Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Phantom of the Opera (1998)

It's hard to believe this is the product of the same guy who brought us movies like Tenebrae and Suspiria. Phantom of the Opera was neither dark nor clever, nor...well, anything. I'm not sure what Argento was attempting to do with this movie other than showcase his daughter, Asia Argento. Critics mark it down as macabre, chilling, haunting, and so on, but in actuality it's quite boring. A formal apology should be given to Gaston Leroux in the afterlife for defiling such a work of art.

Too bad I can't end my first month of Horror Dose on a high note, but Slasher Franchise Month is just around the corner, and we'll be kicking it off with Friday the 13th! Plus, I'll be finishing up Laymon's Midnight Tour tonight--it's been a while since I've reviewed a horror book on here.

Anyway, back to the title at hand. So, the plot deviates from the original and we get a Fabio-esque phantom who lurks in the catacombs and was raised by telepathic rats. Huh? Yes: telepathic rats! I should've read the synopsis before watching it, but I was so elated to find that Dario Argento had done a remake of this classic that I dropped it in the queue and anxiously awaited its arrival. Unfortunately, the performances are as lame as the plot entails. If you want to watch a good movie about rats raising children, check out Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles instead.

Argento's Phantom of the Opera has a handful of gory scenes, but seems unsure of itself while trying to mix the macabre with romance and fun.

Review Soundtrack:
Incubus - "Redefine"
Yngwie Malmsteen - "My Resurrection"
Dave Matthews Band - "The Dreaming Tree"

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Monday, March 30, 2009

Re-Animator (1985)

It wasn't long ago that Bo over at The Last Blog On The Left told me to reserve my judgement on best 80's horror movie until after I had seen Re-Animator. It took a few weeks, but I finally got around to watching it last night. Bo gave me sound advice, and I just might have to call it on Re-Animator, a bizarre bloodbath based on an H.P. Lovecraft story. If you know anything about the warped, dark recesses of Lovecraft's mind, you should already have a good idea about this movie's antics.

The plot has to do with an obsessed scientist who has devoted his life to re-animating the human brain after death. Like most resurrection plots, its format follows the usual lines: scientist finally resurrects an animal, but its behavior is erratic and most often deadly; scientist moves on to humans without perfecting the elixir on animals; humans come back to life, but with grotesque side effects. If you like this movie, you'll love both Stephen King's Pet Sematary and Richard Laymon's Resurrection Dreams, the latter being far more disturbing, but the former being better writing. Eventually, the good-hearted medical student and his fiancee--who happens to be the Dean's daughter--get pulled into the world of the mad scientist.

Like most movies of its time, Re-Animator is campy and out of control, but it is also a pioneer. Of all 80's horror I've seen (some reviewed here, most not), Re-Animator really pushes the envelope with gore and a good story. I suppose you could give all the credit to H.P. Lovecraft for the solid, harrowing story, but credit is also due to Stuart Gordon for wonderfully directing this masterpiece of horror cinema. Yeah, the acting is over-the-top, but in this movie it works. I can't even call it forced acting because it fits the mood of the movie so well. Like I said, it's over-the-top.

So, as I've pointed out, the movie follows a predictable format until the last half hour or so. That's when things take a turn for the worse, and the best. The movie suddenly takes on a new skin and mixes graphic gore with clever humor. I wondered why they made a point of showing the Talking Heads poster during the intimate scene in the beginning, and then, lo and behold, a talking head orchestrates a blood-soaked, aberrant ending with a great twist!

Shredded skin, resurrected cadavers, brains, arms, legs, gouged eyeballs, severed (talking) heads, a destroyed feline; Re-Animator new nominee for best 80's horror.

Review Soundtrack:
Pink Floyd - "On The Turning Away"
John Legend - "Heaven"
Gojira - "Vacuity"
Radiohead - "Creep"

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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Demons 2 (1986)

Not much to say about this movie. Completely devoid of imagination and creativity. A complete copy and paste of Demons, but with a different venue. Basically, you can read the review for the first Demons and imagine that the movie theater is an apartment building. No new avenues of the plot are explored, and some of the cast is even reused (e.g. pimp as weightlifting instructor).

Okay, to be fair, there is one new addition in this bland sequel: a gremlin! That's right. A tiny, beastly gremlin is introduced for a brief time and then destroyed. Besides that, the format is such a replica of its predecessor that we even get the car full of zany youngsters cruising around, but they never even intersect with the happenings at the apartment building. What was the point of these people? They are out driving around, speeding, and then crash into a car, but I never made any connection to the plot.

This probably shouldn't have annoyed me as much as it did, but I can't get past the childbirth scene at the end. Perhaps, in keeping with the same format as the first movie, Bava wanted to throw something in that made us cock our heads the way the helicopter did. Suddenly, in the midst of chaos, the girl goes into labor. With only the assistance of her boyfriend (fiance? husband?), she pops the baby out sans umbilical cord and miraculously jumps right up and escapes the apartment building. I know I shouldn't be a stickler for these types of things since it's a horror movie, but man, couldn't that have been thought through just a little bit? The only part worse than this was when the weightlifting instructor went from trying to break the front door with a steel pipe to a potted plant. Yeah, if a steel pipe doesn't break through the glass I seriously doubt a potted plant will do the trick.

The only thing I really liked about the movie was the costumes; they were slightly better, and the green slime was scrapped. My advice: watch Demons and stop there.

Review Soundtrack:
Alice In Chains - "Would?"

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Saturday, March 28, 2009

Battle Royale (2001)

I finally got around to watching Battle Royale, and I feel like a better person for doing it. Seriously, everyone needs to watch this masterpiece. It reminded me of Lord of the Flies, but the children are Japanese and have lethal, often military-grade, weapons! The plot seems bleak, but it plays out in a manner that is both entertaining and dreadful. There is even an element of humor mixed into the bloody warfare, not typical of Japanese movies.

The government imposes a new law to enforce punishment on schoolchildren who are abusing the system. Random groups of the schoolchildren are taken to an island, handed survival kits, and given three days to fight until only a single person stands. After three days, if more than one person is still alive, everyone is killed. Each aforementioned survival kit includes bread, water, and a randomly chosen weapon. The "weapons" range from a GPS device to a grenade, with everything in between.

I want to feel ashamed for watching a movie about teenagers slaughtering each other, but I can't. This was too good a movie to keep quiet about. Like Lord of the Flies, the movie did a great job exploring tough situations and decisions as kids formed alliances, dealt with their friends being killed, and fought to escape their own death. On top of all the gruesome battle, a layer of romance is used to bring the children to life.

Battle Royale is bloody, yet symbolic and thought-provoking. The actions kicks off almost immediately, pulls you in, and doesn't let go until a felicitous ending.

Review Soundtrack:
Sky Eats Airplane - "Patterns"
As I Lay Dying - "94 Hours"
Job For A Cowboy - "Embedded"

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Friday, March 27, 2009

Pelts (2006)

Argento's Pelts is the first MoH entry I've seen so far that gives Miike's Imprint a run for its money. Dario Argento took a decent plot and poured on the graphic gore to produce a highly disturbing horror flick. Honestly, I cannot decide which was more disturbing to watch: Pelts or Imprint. What do you think?

The plot seems like it was thought up by a couple of guys out drinking. Some fat guy, who makes and sells illegal fur coats, is obsessed with a local stripper. He recovers the deadly pelts from one of his suppliers and aims to use them to sleep with her. Okay, it's deeper than that, but who cares? The point of this movie is to evoke terror and repugnance...and it gets the job done.

My favorite thing about the brutality was that it got increasingly worse. I hate it when the most vicious kill is done at the beginning of the movie. As the movie went on, each brutal scene got harder to watch. the special effects were equally mind-blowing; I couldn't believe how realistic they were. I'd have to say it's a tie between the guy cutting into his stomach with the scissors and the kid snaring his face at the beginning, as far as most uncomfortable to watch.

