Thursday, February 28, 2013

Girls Against Boys (2012)

I find it a bit creepy to be on the internet sometimes. Part of the reason is the ugly undercurrent of misogyny that permeates so many comments sections and user reviews (you know who you are BTW.)They tend to rant about women who don't want to fuck them or how they believe feminists are ruining everything for men in America. I'm mostly going on and on, but what I'm getting at is that there's some awful human beings on the internet and around the world. So, I must admit that I went into "Girls Against Boys" with a level of interest, as it would be nice to see a horror film from a feminists perspective. What I got instead...was kind of a mess.

Shae (Danielle Panabaker) has undergone a traumatic experience in the form of being raped by a seemingly "nice" guy. To add insult to injury, the guy she's been seeing (Andrew Howard) is married and with kids, and seems to be more interested in nookie than helping her cope. The only person who seems to understand is Lu (Nicole LaLierte), her co-worker, who believes revenge is the only answer. Unfortunately, her idea of revenge involves murder, and when Shae actually does show interest in an actually nice guy, Lu becomes jealous.

I appreciate what director Austin Chick is aiming for here. One could say that there should be more horror films done from a feminist's perspective. While I must commend the performances (Panabaker in particular is good. Girl deserves to be a bigger star IMO), the end result is lacking. There's violence, but there isn't a whole lot of gore here, so fans of that will be disappointed. It also largely feels more like a generic indie movie than it does a horror movie. It clearly wants to be a respectable horror movie, but it doesn't understand how horror works.

Which leads me to my biggest complaint-for all it's good intentions, "Girls Against Boys" seems to lack the courage of it's convictions. It's attempts to comment on gender roles in society feel undercooked, and once the revenge aspect comes to play, it all feels like your basic revenge movie. It clearly wants to say something about these issues in society (and in horror in general), but instead of being a thoughtful commentary or a "Men, Women and Chainsaws" style examination, it all feels "Been here, done that." The fact that Lu ends up becoming obsessed with Shae also feels unnecessary. It's feels exploitative in a "Hey, lesbians!" way, but this is not a movie that needs that. In trying to play it both ways, the film muddles whatever message it intends to have.

If you want to have an intelligent, feminist take on the horror genre-the go watch "Audition", "The Descent" or "Ginger Snaps" instead. Those movies actually make you think about gender roles and equality in the genre. This is just pretending  to understand when it doesn't know shit.

Rating: 3/10

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Nesting (1981)

Porn directors have done horror before. It's no real secret. However, seeing "The Nesting" is interesting simply because it's director (Armand Weston) was primarily known for bondage themed porn, but his film goes all out to be a classy, Gothic affair more interested in creeping it's audience out than it is throwing in gore. Not that there isn't any gore-there's a few moments, including a seemingly Fulci inspired bit of ocular trauma-but this is largely a relatively restrained affair.

Agoraphobic mystery writer Lauren Cochran (Robin Groves) decided to write her latest work in an old Victorian house that what do ya know, looks kinda like the one in the story she's writing. Unbeknownst to her, said house was a brothel in the 40's that has a violent past, and the spirits of the dead are not going to rest for long.

Clearly inspired by the Haunted House movies of the time and the writings of Stephen King, "The Nesting" have a few good things going for it. As far as directing bouts of violence and creating an atmosphere of potent dread, Weston isn't too bad. He's not great, but the haunting specters and creepy goings on managed to keep me more interested than I should have been. Where he falters is directing actors and writing screenplays (he co-wrote it with "Dawn of the Mummy" writer Daria Price.) As our lead, Groves is pretty wooden, though her boyfriend Mark (Christopher Loomis) is extremely grating, and got on my nerves whenever he was on screen.

Meanwhile, the screenplay is littered with holes. Lauren only seems to be agoraphobic on occasion-in fact, she sometimes seems to be too calm for an agoraphobic woman in a haunted house. Then there's the ghosts themselves. Sure, they can be creepy, but the screenplay really fucks things up with them. That's because *spoiler* they often seem to be protecting her, but when Lauren finds out about their past, they want her dead. It makes no sense whatsoever, and just left me scratching my head.

