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For Fans of Exploitation
When compared to modern studio horror offerings, which often miss the point of the films they were inspired by, Jacob Ennis has encapsulated the exploitation films that inspires him perfectly. Much like 1972's "Last House on the Left" or Al Adamson's "I Spit on Your Corpse" Ennis creates an all too real universe of white trash, brutal violence, and backwoods sensibilities. Of course this is often missed by reviewers who would say, "How dare you compare this to 'Last House'?", the same reviewers who idolize "Last House" not because they understand it but because they believe that by worshiping this film they are to be counted among "real" horror fans.
It is obvious when watching this film that Ennis understands what made "Last House" work. Ennis will only grow as a filmmaker. For those who understand "Stash" and why it has been embraced by G4, Fangoria, and independent horror fans, we will no doubt see great things from Ennis in the future.
If you're expecting the same PG-13, sanitized, studio crap that's being released en masse by Hollywood or the supposedly "shocking" horror of Eli Roth films, then you're likely to be disappointed by Ennis' outstanding throwback to an age when exploitation was not a trend to be embraced by "wanna be" horror fans but by those who "got it" and those who understand that low budget cinema is far more true an art form than what a studio film can provide.
13 Seconds (2003)
A Rhapsody in Grue
The horror genre in general tends to be cyclical in nature. For the last few years I, for one, have been waiting with baited breath to see who will be the next Craven, the next Carpenter, the next Romero or Hooper. Who will bring the next wave of horror to this generation? The answer can easily be found in 13 Seconds, the first full-length feature video release by Jeff Thomas.
The story, which seems secondary until the end, revolves around 'Night Gallery', a rock band, who makes the poor decision to record in an abandoned private school. Before we even get a chance to question the character's logic the movie keeps rolling into a miasma of disembodied voices, bizarre shadows roaming the hallway, and other gruesome surprises. The plot continues to move along at a pace where by the time we think we've figured out what is going on something new is thrown at us at a nightmarish, disjointed pace. Sure, the plot contains a few inconsistencies but by the time we've noticed them we're moving along to the next nasty surprise. By the time the credits roll the plot has wrapped itself up into a nice, tight, unusually satisfying finale that does what few modern mainstream efforts force us to do: Think. During those final credits I sat stunned knowing that I had seen the beginning of the next wave of modern horror.
That being said, this film isn't perfect. The acting does tend toward the wooden side. At times when I would have been s***ting my pants, crying like a little girl, and creating a large Reaper sized hole in the brick wall the characters tend to accept their fate in a surprisingly calm manner. But that's easy to forgive when you're immersed in an authentically creepy world filled with fog, shadows, and a lot of, lot of, lot of blood being splattered against the walls, dripping on the floor, and pouring out of the more unfortunate characters. In fact, if the acting is wooden the photography is absolutely double jointed.
Director and star Jeff Thomas knows what he wants to see and I loved it! The atmosphere is perfect and each shot is like viewing a gallery of grande guingol artwork piece by piece. At worst the shots are interesting and at best they are absolutely terrifying. From a technical standpoint 13 Seconds delivers in a way not seen since the heyday of Mario Bava. The light and art design is secondary to the way that Thomas utilizes those devices in a way that caresses every separate frame creating some of the creepiest imagery ever captured on film. Every scene is shot in a way that enraptures the audience and dares them to look away from the screen.
A film like 13 Seconds has been a long time coming as the nostalgia for the films of twenty years ago spring forth a new generation of horror. When asking whom the next John Carpenter is, the next West Craven is, the next George Romero is I honestly cannot answer. However, ask me who the next great horror filmmaker will be and I will, without hesitation answer Jeff Thomas. While Freddy brings the laughs, Jason brings the muscle, and Leatherface brings the intensity, there is a young director out there who will bring the nightmares for many more years to come. 13 Seconds is brilliant, beautiful, and mindblowing. Welcome to the new age of horror!
Freddy vs. Jason (2003)
10 years! Worth the Wait!
