Saturday, November 27, 2010

Hunt to Kill (2010)

I gotta hand it to Anchor Bay. When they release Direct to DVD action flicks, they actually put a little attention to it. Unlike the ones studios like Lionsgate release, these have surprisingly good production values, and look like they could have been given a theatrical release. Well, not a wide theatrical release, but a theatrical release nonetheless. Sadly, that doesn't mean that said movie is going to be any good, such as "Hunt to Kill", starring former professional wrestler Steve Austin.

Jim Rhodes (Austin) is a former border agent mourning the loss of his partner Lee Davis (Eric Roberts, whose something of a guardian angel for those of us that frequent Direct to DVD movies) and having to raise his rebellious daughter Kim (Marie Avgeropoulos) in the Montana mountains. That is, until a gang of trigger happy fugitives, led by the clearly off his rocker Banks (Gil Bellows) take them hostage in the wilderness. Well, Banks screws Jim over, and you can guess where that leads...

If "Hunt to Kill" has anything going for it, it's the over the top performance from Bellows and the third act. Bellows chews scenery like there's no tomorrow, and is clearly having the time of his life playing a villain, thus making the proceedings occasionally tolerable. Also, the last third of the movie is when it finally becomes what it wants to be, and that's a fun, 80's style action movie with enjoyable action scenes and dumb but campy one liners. Hell, the best one, and the main reason this isn't getting less than four stars, is because of Jim saying near the end "When I hunt, I hunt to kill!" It's one of the few moments in which the movie doesn't take itself too seriously, and decides to play it up. I honestly applauded that line.

Sadly, the fun is too far and in between. Apart from the third act and the Banks character, this is mostly just boring. All of the other performances are too bland, with Austin having three main emotional responses: glare, scowl, and talk in a low voice. To say he lacks emotional range is like saying the 1976 Buccaneers sucked. It also doesn't help that the whole thing feels like it was written by a High School drop out, with characters making dumber than usual decisions (people yelling just so Rhodes can kill them with a crossbow, villains that spend most of their time fighting amongst each other, the daughter not escaping when she has so many clear opportunities to do so) and most of what happens before the third act being boring as sin. Plus, it clearly wants to be an action flick in the vein of "Commando" and "Cliffhanger", but as I mentioned earlier, it takes a while to get there, and until then, you have to sit through tedium.

It's a shame, because in the right hands, this could have been the kind of dumb-but-fun action flick it was aiming to be. Instead, it's just dumb. Still, at least that last one liner was great.

Rating: 4/10

Friday, November 26, 2010

Robogeisha (2009)

Though it didn't start with it, the movie that could probably be considered as the kickoff point for the current wave of splatter-comedy movies from Japan is Noboru Iguchi's 2008 film "The Machine Girl." Over the top, nonsensical and gory as hell, the thing took the most insane moments of Troma, films like "Starship Troopers", Anime and a sundry of other influences, then put them in an industrial blender and concocted something that had to be seen to be believed. Since then, Japanese horror took a turn for the surreal and messy, with films like "Tokyo Gore Police", "Samurai Princess" and "Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl" (which may be the crowning achievement of this movement) wowing gore hounds and fans of the outrageous. Well, Iguchi has returned to this field with "Robogeisha", and while it's a lot of fun, you can't help but wonder if this kind of horror comedy from Japan is wearing out it's welcome.

Poor Yoshi Kasuga (Aya Kiguchi) is constantly being treated like shit by her Geisha sister Kikue (Hotomi Hasube), until she is recruited by a secret society to join an army of Geisha assassins. During this training, Yoshi and her sister have parts of their body changed, giving them all kinds of interesting weapons, and in the process becoming cyborgs. Well, it turns out that Kaguno (Takumi Saitô) has some mean tricks up his sleeve, including using a castle/robot hybrid to destroy Japan. Can Yoshi break free and save Japan? Will her and Kikue ever get along? What the hell are the Japanese smoking? Why is Asami (from "Audition") appearing in all of these movies as of late?

A mix of family melodrama, Black Humor, and too many "what the fuck" moments to name them all (a few include acidic breast milk, "ass-swords", ninja stars shooting from asses, and buildings that bleed when struck), "Robogeisha" is another you-have-to-see-it-to-believe-it film from the effects guys and directors of your favorite Japanese splatter movies. Fortunately, the plot is enjoyable and easy to follow, the protagonist is likable, and the humor mostly works, as do many of the over the top moments. The entire body modification aspect to the story could possibly be seen as feminist satire, as it could be looked at as a commentary on society's tendency to pressure girls into looking their best via plastic surgery, either from peer pressure or jealousy. I'm probably getting ahead of myself though, as this is a movie with machine gun breasts and a giant robot.

