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The Descent (2005)
An Unmissable Descent into Terror (excuse the pun)
In "The Descent" six girlfriend gather for their yearly caving adventure - only this time, one of the girls has discovered some caves which do not appear on any map - pity for them, as their fun adventure turns into a terrifying fight for their lives as they encounter some deadly sub-human creatures.
So what is so fantastic about "The Descent" then? Well, the acting for a start. All six young women are talented actresses who bring their respective characters to life. Shauna MacDonald plays the troubled Sarah, Natalie Mendoza is the over-achieving Juno, Alex Reid portrays the comely Beth, Saskia Mulder is the lovely Rebecca, and MyAnna Buring plays her sensitive sister, while Nora-Jane No one rounds out the cast as newcomer Holly.
Secondly, the wait. You know something is going to happen, but the film does take a little while for the action and tension to begin. But it does have a sense of morbidness right from the beginning. "The Descent", like many horror films, uses a back story, in this case a tragic event that happened one year earlier to Sarah, which plays an important part throughout the film.
However, what's most memorable about "The Descent" though is the terror that quite literally surrounds the cast when they are in these mysterious new caverns. And it's not just the mysterious sub-human like creatures - but the caverns themselves which prove to be dangerous for the trapped girls. People with claustrophobia should be cautioned before watching this film! The gore is brutal - there's no doubt about that, and as most of the girls, particularly Juno and Sarah, put up great fights against the creatures, the gore - blood, guts, everything - is plentiful - but without being distasteful. Particularly disturbing scenes include when Sarah falls into the pit of blood, the death scene where - I won't name her - is still alive and watching as the creatures begin to eat her, and a climatic and deadly encounter between two of the girls.
"The Descent" combines the best parts of horror films and wraps them all into one tightly produced masterpiece - if the creatures don't get you, the caves certainly will.
Moments of hilarity, moments of eye-rolling
Funny man Eddie Murphy tackles a big role in "Norbit" - literally. That is of course Rasputia, an obese woman with a whole lot of attitude. As in previous Eddie Murphy films, multiple roles are played by Murphy. The title-character Norbit, a meek man who gets more than he bargained for when at age 10 he is rescued from bullies by 10 year old Rasputia, and Mr. Wong, Norbit's "father" at the adoption centre.
After giving a quick and often funny insight to Norbit's young life, the film kicks off with Norbit and Rasputia's wedding ceremony, then delves into the complications that arise in their lives as Norbit's childhood sweetheart Kate (Thandie Newton) moves back into the neighbourhood to by the orphanage - which is also what Rasputia's powerful brothers want to do. Norbit also disapproves of Kate's fiancée Deion (Cuba Gooding Jr).
While Norbit is an enjoyable thing, there is an awful lot going on, which is not a bad thing, just a tad distracting at times. The acting is pretty good all-round, especially from Murphy, in all three of his roles. Eddie Griffin is hilarious as Pope Sweet Jesus. Pat Crawford Brown (from "Depserate Housewives") has a small but memorable role, and Laura Ortiz (from the Hilsl Have Eyes remake) has a blink and you'll miss her part.
There may be some who may get offended at "Norbit", perhaps thinking that it makes fun of fat people, but really, Rasputia's weight is hardly made fun at. Rasputia is incredibly funny in a trailer-trash kind of way. Most of the laughs I got came from her, however some of the comedy in "Norbit" is not that funny, but it's still an enjoyable film.
Goes through the motions with a couple of interesting moments
Compared to other horror / slasher films that is. But they're not that bad, and all of them, even this entry, worth a watch. However, tempted viewers should be warned that "I'll Always Know What You Did Last Summer" (aside from being a mouthful) is near to being a carbon copy of the original film in terms of characters and situation.
Interestingly, the film starts out similarly to "Final Destination 3", with a group of friends at a carnival (not as flash as FD3's amusement park though), and things take a turn for the worse when they play a practical joke regarding the legend of the Fisherman, that results in one of their friends getting killed. A year later, the four friends who covered up their own part in their other friends' death, all begin receiving mysterious messages.
