Thursday, March 4, 2010

Hi-Def Blood Movie reviews

Review written by Brian M. Sammons

Director: Ti West
Cast: Jocelin Donahue, Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov, Greta Gerwig

Do you remember the eighties with nostalgia? The great hair, cool clothes, and wonderful music were just some of the things that made the Regan era so great. Oh sure, not everything was peachy, but allow me to slip on my rose colored glasses and bask in the warm red glow of the “me” decade. Ahhhhh. I mean, the food tasted better, the air seemed cleaner, and the horror movies were a damn sight better. Hell, the only real problem we had in the eighties were all the Satanists mucking about.
What, you never heard about the global conspiracy of Satanists kidnapping people, having cannibalistic blood orgies, and getting away with a ton of other evil doings because of the vast power they wielded? You really don’t know what I’m talking about? Well then that only proves my point, they hushed everything up. But it’s all true I tell you and in the eighties people weren’t afraid to expose the awful truth. Back then everyone knew that playing Dungeons and Dragons would steal your soul. Listening to Heavy Metal music would have you kill yourself. And don’t even think of sending you kids to daycare, they were all owned and operated by satanic, child abusing necrophiles. Hey, when the bastion of thoughtful, in-depth journalism, Geraldo Rivera, devotes a two hour special to the evils of the vast satanic influence, you know there’s got to be something to it. So if you don’t remember these modern day burning times reminiscent of the Salem Witch Trials, this wonderful movie may not strike a chord with you. However if you were a child of the eighties and remember these hysterics, then brother do I have a trip down memory lane for you.
HOUSE OF THE DEVIL begins with a fact card stating that in the eighties 70% of people in America believed in the existence of widespread Satanic cults. From there the fun begins as we meet the typical eighties good girl Samantha who’s strapped for cash. Enter a babysitting job, but naturally with a title like the one this movie has you can bet things won’t be that easy. The brat watching gig is in a creepy old mansion, owned by a creepy old couple, and it’s not until Sam makes the long trek out to the house that Mr. Creepy (played wonderfully by Tom Noonan) tells her that he wasn’t totally honest about the babysitting job. It seems the couple doesn’t have any children but they do have a sick, elderly mother. Samantha at first balks at the idea of caring for an infirmed old lady but Mr. Creepy promises that his mom won’t be any trouble, in fact Sam will probably never even see or hear her, and then he seals the deal by offering fat wads of cash. Yeah, you can bet Samantha will regret that decision later.
The rest of the movie I’ll leave to you to explore and enjoy, mainly because of two reasons. Reason one, I hate giving away surprises, and reason two, there really isn’t a whole lot more to the story than that. Yes this movie isn’t high on action or bloody body count, so if that’s what you’re looking for, you may be disappointed. The majority of this film is Samantha exploring the mansion and unravel the mystery at a measured pace. While this isn’t exactly thrill a minute stuff, it is dripping with dread and atmosphere. So if you like your horror more suspense than splatter (although there are some good juicy bits to be found here) then this could be the flick for you.
However if you like thoughtful, suspenseful horror movies and you’re permanently stuck in the eighties, then brother prepare to have multiple joygasms if you watch this movie. The clothes, the hair, the soundtrack, the dialog, heck even the big red Coca Cola cups at the pizza joint, all of it is authentic eighties. Even the way the film looks. If I played this movie for you and didn’t tell you in advance that it was a new movie and instead said it was a long lost horror classic from around nineteen eighty-four, you would easily believe me. It looks that good and as the icing on the “we love the eighties” cake that is this movie, it was amazingly well done. HOUSE OF THE DEVIL successfully captures the decade of excess better than the vast majority of big budget Hollywood films set in that era. That feat in and of itself should convince you to get this movie. But is it worth getting on that new fangled Blu-ray? Let’s find out.

The disc, brought out by MPI Media Group, looks and sounds great, but that’s par for the course for Blu-ray. Luckily there are a few good extras also on the disc. There are two commentary tracts. One is with the director and star Jocelin Donahue who plays Samantha, and the other is with the director, producers, and various members of the crew. A handful of deleted scenes and two lengthy behind the scenes and making of featurettes round out the list of bonus materials.
THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL is an amazing film in many regards. Its look, acting, simple story, direction, and the fact that it’s a love ballad to the decade I grew up in are all reasons why I loved it. If these reasons appeal to you, then give it a look and chances are you’ll fall in love with it too.

Review written by Brian M. Sammons

Directors: Eli Roth
Cast: Rider Strong, Jordan Ladd, James Debello, Cerina Vincent.

