Sunday, November 27, 2011

Attack of the Giant Leeches (2008)

In Bill Gibron's review of this movie, he mentions that Gene Siskel had a good point: why remake good movies when there's plenty of not particularly great ones that could benefit from a remake? Why bother remaking "Halloween", "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" or "The Wicker Man" when they are perfect as they are? Why not remake "Lair of the Minotaur" or in this case, "Attack of the Giant Leeches"? The original is watchable, but it's far from a classic, and remaking it makes sense. So who decided to take this on? Brett Kelly, a micro-budget wunderkin whose garnered a small following for his nearly budget-free films.

The plot is somewhat similar to the original, or at least in spirit. When people from a swamp town begin to turn up missing, a local sheriff begins to investigate. Someone says they saw giant leeches, so Bucky turns to a difficult park ranger, whose also having an affair with his ex-girlfriend. Soon, more people start to turn up missing...

Kelly could have gone two ways with this-he could have made a straight up homage to the original, or he could have gone the splatter-comedy route. Instead, he makes a direct, 21st century style update, only without anything that's memorable or interesting. The problems? Well for one thing, the audio and video quality resemble that of a Youtube video. I know this was made for next to nothing, but it all looks mostly like Kelly didn't put a whole lot of effort into it. The characters are dull, lacking anything that would make the viewer interested in the final product-hell, the original at least had Yvette Vickers. Then there's the leeches themselves. Sure, they look slightly better than the ones from the original, but that's not saying a whole lot. In fact, I prefer the original's "men in industrial sized trash bags with suckers attached to them." They at least had a campy appeal.

That's the movies biggest flaw-there's little if anything in it that's appealing. Sure, there's girls in bikinis and lingerie, but while that would appeal to audiences of the pre-grindhouse exploitation market, but this was made in 2008-it takes a little more than that to make your movie work. What we get instead is something lacking anything resembling wit or charm. It's a movie that's ultimately lifeless.

As it stands, even fans of micro-budget horror movies will find this to be sorely lacking. If you're going to see one movie about giant leeches-watch the original "Attack of the Giant Leeches." At least you won't feel like falling asleep.

Rating: 1/10

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Conan the Barbarian (2011)

When it was announced that a remake/reboot of one of my favorite action movies, the John Millus sword n' sorcery classic "Conan the Barbarian", I was one of many that was unsure of the idea. I mean, on one hand, I think it's not the best idea, but on the other, the 82 movie is more Millus and Oliver Stone's take on "Conan" than it is the Robert E. Howard creation. I didn't see the movie in theaters, so now that it's on DVD and Blu-Ray, let's take a look.

Opening with a prologue narrated by Morgan Freeman (okay then...), we learn that Conan was born on the battlefield. By that, I mean his father Corin (Ron Perlman) delivered a c-section on his mom during battle. Why a pregnant woman is fighting in war is beyond me, but hey. Years later, young Conan (Leo Howard) watches his village and people become destroyed, and his father killed by warlord Khalar Zym (Steven Lang) and his men.

As an adult (Jason Momoa), Conan is a thief and pirate, who finds Lucius (Steven O'Donnell), who was one of Zym's men that he disfigured as a child. After getting some information out of him about the whereabouts of Zym, he finds out that he's a name known across Hyboria, and he and his daughter Marquis (Rose McGowan) are searching for the pure blood princess Tamara (Rachael Nichols) so they can bring back Zym's wife and enslave humanity. So now, Conan must save the princess and save the world in the process of his quest for vengeance.

If there's anything the new "Conan" really gets right, it's the casting of Momoa as Conan. Simply put, he feels more like the Conan of the stories, as he's not just some brute. He's intelligent, hatches plans, has goals, and can talk fluently as well as he can go into violent rage. The action scenes are also very well done, and bloody as hell, while the sets look like the Hyborian age of the stories. Also, Perlman does fine work as Conan's father, and Lang delivers a fun (albeit scenery chewing) performance. McGowan meanwhile...she's not good, but she vamps it up so much that I kinda liked her. Finally, while it's nowhere near as great as the original, the score by Tyler Bates does it's job-I especially like the Celtic touches.

Sadly, that's where the positives end. For one thing, the direction by Marcus Nispel (whose "Friday the 13th" remake I enjoyed) is the definition of nondescript, as little of it feels epic or fun, and lacks the edge of the original. The story meanwhile, is incredibly dumb, and feels like it was rejected by the SyFy channel, while the script is filled with holes and bad dialog (while Momoa is great, I had to cringe when he delivered lines like "I don't want your gold-I want your head!") The conclusion is also lacking, as it feels anticlimactic, while the rest of the performances-especially Nichols-are all pretty poor.

