Friday, December 4, 2009
Celluloid Horrors Movie Reviews
THE BOX (2009)
review written by John Miller
Much as I hate to say it, because I always root for science fiction, fantasy and horror films to actually be good, particularly when they're based on material from writers like Richard Matheson (a personal favorite of mine), I cannot recommend THE BOX. What is a very good short story, with a sharp kicker of an ending, simply was not meant to be expanded into a feature film. To his credit (and it’s the only thing to his credit), the writer-director Richard Kelly seems to have recognized this. For those of you who know the "punch line" of "Button, Button", that kicker comes about a quarter of the way into the film, and it's effective. If the movie had ended after that, it would have made a very good episode of a weekly television series. But after that, the film turns into a muddled mess, filled with half-baked ideas, unresolved plot lines and flat out silliness. In an effort to turn 45 minutes worth of story into two hours of worth of film, Kelly decided to throw everything but the kitchen sink at the screen to see what would stick, and ended up with a serious mess of a film.
In addition to the disappointing storyline, THE BOX also wastes the talents of some fine, A-list actors such as Frank Langella, Cameron Diaz, and James Marsden. There are some fine supporting actors trapped in the sticky amber of this disaster as well, including Celia Weston and James Rebhorn. But as appealing as these folks are, they simply cannot slavage this turkey of a film.
THE BOX’s biggest crime is that it attempts to be all things to all stories, and ends up being nothing much of anything. It wants to be a science fiction, a thriller, a mystery, an action film, and a family tearjerker all rolled into one. It probably wanted to be other things as well, but it’s so confused and uncertain that I can’t discern those additional ambitions because are buried in the muck. There are unexplained and incomprehensible actions throughout the film. Just one example: one character is a loudmouthed, insulting student in teacher Cameron Diaz’s class, who insists that she show her surgically deformed foot to his fellow students, smiling and grinning the whole time. A big deal is made of her deformity, yet it never plays a significant role in the film. The loudmouth shows up later in the film as a waiter at a wedding rehearsal dinner, saying cryptic things and making cryptic signs with his hand. At no point in the film is his presence ever explained, nor does it illuminate any aspect of the story. It’s simply added into the film as, I must suppose, a mood altering set piece, designed to evoke a feeling of ominous foreboding, but having little or nothing to do with the actual story (what there is of it). There are several instances of these types of non-sequitur scenes throughout the film, bits and pieces cobbled together it seems from every science fiction film Kelly has ever seen. People march around as if they are under the control of a single mind for no discernible reason other than it looks creepy, Frank Langella spends the entire film with half his face missing due to a lightning strike, apparently caused by an alien race, but that’s never clear. James Marsden works for the same company that Langella did before the lightning strike, a coincidence the significance of which is never explained, and there is some bizarre bit with portals made of water in a silly and irrelevant lady-and-the-tiger scenario.
There’s no point in beating this horse any further; it’s so lame and halt that the kindest thing to do is send it to the knackery. Save your entertainment dollar for something worthwhile, or at least something that makes sense.
Review written by Steven M Duarte
Korean director Chan-woo Park graces us with his newest masterpiece “Thirst.” I love vampire movies and giggled with glee with I found out Park was coming out with a blood sucker movie. The director of Old Boy knows how to build character and tell a story which is crucial when dealing with the vampire mythos. “Thirst,” along with Sweden’s “Let the Right One In,” has easily become two of my favorite vampire flicks this year. Vampire movies have become far too stylistic. Too much leather and coolness made famous by the “Blade” and “Underworld” series has caused Vampire movies to lose some of their luster. Park created a different beast with “Thirst.” He was not interested in the coolness factor of Vampires. With Thirst, he portrays the negative aspect of Vampirism and how one deals with these changes.
The film centers on Priest Sang-hyeon who is of Catholic faith. He volunteers for a risky medical experiment which involves taking a vaccine that has not been tested on humans before. The procedure is botched and he nears death on the operating table. He receives a blood transfusion which provides not only life but immortality through Vampirism. The film portrays Sang-hyeon’s coping with his newly found powers. As he begins to accept his powers a love triangle ensues between him and his childhood friend’s wife. The film can be very sexual at times which comes with the territory. Parks attention to detail is most profound in the sex scenes. Every lick, bite, and sucking of appendages can be heard loudly in their disgusting glory. These scenes are very sensual and Park made it a point to ensure you were fully engulfed in these scenes.
One fault that I found with the film was its length. Park is very thorough in developing his characters, sometimes a little too much. He also included subplots within the film which added to the overall length. While these subplots brought some humor to the mix, it could have been easily left on the cutting floor without affecting the flow of the movie. Park is known for including humor in his films and Thirst is no exception. The last scene amongst the two main characters is definitely entertaining bringing a couple of laughs until the very end.
One other area that I enjoyed was Parks interpretation of the Vampire mythos. He kept the main ingredients (allergic to sunlight, superhuman strength, immortality) while adding his own (boils which would pop up on skin if feeding was not done). Vampire movies should stay true to the main mythos and Park does a good job of this.
