Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2009: Top 10 DVD Releases

Introducing the Horror Dose 2009 Top 10 DVD Releases. If you have posted your own list, please comment the link!

I'd like to thank Carl (I Like Horror Movies), Bo (The Last Blog on the Left), and Gore Gore Girl (The Gore Gore Girl) for all of their comments and suggestions during this first year of Horror Dose. Because of these fine folks, among many others recently, I realized my ignorance and have expanded my horror palate exponentially.

I'm looking forward to continuing Horror Dose in 2010!

Without further ado...

10. The Hills Run Red
9. Thirst
8. [REC]
7. Paranormal Activity
6. Deadgirl
5. Grace
4. Drag Me to Hell
3. Martyrs
2. Trick 'r Treat
1. Let the Right One In

Honorable Mention:

Paranormal Activity (2007)

I'm probably the last person to see this movie, or at least the last horror movie advocate, anyway. I purposely decided against seeing this one in the theater as I knew it would elicit text-messaging, Twittering, giggling, laser pointers, and the inevitable audience commentary that comes with a theater-going experience. It also happens to be the first movie I've purchased in years; at a petty $15, I couldn't resist. And I managed to watch it at two in the morning, the house silent and all the lights doused!

Now that I've seen it I read a bunch of reviews. Only one of the eleven reviews I read were on-the-fence; all others were loved-it or hated-it reviews. As for me, I'm on the hated-it side of the fence, but I didn't hate it. I am simply a victim of the hype, and it pains me to know that there are thousands of people out there who were finally affected by a film. It hurts to know that I missed out on a truly scary experience. I tried, tried, tried to shun reviews. I covered my ears when people would talk about it. But it's hard to do when it is heralded the scariest movie ever made everywhere I turn.

* Spoilers Ahead *

The movie was over-hyped which led to high expectations (despite my attempt at suppression) which led to disappointment. Nothing scary ever happened. A door closed. A character stood in place for a couple of hours. A bed sheet moved. Some footprints appeared. And so on. Nothing scary ever happened. Obviously the scares were in the tension produced by the waiting for something to happened. But Paramount decided to wreck that by adding a rumbling at the beginning of each night. I think ZERO score would have increased the creepiness.

Paramount also decided to add a CGI ending to what I'm guessing is the theatrical version since I selected theatrical version on my DVD. This poor CGI ending felt completely out of place. All along we are never actually seeing anything, everything is real. Then, we get to see the same face that Megan Fox makes in Jennifer's Body. Come on. I tried the alternate ending and it wasn't much better. Can someone tell me what happens in the original ending and why they did keep it? I've heard inklings that Katie comes back into the room alone and rocks herself in place for like two days, but this so-called original ending isn't consistent across the sites I've checked out.

What the movie does have is stellar acting. You would think these two, whose real names are Micah and Katie (cool), were seasoned professionals. The candid footage of their everyday life sells them as two very real people and effectively adds to the film's reality. When they are startled, they are seriously startled. Most of the time an actor or actress playing up fear comes off cheesy, and I have to try and see past it in order to stay focused on the movie. Not so in Paranormal. Absolutely stellar acting.

So, what to do now besides post this and let the comments collect. I don't know. Will it be any better the second time around? I hope so. Sometimes it takes that first viewing to properly align expectations. Then again, this is the type of movie that evokes fear by keeping the audience in suspense over what happens next. Oh, well. I wish I hadn't heard anything at all about the movie. I will be watching it with the wife and several groups of friends here and there, so at least I'll get to keep an eye on their reactions since I know what is (or rather isn't) coming.

Now I'm off to make my 2009 Top 10 list...

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Jennifer's Body (2009)

Even my already low-low-low expectations weren't achieved. It's just what you would expect: another addition to the cluttered swamp of pop culture-injected big production waste. Zero story (a throwaway conventional vampire tale), tons of studio polishing, awful humor. I couldn't find anything to like about it. Why did I watch it in the first place? Because it was there.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Hatchet (2006)

Adam Green, who would go on to produce Paul Solet's Grace, packs a lot of horror goodness into eighty-four minutes, but ultimately fails in execution. This is another offering in the comedic slasher that offers over-the-top gore and (sometimes) clever comedy, mixed up, and sprinkled atop a generic easy-bake plot. Not that this genre can't be done right. Check out Severance for a good example of the comedic slasher. The challenge for this genre is to keep it interesting.

