Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Wreckage (2010)

I'm always amazed when an actor who seems to be doing bigger things shows up in a movie that went straight to video. Usually this is because the movie is horrible, or because the studio thinks nobody would be interested. That or they dump it in five theaters and give it a DVD release two weeks later. Anyways, today's example is 2010's "Wreckage" features Aaron Paul from the excellent AMC series "Breaking Bad." Here, he proves to be the best thing about this otherwise forgettable exercise.

The plot deals with four friends-Jake (Mike Erwin), Rick (Paul), Jake's wife to be Kate (Cameron Richardson) and Rick's pregnant girlfriend Jessica (Kelly Kruger) end up in an abandoned junkyard. When Rick's stupidity get's Kate injured, Jake goes out for help-only to find Kate and Rick missing, and Jessica a dead, bloody pulp. When new arrivals-including the nephew of the man who owns the Junkyard (Scoot McNairy) join in, they all find themselves being stalked by a masked killer.

As I said, the best thing about "Wreckage" is Paul. Here, he plays Rick as a man whose not exactly all that right in the head, making for an interesting character. Unfortunately, he's the only interesting character. Everyone else is either really dumb or ultimately expendable for the killer to get his thing done. Also, if you are hoping for gory kills, then you are in for a disappointment. Many of them take place off screen, which in this case is a big no-no. Movies like this usually rely on at least some gore, and this is a slasher that's virtually bloodless. The direction by John Mallory Asher* is also a dud, mostly feeling more like a generic modern day television movie than something that you should be excited fore. Add a lame twist ending and a body count that's way too low, and you have a waste of time.

I can't even imagine the most indiscriminate of horror fans buying most of this, as it's a movie that manages to be both a paint-by-numbers stalk-n-slash flick and uneventful, nearly gore free waste of time. Watch something better, or read a book instead.

Rating: 2.5/10

*Asher is mostly known for being in the USA TV series "Weird Science", which yes, was based around the John Hughes movie, and for being in the Clint Eastwood movie "Space Cowboys." His only other genre credit is the TV movie "The Haunted", and he also directed the 2005 Jenny McCarthy bomb "Dirty Love."

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Girls Gone Dead (2012)

With a movie like "Girls Gone Dead", you can judge a book by it's cover:

This is a movie that is exactly what it looks like: a boobs and no brains slasher movie. Too bad it's not a good one.

The plot (ha, plot!) is about six gal pals who used to be cheerleaders who have rented property. Sure, people where killed at a shooting of "Crazy Girls Unlimited", but they don't know that, so party time! Cue tons of female nudity, cameos and a hooded killer with a medieval weapon killing people. Mostly female nudity though.

If I were in my teens, I'd probably give this more flack. When your a teen, seeing boobs in a movie is like a gift from the gods of puberty. I'm not a teen though, so most of this didn't do it for me. Sure, the kills are gory, but there's no suspense or meaning to any of it, thus limiting the impact. Jerry Lawler (who recently had a heart attack on Raw) is decent and seems to be having a lot of fun, but no one here (the cast includes Ron Jeremy, Sal the Stockbrocker and Beetlejuice from "The Howard Stern Show", and Linnea Quigley) is given much to do. Yeah there's plenty of female nudity, but it doesn't take long for all of it to start to blur together.

Granted, I will admit that I'm probably not the intended audience for this. This feels like a tribute to 80's slashers (Am I the only one whose getting sick of these?) as done by Howard Stern fans. I'm not a Howard Stern fan, so who knows, maybe it's my fault. I just found this to be tedious to be honest. Most of the humor is of the "descriptions of female anatomy and farts" category, and none of it is funny. I started to get bored about halfway through, as it all becomes predictable and tiresome. Just because you have a camera and a lot of girls willing to get topless doesn't mean you've made a worthwhile viewing experience.

As I said, I'm not the target audience for this. Said audience will probably enjoy this more than I did. Me? I'd like a movie that has more on it's mind than girls taking off their tops.

Rating: 2/10

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Bait (2012)

With the exception of "Jaws" and "Deep Blue Sea", I can't think of any other good shark movies. Granted, "Deep Blue Sea" wasn't good in a traditional sense of the word*, and you can't touch "Jaws", but there have been so many disappointing ("Open Water") to just plain bad (too many to count) films in the sharksploitation genre that  you begin to wonder if it's even worth it. Well lo and behold, "Bait" may not be a classic, but it actually manages to be a fun little movie that just happens to have sharks.