Which leads to my biggest complaint-the movie lacks fun for the most part. Sure, the action scenes look great, and there's moments that let us know how much of a badass Conan is, but as a whole, it doesn't have the adventurous, pulpy greatness of the original stories. This is a movie with a man who doesn't take any shit, has a code of honor, and is an all around certifiable bad motherfucker who gets girls, kills villains and is tougher than nails. Yet, while it has a great Conan, the story, direction and plotting feel beneath such a character. The end result feels more like a studio patch-job in which they went "Okay, we've got a well known property, let's do make a movie with it" without doing much and ignoring what the final product might look like.

It's a real shame too, because there's some stuff I really like here, and there's a fun movie hidden somewhere. However, the end result just feels lukewarm, and isn't anywhere near as enjoyable as it should be.

Rating: 4.5/10

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Wrong Turn Series

2003 was the year in which backwoods and redneck horror made a comeback, with "Cabin Fever" (my favorite of that years bunch), Marcus Nispel's remake of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and Rob Zombies directorial debut "House of 1,000 Corpses" coming to theaters. Then there was "Wrong Turn", which took a basic concept (pretty young people are stalked in the woods by inbred cannibals) and managed to make it entertaining again-and brought forth a franchise. Here, without further adu, is a look at said franchise.

The first "Wrong Turn" deals with Chris Flynn (Desmond Harrington) who ends up taking a different route and crashes into a car that has some kids-Jessie Burlingame (Eliza Dushku), Carly (Emmanuelle Chrique), her husband to by Scott (Jeremy Sisto) and couple Evan (Kevin Zegers) and Francine (Lindy Booth.) It turns out though, that there was barbed wire on the road-planted by Three-Finger (Julian Richings), Saw-Tooth (Gary Robbins) and One-Eye (Ted Clark)-three deformed, inbred killers with cannibalistic intents.

The first "Wrong Turn" is pretty by the numbers plot wise, but it makes up for it with energy and enthusiasm, as well as better than usual performances and some choice kills. It also helps that director Rob Schmidt clearly knows what he's doing-a throwback to 70's and 80's horror-and manages to give it a modern sheen without betraying the roots of the backwoods sub-genre. All in all, an enjoyable little slice of slasher cinema. 7.5/10

Though it wasn't a huge theatrical hit, it proved to be successful enough on DVD to warrant a sequel. This one takes place in the woods again, in which a reality show called "Apocalypse: Ultimate Survivalist" is being filmed, and is hosted by former Military Colonel Dale Murphy (Henry Rollins.) It's contestants: loner Nina Papas (Erika Leerhsen), former high school football player Jake Washington (Texas Battle), Iraq war vet Amber (Danielle Alonso), obnoxious skateboarder Jonesy (Steve Braun), and slutty model Elena Miller (Crystal Lowe.) Long story short, it turns out that this family is bigger that we thought it was, and they're hungry for seconds.

Going the route of 80's slasher and splatter movies, "Wrong Turn 2: Dead End" takes a horror/comedy route, with amplified black humor, nudity and gore-and thankfully, director Joe Lynch takes advantage of the "Unrated" status for this direct to DVD sequel, which also features some good performances (Rollins in particular is great, clearly having a blast with his role) and inspired kills (this sucker is filled with them.) Best of all, it manages to tell a story about the family without ruining them. Though it does have a few flaws (Braun is really annoying), this is a rare sequel that improves on the original. 8/10

Unfortunately, the law of diminishing returns ends up being the case from here on out, as "Wrong Turn 3: Left For Dead." It opens strong enough, with some always welcome female nudity and gore, only to go route to a broken down prison bus, with Nate Wilson (Tom Fredrick) running into Alex Hale (Janet Montgomery), who survived an attack from Three-Finger (Borislav Iliev.) While the cannibal hunts the prisoners and officers down, the crew needs to know who they can trust, as Carlos Chavez (Tamar Hassan) is losing his mind, and the fact that Three Fingers' son was killed isn't helping matters.

Though it boasts some fine kills and a nice performance from Hassan, "Wrong Turn 3" feels a bit too by the numbers. Having two killers on the loose instead of three or a whole family kind of take some fun out of it, as does the bad CG effects and lifeless direction from Connor James Delaney. It's your basic straight-to-DVD sequel and nothing more. 4/10

A very minor improvement is Declan O'Brien's prequel "Bloody Beginnings", which starts twenty nine years before the original. Here, we learn that Three Finger, Saw-Tooth and One-Eye were originally in an asylum, where all hell broke loose and they killed the doctor and nurse. Cut to winter years later, and a few months before the original, in which a group of college kids go to the now seemingly abandoned asylum...