Eli Roth seems to be a divisive figure in the horror community and I don’t know why. I’ve never met the guy in the flesh but in all the interviews I’ve seen of him he seems like a pretty cool guy and when you hear him talk you can tell he is a real horror fan and not just a poser. As for his movies, he’s made two good ones (this one and HOSTEL) one bad one (HOSTEL 2) and one simply amazing fake movie trailer (THANKSGIVING for the double movie event; GRINDHOUSE). Therefore I’m going on the record and saying that I like Eli Roth, so deal with it. Also, keep that in mind as we take a look at his first film released for the first time as a director’s cut and on Blu-ray.
First, it’s sad to say but don’t get your hopes up that there’s tons more gore and naught nudie bits in this version just because it says “unrated” in the title. By the director’s own admission in the commentary the restored footage mostly just fleshes out characters and events. But hey, CABIN FEVER has plenty of flesh, both the lovely bare kind and the not so lovely bleeding, rotting, and sloughing off onto the floor kind. I’m just saying, it would be hard to top what’s already in this movie so you have no reason to be disappointed about no extra wet stuff.
Ok, so in case you forgot, the story behind this flick is pretty simple. Five kids go to a remote cabin in the woods, contract an extremely virulent flesh eating virus, and then horrible, bloody wackiness ensues. If that’s all there is to this film, why do I like it, you may ask? Well for many reasons. One, it has great actors playing great characters saying great lines. Two, it has lots of nasty, gory moments in it. The scene where a beautiful woman is shaving her legs and unknowingly…well if you’ve seen it then you sure as hell remember it. If not then I’m not going to ruin the surprise for you. Three, it’s got the aforementioned beautiful women showing off their skin before it’s all rotting away and that’s a good thing in my book. Hey, in many ways I’m still a thirteen-year-old boy at heart so sue me. Four, it’s very funny and I always laugh at something when I watch it. Finally there’s reason number five, and I feel this is the one that makes or breaks this movie for a lot of people, CABIN FEVER has got an insane amount of WTF moments in it. Want examples? Ok, the crazy bowling alley from hell campfire story. The deputy that just wants to party. The unexpected “stick your fingers up my ***” sex scene, the other finger-related scene, the big hillbilly with the mystery box, what the old shop keeper’s gun is really for, the guy in the bunny suit at the end, and last but certainly not least one word; “PANCAKES!” So if you’re a fan of bloody, sexy, funny, off the wall and totally weird horror films then you’ll love CABIN FEVER. If you prefer your horror “straight” then you’ll probably won’t.

Now for the tech specs of this Blu-ray edition. It’s got everything from the DVD version of the film; a making of doc, a photo gallery, a humorous “family friendly” version, several of Eli Roth’s animated short films called “The Rotten Fruit”, and a video of the pancakes kid going kung fu crazy. What is missing is the original DVD’s director’s commentary and that is a real bummer. Listening to that gave me my first impression of how big a horror nerd Roth was as he describes the various scenes and what horror flicks inspired them. It was very funny and informative. This time around there is a new commentary track with director Eli chatting with several cast members and while it is also informative and funny in its own way, I do miss his original commentary and there’s no reason for it not to have been included on this disc. What, was Lionsgate running out of room on the Blu-ray?

That slight disappointment aside, CABIN FEVER has never looks so good, in a sick, icky way, as it does on this disc. Is it worth upgrading if you already have the previous DVD? Well if you are a sucker for crystal clear pictures then yes, but save your old DVD for the one commentary track they forgot to add. If you don’t already have a copy of this movie then Blu-ray is the way to go. Either way, I enjoy the hell out of this movie and if you’re a weird, warped little horrorhead like me, then you will too. Now I’m off to eat some pancakes, I’ve suddenly got a hankering for them.

2012 (2009)
Review written by Brian M. Sammons

Directors: Roland Emmerich
Cast: John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Thandie Newton

Junk food; it tastes great, is fun to eat, but doesn’t really satisfy you. I cannot think of a better analogy for Roland Emmerich films in general and of his latest, 2012 in particular. This effects-heavy end of the world tale looks great, is a fun experience, but ultimate isn’t very satisfying. But then again I wasn’t looking for a story as in-depth as WAR AND PEACE when I sat down to watch this title, I was just looking for a couple hours of mindless action fun and 2012 delivers that and then some.
The idea behind this movie is the persistent, pervasive theory that the ancient Mayans were such great star gazers that they predicted the end of the world happening in 2012. While I personally think that when 2013 rolls around we’ll look back at the Mayan doomsday the same way we now think of the horrors of Y2K, but in any event it gives Roland another excuse to make an end of the world flick. Let’s see, so far he’s done aliens, global warming, and Godzilla, after this film he’s going to be hard pressed to find a new way to blow up the earth. In any event, this movie has the earth reversing its polls and that causes all sorts of natural disasters, all of which are just excuses to show off CGI effects. However, it must be said that these cataclysmic set pieces are just awe inspiring. If you like to see stuff blow up, break apart, and otherwise get F-ed up beyond all recognition then this is the flick for you. There are volcanic eruptions, massive tidal waves, and one of the biggest, longest lasting, completely unbelievable yet totally spectacular earthquakes ever put to film. Truly the end of the world has never looked this good.
The story, such as it is, revolves around an under-appreciated sci-fi author, played by John Cusack, uncovering the global threat and trying to survive it with his estranged family. Along the way there are cliches galore with evil governmental and business types, a few examples of the noble common man, and selfless sacrifices. The actors do ok with the material they’re given and while none of them stink things up, none of them really shine either. The direction is actually pretty good since the star of this show are the special effects and if there’s one thing Mr. Emmerich knows how to shoot is open, blank spaces that will be filled in later with computer animated goodness.