Sound familiar? The film is not that bad though. While the characters may not be that likable, they are well acted. Brooke Nevin plays lead character Amber and does a decent job. Hottie David Paetkau plays the hot-headed Colby. Tammy DeVitto is fairly good as Zoe, and Ben Easter, while in a smaller role, probably gives the best performance as one of the many red-hearings, Lance. Clayton Taylor has a small role as the ill-fated P.J. and hottie K.C. Clyde plays Deputy Hafner.
While the back-story of the previous "Summer" films was terribly confusing, it is not explicitly mentioned here, though both films get a small acknowledgment. The somewhat unsurprising revelation in this third installment is rather bland and a let down also. Though some of the deaths were quite gruesome, it would have been best if this franchise was continued with surviving stars of the previous films, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Freddie Prinze Jr and Brandy. However, as mentioned, "I'll Always Know" is not a complete waste of time, it has its moments. Oh yeah, the DVD cover is also terrible, as one the blonde girl at the back barely has a part in the film, David Paetkau should have been on the cover.
Family in Hiding (2006)
Thank you, Brenda Strong
Brenda Strong does it again - makes what would otherwise be a rather standard film something highly interesting and watchable. The unsung star of "Desperate Housewives" gets plenty of screen time here as she stars in "Family in Hiding", which is literally about a family in hiding.
Strong plays Carol Peterson, hard-working solo mother who witnesses the murder of a state attorney, and as the murderer and his gang uncover who she is, the FBI place her and her children into the Witness Protection Program. There, the lives of Carol and her children Matt and Alicia are turned upside down as they try to adjust to their new life while the murderer tracks them down.
Strong is, of course, fantastic, and the acting of pretty much everyone else in the film makes it a TV movie of considerably high standards. Brett Dier plays Matt, and I predict that he will go on to have a very prosperous acting career. Elyse Levesque does an admirable job playing Alicia. Christopher Jacot has a small role as Alicia's boyfriend Brian, and Gary Hetherington gives a good performance as the Peterson's handler in the program, Pritchard.
The Peterson family goes through all the emotions and possible scenarios of what one expects someone to go through if they have just bee uprooted from their lives and placed in a new city with new identities while a murderer hunts them down. This is one suspenseful drama with very little wrong with it, other than it is a bit slow in a couple of areas, and at times the production values are a bit low. Other than those minor issues, it is well worth a watch, especially for fans of Brenda Strong.
Day of the Woman (1978)
A Terrific Revenge Film
Banned in New Zealand until recently, and very hard to find despite it's release on DVD, "I Spit on Your Grave" is quite frankly a terrific revenge film - nothing more. Sure, there is some rather violent, offensive and terrifying material in the film, but as a whole, the film serves up a great revenge story.
I think it is some of that violent, offensive and terrifying material that has made "I Spit on Your Grave" such an infamous film, and one of the 1980's 'Video Nasties'. Also the title "I Spit on Your Grave" is rather offensive in itself. The alternative title, "Day of the Woman" is so much more empowering though, but both fit in well with the nature of the film.
"I Spit on Your Grave" tells the story of Jennifer Hill (Camille Keaton) a writer from New York who goes on vacation to an isolate town, where she resides in an even more isolated holiday home. There, four men attack and rape her at different times during the day (but in each time as a group). The men believe they kill her after the final assault, but the man who was supposed to kill her could not. Jennifer spends a short time recovering from the highly traumatic ordeal, before hunting the men down one by one and brutally slaughtering them without remorse - and why should she have remorse? They showed her none.
There's no denying that the death scenes aren't brutal, because they are. As is the rape. Nothing graphic is shown, except for the terror on Jennifer's face, which Keaton portrays well. What is strange however is how quickly it takes her to get over her ordeal and hunt down the men. I'm no expert in rape, and I'm sure everyone deals with rape in their own way, but she seems to recover rather quickly, though there is a comment from one of the men about time lapse, however it is not very clear.
The actors who play the men - Eron Tabor (Johnny), Richard Pace (Matthew), Anthony Nichols (Stanley) and Gunter Kleemann (Andy) all do great jobs. Each of them has a distinct personality from the other, though they pretty much all have the same attitude towards women and possibly life in general. What seems strange is how none of the four men have done any other films, and Camille Keaton's movie career never really amounted to much either - is there some sort of Hollywood rule that people associated with this film cannot appear in others or something?