Like Severance, Hatchet has several instances of my favorite comedic device: visually playing out something referenced earlier. I cracked up when a character drank yellowish liquid from a plastic container and burped just after the boat tour guide nonchalantly mentioned that the guy drank his own urine. Another great moment was when the brunette scratched herself right in from of Marcus (Deon Richmond), after having much earlier stated that he got crabs from some other girl. And little moments like the difference in tour admission price for Ben (Joel Moore) and Marybeth (Tamara Feldman) gave the movie substance. This brand of humor just works for me.

Hatchet boasts cameos by Robert Englund (A Nightmare on Elm Street) and Tony Todd (Candyman), which reminds me that Tony Todd also had a cameo in Penance--forgot to mention that in my review. Hatchet also packs in everything listed on what Paul Solet refers to as the "checklist." Which is interesting since, as I said earlier, Adam Green produced Solet's decent feature-length adaptation of the short film Grace. You can listen to Bo's and Maven's (The Last Blog on the Left) interview with Solet here. Based on Solet's comical explanation of the sordid horror movie-making checklist, Green used a copy for Hatchet.

Unfortunately, the good times falter under the weight of a lame movie. It's as if writer/director Adam Green couldn't exactly decide how to fill in the gaps between the impressive gore and the laughs. For a scant eighty-four minutes, I found myself bored most of the time. And yes, I understand this was a low-budget indie film. In fact, I mostly appreciate these more than big-budget horror (especially American). Give me real effects and make-up over CGI any day! However, I could only find three out of five stars in Hatchet. With so many horror movies floating around out there, this one settles in among them and disappears.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

MOVIE NIGHT: District 9, Thirst, & Inglourious Basterds

District 9 (2009) - So glad I made it to the theater to see this one, but that's not to say it isn't good at home. The second time around was still a blast. The plot is set at a blinding pace, the cinéma vérité style is executed perfectly, and the effects are superb. I can't get enough of watching the alien weaponry instantly destroy the target--love the flying chunks of human flesh and blood smacking the camera lens!

Thirst (2009) - This, too, was a re-watch, and it was much better the second time around. I must have been in a bad mood, maybe stressed, when I wrote my initial review. It's a shame to read it now, but it's how I felt at the time. This second time, however, I was enthralled with the movie. Chan-wook Park takes the vampire genre and the biblical theme of original sin, works his superb direction, and delivers another thrilling adventure. Though I still agree that nothing will top Oldboy, Thirst's charm illuminated during my second viewing.

Inglourious Basterds (2009) - Oh boy. This could get me banned from the movie blogosphere altogether, but I have to say it. As much as I've toyed with the idea of pretending to love it, I hated Inglourious Basterds. I loved, loved, loved Jackie Brown, Kill Bill, and (especially) Pulp Fiction, to name a few, but my love for Tarantino began to taper with Death Proof. Coincidentally, I hated this one and Death Proof for the same reasons: too much pointless dialogue, minuscule wit, and one-hundred-percent predictability. Once the movie finally ended (in the exact manner everyone watching expected it to end), I said the same thing I said after Death Proof: "I could never make it through that again." It was made out to be thrilling and hilarious. It failed on both counts, though it had its charming moments few and far between. So far, I am the only one giving the movie a panned review, but I can't find "it" in Inglourious Basterds.

BOOK: Bite

I can't believe I'm saying this, but I did not enjoy Bite. For the first time, twenty-two Laymon books later, I didn't find the experience satisfying. It could be that I followed the wholly satisfying experience of Stephen King's new epic with this one. Perhaps it's because I'm getting a little tired of constant extensive dialogue (the very reason I may be the only person who didn't enjoy Inglourious Basterds). In any case, Bite doesn't offer anything enjoyable, in my opinion. There are no surprises--a Richard Laymon trademark. The characters are weak, the plot remains loose, and the action is monotonous and boring. It's a shame, too, because every Laymon book I've read has been a literary journey unlike any other.