Freddy Vs. Jason
Okay, I'm sure anybody who has paid any attention to my previous reviews saw this review coming. Ever since 1981 the name of Jason Voorhees has been iconoclastic in the pop culture world; in 1984 another boogeyman joined the fray by giving us nightmares not to be believed. Freddy Krueger has also long been part of our cultural consciousness. In 1993 a teaser ending in the ninth Friday the 13th film let America know that these two would eventually come face to face. After ten years horror fans came face to face with two of the most recognizable personas in film history and the result is a horror fans dream. The film begins with Freddy's trademark wisecracking narration giving his backstory while setting us up for the plot of this film. The audience is then transported to modern day Elm St. where Freddy has, through dreams, resurrected Jason from his grave to kill and remind Elm St. of the boogeyman they have long tried to forget. As the townspeople begin to fear that Freddy has come back the gloved one becomes more and more powerful, primed for a comeback. Here we meet some stock teen characters that we are sure are only cannon fodder as Jason and Freddy leave a trail of bodies that the other entries in the film cannot compete with. As Jason continues being a one man wrecking machine Freddy becomes jealous and the inevitable showdown slowly begins. That's pretty much the story. There's a little more to it but by the end of the film you won't really care. Here's what you'll care about: Freddy and Jason beat each other up beyond the point of death and the fight is like none other. Yes, there are regular humans that tip the scales in favor of one or the other but by that point it really doesn't matter.
The direction by Ronny Yu (Bride of Chucky) is phenomenal. His method of directing is cutting edge while never eschewing the old tricks that fans have grown to love. The acting is serviceable with several of the modern young actors filling the parts of victims; this includes Jason Ritter (son of John), Katharine Isabelle (Ginger Snaps, Insomnia), and Kelly Rowland from Destiny's Child. But the two we really care about is Robert England as Freddy and Ken Kirzinger as Jason. England doesn't let us down as he steps into a character he knows well; Freddy is back but this time is a little more malicious, a little more evil than we've seen him before. Ken Kirzinger, donning the hockey mask for the first time, is a force to be reckoned with. After taking over the part from Kane Hodder (F13 7,8,9,10) Kirzinger makes fans realize that Jason is worthy of someone who understands the character. While it may seem that Jason is only a mindless, zombie killing machine Kirzinger brings new dimensions to a character whose story has oft been told. Both of them remind horror fans of what drew them to the genre in the first place. The screenplay, when dealing with the teen characters is the usual teen banter but the story brings both backstories to life in a way that audiences have rarely seen. By the middle of the film it becomes clear as to who the real villain of the film is and it's just a matter of who to cheer for in the final moments. I'm usually pretty tough on movies; I'm a hard man to please, so Freddy Vs. Jason not only met my expectations but exceeded them exquisitely. This film has everything we've come to expect but bigger, better, and bloodier than it's ever been before.
Die Another Day (2002)
The Best of Bond!
Die Another Day By: Ron Blair
Forty years ago Sean Connery donned the Christian Dior tuxedo, pocketed his Walther PPK handgun, and saved the world from Dr. No. Thus began the world's love affair with Britain's most famous Double 0 agent, James Bond. One might think that forty years, five Bonds (not counting David Niven in `Casino Royale'), twenty films, and countless adventures later that the wheels that turn the Bond franchise may have grown a little rusty but nothing could be further from the truth. If anything, James Bond continues to be the quintessential hero, the physical embodiment of `cool'.
The film opens in modern day Korea where Bond makes a spectacular entrance to tangle with an arms dealer. A few nice twists and turns later Bond finds himself a prisoner of the Korean nation for over a year. He is finally traded for the very man he thought he had killed during the prologue and told in no uncertain terms by `M', played with a great deal of restraint by Dame Judy Dench, that he is no longer working for The United Kingdom. For only the second time in Bond's history he goes out on his own to infiltrate the bad guys. The usual amount of espionage and intrigue follows but not in the usual way. James Bond has truly grown into the technological age while still retaining his suave attitude. Also adding to the mix is Jinx, an American agent played by Halle Berry. Berry plays Jinx with more flair than any of the previous Bond girls put together. She is not only the eye candy that one comes to expect from a Bond movie but adds to the plot in such a way that no future Bond girl can expect to compete with. The script, written by Neil Purvis and Robert Wade, is ingenious in bringing the Bond movies to the new millennium. Every element that made the old Bond movies great are here but they bring a new sense of vitality to a series that previously had begun to show it's age. The story is filled with heart stopping moments, clever dialogue, and some twists that will leave the viewer astounded. `Die Another Day' is what we've come to expect from a Bond movie and is still nothing like what we would have expected. `Die Another Day' is a superior addition to an already excellent series.
