Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Celluloid Horrors Movie Reviews

Review written by Brian M. Sammons

Director: James McTeigue
Cast: Rain, Naomie Harris, Sho Kosugi

As a red blooded American boy growing up in the eighties I fell in love with all the ninja movies that came out at the local mom and pop video stores during that time. No, they weren’t great cinema, and the stories were so similar as to be interchangeable, not to mention that I’ll be the first to admit that some of the movies were just downright cheesy as hell, but man talk about sword swinging, arterial blood spraying across the room, guy in black pajamas disappearing in a puff of smoke fun. The late seventies to mid eighties were a great time for fans of ninja flicks, a subgenre of martial arts films that didn’t exist before then and have sadly seems to have vanished since. Sure the deadly dudes in black will sometime pop up in a modern film or videogame, but usually they’re just there to be the butt of jokes, or oddly enough to fight pirates for some reason. Luckily for all of us that like our ninjas more lethal killers and less wisecracking turtles, a group of like-minded men got together and made one of the most bloody, ass-kicking, ninja flicks to come out in a long time. NINJA ASSASSIN is that movie and despite having one of the most redundant titles ever, it ranks up there with Cop Policeman, it was a trip of a flick to see. So grab your swords, shuriken, and sais and let’s jump into the shadows with NINJA ASSASSIN.

As I said, no one watches these FILMS for the stories and this one is no different. This movie is about a young ninja named Raizo who was raised in a brutal orphanage to become one of the infamous shadow warriors. One of the best things about this movie is the man who plays the cruel leader of the ninja clan, veteran actor Sho Kosugi who made his bones in a ton of the best ninja films from the eighties including the seminal ENTER THE NINJA and REVENGE OF THE NINJA. If you are going to do a first rate ninja movie, you have to get Sho to do it and he does an amazing job here despite being over sixty. Anyway, back to our titular assassin, Raizo. Being tortured repeatedly and having his girlfriend murdered before his eyes by his ninja schoolmates really sours Raizo on the whole murder for hire business, so Raizo kills a bunch of his clanmates, cuts out one of Sho’s eyes, and then vanishes into the night. However some years later, just like Pacino in GODFATHER 3, he gets pulled back in just when he thought he was out. So naturally that means a whole bunch of people are going to have to die in spectacular, bloody, over the top ways and that is easily the best thing this movie has going for it; it’s unabashed “Oh you want action? Well how do you like this?” attitude. Nothing is even remotely realistic but man, is the cool factor cracked up to eleven. Ninja’s come out of shadows like ghosts, shuriken are thrown so fast and in such quantity that they appear to have been fired out of machineguns, people are beheaded, sliced in half, and quartered so easily that you would swear they were made out of soft cheddar, and above all else, the ninjas are just the epitome of ultra cool badasses.

Other highlights of the film is the lovely Naomie Harris playing an Interpol agent who’s been chasing the ninja legend for years, and some guy named Rain (no, really) who I guess it a pop singer or something in Japan, but despite that he does a more than competent job at delivering the chop socky goods. Further the special effects are top notch, with the exception of some of the CGI gore that looks a bit too cartoonish. But again, and I can’t stress it enough, this movie is all about the action, action, action. If you are an action film fan and feel that today’s movies are sorely lacking in that department then this is the movie for you and then some.

Now as great as the film is, the DVD is surprisingly sparse with the extras. There are a few additional scenes and that’s it. In a truly crappy movie, The Blu-ray offers a few more extras that the DVD does not and I must say that I am NOT a fan of that. If you can’t add the extras due to the space constraints of DVDs then that’s fine, but if you’re just not doing it as a way to goose people into updating their format then that’s pretty scummy. So if extras are not that big of a deal to you then by all means snap up the DVD. If you got a BD player and a few extra bucks then you might as well get it on Blu-ray, although I hate the idea of rewarding Warner Brothers for their scumbag marketing gimmicks. Ok enough of my soapboxing, ninja fans rejoice, at long last we’ve got another great action packed, weird, wild, and fun flick.

I give NINJA ASSASSIN 4 machinegun-fired shuriken out of 5.

--Brian M. Sammons


Reviewed by Brian M. Sammons

Director: Guy Richie
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong.