If you're thinking of trying Richard Laymon, steer clear of this pointless offering. As a fellow blogger once said about Takashi Miike, "With such a large body of work, there are bound to be misfires." Instead, I recommend any of the following: The Cellar, Island, Night in the Lonesome October, or The Woods Are Dark.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Penance (2009)

The year is almost over, and I'm frantically trying to watch as many 2009 releases as possible in order to produce a top-picks list. Unfortunately, some releases don't hit DVD until January (H2, Pandorum, The Final Destination, Saw VI) or February (The Stepfather, Zombieland), so I may release a revised 2009 top-picks list a tad later in 2010. Next week is the last week I will watch 2009 releases before compiling my list, but I don't have high hopes for movies like Jennifer's Body.

I'm not exactly sure how I came across this film--an ad on the Video ETA web site, I think--but it wasn't as bad as I expected, both in quality and in gruesomeness, which it was made out to be jam-packed with. It was dark and depressing (as torture/exploitation films tend to be), but it wasn't as bad as I thought it would for two highly disturbing scenes. I've never been nauseous watching movies, unless of course the camerawork is far too helter skelter (e.g. Cloverfield, The Blair Witch Project), but there were two scenes in Penance that left my head swimming. One scene in particular went where Jack Ketchum wasn't willing to go in his book, The Girl Next Door.

I don't have a whole lot to say about this one. It's a gritty portrayal of defilement. Movies like Hostel popped into my head as I watched it, but it isn't quite in the same vein. Penance has a tone and atmosphere of its own, and that atmosphere is dark. By the time it was over I wanted to watch cartoons, the Food Network, HGTV, anything to get the movie out of my head (though I ended up watching District 9, Thirst, and Inglourious Basterds the next night, instead). But, as I said, it's not a bad movie. It is not poorly made. Penance is another unique offering in the line of recent cinéma vérité films, but far from the top of the list.

Monday, December 21, 2009

BOOK: Under the Dome

Stephen King does it again. This guy has an uncanny ability to transfer his brilliant imagination into lucid prose. Once again, King releases a novel packed with vividly realistic characters, this time over one hundred living, breathing characters. How does he do it? If I knew I'd be rich. I think there is a lot of truth to the way King, himself, describes his ability--a description that is embedded within his magnum opus, The Dark Tower. (The DT description being more supernatural as opposed to the description from On Writing.)

The first thing that struck me about this book was its pace and structure. This is a minimalist Stephen King, something I've never experienced. Though not quite in the territory of Hemingway's iceberg theory, it is an epic pared down to what is necessary for the reader. As such, you will not find the trademark King expositions on town history and a character's lineage. Instead, you will find pure story. Don't let the length intimidate you. Sure, it's up there with The Stand and Mailer's Harlot's Ghost in length, but it's a quick, riveting read.

The second thing that struck me was the pervasiveness of current technology--if you have read a lot of Stephen King novels, you know that they are mostly dismissive of technology, with the small exception of Cell. King even acknowledges his lack of attention to technology in his nonfiction book, On Writing. Under the Dome references iPODs, Apple TVs, Google Earth, Facebook, etc. In addition King also includes plenty of modern-times references including but not limited to Stephenie Meyer, Harry Potter, Nora Roberts, President Obama, and Hilary Clinton. Almost all of these references are laced in good humor!

The third thing that I absolutely savored was King's return to the gore. The book opens in the manner of Cell and keeps it up throughout. His last novel, Duma Key, didn't offer anything nearly as violently exciting, that I can remember. The two novels shouldn't been compared too closely, however; they have different intentions. But they are similar in that they both open with a major event and then spend time investigating the effects of said event. In other words, in typical King style, Under the Dome isn't as interested in the Dome as it is in the lives of the people living under it. As a result, even barring the gory brutality, the book is very dark while exploring the recesses of humanity.

