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The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)
Texas Chainsaw Massacre is the blueprint for the backwoods horror flick. Made in the early 1970s on an ultra low budget, TCM ripped into theaters and immediately caused a stir. The Reason? There had never really been anything quite like it. Granted, Psycho beat it to the punch, yet even Psycho was restrained in a way in which TCM refused to be. The set piece for Hitchcock's classic was one scene of violence, whereas Hooper chose to show of several scenes that suggested violence but never explicitly showed it. Indeed, fans claim to see much gore on show in TCM yet there is really only one scene of such. That comes when Leatherface accidentally chainsaw's his own leg. Other scenes never actually show gore, but are edited in such a way as the viewer pieces in the nasty details themselves. The meathook scene is a prime example. We see the girl lifted up towards the meathook and we see her hanging from it, but we never see it impale her. Yet many have claimed that this is a part of the film. Its all about how Tobe Hooper edited the film to make it shocking. In the end, TCM is a classic because of what it did.
Macabre a.k.a. Frozen Terror is the debut feature from Lamberto Bava, the son of famed horror director Mario Bava. Fans may recognize the name from his later collaborations with Dario Argento, Demons and Demons 2. Unlike those two films, which relish in their over the top grue and violence at hyper kinetic speed, Macabre is a slow build film that tends to lean more towards the slow build school of creating suspense. The story is simple and actually based around a true story from New Orleans in the 70s. A woman is in a car accident with her adulterous lover and the lover is decapitated. One year later, the woman is released from the mental asylum and returns to the apartment where her and her lover would rendezvous. Not a lot happens until the final third of the film, but it goes by quick enough and there is the air of dread that Bava creates quite effectively. When the reveal is made, its not much of a shock but the film is handled well enough that that fact can be overlooked. What truly brings the film down however, is some horrid dialogue and some equally atrocious acting by the young girl who plays the woman's daughter. All in all, considering the subject of the film, it is a quite restrained effort and a notable debut.
In some ways, Stitches is typical Full Moon fare and in others it manages to break free of the mold. There are tiny dolls and they do some horrible things. Those expecting another Puppet Master or Demonic Toys, however, will be greatly disappointed. These are paper dolls and they hold the souls of victims. Mrs. Albright is an elderly woman who comes to a boarding house and proceeds to influence the patrons. Turns out this sweet old lady is really a demon in disguise and she's out to collect souls. Think Needful Things and you'll have an idea of where this is going. The main problem is that Stitches isn't as well written as Needful Things was and when in doubt Full Moon breaks out the killer dolls. Its a shame really because there are some good ideas in the script. Its just that nothing is capitalized on. What we get is a slow crawl from one soultaking to the next. Pity.
Pumpkinhead: Blood Feud (2007)
Pumpkinhead was in itself a decent 80s horror flick. No classic by any means, but an enjoyable piece of fluff. Why then, have we now been treated to a fourth film in this franchise is beyond me. As in previous sequels, there's nothing here to really connect the films except for the monster, the witch and Ed Harley (Lance Henriksen). This time out we follow the feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys. Part of the film is a Romeo And Juliet romance as a young McCoy boy and his Hatfield lover decide to run away to be together. Soon, however, they are torn apart and the boy's sister is killed. The boy escapes to the woods and gets the witch to resurrect Pumpkinhead for some vengeance. The acting is passable at best, amateurish at the worst. The titular demon doesn't even really show up for almost forty minutes and when it does its a pale comparison between it and the original design. Overall, Blood Feud fails to impress. It may be worth a watch once, but certainly not an addition to the collection.
The Gravedancers (2006)
great old school horror
Gravedancers is one of those films that just plays fun. While watching it you think how much fun the makers must have had cause the gleeful way in which it plays out suggests that. essentially, three friends dance on some graves during a drunken night of mourning a recently deceased friend. Of course, this being a horror film they get more than they bargained for since a curse is laid on them and the spirits of the occupants of the three graves come back for revenge. The cast is uniformly strong, especially Tcheky Karyo and Clare Kramer. The FX are strong, although they are used sparingly and effectively. The climax is a nod to Evil Dead II and cements the old school style of the film. All in all, a fun fright flick.
