Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Celluloid Horrors Movie Reviews

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009)
Review written by Steven M. Duarte

The long awaited Swedish film crafted from bestselling books by the late Stieg Larsson has finally made its long awaited American debut. This film has been highly anticipated ever since its original release back in 2009. Well I can happily say that the film was well worth the wait as we possibly have one of the best films of the year.

The film follows professional hacker Lisbeth Salander who is hired by a private firm to find information on Mikael Blomkvist who is under investigation for his dealings with an industrialist CEO. Upon her investigation Mikael is approached by a retired CEO who has been looking for the murderer of his niece for the past 40 years. Lisbeth finds Mikael’s research and decides to put her hacking skills to the test to help him in finding the killer. The film very much plays out like a Silence of the Lambs movie. In fact if the original Silence of the Lambs was made in Sweden it would have been close to this movie. That’s definitely not a bad thing. The original name of the film translates to men who hate women. This theme is conveyed throughout the film. Lisbeth’s Parole officer/Guardian is very much a sadistic Woman hater. His early introduction into the film sets the overall theme.

Foreign films have a tendency to portray certain scenes or themes that will almost never be made by an American film director. Dragon Tattoo is no exception. There are brutal scenes of rape that may cause people to wince or turn away. Where American films cut these types of shots short or only show limited angles, foreign films go the extra mile. Foreign films are almost always made with the original vision that the author or director intended to portray. They are not at the mercy of corporate movie studios or ratings boards who threaten with X rated ratings.

Lisbeth is very much a social reject. She has spent majority of her life in foster or juvenile care and prefers to work alone. Mikael on the other hand is a big journalist who is known for finding the information that he needs. The two leads have great chemistry together as they work not only as a team but as lovers. Viewing their affection for each other shows they really care about each other even if Lisbeth is afraid to show it.

My only grip with the film was its length. While I’m not opposed to lengthy films I am opposed to including scenes that are not necessary and do not move the film forward. An example of this was the subway scene where Lisbeth fights off the gang of delinquents. This scene was included to show how independent Lisbeth was and how she was a tough girl who could take care of herself. This scene was not necessary as we had already witness her toughness with her sadistic Guardian. There were a couple of other scenes of note that could have been cut to make the film flow better.

A small gripe to a well made film. Foreign films have always been my favorite and Dragon Tattoo has been added to my favorite’s right next to Let the Right One In.

--Steven M Duarte

By Brian M. Sammons

Director: Larry Blamire
Cast: Daniel Roebuck, Jennifer Blaire, Dan Conroy, James Karen

A few years back, writer, director Larry Blamire and his friends made a very independent movie with the memorable name of THE LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA. It was a cinematic love letter to the classic, if a bit schlocky, sci-fi movies of the 1950s. It wasn’t exactly a spoof or a parody, as everyone involved loved the movies they were poking fun at too much to be mean spirited, but the movie was nonetheless a very funny throwback to a bygone era and genre.

Next on Mr. Balmire’s hit parade was his take on the Old Dark House movies of the 1920s & 30s. That movie is this movie, and it’s aptly called DARK AND STORMY NIGHT. Just like LOST SKELETON, it is an accurate send up of the source material, both fun and very funny, yet once again you can feel the love the filmmaker has for those forgotten movies of yesteryear. Furthermore for a low budget film, the quality is very top notch. The writing is witty and sharp, the actors play their parts remarkably well, deliver sharp, quick dialog flawlessly, and have real comic timing, and as for the direction, Larry Balmire shows his skill by blending the cinematic style of the 1930s with modern sensibilities.

Oh, could it be that you don’t know what an Old Dark House movie is? Well then, let me explain. These types of movies started a little before the roaring 20s, and lasted until the rocking 50s, but their heyday was the 1920s through the 1930s. The typical Old Dark House movie had a group of people arriving at a creepy looking house, usually a large house like a mansion so there was plenty of room for mayhem. Once there everyone would have to spend the night for some reason and during that usually unexpected sleepover bad things like murder would take place. Sometimes there was a supernatural element, but often the one doing the killing was human, and then the culprit usually wore a mask so that their identity would not be revealed until the end of the movie so as to keep the audience guessing at who was the coldblooded fiend. In a way, Old Dark House movies were sort of proto-slashers, the masked maniac gore flicks that would become a staple of the horror genre in the late 70s and 80s.