Under the Dome is an investigation of human nature, religion, small-town politics, and relationships--it does have a narrower, more concentrated theme that the whole concept is based on, but stating it would give the story away. King depicts characters so real it's hard to find a stopping point and sleep at night. You despise the characters King wants you to despise, and you cheer for the characters he wants you to cheer for. After so many novels you would think that King was tapped out, or that he would have reused a lot of material (perhaps interlacing elements from The Dark Tower), but he once again proves that his imagination is far from dry. Thanks to King for writing it, Scribner for publishing it, and Amazon for shipping it. Another seven days of the literary equivalent of Thanksgiving dinner!

For the record, I still point to Bag of Bones, Lisey's Story, and Hearts in Atlantis as my favorite King novels.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Carriers (2009)

From the start I felt like I was watching a film directed by Greg McLean (Wolf Creek, Rogue). The cinematography had a crisp edge to it that pulled me into desolation. But instead of seclusion in the Australian outback, I was secluded with the characters in the western United States. Another similarity to Wolf Creek in particular was the protagonist introduction. Just when it seems like a big party, the movie begins to focus on deeper intricacies between and within characters.

After the altercation with Christopher Meloni's character (Christopher Meloni, who happened to be on celebrity Jeopardy the other day!), I was propelled deep into the movie, hooked for the duration. I've seen a lot of these apocalyptic thrillers, but there was something about the way Carriers establishes its premise with this early altercation that seriously hooked me. Perhaps it was the juxtaposition of the free-spirited protagonists speeding down the highway in a stolen Mercedes, drinking and laughing and yelling, and the dreadful situation they encounter.

In any case, the hook worked, and the movie did a great job with pacing and plot-building. The McLean-esque atmosphere continued to envelop me as the movie unraveled. Halfway through it was clear that the intention was to evoke an elevating level of dread and despair. In fact, the movie rids itself, almost entirely, of any form of comic relief. The feeling was reminiscent of I Am Legend: there were maybe three or four laughs, almost all from the golf resort scene. At one point it seemed the movie was going to explore some depths of religion, but it went no deeper than the usual surface skim.

The movie fulfills its purpose with confidence and eloquence. Choosing a (nonexistent?) minimal musical score complimented the bleak, desolate cinematography well. Normally this seems to exaggerate poor acting, but this doesn't apply to Carriers. The actors all pull their weight, thus pulling me into their lives--and without much actual "story" to give each character dimension. Instead, the viewer gets a good sense of each character's story and personality through their body and verbal language. The way they interact tells the connections between the characters. As the rule for storytelling goes (especially in cinema), "Show, don't tell."

Now for the hard part. As much as I loved the movie, the split personality in me also hated it. Mainly on grounds that it was savagely depressing. Bleak doesn't begin to describe the feelings evoked by this one. When the credits rolled I sat in my chair, a bit stunned, took a deep breath, and exhaled. Then, I shook my head in an attempt to clear the black cloud that had gathered there. Phew! I offer you this line from the movie to sum it all up: "Sometimes choosing life is just choosing a more painful form of death."

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Laid to Rest (2008)

Like Severance, Laid to Rest was another pleasant surprise from the Netflix instant viewing selection. It had its flaws, sure, but that didn't stop me from rating it 4/5 stars. For each failure--blemish may be a more suitable word--there was a huge success to revive the experience. Cheers to Robert Hall for an enjoyable display of writing and directing, and to Bobbi Sue Luther for an equally fine job as lead.

The movie seems to have garnered a broad mix of reviews, most of which complain about the lack of back story, plot, explication. For me, after about thirty minutes (if that) it was clear that the movie wanted to focus on effects, always in the form of grade-A gore--dazzlingly brilliant effects, in my opinion! So, I abandoned all care in regards to the usual slasher backstory: who the killer is, how he is connected to the protagonists, why he is killing, et cetera, et cetera; and I just reveled in the brutal gags!

So much effort was put into effects that I found myself intrigued, for perhaps the first time, as to who was responsible for them. The ending credits pointed to Almost Human, Inc. in Los Angeles, CA; and lo and behold, Robert Hall happens to be the owner. Makes perfect sense when put into perspective. Laid to Rest is a great piece of marketing for the company. (Almost Human Inc. also appears to be responsible for the great ear gore in Pineapple Express! I'm going to keep my eye on these guys.)

