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Refreshes the Horror Genre - Bravo!
As a hardcore lifelong horror fan, I was thrilled to catch this little gem on my DVR.
Forget that it's an anthology. It's a bit disjointed and free-form, but the stories are easy to follow, there's no crappy filler scenes or banal dialog, and the surprises keep piling up. It reinvents the made-on-video genre, blowing away Blair Witch and Paranormal Activity by being more experimental, sexier, scarier, more disturbing, with a greater range of special efx and ingenious use of video efx.
It starts off with a deceptively simple interstitial story (as pitched in the log-line) which sets the expectations low. We get a hint that something more is about to happen with a slightly subtle reveal that foreshadows the hellish carnage to come.
The cast is wonderful. The acting is blessedly naturalistic (meaning extremely realistic for those of you who never took an art class) but not flat. While the mostly young actors have the look of folks you'd usually find in university films, they perform brilliantly. And unlike well-known movie stars, their fresh faces help preserve the suspension of disbelief that makes horror films more effective.
Hannah Fierman deserves a nod as a stand-out in a stand-out cast, but she's also aided by delightful make-up efx and mechanical efx work.
Unlike most low budget films these days, the stories vary widely in tone and include some stunning location work. The screenplay is intelligent and the vignettes are original.
The film was made by a collective, so I'm not even going to attempt to mention everyone by name. Suffice it to say, they are bona fide filmmakers who have mastered the medium and don't get overwhelmed by the cutting edge techniques they use.
If you're a horror fan and haven't yet seen it, check it out. But be advised that this one is much more full-blooded (no pun intended) than the typical made-for-a-middle-road-audience flicks, with liberal injections of sex and nudity and realistic gore. Softcore horror fans might find it too disturbing.
Bye Bye Birdie (1995)
How bad is this movie? It was so bad that when a train pulls into the station with Pennsylvania on its side I suddenly got an urge to move out of that noble Commonwealth. So bad that when a character laid down on the train tracks, I wished that the entire cast would join her.
The romantic lead is pudgy little Jason Alexander, with a rug on his head that looks like he found it in a discarded crackerjack box. His true love is obviously compatible -- she's also adorned with a wig, which looks to have been mail ordered from the back of an Archie comic book.
I was shocked to learn that director Gene Saks was only in his 70s when he muddled through this opus. Based on his Borscht Belt sensibilities and comic timing I would have guessed he'd gotten his start on the vaudeville circuit.
The choreography stands out as perhaps the cheesiest and most clichéd choreography ever to be captured on film. Probably because the dance moves were scraped off the mold from old movies, I was reminded of Fred Astair and Ginger Rogers during the climactic duet -- which made me wish I was watching Singing in the Rain again, instead of a toupeed bundle of flab in a tailored suit struggling to look debonair while hoofing it with a partner who's a head taller than he is and clearly out of his league. In fairness, the number brings some desperately needed (if unintentional) comedic relief to an otherwise bland waste of time.
It's admirable that they stuck to the original play, although anyone who previously watched the 1963 movie will miss certain elements of the earlier Hollywood make-over, such as drama and comedy and fun.
The movie does pack a few surprises here and there. One involves Tyne Daly in a wet fur coat. The other is the number of people who seem to actually like this disaster and find it entertaining. We really need to get a handle on the pharmaceutical industry... before we're a nation of zombies.
The Howling: Reborn (2011)
Not For Fans of the Original - More like Teen Wolf Reborn
There is a theory of film study which asserts that an important factor in how a film is experienced is the time and setting in which one sees it. It's especially true for horror films. Teens who see films like the original Texas Chainsaw and The Howling for the first time decades after they were made will compare them to films like Saw and other films they've seen earlier. People who saw them when they first came out got the full impact of the new ground they were breaking at the time.
The Howling: Reborn breaks no new ground. It does however break one of the cardinal rules of screen writing: avoid voice-over as much as possible. This film is plastered wall-to-wall with the pretentious observations of a "teenaged mind." The main characters are like rejects from an MTV dramedy, slinging pseudo-pithy ruminations of teen angst that only a pre-adolescent could find intriguing.
It's not all bad though. There is Lindsey Shaw to look at. And the lighting is top notch. Unfortunately the cinematography is lost in a flashy mess of music video after effects and choppy editing, apparently used to cover up the less-than-state-of-the-art CG work.