Josh (Xavier Samuel) hasn't been having the best luck. A year ago, a friend of his was eaten by a shark, and now he's lost his girlfriend (Sharni Vinson) to a new boyfriend from Singapore. To make matters worse, a stick up happens in the supermarket he works at, and then a tsunami traps everyone there in  the store. To make things worse, the tsunami has flooded the place, and there's two sharks on the loose.

First things first: "Bait" does anything but reinvent the wheel. It's ultimately a somewhat teen centric B-Movie with plenty of cliched characters (the comic relief couple and their pet dog, the asshole who gets his (always a favorite that one), the daughter who gets in a lot of trouble), gimmicky 3D that doesn't translate in a 2D environment, and everyone you expect to die does in fact die. In fact, this feels more like Hollywood style stuff than anything particularly special.

Thankfully, this is decent Hollywood type stuff too. The acting manages to be a lot better than expected, and a few of the characters do manage to come off as at least sort of human instead of just one dimensional stereotypes. There's also a sense that the people behind it know what kind of movie this is, so the writers (six of them-one was a writer for "Deep Blue Sea") decide to have fun with it. Unlike something like "Shark Night", there's no sense of embarrassment in this, as a sense of humor is included that rarely feels out of place. This is a film that knows it's a B-Movie, and instead of shoving that in your face, it tries to entertain, and with some solid kills (the best being a man getting bitten in half), good direction and some solid set pieces to go along.

In the end, I can't see anyone praising this as some sort of future classic, because this a dumb popcorn movie and nothing more. Thankfully, said popcorn is good instead of stale, and for a no brainer genre film, this is light but fun stuff.

Rating: 6.5/10

*Which could also be called "Hey, remember when LL Cool J did a song about being a shark?"

My hat is like a shark's fin!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Voices (2007)

I have no idea if After Dark Films is ever going to do another "Eight Films to Die For", but the answer is most likely "no." For those who forgot about this-the aforementioned studio and Lionsgate would release eight horror films in select theaters for either a week or a weekend. In this hall, you got films that were great ("Gravedancers", "The Abandoned" and "Mulberry Street") to good ("Autopsy", "Reincarnation" and "Hidden") to mediocre ("Dying Breed", "Wicked Little Things" and "The Reeds") to just plain awful ("The Graves", "Lake Dead" and "Unearthed.") The South Korean film "Voices" belongs in the third category: not an awful film, but not good enough to warrant it being more than okay.

Ga-In Kim (Jin-seo Yun) has been seeing some horrible things, starting with her cousin being thrown off a balcony by her lover on their wedding, and said cousin being stabbed to death in the hospital. Soon, people she knows and loves start trying to kill her, and she starts having horrific visions. As she tries to uncover the secret as to why everyone wants to kill her (No, she's not a bitch. She's actually a pretty nice girl), she discovers that some sort of supernatural presence causing them to turn on her.

There are certainly things to admire about this film. In a lot of ways, the film reminded me of a Giallo film with it's central mystery and at times stylish violence (the murder in the hospital is a highlight.) It also boasts a strong central performance from Yun, who makes for a plucky, likeable protagonist who you can root for. Also impressive is the way the film plays with her sanity. As the body count begins to rise and the people she knows continue to go after her, the film occasionally hints that this might be a case of somebody losing their mind.

Unfortunately, the screenplay doesn't help matters much. There are multiple unexplained plot points-why is this force evil? What is his connection to anyone? Why doesn't anyone seem to be doing anything about this-that makes it a frustrating experience. More frustrating is a plot twist new the end that revolves around a family curse that feels like the writers had run out of ideas. Plus, it constantly jumps between plots and subplots without much ease, and the potential of the plot feels wasted. There's a good movie buried in here, but the bad twists of the plot and a sense of confusion as to what kind of movie it is (is it your typical Asian supernatural tale? A teen centric slasher?) makes it an uneven viewing.

Those who are curious about South Korean genre films are better off watching "Thirst" and "The Host" instead. "Voices" isn't a really bad movie. It's just one that wastes its potential and feels like it should have been more.

Rating: 5/10

Friday, September 14, 2012

Alien Opponent (2010)

I'm reviewing my third film from Synthetic Cinema, and once again, they've gone the route of campy horror comedy. I'm not going to waste time with a long intro, so here's a review of "Alien Opponent."

The plot deals with a space ship landing in a junkyard. Said junkyard is next to a trailer park. In said trailer park are a trio of aggressively stupid trio of rednecks who own it, and decide to make an open invitation. This invitation is simple: $100,000 for whoever can kill the alien that has landed. It's not that simple though, as the people out to do this (including Roddy Piper as a bad ass preacher and Jeremy London as a douche-really, he has not character beyond that) are mostly dim bulbs, and end up either getting killed by the passive aggressive alien (I kinda felt bad for the guy. He may have no qualms about killing, but he just wants to go home. If someone would actually settle down and you know, try to help, he'd probably leave them be) or end up killing each other.