The movie's weakness came in the form of hit-and-miss comedy. I likened some of the comedic failure to the ambiguous joke that begets silence when meeting someone for the first time. In other words, I wasn't sure if the movie was attempting humor or not in some instances, mostly because the movie hadn't established its comedic flow yet. But, whatever. When the humor did hit, it elicited audible laughter. Though it wasn't the subtle, clever humor from Severance, it worked. Example: "The man with the shiny face. He wants to make me dead." Another example: Almost everything concerning the little nerd.

Laid to Rest is an homage to gory effects, done superbly by Almost Human, Inc. If you're looking for a serious, deep story you're not going to get it. (In my experience, you get one or the other: heavy gore or heavy explication; see Saw V) If you can accept the fact that you, the viewer, don't always need to know the ins and outs of the entire story (try reading a book), and you want to bask in realistic blood and guts, this one is for you. Lastly, I must give attention to the killer's awesomely vicious weapon of choice. I can hear Ricky Bobby now: "[T]he Jack Hawk 9000. Available at Wal-Mart."

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Shocker (1989)

To use an oxymoron shared by so many in the horror movie fan community, Shocker is a great terrible movie. The story is all over the place, the effects are outlandish, the lines are extra cheesy, and the musical score is an onslaught of 80s metal. And speaking of the score, Shocker is complete with some of the most prolonged and raucous of stings I've encountered. It seemed like an explosion of a thousand MIDI samples every time someone unexpectedly turned the corner!

I would love to have been there when Wes Craven wrote this script. Protagonist: a young (high school? college?) football player in a platonic relationship, who has his own house, is able to "feel" the antagonist and "confront" him via dreaming. Antagonist: A serial murderer who gets juiced on television electrodes before slaying his victims. He is also apparently involved in some form of dark worship based on references to animal sacrifice. (Later in the movie, we find that this dark force our antagonist worships is an enormous pair of electronic lips!)

These two central characters are then pitted against each other in true Craven style. The movie is a mash-up of Nightmare on Elm Street, Poltergeist, and Fallen, though Fallen released nearly a decade later. Like Nightmare, the protagonist is able to face the killer, but a buddy, Rhino in this case, must wake him before it's too late. Unlike Nightmare, Shocker throws this in and then abandons it, most likely because, well, it's already being used in the Nightmare series. But I'm not complaining. This is one reason I love Stephen King novels (emphasis on novels); it's great when an artist mixes in elements across his or her body of work.

The movie is loaded with gags and gimmicks, ranging from the ghost girlfriend, who constantly appears from the bathroom, to the ending. The ending is an enormous success for Shocker, and again, I wish I could've been there to witness the writing. Two characters dive into a television set and duke it out across channels. Then, back in reality (is this movie ever really in reality?), the remote control is used to govern the killer's actions--a nice little precursor to Haneke's Funny Games, though Haneke took it to a different level.

BC at Horror Movie a Day recently organized a screening of Shocker with Craven and others in attendance. Here is a short clip from the Q&A that took place before the screening. He also has some great commentaries here. If you haven't heard of Horror Movie a Day, then I'm shocked that you have heard of this blog, and I urge you to start reading HMAD. This horror aficionado has been watching a horror movie every day since early 2007!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Severance (2006)

Another pleasant surprise! British humor has always been hit-and-miss for me. For example, I love the original Office, but I hate the Monty Python stuff; and if you look through the handful of British horror-comedies I've reviewed, you'll see a similar inconsistency. But I love the perfect execution of gore and British humor here. From beginning to end, Severance had me hooked and wholly entertained.

Like The Office, Severance plays up the awkwardness of professional colleagues attempting a team-building getaway. We get all of the important characters: the inadequate yet passionate boss; the lackadaisical, fun loving burnout; the one black guy (i.e. Stanley); the dorky overachiever; the bookish brunette; the office cutie everyone loves; and so on. If you've ever been on one of these pathetic team-building getaways, or if you've had experience in "cubeland," this movie is a treat!

Initially I pegged the movie as being another highly cliched slasher, thus explaining Netflix's reason for offering it on instant viewing. Then the movie proved itself to be what I had it pegged for, but with a pleasant surprise. In other words, it does employ all of the cliche elements of the classic slasher, but it successfully plays off of them to offer its own twists. Lines such as "I didn't want to be accused of not killing him when I had the chance" capture the spirit of this slasher parody.