Sherlock Holmes, while never being completely part of the horror genre, has flirted and dabbled with it for a very long time. From the mysterious THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES, to the campy and 80s-riffic flick, YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES, to the excellent Lovecraft meets Doyle collection SHADOWS OVER BAKER STREET and the most recent anthology THE IMPROBABLE ADVENTURERS OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (these last two are books that you really should read if you haven’t already), Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson have always had one foot in the land of the supernatural, if only to logically dismiss it at the end of an adventure. So it is with the newest movie based around the world’s most famous detective, this one simply called SHERLOCK HOLMES.

Now at first glance this movie will not look like your father’s Sherlock Holmes, and that maybe true, but it will in fact be a lot closer to your grandfather’s, or great grandfather’s, Holmes. Gone is the deerstalker cap and the stuffiness, in is the ass-kicking martial arts, shabby clothes, hard drinking, and eccentric behavior. While this may shock you if all you know of Holmes you learned from the old black and white movies, this is actually pretty much how Sir Doyle wrote the character back in the good old days. So this movie gets big points for making its Sherlock a lot more like the real Sherlock than he’s been in a long time.

More points are scored with the choice of the cast. Robert Downey Jr. is amazing as the brilliant, sometimes slightly mad, detective and Jude Law is equally entertaining as his oftentimes put upon, but highly capable best buddy, Dr. Watson. Mark Strong turns in a very diabolical performance as the film’s villain, Lord Blackwood. Furthermore, the entire supporting cast likewise hit all marks well, from Inspector Lestrade to the faithful housekeeper, Ms. Hudson, to the hulking henchman Dredger. The one light that simply doesn’t shine as bright as those around it would have to me the lovely Rachel McAdams. Her character, the love interest and often antagonist of Holmes, Irene Adler really just didn’t do much for me. However maybe that was a flaw with how her character was written and what she had to do in the film. If she returns for the sequel, and I’m sure there will be a sequel, I’ll give her another look with an open mind.

Still even more points are awarded for both the film’s direction and the story. Guy Richie, who started off strong as a filmmaker with LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS and SNATCH, knocked out a couple of duds with his last few films before this one, returns to true form and masterminds one hell of a interesting, engaging, and good looking movie. As for the story, it’s a classic, supernatural-tinged, Holmesian mystery of the first order. Holmes and Watson stop the vile Lord Blackwood who was one a murder spree with serious black magic overtones. The would be wizard is taken to the gallows and put to death some time later. Or was he? Before meeting the hangman he told Holmes that his work wasn’t done and now, after Blackwood’s body apparently gets up and walks out of the graveyard more people are dying in mystical ways. Could Holmes and Watson be in over their heads against an undying villain able to summon the powers of darkness or will there be a logical explanation for these amazing events? Who knows, it might be a bit of both.

SHERLOCK HOLMES was a fun, fast, entertaining, and mysterious film that I thoroughly enjoyed from start to finish. It is one of the few movies that I can honestly say that I’m looking forward to the any sequel it spawns, as long as the same creators and stars are involved. I can highly recommend this movie…but sadly not on DVD. There is only one special feature to be found here, a documentary on how director and star reinterpreted the famous sleuth. So once again Warner Brothers is giving DVD owners the finger and saving the vast majority of the extras for the Blu-ray version of the movie. I’ve said before how detestable I think that is, so I won’t go into it again here. It is a shame, if extras matter to you and all you have is a DVD player then this otherwise great disc is taken down a few pegs by a crass marketing ploy. Ah well, that being said, the movie is still very good. If you already have Blu-ray then definitely get this one. If you still watch DVDs, then maybe get it.

--Brian M. Sammons


Reviewed by Brian M. Sammons

Director: Lucio Fulci
Staring: Catriona MacColl, David Warbeck, Cinzia Monreale.

This piece of surreal cinema comes from Italian horror maestro Lucio Fulci and easily finds a spot in the top three Favorite Fulci Fright Flicks list I keep in my head. While on one blood stained hand many people write this one off as a zombie movie, and in that regard it succeeds perfectly, it is more than simply that. Just like Dr. Frankenstein’s pet project, this move is more than a sum of its parts. Yes there are shuffling killer corpses that die (again) if bullet meets brain, but there is also black magic, doorways to hell, undying warlocks, creepy blind people, eerie paintings that foretell a frightening future, the mother of all chain-whippings, cute puppy dogs, acid melting off faces, a big book of evil that H. P. Lovecraft would have approved of, and man I could go on like this for a good long while. But again sum > parts so lets hold hands, perhaps pack a pistol just in case, and head down south to Louisiana for a little vacation. Don’t worry; I know the perfect, quaint hotel we can stay in.

