Thursday, July 28, 2011

House of the Rising Sun (2011)

Grindstone Entertainment sure puts out a lot of straight to DVD fair. For those who don't know, they are a distribution/sometimes production company who tend to release a lot of crap that usually get's released on DVD via Lionsgate. That out of the way, while they release a lot of action related titles (including "Wrong Side of Town" and the "Tapout Presents" movies), it's a bit of a surprise to see them trying to do something a little different, which is what "House of the Rising Sun" is. Sure, it has action and the usual Grindstone elements (more Gratuitous than usual nudity, a soundtrack mostly made up of terrible Post-Grunge, Nu-Metal and Hip Hop), but this is actually a stab at a Neo-Noir film.

Former wrestler Dave Bautista plays Ray, a former cop turned bouncer. One night, the nightclub he works for is robbed, and the owner's son is shot dead. As Ray looks for those responsible and tries to clear his name, his criminal past is exposed, and the mob and the police-including a former friend named Tony (Dominic Purcell) are in pursuit. Can Ray make it out alive? Can his ex girlfriend Jenny (Amy Smart) help him out?

I will give this much to "House of the Rising Son"-it's not as unwatchable I feared it would be. This is mostly due to the performances from a few cast mates, with Smart in particular stealing the show as Ray's long suffering ex, and Craig Fairbrass doing fine work as the one cop on Ray's side. The production values are also pretty good for a straight to DVD movie, and I liked the cinematography quite a bit.

That's where the positives end though, as this ultimately becomes a bad attempt at trying to do a noir like thriller. Part of the blame goes to many of the other performances, from Purcell overacting, to Danny Trejo not being given much to do. Then there's Bautista. Look, when he worked for WWE, he was great-an athletic, ass kicking, all around awesome guy (plus a snappy dresser) who had charisma to spare. Here, he doesn't get to do much as far as ass kicking is concerned, and whatever charisma he has back in the day is absent here. It especially doesn't help that Ray is a pretty unlikeable guy as a whole, who get's his ass kicked, get's betrayed, insults his ex over the phone, and just acts like an asshole. Why should I root for this character?

Which leads to the biggest problem: this is a movie that has no clue how to do film noir correctly. This is a movie with plenty of police procedural, clues and twists, but most of it doesn't feel that engaging, as we don't get a very good look at Ray's (or anyone else for that matter) psychological baggage. The conclusion is pretty weak too, as it all just ends without a very satisfying resolution.

I will give those responsible for this small kudos for at least trying something different here. Too bad it fails to make it interesting, instead becoming a dud that's ultimately "Film Noir for Dummies." Skip it.

Rating: 3/10

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Scream of the Banshee (2011) and The Task (2010)

The reason for my absence: my computer conked, so it took a week to get prepared. With that out of the way, let's take a look at the latest "After Dark Originals" to hit DVD, both of which are the weakest thus far.

First is "Scream of the Banshee", a movie co-produced by the Sy-Fy channe, and from the director who gave the world "Automaton Transfusion". It starts out strong actually, with a flashback to the Dark Ages, in which Templar Knights kill a mysterious looking woman, and use a flying guillotine device to get the job done. It's downhill from there, as it then cuts to modern times, in which Professor Isla Whelan (Lauren Holly) and her students unearth an artifact that contains the woman's head. Long story short, said woman is a Banshee, all hell breaks loose, and Lance Henriksen (Playing an insane former professor) figures into it.

I will give the movie this much: there are moments that do achieve a sense of Gothic atmosphere, and I actually kinda liked some of the movie references here (especially those to "Master of the Flying Guillotine" and "Terror Trap.") Apart from that, nothing in this is good. In fact, it's very bad. The Banshee herself is stupid, looking like a poor, toothy "Alien" imitator who has almost Freddy Kruger like powers as far as her ability to create hallucinations and get into people's minds. The acting's not up to snuff either, with Holly's performance leaning somewhere between "Oh, I'll do my best" and "What the hell am I doing here", and Henriksen coming off as a sadistic version of a Scooby Doo Villain. Plus, for whatever atmosphere is in this, there's a distinct lack of dread, as nothing here is genuinely creepy or scary. It's mostly just boring.