One last thing to note is how, like Jenifer, Argento connected the beginning to the end with the severed raccoon arm!

High honors for Pelts, a shrine to self-mutilation. Now, help me figure out whether I should move Imprint to second place.

Review Soundtrack:
Kanye West - "Heartless"
The Melvins - "Mechanical Bride"

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Vacancy 2: The First Cut (2008)

I had the pleasure of watching the first Vacancy movie in the theater, with my skittish wife clinging to me! Though Vacancy 2 didn't have lead actors like Kate Beckinsale and Luke Wilson, it was an enjoyable, and interesting, prequel. Like the first one, it was able to maintain a good level of suspense despite the audience already knowing everything about the operation. More than a few times, I was certain the movie was going in direction A and it went in direction B; I like it when that happens.

The best thing the movie had going for it was allowing the first couple--the just married couple--to go unscathed. This immediately raised questions for me as I expected the movie to jump right into the tormenting and killing. The two creepy motel guys even look at each other and say, "let's get to work," after the husband eagerly leaves the front desk. Once the couple peels out of the parking lot, we find that they are just making simple voyeur films at this point.

Next, we get this strange character who, unbeknownst to the motel guys, is a murderer and sets the whole operation we witness in Vacancy into motion. After the new snuff film operation is underway, the movie does a good job making you pull for the original two motel guys, but not for long. My attention began to wander during some of the narrow escape scenes with the three kids; it was rather mundane, but served its purpose.

Vacancy 2 is among the better prequels out there. It's not pulse-pounding suspense, and the gore level is moderate, but it definitely keeps you on edge in the way a realistic thriller does.

Review Soundtrack:
Unearth - "Bled Dry"
Ben Harper - "Burn One Down"
Opeth - "The Drapery Falls"

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Tenebrae (1982)

Well, I was supposed to get Demons 2 next, but it went into "short wait" at the last minute, so Netflix jumped ahead and shipped Tenebrae. I've gotta say: I'm glad they did. This wasn't very horrific--until the bloody ending--but actually more of a "who-did-it?" mystery. Cheers to Argento for a good piece of writing that made great use of red herrings, and kept me guessing until the last ten minutes.

That's not to say that it isn't dated, cheesy at times, and that it doesn't have much in the way of gore until the end, but the movie as a whole is pretty darn good. It actually reminded me a lot of a Richard Laymon novel. Which one? Well, all of them, really! Laymon is constantly throwing red herrings into the mix and killing cute, likeable little characters we have come to love relatively quickly. Similarly, Argento lured my favorite character--the hotel owner's daughter I believe (Maria?)--right into the belly of the beast. Tragic moment!

Famous writer's new bestseller unleashes a vicious serial killer who selects victims and leaves notes based on the writer's book. It's a plot we've seen/read before, but Argento's directing makes it enjoyable to watch. For the most part, the acting was solid. The detective and the literary agent were my favorite characters, based on acting. Both had uniqe personalities and looked comfortable as their characters on the screen.

So, overall, Tenebrae didn't blow my mind, but it was a pleasure to watch; good serial killer mystery. I'm looking forward to continuing with Argento giallos, including Inferno, Deep Red, and Opera. Oh yeah, and of course, Demons 2 and the like, once they start shipping.

Review Soundtrack:
Dave Matthews Band - "Too Much"
Primus - "John the Fisherman"
Sky Eats Airplane - "The Artificial"

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

House on Haunted Hill (1958)

For my first review, it was suggested I take on the original House on Haunted Hill. I remember seeing this back in '99 when the remake came out and I quite liked it, but the original sucked. I tried to keep in mind the context, but this just sucked. I probably won't be going retro for a while after this, thank God.

A poor attempt to pull off a handful of plot twists, and laden with terribly wooden acting, especially on part of the wrecked blond who screamed constantly like a whistle. The film almost redeems itself with the entertainment we get from the husband and wife, but it's all moot in the end.

This is yet another campy, cheesy, not-scary horror movie classic. For those of you aiming to use these classics as history lessons, @#$! these history lessons. I like horror movies, especially offbeat cult films. Do I need to paste the definition of horror in here?

I probably won't say this a lot, but, save your time and watch the remake.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Sombre (1998)

It seems that I'm doomed to watch one movie per decade that leaves me mystified, frustrated, bewildered--well, just plain stumped! As a kid, I was rendered speechless (an amazing feat if you knew me as a child) by Fantasia. As a teenager, I discovered Mulholland Drive by David Lynch. I remember the DVD came with an insert that listed 10 clues to look for in order to unlock the mystery of the movie...I'm still looking for a reasonable explanation. Now, in my 20's, I have discovered this decade's puzzling movie. A little French film called Sombre.

The plot is about a serial killer who drives around France strangling prostitutes. This is one of those films that aims to stand out as a brilliant work of art, but if this is art, I'm Michelangelo. In French, sombre means dark, which describes both the mood and the lighting of this movie. The first 50 minutes are so poorly lit I could barely see anything, save for maybe a pinhole of light, an arm here and there, some guy's hair blowing in the wind, and so on. Aside from poor lighting, the movie is reminiscent of Mulholland Drive in its dreamlike scene changes that are supposed to build mystery and suspense, but actually weighted my eyelids with sleep. After an hour of all this dreadful camerawork, and maybe four lines of dialogue, I fell asleep.

Upon waking, I skipped back to where I left off and witnessed some of the thinnest character development I've ever experienced. The serial killer encounters two sisters who find him peculiar, but instead of yielding to their women's intuition, they continue to hang out with him. None of their actions have any rationale. Finally, I just turned it off, and I hardly ever turn a movie off before it's over. I have the same policy on books: Always finish what you've started.

If the point of Sombre is to make its audience feel the way a confused, maniacal serial killer feels, it succeeds. As far as I can tell, it's a misogynistic film, portraying women as weak and feeble-minded.

Review Soundtrack
August Burns Red - "The Blinding Light"
Morphine - "The Night"

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Demons (1985)

Filled with slimy, bloody, flesh-ripping, gratuitous gore, and over-the-top acting, Demons may just be the most entertaining movie I've ever seen. Although, when it finished, I felt like I had missed some things, so perhaps you can fill in the gaps for me. But regardless of the missing pieces, I'm marking this one down as my favorite 80's horror movie, bar none. I knew I was in for a real treat when I saw bands like Pretty Maids, Mötley Crüe, and Accept on the soundtrack!

Okay, like I said, I feel like I missed some things. I mean, I didn't fall asleep or anything, but for me there are four distinct loose ends. The first concerns the guy with the chrome Phantom of the Opera mask who appears in a reflection on the subway train, then in person to hand out tickets, then in a reflection at the movie theater, and finally on the roof at the end. Who is this guy? He never says anything that I can recall, though he does utter a sinister chuckle or two at the end, just before he is killed. What, specifically, does he have to do with anything that happened?

Similarly, my second question concerns the girl who works at the theater. When we first see her, she is suiting up in a green outfit that makes her look like one of Santa's helpers. I could be wrong, but the movie seemed to be alluding to something with all of the mischievous looks she gives. I expected her involvement with the demonic activity to be revealed at some point (was she in cahoots with Phantom of the Opera Guy?), but she ends up just running around clueless like everyone else until seized by a demon.

The third question I have concerns the movie played at the screening in correlation to the movie theater itself, The Metropol. I couldn't help but wonder if The Metropol was built around the church/graveyard featured in the screening, or something. Is the history of the church/graveyard ever explored further in any of the Demons sequels?

The fourth, and final, question about the movie concerns the scene where our last surviving hero and heroine are trapped in the theater, surrounded by demons and looking for a way out. Suddenly, we hear noises from above, and just as our heroine acknowledges the noises, a helicopter miraculously falls through the ceiling. I can just imagine the writer sitting there with a cup of coffee, tapping his notepad with the end of a pencil, trying to figure out how to get the survivors out of the building: Well, I've already shown that the demonic forces are keeping the doors barricaded, and it's a movie theater, so there aren't any windows. Hmmmm...oh! I've got it! A helicopter falls through the ceiling! Did I miss something, or is this the most random part of the movie?