If it runs into any problems, it's familiarity and the fact that it ends up running out of steam. Watching this, I couldn't help but feel like in spite of the over the top nature and things I've never seen before, I feel like this kind of movie is starting to get old. A movie trying to throw in things you've never seen before is great, but after seeing movie after movie like this from Japan, I can't help but feel like this is starting to get old. Also, everything after the robot-castle's rampage is kind of tiresome, and you can't help but feel like Iguchi ran out of ideas in the end.

Still, "Robogeisha" is loads of fun for the large part, and it should definitely please fans of the current wave of Japanese gore flicks, even though it's starting to get old if you ask me. Still, they're showing no sign of slowing down, so hey, what harm can another do?

Rating: 7.5/10

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Monday, November 22, 2010

Rabid Grannies (1988)

Ah, Troma. Everyone whose a horror or cult movie fan knows of this studio. They're still around today, granted not the same force that they once were. Back in the days when VHS and video rentals ruled the world, Troma was something of a king, offering people the best (well okay, not usually the best) in pure mindless schlock, filled with boobs, gore and scatological humor. They also managed to come up with some of the best movie titles ever, such as "Stuff Stephanie in the Incinerator", "Fertilize the Blaspheming Bombshell", "A Nymphoid Barbarian in Dinosaur Hell"-you get the idea. who wouldn't want to see those? Well, the problem was that while the titles were great, the movies were not. Case in point, Emmanuel Kervyn's sole directing and writing credit "Rabid Grannies."

This is the lovely, heart warming tale of two aunts (so much for that title, huh?) who invite their heartless, money hungry, back-stabbing relatives and a cowardly priest to celebrate their birthday. Granted, the last part of that makes it sound like a joke akin to "a priest and a rabbi walk into a bar", but that's another story altogether. Anyways, a disowned member of the family, who is all about Satan and whatnot, brings the kindly aunts a present. Said present contains and evil spirit, and before you can say "demon possessed geriatrics", they aunts become flesh hungry, sadistic demons who proceed to knock people off one by one.

With a title like "Rabid Grannies", you'd expect this to be a real blast, right? Well, it sadly turns out to be sporadically entertaining. The film is firmly tongue in cheek, and thankfully never forgets that and maintains that feeling throughout the film. Plus, the direction is tolerable enough, the mean streak is fun, and unlike other viewers, I thought the dubbed in British accents (the film is Belgium) fit the tone of the film perfectly.

Yet, it never really reaches the "Bad Taste" and "Evil Dead II" level heights it so clearly sets to achieve. While there are funny moments, they're too far and in between, meaning that we have to put up with constantly boring scenes of people bickering and yelling at one another. Movies like "Bad Taste" and other outrageous splatter/comedy hybrids worked because they rarely let up on their violent nature, and when they did, they still offered something else of interest. This movie doesn't do that. Also, it really isn't that much of a splatter comedy, as most of the gore and graphic bloodshed as been edited out (apparently because the director wanted them edited out-that's gotta be a first.) With so many dull moments and poorly edited out bloodshed and gore, the movie ends up becoming more boring than it should be.

And that's a shame, because this really could have (and should have) been a fine, funny blend of gags and bloodshed. Instead, it's a dull and rather anemic affair that drops the ball too often.

Rating: 4/10

Friday, November 19, 2010

Barbarian Queen (1985)

When "Conan the Barbarian" came out, Roger Corman must have popped a huge boner. Sure, Sword n' Sorcery movies had been in exploitation and Hollywood fare for years, but with "Conan", he not only had a new movie to rip off, but he could rip off said movie and include all the boobs and blood that he figured audiences wanted. So with that, Corman produced a slew of exploitation quickies "inspired" by said movie, including "Deathstalker" (and it's sequels), "Sorceress", "The Warrior and the Sorceress" (no relation to the last movie) and of course, 1985's "Barbarian Queen."

During the times of ancient Rome, a small village is pillaged (try saying that five times fast) by Roman troops, with most of the villagers either killed or taken into captivity. Well, Amethea (Lana Clarkson, who went on to be married to and the be murdered by Phil Spector. Happy viewing!) and two other women aren't going to stand by this, so it's time to liberate the village and get some vengeance.

That's about it for the plot really, though things like "story" and "character development" aren't what this movie is interested in. Nope, "Barbarian Queen" is an excuse to show gratuitous female nudity and bloody violence to undemanding audiences (re: teenage boys without particularly high standards.) It's not a complete waste of time, as it offers viewers all of that, as well as a sense of humor (while thankfully not winking and nudging at the audience), some unsavory characters (who knew a guy would rape a girl "for science"?) and more. Plus, it moves at a reasonable clip, even though it barely counts as a full length movie with it's 70 minute run time, and it doesn't do anything that will piss you off. Well, unless you are offended by scenes of (thankfully brief and not graphic) sexual violence.