Darkness Falls (2003)
The commercials for Darkness Falls were impressive: A little Boy in peril, an old legend brought to life, and a once spurned hero with a connection to the villain. Wow! What a great commercial! What a great premise! What a waste of 75 minutes of my life! That's right, 75 minutes with almost 11 minutes of end credits. Aside from the lack of a true, full length film, as it were, the film just comes short of the mark. It feels sloppy and seems as if the filmmakers just put enough work into it to make it suitable for release. Darkness Falls looks as if at one time there was a strong movie there. The legend it's based on is interesting and the backstory of the hero is also fascinating with the first ten minutes both creepy and sympathetic of it's main character. However, when the movie propels us to the present time the plot takes a down turn. As the movie moves forward the plot holes begin to widen and toward the end the gaffes begin to become blatant and even overt, although I can't imagine why a filmmaker would allow his film to be treated this way. On the plus side, the performances, for the most part, were top notch. The acting is believable in unbelievable circumstances. The production values are excellent with dark corridors and atmospheric locations. The dialogue is clever and the actors bring that across with a great deal of energy. But a discerning viewer will not be able to get past the amateurish problems plaguing this production. There are unforgivable problems with the logic of the film such as one character finds a numbered key while trapped in a dark room. This is just one of several logical errors that marred this production. One can obviously tell that the resources for producing this movie were available and then squandered with a great deal of laisse-faire. In a genre film such as this the filmmakers always ask the audience to suspend their disbelief but in this case that would be an insurmountable task. Darkness Falls short.
The Pitts (2003)
Just Don't Get It
Okay, maybe I'm just not smart enough or maybe nobody has let me in on the joke yet. I understand that they are purposefully making a bad t.v. show; it's that stupid on purpose. I get that. But why?
Remember Yes, Dear? Did you love that one? Did you love Small Wonder? The Pitts is much similar to both in the fact that they all three are incredibly, mind-boggingly stupid. What a great premise that doesn't need the gimmick of being purposefully stupid. But it just doesn't work. The shame of it is, they could be reaching a far greater demographic by keeping the quirkiness and doing away with the moronic, vaudvillesque humor.
With such a talented cast and crew it's obvious that this has the potential for being a hilarious, groundbreaking comedy show. Instead I believe some poor decisions were made in the writing department. Also, it maintains that it was filmed with a live studio audience; that leads me to wonder whether or not the audience is in the studio but watching something funny like Andy Richter Rules the Universe(which The Pitts replaced).
It seems the only thing The Pitts has achieved in doing is dared some poor reviewer out there to look like an idiot by saying, "The Pitts is The Pitts." Then again, maybe somebody at Fox lost a bet. Either way, The Pitts is............................crap.
What fools they be...
Peter Jackson is, without a doubt, one of the most talented directors to emerge in the last ten years. Now, I mean this sincerely. How could he not be? He fooled a greater majority of horror fans and critics into thinking this was entertaining.
I have no aversion to blood, pus, viscous, or other bodily fluids. I'm not even too averse to comedy in horror films as long as the balance is obvious. But this film is both horror and comedy to the extent that it confuses itself as to which one it is. The special effects are superb, the performances are noteworthy, but the film as a whole is an empty shell surrounded by outlandish gore and ridiculous comedy.
This film accomplishes nothing more than pushing the envelope of entertainment by going so over the top with it's gore and gross out gags. Pushing the envelope is never a bad thing but when the envelope that is being pushed is good taste then is the film in question really worth while?
Don't get me wrong. I love horror films and sometimes it's okay for a movie to not say anything but when it's as outlandish as this then some substance should be added in as it was in Meet the Feebles. But this is just pointless refuse meant only to shock, offend, and fool people into thinking they've seen a classic.
Sorry Peter, but you didn't fool me.
Jason X (2001)
X-cruciating to sit through
I love Jason Voorhees. Ever since he stalked a whole gaggle of camp counselors in Friday the 13th Part 2 I have felt an affinity for Jason Voorhees. He's big, he's stupid, he uses a machete and whatever tools he can find. What's not to love about this big lug? Oh that's right, his last four movies sucked!!!!
When I heard they were putting Jason in space I was upset but the director said in an article that the fans should enjoy it. He was aware of how stupid the idea sounded but felt like he could do something with it. So I said, "Okay. I'll give it a chance." I would have been better off if the director had said, "Eat lye. It's not so bad."
