Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween - 2010

October Horror Gauntlet Film #11

October Horror Gauntlet Film #11
Directed by Balagueró and Plaza

I don't know what more I can really say about [REC]. It's one of my top ten horror films of the decade. It's my favorite found-footage film. It's one of the best zombie (viral, or otherwise) movies of all time. It's pretty much fantastic - taut, thrilling, scary, enthralling. All the things you want a horror film to be.

If you are one of the uninitiated, [REC] is the story of a young reporter that's on assignment following around a team of firefighters. They are dispatched to a call in an apartment building, where an elderly lady may be hurt. Of course, from there things get really interesting. I really don't want to get bogged down here in plot description. The plot is effective enough, but it's really secondary to the palpable sense of dread that the film creates. Other than maybe Martyrs, [REC] is probably weaves the most effective web of atmosphere of any horror flick in the last ten years.

Suffice to say that I recommend the film. And highly. I haven't seen the American remake (Quarantine), but I can't imagine it coming very close to matching the quality of [REC]. Maybe I'm wrong though, and it's just as awesome. But I doubt it.


October Horror Gauntlet Film #10

October Horror Gauntlet Film #10
Directed by Spierig Brothers

Daybreakers kind of came-and-went pretty fast on its theatrical run. I remember seeing the previews for it, and thinking that it might be pretty good, only to completely forget about it once I got around to going to the theater. Daybreakers is the latest film from the Spierig brothers. You remember them, the guys behind the Australian zombie picture Undead from a few years ago. Anyway, it's a hyper-stylized, heavy-on-the-action affair that is probably really less horror than it is a distopyian sci-fi/action picture. Is that a bad thing? Not at all. In fact, I kind of enjoyed Daybreakers.

To catch you up a little bit, the story takes place about ten years in the future. An vampiric epidemic has broken out, and most of the world have become night-walking, blood-sucking vampires. The problem is the country is running out of its blood supply. Insert Ethan Hawke's Edward Dalton - a vampire with a heart of gold that is working on a way to create synthetic blood (ala True Blood). Of course, the plot moves forward from there, and Dalton winds up working with a rag-tag group of humans (including Willem Defoe) to try and put an end to the reign of vampire terror.

Daybreakers is really a pretty lackluster affair. All of the setup is there for a great cult film. The mythos and world the filmmakers created really are a great start. Unfortunately, they don't do a whole lot with it. If it had done better, I would say that maybe a sequel could build on these elements, but I don't see that happening. There just isn't enough meat to...sink your teeth in to. I know that's pretty vague, but watch it and see what I mean. And I do believe it is worth watching. It's a fun, violent movie that works on a few levels. But don't expect your next favorite movie. Oh, I do have to mention this: Sam Neil is great, as usual.


October Horror Gauntlet Film #9

October Horror Gauntlet Film #9
The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Directed by Jim Sharman

Okay, so this one is a little bit of a cheat. It's not exactly a horror movie, but I think it can quality for the Gauntlet, as it is something of a satire of horror pictures. And, yes, I'm a bit late to the party on this one. I had never seen The Rocky Horror Picture show before. So, I guess the question is did I actually miss out on anything in all those years of having not seen the film? My feelings are actually kind of mixed on that.

From the beginning of the film, at least right after the wedding scene, I was hooked. I loved the "Science Fiction Double-Feature" song and thought that the setup was really going places. And, for the most part, the film continued to work for me for about the first forty minutes. I was into the songs, enjoyed the spectacle, thought Tim Curry was great, and was really interested in where the story was going. Only the story didn't ever really go anywhere. About halfway through the film, I felt like it was really dragging and I got disinterested. The songs started feeling more labored, and I didn't care what was going to happen next. By the end of the picture, my interest had picked back up, and I was enjoying myself again, but the volition was all but gone after the second act.

