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King of the Lost World (2005)
Have to love The Asylum
If there is a Hollywood blockbuster looming on the horizon, it is guaranteed there is an Asylum rip off already stocked at your local video store. Just look for any cover that hopes to ride the coattails of whatever is currently playing in theaters, and it is practically a given that the Asylum produced it. Not to say that this practice is necessarily a bad thing. Where would Fulci's Zombie have been if not for Romero's Dawn of the Dead? But it is the consistency and frequency that the Asylum cranks out these rip offs without any true artistry, integrity, or even any value for the genre. For example, if not for Jaws, Corman would have never produced Pirahna. But, whereas Pirahna was created as a fun, tongue in cheek, little thriller that knew to cleverly mock its source material all the while winking at the audience, the good folks at the Asylum only wish to cash in and worry about product quality later...much later. which brings us to King of the Lost World. Seeking inspiration from the dual sources of Doyle and Jackson, this film falls amazingly flat, real fast. Lacking any coherence, intelligence, and sophistication, the film plods along unveiling each special effect without anything really special. As for production value, the filmmakers really didn't care, since they were probably scouring the most recent issue of the Hollywood Reporter for their latest inspiration. Dull, cheap, and thoroughly boring, the only time this film attempts to wink at the audience is in the hopes that you'll come back for the Asylum's next feature.
Ghost Lake (2004)
Good Premise, Decent Chills
Sometimes it is not necessarily the budget, but what can be accomplished on a meager budget. Ghost Lake demonstrates that the filmmakers do not need a huge budget to pull off scares, chills, and atmosphere. While the overall film does somewhat suffer from the usual low budget deficiencies, its merits definitely shine through. From great camera work to excellent make-up effects, Ghost Lake is a fun filled ride that demonstrates to all independent filmmakers that ambition, creativity, and imagination certainly go a long, long way. Let's hope we see more of this type of caliber in the do it yourself independent world.
Zombi 2 (1979)
Great Gore with No Style
Fulci has proved that he was a revolutionary filmmaker, but of somewhat dubious talent. The Italian maestro presents his second masterpiece here, second to the watershed The Beyond. But whereas The Beyond reveled in surrealistic imagery and occurrences, Zombie tends to root itself more into realism. Not that it loses any momentum or power from this, the wooden stick thru the eye is especially deadly because of this. But here is also the problem, while it is great shock value, there is little emotional resonance. Actually, it makes you wish Fulci had a sense of style...well any style. But there is still much to enjoy here. The gore is plentiful, graphic, and sometimes painful to watch. Fulci's camera never blinks away from the mayhem, not even for a second, but I bet, many other viewers will!
Cool Beginning, More of the Same
What started out as something we have all seen before only quickly added a few threads hinting at something we wanted desperately to see more of before running out of steam and grinding gears into something...we have all seen before. Not that Texas Chainsaw Massacre The Beginning is all that bad. It actually does everything quite well and bloody. Just that it is not all that original, and it has been done better before. In a year that has brought us several backwoods frighfests (remember Hills Have Eyes redux), TCMTB should have stood head and shoulders above the rest in presenting the formation of one of the genre's and cinema's most endearing and long lasting icons. Instead we get snippets of what was already hinted at in the last remake. Not to say that this sub genre has run out of gas, I mean its humble origins have always been about a madman, a lady, and a power tool with little or no else set up, but fans want and deserve more. Only slicking up the proceedings is akin to dressing up left overs: no matter what you do, it is still yesterday's meal. Here's hoping that the talented team of this entry returns, freshly challenged, to create something as subversive and cutting as the original...the 1974 version that is!
Satan's Playground (2006)
Great Cinematography and Style
Satan's Playground is a rare American feature in that it has more in common with its European brethren. Stylistically it is a beautiful nightmare that is on par with the best of Argento and Bava. Story wise...it is a beautiful nightmare. Perhaps that is where its charm lies. As with the best European and more specifically Italian horror films it is required that the viewer ease back and just enjoy the onslaught of cinematic pyrotechnics. Satan's Playground is just the same. While it flourishes with an overdose of great camera work and colors it is somewhat hampered by narrative. Argento couldn't be prouder. Step into Satan's Playground for the spectacle, not the substance and you will not be disappointed. For everyone else, they just don't get it.
