Monday, January 4, 2010

Celluloid Horrors Movie Reviews

Review written by Brian M. Sammons

Director: Oren Peli
Cast: Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat

This review is specifically about the DVD release of this money making monster of a film. If you want a review of just the movie, you can find a very nice one done by Steven M. Duarte for this very site here.

Now my thoughts on the film are these: I loved it. I’m a sucker for ghost stories and movies about spirits and demons. While I love my slashers, and some of my best friends are zombies, there’s just something about spirit-based horror that really gets to me. They are the only films that can really chill me to the bone, but even then some steps must be taken to reach maximum creepiness. Take this movie, for example. I first saw in on the big screen in a packed theater and while I liked it, and could appreciate how well it was made, it wasn’t scary in the least. It was a case of too many people spoiling the fright. Fast forward to last night when I popped the new DVD of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY in and watched it alone, at night, in the dark and suddenly the hairs on the back of my neck were standing up at some parts. For me, horror films are always more effective when watched alone in the dark. That’s when my mind starts to play tricks on me and my “what if” musings run rampart. So if you are like me and you love a good ghost story and prefer to scare yourself, by yourself, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY on DVD or Blu-ray sounds like a great idea, but how was that idea executed in the really real world? Let’s find out.

The first thing you notice when you put this disc into your player is that there are no previews, or anti-piracy ads, or even a menu. There is nothing but a blank screen with two choices; play the theatrical cut of the film, or the one with the alternate ending. That’s it. You can’t even access the menu if you want to. That bit of ultra-minimalism really sells the whole “this is more than a movie” feeling the filmmakers seemed to be going for. Now once the movie is over you can access the menu as normal and I must admit, that’s where this DVD starts to disappoint. With the exception of the aforementioned alternate ending there are no special features to be found. No commentary. No behind the scenes. No documentaries. No nothing. While this takes nothing away from the great movie, it is inexcusable in this late date of DVDs and Blu-rays. Starting the movie off with the bare minimum beginning was a great idea, but actually offering only the bare minimum on this disc just feels like Paramount dropped the ball and was just in a rush to throw this disc out “while the iron was hot”. Now I must admit that the one and only special feature to be found, the alternate ending, was a good addition. While it is similar to the ending everyone saw in the theaters, it does change things up slightly and I was happy to see it. But again, I can’t help but feel slightly let down by this barebones disc.

If you are a fan of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY and want to watch it alone, at home, and in the dark like I did, then go ahead and pick this DVD up. If you are a serious movie collector, or a DVDphile that loves all the extras that most DVDs have to offer, then I would have to say skip this one and wait for collectors, or special, or deluxe edition Paramount is sure to come out with later in an attempt to make even more money off this record breaking film.

--Brian M. Sammons

Distraught (2006)
(Sorry, folks, no artwork available for shite little gem)

Cast: Jason Potfield, Tom Lodewyck, Tom Fernandez, John Biensz, and Jack Guasta
Director: Jason Potfield