Thankfully, there's less CG in this one, and the amplified gore and nudity of the first sequel returns. Unfortunately, this skips on the black humor and inspired mayhem of that movie, and ends up being yet another entry in a franchise that should probably end already. The acting is mostly bad (same with the prior entry), and much of it feels as if it's going through the motions. Not essential viewing unless you love all three of the prior movies. 4.5/10.

So there you have it, a look at all four entries in the "Wrong Turn" franchise. If you must, watch the first two, and skip the rest.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Dead and the Damned (2011)

In the world of movies, imitation is a given. After "Animal House", there was "King Frat" and "Van Nuys Boulevard." After "Halloween" and "Friday the 13th", you got a whole bunch of slasher movies. I think you get the point. So with the likes of "Shaun of the Dead", the "Dawn of the Dead" remake and the TV series "The Walking Dead" to name a few, it's a given that zombies are hot property. With that being said, a lot of the zombie movies you are going to get-especially nowadays-are pretty poor to forgettable films that go straight to video. Films like "The Dead and the Damned."

Mortimer (David A. Lockhart) is on a mission to capture a Native American man named Brother Wolf (Rick Mora), and plans on using Rhiannon (Camille Montgomery) as bait. Meanwhile, a meteor has crashed onto Earth, and is found and sent to town. After it's cracked open though, it lets forth a toxic chemical that turns the townspeople into zombies. Can Mortimer and co. survive?

Made with a budget of $30,000, "The Dead and the Damned" is the kind of movie that defines uninspired. I can't fault it for having such a low budget and poor production values, but I can fault it on having no idea what to do with that budget, as well as horrible acting. The movie tries to make Mortimer and Wolf sympathetic figures, but the stories given to them are as cliche as they come. Sure, the zombie make-up looks good, and there's nudity, but it's nothing you haven't seen before, not to mention done better. Also, while there's gore, it's also of the "seen it a billion times" variety, with unconvincing prosthetic limbs, machetes to the head, and cheap looking splatter filling time.

I'd also be more forgiving if it felt like writer/director/composer/editor Rene Perez had done a movie with more effort put into it. For all I know, he put all he could into it. However, the end result feels like something made without any passion so it can con a dollar or two out of the viewer. It would also help if he knew how to tell a story, because nothing in the story presented is particularly interesting or investing.

I wish "The Dead and the Damned" was a better movie, as I really like the idea of mixing a western with zombies. However, this is just a bore to sit through, and isn't worth your time.

Rating: 1/10

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Hazing (2004)

Rolfe Kanefsky has never made a great horror film. That's okay though, as he clearly has no intention on making a classic. His horror movies ("There's Nothing Out There", "Nightmare Man" and "Corpses") are clearly made with adolescent interests-boobs, blood, beasts and more boobs-in mind, not to terrify you or make deep social statements. Is he always successful? No, but these movies, if you are in the right state of mind, can be amusing wastes of time, such as tonight's entry, "The Hazing."

Professor Kapps (Brad Dourif) has some evil intentions in mind-intentions that involve a staff (get your mind out of the gutter dammit) and a book. Meanwhile, a group of sorority pledges are in the midst of a hazing, when Kapps finds Marsha (Tiffany Shepis.) To make a long story short, he ends up dying-sort of. You see, he can now possess people, and he begins to knock off the pledges one by one.

As you can see, there's nothing in the head of this movie, as it's pretty much the same "kids run into evil in a house" premise you've seen in "Hell Night" and "Night of the Demons", which are clearly influences here. That's fine however, since the acting here is better than it was in "Demons" (Dourif, Shepis and Perry Shen in particular are great), and Kanefsky has some fun with some stereotypes, such as the blonde Delia (Nectar Rose) not being the dumb blimbo she seems to be. That out of the way, it's blood and boobs you want from a movie like this, and it delivers. Nearly every woman here gets topless, and the kills are largely pretty good. The highlight however, is a possession that ends with a tongue becoming extra elongated, which really brought to mind that aforementioned "Demons."

There are problems though. First of all, while some of the jokes work, others-especially some awful puns and a really unnecessary fart joke-fall really flat. Also noticeable are some awful CG effects, though I'll let that slide a bit considering that this is clearly a low budget movie. Finally the conclusion didn't work for me, as it's not as fun as the director thinks it is.

