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Horror TV Makes Big Comeback with Supernatural
Fans of things that go bump in the night will remember fondly shows like The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone, but not since the original Night Stalker series (starring the late-great Darren McGavin) have I enjoyed a weekly horror episodic such as Supernatural. It's the show I've been waiting for. Finally, horror meets mainstream on network TV.
(SPOILERS) In the pilot for Supernatural we witness the fiery death of a young mother as she hovers over her child's crib. Fastforward several years to Sam, the son who witnessed this inexplicable carnage. Sam has separated from what is left of his family in a desperate attempt to escape this burning memory and lead a 'normal' life. When his brother Dean shows up desperate for Sam's help, they haven't spoken in years. Dean tells Sam their father is missing, gone too long on a 'hunting' trip. Sam is in law school and wants no part of it. It isn't until Sam's girlfriend suffers the same fate as his mother that he agrees to help Dean find their dad and the thing that killed the only two women he has ever loved.
Sam and Dean's pursuit force them to face their demons quite literally. We learn that Dean and his father have forsaken the status quo of daily life, choosing instead to reside on the fringe of society. Their transient existence is solely dedicated to a search and destroy mission of the evil that killed Sam and Dean's mother. Now in law school, Sam's refusal to join them in battle has led to years of familial discourse and a severing of ties. Now forced into 'the hunt', Sam's destiny is sealed and there is no going back.
Classic rock blasting from Dean's pristinely restored black '67 Chevy Impala, the search for dear-old-Dad curves and weaves along the back roads of America as they follow clues from Dad's tattered journal and newspaper clippings of supernatural occurrences across the country. Their travels often take them off-course, placing them firmly between the cross-hares of evil. Battles with frighteningly familiar urban legends like the ghostly girl who hitch-hikes along a desolate stretch of highway, Bloody Mary and The Grim Reaper ensue each week, and we are introduced to characters who are also ensnared in 'the hunt'.
This is where my synopsis ends. You will have to check out the first season on DVD for any further revelations. Die-hard horror fans may not find the series satisfies their love of gore, but those who appreciate serial tales of the supernatural on a PG-rated scale will enjoy the mysteries that unfold each week. Supernatural offers moments of real suspense, great visual effects, and a bit of humor to break the tension. The writers also manage to make you care about the characters and the situations they are placed in, despite the other-worldliness of the plot.
Brilliantly cast, female audiences will no doubt palpitate over the strikingly handsome Jensen Ackles (Dean) and the boyish good looks of Jared Padalecki (Sam). Dean's the quintessential 'bad boy' with a checkered past, Sam's the sensitive 'boy next door' hiding a dark secret. Fans of Grey's Anatomy will appreciate Jeffrey Dean Morgan as John, Sam and Dean's father. Morgan's role requires real emotion, which he skillfully provides; he is adept at capturing sympathies as well as hearts. There is a soft ruggedness to his own physical beauty that adds believability to a character you may suspect is too young to play the role. The dynamic between the actors and their characters are true to the material.
Overall, Supernatural provides solid entertainment for the Buffy set and lovers of ghostly encounters. The show doesn't take itself too seriously, and neither should audiences. It's not as dramatic or based in reality as shows like 'Medium', but if it's reality your looking for you should invest your time elsewhere without complaint. If you just appreciate Supernatural for what it is, you will be pleased. The show combines elements of a good 'buddy' movie with lots of action and a few frights that even non-believers of ghosts can appreciate.
Broken Lizard Does it Again!
Forget Will Farrell. He's an amateur. His unscripted brand of forced, improvisational goofiness only works when he has a good script and ensemble cast to back him up (Anchorman, a rare gem in his repetoir). The Broken Lizard comedy team picks up where all other comedians of the past two decades have failed. While movies like American Pie offer watered down, PC gags for the masses, Broken Lizard provides solid laughs only the great comedies of the seventies and eighties delivered. Lizard's brand of bawdy humor, hilarious pop culture and sexual references combined with the right amount of gratuitous nudity and bodily functions is reminiscent of the great comic genius of Mel Brooks and the writing team of Abrahams & Zucker.