As I started to watch this low budget really (really!) independent film, I found myself wondering if I'd received the wrong DVD. The credits say there are several folks in the movie, but all I saw were three people in the whole thing. One was a walk on part for someone who played a sheriff for all of 30 seconds. The other two men who make up the cast have the dubious honor of being the only two cast members for the remainder of the 30 minutes.
Another thing that had me wondering what the heck was going on with DISTRAUGHT was the playing time advertised on the DVD cover. It proclaims an hour, but there's only half an hour of film here.
Hmmm...I thought. Something funny going on here, right?
But, hey, you know, I'm a happy go lucky kind of reviewer, and even then I was willing to give these guys a shot at a fair review. After all, the beginning shots made me think of all the low budget super indies, with a punk rock DYI attitude, that I've enjoyed in the past.
Boy, was I wrong.
This film may be the worst reviewing experience I've had in a long time.
Here's the whole of the plot. Mr. Walker is worried about his son. We see his interaction with a sheriff. Then the film cuts to a black and white cemetery shot, and pans up to show us a house.
Cut to a basement. A man is chained to a chair, moaning for release.
A man in a skull mask enters and begins to physically torture him without saying a word. We are shown finger chopping, blade slicing belly, nails through the eyes, the killer laying with the living man's intestines, etc., etc., all the ridiculous torture porn that the fan boys love to watch with drool dripping down their collective chins.
I wanted to find something kind to say about DISTRAUGHT, but not even me, the most understanding, forgiving guy a filmmaker will ever meet, could find one redeeming thing to say about this film.
It's a pathetic mish-mash, with the kind of immature mentality that has given this less than stellar sub genre such a bad name. It has no story, no characters, and makes no sense.
Several times, when the camera goes out of focus, no one bothers to cut and re-shoot the scenes.
And this movie must have the most unsteady steady-cam I've ever seen. It twitches and shakes more than a ten year old A.D.D. kid on Sugar Smacks.
All in all, the experience is as boring and as unoriginal as you can get without actually cutting someone else's movie into your own.
To the director: Yeah, the whole finger-cutting thing was done in HOSTEL and it was done with some attempt at tension and character involvement. The same scene in DISTRAUGHT made me yawn. It's just plain silly looking.
What I found incredible is that Potfield claims to have actually employed no less than four camera people on this utterly useless piece of crap. How the hell he talked so many people into wasting their time to make this is beyond me.
And here's the best part: In the last minute of the film there is a Neanderthalic attempt at justification for the prior half hour of badly shot slice and dice. We are shown a newspaper headline that reads (here's the punch line, folks): "Drunk Driver Kills Young Boy Out On Bail"
So...erm...the boy is out on bail?
Yeah, so you can probably see why this doesn't work, right Mr. Director/Producer/Editor/etc., etc., Potfield?
My guess is that this was supposed to turn the whole mess on a dime and give it some kind of depth and pathos.
Sorry. It just made a laughable piece of crap even more laughable. One can make a great low budget film. I know they're out there; I've seen them. There is no excuse for this kind of crap, even with no budget.
In my opinion, if this shite stays a lost film we should all thank out lucky stars.

--Nickolas Cook

The Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf (1985)
Reviewed by Nickolas Cook

Director: Philippe Mora

Cast: Christopher Lee, Annie McEnroe, Reb Brown, Marsha Hunt and Sybil Danning (and a cast of non-English speaking extras that wear very little clothing)

Growing up in the 80s, any horror fan who knew about Joe Dante’s “The Howling”, one of the seminal werewolf movies of all time, and leader of the (wolf)pack of the 80s glut of hirsute films. And being a horror fan, you know sequels can be rather…erm…iffy, at best.
Well, director Philippe Mora went one worse than ‘iffy’ and gave us something so bad it’s good. Which I guess we should be grateful for that much.
But this is the kind of movie that feels almost like a joke at times, what with Chris Lee, the master of Hammer horror, playing an English Van Helsing-ish werewolf hunter, whose sister just happens to be the sultry Sybil Danning, a sexy werewolf bitch. The dialogue is ham fisted and ridiculous, the acting borders on the comical (and, trust me, it wasn’t intended to be).
This picks up with the funeral of the original film’s lead character Karen White, who was bitten and eventually transforms into a werewolf on live TV. Her brother (played by Reb Brown) is in attendance, and a plucky (but very dowdy looking) reporter (played like a walking wooden spoon by Annie McEnroe) and, of course, good old Chris. After a blurry and too-dark attack in the graveyard by a pair of badly made up werewolves the movie moves across the sea to the dark country of Romania, land of ghosts and goblins.
And, believe it or not, this where the film gets really silly.
Chris, and his duo of erstwhile werewolf hunters, attempts to track down Stirba (Sybil Danning) and her blood cult of lycanthropes, to stop them from completing an ancient ritual that will…well, who the fuck knows…that’s really never made all that clear. Or if it was, you truly don’t give a crap by the time Danning bares her two greatest assets.
Yes, it’s true, Sybil Danning wears no clothes in this movie. Big surprise, huh? Well, you sure can’t argue with an actress who knows her thespian strengths, right?
So don’t expect much from THE HOWLING 2 and you’ll likely have a great time. In nothing else, just enjoy the great cheesy new wave music soundtrack by the great Steve Parsons, which is probably the highlight of the movie anyway.

--Nickolas Cook