In this movie, filmed in glorious black and white, a group of strange and mysterious persons gather at a thoroughly strange and mysterious estate during the appropriately dark and stormy night to hear the will of the recently deceased Sinas Cavinder. Naturally this takes place on the very night that Sinas said he would return from the grave, which also happens to be on the night a long dead witch’s curse is meant to take place, that is if the Cavinder strangler, who’s been killing woman for years, doesn’t strike first, or the maniac who just that night escaped from the local asylum for the criminally uninhibited. And then, as if things weren’t bad enough, a hooded, robed, and gloved killer calling himself (or perhaps herself) the Phantom of Cavinder starts bumping off the guests one by one. To give anything more about this movie away would be criminal, and might get the Phantom coming after me, so I’ll just have to leave you wanting more. Trust me, if you like the funny, you will want more of this.

This DVD from Shout! Factory comes with a nice collection of special features. There’s an informative and entertaining cast and crew commentary, a behind the scenes “making of” featurette, a gag real, and a nice surprise; the entire movie in color, but honestly, black and white is the only way to watch this gem.

Normally here is where I would say something like, “If you’re a fan of the Old Dark House films then you must get this movie”. However in this case I’m not going to qualify the recommendation. Instead consider this a general recommendation for anyone who likes to laugh, so chances are good that means you.

--Brian M. Sammons

By Brian M. Sammons

Director: Larry Blamire
Cast: H.M. Wynant, Frank Dietz, Christine Romeo

A few years back Larry Blamire made his bones (heh) with a low budget, independent movie called THE LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA. It was a loving send up of the sci-fi flicks of the 1950s and it became an instant cult classic. Larry and company (as he uses many of the same actors and crew again and again) next took on he Old Dark House genre with DARK AND STORMY NIGHT. Now comes the much anticipated sequel to the movie that put Mr. Blamire on the map, does it continue to bring the funny? Are there enough new tricks in the old sci-fi flicks from the 50s to warrant a new movie? Well let’s find out.

This mostly black and white movie tells the story of a new element being discovered in the Amazon with amazing properties that everyone wants, including the government, scientist, aliens, and even the telepathic, mind-controlling skull of Cadavra, the only thing remaining of the skeleton of Cadavra. A group of intrepid explorers comprised of some of the characters from the first film, or their twin brothers, and some new faces like a government agent, a swindling crook, a scientist (who’s a woman!) and a tough as nails jungle guide. All these people must brave the dreaded Valley of the Monsters and tread carefully as to not anger the tribe of the cantaloupe people. Will the heroes find the rocks they’re looking for, avoid the totally authentic looking monsters, and stop the skull of Cadavra from once more becoming the dreaded skeleton of Cadavra? Well you’ll just have to watch this movie to find out. But luckily for you that along the way you’ll have lots of laughs and be able to enjoy actors hamming it up and trying really hard to act really poorly.

This DVD matches the previous Blamire DVD that Shout! Factory put out (DARK AND STORMY) nearly point for point with extras. There’s a cast and crew commentary, a behind the scenes featurette, and gag reel. Yeah that’s not a ton of extras, but for a little movie that could, it’s plenty. Hell, I know lots of “big Hollywood” movies that come out to DVD with less extras than that, so I guess a movie like this does alright.

If you enjoyed the original CADAVRA movie then you can do your happy dance because this movie offers the same loving satire of your favorite sci-fi and jungle adventure films from yesteryear. If you never saw the first movie, relax do don’t need to have seen it to enjoy this one, so you have no excuse not to get this movie. Unless, of course, you hate fun. You don’t hate fun…do you? I didn’t think so, so do yourself a favor and pick up this weird, funny little film today.

--Brian M. Sammons