Other than the helicopter scene, which blew my mind, my absolute favorite moment was when the hero somehow manages to drive a dirt bike over the tops of movie theater seats, slaying demons with a samurai sword, all to the pounding rhythm of Accept's Fast As a Shark (I could be wrong, but I'm pretty sure it was Fast As a Shark)! This is priceless cinematography folks.

Demons defines a must-see horror flick. I can hardly wait for the arrival of Demons 2 and all of the movies that aim to be Demons 3: The Church, Black Demons, and Demons 3: The Ogre. Hopefully I'll get more exposition; if not, I'll check out the director commentary on each disc.

Review Soundtrack
Achilles - "The Dark Horse"
Behold... The Arctopus - "Canada"
The Red Chord - "Antman"

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Saturday, March 21, 2009

Eden Lake (2008)

Eden Lake is a good movie, but not a great movie. The directing and acting--especially the acting--were superb, but the story was generic in a way that caused me to think, I've seen this all before. Honestly, I don't have a lot to say about it.

While watching the movie, I was reminded of Funny Games *, Timber Falls, Vacancy, The Strangers, and Wrong Turn. Like these movies, it employs the realistic thriller method of making the audience feel they are watching something that could really happen. It does a remarkable job making you care for the main characters before pulling them (and you) into a living nightmare.

After watching the movie, I spoke to a British friend of mine about it, and he brought it to my attention that Eden Lake plays off of a very real and terrifying problem in the UK. Apparently, these "little wankers," as he referred to the kids, are running amok over there, fearlessly tormenting people. He went on to say that three people were stabbed by these hoodlums in his hometown yesterday. Had I been aware of all this beforehand, the movie might have affected me differently.

Typical Camping Misadventure Format:
  1. Attractive, amiable couple decides to get away for a weekend of camping/hiking.
  2. Boyfriend brings engagement ring along with the intention of popping the question.
  3. Group of inbreeds, rednecks, kids in this case, cross paths with the good-natured couple and start trouble.
  4. Girlfriend is made uncomfortable, usually by being ogled.
  5. Boyfriend bucks up to defend girlfriend and sets the escalating conflict into motion.
  6. One of the two is captured (in this case, the boyfriend).
  7. In the significant other's attempt to rescue the captive, he/she is fooled by the innocent character from the beginning of the movie--usually someone who has been ostracized by the captors--and lured into a setup.
  8. Boyfriend and girlfriend are both taken prisoner.
* Spoilers ahead for the movie Funny Games (1998 Germany/2007 US remake) *

Once steps 1-8 are executed, Eden Lake delivers an ending similar to Funny Games and The Strangers. After over an hour of the movie spent watching the couple narrowly escape their captors again and again, neither the boyfriend nor the girlfriend make it. In Funny Games, we watch as the girlfriend--wife, actually--is carelessly discarded. Similarly, in Eden Lake, we watch as the girlfriend is taken into a bathroom and the details of her doom are left to our imagination. The point is obviously to invoke the horror of realizing that this could easily happen to you, and you might not live through it, which is more realistic in my opinion.

The only scene that really stuck with me was when each kid in the group was forced to stab ("take a dig at") the boyfriend. The youngest of the group nervously shoves a box cutter into the boyfriend's mouth and aimlessly cuts around. Other than that, everything is fairly tame besides a few graphic wounds--again, this correlates with the intent of making the hell they're in seem realistic.

The British delinquents used as the antagonists pull off a stunning performance despite my aforementioned ignorance (paragraph 3). I found myself wondering what I would do in that situation, which is exactly what James Watkins wanted (ref: The Making of Eden Lake). Yet again, the movie plays off of the cliché pack leader who is deeply troubled and constantly forces the rest of the group to go farther than they want to. Eventually, the leader goes too far with the shenanigans and the group begins to turn away from him. The movie is careful to point out that the children are simply following in their parents' footsteps, however.

So, yeah, the movie toys with you unmercifully, offering nothing but false hope until a grim ending. I still recommend it regardless of similarities to other realistic thrillers.

* It should be noted that Funny Games has a completely different tone than Eden Lake, even though I use it multiple times to point out similarities. If you haven't seen it, you need to stop reading this pitiful review and rent/buy/borrow/illegally download it RIGHT NOW!

Review Soundtrack:
Dave Matthews Band - "The Stone"
The Black Dahlia Murder - "Deathmask Divine"
Pink Floyd - "Learning To Fly"
Primus - "Glass Sandwich"
Bad Brains - "She's Calling You"

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Friday, March 20, 2009

Right to Die (2007)

Right to Die can be summed up by the title of Shakespeare's play All's Well That Ends Well. Not that the rest of the movie didn't go well, but the final scenes left me entertained and satisfied. This is a great example of how to make a horror movie clever and fun while maintaining a strong level of seriousness and repulsion.

The plot is interesting and holds up for the duration of the film. A scheming, cheating husband escapes a car crash, but his wife suffers terrible burns and is placed on life support. Each time she flatlines her spirit comes for her unfaithful husband, seeking revenge and uncovering his dark secret. He reacts by urging the hospital to drop the DNR he originally issued, desperately trying to keep his wife alive in order to thwart her murderous intentions.

The special effects are spectacular. I've seen countless burn victims in movies, but this one is definitely in the top echelon. The wife's lips and eyelids have been burned away which allows for a disturbing pair of eyes and set of teeth behind the gauze wrapping. Each time she looks at someone (directly at the camera/audience) it sends chills down your spine. A notable scene involving the burn victim is where the husband walks in on the hospital workers picking tattered clothing from his wife's bloody body.

The first time she dies, she visits the husband in their home and an intimate scene quickly turns grotesque. This is when we first start to learn that her spirit comes for him when she physically dies. In another scene, after he has foolishly slept with his mistress again, his wife flatlines. The mistress leaves the bedroom to fetch some glasses of wine and starts sending him risqué pictures from her camera phone. As he scrolls through the snapshots, his wife suddenly appears in the background. This scare tactic has been used repeatedly in movies, but it is still highly entertaining.

The movie found its rhythm just after the scene where the husband decides to use the skin from his mistress to save his wife's life--she needs the skin or she will die; the hospital cannot find a donor. He takes her to his office where he works as a dentist, straps her to one of the operating chairs, and gives her some gas. Then, he starts cutting along the dotted lines he has drawn to easily extract large sheets of her skin. The husband and the mistress have this comical dialog that lights up the screen with personality.

In the next scene, the husband is racing to the hospital with a cooler full of human flesh and his mistress's body parts strapped to the roof of his Smart car. Irony: He swerves to miss a fallen tree--the same fallen tree that set the whole movie into motion, I think--and body parts start falling from the roof. He stops the car and begins picking up the pieces when a cop approaches with his lights on, but goes zooming by, and from the speaker we hear, "Get out of the road buddy!" I don't know about you, but seeing a guy standing in the headlights of a police cruiser, holding a severed human leg that has just fallen from atop his Smart car is just plain funny.

The final scene of the movie is equally entertaining. The wife dies before the husband can arrive with the skin. We watch as he sulks back home and neatly disposes of the body parts in a garbage bin and rolls it out to the curb. For just a moment, I wondered why he would leave it somewhere so obvious, but as the ramifications of his wife's death dawned on me, the front door of his house opened and she was standing there with this priceless triumphant smirk. He hangs his head and walks past her, and everything about his body language says, I know I've been bad and there's no escaping the punishment I'm about to receive.

Oh, and one more thing. I noticed that the news station was WMOH-4. Nice!

Review Soundtrack:
Sepultura - "Breed Apart"
Meshuggah - "Glints Collide"
As Blood Runs Black - "My Fears Have Become Phobias"

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

High Tension (2005)

After seeing Alexandre Aja's Mirrors, I wasn't sure if I wanted to put myself through High Tension, a French film originally released in 2003 as Haute Tension, but, having seen Aja's brilliant remake of The Hills Have Eyes, I took the chance and reaped the rewards. As the name entails, high tension is definitely achieved through the proficient use of camerawork, lighting, and sound.