Now let’s get to the real reason to own this movie, the special effects and how great they look if you’ve got a Blu-ray player and a nice TV to watch them on. When DVDs were first coming out I picked up TWISTER just to show off the much improved picture and sound from VHS on my home theater. It was a guilty pleasure to be sure, but a fun one. 2012 is exactly the same. If you want to dazzle people with your state-of-the-art home theater, or just kick back and mindless enjoy the pretty, pretty pictures, then this is the movie for you.
As for special features, there’s not many, but what they have are kind of cool. There’s an audio commentary with the director, but better yet there’s a picture-in-picture commentary that, while you are watching the movie, will have a little picture pop up in the corner. This second picture will have commentary from the director, producers, stars, and others, not to mention behind the scenes video, alternate takes, rough cuts of the CGI effects, and more. There is also an alternate ending to the movie that is a bit sappier than the original. Lastly unique to the Blu-ray is a feature called BD Live that offers various goodies like MovieIQ, a collection of random facts and trivia about the movie from the internet.

So in summation, as a movie 2012 is only so-so, but damn if it doesn’t look and sound great. An overused bit of hyperbole for movies like this is “thrill ride”. Well in this case, that cliché is pretty accurate. If you are looking for the ultimate demo disc for your Blu-ray home theater, or if you just want some fun, dazzling, if admittedly a little dumb, action than 2012 is the flick for you.

DEAD SNOW (2009)
Review written by Brian M. Sammons

Director: Tommy Wirkola
Cast: Vegar Hoel, Stig Frode Henriksen, Charlotte Frogner, Lasse Valdal

This Norwegian import made my best flicks of ‘09 list (you can see the whole thing here) for many reasons. I like the fact that it’s a first rate horror film from a part of the world seldom seen in genre films. I like the fact that it was obviously made by and for people that that not only get horror but seem to love it. I like that it’s both goofy and gory with equal abandon. Oh and I absolutely love that it’s all about Nazi zombies. Yes Nazis and zombies, two vile, evil, disgusting things that goes great together but is so seldom seen in movies. The last Nazi zombie flick that easily comes to my mind is1977’s SHOCK WAVES so after 33 years it’s about time someone brought the fascist flesh eaters back to the big screen. Luckily for everyone, these video-age Vikings have done so with plenty of style to spare.
The movie is about a group of medical students going to a remote, mountainside cabin for some skiing, drinking, and fooling around. Little does the group know that the area they’re frolicking in is the same spot where a group of murdering Nazis fled after the locals finally had enough of their Naziness and chased them out of town at the end of World War Two. The Nazis froze to death in the mountains but that only seemed to make them even more pissed off at everyone. So when the med students come traipsing into their area, the dead dudes from Deutschland rise from their icy graves to butcher everyone they see.
The story really is that simple, but the film is very well directed and I thought the acting is great even despite the language barrier. The story is loaded with wild, off the wall comedy and the special effects are from the EVIL DEAD 2 mold. That means they’re bloody, over the top, and with lots of slapstick thrown in for good measure. A highlight includes a man hanging over the side of a mountain by the intestines of one zombie while another zombie hangs from his feet, trying to kill him. If the thought of that makes you smile then this is the movie for you.
The Blu-ray from IFC Films looks spectacular and comes with the original Norwegian soundtrack in 5.1 audio and an English dubbed track for those that hate to read subtitles. There’s a lengthy making of documentary, a featurette about the outstanding special make-up effects, and two more documentaries about making the movie in the in the mountains of Norway and then bringing the flick to the Sundance Film Festival in 2009. But wait, I’m not done yet. There’s a doc on the sound effects of the film, another about burning the cabin in the movie, and much, much more. Perhaps the only special feature missing from the Blu-ray is an audio commentary track but since it would probably be in Norwegian, it’s not really missed.

In summation, DEAD SNOW is a great little horror movie and the Blu-ray is packed with extras but despite that I can see this one flying under the radar of many horror fans due to it and that would be a great tragedy. That is why I not only put it on my best of list but I’m doing a full review of it here now. Would I go through all that trouble if I didn’t love this movie? If you are a fan of fun fright films then getting this disc is a no brainer. Trust me, you’ll love it.

--Brian M. Sammons