Thursday, March 4, 2010

Celluloid Horrors Movie Reviews

The Wolfman (2010)
Review written by Steven M. Duarte

So the Wolfman remake has finally been released. After news of problems with re edits and many reshoots, many horror fans were worried that our beloved Wolfman would become a bad remake statistic. Well I have to admit with a heavy heart, that this film while not as bad as other “re-imaginings,” or remakes, is not a great film.

One thing I want to clarify and put out there before I go on with the rest of my review is my appreciation for the film being R rated. The gore was very much appreciated and was very much a saving grace from the film being considered very bad. I am very much a gore hound and enjoy the use of gore in movies. Too often directors and Hollywood take the safe route by making a horror film PG-13. The Wolfman had gore aplenty which was nicely done by effects guru Rick Baker. I really did not care for the CG transformations from human to werewolf. One of my favorite Lycan films “An American Werewolf in London,” did a much better job in showing the transformation. When you think about that is pretty sad considering Landis made Werewolf almost 30 years ago. You would think a movie made now would get the transformation right. Also what was up with those CG Gollum looking Lycans? I wasn’t entirely sure as to why there were in the film. Every time they showed one I was expecting him to ask Mr. Talbot if he had seen his “precious.”

When reading up on the production of the film you often would catch stories of re shoots and re edits. This is apparent in the final theatrical cut of the film. There are events that occur that leave you scratching your head. An example of this would be when Mr. Talbots love interest Gwen is questioned by Scotland Yard about her involvement with the werewolf. We see her taken custody and put into a paddy wagon. The very next scene shows her reading a book on Lycans with no explanation whatsoever of what happened to her while in custody. Other areas aren’t as blatant as this example but still hurt the overall film. Mr. Talbot’s acceptance of his Lycanthrope is never fully fleshed out. He pretty much accepts it and viewers are expected to like it. Also it seems like every other day was a full moon. Last time I checked this doesn’t actually happen. The logic of some of the regular natural occurrences during the film just doesn’t make sense.

***Spoiler Alert***

What was up with the whole Werewolf vs. Werewolf scene? The film already didn’t make much sense now were throwing in another Werewolf? Did we really need that in the film? It felt like the movie studio decided to throw that in because it sounded cool. I mean the studio could have just stuck to the original plot of the 1941 original.

***End Spoiler***

Enough bashing aside, the action scenes were awesome. When the moon was full you knew the Wolfman was coming out for some gruesome fun. The scenes were well shot and as I previously mentioned the gore was well done. The action scenes were the best part of the film and I often found myself waiting for the next one immediately after one ended.

Final Thoughts:

I could go on and on about the faults of this film. It is very disappointing as a horror aficionado to see our beloved Wolfman get this type of treatment. The box office for this film has not been great, which is bad news for R rated horror. Until decent R rated horror films actually make a splash at the box office, we may continue seeing the trend of PG-13 horror.

--Steven M Duarte

Review written by Brian M. Sammons

Directors: Marcel Sarmiento and Gadi Harel
Cast: Shiloh Fernandez, Noah Segan, Candice Accola

