and SUPPORT INDEPENDENT HORROR.  Seven entry wounds out of 10.  Nathan says check it out.   Oh, and remember what I said, ladies.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Review: Nightbreed - The Cabal Cut

As you can tell by the name of the blog, I’m a big Clive Barker fan.  Nightbreed, flaws and all, has always rivaled the almighty Hellraiser as my favorite Barker flick.  I think every kid who grew up as an outsider has a soft spot for the Tribes of the Moon.  Just like the rest of the Nightbreed fans, I’ve dreamed of seeing the “uncut version” ever since the days when we all thought it might be a myth.  For many, many years it was spoken of in tones usually reserved for London After Midnight.  So, you can imagine my excitement when it was announced that the missing footage had been located.  You can also imagine how many expletive laden tirades I subjected my poor computer to when Occupy Midian kept sending me invitations to screenings that were half a country (and in some cases, an entire continent) away.  Then, it finally happened. Baphomet smiled upon me. One of the last screenings before it slunk back into the shadows to be restored happened in my back yard!  A few midnights ago, I got the opportunity to stagger (thanks to James Bickert and his spicy lemonade/tequila concoctions) into Gwinnett Arena’s screening room and behold something that, as recently as a few months ago, I feared I might never see.  And let me tell you, Cellmates, everything is true. God’s an astronaut, Oz is over the rainbow, and The Cabal Cut is just as bad ass as you’ve heard it is.
As Russell Cherrington (the Cabal Cut director and the man who actually found the footage) said in the pre-screening Q&A, this movie isn’t Nightbreed at all.  This is a whole different film.  It’s been a long time since I read Cabal, and I’ve killed off a lot of brain cells since then, but from what I do recall the new cut follows the book pretty closely.  One of the criticisms that has long been flung at Nightbreed is that it doesn’t make sense.  Admittedly, the plot in the theatrical cut is all kindsa disjointed and jumbled.  That’s definitely not the case any more.  Whole characters and subplots that were originally left on the cutting room floor are resurrected.  I think the main difference is the astounding amount of character development that’s been added.  It’s most evident with Lori, Boone’s girlfriend.  In Nightbreed, let’s face it, she’s downright annoying at times.  She becomes a fully realized character with an actual arc in The Cabal Cut.  She’s a major player, and the Lori/Boone love story is much more front and center.  She spends a lot more time in Midian too, which really does add a lot to the story.  We also get to savor more of David Cronenberg’s tour de force performance as Dr. Decker.  A lot of nuance is added to the good doctor.  There’s one scene involving Decker having a conversation with his mask that’s probably my second favorite re-inserted scene.  My favorite is definitely when Boone… ah, dammit.  I would be straying into spoiler territory if I told you.  That sucks, ‘cause I really want to gush about that scene.  Let’s just say that my murmured “holy shit” wasn’t the only one I heard during that moment.
The added footage also lets the outstanding set and creature design shine.  The clichéd line about this being “the Star Wars of monster movies” applies now.  The Tribes of the Moon are out in force.  The sheer amount of unique makeups is staggering.  There are some never before seen major effects and monsters that are, at very least, as impressive as anything in the theatrical version.  I can’t emphasize just how cool the army of monsters is.  A lot more of the proceedings take place in Midian.  It feels a lot more like the vast, labyrinthine subterranean city described in the book than the mere underground hideout we know.  I dare say that if this movie had originally been presented in this form, it might have deservedly won effects Oscars in 1990.
I can’t, however, call it a perfect movie.  I’m about to say something that will sound like heresy to a lot of the fanboys that are salivating over seeing this, but it’s a little too long.  Just because all of that footage was found doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s all essential.  There are times that the flick gets a little slow.  It could stand to be tightened up by about 10 minutes.  Of course, the fans (myself included) want to see that footage. So maybe while it ought to be excised from the flick, it should all certainly be included as special features on the DVD/BD.
Speaking of which, I’m even more excited for Scream Factory’s 2014 blu-ray release after seeing the film in its current form. I’m not a hi-def snob, far from it actually, but the version I saw looked bad enough to take me out of the flick at times.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the hell out of it and knew what I was in for, but the new footage, quite frankly, looks shitty.  It looks like a fifth generation bootleg, which it essentially is.  Sometimes it was so blurry that it was hard to be sure what I was seeing.  It was a lot like listening to The Ultimate Warrior rant when I was a kid.  I had a vague idea of what he said, and it didn’t make a lot of sense, but I was so excited that it was happening at all that I just went with it.  As cool as this flick is, it deserves to look great.  Scream Factory has delivered in spades on all of their releases so far, and with this being one of those horror holy grails I have no reason to believe that it will receive anything but the same TLC.  The movie was awesome when it looked like shit.  Looking as it should, it’s gonna be downright orgasm inducing.
I told Leah and Nicole as we were leaving that as much as I cherish my innumerable Nightbreed viewings over the years, I sorta envy those who will see the film for the first time like this.  The Cabal Cut is a sprawling epic that finally does the mythology of its universe justice.  From the much more coherent beginning to the seriously protracted climax to the completely different finale, it left me slack jawed.  The film can finally be viewed for what it is, one of the most ambitious movies - not horror movies mind you, but MOVIES – ever made.  If you love Nightbreed, you’re in for a treat that will exceed any expectations you may have.  If you hate Nightbreed, I can’t see how The Cabal Cut won’t change your mind.  If you’re a horror fan at all, the Scream Factory release is the very definition of a “must own.”  Now more than ever, I’ve decided that when I die I don’t want to go to heaven or hell at all.  I want to go to Midian, dammit!  After all, it is Shangri-la on dope.  Could any place possibly sound cooler than that?  9.5 secret faces of 10.  Nathan says check it out.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Wan Right After Another