The problem though, is that it really doesn't do very much at all. Maybe it's because of the budget and the time restrictions, but the whole thing mostly feels kinda...there, not to mention hollow. I know, it's useless to complain about a movie that exists only to show boobs and graphic violence, but this is a movie that would have benefited if it had a little more to it. Apart from a scene where Amethea crushes a rapists penis with her vaginal muscles, there's very little here that's memorable. Also, the action scenes are poorly handled, and the acting is all around pretty bad. While she's clearly having a good time with her role, Clarkson just isn't a particularly good actress (though that's kind of a given), and the character of Amethea is rather dull.

As it stands, there's little in "Barbarian Queen" that's likely to make fans of quick and to the point exploitation mad, and it makes for a decent enough rainy afternoon viewing. It's just that you'll probably wonder if there are better things to do with your time while watching it.

Rating: 5/10

As for people who graduated from this movie-Chris Young and James Horner did the score for the movie, and it's a fine movie. Both have gone on to be big time composers for films, with Horner doing scores for "Aliens", "Avatar", "Titanic" and many more.

Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror (1981)

After "Dawn of the Dead" became a hit, the knock offs from Italy came rolling in. It could be looked at as starting with Lucio Fulci's "Zombi 2", but to be honest, the director never intended that one to be an rip off. However, it was the film that got the ball rolling, and along with the likes of "Cannibal Holocaust", lead to the goriest era of Italian exploitation. Soon, gory Italian zombie films became the norm, with films like Fulci's takes on the walking dead, Bruno Mattei's Ed Wood meets low rent splatter flick "Hell of the Living Dead", Umberto Lenzi's running zombie flick "Nightmare City", Joe D'Amato's porn meets Italian flesh eating dead movie "Erotic Nights of the Living Dead", and more came into play. These movies won over converts who frequented the local drive in's, Grindhouse theaters and video rentals, and inspired many to make their own backyard flicks in tribute. One of the most loved of the spaghetti zombie flicks is Andrea Bianchi's absolutely scuzzy 1981 film "Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror."

The plot deals with a dumb professor (Raimondo Barbieri) who awakens the dead via meddling with things he shouldn't. Why? Because that's what people do in these movies. He tries to tell them "No, no. Stand back! I'm your friend!", but as we all know, zombies aren't exactly the type of people who love to make friends, so he becomes breakfast. Long story (well, not really) short, a group of unlikeable, horny and stupider than usual bourgeois types go into a mansion, and the dead attack. Oh, and there's a kid named Michael (Peter Bark), who has a really unhealthy attraction to his mother Evelyn (Maria Angela Giordan.)

From beginning to end, "Burial Ground" is stupid even at times for an Italian exploitation film. Everyone involved makes decisions that are even stupider than the ones you get from even the dumbest slasher movies (one character suggest that they let the zombies in, as there "might be something in here that they want!"), as well as enough plot holes and inconsistencies (I swear to God I saw the same zombie several times, even after it died) and more are in the movie. It even goes far enough to rip off the notorious eyeball scene from "Zombi 2", and spells the word "prophecy" wrong in the end for cryin' out loud! Yet, for all of it's glaring flaws, it's still recommended to fans of unapologetic exploitation, and it's easy to see why it remains such a cult favorite.

The zombies in the movie are absolutely disgusting, all covered with dirt, worms and maggots, and their look-some of them have skeletal faces, and they all resemble a mix of the Templar zombies from the "Blind Dead" films and Fulci's "flowerpot zombies" from "Zombi 2." They also have absolutely disgusting eating habits, which is to be expected, but the glee Bianchi takes in showing bright red innards being consumed by the dead is appropriately revolting. The zombies here are also not that dumb (it says a lot when the zombies are smarter than the people), as they use a variety of weapons - throwing knives, a scythe, a pitchfork, a battering ram and more - in their assault on the living. Hell, the fact that these Etruscan zombies are attacking a group of spoiled bourgeois pigs almost comes off as some kind of social commentary, though I heavily doubt any of that was intended.

The sexual aspect of the film is also worth noting. Seeing that Bianchi once did a giallo film titled "Strip Nude for Your Killer!", as well as several adult features shouldn't come as a shock, as the movie takes an almost pornographic in showing explicit gore, and the fact that the women struggling for their life are dubbed in a manner that makes it almost sound like they are in some kind of orgasmic throes. Then there's the relationship with Evelyn and Michael. Granted, the fact that the actor playing Micheal is a dwarf whose clearly in his twenties or thirties softens it a bit, though I do wonder what the casting was like

Casting Director: Yep, you're playing a kid.