If that is so, then it's quite sad, as "I Spit on Your Grave" is in the confines of itself and its genre, quite a decent film. Personal opinion can really only dictate that though, and to have an opinion of the film one really needs to watch it for themselves.
What seems to be a sort-of follow up to 2004's "The Hillside Strangler", in this one, "Rampage: The Hillside Strangler Murders" begins with the suspected Strangler, Kenneth Bianchi (Clifton Collins Jr.) captured and brought in for questioning from Dr. Samathan Stone (Brittany Daniel). The film tells the story of Dr. Samantha Stone and what she goes through during her time on the Strangler case. Not only does she deal with sexism from male detectives, but an abusive boyfriend, and of course Kenneth Bianchi and the is-he-or-isn't-he question that she must ask herself. Her only confidant is a former friend, the District Attorny Jillian Dunne (Lake Bell).
"Rampage" is an interesting film: Fantastic performances from Clifton Collins Jr. as Kenneth Bianchi, and the lovely Lake Bell is terrific as Jillian Dune. However it is almost hard to take Brittany Daniel seriously as a psych doctor, though she gives an admirable performance. Some of the camera techniques are very unusual, particularly at the drug-using party scenes. They add something to the film to liven it up I suppose, which is needed, because the film plods at times, and the pacing seems a little off - the first interrogation for example was far too long. The 70's outfits are fantastic though. The standout performance is obviously Clifton Collins Jr., and the way he pulls of the "personalities" of the Strangler are worth watching this film for, even if it is unfortunately disappointing.
House II: The Second Story (1987)
More Fantasy than Horror
Originally believing "House 2: The Second Story" to be along the lines of the rest of the "House" franchise, what I thought was a horror franchise, my main reason for watching it was because one of my favourite actresses, the glamorous Lar Park-Lincoln was starring in it. How wrong I was. Park-Lincoln does not "star" in the film, she merely "features", and in a variety of fabulous eighties outfits I must add.
"House 2: The Second Story" revolves around the bizarre adventures that Jesse (Arye Gross) and his friends have in a strange house when he inherits it following the deaths of his birth parents some years ago. The adventures are all out-of-this-world and and an unusual array of creatures feature. Lar Park-Lincoln plays Jesse's girlfriend, the sultry Kate, and as usual Lar gives a great performance (with what little she has to do) before she is written out along with Amy Yasbeck, who plays Jana, the girlfriend of Charlie (Jonathan Stark), Jesse's bumbling friend. The late Royal Dano plays Jesse's long-dead great-grandfather, and John Ratzenberger gives a terrific, albeit brief, performance as Bill the electrician.
Even though "House 2" is rather campy, plodding and certainly not a horror, it is watchable, if not for Park-Lincoln's brief appearance, or the decent acting of Arye Gross, then for the great puppetry and special effects, which were actually quite good for the late 1980's. And, hey, we all live a bit of Fantasy don't we?
Another Outstanding Performance from Dee Wallace-Stone
Dee Wallace-Stone, at the height of her career (after performances in the original "Hills Have Eyes", "E.T" and "The Howling", gives another outstanding performance in the film adaptation of Stephen King's chilling novel, "Cujo". Wallace-Stone plays an original desperate housewife, Donna Trenton, who, somewhat neglected by her husband Vic (Daniel Hugh-Kelly) has an affair with family friend Steve Kemp (played by Christopher Stone - the "Stone" in "Wallace-Stone", who sadly died some time ago).
Wallace-Stone once again plays a loving mother, though this time, thanks to her affair, is somewhat distant from her son Tad (child actor Danny Pintauro), but later in the film, their relationship is defined well when they both go through a harrowing performance with the infamous "Cujo".
Strangely for a horror movie (but not unwelcome), and certainly not untypical of a Stephen King adaption, most of what goes on during the film is rather mundane, just the day-to-day life of the Trentons, which makes for interesting drama in itself. It's not until Donna and Tad become trapped in a car (for reasons that I won't go into), things really start to heat up, as the dog Cujo, riddled with rabies, tries many attempts to get into the car and attack the mother and son.