It's a shame too, because I really wanted to like this more. It has all the potential for a creepy little tale of Supernatural occurrences, but the largely mediocre performances and weak script keep it from reaching that potential. Not a terrible movie, but nothing worth watching either.

Rating: 4/10

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Nest (1988)

I don't know about you, but cockroaches gross me the fuck out. They spread disease, eat almost anything, and they...well, look at them. Plus, they'll be around long after us. In spite of my aversion towards cockroaches, I have a soft spot for Terrence W. Winkless' 1988 nature-run-amok film "The Nest." This sucker was a rental favorite for me back in the day, was produced by Roger Corman and his wife Julie (in fact, this is one of the last truly good Corman productions IMO), and is now out on a Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack thanks to the good folks at Shout Factory.

Oh crap, I didn't put it in all the way when I zipped up...

Something bad is happening in the town of North Port. Lately, it seems that the remains of animals and even people are showing up half eaten. Book bindings are loosing the glue that holds them together. Sheriff Richard Tarbell (Franc Luz) knows somethings up, as does Mayor Elias Johnson (Robert Lansing), who wants an investigation. What Dr. Morgan Hubbard (Terri Treas) discovers is that it's cockroaches left over from a prior experiment. Seems that they have acquired a taste for living flesh, are a lot harder to kill, and are genetically mutating into whatever living being they consume.

In some ways, there isn't a lot new here. The film, like almost every "nature's revenge" movie in the 70's-today, owes a massive debt to "Jaws" (with a pinch of Carpenter's "The Thing".) The characters are all stock (the corrupt mayor, the mad scientist, the mayor'sinnocent daughter (Lisa Langolos) and the comic relief) and the acting is largely mediocre (only Treas and Stephen Davies as an exterminator stand out.) Thankfully, it gets by for the large part.

Why? Well for starters, the direction by Winkless is actually pretty good, making great use of lighting and setting, and also getting by thanks to a witty script by Robert King.* The other thing that helps is the infectious sense of humor, which ranges from lighthearted (the highpoint being an roach attack on a local diner, with the waitress using it to dispatch them in a variety of ways) the the decidedly dark (a roach attack on a lady in a leg cast.) In short, you can tell that this is a movie that doesn't take itself too seriously. Oh, and fans of nasty creature effects and gore are going to love the third act, in which hideous, CGI free mutants and some gooey gore effects show up. Finally, there's the whole spirit of the thing, as it has so much of what makes Corman productions fun-a sense of pure energetic spirit and can-do attitude.

Hmmm, I recognize you...

Funny, unpretentious and filled with beasts, blood and B-movie energy-"The Nest" is the kind of thing that reminds you why so many love 80's horror. It's not a classic, but it's a lost gem that should please fans of these kinds of movies.

Rating: 7.5/10

*King was mostly known for a while as the writer of the notorious flop "Cutthroat Island." These days however, he's gotten the last laugh, as he went on the be the creator of the acclaimed CBS series "The Good Wife."

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Alive or Dead (2008)

My relationship with the studio known as Lionsgate is not always a good one. Sure, they release some good stuff from time to time (Damn it , see "Dredd" if you haven't already), but I've had to sit through so many bad straight-to-video movies that they've picked up for distribution that I can't help but sometimes feel a little bitter. Granted, I am a sucker I guess-I don't have to watch movies like today's entry "Alive or Dead", but I have a job to do (by that, I mean a movie to review for a website), so he we go.

I don't know why, but this picture makes me think of the song "Dancing Queen"

The premise deals with Maria (Ann Henson), who finds a bus in the middle of nowhere that has the words "Help Me" written on the window. She stops to check this out, and as we all know, that's

as she finds a girl in the bus named Sarah (Angelica May) who seems to be held captive. A driver then enters the bus and, unbeknownst to him that there's another person there, drives off. The bus eventually stops at a remote area that seems to be populated by mutated cannibals that consume human flesh, and the two girls must now fight for there lives against the cannibals and a large, weapon wielding killer.

The biggest sin "Alive or Dead" commits is the fact that it does nothing interesting with it's initial premise. There's plenty of potential to create a suspenseful little indie horror movie out of the situation, but the film fucks it all up on several fronts. For one thing, the leads are dumb as a box of rocks. They have several situations in which they could actually do something, but the movie treats them like imbeciles that can't figure out the most basic feats of logic. It also doesn't help that the movie is boring as hell. Much of it seems to be made up of Maria and Sarah walking around, looking at there surroundings. I'm not kidding either, as it feels like there's more of that than there is any actual horror. There's little actual story here, and nothing about it is scary. It's just stupid.