Peter Bark: But I don't even look like a kid!

Fellow Actor: Yeah, he doesn't even...

Casting Director: SHUT UP! YOU'RE A KID DAMMIT! I HATE YOU ALL!

Anyways, as I mentioned, Micheal has a creepy as all get obsession with his mother, and by that I mean incestuous. He constantly interrupts any chance she may have with other men, and even starts feeling her up. As you can guess, mom isn't too thrilled by this, so she slaps him, which prompts him to shout "But I'm your son!" and run off. Well, he's killed by a zombie, and of course comes back as one. His mother, being not only an idiot, but a creepy one at that, welcomes her son, even pulling out her breast for him to suckle on. Zombie Mike responds to this gesture by biting a hunk off.

I really don't think I need to say much more about this movie. It's not a "good" movie in the traditional sense, but "Burial Ground" is a classic in the field of Italian zombie movies, and a must for fans of sleazy, unapologetic exploitation films.

Rating: 7.5/10

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Equinox (1970)

The little movie that could. Sure, there's plenty of horror movies out there that want to be that, both past and present. There are plenty of examples of this - "Night of the Living Dead", "The Evil Dead", "Basket Case" and "The Deadly Spawn" for example. Tiny budget independent horror films that nonetheless managed to pave the way for many a horror movie, and always by accident. Well, Dennis Muren (who went on to head Industrial Lights and Magic) did just that in 1967 with "The Equinox...A Journey Into the Supernatural", which was re-cut and given new footage by legendary producer Jack H. Harris for it's 1970 release as "Equinox". As it stands, it's a movie that's far from perfect, but it a shining example of what to do with a budget that costs less than the average movie stars night out can accomplish.

The plot deals with for friends - David (Edward Connell), Susan (Barbra Hewitt), Jim (Frank Bonner) and Vicki (Robin Christopher), who end up finding out that the cabin they where going to stay in is missing. Well, they run into a scary old man, who gives them a book with all kinds of spooky looking occult writings and symbols. The next thing you know, they have to deal with an evil park ranger named Asmodeus (Jack Woods, who directed the re-shot footage) and various large monsters and demons that all want the book.

Shot as a student film for approximately $6,500, with much of it shot in the director's backyard, "Equinox" is the precursor to so many DIY horror films that would come in it's wake. To be honest, the acting is strictly amateur hour, the direction is spotty at best, the re-cut version has all kinds of inconsistencies, and it's pretty unintentionally amusing at times. That doesn't hurt the movie too much though, as this is one of those rare examples of a micro-budget horror film that works because of the sheer enthusiasm, go-for-it attitude and love lavished on it. This is clearly not an overly ambitious vehicle - this is a movie made for the cheap by kids that loved "King Kong" and Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine. Plus, it's influence can be seen in several movies, such as "The Evil Dead." Come on, you just know the fact that both movies have a largely similar plot (kids get involved with occult book, bad shit goes down) can't be a coincidence.

Oh, and then there's the effects. Believe it or not, they look great for a movie with such a minuscule budget. The creatures created via stop motion animation (ah, the good old days) are all impressive, especially the Taurus creature, which owes a huge debt to the work Willis O'Brien did for "King Kong" (the creature looks like a demonic version of Kong.) Granted, the cave giant doesn't impress as much, and a few of the effects that don't revolve around matte paintings and stop motion animation don't impress much, but that's beside the point. So much clearly went into crafting the effects for this movie, watching it makes you want to applaud them.

So yes, "Equinox" might not be one of the best genre films of the 60's or 70's. It is however, an influential item nonetheless, and is the definition of the "little movie that could." You'd have to have a heart as dark as coal to hate this.

Rating: 7/10

Monday, November 15, 2010

Damned By Dawn (2009)

There are several reasons to be wary when you sometimes see a bit of hype for something. Sure, some great movies have been hyped to death, but more than not, some mediocre to bad ones have gotten hype as well. Take Brett Anstey's 2009 film "Damned by Dawn." I had been hearing about this one for a while now, and early word was good. This tends to happen to a lot of horror films that play in festivals. The box art even has a quote from a review that says it will settle for those waiting for "Evil Dead 4." Now, there's two things about this: 1.) There will never be an "Evil Dead 4" (sorry folks, but thems the breaks) and 2.) Anything throwing in that kind of praise is bound to disappoint. Well, now it's out, and reviews haven't been as kind. This also tends to happen to these movies once they get released. Noticing a pattern here?

Now, onto the review.