Everything from the labored breathing of the killer to the French version of the Jeepers Creepers truck works to intensify feelings of dread. In some scenes, you can almost feel the characters' sweat, tears, and heartbeats as your own.

Usually, I don't read other reviews before writing my own, but I was so elated by this movie, curiosity got the better of me. Expecting to read high praises, I was distraught to find that this film didn't do so well here in the U.S., but for reasons that were either pesky or that proved naiveté. Suggestion: Immediately stop reading a review if it complains about bad dubbing on a foreign film. WATCH THE FILM IN ITS NATIVE LANGUAGE AND USE SUBS! Why wouldn't you do that? This ensures that you get the original audio track, capturing the characters' true emotions.

I loved how tense this movie felt, especially throughout the murders in the house; the sound effects perfectly captured the grittiness of the gore. I'm not sure what the R-rated version cuts out, but the Unrated version has a graphic scene where the father's head is wedged in between two stairway posts and then decapitated with a bookshelf. Aja starts there and then continues to teach a lesson in gore.

* Deadly Spoilers Ahead *

The main problem people had with the film was its so-called impossible twist. I, too, questioned a few things and ended up watching some of the movie over again, which answered all of my questions. So, I'm guessing that the people who feel the plot is too far-fetched either (a) didn't watch the movie a second time, (b) absolutely hated Identity, (c) have no imagination, or (d) all of the above. Like Identity, some of the movie takes place inside the actual antagonist's mind. The first scene I questioned when the twist hit the screen, was the very beginning when the "guy" is using the severed head and then tosses it on the ground. I thought, now how would that be possible if Marie was in the car with Alex? Re-watching the scene, I found the answer. Marie wakes up just after it happens, and the head is not on the ground anymore once they reach the path. This was risky in keeping the twist safe, but I just figured he came back and disposed of it.

Of the people who get the split personality mechanism, some still question why the murderous personality was male. I think this is blatantly pointed out with Marie's lesbianism and obsession with Alex, who is heterosexual.

Not only did the twist warp my mind, it explained all of the problems I had with the movie initially. It seemed too far-fetched that Marie kept escaping the killer as she did. Specifically, I was appalled that Aja would really think it was believable when Marie wiped the sink to make it look like no one had been there, and then the killer went directly to checking the sink. In another scene, we find that Marie has not checked the gun for bullets. After the whole sink cene, I felt that Marie was too meticulous to have not checked the gun first, but, like I said, the twist allowed me to scratch these items off of my "far-fetched" list.

Even with the big twist out in the open, Aja still delivers one brutal finale. In my opinion, the whole sequence of Marie's split personality taunting Alex while she's trapped in the innocent guy's car is the most intense scene in the movie. The image of Alex's face being splattered with blood, while Marie/split personality saws through the windshield and into the innocent drivers abdomen, will live with me forever.

If you are one of the people who feels the twist was impossible, please re-watch the movie and then send me your thoughts. Also, you might want to go into the Special Features and listen to the director's commentary. If you still feel cheated/insulted, I question the reason you watch horror movies. High Tension does exactly what we want a horror movie to do: toy with us; surprise us; manipulate us; give us something we can enjoy a second time around.

High Tension expels predictability through fresh plot twists and then blows the minds of its audience.

Review Soundtrack
Don Caballero - "I'm Goofballs For Bozzo Jazz"
All That Remains - "Two Weeks"
Norma Jean - "Vipers, Snakes, and Actors"
Opeth - "Bleak"
Between the Buried and Me - "Camilla Rhodes"
Phish - "Meat"
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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Pro-Life (2007)

I felt compelled to make up for yesterday's dross by picking another one from Masters of Horror. Of the selection Netflix has available to view instantly until April 1st, John Carpenter's Pro-Life was chosen. I almost picked between Pelts and Deer Woman, but decided to save them based on recommendations I've received from readers. Having already seen Carpenter's Cigarette Burns, I felt moderately certain Pro-Life would deliver what I want in a horror movie.

In a young girl's attempt to have an abortion behind her overpowering father's back, she conveniently runs into two doctors who work at the local abortion clinic. They take her in and then ward off the father when he shows up and demands his daughter be sent back out.

Not everyone in the movie delivers a solid performance, but the main characters certainly do and that's what matters. The father is played by Ron Perlman who easily invokes fear whether acting in a horror movie or not. He pulls off the role of an über-religious nutcase with finesse.

Once we're past the first ten minutes, which quickly lay out the conflict, the movie begins building the tension between Perlman's character and the entire abortion clinic, mainly by bringing up a lot of arguments in the ongoing ethical issue of abortion. Eventually, the father forces his way into the clinic, taking some casualties along the way, all in the name of God.

Pregnancy oddities are used to build suspense and horror as well. The daughter is disbelieved when she claims to have been impregnated only a week prior as her stomach is already showing; an ultrasound is performed and the child inside of her begins punching and kicking visibly through her abdominal wall; crablike legs emerge from between her legs.

The most notable scene in the movie involves the father overthrowing the head of the clinic and performing an abortion on him (that's right: him). While not terribly graphic--the way Takashi Miike might have done it--it was still quite insane and uncomfortable. What really makes the scene disturbing is Perlman's calm dialogue throughout the process of making a hole and then using the actual clinical abortion equipment to perform the makeshift surgery.

The movie ends with the daughter killing the evil child, and just before the credits roll she says, "God's will is done." So, it seems the moral of the movie, amid all of the ethical arguments, is that abortion is justified if you are aborting a demon seed.

Très bien Carpenter. I maintain that this MoH series has been a profitable investment for you. Now, go forth and make a full-length movie for us!

Review Soundtrack:
Deftones - "Digital Bath"
Parkway Drive - "The Siren's Song"
Becoming The Archetype - "Elegy"
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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Nightmare Man (2006)

Since this is not a professional review, allow me to take the opportunity to laugh: HAHAHA! There. I almost feel better. It's been a while since I've watched any entries from the After Dark Horrorfest, mostly due to the fact that I swore I'd never watch another one again after witnessing a nice little failure called The Deaths of Ian Stone. Take my word for it, the Masters of Horror series puts the After Dark Horrorfest to shame.

I remember when I first saw the advertisement for the 8 Films To Die For, but I can't remember what I was watching at the time. All I know is that I had to see those films. The campaign heralds the films as being so horrifying, so shocking, they couldn't be released in theaters because they would stop the hearts of the general audience. (After seeing a few of these movies I came up with some ads and slogans of my own!)

These films just don't hack it, and Nightmare Man is a prime example. Chalk it up to bad acting? No, chalk it up to bad acting and bad directing, but not bad writing. The writing actually had a lot of promise and could have made a solid movie had they revised it a couple of times during the course of filming. To the writer(s): My condolences to your script. This movie is an utter failure and its blatant attempts to keep our attention until the "clever twist" are feeble and give weight to my claim that everyone involved in making this movie knew it was a flop.

Plot: A woman orders a fertility mask and starts seeing the "Nightmare Man." Her husband puts her on medication and attempts to help her see reality again. How many different combinations of this plot have we seen before? A woman tries desperately to persuade her husband that she's not crazy. The movie tries to be fun, but with the Z-movie acting it comes offs as more of an after school special.

What follows is my abridged list of flops.

1) The acting was so forced and painful to watch--and listen to--that I kept having daydreams of stabbing my ears and eyes with a pair of scissors. Unfortunately, this little recurring daydream was more frightening than the horror movie I was watching.

2) There was an excessively long "woman chased through woods" scene. In order to hold the audience's attention, we are shown scenes of four lascivious friends playing erotic truth or dare, which reminded me of being in junior high. But it had to be done or else the 20 minutes of a woman running through the woods, hiding behind trees, jumping at every sound, seeing the killer in the distance, tripping over nothing in particular, and screaming would have been an invitation to head out to the concession stand for some more popcorn.