Better (but barely) is "The Task", which is another entry in the rut of "reality show contestants/producers caught in a horrific situation" movies. Here, it's six people competing in a reality show called...well, "The Task." I take it the title didn't take much thought. Anyhow, they are competing in a closed jail in which a sadistic warden (Valentin Garnev) tortured and killed inmates before being executed. They say his ghost haunts it to this day, and that may (or may not) be the case. Cue supernatural slasher movie antics.

"The Task" is at least the better acted of the two, though to say any of these people are interesting or likable people would be a lie. There's also a sense of humor that occasionally made me chuckle, and one solid kill. Too bad it's all something we've seen before. Here, you know who lives and who dies, and as usual, you can't wait for them to kick the bucket. It's also directed in a rather pedestrian manner, as first time director Alex Orwell doesn't seem to know how to build tension, atmosphere or suspense. Which leads to the biggest problem-it takes way too long to get anywhere. It's at least an hour in until these kids started getting killed off, and until then, it's just a bunch of boring conversations between unlikable people who you wouldn't want to hang out with. Oh, and don't get me started on the terrible twist at the end, know what? Fuck it, this is the weaker of the two.

As I said, these are the weakest of the "After Dark Originals" (or at least in this line up), and they aren't anything to look forward to. Skip 'em, and stick with "Seconds Apart."


Scream of the Banshee: 2/10
The Task: 1.5/10

Monday, July 18, 2011

God of Vampires (2010)

Even though the product doesn't always (okay, usually) come up to snuff, I have to tip my hat to independent distributors like Tempe and (in this case) Midnight Releasing, who put out truly independent horror films that cost pennies to make. Movies like this aren't just a part of the backbone of horror. They are a part of the backbone of movies-something made without major studio input for nothing by people who want to do nothing but make movies, or a movie. That's exactly what "God of Vampies", which is the full length directorial debut from make-up effects man Rob Fitz, is-a film that took nine years to complete and release, and took literal blood, sweat and tears to get done.

The plot itself is pretty basic: Frank Ng (Dharma Lam) is an assassin whose been sent to kill Chinese crime Lord Vincent Chau (Shy Theerakulstit). When he's done, it turns out Frankie can't say "relax", as it turns out that said crime lord is a vampire from Chinese folklore called a Kiang-Shi, whose going to make Frank's life a nightmare by turning and killing everyone that comes into his path-including those that Frank loves. So, with the help of a man known as Uncle Ping (Ben Wang) and a group of unlikely vampire slayers, Frank sets out to put a stop to Vincent and his vampire army once and for all.

Take "From Dusk Til Dawn", mix it with an 80's B-Movie, add a huge dose of 80's/early 90's Hong Kong action and horror, and make it for about $26,000, and this is what you get. When it comes to micro-budget horror, you have to be careful. Sure, you'll occasionally fine something that lives up to the hype ("Bad Taste" for example), but usually, you get something that feels more like it should be playing on public access television. That out of the way, "God of Vampires" is one of the better recent no-budget horror movies I've seen.

I'd go on about "blah blah blah enthusiasm", but instead, I'll just put it like this: unlike other movies of this type, this actually feels like a movie, and it's kinda fun. You can tell that Fitz and co. did all they could to make this feel at least semi-professional, so it's refreshing to see something like this that doesn't feel like some kids playing in their backyard. That's largely due to the fact that they got more than ten or twenty people in this movie, and that it takes place in more than five locations. Meanwhile, the direction and editing are pretty good, the gore and make-up effects are phenomenal for this kind of movie (not to mention plentiful), and the fight choreography is mostly top notch. Best of all, as I said, this is kinda fun, and usually feels like the kind of movie a lot of people have been trying to make with no-budget, only succeeding.

Well, not completely succeeding. While it does run into the usual flaws movies of this nature run into (amateur performances, pacing issues), Two that are very noticeable are the poor lighting and inadequate sound mix. I know, this was made for chump change, but it wouldn't hurt to at least try to afford better lighting, as I occasionally had trouble making out what was going on. There's also times in which the movie feels like it's trying too hard to be cool for it's own good, particularly when it comes to one liners. Sure, a few are pretty good ("Who are you?" "The welcoming comity"), but then we get lines like "I know drunken-style, bitch!", which just made me groan.