Claire (Renee Willner) is visiting her family home to say last goodbyes to her grandmother (Dawn Klingberg), who seems to be at death's door. Well, Granny warns Claire that something known as the Banshee (Bridget Nival) is coming to take her. Well, Claire doesn't buy any of this, and that turns out to be what Will Arnett's character Gob from "Arrested Development" would call "A huge mistake." Next thing you know, the Banshee comes to visit, the dead rise, and all hell breaks loose.

To be fair, "Damned by Dawn" isn't a terrible movie, especially for a first time feature length movie. The direction and cinematography aren't bad, Anstey knows how to use the cold fall landscape (and plenty of fog) to create a foreboding atmosphere of dread, and there are a few effective moments (one in particular involving cockroaches.) It's also interesting to see the movie not take the darkly comic route of "The Evil Dead" films. While those movies (or at least the first one) seem to be an influence, the box art couldn't be more wrong, as it's clear that Anstley isn't aiming to do "Evil Dead 4", as his film seems to be more influenced by the likes of old Hammer movies.

Too bad the misses end up hurting the film too much in the end. While Anstley might not be bad at directing action and atmosphere, he really misses when it comes to directing actors. None of the performances here are that good, with too many of the actors going wide eyed and mugging for the camera to be interesting, and Renee Willner in particular coming off as awkward as Claire. To be honest though, that's more of the fault of the script, which was also written by Anstley, and is the films biggest liability. It's so ridden with plot holes (so, if the Banshee can fly around and cause all kinds of havoc, why can't it crash through a window or something like that?) and poor characterization that you just can't help but shake your head.

The effects aren't up to snuff either. While I do commend the director for using something like Skeletons instead of the standard issue zombies, they (and other effects - including some of the fog) are done with some of the worst CGI I've seen in a long time. We're talking video game levels bad folks. It also doesn't help that the Banshee herself looks more likely to front a Black Metal band than strike fear into the viewers heart.

Watching this, I couldn't help but think that this would be so much better as a short movie than a feature length vehicle. As it is, I've seen much worse this year, but the end result feels like a missed opportunity.

Rating: 5/10

Friday, November 12, 2010

Locked Down (2010)

As I make my second foray into reviewing a "Tapout Presents" movie, I've come to accept the fact that I'm Lionsgate's bitch. Sure, I tend to bitch about them, and I even took a hiatus from them, yet for some reason, I just keep coming back for more. In a way, I almost admire the studio. Yes, the Direct to DVD movies they release are usually worthless crap, yet how many other major studios are releasing so much exploitation garbage on a regular basis? I kind of appreciate that to be honest. So, while Daniel Zirilli's second foray into directing a movie for Tapout is an all around bad movie, it's at least a slight improvement in a few regards, and at times shows that maybe (and that's a really big maybe) they'll finally achieve their obvious goal of giving the world a passable afternoon action flick one of these days.

The plot, like many of these pictures, is nothing special: Danny (Tony Schiena) is a respected cop whose set up and taken to prison. In this prison, underground cage fights are being orchestrated by an ruthless crime lord named Anton Vargas (Vinnie Jones), and it's not long until Danny is forced to participate. Good thing for him that he's got a trainer in his cellmate Irving (Voice Actor Dave Fennoy.) Can Danny make it out alive? Can his innocence be proven? Why are so many Mixed Martial Arts stars promoted, yet only given small roles?

Before I get to the good and bad, I think it should be noted that MMA stars Kimbo Slice and Rashad Evans are on the DVD and Blu-Ray covers. This is notable because the image of Kimbo used is the same one used for the box art of "Circle of Pain", only it's now kinda in the background. I don't know whether I should shake my head at how cheap this is, or if I should applaud it.

Now, onto the nitty gritty. For the bad, well, there's plenty bad about this movie. While the production values have improved, the action scenes are now shot with super slow motion and music video techniques, which is kind of annoying. Also, Bai Ling is in it, but not for very long, and she was obviously cast just so she can get naked. Plus, she clearly seems like she doesn't want to be in this, and that she'd rather be doing something that's at least a little more dignified.

Apart from that, it's the usual complaints you hear about these "Tapout Presents" movies - mostly wooden performances, the fact that Mixed Martial Arts stars are promoted as being in it, yet not given much to do other than fight and curse (though that's for the best, as Kimbo Slice delivers his dialogue with all the conviction of a 12 year old), throwing in more gratuitous than usual sex and nudity (why do these things keep briefly turn into something resembling a soft core Cinemax movie?), a horrible script, more cliches than most action movies, terrible Nu-Metal, Pseudo-Grunge and Hip Hop blaring in the soundtrack, etc. Then there's Tony Schiena himself. It's obvious that the director and producers (all 22 of them - yes, a total of 22 people are credited as producers) want him to be some kind of action star, but he's just not that convincing as a bad ass or an actor to achieve such status.