Beerfest is the latest Broken Lizard film behind Super Troopers and Club Dread. The critics ripped Club Dread as a failure, but as a horror fan I found entertainment in the on-screen antics of it's cast and am appreciative of their comic take on the slasher genre. They cover all the proverbial bases and clichés, delivering a lot of laughs along the way. Super Troopers is an essential for any comic collection, and Beerfest runs a close second. I dare say Super Troopers and Beerfest are by far the best comedies of their generation.
Beerfest is the Animal House of this decade. An homage to beer and every beer drinking game ever invented, Broken Lizard's chug-a-licious romp through the fictional, secret society behind Oktoberfest reaches Fight Club proportion as their US team faces off against the Germans to regain their heritage to the Wolfhausen Brewery throne. Guest appearances by Chloris Leachman, Mo'Nique and Jurgen Prochnow lend hilarity to the Broken Lizard team--especially Prochnow, Das Boot references in tow! I highly recommend buying the DVD. Extras include a comic lesson on the history of beer, and you'll enjoy the commentary behind the film. I'll put the genius of Broken Lizard up against any of their peers working today in comedy today. They literally blow away the competition on any playing field!
The Descent (2005)
An Homage to Great Horror
Neil Marshall is someone Hollywood horror movie makers should pay attention to. He managed in Dog Soldiers to make arguably the first believable, action-packed, modern werewolf film (the werewolves themselves were even realistic-great costumes!) and in Descent he manages to make you care about a bunch of girls who go spelunking and get eaten by blind, slimy cave crawlers.
Missing in a lot of low-budget horror, however good the scripts may be, is the elements of good film/video quality and good acting. The Descent has both. Marshall takes you right into the action from the very beginning, and takes plenty of time (but not too much) getting to know the characters. The jumpy moments aren't cued by the film score, and they're never when or what you expect. There's plenty of suspense and the sense of claustrophobia is so unbearable I had to let go of my fiancé's hand just to give myself some room to breathe.
People were literally screaming in the theatre--always a good sign. I saw the US release and liked the ending, though I've read conflicting reviews here that the UK ending was better. I also feel there are a lot of homages buried in the film. Elements of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Deliverance, Carrie, Apocalypse Now are obvious...other scenes (the hospital) are eerily familiar and effective.
The only thing I would have liked for Marshall to have done differently is to set the film in Europe where it was filmed. I mean, come on. Can't inbred cave crawlers exist ANYWHERE in the world but in Appalachia? As a native of the region, I'm a bit tired of the stereotype. I mean, how in the world would a hot group of adventurous British babes ever find their way to the back woods of North Carolina? It would never happen. I'm just glad there were no banjos pickin' in the background.
An American Haunting (2005)
Hollywood CROSSES THE LINE
I don't know how many of you have seen the movie An American Haunting, but I've read a lot of reviews to the negative in here and I wanted to let you guys know that true believers in the Bell Witch are pretty upset about this movie.
(((((SPOILER ALERT!!!!!!!!!))))) As a Tennessee native, the legend of the Bell Witch was more than a campfire tale designed to keep kids up at night. To this day, her legend is documented as fact among local residents and beyond. Even one American President, Andrew Jackson, was so terrified by The Bell Witch that he fled the little town of Adams in a panic. This is a FACT documented by historians. Jackson said of his encounter "I'd rather fight the entire British Army than to ever deal with The Bell Witch." In the film An American Haunting, Hollywood chose to ignore historical documentation of the paranormal activity surrounding John Bell and his family--instead choosing to label John Bell as a child molester. The film accuses a family member of John Bell's poisoning and ignores all the stories of public accounts of The Bell Witch's presence at the Bell farm and at the site of his grave where the Witch could be heard cackling and singing at his burial by a crowd of mourners--not just family.
If you so choose, check out the website http://www.bellwitch.org/story.htm and see for yourself the facts of this terrifying story and don't waste your time or money seeing An American Haunting.