Do I recommend the film? Yes, I probably do. It is a huge cult film, after all. You might as well see it, at least just to see what all the fuss is about. But I can't say that I will revisit it any time in the near future. I am, however, inclined to get the soundtrack to re-listen to a handful of the songs in the film that really stuck out. Oh, and I should just note that I did watch this one with the wifey, she'd never seen it either, and she is head-over-heels for it now. Looks like this rental just turned into a purchase, just not for me.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Thursday, October 14, 2010

October Horror Gauntlet Film #8

October Horror Gauntlet Film #8
Survival of the Dead
Directed by George A. Romero

Do I really have to write this review? Not that I'm the first to say it, but it feels more like a eulogy than a review, and I hate to have to do that. Romero is kind of a personal hero of mine. He was able to, for all intents and purposes, create an entire genre. And it's a genre that has spawned some of my favorite movies, to boot. He created (or at least brought to prominence) all of the modern mythos behind zombies, for crying out loud. The man is legend. But, like Stevie Wonder, U2, Francis Coppella, or Robert De Niro sometimes legends lose it in their twilight. It seems to me, after the debacle that was Diary of the Dead, and now this, that Romero's time in the sun may be over.

I can't begin to describe how disappointing this film is. My first gripe is how uncinematic the movie feels. I might as well have been watching a webisode on someone's blog as watching a feature film. The script is completely hamfisted, the acting is brutal, and the effects (mostly computer) are cheap and silly looking. Somebody please call Tom Savini!

I can forgive most of the problems - the acting, the grue, sure it's a low budget picture. Not everything is going to be A grade. But the script...the script is in need of some serious work. It's not just the dialogue, which is bad, but the plot is so stupid - it's the Hatfields and McCoys on an island during a zombie some army guys, and a kid! Really? This is the story you want to stick with, George?

The only redeeming qualities to the film are 1) that it is a Romero zombie film, so you automatically have to give it at least one cool point and 2) the few practical effects that are in the film look pretty good. Other than that, I don't know if I would waste my time with the movie.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

October Horror Gauntlet Film #7

Film Number 7: Don't Look Up

October Horror Gauntlet Film #7
Don't Look Up
Directed by Fruit Chan

Fruit Chan is a director that I really wanted to catch up with after seeing his section of the anthology film Three...Extremes. His addition to that film, Dumplings, is my personal favorite of the three. And I hear tale that the full-length Gaau ji is superb, so it was a no brainer when I saw that he had an English-language film out. I was especially interested to see if he reeled in the usually zany Eli Roth.

Unfortunately, Roth is only in the film for about two minutes, and the rest of it is borderline garbage. I can't believe that this is the same guy who made the incredibly nuanced Dumplings. The whole production feels cheap - the scares, the script, the effects all feel very cheap. And you will definitely feel like you've seen this movie before - it's like The Man With the Screaming Brain meets John Carpenter's Cigarette Burns, if that gives you any insight.

If you really care, the story is about a young, former wunderkind director named Marcus Reed who suffers from schizophrenic visions (or, possibly, sees ghosts). To clear his good name, he embarks on a quest to remake a classic Romanian horror tale that was begun many years ago, but never completed. The plot is more convoluted than that, it includes the true story that the original film, and subsequently the remake, is based on and a deal with a devil, but who really cares? You won't be lost by the story, but you will wonder why the hell they went through so much effort just to make a crappy story.


Monday, October 11, 2010

October Horror Gauntlet Film #6

October Horror Gauntlet Film #6
Cold Prey (2006)
Directed by Roar Uthaug

Honestly I hadn't heard very much about Cold Prey before I decided to fire it up on the ol' Netflix Stream. I knew it was a Norwegian slasher, and that it took place in the mountains, but that was it. I had pretty high hopes for it, being a slasher from Norway and really thought that it might offer us something new in the genre. Unfortunately, my expectations were not to be fulfilled because what we are left with is pretty much the same movie you've seen fifty times before.

Cold Prey starts out with a group of five young adults on their way to a mountain on a snowboarding adventure. One of the guys ends up breaking his leg, and they take shelter in an abandoned ski lodge for the night. Uh-oh, turns out someone else lives there, too, and he doesn't like visitors. If you want to know the rest of the story; think of every cliche in the book and apply them to a ski lodge in Norway and you've got Cold Prey!

I'm not suggesting that it's necessarily a bad thing to stick to classic tropes, but I expected some variation from the same old stuff we see in American cinema all the time. Maybe up the ante, you know. Instead, we've got a very trite story, some decent scares, and some lackluster kills. I can say that I had fun watching Cold Prey with a buddy. We actually ended up providing our commentary through much of the picture, MS3TK-style. But, in all seriousness, the film is fairly effective at times and can be a pretty good time if you are looking to shut off and enjoy a dumb movie. For that reason alone, I will at least have to give it a five on the enjoyment scale.


