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"Darkness Falls" is notorious for one thing: being one of the most
underwhelming horror films of 2003. You can thank the studio behind it
for that. The ghost story with a tooth fairy twist had its teeth
knocked out one by one during its production and in spite of the
efforts of director Jonathan Liebesman to rise above it, one can't help
but feel cheated by the film, which barely clocks in at 80 minutes.
When he was twelve years old, Kyle (Chaney Kley) was terrorized by the blood-thirsty spirit of Matilda Dixon. A child-loving, sun-fearing old woman with an apparent fetish for teeth, Matilda was mistakenly murdered by the local townspeople and now stalks children upon the loss of their last baby tooth as a form of revenge. A decade down the line and Kyle now a mopey 20-something who spends his free-time popping pills, collecting flashlights and brooding alongside some generic hard rock finds himself returning home to assist his childhood sweetheart (Emma Caulfield) whose child is being haunted by the same spirit.
Despite its strong opening, "Darkness Falls" is a mess of a film seemingly in a rush to reach its conclusion. Rather than spend time on developing its characters, the film instead casts them off as quickly as possible, leaving little room for suspense or, you know, genuine horror. While the gorgeous cinematography goes a long way in establishing an appropriately foreboding atmosphere, the film resorts to cheap gags such as fast editing and jarring sound effects to get its jollies. It's also worth noting that the film is also host to one of the most face-palm inducing cat-jumping-into-frame scares. Liebesman has a great eye and tries his hardest, but at the end of the day, the film feels incomplete and hollow. If the studio intended to deliver a film that looks good but features nothing below the surface, then consider it a job well done. For the rest of us, it's about as scary as a routine trip to the dentist.
Nerdy kid in town (Stephen Geoffrey of "Fright Night") gets revenge on
everyone who ever wronged him when he hooks up with Satan, via horror
hot-line "976-EVIL." Directed by Robert Englund of "A Nightmare on Elm
Street" fame, the film is obviously very low budget but not completely
without charm. As an actor turned director, Englund obviously cares
about his characters first and foremost, and in turn, his film gives
them ample time to breathe. Also, the man obviously paid attention
during his tenure as Freddy, as his film takes many visual cues from
the "Elm Street" series and tries its best to rise above its meager
budget. There's also an underlying sense of humor (again, a byproduct
of being Krueger) that helps make the whole easier to swallow.
A shame, though, that aside from some decent characters and solid cinematography from Paul Elliott which attempts to establish a foreboding mood, the film barely has enough juice to reach its lame conclusion. While the first half sets our characters up nicely, the second more or less tears down any progress made by dispatching of decent characters too quickly and wrapping things up in what feels like a very rushed and hap-hazard sort of way. The film's main weakness is in its script which stretches its premise far too thin and requires its audience to fill in the blanks a few too many times. Also, the gore and make-up effects from the usually consistent Kevin Yagher are surprisingly substandard and, at times, laughable. What should be an undeniably enjoyable 80's cheese-fest is instead a frustrating and uneven dud that could have and should have been much more. Stephen Geoffrey aside, horror fans will recognize Lezlie Deane from "Freddy's Dead" another actor whose career went absolutely nowhere in the following decade.
A decade after their breakthrough into the mainstream with "Make
Yourself", Calabasas California's Incubus chronicle their continued
success with the release of "Look Alive". Part concert, part
documentary, the film follows the group as they rehearse, travel the
globe, take in various cultures and, of course, perform to thousands of
fans who seemingly know every lyric in their songbook. Through it all,
we see the band interact with each other, seemingly as chummy with one
another as ever -- with the relationships between founding members
Brandon Boyd (vocals), Mike Einziger (guitar) and Jose Pasillas (drums)
being particularly strong -- which translates into their dynamic and
colorful live performances.