3) Toward the end of the epic "woman chased through woods" scene (did Homer write this scene? perhaps Virgil?), the woman turns and is violently startled by a...tree. A TREE! She's been running around in the woods for 20 minutes people. She might as well have been swimming in the ocean for 20 minutes and then been startled by the water.

4) The movie tries to redeem itself from the cliché "car is out of gas" and "honey, I know you're an attractive, mentally unstable woman, but wait here in the dark while I go to the gas station" by making them part of the plot, but when it is revealed to us that these clichés were intentional, and the movie's big twist is released I just laughed sotto voce. Really, I felt indifferent about it. Just get on with it, I thought.

5) Dreadful humor caused the movie to remain silly, especially in parts where it was supposed to be terrifying. Suggestion: If the cast can't even pull off acting like average human beings, don't try to make them witty.

Mia: "My guess is: that was not the cat."
Jake: "Do you have a cat?"
Mia: "No."
6) The ending tried to take a serious turn, but I found myself confused. Not that I didn't get the explanation behind the Nightmare Man. It was just that the contrast of the first 75 minutes and the last 15 minutes was outright baffling. It actually reminded me a lot of my life. You see, I joke around a lot, and sometimes when I'm being serious people have to ask, are you being serious or sarcastic? Now I know how they feel.

If you've read this far, chances are good you've seen Nightmare Man already. To you, I empathize. If you've read this far and have not seen the movie, I envy you.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Dementia 13 (1963)

Another selection from the Horror Classics budget pack, Dementia 13 is a refreshing brew of mystery and horror. Though not pulse pounding, acid horror, what makes this movie work is the brilliant acting of Luana Anders and the clever use of red herrings to maintain a consistent level of suspense.

Luana Anders, who plays Louise Haloran, delivers a stunning performance. She is conniving, scheming, deadly, all with the innocent face of an angel and an unwavering smile. In fact, the movie opens up with her character dumping her husband's body in a lake and then forging a note to his family, falsely explaining why she will be visiting without him. Her role is executed with such talent that all of the other characters are forced to take a back seat.

Despite the fact that the mystery was given away too early (and too easily in my opinion), the use of red herrings showed a lot of creativity in a young Francis Copolla, who would later bless the screen with the Godfather trilogy. In Dementia 13, we are given a handful of characters who occupy a vast castle in Ireland, all (well, not exactly all) grieving the death of a little girl, while a serial ax murderer lurks in the courtyards. The film does a good job of making it easy to pin the murders on any of its male characters: either of the two brothers, the doctor, the wily Irish poacher. But, again, the film didn't obscure the culprit well enough.

At roughly an hour long, we bid farewell to Louise halfway through as she becomes the victim of the ax murderer while attempting to plant the dead child's toys at the bottom of the lake in which she drowned. The murder is excessively tame, showing blood but no broken flesh whatsoever. Nonetheless, we get some creative shots from underwater as blood splashes down. Then, Louise is dragged, sans cuts, across the lawn. Later, we are shown a decapitation, which delivers shock value in contrast to Louise's death scene.

You have to hand it to Dementia 13. For the time, it was definitely gory/graphic as most synopses will point out.

I was a little sad to lose such a compelling character, but the story rolled on, steadily unraveling the mystery around young Katherine's death. Characters start sneaking around, flashbacks are employed, and for a short time I found myself questioning the true identity of the man behind the murders.

Style Points. Some movies are meant to be in B&W. Dementia 13 is one of them. It is the story of an old, immense Irish castle where many family members of the Haloran's have died. Not only has the young Katherine drowned in the pond behind the castle, one character points out that he hates going to his room because he has to ascend a stairwell in which his grandfather fell and broke his neck. The movie is haunting, ghoulish, stricken with death, all while stalked by a very real killer.

The scene that best sets the somber tone of the movie is the scene where the mother and her two (should be three) sons reenact the day of the funeral. The three stand at the grave, holding umbrellas though it isn't raining, and one by one stand behind the tombstone and toss a flower onto its soil. The mother then faints, shrieking that she saw the flowers die when they hit the ground. We are told that they repeat this same tradition each year on the anniversary of Katherine's death.

Dementia 13 is somber and intelligently written and directed for its time. A must-see for any movie lover.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Seed (2007)

I sat down to watch what I expected to be yet another movie about a serial killer on the loose. Instead, I got a lesson in misanthropy. The entire movie is dedicated to making sure not a moment passes without causing us to feel dread and hopelessness. Over and over we watch as human and animal life is wasted.

It all kicks off with a disclaimer that you are about to see REAL footage with permission from PETA in order to further prove the point that the film was making. What follows is a disturbing video of a Chinese fur farm. Helpless animals are slammed on the ground, bashed in the head, stomped on, stabbed, and so on. Usually I can get past this sort of thing, but it was pitiful. It reminded me of a video we had to watch in a college ethics course. Half the class walked out that day.

Out of curiosity, I went to the PETA website and found this thread, which specifically points out that they were thrilled when Boll approached them with the idea of using the clip in his movie. Following the thread, you'll see the typical responses, including outrage that PETA would allow the use of such touchy material for a source of entertainment. In my opinion, Seed probably wasn't the best choice for spreading the word about animal cruelty. That is, it worked more to Boll's advantage than PETA's.

In any case, getting through real footage of a defenseless little animal having its neck and skull crushed under some guy's boot is just the beginning. Everything goes downhill from there.

The plot is fairly interesting. Max Seed, a vicious serial killer, is sentenced to the electric chair, but survives all three shock treatments. According to law, if the subject survives all three attempts, they must be set free. Not wanting to release a sadistic killer, the authorities cover it up by pretending that Seed is actually dead and then bury him alive. Two things wrong here: (1)
They bury him alive. Kill the guy by some other means and then bury him for cryin' out loud! Try lethal injection, a firing squad, hanging! (2) They use a total of four nails to seal his coffin. This is a homicidal maniac who just hours ago (I think) killed four guards with his bare hands in his cell. Head to Lowe's or Home Depot and spring for a whole box, please.

As expected, Seed escapes from his grave and begins wreaking havoc on the city, the murder count growing exponentially as a cop who was involved in the cover-up struggles to track Seed down and finish the job. We get to enjoy some horrific videos from Seed's personal collection as the cop watches them in order to find clues about what Seed is trying to tell them. The videos show mice, insects, human babies, adults, and family pets as they find themselves locked away in a room without food or water and slowly die and decompose. The baby is particularly unsettling. For just a moment we think the movie isn't going to show it, but we get just as much detail as all the other decompositions.

This movie really doesn't hold anything back. Any- and everyone is brutally slaughtered in some way or another. There is one scene in particular where Seed has a woman tied to a chair in her living room. Using a hammer, Seed teases and taunts the woman by starting with playful taps on her forehead, jaw, temple, the back of her head, and so on. As he starts to get more and more into the moment, Seed begins hitting harder and harder and we watch as the woman's skin softens, dimples, splits, gashes open, and ultimately her head becomes nothing more than a red stump. As gritty as it is, the camerawork and effects are extraordinary.

Boll drives his point home with an ending that is just as grim as the rest of the movie. Heroes die, villains live, human life is destroyed only for the purpose of destroying other human life. A lot of movies like to exaggerate these points by giving us a false sense of hope (Funny Games comes to mind), but Seed doesn't even try to do that. If anything, we are given a glimpse of hope at the end, but are quickly forced to relinquish it.

Seed may seem tasteless and cause some viewers to turn away before the story even begins, but it is well shot and the acting is decent (not that good acting is needed for a movie that is mostly scenes of torture). It was kind of like taking the idea of Saw and subtracting the fact that Jigsaw is doing what he does to help people. There never seemed to be any point to Seed's brutality, which was the main point. I recommend this movie to anyone who wants to watch a depressing, but creatively directed, hour and a half of life treated as filth.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Suspiria (1977)

Suspiria is a stimulant for the auditory and visual senses, mesmerizing me from the beginning with its artistic use of color and sound.

