Monday, October 4, 2010

Celluloid Horrors Movie Reviews

Devil (2010)
Review written by Steven M Duarte

John Erick Dowdle
Chris Messina, Caroline Dhavernas, Bokeem Woodbine, Logan Marshall-Green

I walked into the theater without any high hopes as to what I was about to see. I knew M Night Shyamalan wrote and executive produced the flick which left me weary and weak in the stomach. I did have a very tiny glimpse of hope for the film as this was by the same director responsible for Quarantine and The Poughkeepsie Tapes which are not masterpieces but are at least acceptable titles in the horror genre.

The films premise is quite simple, 4 strangers are trapped in an elevator that has malfunctioned 20 stories into its ascension. Security guards can see the people in the elevator via camera but can only speak to them one way as there is no microphone inside the elevator. Things start happening as the 4 try to figure out which one of them is the Devil. I really was surprised with what I saw.

Too many horror films rely on showing everything to the viewer. But in this case you don’t see jack shit. When something happens inside the elevator the lights go out and the screen is pitch black. You hear noises of people screaming and tussling around. Then the lights come on and boom a person has been stabbed to death. The surviving characters are left trying to figure out who’s doing the killings along with the viewer. As I always have said before the less you show the more threatening it can be for the viewer.

We are thrown little bits and pieces about the characters but nothing to fully give away who the devil really is. In typical M Night Shyamalan fashion there is a twist at the end. Don’t expect a lame twist like the Village or to the caliber of the twist in the Sixth Sense but be expecting one.

Final Thoughts:

Not too bad of an effort which proves that Shyamalan should stick to writing and producing. The film leaves viewers with a satisfying ending that not all may see coming. The film has somewhat of a religious tone but never tries to force any actual beliefs onto you. It’s more of a viewing of what could happen to you when you make certain choices in life.

--Steven M Duarte

THE RIG (2010)
Review by Brian M. Sammons

Director: Peter Atencio
Staring: William Forsythe, Stacey Hinnen, Serah D’Laine

Does this title sound kind of generic? Well that’s because the movie is kind of generic too. Basically a thinly veiled rip off of ALIEN that substitutes the cold vastness of the ocean for the cold vastness of space and swaps the grimy, dripping, gloomy space ship for a grimy, dripping, gloomy oil rig. The there’s the black, spike-tailed, alien thing, the crawling through dark, claustrophobic tunnels with makeshift weapons, and a blue collar crew getting picked off one by one. Oh and did I mention that the company that owns the oil rig is called Weyland? Is it charming and endearing when the filmmakers know that their movie is such a complete rip off that they include in jokes like this, or is that just a big middle finger at the audience dumb enough to have purchased the DVD? In this case, I’m kind of leaning towards the latter.

The story, such as it is, involves the titular rig drilling for oil and releasing something from the ocean floor. Now while you might expect such a long lost ocean predator to be a big fish, mega shark, a weird eel-like thing, or some Lovecraftian tentacled horror, you instead get a guy in a black rubber suit that looks like he never had any business in a kiddy pool let along the deep sea. Further, the creature is never once shown clearly. Not in a “we want to build suspense and wait to the final act to reveal the monster in all it’s horrible detail” kind of way, but in a “ boy does this rubber suit look like crap” kind of way. Anyway, said creature soon comes up to the oil platform during a storm and one by one starts killing off all the clichés. Oh, sorry, I mean characters. But really, in this movie they are one in the same. There’s the tough Hispanic chick, the funny black comedy relief, the tough but caring crew chief, the hapless guy who’s in love with the chief’s daughter…did this suddenly become the movie ARMAGEDDON?

Now don’t get me wrong, I love good cheesy rip off movies. The majority of Roger Corman films would fall into that category, but the majority of those movies have style, a sense of silly, campy fun and I love them for that. THE RIG has none of that going for it. It commits the worst crime any B-movie can make; it’s dull and oh so boring. The characters are cardboard and completely forgettable, the story plods and drags, the special effects amateurish, even the usual Cromanesq saving grace of gratuitous nudity is only used once and quickly. All these things combined mean that there is no reason to both watching this film. Not even for the top billed star, William Forsythe. Yes, Forsythe does the old “I need a quick paycheck but this movie really sucks” bait and switch. He gives the B-movie some star power but don’t expect him to stick around after the first reel.