Unfortunately for all involved that secluded hotel just happens to have been built over one of the seven doors to hell. That is also the spot where years past an artists accused of black magic was whipped with a flesh-tearing chain, nailed to a wall, had acidic plaster poured over his face and head, and then walled up alive…well alive-ish at any rate. Man, was a simple witch burning not fun enough for these virtuous vigilantes? Flash forward to the modern day of 1981 and a young woman inherits the hotel and hires some handymen to start renovating it. Can you guess that might not have been a good idea? Well during some basement repair the corpse of the warlock is discovered, but naturally the rotting body isn’t totally dead, and soon people are being torn apart in the amazingly stylish and gruesome fashion that made Fulci a legend in the horror world. There’s a face clawing that rips a guy’s eye out, a woman that gets her head dissolved by acid while her daughter watches (who then goes instantly blind afterward), a horde of flesh-eating tarantulas, and a host of other disgusting delights. As the bodies begin to pile up and more corpses begin to saunter and slay, it is up to the hotel’s new owner and her sort of love interest, the town’s local pathologist who’s also begun to notice that something strange is going on, to uncover the deadly mystery that links the hotel, a tome of magic called the Book of Eibon, and all the horrible murders. Can the two, with some help from a blind prophetess, save the day before the door to hell is thrown wide open and the whole world is lost? Well if you know Fulci films then you probably already know the answer to that.

THE BEYOND is Italian splatter cinema at its finest. It’s got great gore galore, an amazingly eerie soundtrack, and so much style that it should be walking down a runway in Paris. Yes at times the story doesn’t quiet make sense, and that goes for the film’s final scene as well, but that just adds to the movie’s overall surreal and nightmarish feel. If you want to watch a true horror movie that’s creepy and icky as all hell, and don’t mind suspending your disbelief a little, then THE BEYOND is the flick for you. There is a reason this movie is considered by most horrorheads to be modern classic.

Now in addition to a great movie this DVD, which was brought out by the fear fanatics over at Grindhouse Releasing, is top rate in every way. The picture quality is great, as is the sound, but more so for what you get to see and hear as opposed to just how pretty it looks. This version of the movie is uncut for the first time in a long time and as mentioned before there are some simply amazing splatter shots to be savored here. If you’re a gorehound then this movie will give you a titanium hard-on like few others will. Additionally the DVD comes crammed with extras. There’s an audio commentary with stars Catriona MacColl and David Warbeck, and Catriona even supplies a video intro to the film. There’s a feature called “Images From Beyond” which is a lengthy making of and behind the scenes documentary, and another one called “Voices From Beyond” where cast and crew talk fondly about their time working for director Lucio Fulci. Speaking of Fulci, there’s even a rare on set interview with the late director. Rounding out the goodies are three trailers, a slightly different pre-credit sequence originally used in the German version of the movie, and a music video by the death metal group Necrophagia for the song, “And You Will Live in Terror.” Grindhouse even spared no expense with the packaging of the movie and included a mini poster, liner notes by the late, great Chas. Balun, and even a complete list of Fulci’s films on the reverse side of the DVD’s cover art.

In every way this DVD is a winner and a must have for serious fright fans. If you don’t have this film in your collection then you are missing out. Do yourself a favor and rectify that immediately. You’ll be glad you did.
If you would like to get a copy of this excellent version of THE BEYOND you can order one from Grindhouse Releasing here: Grindhouse Releasing

--Brian M. Sammons

Reviewed by Brian M. Sammons
Director: Marcus Dunstan
Starring: Josh Stewart, Michael Reilly Burke, Andrea Roth

Hey boys and girls, ever wonder what would happen if Jigsaw from the SAW films booby trapped an entire house? Ok, yes that’s already been done in SAW 2, and in pretty much every SAW movie, but hey how about another movie with a new killer in a creepy/cool leather mask? Yes, that’s pretty much the entire story behind THE COLLECTOR. So if you want a mini-review here it is: if you like the SAW movies then you’ll like this one as it is from, and I quote; “the twisted minds behind SAW IV, V, and VI”. I guess if slashers can have their own subgenre then torture porn with traps can have one too. Or at least it looks like these “twisted minds” are trying like hell to make one up. However if you hate the SAW films then you’ll hate this one as well as it is essentially the same movie, with a few minor differences.