The story is simple enough: A shy young American girl moves to Europe to attend a prestigious ballet school, but soon finds that the school is rooted in a dark history. As things unfold, she grows more and more suspicious of the faculty and begins inquiring about witchcraft. Like I said, simple, used before, but Argento spins the tale into a brilliant nightmare, using intricate set decoration and feverish music.

The music was the first thing I noticed. It wasn't typical for a horror movie; it was awkward yet fitting, adding to the surreal atmosphere. Provided by Goblin, an Italian progressive rock band, Argento made the right choice.

The use of color (especially blue) was another brilliant effect to create a mood and foreshadowing. I was in sensory overload by the end of the first murder scene. Ornate designs and symmetrical patterns, awash in striking color, covered the screen and pulled me into a house of horrors similar to the Overlook Hotel in The Shining, but dare I say better?

As far as pacing and plot are concerned, Suspiria is a perfect blend. After the opening scenes, I had to keep watching. I was kept in the dark just enough to provoke my curiosity but not leave me bewildered. Leading up to the climatic ending, Argento paints the screen with more than a few sick images and just enough clues to explain the strange behavior of the girl from the beginning.

The best part of the movie was the end, as it should be. The only words I can think of to describe it are feverish, frantic, frenetic and...fitting. Oh, so fitting. Why make a movie at all if the end isn't going to leave the audience satisfied? In the case of Suspiria, we've been rising with the suspense like a hot air balloon, waiting for our suspicions to be confirmed. The movie ends on a high note of disturbing images, bloodshed, and demonic forces unleashed!

Suspiria stands apart from the legions of cookie cutter witch flicks and invokes new dimensions of horror cinema. It seamlessly takes pieces from many puzzles and fits them together to create a masterpiece. I was entertained by Jenifer, but left spellbound by Suspiria.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Carnival of Souls (1962)

Last week I realized that I was seriously lacking in knowledge of horror classics. Sure I've seen the originals of movies like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Exorcist, Friday the 13th, and a handful of other big names, but I'm talking about true classics like Nosferatu, Bluebeard, Night of the Living Dead, Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde, and The Indestructible Man. The answer? Amazon's Horror Classics 50-movie DVD pack.

You may question why I would want to waste my time sitting around watching these ancient B&W films when there is an endless supply of relatively superb movies at my disposal. For me, I enjoy taking a step back and examining the history of things, how things have developed over time. It's like when I put down my Crichton, King, Cook, and Laymon books and started reaching for the Hemingway, Lawrence, Chopin, Poe, and Steinbeck books. Not only does it give you a new appreciation for the development of an art, you just might find that you enjoy some of the classics better.

But, unfortunately, so was not the case with Carnival of Souls.

Why did I pick it? Because it was the first movie of the collection. Will I continue to watch the 50 classics in order? Probably not. What will I do? I will pick and choose from movies I've actually heard of for starters. How much more time am I going to spend doing this interview-soliloquy? This will be the last sentence of it.

The movie follows a woman who walks away from a car crash unscathed as she leaves town and becomes drawn to an abandoned carnival. At roughly 80 minutes, I spent the first 40 minutes trying to ignore the acting, which reminded me of a middle school play I once saw, and focus on the story. The only real horror element besides muddled, clanging organ music was a guy wearing heavy mascara who shows up sporadically.

There was one cool scene where the lead is out shopping and suddenly no one can hear or see her. Conversely, she can see but not hear everyone else. I sat up and thought to myself, am I seeing the first Sixth Sense? Are all these people in this town dead? Is she dead? So, for the first time my interest is peaked, but then the action takes a lunch break and my eyes get heavy.

Next thing I knew I was waking up to a multitude (actually, it was more like 15) of these mascara freaks chasing the lead around the abandoned carnival. I glanced at the DVD display and realized that the movie had only minutes to go, so I was just in time for the climatic ending. I watched as the freaks, along with Mr. Sporadic Appearance, ran the lead down and smothered her. The movie cuts to the priest who employed her, the doctor who consulted her, and a police officer examining the scene of her disappearance. They can see her footprints in the sand, but they stop abruptly and she is nowhere to be seen. Finally, the movie cuts back to the scene of the car crash. The car is pulled out of the water and our lead is inside and dead.

I was right! She was actually dead the whole time. But I still wondered if everyone in the town she visited during her purgatory truly existed or not. I went back and watched the chunk I slept through, hoping to get more story, but all I got was this dreadful character who didn't realize she wasn't interested in his feeble attempts to sleep with her. He was the epitome of guys who cause women to entertain the idea of (a) other women, or (b) remaining single indefinitely.

I'm not sure if it's because I fell asleep or not, but the plot did seem to fall apart at times, and the acting made the movie seem more like an episode of Hee Haw than a horror movie. It's probably more fitting for a film student.

The conclusion: I've read pop-up books more engrossing than this but not nearly as original for the time. Post your thoughts on this movie and fill in the holes for me.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Jenifer (2006)

Meet Jenifer. She will seduce you; she will be loyal to you; she will...gobble up everyone around you!

Coming off of my Let the Right One In high, I wasn't sure how good tonight's movie would seem, but Dario Argento's Jenifer delivered something from a fresh vein that kept me entertained and disgusted. Jenifer's mutilated face was so wicked that each time she suddenly appeared I felt the same revolt as the person whom she startled on screen.

It all starts when Steven Weber's character, a detective named Frank, rescues Jenifer from a man who is poised and ready to hack her head off. Thereafter, we find that Frank and his wife are having marital problems, but lo and behold, Franks ends up being drawn toward poor Jenifer and brings her home one night without telling his wife. I'm thinking, okay, this is a little far fetched, but I'll hang in there. Then, he goes on to actually sleep with Jenifer while they're supposed to be out looking for a place for her to stay. Now I really think this is too unbelievable. I mean, that face! The white blisters on her deformed tongue! No way would this guy do that.

Then it dawns on me that this movie is the ultimate metaphor for the quintessential bad girlfriend and bad boyfriend.

Let's examine the bad boyfriend first. Frank is in a serious relationship with an attractive woman who is willing to please. She is gentle and passive when trying to get Frank to open up about his feelings, but he lashes out and scolds her anyway. She doesn't withhold anything from Frank. Rather, Frank seems to be simply bored with her. So, Frank goes out and starts sleeping with another woman who has a demonic face, but a voluptuous body. This is real life people. If only I had a nickle for every time I heard a girl say, "I don't know what he saw in her anyway. His [girlfriend/wife/fiancée] is so much prettier."

As for the bad girlfriend, Jenifer gives him all the superficial things he craves but ultimately leaves him worse off. She is always there for him, seeking and giving attention. She is eager to seduce him and hand him another bottle of alcohol when his current bottle runs dry. It seems great, but then she is clinging to him like a leech. He can't think rationally, and everyone in his life who really cares about him has been swept aside. It's just the two of them, drowning in their misery together.

I still can't get past some of the unbelievable stuff, however. For instance, hours after Jenifer is found sinking her teeth into the family pet, Frank sleeps with her. I think this was supposed to show how blinded by the femme fatale he was, but it just caused me to cock my head to the side like my dog does when she's perplexed. What I loved, on the other hand, was how Frank's wife and son fled the coop after the incident. No second guesses, no questions. They caught one look at Jenifer's feline frenzy, called a taxi and bolted. That was truly believable.

As in my concluded metaphor, Frank just couldn't get Jenifer out of his life. Eventually she went too far for him and the movie came full circle, which won me over.

While not one of my favorites, Jenifer remained steadily uncomfortable and bloody, leaving hideous images tattooed on my brain.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Let the Right One In (2008)

Having read the book by John Ajvide Lindqvist two weeks ago, I waited with bated breath for Netflix to ship this movie. Not only was the book one of the best I've read, everywhere I turned this movie was getting rave reviews.
Entertainment sections of newspapers swore by it, coworkers rhapsodized about it, and the blogosphere was set ablaze by the Swedish film Låt den rätte komma in. Even the widely trusted RottenTomatoes.com granted the movie a 97% freshness rating.