This film, while coming out in small circles in 2008, only really hit big when it came out on DVD in 2009. How big, you may ask? Well it made my Best of 2009 list, which you can find here. Since I did that amazing and oh so informative list I’ve had quite a few emails asking about two of the titles that made that list. Well, this is one of them.
DEADGIRL is a great little film as simple and straightforward as a blood (and…ahem…“other fluid”) coated porno magazine. That analogy, while icky is pretty apt for discussing this movie. It’s sexy, bloody, disturbing, and oddly funny in a disgusting way. The story revolves around two high school malcontents that wander into an abandoned hospital to get drunk and break stuff. But low and behold they stumble upon a cute naked girl chained to a table. They soon discover that she’s dead, and yet she moves, growls, and if not carefully restrained, she bites. The film, while ostensibly a horror flick, is actually an odd buddy film about two friends representing different sides of the same coin. Rickie is the scared, confused, and sensitive guy. J.T. is the confident, sarcastic, and quite frankly the sicko who’s first thought is to rape the tied up dead girl. Hmm, is it rape if she’s dead or is it just necrophilia? In any event, while J.T. starts to indulge his every freaky fantasy (sexual and otherwise) with the necrobabe, Rickie feels bad about it, is perhaps a little turned on, but really just pines away for his dream girl, JoAnn.
As often happens with dumb teens, things quickly get out of hand. Rickie and J.T.’s dirty little secret soon spreads, as does deadgirl’s “condition” when the typical bullying jock douchebag gets bitten on the Johnson when he unwisely lets the drooling, snapping, battered, and now rotten-meat-smelling woman fellate him. Really, at that point he gets what he deserves. However this unexpected turn of events leads J.T. plot perhaps replaying his old, foul smelling toy with something fresher. As for good guy Rickie, despite his best intentions he sees a possible way to get the girl of his dreams, but will he have the guts to go through with it?
I stumbled upon this film quite by accident and I must say it was a more pleasant surprise then the movie’s zombified sex toy. It has some gruesome bits, funny bits, and oddly tender bits. Yeah I know, I didn’t see that coming either. The acting was good, the story original, the direction was stylish, and more than once it had me thinking, “Oh my God, I can’t believe they just did that.” While most movies today bore me, that was a major accomplishment and is perhaps the main reason I liked this film so much.

The DVD, released by Dark Sky Films, looks and sounds great. As for special features, there is a handful. The typical trailer and some photos of makeup effects are nice, but really add nothing. What are more welcome additions are some deleted scenes, a making of documentary, and an entertaining cast and crew commentary track with no less than eight people in it. With that many people it gets a bit confusing at times, but overall is done well and enjoyable.

If you have yet to see DEADGIRL and can handle a movie with strong and weird subject matter then do yourself a favor get this movie now. I guarantee that you haven’t seen a movie like it before, and for that alone it is well worth a look. I highly recommend it.

--Brian M. Sammons

Review written by Brian M. Sammons

Directors: Bruce McDonald
Cast: Stephen McHattie, Lisa Houle, Georgina Reilly.

If zombie films are the flavor of the month, or years as the case may be, than alternate versions of everyone’s favorite flesh eaters are the only way to tell one zombie flick from another. Enter PONTYPOOL, a very independent and in my opinion a very poorly named horror film from my neighbors to the north, Canada. Canadians have had a long history of making good quality genre flicks. When it came to slashers they made some of the best with MY BLOODY VALENTINE, TERROR TRAIN, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME, and what could arguably be considered to be the first slasher flick ever; BLACK CHRISTMAS. Well it’s only right and about time that the folks from the great white north jump into the zombie movie making business, but is PONTYPOOL a worthy entry in our beloved necrogenre? Let’s find out.
First let’s talk about the film’s title; it’s horrible. Good titles grab people’s attention and get them interested in a movie. The name PONTYPOOL just has people going, “huh?” Also when you think of zombie flicks many great titles jump to mind, usually with the word “dead” in them, but PONTYPOOL is probably the last title people will ever associate with zombie flicks and that’s a shame because it’s way cool. Now that that necessary bit is out of the way, let us continue.
The story revolves around a shock jock radio DJ named Mazzy who was fired from his gig in a big unnamed city and forced to take a job in a tiny, snow covered town called Pontypool. One eventful day Mazzy starts his broadcast only to hear a report from the radio station’s news chopper, which is actually a guy in his car on a hill overlooking the town, about a mob of angry people massing outside of a doctor’s office. What at first looks like an angry protest turns out to be a mass of crazy people attacking anyone and everything they come across. “Yay, zombies,” you may be thinking and you’d be right, sort of, but these aren’t your normal, everyday shambling corpses. These crazed killers have a few odd quirks, like repeating anything they hear, from what a potential victim says to the sounds a car’s windshield wipers make. This is a clue as to what is driving these people to murder, but to say more would ruin a surprisingly original and well thought up take on the zombie genre. I will say that all too soon DJ Mazzy and company at the station find themselves in the middle of the whole mess and uncover their link to the epidemic.
Now while PONTYPOOL is well acted and directed I do think that some traditional zombie fans might be disappointed it in because it’s a carefully paced film and some A.D.D. members of the audience might find that slow. It is NOT slow, but I do know plenty of horrorheads that think if a flick doesn’t have someone getting killed every ten minutes then the movie is boring. Oh well, their loss if they don’t give this fine film a chance. Also, for a zombie flick there’s not a lot of the red stuff splashed about. There is some, and when it’s used it’s used to great effect, but again those expecting Tom Savini levels of gore will be disappointed. I only point these so called shortcomings out so that my fellow zombie lovers know in advance what to expect. What they can also expect is a great story told in a unique way. How is it “unique” you may ask. Well PONTYPOOL seems almost like a WAR OF THE WORLDS-style radio play. In fact, one of the extras on the DVD is just that, an audio version of the story that was broadcasted somewhere and sometime in Canada. Now which came first, the movie or the radio play, I do not know but I enjoyed both and it was a nice addition to have the radio play on the disc as such things are basically a lost art form.