The time where the Trenton's are trapped in the car is done very well, and they seem to go through everything one would expect from someone in their situation. Both Wallace-Stone and a young Pintauro do remarkably well in these scenes.
"Cujo" does fit into the horror genre as the "rabid-dog" concept seems to fit there well, however the film evoked terror more than horror, as the performances were so real, and the situation, while unlikely, is not highly improbable. So don't watch this expecting a crazed dog savaging anyone and everyone throughout the whole film, watch it and enjoy the great acting from Wallace-Stone, the tense drama and frightening scenes.
Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
A darkly enjoyable feel-good comedy
"Little Miss Sunshine" is a fabulous feel-good comedy of a different kind - it is terribly dark, and at times depressing, but makes no apology for it, and it doesn't need to either. The film revolves around a more-than-slightly dysfunctional family who, all with their own subplots, travels to the Little Miss Sunshine Beauty Pagent so that young Olive can enter, and along the way learn a thing or two about each other, and what it means to be part of a family.
The always-excellent Greg Kinnear plays father Richard, a man who means well, but sometimes fails to get across what he means, except of course when it comes to being a winner, as he has a 9-step program so that anyone can find the winner in themselves. However, his attempts to get people to purchase the program have been unsuccessful, causing strain with his wife, Sheryl who is played by the wonderful Toni Collette. Along the way to the Beauty Pagent, they are faced with a marital crisis.
Their marriage is under strain also thanks to Sheryl's suicidal brother Frank (Steve Carrell) who happens to be depressed, and while despite being a genius, cannot sort out his love life, which he practically re-encounters on their journey. Alan Arkin plays Richard's cocaine-addict father, who has been mentoring Olive in her quest to be in the Little Miss Sunshine, which have unexpected results at the pageant itself.
Paul Dano gives a compelling performance as Olive's brother Dwayne who has taken a vow of silence (yes, he is silent for the majority of the film), though he too learns something about himself on their journey and is forced to speak out. Despite fantastic performances from Collette and Kinnear, it is Abigail Breslin who steals the film as Olive. She lightens up the most depressing scenes and is utterly convincing in her innocence.
At times it may feel like "Little Miss Sunshine" is going nowhere, but it is a brilliant showcase of talent and story, which comes to a grand climax at the Little Miss Sunshine pageant, where you can't help but feel sorry for Olive, even though she may not know why anyone would need to feel sorry for her.
"Wilderness" is a fantastic film about several teens struggle for survival as they are hunted down by a at-first mysterious killer on a remote island where they have been taken to lean a different kind of lesson. You see, these teens are a group of young inmates at a prison / detention center for young offenders and after one of their cell-mates is found dead, their warden is forced to take them to this island to learn a thing or too. Instead, they end up fighting for their lives.
On the island though, the boys run into 2 girls and their own warden from another detention center. Neither of the two wardens are very happy about each other's group being there, but when one of the boys is found dead, they band together to fight for survival. Naturally, the two wardens are taken out by the killer first, so the kids, despite many of them disliking each other, constantly backstabbing each other and trying to out-do one another, must find a way to work together to stay alive.
"Wilderness" is a terrific premise, with an amazing sense of realism to it. The acting is fantastic, particularly from Toby Kebbell (Callum), Stephen Wight (Steve), Lenora Crichlow (Mandy) and Alex Reid (Louise). The deaths happen at appropriate times, and yes, they are gruesome and sometimes disturbing. The killer also has a pack of crazed dogs which he terrorises the teens with. It becomes obvious to both the teens and the audience who killer is, what his motif is, a standard fare in horror movies.
"Wilderness" is gripping and fast paced. I was glued to the screen for the entire film following the teens, working out who was trying to deceive who, and delving into the complex relationships with each other. The only disappointing part, which is quite minor, is that although the warden mentions what the kids are in prison for, you don't know who is in for what. The teens that survived are the ones that should have in my opinion.
Overall, a highly recommended horror which is fast paced, full of unusual characters, nasty deaths and a true struggle for survival.