So, is "God of Vampires" worth watching? It depends. If you aren't used to unpolished looking horror made on a miniscule budget, then no. If however, you want one of these types of films that's better than usual, then it's a given.

Rating: 6.5/10

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Brain Dead (2007)

Making a comeback or trying to do a return to form can always be hard. When Ministry tried, they essentially became a rather boring thrash metal band. Lucio Fulci tried with "Zombi 3", and that didn't work out the way anyone wanted it to, instead becoming a laughable mess. Metallica tried with "St. Anger", and ended up making the worst album of their careers. I think you get the point.

So, what if you're Kevin S. Tenney? You know, the man who gave the world "Witchboard" and "Night of the Demons." After those movies, we got such "classic" films such as "Pinocchio's Revenge", "The Second Arrival" and "Endangered Species", which didn't exactly win people over.* Plus, while it's a fun movie, I can't exactly classify "Night of the Demons" as a stone cold classic, as it's also a very, very dumb movie. Well, with "Brain Dead", he sets out to do the kind of B-Movie with tits and blood that were once his bread and butter.

The plot is so basic, it could have come from the 80's, which is exactly the point. Basically, a meteorite lands on a fisherman in a small backwoods creek, infecting him and turning him into a brain hungry zombie that spews forth black gunk and infects others. Now, soon to be arrested Clarence Singer (Joshua Benton), psycho convict Bob Jules (David Crane), med students Sherry Morgan (Sarah Grant Brendecke) and Claudia Bush (Michelle Tomlinson), the righteous but hypocritical and cowardly Reverend Farsnworth (Andy Forrest) and his lovely assistant Amy Smoots (Cristina Tiberia) must fight to survive. Oh, and Jim Wynorski has a cameo as Sheriff Bodine.

I will give "Brain Dead" this much: it was clearly the movie Tenney wanted to make, without studio interference (this is indeed an independent effort) for his fans, and for that, I salute him. There's plenty of female nudity, the gore and zombie make-up effects look great for such a low-budget effort, and what do ya know, some of the humor was actually pretty funny (the bit with the police woman's body stumbling around after a zombie rips her brain out of her head made me laugh hard.) Oh, and Dennis Michael Tenney’s score is nostalgic, but in all the right ways, and would have fit perfectly in one of those campy 80's horror films.

At the same time, this feels like a movie that should have been better than it actually is. For one thing, this is a movie that clearly wants to be a return to form for Tenneny, but it tries too hard to be a campy, bloody exercise that it at times forgets that sometimes it takes a little more than blood and boobs to make a movie work. The acting is all around terrible. Granted, it was bad in "Night of the Demons", but here it's even worse, with Brendrake and Tomlinson offering terrible one liners at every given opportunity, and Forrest being really grating and at times forced at Reverend Farnsworth. Also, while I'm all for jabs at fundamentalism and hypocrisy, here they feel out of place. This is a movie where we want boobs and gore, not conversations about faith and the flaws of righteousness.

Finally, while there are some funny moments, there's also a lot of moments that just fall flat (what was with that ending joke?) One of the things about "Night of the Demons" that made it entertaining was the sheer energy and enthusiasm that went into the tongue-in-cheek nature of the film, even when the jokes fell flat. Here, it kind of feels like the movie is going through the motions, trying to make something stick, whilst forgetting what made his past movies so successful. It ultimately wants to be a movie for fans of 80's style dumb-but-fun horror movies, but it forgets the primary ingredient: make sure it feels inspired.

Look, one might say "Of course the acting is bad and some of the jokes are bad. That's the point!" Well, if that's the point, then I can't bring myself to enjoy it that much. It's not a terrible movie-it's actually quite watchable in fact. But for something that so clearly wants to be a return to the glory days of 80's gore and nudity filled B-Movies, "Brain Dead" ultimately comes up short. A disappointment to say the least, though it could have been worse.

Rating: 5/10

*Okay, "Peacemaker" is kinda fun.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Book Review: Midnight Movie

Now for something different...

Everybody who knows about horror has heard of Tobe Hooper, so I'll just leave it at that. Well, it seems like writing a novel is what he wanted to do next, hence this review of his first one, "Midnight Movie", which he co-wrote with Alan Goldsheer ("Paul is Undead: The British Zombie Invasion.")