Though it boasts the best production values from a Synthetic Cinema release yet, as well as some fun kills, "Alien Opponent" is mostly awful. This is a film that clearly wants to be a campy, fun B-Movie, yet none of it is funny and little of it is fun. Instead of entertainment, you get a bunch of trailer trash stereotypes getting killed off without any reason to care about them. There's even scenes that could offer moments like a war veteran remembering his daughter-only to get killed in a comedic manner-that might be darkly funny if it weren't so clumsy. The whole thing plays out like a Troma movie minus the over the top nature, bad taste or anything else that makes certain Troma movies notable. It's just a poorly written jumble meant to make you laugh, only to come off as desperate instead of inspired.

Going to the company's website, it seems that there next project (a Chiller original called "Dead Souls") ventures towards more serious waters, which is a good idea if you ask me. After seeing three of their films, I don't think that this whole wacky horror comedy thing is going to work out for them.

Rating: 2/10

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Body Puzzle (1992)

When you get down to it, Lamberto Bava hasn't had the career dear old dad did. Sure, he directed the classic "Demons", as well as the fun Giallo films "Macabre" and "Delirium", but apart from that? There was the middling sequel "Demons 2", the okay but nothing great "A Blade in the Dark", an ill-advised remake of "Black Sunday" and well, the less said about "Devil Fish", the better. With 1992's "Body Puzzle", he returned to the Giallo world, with the end result being a mixed bag of sorts.

Tracy (Joanna Pacula) is having a hard time: she lost her husband in a motorcycle accident. To make things worse, someone is mailing body parts to her-someone who has a connection to her late husband, and has dug his body from the grave. Can handsome detective Mike Livet (Tomas Arana) solve this case, or is there more to him than we know?

There are a few pluses in "Body Puzzle", one in which is the way it plays with conventions. While most Giallo films make the audience wait to learn the identity of the killer from the get go, with the real mystery being the killer's connection to Tracy's dead husband. It also lovingly plays with some pretty fucked up subject matter (necrophilia) and there are moments that are genuinely atmospheric, at times echoing themes and visuals that wouldn't feel out of place in a classic title in it's sub-genre.

Unfortunately, it's just that-several moments. With the exception of the first murder sequence, the movie doesn't attain much interest in that department. Sure, the kills are bloody, but they aren't all that interesting either. It also doesn't help that even in the field of Italian horror, this doesn't make a whole lot of sense. This is the kind of movie where people behave in the dumbest ways imaginable, and people are killed without anyone noticing it until it's too late. A perfect example of this is a lifeguard whose murdered in broad daylight, and nobody expects anything-not to mention that there doesn't seem to be any evidence, even though the guy was violently slaughtered. That's just pure laziness.

Man, they don't pay us enough for this I tell ya what

This brings me to my last complaint: for a movie in a sub-genre that usually relies on heavy style, this is a rather sedate feeling movie. There's little of the flair that Bava showed in "Demons" or "Macabre" here, just flat direction and only a few inspired directorial moments in a film that offers no substance. Watching this, I felt like I was viewing any other Italian horror film from this period. By the 90's, the Italian film business was hurting, and you could tell with most of the output. With the exception of Dario Argento and Michael Soavi, there weren't any worthwhile titles anymore. Granted, this isn't as bad as say, "Black Demons" or Argento's "Phantom of the Opera", but there's little here to warrant much interest. It's just another mediocre genre film in a period that wasn't good or it's industry or genre.

Rating: 4.5/10

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Midnight Son (2011)

I was in K-Mart today, and the song "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)" started playing. As it played, I remembered something: the teenage me would have gotten furious about such a song. I'm twenty nine now, and I didn't feel anything about it. I just said to myself  "Oh yeah, that was a thing." Hell, it's not even close to the worst song I've heard. It was just a part of time that hasn't completely gone away and was for a different audience, and that's okay. Hell, I'd rather listen to that than what they play at Kroger (Stained, Third Eye Blind and Blessed Union of Souls for example.)

I kind of feel the same way about "Twilight." Three years ago, I thought it was the worst thing in Entertainment. Nowadays, it barely warrants a reaction from me. Maybe I'm getting older, or maybe it's because we now live in a world where shows like "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" exists, but it doesn't seem like the worst thing ever made these days. When you think about it, there's been much worse before, there are worse things now, and there will be worse things afterwards. Besides, are those movies really worse than say, "Soul Man" or "The Devil Inside"? Getting bent out of shape over "Twilight" or feeling a need to constantly put it down as a means to make yourself feel better or telling us how it ruined vampires and werewolves is a waste of time.