Aside from a massive amount of fun, the structure and plot are equally enjoyable. With a Tarantino-esque revisit to the opening scene, I was pulled further into the story for the final leg of the movie. If you love the juxtaposition of gore and humor, especially awkward, subtle, and/or understated humor, you'll love Severance. Check it out on Netflix while it's available on instant viewing.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Screwfly Solution (2006)

Buffalo wings. I'm addicted to them. Seriously addicted. When a new Buffalo Wild Wings opened less than a mile from my home a few years a ago, I would instantly become a regular and the future recipient of an ulcer or two. And, recently, I discovered a better way to eat Buffalo wings: baked, with Frank's Red Hot Buffalo wing sauce! So, you can image my satisfaction on Saturday night when I sat down with a big bowl of baked Buffalo wings and watched a horror movie!

Just like the wings (which were demolished within three minutes), the movie was great. Of the Masters of Horror offerings I've seen, The Screwfly Solution ranks among the strongest in both concept and execution. No easy feat when you have under an hour; but for this time constraint I love the Masters of Horror series. With features just under an hour in duration, they are the perfect solution for someone with severe A.D.D. Or, if it's late and you're tired, but you can't go to sleep without watching a horror movie: MoH!

Anyway, back to the movie. Great plot, though not original; click here for the Wikipedia information on the 1977 short story by Raccoona Sheldon. Plot: Something is causing men everywhere to brutally murder women who arouse them--a common, frequent occurrence in the life of a typical, heterosexual man. This alone set the stage for some truly creepy scenes, whether you're a man or a woman. The movie plays off the notion that we humans are merely insects in a garden (many references to the biblical Garden of Eden), and an exterminator (God? Aliens?) has been sent to eradicate our existence; and what better way to eradicate humankind than by killing off all the women?

Sam Hamm (writer) and Joe Dante (director) do a great job adapting Sheldon's story. I loved the character shift from the (female) epidemiologist, first and foremost. Just when I thought the movie was going to follow this assertive heroine as she fought through bureaucratic government forces to uncover and expel the root of the epidemic, that door is closed and the focus shifts to Jason Priestley and his family. Dante is able to pull off some fairly dramatic moments despite being pressed for time; and despite poor acting on part of the daughter, the viewer is drawn into their lives enough to care what happens. The always reliable Elliott Gould is under utilized, thrown in for good measure. But he still manages to add some depth to the film, and reveals his true purpose toward the end.

Cheers to Dante for the consistent white-noise transitions that ultimately brought the film to a close; for injecting a quick clip of a Miike film (Imprint?); and for foreshadowing the notion of aliens. Wings and The Screwfly Solution were a perfect pair for a late Saturday night. I thoroughly enjoyed the film from start to finish, and I look forward to future MoH installments I haven't seen yet. Thanks to Netflix for instant, streaming movies, a selection that includes quite a few from this Showtime series. If you haven't seen this one, check it out. Have fun!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Saw V (2008)

Although I "saw" it (sorry) in the theater last year, Saw V has the dubious honor of being the first movie I've seen on Blu-ray; and I have to say, the pristine quality Blu-ray boasts definitely enhances the movie-watching experience. The superior video quality emphasizes minor details, such as rust on a pipe, rainfall, and splintered wood, giving the movie a more realistic feel overall. But enough advocating a technology everyone except for me has already experienced! Here's what I think of this fifth installment in the Saw franchise.

We finally get to see what would've happened to our narrator in Poe's "The Pit and the Pendulum" had he not had the ingenuity to coerce the rats into eating through his constraints. This opening scene gives Saw fans what they want: an elaborately planned torture mechanism that results in a gruesome, tense death. Yet, there is also a little twist that tips us off to the fact that this is not Jigsaw. So, the checklist for the beginning of a good torture movie is complete. Our tastes for graphic blood and guts are satiated, and we get a nice little hook. And in Blu-ray, the blood and guts are beautifully rendered!