The Hills Have Eyes II (2007)
A letdown after strong remake
Alexandre Aja's remake of The Hills Have Eyes was one of the bright spots of 2006. Not only was it a remake of a classic horror film, but it was pretty damned good too. So, nearly a year later, we are being treated to the sequel to that remake. While original scripter Wes Craven is back as producer and co scripted, this film just fails to rise to the level set by the original and the remake. A group of military trainees stop by in the desert to check in on some scientists and find themselves run afoul of the mutant family from the first film (at least those that remain plus some new ones). There's plenty of gore to be had here. What annoys me about this film is the utter lack of characterization. The viewer does not give a damn about what happens to any of these people because we haven't gotten into them. Even the mutants had some characterization last time out and this time, nothing. Gore for the sake of gore is pointless. There has to be a reason for this to happen for it to be interesting. Nothing that happens here is interesting. And what is it lately with rape scenes in films? Here we get yet another one for no real reason. Hopefully this is one set of hills that won't be visited again.
The Messengers (2007)
The Messengers is an eerily effective chiller. There is little in the way of gore so even younger kids can enjoy the chills of this one. The story follows a family, down on their luck, who buy a sunflower farm in North Dakota to make their new start. Soon, things begin happening around the place. The crows seem to flock here and like to attack. There's a stain on the wall that just won't go away. And the youngest, Ben keeps seeing things that aren't there. Roy is trying to make a go of this, but his daughter Jess seems to think something is up. She keeps seeing strange things and hearing noises in the house. Problem is no one believes her due to her previous problems which are referred to but never really explained. Enter Burwell, a drifter who offers to help out on the farm in exchange for food and a place to stay. He's the only one who does believe her. Its true that there's not a lot new to the proceedings of The Messengers. Much of the plot is a been there done that type of affair. Cue spooky music and requisite ghosts that move herky jerky around the screen. What sets the film apart from others of its ilk is the sense of atmosphere and feeling of constant unease that the filmmakers have captured. Aside from decent performances, the best part of Messengers is that its so damn eerie. Not the best ghost film ever but it does its job well.
Picking up shortly after the end of the first film, Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest follows the arrest of Will and Elizabeth on their wedding day for the escape and aiding of Jack Sparrow. They are given a choice, however, which is to find Sparrow and bring him back to stand trial. Agreeing to this, they set out to find and bring Jack back. Along the way, our heroes soon become embroiled in a game with the monstrous Davy Jones, who has also come in search of Jack as it turns out that he owes Jones a debt as well. There's a lot going on in the second Pirates movie. In fact, so much so that the film ends in a cliffhanger that will leave fans crying for part 3 to come out. And while it may seem that much is left unanswered, I'm sure that all will be revealed in part 3 when it arrives. Until that time, fans will have to make due with all the swashbuckling and double crossing going on here.
No Curse Here
Pirates Of The Caribbean: Curse Of The Black Pearl is without a doubt one of the most fun rides to come along in quite some time. Starting from the Disney ride, the filmmakers have fashioned a good old fashioned pirate romp that combines action, adventure and comedy almost perfectly. Johnny Depp stars as Captain Jack Sparrow, a flamboyant pirate searching for the ship that was stolen out from under him when his crew mutinied. First off, this film belongs to Depp. His performance is s near perfect that it is almost divine. He brings such a character to Sparrow that you can't help but love him even though he is a pirate. Starring as the new captain of the titular pirate ship is Geoffrey Rush as Barbossa. He is truly the evil pirate that you love to hate and if anyone comes close to Depp's performance it is Rush. Rounding out the main cast are Orlando Bloom as Will Turner and Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Swann. While they try, they are just not in the same league as their more esteemed co-stars. Still, Pirates is good fun and a throwback to the old days of cinema. Enjoy!
For the third film in the popular series, Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End is easily the best of the three. There are more double crosses, more pirate battles and intrigue. For those who said they have problems following the storyline I have two questions: 1) Did you even see the first two films? and 2) Were you paying attention. I ask this because having seen and been a fan of the first two, I had no problems following the story and all of the double crosses. I was thoroughly enrapt in the film and understood every well calculated move it made. I think that those who find problems with all the double crosses were really being just too lazy to keep track of the story and so they just let the film ride on its visuals. Mind you, the visuals are amazing. Davy Jones is resplendent in his squid like glory and the pirate ships at war are a sight to behold. Johnny Depp slips so easily into the role that by this point its like a second skin for him. Really now people, but he should get an Oscar win for this role, not just a nom. Its truly the role of a lifetime. Even Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom whom I always viewed as the weaker links in the cast both turn in fine performances this time out. As always, Geoffrey Rush is divine as Captain Barbossa. He is the epitome of what a pirate should be. All in all, Pirates 3 is great fun and a fitting way to end the series...or is it?