Longtime fans may grumble a bit, as the set focuses mostly on material from 2006's "Light Grenades" -- the album which they were touring on at the time -- and chooses to ignore even their biggest hits such as "Drive," "Pardon Me" and "Wish You Were Here". Never fear, though, as the band packs a strong enough punch with the new material that you'll barely miss the tried and true tunes (side note: there are several other live releases from the band that may quench your old-school thirst). Not only do tracks like "Rogues" and "Love Hurts" spring to life in a live setting much better than on record, but older, more obscure cuts such as "Nebula" and "Redefine" are given make-overs, with the latter track transforming into a completely different tune altogether. Overall, the band sounds great, with guitarist Mike Einziger being the star of the set. Not only has he shown increased talent and range with each successive album, but he has stepped into his own as a modern guitar hero of sorts. Watching him bust out the Chinese Pipa on "Aquaeous Transmission" and noodle away on "Sick, Sad Little World" is about as awe-inspiring as today's modern rock gets, folks.
Overall, the sound and picture quality of the DVD are top-notch. Presented in widescreen and sporting a 5.1 soundtrack, this is certainly the most impressive Incubus DVD to date. Through the film, we get to live vicariously through the band and see the wonderful landscapes of Iceland as if we were there while a score composed by Einziger pulses in the background. It just doesn't get much better than that. While it may not serve as an accessible, crowd-pleasing affair, "Look Alive" is at the very least an honest and inspiring portrait of a band in love with their craft. Not only does the newer material hold up live, but the band seems as honest and down to Earth as the day they started. It's definitely geared more towards the hardcore fans, so keep that in mind. For more of their hits, look towards "Alive At Red Rocks" or "The Morning View Sessions".
From executive producer Quentin Tarantino comes "Hell Ride," a
throw-back biker flick/vehicle for Larry Bishop, who not only serves as
the lead in the film, but also steps up to the plate as
writer/director. The film follows the exploits of a hardened clan of
bikers known as The Victors whose penchant for booze, women and good
old fashioned revenge seems to have bonded them for life.
Bishop, along with his co-stars Michael Madsen and Eric Balfour, manages to conjure up enough charisma in spite of poorly written characters and the cringe-worthy dialog they are forced to spew. Here is where the Tarantino touch would have saved the film, but alas, the famed director's involvement appears to be limited to providing funding and promotion for the film, rather than actually helping to nurse it along. Bishop does the whole Grindhouse/Tarantino/Rodriguez schtick well enough on the surface; the film looks good and has a vibrant soundtrack, but not much else. What the film lacks is true charm and appeal, not to mention, a cohesive or even mildly interesting plot.
Bit parts from the likes of David Carradine and Dennis Hopper may serve to shake you out of the semi-comatose state the film lulls you into, but neither character do much to improve or advance the story. It's almost as if they are there for us to say "Hey, look! Dennis Hopper! Neat!" rather than having the actors put to good use. In the end, "Hell Ride" is all style and no substance. There's lots of eye-candy -- from the babes to the bikes -- but not enough plot to go around, even for it's miniscule 80 minute running time, which still makes for a ride that goes on way too long.
Directed by Curtis Hanson, "8 Mile" is essentially a vehicle for
hip-hop heavyweight Eminem to tell the tale of how he went from a
trailer-park dwelling blue-collar worker to a pop music superstar
seemingly overnight. Rather than capture all of the glories of fame, "8
Mile" instead focuses on the rapper's rugged beginnings and, although
only loosely based on his life-story, humanizes the rapper, who at the
time of the film's release, was the most controversial force in music.
The film opens with our hero, B-Rabbit (as portrayed by Eminem), practicing his routine in front of a bathroom mirror before engaging in a rap competition. Unfortunately, he fails before he even begins, and the rest of the film follows him as he struggles with poverty, his overbearing mother (Kim Basinger), his lesser-motivated crew of friends, his ex-girlfriend, his current girlfriend (Brittany Murphy) who will apparently do anything for her big break and a posse of hardcore rappers who may or may not see him as a threat, but see fit to beat him down at any opportunity anyway.