Why am I mentioning "Twilight"? Because some may feel that "Midnight Son", today's movie, is a rip off of that franchise, as it deals with a vampire falling for a girl. Apart from that though, they couldn't be more different from one another.

The plot deals with Jacob (Zak Kilberg), who has a skin condition that keeps him from going out in the sun, and who needs to drink blood to stay alive. So yeah, he's a vampire. He also now needs human blood to survive, and in the process falls for a street junkie named Mary (Maya Parish.) However, when dead bodies start showing up, and the police start to investigate-not to mention his supplier Marcus (Jo D. Jonz) getting suspicious-his life starts to fall apart.

Though there are flaws (the police investigation subplot feels like padding, it does drag a few times), "Midnight Son" is an impressive little sleeper that won me over. This is mostly due to the intelligent way it looks at someone coping with their their true nature, and how trying to indulge or deny it can hurt not only them, but those they care about. In that way, it's more reminiscent of George Romero's "Martin" and Larry Fessenden's "Habit" than the likes of "30 Days of Night", and I found that to be refreshing. The performances are also great, especially Kilberg. A man whose no stranger to genre films (he was in "Zombie Strippers" and "Haunted Echoes"), he's a revelation here, perfectly capturing the mindset of a man trapped between his true, murderous nature and trying to find a normal life.

As a whole, horror fans looking for something that offers a more mature take on vampirism over the usual blood and violence of most of today's vampire films will most likely like "Midnight Son." It's refreshing break from the norm, and certainly deserves an audience.

Rating: 8/10

Friday, September 7, 2012

Juan of the Dead (2011)

A while back, I mentioned that while most of today's zombie movies are unspectacular at best, you can still find a few that are worth watching. For every "Zombies vs. Strippers", there's an "Exit Humanity." Or in this case, it's "Juan of the Dead" a film that may not live up to it's English inspiration (few horror comedies do) but is most certainly worth a look.

While fishing one day, Juan (Alexis Diaz de Villegas) and his buddy Lazaro (Jorge Molina) find something they weren't expecting-a zombie. Thinking not much of it, they kill the thing. When more of the walking dead begin showing up eating or turning people, Juan and his pals decide this would be a great time-to cash in. They start a zombie killer for hire service called "Juan of the Dead" (tagline: "We Kill Your Loved Ones"), and business starts booming. As things continue to go south for their homeland Cuba, it starts to become apparent that staying might not be the best idea.

Apart from a few misguided attempts at humor (mostly gay panic jokes), "Juan of the Dead" manages to stand out among the current pack of apocalyptic zombie movies. That's partly because it manages to through in social commentary that's actually worth listening to. Topics such as the desire the people to leave Cuba to the affects of government propaganda and Socialism vs. Capitalism are brought in, and thankfully are given room to breathe. Hell, the character of Juan himself is something of a metaphor for his home Country and the people who live in it. He's been through a lot, and not everyone like him, but at the end of the day, he loves Cuba no matter what.

Apart from that, this is just a really fun time. The humor is broad but mostly effective, with amusing running gags (the seemingly toughest member of Juan's crew faints at the sight of blood) and plenty of comical gore gags and colorful characters help anchor the whole thing. Speaking of which, you really grow to love the protagonists, as they all have their own little quirks that never grow overbearing, and thanks to the script both make you laugh and genuinely care about them. These aren't your usual horror movie tropes-these guys feel like real people. Add some strong performances, inspired directorial choices and a conclusion that's both funny and strangely touching, and you have a zombie comedy that manages to stand out.

If your tired of the usual horror/comedy fare that pollutes rentals and Redboxes alike, then this is the movie for you. You won't love every second of it, but it's sure to find a place in your heart.

Rating: 8/10

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

On Second Viewing: The Incubus (1982)

Like it or not, those of us that review movies sometimes end up revisiting ones that we didn't care for when we first saw them. Call it a form of masochism, call it dedication to your craft, or you can call it a momentary lapse in judgement. Sometimes, we find ourselves enjoying said movies upon second viewing, while other times...not so much. Without further adieu, let's take a look at a movie I previously reviewed.

Some directors have careers that never recover after they do one bad or mediocre movie-though it's usually bad. It happened to John Hough. A man whose credits included "Twins of Evil" (which was the best of the 70's Hammer films), "Legend of Hell House", the Roger Corman production "Dirty Mary Crazy Larry" and the "Witch Mountain" movies, it seemed like his career would have been alright.