As horror fans, I assume you love a good ghost story and this one--to this day--I believe is true. YOu don't have to believe, but I urge you to study up on The Bell Witch and tell me if you think her legend is deserving of such an unflinchingly cheap and tacked on Hollywood ending based on nothing but the filmmaker's own personal disbelief. They've completely ruined a legend that has been around for centuries and will go down in my own personal history of 'best ghost stories ever told'!
Silent Hill (2006)
Fans of the Game will Be Pleased
True disciples of the Silent Hill video game revolution will gleefully immerse themselves in the film and it's haunting visuals, and perhaps come away with better understanding of a plot which I felt was muddied by the horrific creepiness of gameplay. After reading Roger Ebert's review of Silent Hill, the film, I'm convinced that people who are not gamers may not get it.
There's been a rash of movie releases taken from popular video games, like the Resident Evil series and House of the Dead. House of the Dead, the movie, is as boring as the first person shooter on your console at home. Resident Evil was much more entertaining, turning the game into a less creepy action film. Silent Hill is the perfect combination of gore and creepiness and stays true to the game, down to some of the most horrific creatures I've ever attempted to kill on PlayStation2. Problem is, some of their creepiness is lost on the movie because movie goers won't get the same rush gamers do in the midst of battling deformed nurses or giant, musclebound creatures with big machetes.
Silent Hill's dialogue and the reaction and action of the actors in the film was as benign and unbelievable as the characters in the games. This is something the producers could have managed to beef up to make the film more terrifying and believable. While trying to stay true to the game, the film took the very element an interactive game usually lacks-actor believability- and did little to enhance it. Silent Hill, the movie, would have received a higher rating for me if the actors were allowed to show as much horror and disbelief as a gamer gets when they play the game.
If you're a fan of horror, you have to see this movie. The effects and the insane plot are enough to keep your interest. But to truly appreciate the film, I think you should play the games first. I swear, I couldn't play them alone.
This One's a Real STINKER!
Saying this film was so bad it was good would be wrong. It's terrible. But in my defense, I'm a huge fan of bad horror and potty humor. Just can't resist. It was only natural that I should pick up this little turd of a flick at my video store purely for the title and it's cover.
As the film begins a cute little blonde girl is asking her father to tell her a bedtime story. Instead, he asks her to tell him one. Her tale begins in the setting of a little place called Butte County (get it?) where a science experiment goes very wrong. Born is the giant Turd Monster (long story short) that craps all over everyone in its path. The monster itself resembles little piles of fake rubber doggy-doo all glued together! The movie isn't hilarious, but I laughed in spite of myself. It's in the vein of "Redneck Zombies", but not nearly as funny. Monsturd isn't a Troma flick, but it should be!
This is a gross-out flick, pure and simple. Don't expect too much and you won't be disappointed.
Fear of the Dark (2003)
Major Childhood Drama Brought to Life!
The gist is, there's this kid who is afraid of the dark. He sees things in the dark that others do not. What culminates from his fear is one of those 'dark and stormy night' scenarios with some very intense moments loaded with suspense.
It's an excellent play on everyone's favorite childhood drama (including the Closet Monster) and the devisive measures kids take to ensure late-night safety (stay completely tucked in). I dare say the evils that await him in the pitch of night are genuinely creative and pretty darn threatening. There are some jumpy moments that renewed my faith in screenwriters and directors of the modern horror genre. I strongly urge all horror geeks to check into this one, even if you don't think it's your cup of tea. It will literally take you back to that time in place in your life when a pile of clothes in the corner of your bedroom was as threatening as the schoolyard bully--only worse!
Sure, this is not a perfect movie but it beats the heck out of the boring horror drivel that's being released these days in theaters. Why this 2002 film was so overlooked is a mystery to me. It was 1,000 times better than 'Darkness Falls' or 'They' and doesn't even compare to crappy films like 'Cabin Fever' or 'House of the Dead'. I checked this one out at a local Blockbuster and if you like things that go bump in the night, you should too!
House of the Dead (2003)
(spoils) You'll run screaming from the theatre...
...to demand your money back.