But, unfortunately, Saw V transitions from a brutal opening torture scene to a long, exhausting exposition that revisits each of the previous movies. The effect is far from entertaining. Instead, the constant flashbacks and "clever" twists, intermingled with a linear storyline concerning a group of throwaway characters who all have something in common (bad acting!), loses its appeal and my attention. On top of all the effort spent on plot-thickening, we get short soliloquies by Agent Strahm just in case we, the audience, are too dense to deduct the meaning of the flashbacks. Thanks for the insult.

I don't want to waste my time griping about bad acting--the first Saw movie, which is still my favorite, exhibited some of the worst acting I've ever seen in recent horror film. But I will say that this movie used the tried-and-true solution for excusing terrible acting. The excuse we get for the character whom I consider the worse actor in the movie is that he is a drug addict. Bravo! Got a bad actor or actress, whom you don't want to cut from the film? No problem. Just pawn the inept acting off on drug use or mental deterioration (see my recent remarks on Deadline).

As the flashback/twist-development monotony transitioned into the final scene, I was hopeful for a strong ending to compliment the strong opening. In comparison, however, the movie definitely moved away from cringe-eliciting gore. The cracked ulna (or radius?) is great, but it's nothing compared to the evisceration we get in the beginning. A major disappointment after waiting through the preceding seventy minutes or so. Oh! Wait! It just hit me that there was a nice little gag thrown in when ten pints of blood were required of our captives. Still, it was too late in the movie for me; I was already bored. (Man, have I acquired a pronounced addition to torture or what?)

Now don't get me wrong. I have thoroughly enjoyed the Saw franchise, but this installment was a trifle too anticlimactic for my tastes. I'm hopeful that, since Saw V spent so much time thickening the plot of the entire franchise, Saw VI will be much better (i.e. pure thrills and a single, solid twist; Saw's trademark). Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to see VI in the theater back in October (as I've done with the previous five movies), so I anxiously await its January 26th release.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Dead Alive (1992)

On March 8, 2009, a few days after I started Horror Dose, Lucas recommended Dead Alive. Nine months later, I finally got around to it, and my only regret is that I didn't act on his recommendation immediately. The dog scene can be extrapolated to sum up the entire movie: Dead Alive does not attempt to attach its audience to a cute cuddly little puppy, and the dog's owners do not mourn their loss. Instead, we get these sparse lines before the dog is forgotten:

"Your mom ate my dog!"
"Not all of it."

And so goes the nonsensical, bloody masterpiece that is Dead Alive.

How's this for the Sumatran monkey-rat's back story: large rats from slave ships raped all the little tree monkeys. Perfect! Now, let's add in some Oedipus complex, some young love, a rubbernecking uncle, and a 30-minute zombie bloodfest. Done! Finally, spend a few minutes piecing together the dialogue, and use every bit of money, energy, and time on gore effects. Wizardly! Over-the-top doesn't even begin to do the movie's gushing geysers justice. (Anyone know how many gallons of the red stuff were used in the making of this masterpiece?)

Thumbs up to Peter Jackson for creating a 90-minute film that somehow manages to steadily escalate in obscene violence and outright nonsense until the end. I'm at a loss trying to think of any manner of bodily destruction that wasn't explored in the film--we get to watch a digestive system attack our protagonist, for cryin' out loud! And, as far as nonsense goes, we get a scene where Lionel decides to take the zombie baby for a stroll in the park. This is why I love horror movies! Who cares that it makes no sense whatsoever, or that no one would ever decide that it would be proper to take the newborn creature to the park. Just put the scene in the movie and go with it.

Toward the end of the film I began to wonder how Jackson could possibly bring all the madness to a close. Well, Jackson answered my inquiry with a massive super-zombie who assimilates Lionel within the womb again. Bravo! In fact, I had forgotten about the mother during the extensive zombie mayhem, so her reappearance topped off an already satisfying experience.

Done right, cheesy horror is far from throw-away. This is one to watch with a group of friends. From the dinner scene ("Whaaa? No pudding?!") to the embalming fluid scene to the endless party massacre, there is always something exasperating to gawk at, laugh at, and remember forever. Make sure you eat a large pepperoni pizza while watching to increase the effect. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Army of Darkness (1993)

Are you a fan of Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court? Are you a fan of The Three Stooges? Are you a fan of zombies and curses? If so, this is the movie for you. Raimi mixes Twain's novel of a protagonist's ingenuity as the result of sixth-century time period displacement with his (Raimi's) expressed penchant for The Three Stooges to produce this horror icon.