Now, I'm not going to spend too much time talking about the book since I read it prior to my blog and since this is supposed to be a review of the movie, but I feel it's necessary in order to show how high my expectations were set prior to watching the film.

The book, as I said, was one of the best I have ever read. It is simply the product of good, solid storytelling from a skilled writer. Lindqvist seamlessly wraps readers in a bleak, morose setting and tone. Next, he drops in vivid characters and causes us to ache for them. Finally, on top of the aforementioned, he delivers a chilling--yet unconventional--vampire tale. I was glued to this book, letting everything else in my life fall to the shadows for the duration.

Two things worked against the movie's effect on me. For one, as you've read thus far, my expectations were set outrageously high. Usually, this is the worst thing that can happen when it comes to any sort of subjective matter: movies, books, music, et cetera. Someone you know sees/watches/listens to it and they turn to you, singing its praises. You rush off and experience it for yourself, giddy out of your socks with excitement, only to find something mundane, banal. This my friends is why I fervently try to avoid trailers and any form of review before checking things out for myself.

The second thing that worked against me was reading the book first. I am one of those people who will read the book before seeing the movie because, yes, it is almost always exceedingly better. Take Stephen King for instance. His writing is some of the deepest, though-provoking, creative writing on the market. But the movies based on his books do the writing little if no justice whatsoever. This is simply because a two-hour film cannot possibly capture all the elements good authors explore in their books. In most cases, I will not even watch a movie based on a book I thoroughly enjoyed.

So, at roughly 8PM I locked the doors, shuttered the windows, and killed the lights. The living room was awash in the TV's pale blue light. I seized the remote from the coffee table, aimed it at the player, and fired. It was time. The moment I had been both anxiously awaiting and slightly dreading was upon me.

The film began to play...

...and then it was over.

What took place in between was possession. Despite my unreasonably high expectations, this film pulled me into its trance from the opening credits to the ending credits. I think the fact that the author of the book was also the screenwriter for the movie helped a lot, but this was well shot and well directed to boot. The film captured the setting and mood of the book in a way I've never seen before. Come to think of it, I've never seen a movie from Sweden before. Maybe they are superior at creating a mood. Snowy, cold, dark and raw, the audience becomes a guest of Blackeberg, a suburb of Stockholm.

Instead of jumping straight into thrill after thrill, Let The Right One In follows the book like an instruction manual and produces real characters we care about and pull for. This is important when trying to move people. Give us someone we care about, someone we ache for when they're in the foreground. Oskar, the 12-year old who is bullied at school, and Eli, the who-really-knows-how-old vampire are a perfect match in the film. Together they dazzle the audience. Had Eli not needed to prey on other characters in the movie for her sustenance, I'm convinced the two could've carried the movie by themselves.

A major theme in the book/film was loneliness and the movie gives this to us from many different angles. Oskar is not only ostracized at school, but his parents are divorced and he longs for attention from his dad. Only, when he visits his dad, alcohol gets in the way of their time together. Eli, meanwhile, longs for a friend, for acceptance in such a strange life. The film is very dramatic in bringing these situations to life, but don't fret, there's plenty of bloodshed, including some graphic facial damage that puts Two-Face from The Dark Knight to shame!

Eli, played by Lina Leandersson is the most haunting vampire I have ever seen. Her enormous eyes, pale skin, and constantly bloody mouth (from recent feedings, to be sure) will chill your spine. The contrast between her love for Oskar and her need to kill are unnerving. To see a little girl clamping down on people while they flail about is ghastly to say the least.

If you need a breath of fresh air from all the other movies out there you need to Let the Right One In.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Cigarette Burns (2006)

Alas! I wanted to watch a horror movie and what Cigarette Burns gave me was indeed a horror movie. Though not as repugnant as Takashi Miike's Imprint, this John Carpenter film for the Masters of Horror anthology is a fitting entry. It's as if Carpenter grew tired of negative criticism and proved himself in just under an hour.

Perhaps using these short Masters of Horror films is a way of cheating on my pledge to this daily blog, but I'm certainly having a blast with them. I love how the movies pay homage to other horror movies and directors. In Pick Me Up, homage was paid to Texas Chainsaw Massacre (both versions!) and Psycho, and in this movie homage was doled out to Nosferatu and director Dario Argento. It shows the unwavering camaraderie between horror movie fans and filmmakers.

Cigarette Burns is about a theater owner's search for a mysterious film that turns its audience into deranged maniacs. Hired by a wealthy collector, and driven by a debt to pay off, the theater owner pursues the film and begins to get sucked in by its growing darkness.

The search for the film kicks off with this thought: We put our trust into filmmakers, allowing them to manipulate our emotions, believing they will not go too far. In the case of this film the director not only wanted to manipulate but destroy the audience.

There were two things I loved about this movie. First and foremost, the fact that the movie plays off of its title and uses its own cigarette burns as both a scare tactic and a way to open up a whole new dimension for the film. The first time we experience the interactive cigarette burn, it captivated me and pulled me helplessly into the story's clutches.

The second thing I loved about Cigarette Burns was the suspense surrounding the notorious film. It's a plot that's been done before, in many different ways; you watch a film and something out of your control occurs (sound familiar?). But the movie did a tremendous job of using almost the entire cast to bring the mystery to life. We follow the protagonist from California, to France (where he becomes part of an abhorrent film himself), to Canada, seeking out the film, learning more and more about its baleful history. Finally, he tracks it down in British Columbia, at the home of the director's widowed wife.

By the time he delivers the video to the millionaire collector, the rare film has been built up so much I wondered how Carpenter would deliver its promise, so to speak. I wondered if we would get to see the film for ourselves like we did in The Ring (Ringu). What he did was reveal bits and pieces of the film to us while using the characters who watched it to validate its claims. As the movie rolled, it unleashed its power menacingly. I can't say that I've ever seen someone feed their large colon into a movie reel before!

Using stunning special effects, shocking gore and a steadily increasing level of suspense, this taut film seals the deal and leaves horror fans satisfied.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Pick Me Up (2005)

This is another one from the Masters of Horror series, so at 58 minutes long the action starts right off the bat and doesn't let up until the credits roll. A bus breaks down in the middle of a desolate mountain town and the travelers are caught in the crosshairs of two serial killers. Unaware of one another, the two begin picking off the prey easily enough, but cross paths when they both set their murderous sights on a feisty woman scorned named Stacia.

The best part of this movie was the two serial killers. A truck driver that, at times, reminded me of Christopher Walken, and a hitchhiking cowboy who was a southern gentleman even while tearing pieces of flesh off of his victims! Both characters had their own flavor and it was wonderfully executed on the screen. It's hard to pick which one I liked better: the older, nonchalant truck driver from New York, or the young, gentleman who always had a smile and something clever to say?

The cowboy does a flawless job creating a completely unconventional serial killer character. Didn't they say Ted Bundy was a well mannered, good looking gentleman who used his charm to lure unsuspecting women into his hellish world? Well, meet the Pick Me Up version of Ted Bundy. On the other hand, the truck driver delivered the perfect role of a seamy older man who believes he is wise and therefore talks constantly and deeply even when it's just to the clerk ringing up his items at a convenience mart.

What's to say about the action of the movie other than they kill some people and it's moderately gory? It was a made-for-TV movie and, like a short story, you usually depend upon strong characters more than upon what happens to carry the film.

The ending had a nice twist. Shot from inside an ambulance, we find the truck driver on a stretcher, aided by a paramedic. After being thrown through the windshield of his truck, and brawling with the cowboy, it seems that the truck driver made it after all. Then, the camera pans out and we find that the cowboy is on an adjacent stretcher, as jovial as ever. The two start to bicker once again despite their current restraints. The paramedic walks over and for just a moment we are persuaded that the two killers are going to team up, but it turns out the paramedics are serial killers too! Finally, one more little twist: The camera pans up and we find that Stacia is still alive, securely strapped into an overhead compartment of the ambulance.