"Ugh, that's one guy, one cup?"

Sure, it might look shockingly professional and polished considering it's $200,000 budget, and the make up effects looks fine, but that doesn't mean that this is a movie you should rush out to see. This is just another "Texas Chainsaw Massacre"/"Wrong Turn" style movie that does nothing interesting, and is ultimately a waste of time and energy, and was released by a studio that seems more interested in a quick buck than it is actually distribution something of quality.

Rating: 1/10

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Nothing But Trouble (1991)

I'm sure you are are aware of the podcast "How Did This Get Made?" It's a podcast in which a group of very funny people discuss and dissect some of the worst films ever made, and attempts to answer that question. If I were to add a movie to this list, it would be Dan Akroyd's directoria debut "Nothing But Trouble", which pretty much defines that question.

Financier Chris Thorne (Chevy Chase) meets up with a lawyer (Demi Moore), and the two decide to go on a business meeting. On the way, they stop by a town in the middle of jack squat, and are "arrested." However, things aren't what they seem, as they soon find themselves under the thumb of the despicable and ugly as sin Judge Alvin Valkenheiser (Akroyd), whose courthouse and prison are filled with oddities such as Dennis (John Candy) and his sister Eldona (Candy again), a hideous man/baby (Akroyd again), and various deadly traps.

There isn't a single damn thing about "Nothing But Trouble" that works. Everyone here is awful. Chase is at his smarmy worst, Akroyd is obnoxious as hell, Moore is a blank slate and Candy is basically told to be a grotesque buffoon. None of it is scary or funny. It lives in a paradoxical world in which it labors under the delusion that it's hilarious and that it's audience will be stupid enough to think it's funny. It's mostly just disgusting, with the Judge having a decrepit nose that looks like a penis and the sight of giant, filth ridden babies showing up for...well, because Akroyd thought it would be funny for some reason.

If anything, this is a movie that wants to be a grotesque blend of horror and comedy, and ends up being just plain grotesque. It's got plenty of gross out moments, but none of them are amusing. They are just gross. The other moments (the Judge dancing to Hip-Hop music, Chase being an insufferable little twerp, Eldona having a crush on Chase) are plain insufferable. Everything about it is a painful experience from someone who should have known better, but didn't.

Thankfully, audiences were mostly smart enough to avoid it (it cost $40 million and only made about $8 million total), and it was the first (and probably biggest) nail in the coffin for Akroyd's career in film, as it never recovered from it. I'm not going to say he deserved it-most don't deserve to have their careers ruined by a horrible flop, even if they were responsible for it-but that fact that it represents Hollywood indulgence at it's worst (and many reasons more) make me glad it did bomb.


Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Asphyx (1973)

What's an Asphyx? Why, they are a Dutch Death Metal band who formed in 1987, and mixed the grinding sound of that genre with the slow, Sabbath like approach of Doom Metal. Okay, so other than that, what's an Asphyx? Why, it's an effective Gothic horror film from Peter Newbrook (in his only directorial effort-he was in charge of second unit photography for "Lawrence of Arabia") that's actually quite the underrated gem.

Hugo Cunningham (Robert Stephens) has a peculiar hobby-he likes to take photos of people and animals right before their death. Why? Because he keeps seeing a strange smudge like image in each picture and film. Now, with the help of his son Giles (Robert Powell), he is about to find out what it is-it's an Asphyx, a spirit of the dead mentioned in Greek mythology. As they continue to experiment, they discover that if you box an Asphyx up, that person/animal will gain immortality. This seems like a good idea at first, especially for Hugo, but as we know, immortality and playing God has it's price...

"The Asphyx" is really a triumph of mood, direction and set design (the sets have the kind of wonderful late 60's/70's look many try to replicate but can't), among other things. The whole thing is creepy as hell, with a story that feels like it could have come from H.P. Lovecraft. It helps that Newbrook has such a good eye for detail, as he perfectly captures a look into the world of a respected man going mad due to his research, and the effects it has on others. If you ask me, the movie actually offers some serious philosophical overtones, as it focuses on issues regarding life, death and man's ongoing battle with the latter.

