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Not a total waste of time
What is it about dolls that freaks people out so much? Over the years, filmmakers are tapped into to this centuries old fear. Sometimes this has been successful, as in the 'Child's Play' franchise, but sometimes the result is a case of "been there, done that." The opening of the hit film 'The Conjuring' involved a malevolent doll, which this year was given a film of it's very own. The one we got really could've been better, but also could've been far worse than this.
Pros: Good work by some of the cast, like Alfre Woodard. Moody score. Above average direction. Stunningly photographed. Rich production design. Some really frightening imagery. A few powerful shocks. Steady pace.
Cons: Largely by the numbers. Mostly bland performances by the two leads. Not much plot. Some dumb moves by the characters to move the story along.
Final thoughts: Like many others, I fell in love with last year's 'The Conjuring.' The filmmakers took a well-worn tale and made a classic out of it. It was a success and naturally talk of sequels and prequels came soon after. Prequels are tricky business and you could certainly find worse. What we have here is a well shot film with perfectly placed scares and atmosphere to boot. Worth a viewing, but don't expect a modern horror masterpiece.
My rating: 3/5
The Innkeepers (2011)
Check out time
It's really not that difficult to make a scary film about the paranormal. It's also not hard to make one that's forgettable and trite, which we've gotten a lot of lately. Some filmmakers and studios seem to believe that throwing blood and screaming faces at the camera is all you need to scare your audience. Then there are those like Ti West who actually get it. It's not just about nostalgia, it's about the craft of making quality films people can enjoy again and again. West proved himself good at this with 'The House of the Devil' and this next effort is no slouch either.
Pros: Excellent performances across the board. Eerily effective score. Suspenseful direction. Smart, nuanced script. Fine cinematography. Some great moments of humor to cut the tension. Perfect slow burn pacing. A few good shocks.
Cons: As with 'The House of the Devil,' the payoff is less than satisfying. One reason is that one or two things feel unresolved.
Final thoughts: These days a lot of films involving the supernatural are obvious and predictable. They use a lot of the same clichés and even show us some of the same sights. If I see one more girl/woman with long hair in front of her face wearing a white nightgown I'll hurl. That's why it's great that we have filmmakers like Ti West. With 'The Innkeepers' he's given us a film not unlike 1960s classics like 'The Haunting.' It takes it's time and is grounded in reality, making for a far more unnerving experience.
My rating: 4/5
The version they should've released
Sequels have and probably always will be a hard thing to get right. When the first is so good, how can one follow it up with a satisfying successor? In the 1980s, there were more horror sequels than can be counted on two hands. The amount of time that would lapse between them usually wasn't very long. By the end of the decade however, the genre was running out of steam and people had become tired of sequels. If any had a cliffhanger, it would be years before audiences could see what happened next.
After the success of it's predecessor, 'Halloween 5' was rushed into production. To the dismay of the people involved, it ended up being the least successful in the franchise. Add to this issues with the rights and the result was a long, arduous wait for the next chapter. Fast forward a few years and the project was finally back on track, this time with a studio behind it. There were a lot of elements that made this look like a win-win situation. Unfortunately, there be would even more problems than in any other sequel before.
One thing we can't fault Dimension Films for is a lack of promotion for 'Halloween 6.' Like many other fans across the globe, I was over the moon when I got to see the film on the big screen. But like the previous film, this one too failed to find an audience. Soon after, it was revealed that many changes had been made to the film. The infamous "Producer's Cut" leaked out and for years was only available via bootlegging. Finally, after nineteen long years, the version we were meant to see has gotten a legit release.
Pros: Top notch performances by all, whether a veteran or new comer. Steady direction by up and comer Joe Chapelle. Well written script full of great ideas. Spellbinding score. Atmospheric cinematography. Great production design, particularly for the cult's lair. A few good scares. Lots of cool nods to the other films. Some jaw-dropping twists. Perfectly paced, starting slow and building until the third act.
Cons: Michael seems to have retained his ability to teleport.
Final thoughts: This was actually the first 'Halloween' film I saw on the big screen. That version certainly has it's strengths, but the changes enforced by the studio are glaring. This was the first time one was involved and the film suffered for it. That being said, it's so amazing that we get to see a quality version of the earlier cut. It's more original, more suspenseful and makes a lot more sense. In fact, it's my favorite in the series to date.