Tobe Hooper has been woken up by an obnoxious guy named Dude McGee. Why? Because dude has obtained a very hard to find copy of Hooper's first movie, a fucked up little ditty he made as a teen called "Destiny Express", which will be seen for the first time by anyone-even Hooper himself- at SXSW. Well, the movie turns out to make an impact-but not a good one, as it unleashes a virus known as "The Game." What does "The Game" do? Why, it causes a strange blue liquid to ooze from your genitals, then you're skin starts to become green and slimy, and then you become a zombie. Now, with the help of a film critic named Erik Laughlin and those who helped make "Destiny Express", Hooper must find a way to stop this epidemic before it destroys humanity.

"Midnight Movie" is a relatively quick read, and not particularly scary. In fact, it's more of a mix of dark humor, gore and sex that at times reminded me of one of those splatterpunk novels from the 80's, only updated for today's environment. To be fair, it does run into two problems. The first one is that few of the people here are written all that well. Characterization is sadly not the book's strong point, and apart from a Game-stricken sophomore named Andi Daltrey and her sister Jaine after being viciously beaten by her zombified ex, you don't really care about anyone's fate here. The other problem is that it tries to tackle various subjects-terrorism, meth addiction, the nature of horror films, old friendships-in a novel that isn't particularly long, thus making some of it feel kinda added on for no real reason other than padding (I could have done without the meth subplot.)

That out of the way, this is still a fun but light book that reads like a B-Movie throughout-hell, I'd like to see this become one. The humor is mostly funny and gruesome, with enough gallows laughs and chuckle worthy moments, not to mention some revolting gore. I especially like the movie aspect of the book, because 1.) it's a nice twist on the usual "viral outbreak creates zombies" convention that's been done to death (pun intended), and 2.) it's actually a pretty insightful look at the nature of the movie business. You can tell that this is from a man whose dealt for years with the shallow, artless nature of Hollywood, yet all of the frustrations never feel like venting. Instead, this a man telling you upfront that he's danced in the business for years, and he knows the ups-and-downs of making movies. If anything, it makes me hope that Hooper one day writes a memoir.

So, is "Midnight Movie" worth a read? It's far from spectacular, and ultimately feels like it could have been better, but it's an enjoyable bit of literary junk food that managed to keep me reading throughout. It's not perfect, but at least I didn't have a bad time.

Rating: 6.5/10

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Dinocroc vs. Supergator (2010)

I've gone out of my way to avoid reviewing any of the "_______ vs. _______" movies that the SyFy Channel has offered. Unlike say, something like an old Kaiju flick like "Godzilla vs. Mothra", there's no real fun or excitement going on. Just plenty of dull mediocrity and usually forced attempts at campy humor, not to mention terrible CG effects and less than satisfactory final battles between the beasts. Well, I caved in and decided to review "Dinocroc vs. Supergator", but only because it was produced by Roger Corman and directed by Corman regular/Cinemax fave Jim Wynorski. Too bad the end result isn't that different.

Jason Drake (David Carradine) runs a genetics lab that produces a growth serum, which he thinks should be tested on animals. This of course, turns out to be another example of man tampering with what he shouldn't, as it produces a giant gator and a dinosaur-crocodile hybrid (how that last part is possible is beyond me) that break loose and decide to snack on some people. To clean that up, he sends in some soldiers, who end up becoming gator chum. So, he sends a hot British gal named Victoria (Auerelia Parsons) and a guy known as "The Cajun" (Rib Hillis) to clean things up. To make things worse for Drake, he's being investigated by a goverment spy named Paul Beaumont (Cory Landis) and a hot but inappropriately dressed Parks and Recreations officer who sadly doesn't come from Pawnee, and is named Cassidy (Amy Rassimas.)

Long story short: people are munched on, assassinations are attempted, and the Dinocroc and the Supergator will duke it out.

Before I get on with the review, I want to mention that while I find conspiracy theories abhorrent and stupid, I'm starting to doubt that David Carradine is actually dead. Dude was pronounced dead like two years ago, yet he keeps showing up in movies. Maybe he faked his death, has done a few appearances in B-Movies, and now lives somewhere in the Philippines where he does a lot of cocaine and has a harem of underage prostitutes.