Thursday, October 7, 2010

Clip of the Week

October Horror Gauntlet Film #5

October Horror Gauntlet Film #5
Night of the Comet (1984)
Directed by Thom Eberhardt

It wasn't too long ago that there still a handful of genre favorites unreleased on the DVD medium. It wasn't but just a few years ago that we first got a favorite of mine, The Burning, on disc. A few months before they released The Burning, MGM put out the cult classic Night of the Comet for the first time on DVD. I had never seen the film, and have always meant to pick up the DVD and check out what I hoped was an eighties genre gem.

Does it live up to those high expectations? No, not really. Not in the same way that Night of the Creeps does, anyway. Don't get me wrong, Night of the Comet is a fun movie, that is very much a product of its time. The effects, the big hair, the all-around goofiness of the picture all really place the film in the eighties, but it's a fun trip back in time rather than a tedious one.

The picture stars Catherine Mary Stewart (The Last Starfighter) as Regina, a tough-as-nails 18 year old Los Angeleno vixen. She is actually a lot of fun to watch, and one of the best parts of the film. The story, such as it is, is about a comet that is going to be making a pass of earth (the same one that was last seen when the dinosaurs died!) and the havoc that ensues after said comet turns most of civilization into red dust. Yeah, just like the dinosaurs! Anyway, there are some zombified people in the movie, but it's really light on zombies.

Overall, I can recommend Night of the Comet as a fun movie to watch on a Friday night, preferably with a group of friends. Grab some popcorn and enjoy it as a trip back in time to watch some silly movie making.


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

October Horror Gauntlet Film #4

October Horror Gauntlet Film #4
Wait Until Dark
Directed by Terence Young

Wait Until Dark is a fantastic little 1967 suspense-thriller directed by Bond veteran Terence Young. The film stars Audrey Hepburn, who was nominated for the Oscar, Richard Crenna, and Alan Arkin playing against type as the scummy villain Harry Roat. From the get go it’s pretty easy to spot that the movie was based on a play – the dialogue and what is basically one small set betray this – but it doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of the film. The play was actually pretty popular, originally being directed by Arthur Penn and starring Lee Remmick and Robert Duvall.

By no means does Wait Until Dark defy plot synopsis, nor is it incredibly convoluted, but I am finding it difficult to sum up the action in a few short sentences. The movie starts with a woman smuggling heroin inside of a doll. From there, an innocent man gets roped into the drug muling by way of the woman asking him to hold the doll for her. He does so, and brings the doll back to the apartment (for reasons I don’t seem to recall) and that’s where the trouble begins. Arkin’s Harry Roat masterminds a plot to find the doll in this house, while confusing Susy into thinking that her husband may be involved in a murder.

It’s kind of a Hitchcockian thriller, and one that I would highly recommend. It’s very taut, and very exciting. I kept waiting for a dull moment, or for the action to drag but it never really did. And the final twenty minutes are edge-of-your-seat type stuff that will really have you glued to the TV. The main problem I had with the film was the lack of depth to the characters – but things like Hepburn’s portrayal helped me get around that and really believe her even without a wealth of characterization. Sometimes she did dip into melodrama, which was a little distracting, but for the most part I can understand her Oscar nomination.


October Horror Gauntlet Film #3

October Horror Gauntlet Film #3
Horror of Dracula (1958)
Directed by Terence Fisher

Dracula, in some iteration, has been played by a lot of different heavyweights. Max Schreck, Bela Lugosi, Klaus Kinski, Jack Palance, Frank Langella, and Gary Oldman have all donned the cape and portrayed the undead count – even if they were called “Nosferatu” instead of Dracula. But I don’t know how much better it can get than the ultra-debonair Christopher Lee.

Lee stars opposite of Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing in this, the first of Hammer Horror’s classic Dracula series. The Bram Stoker story has been streamlined down to a breezy 82 minutes, completely omitting the character of R.M. Renfield and Quincey Morris. They’ve also eschewed with some of the seedier aspects of the story, in favor of more implicit relationships, and some of the more time consuming plot points (like Dracula’s sea voyage). Personally I don’t feel like any of these changes detract from the power of the story. If anything, I feel like cutting the fat, as it were, helps make the story more cinematic in its pacing.