It's been a while since I've seen Raimi's third installment in the Evil Dead trilogy, and the movie maintained--if not increased in--its charm. Like Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2, Army of Darkness is comfortable with its niche as a horror comedy. The only other movie I can think of that kept me laughing out loud for the entire duration is The Hangover. Bruce Campbell does a masterful job. It's no wonder his name is in the horror movie canon!

Though we leave the creepy woods and cabin for this adventure, we do not leave the signature Raimi "character abuse" and gags. Just when I thought the second installment's gag with the household items bending over and laughing couldn't be topped, I get an army of skeletons marching toward a castle, playing bone flutes and bone drums...and wearing berets! And how could I ever forget the scene with the miniature Ashes?

I wanted to make a list of noteworthy quotes, but in the midst of frantically scribbling on a notepad during the movie, I realized that one just has to see it. To post all of the dialogue (and monologue) worth posting would be to post the entire script. One must simply indulge in the movie oneself and revel in the comedic goodness. Thank you, Sam Raimi.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Inferno (1980)

Loved Suspiria, but I didn't care much for this second installment in the Three Mothers trilogy. Inferno is pleasingly stylized, but not in the same manner as Suspiria; though the gore is definitely ramped up in comparison. And, sadly, Goblin is missing from the musical score--a major let down. On its own (i.e. without comparison to Suspiria), the movie just doesn't do it for me. As soon as a scene has my attention it fades into a quirky, below average story, with tidbits seemingly thrown in for good measure.

Hopefully Mother of Tears will be better.

Deadline (2009)

I never realized how perfect Brittany Murphy is for horror film until this movie. Not only does she thoroughly creep me out with her crazy eyes and wax lips from the start of the film, her countenance manages to become perpetually dingy for the duration. By the end of the film, her hair had several different styles going on (did I miss her braiding it somewhere?), half matted and mashed and half loose and wild. And now you think less of me for thinking so much about her hair? Well, like the sometimes goofy acting, I think we can pawn the whole hair thing off on the fact that she is mentally unstable--a fact the film desperately wants you to embrace.

Though the movie doesn't bring anything new to the genre, it is entertaining. It begins with a classic horror movie opening that causes the viewer to speak out loud to the TV. In Deadline's case, I questioned Tammy Blanchard's decision to leave Brittany Murphy in the secluded house, alone, without a car. This, after the film portrays Blanchard as caring deeply for Murphy? I think not. But it made me smile and enjoy my experience, anyway. Plus, I was happy to have Murphy and Blanchard away from each other. Their interaction came off rigid, almost mechanical.

Despite the aforementioned acting, cheap thrills, and innumerable creeks and groans from the house, Deadline's merit, for me, comes in the form of psychological consistency, specifically with Murphy's character. I have no clue whether this was consciously placed in the film or not, but it jibes perfectly with Murphy's defense mechanism, denial. I laughed and shook my head, thinking what an awful movie I was watching, when Murphy turns out the lights and closes the door in reaction to the overflowing bathtub. Similarly, she closes her laptop in response to the "scary messages" screen saver. I was ready to write these actions off as further exemplifying the movie's flaws, but then it hit me that Murphy was employing her defense mechanism in both of these instances. Bravo!

All in all, this is a decent psychological thriller that reminds me a lot of What Lies Beneath. It has its faults, but it has its redeeming points, too. The parallel plots add some depth to the movie, but in the end its a reiteration of plots and twists readily available to the genre. Yet, it's still worth a watch. As with all movies, there is positive and negative. I give Deadline 3/5 stars.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Haunted World of El Superbeasto (2009)

Just in case we needed more proof that Rob Zombie is a strange individual, we now have The Haunted World of El Superbeasto. I wish I could say it was entertaining, but I can't. I wish I could say it was creative, but it wasn't. What we have here is simply a gratuitous exploration of the male id.