Anyways, I'll give the movie this much: it does feature moments of Wynorski's trademark campy humor (I actually got a few laughs out of this), as well as his love of lovingly filming women in skimpy bikinis. Sadly, no female nudity, but this is a Scy-Fy Channel movie. I also kinda dug the score by Chuck Cirino and Al and Jon Kaplan, which appropriately features some twangy guitar riffs.

Apart from that, there's really nothing to praise about this movie. The acting is all around awful, Carradine simply shows up a few times and seems bored. The gore is done via badly done CG, and there's only a few kills that stand out, as most of them are pretty lame. Most of the characters (including a rather pointless movie producer) exist only to become monster food. The final battle is pretty one-sided, not to mention boring and far too brief. Then there's the fact that this whole thing is illogical even by SyFy Channel standards. How is it possible to do a dinosaur-crocodile hybrid? Why would anybody want to do create such a thing? Exactly why are they experimenting on animals? What in God's name is with the movie producer character? Why are the Dinocroc and the Supergator fighting? Nothing is really explained, and none of it makes any sense, which makes for a confusing experience.

There isn't a lot that differentiates from the usual SyFy Channel movie here. There's no attention paid to logic, the effects are bad, the acting is mostly dull, and it's rarely that exciting. I've seen worse from them, but this is still lazy, uninteresting garbage.

Rating: 2.5/10

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Happy Birthday to Me (1981)

I haven't really reviewed many slasher classics so to speak, mostly due to laziness, and also because I sometimes avoid reviewing classics, instead sticking with lesser known entries in the horror genre. Well, I decided to stop being lazy, which is clearly what J. Lee Thompson ("Cape Fear", "Conquest of" and "Beneath the Planet of the Apes" and several Charles Bronson movies.) tried not to do with "Happy Birthday to Me", as he (and the studio) clearly realized that they were running out of Holiday themed slasher movies, so why not birthdays?

Virginia Wainwright (Melissa Sue Anthony) has returned to school after an accident damaged her brain and left her remembering little of what happened in her past. Well, she's welcomed into a popular clique called the Top Ten, who soon start getting knocked off. Virginia believes a link to her past may have something to do with these murders, and that she might be the perpetrator. Is she the killer? Is it someone else? Does Dr. David Faraday (Glenn Ford) know more than he seems to?

Though the movie promises that people die in bizarre ways (indeed, some do-the bench press death is great), "Happy Birthday to Me" owes more to Italian giallo films than it does slasher films, as it seems less interested in explicit bloodshed and more interested in twists and turns in the story, which is a major plus. It also relies more on character development, or at least in the case of Virginia, whose plight and shadowy past make for intriguing viewing. Those who die however, are pretty much slasher stereotypes, though they are thankfully better acted than usual. The movie is also very well directed by Thompson, who handles suspense better than other slasher films of the time, and understands that a little plot and intelligence goes a long way. Oh, and great score by Bo Harwood and Lance Rubin.

I do have one problem with the movie though, and it's the twist at the end when the killer is revealed. I'm sure some love the conclusion, but for me, it felt way too out of left field, not to mention rather sudden. It's really not surprising that it was written in the last second, as it really shows.

That out of the way, if you're a slasher fan, you've probably seen this, and good for you if you have. It stands up there with "My Bloody Valentine" in the echelons Canadian Slasher films of the 80's, and serves as a nice change of pace in the 80's slasher genre.

Rating: 8.5/10

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Hobo with a Shotgun (2011)

I remember seeing the mock trailer for "Hobo with a Shotgun" around 2007 (as does everyone else), thinking to myself "Holy shit, this would be an awesome movie!" Then it was announced that it was going to be a movie, with Rutger Hauer as the main hero. I was thrilled by the idea, but also weary, as it sounded too much like a good thing. Well, lo and behold, it's on DVD and Blu-Ray after a theatrical and on-demand run, so how does it add up?