House of the Dead is the most ridiculous movie I've ever had the pleasure of mocking. So much is wrong with this movie, I don't even know where to begin.
These kids all go to an island for a rave, get there and the place has been ransacked and there are no people anywhere. Is there one shred of concern for the missing partygoers by the latecomers? Not a bit. As a matter of fact, when zombies start killing people off, there's even less concern. The performances of the young actors are flat and uninspiring, you don't have any sympathy for their plight. The main 'ghoul' in the film doesn't even show up until the very end and what could have been an interesting plot is a ludicrous script with flashes of video game imagery and lots of firepower.
The entire time the outnumbered partiers are racing about trying to escape this Godforesaken flick, not one tear is shed or one genuine scream released. If zombies were chasing you, I think you'd care just a wee bit more about the reality of your situation. One dramatic scene comes when the policewoman has her legs chewed off by zombies while the male lead is dragging her through a window. He offers a half-assed guilty speech on the uselessness of his lifesaving effort. Maybe his performance falls on its face because the rest of the material is so sucky, but really the speech comes too late for anyone to care.
Do not spend any money to see this film. Do not wait for it on cable because you'll never get those 90 minutes of your life back. If you want to see an effective zombie flick, you're better off with 28 Days Later or one of the classics such as 'Dawn of the Dead'. But take this stinker off your curiosity radar...destroy the urge and forget this title exists and you'll lead a richer life.
It's a big, fat stinker.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)
Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Revised
As I'm writing this it is just ten days away from Halloween, my favorite holiday of the entire year. Each weekend in October for me is spent perusing the aisles in my local video store for great horror titles or anxiously awaiting the release of a good horror movie. Usually I'm very disappointed with Halloween releases because they do not often include horror films. This year, however, the remake of Texas Chainsaw Massacre was the only worthwhile horror movie in theatres anywhere.
I generally scorn and mock re-makes especially of classics like TCM, but in this case will make an exception. After sitting through the nauseating House of the Dead and an excruciating rental of Wrong Turn, I'm giving the revised TCM a thumbs up for gore, violence and all around good tension. I also happened to check it out at the drive-in, the ONLY place to view such a trashy horror flick. I have a feeling the slick visuals would have played over the top in theatres. But on the outdoor screen, listening through tinny drive-in speakers, I found my experience to be quite what I'd been looking for this Halloween season.
Now for the tally. First off, the new TCM lacks in originality, as all re-makes and sequels do, and points should be taken away immediately for that. It features WB actors, subtract more points. The film is not shot on 16mm, like the original, so the scenes looked more comfortable than not for the actors. Again with the subtraction. They also give us a pathetic back story of Leatherface and show us what he looks like underneath. One should NEVER identify with, or pity Leatherface. It's just plain wrong. Removing more points.
After hearing director's commentary for the first (and greatest) TCM, we know shooting in the Texas heat was hell for everyone on set. The extreme conditions intensified performances and added genuine sweat to the brows of the actors. TCM 'The Revision' never ceases to remind us that the lovely Jessica Biel is probably offset between takes sipping Evian and doing stomach crunches. The camera can't get over her incredible physique and loves shooting her in longshot. Seriously, if those low-rise jeans got any lower we'd know her as well as her own gynecologist. But keep up those crunches Jess, because YOU are lookin' GOOD, girl!
But this leads me to a subject now near and dear to my heart. There's a new phenomena in Hollywood; apparently it is illegal to show a woman as powerless. Perhaps it's due to the criticism of feminists all over the planet who aren't so thrilled with Hollywood's victimization of women. They think now in every film, women should reign supreme and all-powerful when in reality, this is often not the case. I wish folks with these ideals would leave the horror industry alone, because they're ruining the entire idea of what terror is all about. There HAS to be a victim in horror films or there is no fright. Does it matter if the woman is the victim? Who cares? Leatherface does not discriminate, people! Hollywood is intent now on showing women as extraordinarily unbelievable heroic figures on principal, tragically crippling the horror movie industry. Women, in life, ARE victims of MANY, MANY tragedies. So are old ladies and babies. Not everyone out there kick-boxes, yo! Jessica Biel's character's ability to hotwire a car and outsmart Leatherface makes this remake a lesser movie. The character seems more contrived and the action less frightening because we know she'll make it in the end. Where's the horror in that? Subtract even more points for this politically correct bull. If feminists are so concerned with women's roles in films, why aren't they policing the porn industry where their help is really needed.