I don’t claim to be a box office expert by any means.  I usually leave tracking the totals and predicting grosses to the Hollywood bean counters, but every now and then a distribution choice will make me pause and say “hmm.”  The one I’m currently puzzling over is the release dates of The Conjuring and Insidious: Chapter 2.  What the hell is going on?

The Conjuring was released on July 19.  Insidious 2 is slated for September 13.  That’s only 8 weeks apart.  Both are James Wan directed spookfests likely to feature his distinctive creepy style, so there are definite similarities inherent.  My question is, is it too soon?  I’m sure we all remember what happened earlier this year with Olympus Has Fallen and White House DownOlympus wasn’t a runaway hit, but it did respectable numbers.  14 weeks later, White House tanked.  Neither was all that good from what I’ve heard, so that might have something to do with it, but most box office analysts maintain that “didn’t we just see that movie?” syndrome had a hand in the more expensive flick’s failure.  With only 8 weeks between them, could The Conjuring hurt Insidious 2’s performance?

Let’s examine the various factors at play here.  As hardcore horror fans, we all know that they will be “different but the same.”  We care about the story and the characters.  The casual moviegoer who might see the new horror flick if they’ve already seen the blockbusters or is just looking for a snogging spot will probably look at it as “another ghost flick.”  Then again, originality isn’t all that valued as a commodity by the majority of moviegoers.  There’s also the fact that it’s a sequel to a successful movie, so that “sameness” could actually work in Insidious 2’s favor.  Is it too much of the same at one time or is striking while the iron is hot a smart move?  I’m not making an assertion one way or the other, because I can see both outcomes being equally likely.  Either way, though, I think it's a risky move
It seems to me that the smarter course of action would have been to drop Chapter 2 in October.  Yes, I know that’s only a few more weeks, but then you would have the Halloween factor working for you.  The only real competition would have been Paranormal Activity 5 and the Carrie remake.  Now that PA5 has been moved to next year, Insidious 2 could have been the big Halloween movie of 2013.  I know it’s short notice, but release dates have been changed that close to rollout before.  They’re probably counting on the flick holding over into spook season, but that’s a heavy gamble in this age of ever shortening theatrical runs.
Will it be like opening two of the same restaurant in the same town and they’re so similar that it kills one of them? Will it be like putting two Starbucks on the same block and the product is so hot (pun intended) that the rabid, cult-like fans will eat it up and both will thrive?  I know which one I’m hoping for, but I also know which one I’m afraid is gonna end up happening.  I hope I’m wrong.  What do you think Cellmates?  Am I onto something or am I reading WAY too much into this?  Sound off in the comments section and tell me how you think this will go down.  Here’s hoping that they both rake in the cash because when horror wins, we all win.

Monday, August 5, 2013

420 Reviews: Spring Breakers, John Dies At The End, Sharknado, and Would You Rather

Time for another rotation of 420 reviews.  If you don't know the deal with 420 reviews, go HERE and read the second paragraph before proceeding.  Alright, let's fire it up...

Spring Breakers
I appreciate the nihilistic heart of SB, but it’s surrounded by a dumb flick. The girls are all unlikable characters. How can a plot that thin have holes that big? It’s maddeningly repetitive. Franco is good, but him constantly intoning “spring breeeaaak” is as irritating as the soundtrack. Some scattered moments of artistic brilliance that aren’t worth the trip. Lots of titties though, so at least there’s that. 4/10

Looks like the horror hipsters discovered Asylum.  Sharknado may be no Sharktopus, but it’s a lot of fun.  A ridiculous premise, surprisingly decent acting, effects that range from ok to awful, and enough WTF for multiple flicks.  We knew what to expect, and we got it.  Dumb as hell, but with an energy and moxy that separates it from the lesser Syfy originals. I literally laughed til it hurt a couple of times. 7/10


John Dies At The End
Incomprehensible, unclassifiable, and infectiously likable. Coscarelli’s still got it. This scifi comedy delivers in laughs and weirdness. The bizarre plot and nonlinear narrative keep you guessing. My only complaints: a few slow patches and the insanely cool welder’s mask from the promotional art only being in the flick for seconds. Theater owners take note, this is tailor made for stoned midnight screenings. 7.5/10
Would You Rather
Awesome! This flick manages to be intelligent, and even funny at times, while still reveling in gleeful sadism. Jeffrey Combs is outstanding, chewing the scenery as only he can. Surprisingly, the lack of gore doesn’t hurt the movie. A little more development of the minor characters would have been nice. I love the off kilter atmosphere and downbeat climax. I have a feeling you’ll see this on this year’s top ten. 9/10
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...