Now, for the few positives. As I mentioned, the production values have improved, as it now more resembles a movie than it does a music video or soft core flick in those regards - director Zirilli
actually makes something out of his limited budget, and makes something that looks more expensive than it probably was. Also, the score actually resembles a film score for a change, and what do you know, there's more than one good to passable performance in this. Of course, it's Vinnie Jones who steals the show, clearly having a ball with his role, though Fennoy actually delivers a good performance as well, doing the best with what's ultimately a really cliched role, and Sarah Ann Schultz does a decent enough job.

I can't recommended "Locked Down" to anyone other than really undemanding fans of action/exploitation garbage. That out of the way, it's the best "Tapout Presents" movie thus far - though that's really not saying much - and it gives me at least a (most likely false) sense of hope that they'll pull off something that's at least somewhat watchable someday. It's very unlikely that will happen, but a man can hope.

Rating: 3.5/10

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Altitude (2010)

I've always been a bit freaked out by the idea of being in a plane. Granted, I've been in a plane, and it was a relaxing experience to say the least, but the fact that "the safest way to travel" can lead to a really scary death - one in which your remains may not be found - scares the the shit out of me. So yeah, it's not the least bit shocking that horror has taken advantage of this, what with the likes of "The Twilight Zone" episode "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet", to campier fair like "Snakes on a Plane" and "Flight of the Living Dead." Well, comic book writer and artist Kaare Andrews' directorial debut "Altitude" tries to take a more serious minded approach to this, but sadly comes up short.

Sara (Jessica Lowndes) is a rookie pilot who survived a plane crash as a kid - too bad her mother didn't. Deciding to take her friends on a flight in a small twin-engine plane, it at first seems like things are going to turn our fine, until a malfunction sends the plane out of control. To make things worse, there's a supernatural, tentacled creature outside, floating in the sky and ready to take them with it.

On paper, "Altitude" sounds like a great idea, and to be honest, it's got some major pluses. There are some fine performances-especially from Lowndes (girl deserves to be a star), there's some moments of genuine suspense and tension, the cinematography by Norm Li is excellent, and the score by Jeff Tymoschuk really stands out. Oh, and the sky Octopus/Cthulhu (Cthulhu in the Sky With Diamonds!) is pretty much the definition of awesome. Yet somehow, it doesn't reach it's full potential, and ends up becoming a frustrating viewing experience.

Why? Well, while the cinematography is great, Andrews proves to be a mediocre director. Sure, it's his first time, and he should be commended for the moments of suspense he gets, but he's also guilty of plenty of scenes that come off as somewhat laughable, especially one in which Cory (Ryan Donowho) and his mid-air attempt to fix the tail wing while being anchored by Sal (Jake Weary.) This scene is supposed to be suspenseful, but it instead comes off as laughably bad. Then there's the aforementioned Weary, whose character Sal is incredibly obnoxious, and the actor's performance is really, really bad. You just want someone to shut him up whenever he opens his mouth. Finally, while the creature itself is by all means bad ass, the explanation for it's existence is damn near insulting, and is a prime example of how not to do a plot twist. Just let the thing exist in the film without some terrible explanation, don't tell us it's all been created by the mind of Bruce (Landon Liboiron)

I really, really wanted to like this movie, as the premise is great, and it has all the potential in the world to be a great sleeper type of film. However, it misses the mark, and ends up becoming one of the more frustrating horror films of the year. Not one of the worst, but one of the most frustrating. A shame really.

Rating: 4/10

Monday, November 8, 2010

Ghost Machine (2009)

I'm amazed in the lack of good horror movies that revolve around the internet. Sure, there was the great Japanese horror film "Pulse" (which was then given the inevitable Hollywood remake treatment) and the seriously underrated British movie "My Little Eye." However, you then get plenty of bad (the aforementioned "Pulse" remake and it's sequels, Romero's "Diary of the Dead"), to the outright atrocious ("Feardotcom", "Untraceable" and Argento's "The Card Player") in this brand. The internet itself can be a terrifying thing, yet many still can't seem to capture that. Well, you can add "Ghost Machine" to that list, though to be fair, it's more mediocre than it is bad.

The plot deals with two scientists working for the army, who borrow their computers to map out a supposedly haunted prison. Why, other than the fact that they are in a horror movie, would they want to do that? Well, so they can create an authentic virtual reality shooter. Since this place is haunted, the vengeful spirit of a cyber-terrorist possesses the system, and decides to go after the guys having fun.