Bravo for this made-for-TV movie. Aside for the slightly bad acting in the first ten minutes, the film is off and running thereafter.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The People Under the Stairs (1991)

Ostensibly, this was a horror movie, but in fact it was a highly entertaining satire about impoverished black people overthrowing their rich--and evil--white landlords when threatened with eviction. Besides the tensions between urban blacks and suburban whites, a major theme was money being the root of all evil.

I regret not seeing this movie back when I was a kid because that seems to be the common factor among a lot of the movie's fans. Not only was it recommended to me by someone because it freaked them out as a kid, I also found a handful of reviews on Netflix that say the same thing. For me, it worked as a dark comedy.

Breakdown: A pair of rich white landlords are tearing down a dilapidated apartment building in the ghetto in order to make more money off of expensive condominiums. One of the tenants, a young boy called Fool, teams up with a couple of older con artists who intend to steal valuable gold coins from the landlord's house. What they find is a pair of twisted maniacs who have a dark secret...there are people living in the walls and under the stairs!

The story behind how the people got there is revealed to us by Alice, the well behaved daughter of the two landlords. Apparently, her mother and father had tried over and over to have the perfect boy, but each one was bad in one way or another. So, the father "cut out the bad parts" (e.g. their tongues) and locked them in the basement, giving them nourishment by taking people prisoner and cannibalizing them. Finally, they had Alice who succumbed to their outrageous demands and keep her confined inside the house.

Though released in 1991, the movie is dated and shows just how far the genre has come in such a short amount of time. The special effects are terrible and the "scary music" reminds me of those old instructional videos they used to show in P.E. class. The acting was so bad, and the lines so cheesy, that the gore was incongruous. At one point, the landlord was running through the house dressed like a dominatrix Power Ranger, and in the next moment he was acting like Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. The woman shouted "ka-ka" after Fool jammed his fingers up her nose. Of the twenty-some men locked in the basement, one of them, named Roach, zips around inside the walls with a hyperactive disorder while the rest of them appear to be evil zombies.

After getting the story behind the people under the stairs out in the open, the movie becomes predictable and a tad boring. It seemed like an hour of people running around in a labyrinth, shouting, gouging, chasing, cursing, falling, sliding, and spouting off lame threats and insults. By the last twenty minutes of the movie I found myself dusting my bookshelf and cleaning the mirror in my bathroom. To top things off, the ending consisted of the rich people's money showering over all the ghetto folks while a hip hop song played into the credits (Do tha right thang!). All I could do was laugh and double check the director's name to make sure this was the right People Under The Stairs.

All the aforementioned aside, what made this movie enjoyable was Fool's humor. Here are some quotes that amused me:
"One day I'm gonna buy you a Cadillac for each foot and you gonna skate around town lookin' so bad!"
"You thought he was white before, you should've seen that sucker now!"
"Your father's one sick mother, you know that? Actually, your mother's one sick mother, too."
"No wonder there's no money in the ghetto."
"You ever seen a brother before?"
There were so many humorous lines that I couldn't keep up with them all. Please comment on this post and add your own favorites from the movie!

The People Under The Stairs is a great starter movie for those who are thinking of getting into horror flicks but are easily frightened. It has a lot of horror movie elements with enough humor to overshadow the otherwise grim parts.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Imprint (2005)

Imprint is director Takashi Miike's contribution to the Masters of Horror series. The story follows an American journalist into the depths of a strange island, in search of his estranged lover. Instead, he ends up with a prostitute for a platonic evening of palavering about the girl he is seeking. The prostitute uncovers an unsettling truth.

The first Takashi Miike film I saw was Audition, and I loved it. It's a shame I can't review it since it's already in the [ list ]. If you haven't seen it, see it; I'll leave it at that. The second Miike film I saw was Ichi The Killer, which I thought was so over-the-top it was impossible to take seriously. There was nothing scary about it, save for the ridiculous acting. I refuse to waste time explaining exactly why it was so terrible since this review is for Imprint, but what I will say about Ichi The Killer is that it turned me away from Miike's films with the intention of never going back.

And then I took a chance on Imprint.

Maybe this is another case of the low expectation effect, but I can honestly say that Imprint was an outstanding horror movie. From the very beginning, it drew me in with its strange macabre setting and characters. I could've done without Billy Drago's character (the American journalist). Whenever he spoke started, I could barely understand what he was saying. I think he was supposed to be drunk off too much Saki (Sake?) or something, but he came off like a bumbling idiot. The redeeming character was the prostitute who told him the story of her death. As soon as she reveals her face on the screen the effect is solid repulsion. Her face continued to creep me out more and more throughout the film.

She prefaces the tale with the fact that she sees the dead and prefers them over the living. When she freaked out over the sight of one of the dead, I flinched and had to look around the dark room I was sitting in. It caught me totally by surprise. As she begins to tell the tale, strange leering apparitions pop up out of nowhere, creating the perfect unsettling tone for what is to come.

It turns out that the prostitute lived with Drago's lover and not only caused, but witnessed her gruesome torture, which is shown to us in strikingly vivid detail. In classic Miike style, long, sharp sticks are jammed under each of her fingernails. For the thumbs, the camera gives us a super-closeup and unflinchingly delivers a scene that caused me to cringe and squirm in my seat. Too bad I didn't get any pictures of my face during that scene. I'm sure they'd be amusing! Perhaps I'll start taking "reaction shots" while watching Miike movies from now on. Anyway, next, her mouth is forced open, her lips are peeled back, and more sticks are shoved into her gums, causing her lips to remain pulled back. The woman is left tied up without removing any of the sixteen-or-so sticks from her fingernails and gums, which creates a nauseating image every time she is on screen. It's amazing how realistic the special effects are in this movie. Are we sure the actress who played the estranged lover is really still alive?

The movie switches back and forth between flashbacks and Drago's conversation with the prostitute to tell the story of his lover's death. Sometimes the two sequences bleed together as only Miike can do it. Those sequences were reminiscent of the bizarre scene in Audition when the man is becoming paralyzed. After learning about the horrific death of Drago's lover, the prostitute begins telling her story, which is where Imprint pulls out all the stops.

It's a typical childhood, really. Her mother and father were brother and sister. They were exiled from their village when people found out and ended up living in a straw hut beside a murky river. Her mother started running a primitive (the movie shows us the definition of primitive) abortion clinic. This is the first time I've seen something on screen that revolted and offended me. Undoubtedly, Miike's intention, and it worked. After the prostitute was born to the brother-sister lovers, she was dropped in the river and carried away by the current like all of the other products of the makeshift abortions. But she got caught up on a log and the mother happened upon her two days later and decided to raise her.

Just when things can't get much worse as far as moral offenses, taboos, and torture, the film gets surreal. Well, surreal and just outright bizarre. Don't believe me? Well, how about this: A hand starts to force its way out of the prostitute's head and it ends up having a face! Yes, I'm talking about the hand...the one that just slipped out of the girl's head. Apparently, the prostitute was born with a twin, and like Stephen King's The Dark Half, the twin developed inside of her skull.

At the end, the journalist manages to kill the prostitute and is jailed for it. Two jailers allude to the fact that he will be tortured slowly and consistently while waiting for his impending doom. Once they leave, Drago is stuck in the room with his demons--literally--and we get some irony, metaphor--dare I say moral?--but after enduring everything we had just witnessed, it was hard to even focus on the ending.

Imprint is not for the weak-stomached. This is as graphic and disturbing as it gets. Its horrors will definitely leave an imprint on your mind, and you might watch family movies and cartoons for a while to shed yourself of the dark skin it shrouds you with. But it is truly a well-executed horror film that surpassed my expectations and forced me to give Takashi Miike another shot.