The story, such as it is, of this movie is about a young man named Arkin breaking into a house of a family he was working for as a handyman to make some quick cash. Too bad it is the aspiring burglars’ incredibly bad luck to do the B&E on the exact same night that a psychotic masked super genius trap maker also invaded the family’s home and literally crammed it full of lethal devices. Now exactly how this guy did this unnoticed, as it would have taken hours and hours for a single guy to lay this many traps, is never addressed but hey why let logic get in the way of the “story”. Once Arkin finds out what is going on and sees the masked killer murder the father of the family that was nice to him and imprison the mother, which begs the question, who are the countless traps for if the bad guy already has the family in his clutches, his conscious gets the better of him and he tires his best to save the surviving family members. What follows is lots of admittedly cool traps, lots of people suffering lots of pain, and that’s about it. When all is said and done with this movie, and the appropriate downbeat ending has happened, nothing is resolved and no questions are answered. Can you say heavy handed attempt to set things up for a sequel? I knew you could.

Now for the recorded, I am not totally against these types of movies. I really liked both of the original SAW and HOSTEL flicks, but that is because both of those films had more to them then just gore, pain, torture, and traps. THE COLLECTOR does not. So once again, if you are still and loyal fan of the SAW films even after six, soon to be seven, of them then you’ll dig this flick. If not, then you should probably just skip this movie.

--Brian M. Sammons

Reviewed by Brian M. Sammons
Directors: Daniel Farrands & Andrew Kasch
Starring: Robert Englund, Wes Craven, Heather Langenkamp

The best thing, perhaps the only good thing, about all the horror classics from the 80s getting the modern remake treatment is that when the new movie comes out, a new documentary about the original films also comes out. There was one for HALLOWEEN, one for FRIDAY THE 13TH, and now with the new NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET remake hitting theaters, comes this documentary about all the Freddy flicks. So how does this doc stack up against the others and does it do the monumental horror series justice? Well five, six, grab your crucifix and lets dive into dreamland.

NEVER SLEEP AGAIN starts off where it should with a lengthy and in depth look at the first NoES. Wes Craven, Robert Englund, and nearly all of the actors from the first NIGHTMARE are present for interviews. Ok, Johnny Depp has become too much of a big shot to be bothered to say a few kind words about the movie that started his career, but pretty much everyone else shows up. Additionally there are comments from the producers that risked everything to bring Wes’ nightmare to life, the special effects wizards that made the dreamscapes so frightening, and other crewmembers who were there wading in blood or turning rooms upside-down. Missing are any fans or critics commenting on the film, but with seven NIGHTMARE films to cover, not to mention the FREDDY VS. JASON flick, the short lived FREDDY’S NIGHTMARES TV show, an interview with the 80s metal group Dokken, and a look at the House the Freddy Built (that’s New Line Cinema to you and me), this documentary is not short on material. In fact, it’s so overflowing that it had to be put on to two discs. But more on that later.

Everything Freddy is covered in incredible detail. While you might expect that from a documentary, what this one does is goes far beyond the call of duty. Remember the girl in the hallway who asked Nancy for her pass? Well they found her for this. How about the guy reading the creepy poem in class? Nah, me neither, but they dug him up too. Want the inside poop you normally don’t ever hear from the people in Hollywood? Well how about Wes Craven’s thoughts on the sequels to his movie and the problems he had with New Line Cinema over the years. Want to know if NIGHTMARE 2 really was meant to be as gay as it seemed to be? Ever wonder why Kane Hodder (the fan favorite Jason from the FRODAY THE 13TH films) didn’t make it into FREDDY VS. JASON? Those and may more insider scoops can be found here. How much more, you ask? Well the actual documentary runs 240 minutes. That long enough for you? Oh, and that’s not including the stuff on the second disc that I mentioned before. That is likewise packed till bursting with content. There are extended interviews with nearly everyone they talked to for the doc and some interviews with people that were cut from the main movie probably in a desperate attempt not to stretch the runtime out any more. There’s a featurette on the famous Freddy glove, one about the old Nintendo NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET game, another that’s a Horror’s Hallowed Grounds segment on the locations from the first film, still another about the diehard Freddy fans, a sneak peak at another behind the scenes documentary covering Elm Street from a different perspective called I AM NANCY, and I could really go on and on and on. So when I tell you that this documentary has it all, you should really believe me on that. The only thing that it was missing was any info about the new remake, and that was fine with me.

Simply put, if you are a fan of the NIGHTMARE films then you MUST get this documentary. Of all of the recent 80s slasher retrospectives this movie is one of the best, most thorough, and easily the longest. To paraphrase a famous line; don’t…fall…asleep…before getting yourself a copy of this DVD, because missing out on this one would truly be a nightmare.

--Brian M. Sammons