The greatest thing about the original TCM was the extreme terror-stricken performance of Marilyn Burns. Her Sally ran circles around Biel's character in sheer essence. You felt Sally's fear because you identified with her. She seemed to be an ordinary person in an incredibly surreal situation. You could identify with her plight. Trust me, if Leatherface was chasing you would you honestly lure him to your hiding place thinking a butcher knife would would protect you against a CHAINSAW? Cha-ching, robbing more points.
With all this aside, I can't give the movie a bad review. This revised version of Texas Chainsaw Massacre offered up enough gore and chills to hold my interest. It played great at the drive-in on a Friday night. It will never be as great as the classic, but the story--even told a second time--is so insane you want to hear it again. So watching a newer version was not so bad. It was what's great about drive-in movies. It will never be the original, but it's much better than a lot of the other crap Hollywood's trying to pass off as horror these days, so go ahead. Cheat your principals and see it.
If you look back on his career, you'll notice a cinematic pattern in the directoral choices of Adrian Lyne. 'Lolita', 'Indecent Proposal' 'Fatal Attraction', '9 1/2 Weeks' all share the same core themes of sex, obsession and consequence. Upon deeper observation, perhaps Lyne's own attitudes towards sex and relationships are revealed, along with what would appear to be a vehement distrust of women.
What these films are really about is power and it's possessor. The one who would appear to have it would be the strong and sexually charged femme fatale who has set out to control and destroy the heart/family/career of her male lead. However, it is the male who ultimately prevails, any shadow of guilt cast upon his character consequentially forgiven in light of his strife caused by the evils that women do. 'Unfaithful' doesn't veer far off the mark.
On the surface Edward and Connie Sumner, played by Richard Gere and Diane Lane, appear to be a happily married couple. Indications that their 11-year marriage is headed south isn't detailed, only eluded to as we witness Connie's hectic morning ritual. Maybe she is not so much unhappy, but a bored suburbanite in need of a little excitement. A chance meeting with a smoldering French book dealer gives her all that and more as they enjoy hot, sweaty monkey sex all over the city. These scenes are the only ones of value in the entire film.
It was the early 80's when the lovely Diane Lane first caught our attention. After her portrayal as the virginal Cherry Valance in 'The Outsiders', she went on to star in a couple more time capsule favorites of that era including 'Rumblefish' and 'Streets of Fire'. Though she worked steadily for the next two decades, it wasn't until 'Unfaithful' that she achieved the attention she has worked so hard to achieve.
As uncomfortable as you'd think it would be to shoot a sex scene, Ms. Lane is flawless. You see her character at first as vulnerable, then brazen, caught up in the throws of her affair. Watching her, the expression in Lane's face reveals so much more about her character's inner struggle than her dialogue. Her first sexual encounter with the Frenchman literally had her shuddering. This scene in particular transcended the screen and shook me as well. The potency and strength of her performance is deserving of an Oscar, even if the film itself doesn't.
I honestly fell asleep three nights in a row trying to finish this movie. There was not enough suspense between the sex to keep me enthralled. We know the gig is up once Edward catches Connie in a lie and hires a private investigator (a nice cameo appearance by Dominick Chianese of 'The Soprano's'). But the rest of this film doesn't solve the mystery of the affair for Edward. I would have been more satisfied if the movie revealed more of the characters themselves instead of ditching the intimacy for an easy ending. If the ending had been more realistic, 'Unfaithful' would have dared to delve into the core of human emotion to see what we find. Instead, the writers chose a predictable ending the rest of the film did not deserve.
Of all Adrian Lyne's films, I would have to say I enjoyed 'Jacob's Ladder' the most. Though it was more surrealistic than his usual psychological thriller, it had substance. 'Unfaithful' contains none.