Our unnamed, homeless hero comes to a small town ridden by crime, murder, prostitution, drug peddling and other such unpleasantness, that is ruled over by a psychopathic crime king known as Drake (Brian Downey) and his sadistic sons Ivan (Nick Bateman) and Slick (Gregory Smith.) After an attempt at trying to bring justice fails, the hobo soon realizes that his dreams of owning a lawnmower and living a calm, peaceful life are nil, as are any chances of justice in this town. So after obtaining some money, he decides to cash in on a shotgun to dispense justice.

Things now start looking up a bit, as the streets are suddenly safer, the town loves him, and he's even befriended a hooker with a heart of gold in Abby (Molly Dunsworth.) Well, great for everyone except for Drake, who along with his sons, hatches a plan to rid the town of this hobo once and for all, even if it means calling in two ruthless killers known only as "The Plague."

Well, here's a rarity: a movie that actually lives up to its initial promise. "Hobo with a Shotgun" is a deliriously gory, blackly comic ride that rarely if ever manages to bore the viewer. That's largely because the movie is so well made, with a great electronic score, excellent cinematography by Karim Hussein, excellent use of saturated colors, wonderful effects, and an ability to mix humor and homage with a sense of pathos. The pathos themselves come mostly from Hauer, who plays the role straight, and creates a character who remains sympathetic throughout. Here's a guy that loves this town he's now in, and wants a better life for it, even if it doesn't want him around. It's through him that the film serves as something of an indictment towards society's apathy and cruelty to it's homeless.

Fortunately, Hauer isn't the only good performance here. Dunsworth is great as the hooker with a heart of gold archetype, and manages to transcend that perfectly by making her a bit of a tough gal herself. Meanwhile, Downey is gloriously over the top as our main villain, while Smith and Bateman are awesome as his evil as hell sons, sporting crass one liners ("Whose ready for a skate rape?!") Seriosuly, these guys come off as Marty McFly's evil lost brothers. Oh, and I can't go without mentioning The Plague. While most movies of this type try and fail to create memorable bad-ass villains like this, The Plague are something else-clad in armor, wielding an array of deadly weapons, fucking up everything in their path, and being imposing in the process. The movie really deserves kudos for this.

So, is this worth seeing? If you enjoy gore and love gallows humor and action with a social message that never gets rammed in via a sledgehammer approach, then yes, you should see this. If not-well, then why are you reading this review anyway?

Rating: 9/10

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Prey (2010)

I'm not the type of guy who likes to go hunting. Oh sure, I love meat, but I was never one to sit out in the woods, waiting for some animal. Nonetheless, hunting and outdoors trips gone horribly wrong are a regular staple for horror films, from hundreds of "Backwoods Rednecks/Slashers" movies to "The Evil Dead." The idea of man being separated from civilization, only to come face to face with evils he wouldn't find in the suburban or urban world is one that can be exploited for all kinds of fear potential. It seems that France, who have been releasing horror regularly for a while now, realizes this, as Antoine Blossier's "Prey" proves.

Nathan (Grégoire Colin) is headed to a countryside retreat for his wife Clair's (Bérénice Bejo) family. When her dad is attacked one night by a terrified deer, Nathan and the men of the family decide to venture into the woods to see what could have spooked Bambi so much. Well, it turns out that it was a giant Wild Boar, and to make things worse, it's not alone. However, as tensions mount between the men, it seems like these animals might not be the biggest threat after all.

"Prey" isn't really the most original movie, as it could best be described as "Razorback" meets "The Descent." That out of the way, it turned out to be a nice little surprise that managed to keep my interest throughout, as the direction is pretty impressive, the acting is strong, and the characters, while not exactly the most likeable, are at least interesting. It also manages to keep a reasonable, suspenseful pace, with several scenes (in particular one involving a cell phone) that should keep the viewer invested. Also, nice to see a movie use real time FX work instead of lazy CGI for a change,

If it does run into any flaws, it's that other than Nathan and the rest of the family, we don't really get to know anyone else that well. For example, it would have also been nice to know a little more about Claire, as we don't know much about her other than she's pregnant and that she's Nathan's wife. I also found the conclusion to be a bit sudden, as if the director just thought "Well, that's it!"

Still, I found "Prey" to be a nice little movie that was certainly worth the Netflix streaming. Not a classic, but not a bad little movie if I do say so myself.

Rating: 7/10