The original Howling was a notable entry in the horror genre. Aside from the fact that it was genuinely scary and atmospheric, it featured the first truly impressive "real time" full body on screen transformation of a man into a werewolf. (Yes American Werewolf had good efx too, if you found it impressive to see one hand transform at a time.) And this was before CG, when make-up artists had to figure out complex robotics combined with masterful sculpted skins.
And while the original Howling drew you in with realistic situations and characters, Reborn starts off with a few unreal clunkers. One is a security guard in charge of a school lockdown system that would be the envy of any maximum security prison. The second is when a high school student is pushed against a locker and has a three inch blood-gushing gash sliced across his jugular, and shrugs it off as if the school bully just rubbed a booger in his hair.
Not long after that we find ourselves immersed in a wannabe feature length MTV video with standard rock video efx like color desaturation, flash cuts, and worst of all, a string of songs with sappy vocals that make the mickey mouse orchestral score even more mickey mouse.
In the end, the bombastic direction and flashy editing fail to make up for what this film lacks: substance.
Kids will probably like it though. Fans of the original hoping for a state-of-the-art update will be sorely disappointed.
Saam gaang yi (2004)
Outstanding Top Quality Horror Film
This is one very slick and glossy horror film that will challenge many Western viewers, particularly the more provincial-minded. It should shatter some prejudices and put a serious dent in some chauvinistic preconceptions.
Overall it is very artfully sexy. The actresses are beautiful; the actors are movie star handsome. The costumes, sets and photography are lush and sensual. The production values are as high as you can get in any movie, let alone a horror film. The final episode rivals Fellini's Amarcord for the sheer beauty of some of its imagery.
The first of the three stories relies heavily on irony, with its most powerful images as subtle as they are disturbing. The second one is more bombastic, and caters to the "Saw" crowd with its sadistic bent and convoluted story. The final story meanders and is perhaps a bit perverse, depending on how far you let your imagination roam to fill in the gaps.
I would caution that this is not a film for 12-year-olds having a sleepover. Not that it's too disturbing, since it's softer than most. But other than the second segment, it's probably too subtle. It's more likely to please sophisticated adults with a worldly view, looking for a sumptuously hedonistic slice of dark drama. Watch it in bed with a trayful of chocolate and strawberries, and a bottle of champagne.
Smart Sexy Little Horror Outing
If you prefer "movies" to "films" you might find this one too story driven and less gory or sensationalistic than you like.
The first thing that caught my attention in this film was the warm soft color pallet. Unlike the annoying dim cold blue gels so overused by many fledgling DPs, this film breaks the mold with liberal use of orange and red throughout, in the settings and props and costumes. The result is an airiness that dispels any claustrophobia in the mostly interior college dorm location. The camera work is often very tight, reminiscent of early Polanski and John Huston with occasionally unorthodox but evocative framing. The lighting is highly effective, appropriately dark in some scenes but never murky.
The soundtrack is also a delightful break from the standard "ominous" horror beats and groans. Ethereal chimes dominate the music tracks, owing a lot to the Icelandic band Mum. The sound effects tracks are beautifully designed and unique; again the director avoids the usual horror film clichés in favor of experimental choices that work very well.
The actors are sexy and wholesome, much as you might expect from a bunch of healthy young Scandinavians. They're very good, serious actors who quickly but subtly convey the nuances of their characters, thanks to the director's steady hand.
As for the scariness, this is more on the level of Japanese creepy vengeful ghost scary than jump out of your skin American or Brit shock horror, but the story is nicely developed and fast paced, with enough intriguing mystery to hold your interest to the end.
If this movie starts to bore you then you need to put it away until you're mature enough to appreciate its artfulness.
Zombi 2 (1979)
Great Classic 70s Zombie Flick
With the recent resurrection (no pun intended) of the zombie genre and the revisionist reworking of the genre's conventions to include fast moving zombies, military action, zombies that talk and tongue in cheek humor, Fulci's "Zombie" is a throwback to the days when zombies were slow-moving corpses and you could count the number of worthwhile zombie flicks on one hand. Basically there were George Romero's three initial entries, the last of which stretched his ouevre thin, and a bunch of cheesy European entries with jumbled story lines and generally crappy efx.