Sadly, that great radio play is the best extra on the disc. The PONTYPOOL DVD from IFC Films also has a few trailers, a commentary track with the director and writer, and three short films that are not related to the feature in any way and their inclusion on this disc leaves me scratching my head. Suffice to say that they’re not very good and appear as a film student’s too-artsy-for-their-own-good school projects. However, as you should never buy a bad movie just for good DVD extras, you should never pass on a good movie just because some of the extras are, well lackluster.

My main purpose in doing this review was to give the heads up to horror fans about this very hidden gem of a movie. I enjoyed the hell out of this flick and I think you will too. If you are looking for some out of the ordinary zombie goodness with an engaging story and good acting then this is the film for you. I highly recommend it.

--Brian M. Sammons

Review written by Brian M. Sammons

Director: Shawn Owens
Cast: Ramsey Campbell, Neil Gaiman, Stuart Gordon, S.T. Joshi, Brian Lumley

Full discloser: I am a huge fan of H.P. Lovecraft, but whether you love or hate Lovecraft’s stories one thing is undeniable; he has had a huge amount of influence over modern horror. Almost any horror book or film made today will have at least faint shades of Lovecraft’s ideas in them if one looks hard enough. Yet very few people have read his work and only slightly more than that know anything about him. In an attempt to hopefully introduce a wider audience to Lovecraft, film maker Shawn Owens created a documentary that has made the rounds on the film festival circuit and is now out on DVD.
THE ELDRITCH INFLUENCE is a short but informative film. It hits the highlights of Lovecraft’s life and work, discusses his influence on his peers, and through them and others, on the world of horror at large. The general overview of his mythos, usually referred to as the Cthulhu Mythos, but alternately, and more correctly, called the Lovecraft Mythos, is covered in good detail. For those not familiar with Lovecraft’s writings this makes for a good introduction. For fans of HPL, it’s more of a reminder of why we fell in love with his stories in the first place.
In addition to the historical information on Lovecraft there are numerous interviews with contemporary authors; Ramsey Campbell, Neil Gaiman, and Brian Lumley. Film maker Stuart Gordon (RE-ANIMOTOR, FROM BEYOND, DAGON) comments on why he’s drawn to adapt Lovecraft’s stories to film, and noted Lovecraft biographer S.T. Joshi explains how the man from Providence, Rhode Island changed the horror genre forever.
Perhaps the only unnecessary part of the entire documentary is an odd part near its end where we meet a “real” (yes, those are ironic quotation marks) cult devoted to the Great Old Ones. This little bit of rather poorly acted fiction seems totally out of place in the otherwise fine film and seems to only have been included to act as filler to pad out the runtime. As an avid fan of Cthulhu and his pals myself, I applaud the members of this playtime cult for their enthusiasm, I just wish they had kept this bit of silliness to themselves.
That one questionable inclusion aside, THE ELDRITCH INFLUENCE is a first rate documentary. Fun to watch for both fans and neophytes of Lovecraft’s stories, I can readily recommend it to anyone. Even if you never heard of H.P. Lovecraft but enjoy the stories of Campbell, Lumley, and/or Gaiman, then it’s still worth watching if only for those interviews. Based on the quality of this film I look forward to director Shawn Owens’ next documentary. If you would like to get a copy of one of the few documentaries about H.P. Lovecraft for yourself, you can order one from the Hermetic Productions website here:

--Brian M. Sammons