This film takes place five hundred years after the last one. A group of scientists were cryogenically freezing Jason and in the imminent melee that follows whenever a group of scientist attempt to do something stupid, Jason and one of his detractors are frozen together. Five hundred years later they are thawed out and more destruction by Jason ensues.
I must say, the special effects that follow are top notch and some of the performances are quite good (although not good enough to get a mention here). But, while everything seemed solid the film as a whole still seemed to be a sanitized version of the same old thing. Yes, they do find a way for Jason to just open up his own special form of savagery on a number of people but for what?
After sitting through this I realized that my Jason was gone. Any interesting idea (3-D, raising him from the grave) are now gone to the way of modernized crap. It's better looking crap, wrapped in a prettier package, but no matter what you do with it, it's still crap. A poor idea should be left alone. The director must have felt he was better than he really is if he thought he could make something useful out of this mess.
It's not a good time, it's not a hoot, and it's certainly not thought provoking. It's Jason, and he should have been put out of commision a long time ago.
Dawn of the Dead (1978)
When there is no more room in hell a great movie will be made!
Okay, this movie is dated. I mean really dated, from the original score to the look of the mall. And that's the only negative thing I can say about this film.
George Romero, one of the most underrated modern directors, created a story that puts you there in the mall just as he put you in the farmhouse almost ten years before. But he does so much more than that. He makes us think about the situation he has put Gaylen Ross, David Emgee, Scott Reineger, and the unforgettable Ken Foree into. These four people dominate the greater parts of the film and hold the movie tightly together with their performances. Scott Reineger is remarkable, especially when his character is dying and appeals to Peter (Ken Foree) to kill him if he turns and states that he will try not to come back after he dies. During the scene where Peter must kill Reineger a scientist, on the television, declares that the population that has been left must stay unemotional and reminds those watching that these things are no longer our loved ones but mindless creatures seperate from our own species. This scene is one of the finest scenes in horror film history. But that is only one.
The script is expertly written bringing horror, comedy, and social commentary together. This film touches a nerve explaining that the zombies come to the mall because that's what they know, it was an important place to them when they were alive. This statement speaks volumes about our society and even foretells what our society will become. A bunch of zombies, seperated from one another emotionally, single minded of purpose, and only acting on instinct.
Each frame of this film is a piece of art; each scene serves it's purpose in creating tension, propelling the story, or just flat out taking us on an emotional roller coaster.
Compare this film to any other zombie film and you will find that all others simply go for the gore or attempt to shock. Dawn of the Dead not only accomplishes these things but does so much more. The characters become friends that we care about, the zombies are not just mindless creatures but each costume tells a story about who that person used to be. Dawn of the Dead reaches out to us on an emotional and personal level making us fear everything we once loved.
George Romero creates a world that terrifies us merely by showing us a reflection of ourselves.
The Hills Have Eyes (1977)
We are all savages
Films about survival in the face of both human and natural adversity tend to interest us on a primal level. That's why I find this film so fascinating. A family traveling through the desert in the south-western part of the country are sidetracked by a flat tire near an abandoned Air Force outpost. They are besieged by a tribe of cannibals who survive by killing and eating any trespassers. From that point on the movie takes off into a terrifying realm where the "civilized" people must become savages to protect themselves and their loved ones.
This film is terrifying in the aspect that the cannibal family treats the civilized family, from the suburbs of Chicago, as playthings. They don't think twice about torturing before the kill. The set up keeps the film interesting but when the family begins to realize that some of them might not make it out alive the story really begins rolling. Watching the family slowly slip into atavistic behavior to fight off the cannibals is watching the de-evolution of man.
The performances are well done, especially considering that none of these actors were marquee names. In fact, the only two to gain any sort of fame were Michael Berryman as the bare headed Pluto and Dee Wallace (before the Stone) as the oldest daughter; both of their performances are noteworthy. However, the entire cast is believable in an unbelievable situation. Wes Craven's direction was still raw enough that one gets the feeling of nihilism throughout.
While it can be found in your video store under the horror section it could more likely be in the shelf next to Deliverance or Rituals. This film, while it does contain horrorific aspects, is more about using a minimum of resources and relying on cunning with only thoughts about surviving. A film that should lead the viewer to stop and think, "What would I do in that situation?" Hopefully, none of us will ever have to know.