One of the most noticeable things about "Ghost Machine" is that apart from the whole "War on Terror" aspect, the plot feels like it could have come from the early to mid 90's. You know, that era in which the internet was still this unknown and new thing to many people, and virtual reality was believed to be the next big thing. The era that gave us such dated relics like "Ghost in the Machine" and "The Net." That's what the movie feels like. Even the end credits song feels like a relic from the 90's.

So, is it a bad movie? Well to be honest, the acting (save from a pretty bad Sean Farris) is a lot better than one usually gets from these kinds of movies, the direction isn't too bad, and even the humor isn't as lame brained as it could have been. The problems lie in the poor CG effects and the routine nature of the whole movie. The CG effects present are terrible, especially the chain weapon the ghost wields, which leads to some routine and rather poor death and gore scenes. Then there's the whole nature of the movie, which is so by the numbers. I mean, there's nothing to get angry about in it, but that's because there's not really anything to get excited about either. It's just kinda bland. Finally, there's the ghost herself, who is pretty much a combination of Slasher movie archetypes and J-Horror cliches. Who really cares about her?

"Ghost Machine" isn't an awful movie, but it's not a particularly good one either. It's the definition of the kind of horror flick you watch on a weekend afternoon, and forget about a week later.

Rating: 4.5/10

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Heartland Horrors - Season 1 (2007)

I remember hearing about The Horror Channel back in the day. I never picked the channel up, nor do I know if it's still around (let me know if it is), but I remember hearing about them remaking "Black Sunday" (I don't think that happened) and that they had shows in "Shadow Falls" and this series, "Heartland Horrors." To be fair, "Horrors" isn't really a TV series as much as it is 10 Independent short films, so if anything it feels more like an anthology of sorts. So with that out of the way, here's my review of season one, short for short.

The Thing About Bannon's Lookout - Two cops on night patrol come across a parked car with a bloody surprise inside - and all's not what it seems with one of the cops.

This is a fairly fun little tale that's very well filmed and packs an enjoyably dark twist at the end. Nothing spectacular, but fine 7/10

Copy - A woman is warned by a copying machine about the man she's about to hire.

More of a black comedy than a tale of horrors, this is my favorite film here, as it has a great final dark punchline that made me laugh hard. 8.5/10

The Last Laugh - A violent clown tries to make a clown laugh through extreme methods.

Another movie that's more black comedy than horror. This is a lot of fun, and sends up the standard "torture horror" technique to amusing results. 8/10

Woman's Intuition - A woman visits a doctor, fearing that the premonitions she's having are telling her something bad is about to happen.

Nice idea, but the ending ruins it to be honest. 5.5/10

A Mile Back Aways - A drunk man in his vehicle wake up in a ditch, and passes the same girl on the road. Then he picks her up...

I liked this in a "Telling stories by campfire" way, as it has that kind of mood to it. The ending is a bit predictable though. 7.5/10

Smoke - A young man buys cigarettes for his mother - for dark reasons.

Thankfully, this doesn't dwell too much into torture, and has an almost David Lynch like feeling to it. 7.5/10

Shed Out Of Luck - A hunter finds himself ties up in a shed, where he's given "mystery meat." So, where is his friend?

The goriest film here, this one didn't do it for me. Sure, the effects are well done (I'm amazed at how great these movies look), but the twist in the end is kinda lame. 5/10

Out To Pasture - A young couple is surrounded by zombies - only to be saved by a farmer.

The shortest movie in the collection, "Pasture" is a fun little entry, though nothing mind blowing. 7/10

Bitter Sweets - A psychopath who loves to put razor blades in caramel apples gets his just deserts from the kids he killed.

Another "camp fire" style tale, this one is the weakest film here, with some painfully bad acting and a tone that's way too goofy and jokey for it's own good. 3/10

Café at the Crossroads - A mysterious stranger appears at a café to collect the survivors of a plague. However, he may be in over his head.

The final movie, this is actually my second favorite movie, with the survivors being the complete opposite of what you'd expect. A great surprise. 8.5/10

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by "Heartland Horrors." Though the films do have some of the pitfalls of low budget horror (poor acting, a few weak conclusions), the care and detail provided is a major plus, making them look more expensive than they probably were. Also, there are more hits than misses, and three of the hits really hit the ball out of the park. So as it stands, it's nothing groundbreaking, but it's a nice reminder of what true independent horror is capable of.