My rating: 5/5
Leprechaun: Origins (2014)
Not much better than the original
By this point, nearly every classic horror film has been remade. Many have actually turned out to be good films in their own right. Still, it seems silly to remake so many films so good to begin with. Doesn't it make more sense to redo a film that had potential, but didn't reach it? The original 'Leprechaun,' along with it's many sequels, has more of a cult following. This didn't stop someone from rebooting the franchise and giving it a more serious tone. The film isn't atrocious, but makes one wonder why they bothered.
Pros: Cast is game. Some nice camera work. Beautiful scenery. Nicely done effects, including some decent gore. A few memorable death scenes. Quick pace.
Cons: Paper thin plot. Equally underdeveloped characters. Generic score. Nothing we haven't seen before. Lacking suspense.
Final thoughts: This film was pretty hyped up by cast and crew. The result could've been worse, but it certainly could've been better than this. What we have is OK entertainment for a rainy afternoon or with a few friends and some booze. It's a shame because there is potential here for a great modern monster movie. Too bad they had to resort to the same old clichés.
My rating: 2.5/5
The Jitters (1989)
Restless night, down in Chinatown...
For decades, English speaking audiences seemed to know only of traditional vampire lore. You know, the one where they sleep during the day, die by a steak through the heart and drink blood? Well, it seems other cultures have their own version of this creature of the night. In China for example, Jiangshi are a vampire-like being with one interesting difference: they hop around. A number of films about them had already been made in China, but then an American filmmaker decided to introduce them to a US audience. The result is a fun, often humorous romp like they made back in the day.
Pros: Game cast. Better than average direction. Fun score and title song. Tongue in cheek humor. Nicely done, not to mention gruesome effects. A few chills. Quick pace.
Cons: Too short. Hasn't aged well. Low budget really shows at times.
Final thoughts: A lot of horrid horror films came out in the 80s, many of them low budget. It was like everyone with a camera and a love for the genre wanted in on the craze. Once in a while though, you come across an exception to the rule. There are better vampire films from the 80s, but 'The Jitters' was made with a surprising amount of heart and hits many of the right notes.
My rating: 3.5/5
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)
Some good parts, but doesn't work as a whole
This year marks the 30th anniversary of Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird's creation. Their characters, dubbed the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, have appeared in a number of incarnations from their beginning in comics to feature films. Many, myself included, grew up watching the original animated series and the original trilogy of films. Now a new film has been made for a whole new generation of kids. One thing that's for certain is that it's different in tone from both. This however is not really the problem. What we have here, I'm sorry to say, is a mixed bag that I fear will struggle to find an audience.
Pros: Above average performances. Director Liebesman gets a few great shots. Well scored. Quite good effects. Some interesting tweaks to the mythology. A few strong moments that belong in a better movie.
Cons: Lacking heart. Uneven pace. Mediocre script. Choppy editing. A few really lame attempts at humor.
Final thoughts: It's been over 20 years since the last live action 'Ninja Turtles' movie hit the screens. A lot of people didn't care for that one and I don't think many will take to this one either. It feels like there may have been too many cooks in the kitchen, resulting in an uneven final product. It certainly could have been worse, but considering a lot of money went into this it also could've been better than OK.
My rating: 2.5/5
A solid telling of a well-worn tale
Everyone and their mother knows who Hercules is. Whether you've read the stories, seen movies featuring him or heard of him in passing, he's part of everyone's consciousness. Everyone loves a hero and there aren't many great ones like the son of Zeus. Of course, not every depiction has been welcome with open arms. Early this year, Renny Harlin unleashed his vision of the Greek Myth to a blah response. A few months later came this effort, which so far has been doing all right for itself. It may not be the best of the year, but it's got enough of the goods to be worth a look.
Pros: Actors give their all. Much maligned director Brett Ratner puts on a good show. Compelling score. Stunning costumes, scenery and sets. Awesome effects. Tongue in cheek humor. Some great, well staged battle sequences. Well paced.
Cons: Little we haven't already seen a thousand times. More backstory for some characters would've been nice. Feels rushed in parts.
Final thoughts: This movie is not going to change the world and that's just fine. It's 90 minutes of escapist entertainment made better by the fact that everyone had their hearts in it. Quite often the opposite is the case, but what the film lacks in story it makes up for in the quality of every other department.
My rating: 3.5/5
The Believers (1987)
Fundamentalism at it's scariest
Religions and Hollywood don't always make a great match. Some films play loosely with facts, instead being more about style than substance. However, there have been times where this has been successful. Classics like 'The Exorcist' were made by people who did their homework and the result was magic. In the 1980s, one of many trends in the horror genre was cult practices in modern society. Based on Nicholas Conde's novel 'The Religion,' this offering dealing with the practice of Santeria is, in my humble opinion, one of the most underrated of or time.