Overall Thirst is a very character driven film which portrays an individual’s journey through Vampirism. The love story between the two main characters touches upon the taboo of Vampirism and the decision to willingly give the curse to others if it was requested. This film is definitely a must see for Vampire and horror fans alike. Just keep in mind it can go on for a little bit until you reach the satisfying finally.
--Steven M Duarte
NIGHT OF THE CREEPS (1986)
Review written by Brian M. Sammons
Director: Fred Dekker
Cast: Jason Lively, Steve Marshall, Jill Whitlow, Tom Atkins
This is perhaps the last great horror movie to come out on DVD, the fact that it has been unavailable until now has been a maddening mystery to all of us that saw it and loved it all those years ago. If you have never seen this film then boy, are you in for a treat of retro 80s horror fun, and thanks to DVD and Blu-ray, it’s never looked better.
The story begins with some admittedly puppety-looking aliens in a spaceship just outside of Earth’s atmosphere in the 1950s. One of the ETs has had a real bad day and is being hunted by the rest. The alien manages to get away long enough to jettison a mysterious tube which falls to earth and is seen by two teens necking at make out point that mistake it for a meteor. The two investigate, find the space tube, and out pops a little, black slug thing that flies into the guy’s mouth. Naturally that’s not a good thing. Oh, and did I forget to mention that at the exact same time there’s an escaped lunatic running around the woods with an axe?
But let’s now jump ahead some thirty years to the wonderful 1980s and a college campus near to where the alien slug incident took place. Enter two young men that fall into the “nerd” mold simply because they’re different. In order to shed that social stigma the pair agrees to pull a prank so that they can join the popular fraternity on campus. They must break into the college’s state of the art cryogenics lab and steal a body to dump on a rival fraternity’s doorstep. Unfortunately the body they pull from the deep freeze is the same boy from the 50s with the alien slug still inside him and despite his long, chilly rest he’s not fully dead. Next thing you know the space slugs are slithering everywhere, possessing people, dead dogs and cats, and even dead people.
Luckily for all involved there’s Detective Ray Cameron, a tough talking, no nonsense cop right out of a Mickey Spillane novel and no little space slugs are going to get the better of him. However Detective Cameron has his own demons, both figuratively and soon to be literally as the detective’s long buried secret is about to come back to haunt him. The character of Detective Cameron is one of the best things about this movie. He is played with panache by veteran genre actor Tom Atkins who easily steals the show whenever he’s on the screen.
Before long the grizzled detective must team up with one of the heartsick kids in order to save the day, the world, and not to mention a sorority full of hotties from becoming creep mobiles or getting killed by their now zombified dates. Will the gutsy duo save the day? Will the nerd get the cute girl? Will the blood and brains easily wash off of the lawnmower’s blades? These questions and more will be answered before this NIGHT OF THE CREEPS is over.
In addition to the movie, the DVD comes with an impressive list of special features including a commentary with writer and director Fred Dekker, a cast commentary, the original theatrical ending (yes this version of the film has the director’s original, much better ending), a couple of making of features, and in-film trivia that pops up now and again as subtitles.
NIGHT OF THE CREEPS is one of my favorite horror movies. It is far more fun than frightening, but it was designed that way so while it is campy, it is one of the rare films where campy by design actually works. CREEPS is a loving homage to all things great about horror films past and present (or at lest as present as 1986 was) and it should not be missed. And now that it’s finally out on DVD and Blu-ray you have no excuse to not tack it down at once.
--Brian M. Sammons
GHOST HOUSE UNDERGROUND 2009 COLLECTION
Review written by Brian M. Sammons
Ghost House Underground is the brain child of THE EVIL DEAD dream team of Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert. Last year they helped bring eight independent horror films to DVD. Unfortunately, only two of the eight were any good. The rest of the lot ranged from silly but well intentioned to just out and out bad. Perhaps learning a little something from that, the Ghost House guys have decided to release only four movies this year and this time most of the films are good. So from best to worst, here we go.
Director: Tom Shankland
Cast: Eva Birthistle, Stephen Campbell Moore, Jeremy Sheffield, Rachel Shelley
This creepy British thriller is easily the best of the four. It’s about kids that come down with a nasty cold, a cold that just happens to turn them into homicidal maniacs. No explanation for the psycho flu is given and hints are sprinkled about that suggest the killer kiddies may be far from a local problem. In a day when most movies feel the need to explain away everything, destroying any air of mystery at all, it’s nice to see a film that lets the audience decide for themselves on a few of the plot points. As for the story it’s elegant in its straightforwardness. Two families on winter vacation in a remote farmhouse are the stars of the show. When their tender tykes turn into toddling terrors will the parents be able to do what they must in order to save their own lives? Could you?