A part of me feels the same way I did about a no-budget movie called "Pleasures of the Damned", in that when you get down to it, the jokes eventually run out of steam, and it's in no way good. That out of the way, for a Netflix rental or stream, you could do a whole lot worse, and it's clear most involved had a good time.

Rating: 6/10

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Grave Encounters (2011)

I'm not what you'd call a fan of reality television. If you are, then knock yourself out. Me? I'm spoiled by certain comedies from NBC ("Community" and "Parks and Recreations") and plenty of cable dramas, so I tend to lean towards stories and actors. That out of the way, reality shows have become a boom for horror, as everything from backwoods cannibals ("Wrong Turn 2") and found footage movies ("7 Nights of Darkness") have exploited the trend. Let's take a look at another "found footage" movie that's taken on reality television in "Grave Encounters."

Lance Preston (Sean Rogerson) and his motley crew are a part of a supernatural/ghost hunting show "Grave Encounters." They are now filming in Collingwood Psychiatric Hospital, where supernatural phenomena has talked about for years. Of course, they don't believe any of this, but little do they know...

Apart from a few effective moments (the most striking involving hands sticking out of walls), the most notable plus in this movie is the way it perfectly captures the stupidity of "ghost hunting/haunting/paranormal" shows. I've seen enough clips of these things to know how full of shit the creators are, so it's amusing to see a movie take a jab at that.

Apart from that, this isn't a particularly rewarding movie. It's clear that writer/director team The Vicious Brothers (yes, that's their names) are influenced by the wave of paranormal reality shows, but the movie does little that makes it stick out in the long rut of recent "found footage" movies. If you've seen any of the "[REC]" or "Paranormal Activity" movies, as well as "The Blair Witch Project", then you've seen this. It also doesn't help that most of the performances here are poor, especially Merwin Mondesir as always freaking out T.C. Finally, while there are some frightening images, there's also so many things you've seen before (people not putting the fucking camera down, something in the bathtub, ghosts that are like a mix of the infected in the "[REC]" movies and the murderous ghosts in the remake of "House on Haunted Hill") that it becomes difficult to care about what's going on.

"Grave Encounters" is a movie with pluses (a few okay scares, the fact that the Brothers Vicious show some potential), but left be unsatisfied by the time it was over. A noble attempt, but little more.

Rating: 4.5/10

Monday, November 7, 2011

Brides of Blood (1968) and Mad Doctor of Blood Island (1968)

If you are aware of exploitation movies from the Philippines, you are aware of the name Eddie Romero (no relations to George.) If you aren't: He was a director who found a niche in directing exploitation movies from the 60's to the 70's, then went on to do more "respectable" movies. Well, we aren't here to talk about the latter, we're here to talk about trash, and that's exactly what the "Blood Island" trilogy was-unapologetic exploitation made for drive-in's and Grindhouse theaters. Let's take a look at movies one and two in the trilogy (part three isn't really worth talking about IMO.)

First is "Brides of Blood", in which Jim Farrell (former teen heartthrob John Ashley), Dr. Paul Henderson (Kent Taylor) and his libido fueled wife Carla (Beverly Powers) have ended up on Blood Island. Here, man eating plants fill the jungles, and a monster created by radiation maims and rapes women who are offered as virgin sacrifices.

Though it suffers from some serious pacing issues, "Brides" is fun for what it is. This is a movie with cheap looking plants, one of the goofiest looking monsters of all time, and some minor gore and topless beauties. In fact, the thing that makes this (and it's sequel) so interesting is the fact that these are essentially 50's style monster movies that have fallen into the trappings of late 60's exploitation. The monster and plot elements are dated, but they manage to work thanks to it's seedier elements.

Meanwhile, "Mad Doctor of Blood Island" is a sequel in name only. Here, Dr. Bill Forester (Ashley again) ends up in Blood Island, where a monster created by Dr. Lorca (Ronald Remy) is slaughtering people in gruesome manners. Can the monster be stopped? What happened to the man-eating plants? Will Forester be able to nail Sheila Ward (Angelique Pettyjohn)? What's with the mother and son who seem to have an almost incestuous attachment?

I find "Mad Doctor" to be the best of the "Blood Island" movies. Here, the pacing is better, as the movie moves at a decent clip. Also, the exploitation elements have been ramped up, as we get more nudity, and more gore. Severed limbs, decapitation, mutilation and exposed innards are the name of the game here. Also, while "Brides" tends to get a bit talky, "Mad Doctor" is more dedicated to action and cheap thrills, which is a big plus. That out of the way, some of the camerawork is suspect, especially the zooming in and out that occurs whenever the monster attacks.