Pros: Top notch performances from all involved. Excellent and often eerie score. Suspenseful direction. Taut writing. Nice cinematography. Handsome production design. Flows at a good pace. Some great twists. Frightening imagery.
Cons: Some predictability.
Final thoughts: A mild success at the Box Office in '87, 'The Believers' wasn't a favorite of critics and has since been largely forgotten. It may not be as masterful as say 'Rosemary's Baby,' but it's a far cry from being schlock also. It's got what so many genre flicks of recent times lack: heart, suspense, depth, characters we give a crap about and more. It takes it's time and gets under the skin. Do yourself a favor if you haven't seen this and rectify that now.
My rating: 5/5
It aims to please and mostly succeeds
It must be really hard to keep a film franchise fresh after so many sequels. Of course, most don't get past number 3 or 4 unless they're horror movies. By the early 1990s both the 'Friday the 13th' and 'Nightmare on Elm Street' series had gotten to at least #7, surpassing 'Halloween.' After the critical and financial disappointment of the fifth and sixth films, said franchise appeared to be dead. Many fans didn't like where the series was going. Fortunately or unfortunately, however you want to look at it, they wouldn't have to wait too long for another installment.
The horror genre was given a jolt in 1996 with the success of 'Scream.' Influenced heavily by John Carpenter's 1978 classic, it sparked new interest in the series. Over the next year there was much talk of a 'Halloween 7' and it sounded pretty promising. This included the return of Jamie Lee Curtis, a veteran director at the helm and a solid treatment by 'Scream' writer Kevin Williamson. The film ended up being the most successful in the series, but not everyone was happy. Some pretty radical things were done, resulting in a flawed though still above average chiller.
Pros: Good solid performances across the board. A very different, but excellent score. Rich cinematography, giving the film a spooky feel. Some suspense. Good sense of humor. A few killer nods to the first two films. Moves at a good pace. A few really memorable, sometimes frightening, sequences like the ending.
Cons: Too many fake scares. Chris Durand does OK as Michael Myers, but could have been more imposing. Too short for things to fully develop. The ever changing mask is too obvious. Disregarding parts 4-6 was not only lazy, but also a slap in the face.
Final thoughts: Say what you will about parts 5 and 6, but at least they stayed true to all that came before. This twentieth anniversary sequel had the potential to be a fitting end to the series, but instead it's just a pretty good horror movie. The filmmakers wanted to stay true to the roots, but ended up alienating some of the fan base. All things considered however, 'H20' is not an embarrassment. It accomplished what it was meant to, which is to entertain, scare and honor a horror classic.
My rating: 3.5/5
Hellraiser: Bloodline (1996)
A good, if flawed bookend to the 'Hellraiser' story
Stories of films tinkered with and botched by studios are the stuff of legend. Executives who know little about art thinking they know what the people they really want is both amusing and frustrating. It hurts even more when we're dealing with a film that's part of a beloved series. Dimension Films has been known for having some problematic productions. Few are as interesting as what went on during the making of the third 'Hellraiser' sequel. One can only imagine the amount of tension there was between the director and the studio there was.
The franchise created by Clive Barker was becoming more successful with each installment. The first two had been made independently, while III was the first with a studio involved. For what was to be the final installment, the filmmakers had a tall order to fill. A winning concept, a talented effects artist in the director's chair and a script by 'Hellbound' and 'Hell On Earth' writer Peter Atkins were all good signs. Alas, the studio had to put their noses in and make changes against the director's wishes. The surprising thing is that the end result is actually quite good.
Pros: Good show by the entire cast. Though no match for Christopher Young's work, the score here is excellent. Neat, not to mention ambitious premise. The parts of Peter Atkins' script used are excellent. Gorgeous cinematography. Fabulous production design for all three time periods. Flows at a good pace. Some really killer effects, practical and visual.
Cons: Far too short for ideas and characters to fully develop. Some of the visual effects look dated. Has signs of studio interference, like in the editing. The lack of budget for such an ambitious concept shows a bit.
Final thoughts: It's a real shame that director Kevin Yagher and writer Peter Atkins didn't get to make the film the envisioned. There's a lot of really good stuff in here and you can sense they and everyone else involved had their hearts in it. That's why I think the film works as well as it does despite it's flaws. It's still more interesting than many of the Horror films that came out in the 90s.
My rating: 3.5/5