The amazing thing about "8 Mile" is how realistic and down to Earth it really is. A vanity project this is not, as Eminem clearly had a story worth telling and the film doesn't skimp on the dirt. The cinematography goes a long way in capturing the gritty feel of a decaying city and the people that inhabit it. From the decrepit trailer parking and crumbling buildings to the broken down vehicles that cart the characters around to their various jobs and musical endeavors, everything in the film has a genuine feel. You truly feel like you are on the cold streets of Detroit, alone and depressed. Even Eminem, arguably the most successful pop-culture figure at the time, looks miserable and underfed, which is only amplified by his random fits of rage which come all too naturally but feel justified within the context of the film.
They say it's tougher to play yourself than a character, and if that is so, then Eminem would have been wise to further pursue a film career (you know, aside from his hilarious cameo in "Funny People"). His performance in this film is grounded and realistic, and we often find the rapper acting circles around more seasoned pros like Brittany Murphy (whose role suffers for being poorly written) and Mekhi Phifer (who plays essentially every character he's ever played before, albeit, with dreadlocks) and is sure to convince anyone regardless of whether you're a fan of his music/public persona or not. A few minor flaws do little to drag it down, and in spite of its oppressive tone at times, it's an uplifting and inspirational film that is likely to win over even the most cynical viewer.
For reasons unknown, two valley girls survive a blast from an impending
comet only to find the world they know has been transformed overnight
into a post-apocalyptic zombie-infested wasteland. Together, the two
hook up with a wholesome trucker, fight off the living dead, go on a
shopping spree to the tune of Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Wanna Have
Fun" all while evading who else but a band of evil scientists.
"Dawn of the Dead" it sure isn't, but those seeking a brilliantly cheesy zombie romp (which incidentally doesn't feature many zombies) will find much to rave about with "Night of the Comet." Director Thom Eberhardt apparently didn't take things seriously enough to turn in an effective or particularly scary film, but instead, focuses on lampooning the b-movies it so closely resembles. With tongue planted firmly in cheek (or so it would seem) the director guides the cast through silly scenario after silly scenario with little regard to logic. That's not to say the film is stupid, though; on the contrary, it's quite witty in its extreme characterizations and hammy dialog. It also helps the film's credibility to have two leads in Catherine Mary Stewart and Kelli Maroney, who, in spite of being too old to play teenagers, carry the film with a bubbly sensibility that suits the material at hand perfectly.
Sure, there's not much in the way of blood or even sense (Red dust? Zombies? Which is it?) but beneath the tacky clothing, dated soundtrack and cheesy special effects is a fun little b-movie that knows its a b-movie. There's no social commentary to be found amidst the silliness, and that's a good thing. The film plays like an arcade game come to life and should be treated as such. Spend a night with "Night of the Comet" and you'll be guaranteed a delightfully schlocky good time.
If you happen to come across "C.H.U.D. II - Bud the Chud" and are
expecting a logical sequel to the 1984 cult-classic, you will only walk
away disappointed. If, however, you are in the mood for a nice, healthy
portion of late-80's cheese, then this zombie-spoof just may be the
After two bumbling teenage buddies (Brian Robbins and Bill Calvert) misplace a cadaver intended for their high school science class, they find a replacement in Bud (Gerrit Graham). Bud is a C.H.U.D. (which, if you recall the first film, stands for Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers) and seeing as how he is the last of his kind, the government sees fit to stuff him away in a minimum security facility in a podunk little town. The two pry the titular Chud from the facility with minimal effort, and after killing the family dog and clogging the toilet, Bud strolls through town, turning anyone and everyone he comes across into a like-minded zombie, on the prowl for a little fun and a little flesh.
This film is ridiculous, that's for sure. Whether it's the goofball dialog, the "Thriller" inspired dance number or the theme song that accompanies Bud, there is hardly a moment where it looks like anyone took what they were doing seriously when making this film. It has a real fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants spirit that maybe made its producers and distributors nervous, but nevertheless, translates to a gloriously goofy good time. Vibrant performances are in abundance, with everyone from seasoned actor Robert Vaughn, who viciously chews up the scenery, to the beautiful Tricia Leigh Fisher, the supportive girlfriend who finds herself the object of Bud's affection. Go into this one with expectations of a care-free good-time and you'll likely find "C.H.U.D. II - Bud the Chud" to be a blast.