Also worth mentioning is the performances, which are top notch throughout. Stephens in particular is solid, stealing the show as a man who wants to achieve the ultimate gift that's a curse in disguise, yet never goes too over the top in his depiction of a man losing grip of his sanity. In most movies, he would have become a raving lunatic, but here he's actually an very flawed and human character, which is a refreshing change of place. Oh, and the score by Bil McGuffie (who was a music director for two episodes of "Monty Python's Flying Circus") is great, managing to capture lush romanticism and haunting atmosphere with ease.

For fans of  little known but rewarding 70's horror, "The Asphyx" is definitely worthy of your attention. It's one of the most underrated British genre films of all time, and deserves a somewhat larger audience.

Rating: 8.5/10

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Death Race 3: Inferno (2012)

When you think about it, the "Death Race" franchise should be considered genre sacrilege. Whereas the original "Death Race 2000" was a brilliant bit of political satire that just happened to be a Roger Corman production, Paul W.S. Anderson's remake eschewed the satire (but still had a fair bit of social commentary) for over the top thrills. However, it managed to be a shockingly fun guilty pleasure. Sure, it was nowhere near as good as the original, but as a low calorie piece of action junk food that starred Jason Statham, it was better than it had any right to be.

Then we get to the sequel that doubled as a prequel, where we learned about Carl Lucas (Luke "I'm pretty much the poor man's Jason Statham" Goss) and how he became the notorious Frankenstein. To be honest, I wasn't impressed. Sure, it had some fun action and character actors like Danny Trejo, Ving Rhames and Sean Bean, but it suffered from a poor lead actor that played a character who wasn't all that sympathetic.

Am I Jason Statham yet?

Taking place after the events of the second film, "Death Race 3: Inferno" sees the game is now being run by scummy tycoon Niles York (Dougray Scott), who has moved Death Race to South Africa, and what do ya know, Carl's one game away from freedom. Teaming back up with Goldberg (Trejo), Katrina (Tanit Phoenix) and Lists (Fred Koehler), Carl and 10 other fugitives are about to run rampant across the African landscape, with plenty of explosions, mayhem and death on the way. However, York has other plans...

When you get down to it, "Death Race 3" is what some would call a "critic proof" movies. I like to call them "fan fiction" movies, in the fact that they feel like they were written by a small group of caffeine addled fan fiction writers who were paid to write an original script. Movies like "Legion" and the "Resident Evil" and "Underworld" franchises fall into this world. However, this one actually isn't that bad as far as guilty pleasures go.

Part of the reason the movie succeeds is the fact that it seems to embrace what it is more than the prior movie did. This is a dumb as a rock film that throws in gladiatorial fights amongst scantily clad women, slow motion car wrecks and unapologetic spots of female nudity and gore with pure abandon, and it actually does it in a shockingly competent manner. It also helps that Carl Lucas is less annoying this time. Sure, Luke Goss isn't what I'd call a good actor, but the character is a bit more straightforward this time, and doesn't stop to whine about his conditions like he did in the prior films. Fortunately, the rest of the cast is a lot of fun, especially Trejo and Scott. Danny seems to be having a lot of fun here, and Dougray is actually pretty good as a ruthless tyrant who manages to be more heartless than prior villain Weyland (Rhames, who does have a small role here.)

 It's a living.

As whole, "Death Race 3" is pretty much another straight-to-video sequel. Fortunately, it's not bad in that regard, and as a "Saturday afternoon with nothing to do" viewing is concerned, makes for a decent enough time waster.

Rating: 6/10

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Classic Poster Art: The Nest (1988)

Also, expect a review later this month or early in March.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Dear God No! (2011)

At this point, I think it's time to put a moratorium on Neo-Grindhouse movement. It was fun for a while, and we got some enjoyable movies out of it ("Grindhouse", "Drive Angry" and "Black Dynamite" for example), but there are more bad movies in this thing ("Cherry Bomb", "The Bleeding", "Bitch Slap" and "Black Devil Doll" for example) to make me think this needs to end.