Then "The Incubus" happened.

It's all fun and games until you need a paycheck

A Canadian production that was an adaptation of a Ray Russell novel, "The Incubus" told the tale of a doctor (played by a slumming John Cassavetes) trying to stop a demonic rapist. The film was torn apart by critics and ignored in theaters. It did gain a cult following on home video, but the damage was done, and his career never recovered. So, is it that bad? Upon revisiting it, I find it to be in a land located between "it's okay" and "it's kinda bad", with the latter winning out.

The theme of sexuality is the most interesting aspect the film has going for it. In this movie, death would be a favorable fate to what the titular demon has in store for its victims. Equally unsettling is the relationship Cassavetes has with his daughter, which borders on incestuous desire. It's all creepy, and that's the point. This is a movie where sex is the real enemy, and not in the usual "sex=death" cliche. Plus, the plot is positively scuzzy. This is the kind of premise you'd get from Italy, France or Spain in the 70's.

That being said, I found it to be less atmospheric the second time around. The direction is kind of spotty, occasionally getting it right, but more often than not it feels stiff, lessening whatever impact the film might have. At times, the film borders on unintentionally comedic, such as the use of Bruce Dickinson's pre Iron Maiden band Samson set to a moment that should be disturbing. Then there's the subplot involving a young man (Duncan McIntosh) who sees visions of the creature in action, and worries that he has a connection. There's tons of potential here, but little of it is realized. Also, while I normally don't mind waiting to see the monster, you only get a glimpse of the evil fucker (pun intended), and...he's somewhat intimidating I guess.

If Billy Corgan had a demonic twin brother, this is what he'd look like.

Then there's the acting. Nobody here does a particularly good job, but you can't help but feel for Cassavetes. Granted, he was never one to say no to a paycheck (usually so he could finance his passion projects), but here he clearly has no interest whatsoever in his role. The fact that he's completely unlikable and more than a bit of a creep doesn't help matters much. Nor does the fact that his character is mostly bland and one dimensional. Actually, scratch that: there's nothing wrong with him being a creeper (that's the intention), but him being bland is unforgivable. This is mostly due to the poor script, which doesn't understand how to properly write characters or a coherent narrative to save its life.

Yeah, I can give ya a ride...

A part of me wants to like this more. There's tons of potential here and it gets some things right (some genuinely disturbing scenes and visuals, a haunting score, effective use of lightning), but the bad ends up outweighing the good. I will say this much for Hough: He got more work than the film's writer, George Franklin got after this. Apart from a TV movie called "Personals", he hasn't done a single thing before or after.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Freelancers (2012)

That's it. I'm not sitting through another movie featuring 50 Cent. With "Freelancers", I've now seen 3 movies featuring everyone's favorite mumbling thespian in a terrible film (released of course, by Lionsgate), as well as the second that somehow manages to drag two respected actors (Robert De Niro and Forest "I won an Oscar and didn't do much worth damn soon after" Whitaker) into his latest bid at trying to be a leading man, and here, we get what may be his worst yet.

50 Cent stats as Malo, a man whose father was a police officer he saw slain before his eyes. When he and two of his friends get locked up, they find themselves getting paroled and even joining the police force. When they Graduate, Malo joins the Street Vice Task Force, which is run by his dad's ex partner Vic Sarcone (De Niro.) This being a shitty cop movie, it turns out that the Task Force is a haven for corrupt cops.

That's it as far as plot concerns. To say the least, you aren't going to find anything here that's worth a damn. Everyone here is either terrible (50 Cent continues to be a charismatic vacuum) or sleepwalking through their roles (De Niro), with only Whitaker delivering a decent performance. Everything else is awful too. The direction, editing, choreography and cinematography is piss poor. The scripts is filled with uninteresting characters and plot holes. In short, it all feels like a cynical cash grab made to sucker whatever fans 50 Cent has left, and offers nothing in the way of merit.

 I'm not even going to make a witty comment. I mean-God Bobby, can't you say no at least one?

Which brings me to 50 Cent. Apart from his awful performance, the character of Malo is completely unsympathetic. He's a man whose responsible for killing innocent people early on and aids in a cover, yet nothing happens to him. I know he's supposed to be a flawed character, but there's nothing about him that makes him interesting. Plus, he makes dumb choices throughout the movie, especially at the end. He's the protagonist, but he's dumb as bricks and as unlikable as they come.

There is no reason to watch this movie. Even fans of the lead will most likely feel ripped off by this thing, as it serves as nothing but an awful cop movie that somehow got a brief theatrical run because of the people involved.

Rating: 0/10

Classic Poster Art: Night of the Comet (1984)