Rating: 7.5/10

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Mystics in Bali (1981)

Indonesian exploitation is something that's seldom talked about in the field of cult moviedom, and that's a shame. Like many other non US countries that was producing exploitation, the country made low-budget films made largely to appeal to foreign markets. The thing though, is that many of these movies from Indonesia were pretty much fucking insane. Seriously, watch trailers for films like "The Devil's Sword", "Lady Terminator" and "Virgins From Hell." These movies, even if they didn't always deliver, are reminders of how exploitation and genre cinema may look from another countries eyes, and I thank God for that. With all of that out of the way, let's take a look at one of the most popular Indonesian titles, 1981's "Mystics in Bali."

American gal Cathy (Ilona Agathe Bastian) is visiting Indonesia for research purposes for a book she's writing about black magic. So, with the help of her new boyfriend Mahendra (Yos Santo), she learns of "Leák magic", and even meets an old Leák witch (Sofia W.D.) who sounds like what would happen if the Wicked Witch of the West and Yoda had a kid. Anyways, the witch teaches Cathy - with some blood offerings in return. However, when these offerings aren't enough, the witch tricks Cathy into doing her bidding - by making Cathy's head detach from her body, entrails hanging, and making said body part float around in search for blood.

So yes, "Mystics in Bali" is exactly what it sounds like. So, is it good? In a word, yes. Granted, the electronic score by Gatot Sudarto really doesn't fit the proceedings IMO, and the dubbing is pretty bad (though in this rare case, it kinda enhances the whole experience), but while it may not be "good" in a more traditional sense, it's still a lot of fun in a "Wow, what is this?" kind of way. This is a movie were floating heads drink blood, long tongues stick out, and climactic battle scenes reach nearly apocalyptic proportions. It's all also capably directed by H. Tjut Djalil, who fortunately takes his time with letting things go over the top and strange. Most directors in this case would have blown their wad early, yet Djalil manages to let it move at a nice pace, all without making it boring. It also, in spite of it's all around daffy nature, is steeped and respectful to it's cultural roots and lore, creating a world that most viewers aren't used to seeing in genre films - and really, that's how you could describe many an Indonesian genre film.

"Mystics in Bali" should make for a good starting point for those interested in Indonesian cult cinema, and a must for fans of the out there fringes of horror and exploitation.

Rating: 7.5/10

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Butcher (2006)

I think I've finally figured out Lionsgate's formula for releasing terrible Direct to DVD movies:
  1. Find an independently produced horror or action flick that's either a.) Been floundering around in the festival circuit without a whole lot of buzz, b.) Is from a production company that really needs a distributor, or c.) Already has a distribution history with Lionsgate.
  2. Pick up movie nobody cares about for the DVD market
  3. ?
  4. Profit! Notice that I said "profit" and not "success."
Now, onto today's movie, "The Butcher."

A bunch of dumb college kids on their way to Las Vegas, and Mark (Alan Ritchson) decides to take a shortcut. Well, a series of bad events occur, including a run in with a deformed killer (who has an atrocious make-up job) in truck, a a terrified woman in the middle of the road, and more. Long story short, said deformed starts knocking people off, and after going into a seemingly abandoned house, it turns out he belongs to a psychopathic family.

Seen "Wrong Turn"? The remake of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre"? "2001 Maniacs"? The mediocre "Monster Man"? "House of 1,000 Corpses"? Or how about the remake of "The Hills Have Eyes"? Then congratulations, you've seen this movie! Sure, the gore effects are decent, a few kills were kinda neat (hanging via barbed wire) and the score by Dennis Smith is actually miles ahead of what you usually get with this kind of fare, but the movie is nothing you haven't seen already. It even goes far enough to blatantly lifted from said movies, particularly "Wrong Turn." That's because we get two things in this movie - a body being carved up on a table and stupid kids going into a house they shouldn't be going into - are used in this movie. Seriously, I dig "Wrong Turn", but that movie, the "Texas Chainsaw" remake and a few others opened a can of worms. After those movies came out, we had to get terrible rip offs for the rest of the last decade.

Everything else about the movie is really bad too. The direction from Edward Gorsuch (whose a veteran of soft core porn) is as pedestrian as it gets, the screenplay by Michael Hurst* is pretty much everywhere, and the acting - well, I had a feeling it was going to be bad, but special mention goes to Alan Ritchson. The actor plays Mark, whose supposed to be a rich asshole anyways, to the hilt, and not in a fun way either. Every time he opens his mouth, he unconvincingly yells or speaks dialogue so bad, I started to check my clock.

You've seen this before, only done much better. And you've probably seen this kind of crap released by Lionsgate already. So yeah, avoid this sucker.

Rating: 1.5/10

*Hurst is a veteran of Direct to DVD and Television horror - he wrote the Scy Fy channel schlockfest "Mansquito", wrote and directed "Pumpkinhead: Blood Feud" and directed "House of the Dead 2: Dead Aim."