I won’t go into details on the story, as you’ve already heard it. Instead, I’ll discuss why this particular version of the story is probably my second or third favorite telling. The obvious reason for my fondness of the film is the cast – Lee and Cushing are an institution of character acting. They play opposite each other so well in so many Hammer films, that it’s difficult to think of a better acting duo.

Secondly, that classic Hammer atmosphere is a driving force that brings me back to this particular version time and time again. The sets look pretty fantastic, the Terence Fisher direction is superb in its subtlety, and the overall atmosphere of Victorian dread is palpable in all of the scenes. To me, it can get better than Horror of Dracula, but it would be a very difficult task.


Monday, October 4, 2010

October Horror Gauntlet Film #2

October Horror Gauntlet Film #2
Friday the 13th (1980)
Directed by Sean Cunningham

I’ve seen Friday the 13th at least twenty times over the years, but watching it over the weekend it took on a whole new life for me. I was finally able to get my hands on the uncut Blu Ray edition of the film, and I thought it looked pretty fantastic. It wasn’t quite like seeing a whole different movie, but it was close.

Now, this advance in technology works both against and in favor of a movie like Friday the 13th. Some of the shots of the lake look just gorgeous on Blu Ray, but things like the prosthetic neck used during Kevin Bacon’s death are exposed as being very fake looking. The other big revelation that the disc brings for me is finally being able to see the uncut deaths in all of their glory. Annie’s gets particularly more brutal (she’s the one that bites it at the beginning of the film).

The big question that I always have with movies of this ilk is do they hold up? I think that the answer to that is a little fuzzy. I enjoy the film as much now as I ever have, but what I appreciate is the simplicity of it rather than the sheer terror Cunningham is attempting to bring to the screen. Full disclosure here, I am an unabashed fan of summer camp movies. That includes fare from Sleepaway Camp, to Wet Hot American Summer, to Meatballs. I love the genre, and particularly when the films are from the eighties. Those movies captured a sense of innocence, both in the filmmaking and in the subject-matter presented, that is difficult to replicate.

Cunningham’s idea of taking that idyllic, yet hormone-fueled atmosphere of the summer camp movie and marrying it with a stalk-and-slash thriller is a pretty fantastic one. And, for the most part, I do love Cunningham’s film. I think that it does get that feeling down – that youthful exuberance amongst the serenity of a beautiful camp background – and he slowly begins to dilute that atmosphere with impending doom. That all still works for me.

The main problems with the film lie at the very heart of it, and they are the script and the plot. For the most part, the characters are completely underdeveloped and are on screen as nothing more than fodder for the killer. This is incredibly common to the slasher film, but it is also something that needs to be remedied. The main plot idea works, but there’s no real “oomph” to it. The big reveal doesn’t work particularly well, because the viewer just doesn’t have any reason to care. I’m starting to run a little long here, so I will cut myself off. Let’s just say that while Friday the 13th is a film that I will always love, it is pretty flawed.


Saturday, October 2, 2010

October Horror Gauntlet - 2010

Every year I attempt to watch at least 31 horror movies in the month of October. It's rare that I succeed, but it's a lot of fun to try. This year, I kicked things off last night with Adam Green's Frozen.

October Horror Gauntlet Film #1
Frozen (2010)
Directed by Adam Green

Adam Green is the man behind the throwback slasher Hatchet (and the great Jack Chop), but this is decidedly different fare for him. Frozen is more of a psychological thriller/suspense movie, and one that pretty much takes place entirely in one location - aboard a chair lift on top of a mountain. In case you don't know the story, it's about three skiers that try to catch one last gnarly run (or whatever) in the night, and are inadvertently stranded at the peak of a chair lift's ascent up a mountain.

For the most part, I enjoyed the film. SPOILER ALERT: It's fun watching the kid from Air Bud think that he can jump three stories and be fine, only to have his legs shattered and his face eaten by wolves. Yeah, that happens. You wanna see it now, don'tcha? Sometimes the film does get bogged down into the same tropes that you see in any of these "stranded" films, and it can also dip into really saccharine sentiment at times as well.

I can appreciate the difficulty of making a film like this have any kind of real prowess, because it is so stagnate, and I think that Green is able to sustain a pretty good buzz through-out most of the films run time. That's not to see that it is an excellent film by any means, just one that will hold your attention until about the one hour mark, and then again about twenty minutes later. Overall, I'd recommend it to you to watch on a cold, snowy night with some friends.


Friday, October 1, 2010

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