At its heart, THE CHILDREN is as simple as that. The acting and direction is superb and the winter setting is beautifully filmed. Never before has blood looked so striking against snow. The film is a slow, tension building movie that relies more on genuine chills and frights rather than jump scares and gore, but that is not to say that this movie doesn’t have its fair share of blood and shocking moments. It is also sadly the kind of film I can’t see being made in America. I am so glad Ghost House was able to bring this tasty import to us. If you see only one film from this collection make it this one. However if you see two, then make the other one…
Director: Mark A. Lewis
Cast: Val Kilmer, Martha MacIsaac, Aaron Ashmore, Kyle Schmid, Steph Song
This movie is all about the horrors of global warming, but don’t worry, it’s not a boring Al Gore PowerPoint presentation, nor is it an over the top Roland Emmerich CGI crap fest (yes, DAY AFTER TOMORROW I’m looking at you). No, this film actually has a pretty good story behind it, even if it bares more than a passing resemblance to a certain X-FILES episode. But hey, since the X-FILES were awesome, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
This movie is set in the northern wilds of Canada where global warming has caused a glacier to melt revealing the preserved remains of a woolly mammoth. A starving polar bear finds the mammoth and makes a snack out of it and that leads a group of eco-scientist to the dead proto-Dumbo. Unfortunately for Mr. Bear, and the rest of humanity as well, the mammoth died infested with horrible parasites, and the little buggers are alive and well after thousands of years of cryogenic hibernation.
Enter a new group of environmental science student, mix in the thousands of freshly hatched and hungry creepy crawlers, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for a skin crawling, icky good time that even Hollywood bad boy Val Kilmer can’t ruin. No really, Val plays a small part, but he plays it well. The movie is well made and acted, has both good moments of tension and plenty of gory parts, and is a nice, creepy romp. I recommend this movie highly.
Director: Andrew Van Den Houten
Cast: Art Hindle, Ahna Tessler, Amy Hargreaves, Pollyana McIntosh
Jack Ketchum has been writing horror novels for years, but outside of hardcore horror-heads he has relatively gone unnoticed. That is, until a year or so ago. Now all of the sudden it seems that anything ever written by Ketchum is getting turned into a movie. The latest is Ketchum’s take on the real life Sawney Bean clan, a “family” of cannibals from the 15th century Scotland.
Ketchum’s cannibals are savage, wild things that just love to eat babies more than anything else. While only having a rudimentary understanding of the modern world they’re in, they possess an animal cunning when it comes to hunting and trapping their prey. While I loved THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACARE and to a lesser extent THE HILLS HAVE EYES, if there was a family of man eaters out there, this is how I’d picture them. When these cagy killers meet up with a couple of families in the northern Maine woods you just know that the night isn’t going to end well.
But all is not gravy in this flesh feast. The pacing of the film is a little slow and some of the special effects, which are so crucial if you’re going for the gross out like this movie tries to do, look kind of rubbery. Also, some of the actors are pretty hard to watch. Not because they are so brutally bloodthirsty, but simply because they are such bad actors. And no I’m not just talking about the child actors, some of them are much better than the adults despite their young years. But that being said, this movie is a fun (if you can consider eating babies “fun”), splat-tastic good time for the most part. There’s lots of the red stuff for the gore hounds and more than a few surprising moments. The OFFSPRING would make for a good rental if nothing else.
Director: Eduardo Sanchez
Cast: Amy Smart, Tim Chiou, Dennis Chan
Directed by one half of the team that gave us THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and starting the almost always delightful Amy Smart, this really had the makings to be the best of the bunch, but sadly it is hands down the worst. If the OFFSPRING had slow pacing, this film practically stands still. The glaciers in THE THAW melt faster than this movie moves along. Hmm, ok now to work in a reference to THE CHILDREN… But seriously, there’s very little to the story of this film and only the same two actors on screen for ninety percent of the movie, so I guess in order to stretch things out to feature length (at a whopping 87 minutes) they had to add lots of padding.
The story, such as it is, revolves around a young, newlywed American couple vacationing in China. However it is their bad luck that they happen to go there during a full moon on the seventh lunar month. I mean, come on, everyone knows that’s when the gates of hell open up and the dead can walk the earth looking for souls to drag back to the pit with them come sunrise. Really, in retrospect those two were actually kind of asking for it. Anyway, the newlyweds get stranded in a remote village and before long pale naked dead guys are running through the woods, tapping on their car’s windows, and generally being pains in the ass. And that goes on for well over an hour. I mean this movie feels like it drags on for so long that I would swear that the killer kids in THE CHILDREN would be collecting social security before any resolution to this story happened. Ha, I knew I could work one in!
SEVENTH MOON commits the cardinal sin for movies, it’s boring. I’d rather watch an entertaining bad film than one that had me constantly hitting the “DVD Info” button on the remote to see how much time was left and that’s exactly what I did, many times, while watching this flick. A slow placed film where dread, anticipation, and fear build up is a good thing. Once again I must point to THE CHILDREN for an example of that. A slow paced film where nothing happens until the very end, and then the end isn’t satisfying in the least is not a good thing. SEVENT MOON is not a good thing, and therefore I can’t recommend it.
--Brian M. Sammons