Great Concept, Great Execution
No pun intended but the execution of this film is astounding. From a concept that may appear to be questionable, the filmmakers have rung every ounce and potential of comedic and horrific moments from the material while creating a new sub genre. Always compelling, Behind the Mask is the post modern equivalent of Freddy's New Nightmare. And speaking of which, it showcases Robert Englund's best performance ever and quickly lets us forget about his turn in 2001 Maniacs. The Screamfest Horror Festival was incredible this year with presenting such great and original titles that need mainstream audiences, like BTM, Hatchet, Fallen Angels, and Automation Transfusion. Here's to more subversive films from the BTM team and hoping that they continue to reinvent and discover more sub genres. An excellent effort with great suspense, kills, and acting. All horror and slashers fans need to seek this out. Plus, the cinematography perfectly compliments the mockumentary scenario while giving everything a professional sheen that must betray its somewhat humble origins. Great Stuff.
Fallen Angels (2006)
Fallen Angels is an unusual horror film. It moves fast, has demons and cool kills, quite a few actually, and immerses you in a great story. With Screamfest you have to appreciate the wide range of films that are all in one genre but yet span so many differences. Hatchet plays like an original 80s slasher film with style and wit, Feast is an awesome monster romp, and Behind the Mask was a great mockumentary. Bringing me to the new Fallen Angels, a very creepy and elaborate demon movie with a great cast, featuring all the genre greats, and an even better story. From the start, I didn't know what I was watching as the film moved from one location to the next introducing themes and characters that ultimately all tie together in a very satisfying and original ending. The effects are awesome, Bill Moseley did rock! in a very different role for him, and all the actors fleshed out characters that are different from what we normally see as cannon fodder in films. Plus, the main location of the prison is both breath taking and chilling. My only complaint is with the score. Sometimes overbearing, is is somewhat powerful but very overpowering, sometimes less is more guys. At times sexy (love the dominatrix) and at times scary (love the Bill Moseley vs. Kane Hodder scene), Fallen Angels is always rewarding for telling a great story with cool creatures. The final frames are very unusual for the genre but provide a great cinematic experience.
Old School, YES!
Viewing Hatchet will leave a lump of pride in any horror fans throat. It hearkens back to the old, glory days on the slasher film without appearing to be worn, gutted, tired, or redundant. The film adds comtemporary sensibilities while twisting the old clichés. Plus it is always fun to see Kane Hodder out from behind the mask, and in the case of this screening at Screamfest, out in front of the audience. Watching Hatchet proves Hodder can actually act and not just swing a machete, although the crown for that is still firmly on his head. Here's hoping to seeing more of Hodder in more leading roles. Kills in Hatchet are bountiful, the effects are violent, and the blood spills. But the best fun is in maintaining the spirit of the slasher without pandering to the audience or more specifically horror fans. Bottom line: cool kills, fun film! Here's hoping that that hatchet will be picked up and given the theatrical distribution it deserves. And with a word of caution, perhaps even a sequel...
Sorry to say I missed Slither earlier in theaters, but glad to say I caught it at Screamfest. The film just rocks. It is a great mixture of many things and never slows down for a minute. While easily like Night of the Creeps, Slither captures all the essence of what made that film so memorable and catapulted it to cult status. I have a feeling in time Slither will be better appreciated and soon claim its crown as a cult film. Whereas NOTC was a great 80s film, Slither is more polished and produced for a better budget, greatly adding in accomplishing thrills, chills, slick creatures, and cool camp. If you missed it, buy the DVD. While going for both the jugular and the funny bone, Slither is a film that rarely succeeds in combining the two. In fact I have not seen a film that has so successfully combined the humor with chills since the original Return of the Living Dead. Horror fans need to support more films like this so that the current resurgence in this genre stays fresh, exciting, and groundbreaking; many of the attributes that are contained within Slither.
Awesome Monster Flick
While short on brains and very loooong on brawn, Feast is an awesome and exciting exercise in monster mayhem, guts, goo, and exceptional violence. Perhaps the best film that should have been adapted from a video game. Any filmmakers attempting to translate video games to the screen need to check out Feast. While the story is just a bare bones excuse to execute the action (and much of the cast), it is definitely an exercise in style over substance that moves fast and furiously enough to make you overlook any shortcomings. The kills are mean, the blood spills, and the creatures always look awesome. Only if Project Greenlight had created more like this...