Horror fans raised on the recent wave of zombie films may not fully appreciate Fulci's entry. Yes, there is stilted dialog and acting, largely the result of a multi-international cast and a director working in his non-native tongue. The story is bare bones, the budget in line with indie Euro productions of the time.
That said, this film packs a surprise or two and is a horror film for fans who appreciate true edge-of-your-seat horror, not watered down, humor-softened "horror" films. This film owes as much to the original "Night of the Living Dead" as it does to the T'n'A laden B movies of the pre-HIV 70s, which used sex and nudity to pump up the adrenal impact of the suspense and horror, rather than automatic weapons.
The setting and imagery are major creep factors, with a small group of characters stuck in the isolated environment of a desolate tropical island. The tone is set by the first glimpse of islander corpses wrapped in bloody shrouds in a bamboo-roofed clinic, a scene no doubt inspired by the opening basement scene of Romero's "Dawn of the Dead". The pre-digital efx are fairly simple but were brutally realistic and shocking at the time the movie was made.
Fans who prefer the fast-moving-zombie-versus-assault-rifle dynamic of the military action films to the pure horror of slow-moving infected corpses preying on unarmed vulnerable people may find this film not as bombastic as they'd like. But fans of the original Romero films who can tolerate B production values and aren't offended by pre-Reagan era social mores should find this an enjoyable romp.
For zombie completists this is a must.
The Children (2008)
Brilliant Little Horror Film
As a jaded lifelong horror fan I'm always on the lookout for that rare gem which entertains without cheapening the genre. There's been a deluge of crap produced over the past decade; the usual indicators are murky blue cinematography from injudicious use of gels, formulaic or gimmicky story lines, copycat themes, or cheesy humor.
The Children has none of these problems. It's one of the most original horror dramas to pop up in years, a breath of fresh air. It's also subtle in its build-up of suspense and occasional injections of humor. Which probably explains why viewers who judge a horror film by the volume of blood and guts dumped on screen might not "get" this film.
Set in one basic location (a prime requisite for indie horror funding these days) the script takes advantage of a beautiful rural setting to avoid the claustrophobic limitations of the typical and obvious "creepy location" most straight-to-vid horror flicks are set in.
The script is smart, a sort of Children of the Damned but much more naturalistic. In a nutshell, it chronicles a two-day holiday family get together during which the small children gradually succumb to a virus and become bratty little devils who wreak havoc on the adults.
The direction is straightforward but artful, incorporating punchy detail shots and dynamic editing techniques for maximum impact on a budget. The acting is superb. Unlike the cold glaring "Damned" kids, these are real life toddlers whose emotions escalate from vulnerable reliance to psychotic sadism. Performances are excellent all around from a very attractive cast. Particularly amazing are the child actors, who are never less than convincing in extremely demanding roles.
Perhaps more aptly described as an "intensely horrific drama" than straight out horror film, this is an ideal chiller for anyone who values creative film-making and intelligent stories over gratuitous effects. That said, it is loaded with disturbing moments, and would probably give the average soccer mom nightmares for months.
Hell Ride (2008)
Campy B Movie Biker Fun
It puzzles me how people can be slamming this movie for its B movie values, when it's a consummate B movie! What did you expect from a biker movie called Hell Ride?
Contrary to some of the complaints expressed here, the acting in this movie is quite good. It's tongue-in-cheek campy, but it's effective and fits the tone of the film perfectly. Dennis Hopper may appear to be a little shaky -- Duh! He was terminally ill at the time he made this. It's cool that he was able to actually ride a bike at his age, and nice of the producers to provide him with a sidecar. His appearance is a fitting tribute to his birth as a star in Easy Rider, the role which put him on the map, just as this movie is a worthy tribute to biker movies.
The cinematography is top grade. The music is appropriately twangy and the soundtrack is well mixed, with the throaty growl of the vintage big twins adding a nice authenticity to the riding scenes. Unlike the old B biker films of the 60s and early 70s, the rides in this flick are real "biker" bikes. Vintage Harleys and Indians etc. not just dirt bikes tweaked up for stunt work.
The casting and costumes are sexy. The screenplay is not exactly Shakespeare but is good for what it is; an excuse to showcase the action, humor and"drive-in" style gratuitous T'n'A. The dialog is punchy and the story has enough twists to keep you guessing. Editing is crisp.