Granted, one could argue "But Joe, these are supposed to be bad!", and I would say "That's no excuse." Many of the old Grindhouse movies weren't supposed to be bad. The fact that they were and weren't supposed to be can add to the charm. Trying to be a bad movie usually results in something that's not just bad, but hard to sit through. Such is the case for James Bickert's everything but the kitchen sink movie "Dear God No!"

The Impalers are a Satan loving biker gang on a rape and murder spree across the tri-state. After a bloody battle with a rival gang Satan's Own, they take refuge in a cabin in the backwoods of Northern Georgia that's owned by a disgraced Anthropologist. However, what they though would be another home invasion soon turns into something else entirely, because the good doctor has a hairy secret locked in his basement.

Shot on 16mm, "Dear God No!" clearly wants to be a lot of things. It wants to be a throwback to the days of hard drinking, testosterone driven biker movies. It wants to bring to mind the kind of offbeat, forgotten exploitation movies companies like Something Weird and Retromedia put out. It wants to remind you of movies like "Night of the Demon" and other Bigfoot movies. In short, it wants to be one big tribute to the glory days of 70's and early 80's exploitation.

That would be fine and all, but Bickert doesn't seem to fully realize what made those movies work. Sure, it's got gore, sadism and low budget how to, but in the process of trying to shock, it just comes off as tawdry instead of offensive. This is a movie that wants to offend with gleeful abandon, throwing in plenty of rape, boobs, gore, nun's being slaughtered and pregnant women being killed. However, it's attempts to shock and offend feel forced instead of inspired. Joe Harley at HorrorTalk said it best by comparing it to something like "Family Guy." It likes to think of itself as shocking and offensive, but in reality it's nothing but desperate.

One could argue "But Joe, it's exploitation!" You could make that argument, yes. However, older exploitation movies knew what their audiences wanted, and didn't come off as trying way too hard. Many of them pulled it off with ease. This is a cheap pretender to the throne that wants to earn it's exploitation stripes, but doesn't know how good exploitation movies work.

Rating: 2/10

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Mortuary (1983)

I want you to take a look at the above poster. Looks like a zombie movie, doesn't it? Now, watch this trailer

This of course, is a case of misleading advertising. Why? Because in reality, "Mortuary" is anything but a zombie movie. In fact, it's a slasher movie that at times barely qualifies as that.

Christine Parson (Mary McDonough) believes that the death of her father was not accidental, but in fact murder. With the help of her boyfriend (David Wallace), she starts to investigate, and discovers that there's something weird going on at the local mortuary. Something involving weird, Satanic seances, a creepy Mortician (Christopher George, in his last role before his death a few months later) and his geeky, awkward son (Bill Paxton.)

If Ghost Face from the "Scream" movies replaced his mask with corpse paint

"Mortuary" actually starts out and concludes in an interesting fashion. The location is creepy, the cult angle is ripe for potential and the score by Joe Cacavas is an eerie and effective. However, the end result becomes a mix of good ideas and really bad ones. The acting is alright (though Paxton steals the show), but nobody here outside of McDonough and Paxton's characters are interesting. There's a little bloodshed, but only a little. In fact, the movie feels more like it wants to be a Gothic horror movie than it does a slasher, and that it's a bit embarrassed by the latter aspect. That's a little understandable considering the fact that by 1983, there were now too many slasher movies, but it forgets things like the Satanic cult, which kind of bungles the potential for the former. Besides, in a movie like this, a little splatter would have helped.

Then there's the direction and script. The direction by Howard Avedis occasionally shows moments of inspiration, but for the large part resembles a generic TV movie that just happens to have a little nudity and blood. The script by Avedis and Marlene Schmidt is all over the place, going from an occult mystery to a slasher to a "Psycho" style tale of childhood traumas and the effects on the abused  on the drop of a hat. There's little actual attention to a coherent plot structure here, and the fact that the killers identity halfway through and that it drops the ball with the whole cult subplot doesn't help the movie's favor.

So you're telling my there's a chance...

Honestly, if it wasn't for Paxton's performance and a few nice touches here and there, I wouldn't remember anything about "Mortuary." The end result feels like a missed opportunity, as it's a schizophrenic, disjointed mess that never manages to recover it's flaws. Far from terrible, but nothing spectacular either.

Rating: 5/10