"Prom Night IV: Deliver Us From Evil" marks yet another turn in the
"Prom Night" franchise, ditching the supernatural elements of the
previous two entries in exchange for a more back-to-basics slasher
formula that is not unlike the original. This time, however, it's a
Catholic priest gone mad, with a sharpened crucifix in hand, who
unleashes his wrath against a group of fornicators...err...high school
kids who ditch their prom in lieu of a remote cabin where they can get
down and dirty without anyone around to hear their screaming -- whether
that's a good thing or not.
Another direct-to-video installment, the fourth "Prom Night" is not of the highest quality, but at least delivers the goods on the most basic level. Slasher fans will appreciate its dead-pan approach, which is in stark contrast to the goofiness on hand in "Prom Night III: The Last Kiss." Father Jonas, the Catholic priest in question, is played stone-faced by James Carver and makes for an effectively brutal killer, even if he is overexposed by the film which doesn't allow him to lurk or stalk very much. The cast of teens, meanwhile, are just begging to be killed by Father Jonas, and with lines like "Shut up and take your pants off" who can say they didn't see it coming? Sure, it's a low-rent, dirty little horror movie, but at least it tries, and even when it doesn't succeed, "Prom Night IV" doesn't exactly suck, either. At the very least, this last entry in the series is more entertaining and exciting than the remake that would follow 17 years later.
The third film in the "Prom Night" franchise continues to steer the
series further away from its slasher origins and closer to the
supernatural and, well, corny. Mary Lou, the undead bombshell from the
previous film, returns to Hamilton High and takes a liking to Alex
Gray, a football player who is bored with his current situation and
craves a bit of spice in his life. When the two hook up, Alex gets more
than he bargained for, although, strangely enough, doesn't seem all too
shocked or surprised by a lover who is more than thirty years past her
expiration date and who will do literally anything for him, which
includes killing his teachers and classmates in only the most
ridiculous ways possible.
"Prom Night III: The Last Kiss" is the sort of film that doesn't take itself too seriously, and upon viewing it, neither should you. There are no serious thrills to be found in this often cartoonish and over-the-top sequel, but there is plenty of fun to go around. From the silly death scenes, which are complimented by comically underwhelming reactions from star Tim Conlon, who appears to have little to no regard for the value of human life. Likewise Mary Lou, played this time around by where-is-she-now Cyndy Preston, gives Freddy Krueger a run for his money with the amount of cheesy one-liners that are thrown around and with the way she lashes out with those ridiculously long fingernails (side-bar: I'd hate to be Alex's back). There are also other little moments, such as the school-intercom gags and the Charlie Brown-ish phone call that Alex makes to his parents. These bits ensure that the film is hardly threatening in the slightest, and at best, is a light-hearted late-night romp that takes a certain sort of mood to appreciate. Put simply, it's a stupidly funny horror comedy that won't fail to entertain, even if it tends to induce a few facepalms. This film is best taken with a grain of salt.
"Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings" is the direct-to-video follow-up to Stan
Winston's semi-classic horror opus. Stuffed with familiar faces from
the genre (Andrew Robinson, Linnea Quigley), the film tells the tale of
a group of wanna-be rebel teenagers whose penchant for raising Hell
comes back to bite them in the butt when they unwittingly unleash the
Pumpkinhead demon, who sets out to wreak havoc on the small town with
country music and strobe lights in tow.
Solid direction from Jeff Burr ("Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III") and some decent effects from the KNB crew are much appreciated but can't save this flaccid sequel. The story itself is beyond bland and is essentially a retread of the original, minus the tragedy. Add to that a glut of cardboard characters whose intentions are never clear and a tone that is never quite established, and you have a cheap and forgettable affair that does little to live up to its predecessor. Some cheap thrills await fans of the original who, if they lower their expectations and simply want to see the titular character do his thing, may find this a decent watch, but for the rest, it's best left dead and buried.
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