In a nutshell, the production values are what you'd expect from a Dimension movie. Slicker than usual for a lower budget film.
The only knock is the intro of the characters, which uses the overdone "modern" device of subtitled intros, but this is a minor complaint about a directorial cheat that some viewers probably find clever.
If you like B movies, drive-in movies or biker movies, put your feet up and check it out. If you're offended by violence and nudity, go watch something else. It's a biker movie!
Best Thriller in Many Years
I was more than pleasantly surprised by this movie. Based on the title and the trailer, I was expecting a typical soft gut Hollywood formula thriller with a few cheap scares and a namby-pamby pseudo-cathartic ending. What I got was a top notch seat of your pants white-knuckle joy ride.
Everything about this film is top of the line, from the beautifully paced screenplay by David Johnson, with rich characters and more suspense than you'd find in your usual Hollywood thriller, based on a great story by Alex Mace.
The casting and performances are uniformly superb, but most notable are the three main female characters, who are a bit more complex than you normally get in a genre film from Tinseltown.
Vera Farmiga is a fine actress who's been impressive in past roles, but this is a stand-out role that will have everyone remembering her name. Her young co-stars are both outstanding as well. Newcomer Aryanna Engineer is a charming newcomer and Isabelle Fuhrman as the mysterious orphan was simply amazing in this role.
Director Jaume Collet-Serra is great not only with the actors but with action and pacing as well. Like Paul Verhoeven, he's one of those rare European directors who handles Hollywood style action better than most American directors.
With several top producers on board, including Joel Silver, Don Carmody and Susan Downey, it's not a surprise that the production values are excellent, from the score to the costumes to the efx make-up and stunts.
If you're a fan of the thriller genre, this is one you can't miss.
Mega Piranha (2010)
A New Low for Sci-Fi
Tagline: "They were created to save mankind. Something went wrong." You can say that again.
SyFy Channel continues to plumb new depths in sci-fi programming with this entry from "auteur" Eric Forsberg. Mega Piranha stands out as the consummate example of low quality, mindless fodder cranked out for the indiscriminating pre-teen viewer. Sadly, a generation of impressionable kids are being trained to accept this level of crap as acceptable entertainment.
The screenplay is a decadent mess. With its tale of lab-created monster fishes, the story traces its lineage back to the original Frankenstein story, the seminal work of science fiction. For more than a century, the sci-fi genre has served up some of the most daring and provocative explorations of morality as it pertains to science and technology. Unfortunately, any attempt at such intelligent or provocative story-telling has been jettisoned in this hack effort.
The characters are muddled and clichéd, and unlike the original Frankenstein (and Alien, and other classic sci-fi works) this film has no moral compass whatsoever. Token female Tiffany (someone's idea of a milf, I suppose) plays a scientist who helps create a monster form of piranha, although she later describes herself as a "greenpeacer" (when she advocates for a super nuclear strike on her evil creation.) The writer apparently has no clue about eco-politics and simply pulled his characterizations out of thin air (to be polite) without a minute's research (or even a dollop of common sense.) This is perhaps the laziest writing ever perpetrated on sci-fi fans, and one of the stupidest scripts.
The US military figures are smart and idealistic do-gooders, while their foreign counterparts are of course blundering idiots. While the South Americans' stupidity is portrayed as evil, the team of North American scientists responsible for the mess are transferred into heroes without the slightest hint of a character turn or transition. They simply realized after the fact that creating monstrous piranhas with accelerated mutating and reproductive capabilities might not have been the best way to "save the world." Wow. Well, clearly they weren't rocket scientists.
With their poorly matched lighting, the efx are the typical unconvincing low grade efx churned out for Syfy's bargain basement productions, where quantity bests quality every time. Almost every movie on the channel features efx that looks like they were rushed out by animation interns working for lunch money. You'd think someone in charge might eventually get the idea to re-use and further develop their existing wireframe animations rather than starting from scratch with every production. By pooling their already developed resources, the companies whipping up the endless slew of ogres and monster fishes might eventually come up with a convincing effect.
This one is for strictly for kids who are too young to watch real sci-fi movies. Although god only knows how it might warp their perception of the world we actually live on.