As a whole, I don't think you can call these good in the traditional sense. However, as far as trash is concerned, these are pretty fun, and serve as good introductions to the more horror related side to Filipino exploitation.

Ratings:

Brides: 7/10
Mad Doctor: 7.5/10
Now, without further adu, the monster from "Brides of Blood."

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Shark Attack 3: Megalodon (2002)

I'm amazed it took me this long to do a sharksploitation movie. Anyway, in 1990, Claudio Simonetti directed "Troll 2", a sequel nobody asked for that became a cult classic because of how bad it was. Twelve years later, David Worth (who apart from this, is known for directing the Jean Claude Van Dam movie "Kickboxer") gave a new generation it's own "Troll 2" with "Shark Attack 3: Megalodon."

In something that never happens in movies, a shark (in this case, a prehistoric one called a Megaladon) is killing people, and Ben Carpenter (John Barrowman) wants it dead, while researcher Cataline Stone (Jenny McShane) wants to study it. Well, they kill it, but it's mom is pissed, not to mention huge. Also, this movie taught me that sharks roar.

To watch "Shark Attack 3", you have to understand that this was a part of a series of movies that were going straight to DVD and video in the earlier parts of the last decade-shit, Tobe Hooper directed one called "Crocodile." What's notable about these is that they predated the kind of movies the ScyFy channel (then called the Sci-Fi Channel) and The Asylum now make. So look at it as a something from a very minor part of movie history.

Also, you watch this movie is to know that this is the antithesis of what one calls a good movie. This movie is a mix of minor practical gore, lots of stock footage (the mama shark attacks are a superimposed shark "swallowing" people), embarrassing CG effects, more embarrassing acting, the pointless inclusion of government cover ups, shallow villains, nudity and so much more. At the same time, it's a movie that's impossible to hate, simply because it's the kind of thing that's not supposed to be bad (at least I don't think), and becomes hypnotic after a while. You just find yourself amazed at what you are seeing, laughing from time to time at the ineptitude presented. It really must be seen to be believed.

Of course, I can't go on without mentioning "the line." Long story short, Carpenter (who really isn't that likeable of a character to begin with-he's kind of a douche to be honest) tells Catilina "But you know I'm really wired. What do you say I... take you home and eat your pussy?" The next thing you know, they are having sex in a shower.

"Shark Attack 3" is the kind of movie that defies any sort of proper rating. Fans of bad movies already are aware of it's existence, which makes me wonder what this decade's equivalent of this movie will be. Time will tell.

Rating: I Don't Know

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Goblin (2010)

To be honest, I didn't want to do a review tonight. October was fun, but after reviewing twenty something movies for that month, I figured "Hey, you could use a break!" Well, so much for that, as I'm reviewing the SyFy Channel movie "Goblin."

The movie actually starts out promisingly enough, opening on Halloween of 1831. Here, the townspeople throw the deformed baby of the town witch into a fire. Of course, they are now cursed, and the baby-which was a Goblin (obviously) now feeds on babies every Halloween. Cut to present day, where the Perkins family are moving into town, and what do ya know, it's Halloween, and the monster is hungry.

If there are any bright spots to be found, it's the fact that the kills are surprisingly gory for a TV movie, and character actor Gil Bellows does a fine job as the father. That's about all I can say that's positive though, because "Goblin" is a bore to sit through. The monster is a bit lame, and is never convincing with the bad CG effects enhancements they offer. In fact, none of the CG effects looks any good, and wouldn't look out of place in a bad video game with cheap graphics. Even the direction by Jeffery Scott Lando* (so where's Han Solo?) is uninspired, and offers nothing that distinguishes itself from other ScyFy Channel movies.

Then there's the mythology of the film. The movie is actually rife with potential on what it could do with the monster's back story-how did it come to be, what could it's connection to the woman who feeds it-but the answers you get are everything you've seen before. This is a movie that lacks inspiration, and tends to be dull even by ScyFy Channel standards. At least some of the channel's movies can be watchable in a cheesy way. This is just boring and nondescript.

Unless you are a hardcore SyFy Channel movie junkie, you don't need to bother with "Goblin." This is nothing that you haven't seen from the channel before, and done better in the past believe it or not.

Rating: 2/10

*Lando's prior directorial credits include the giant bug movie "Insceticidal", the vampire movie "Thirst" (which is in no way related to the great Korean vampire movie), the backwoods horror movie "Savage Island" (which I remember some praising a while back) and the sequel "Decoys 2: Alien Seduction" (which had Tobin Bell.) He's also done the TV movies "House of Bones" and "Super Tanker."