Anchor Bay brings out this DVD with only two extras; a commentary track with the director and producer and a short behind the scenes featurette. But really, for this movie that seems more at home on the SyFy channel, that’s more than enough love for this thoroughly forgettable film.

I really can’t recommend this movie. It might be good late at night, with a couple of beers and friends who like to give movies the MST3K treatment, but other than that there’s no reason to watch THE RIG.

--Brian M. Sammons

Reviewed by Brian M. Sammons

Director: Frank De Felitta
Staring: Charles Durning, Tonya Crowe, Larry Drake

The problem with made for TV horror movies is, with very few exceptions, they’re not scary. Now I’m not just talking about the lack of blood and guts, as gore never makes a bad film good. Now, I’m talking about TV movies lacking the very essence of horror It’s like they tell themselves, “Ok, we can be frightening, but only up to a point,” Well that is not the case with this film…at least that’s how I remembered it. You see, I saw DARK NIGHT years and years ago as a kid and it scared the hell out of me. But I haven’t seen it since for the very simple reason that it never came out on DVD. That is…until now. But does the movie hold up when compared to my childhood memories? Let’s find out.

The story is about a large mentally challenged man named Bubba who’s brought to life by Larry Drake, who would go on to fame playing another slow man on TV’s L.A. LAW. Bubba’s best friend is a little girl named Marylee and his worst enemy is Otis, the evilest mailman to ever walk the earth, equally played to sneering perfection by Charles Durning. Otis has an irrationally hatred of Bubba and when one day young Marylee is viciously mauled by a dog, Otis naturally assumes that Bubba is to blame. Rounding up a posse of good old boys, Otis and Co, chase poor Bubba all over town until they find him in a corn field hiding in the clothes of a scarecrow. The vigilantes cold bloodily execute the man, only to hear over the radio just moments later that not only did the little girl live and that it was a dog that attacked her, but that Bubba saved her life. So what’s a bunch of scumbag rednecks to do? Well they plant a pitchfork on Bubba and claim self defense, despite Bubba actually being tied to the wooden scarecrow cross. Somehow the judge buys that excuse, mainly because there wouldn’t be much of a story if the cretins went to prison for their crime, but that doesn’t mean that they have escaped justice. All too soon Otis’ palls start getting bumped off one by one until only the evil mailman remains.

Some of the best things about this movie are the suspense, tension, and mystery that it manages to pull off so well. While the vigilantes start seeing a scarecrow in their fields or yards before they get killed, you never really know what’s going on or who’s avenging the murder of poor Bubba. Could it be Bubba’s mother, or the little girl who keeps talking to Bubba despite his death has gone psychotic with the loss of her only friend, perhaps it’s the prosecuting attorney who knew the good old boys were guilty but failed to prove it in court, or who knows, there might even be a supernatural answer to the murders. All the way up to the movie’s end DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW keeps you guessing better than most thrillers brought out on the big screen.

DARK NIGHT first came out on CBS in 1981 and even though it’s been a long time coming out to DVD it looks amazingly good. The video transfer was handled exceptionally well and the movie just looks beautiful. As for extras, there’s not many, but that’s to be expected from a 80s TV movie. There’s an audio commentary with the writer and director and a short promo piece CBS did for the movie back in the day. While that’s it for the extras, just having this film out and widely available on DVD at last is all the reason I need to get this disc.

DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW is a great little gem of a film and one that’s been away for far too long. Three cheers to VCI Entertainment for bringing this lost classic back out. Do yourself a huge favor and get a copy of this DVD for yourself when it comes out September 28.

--Brian M. Sammons

Terror (1978)
review by Nickolas Cook

Norman J. Warren

John Nolan, Carolyn Courage, James Aubrey, Sarah Keller, Tricia Walsh, Glynis Barber and Michael Craze

This is a weird and gory 1978 drive-in classic. It's a strangely creepy little movie by Norman J. Warren, the Uk's version of Roger Corman, a man who knew the value of a dollar and how to draw a crowd with blood and nudity. Cool fact about this one: it was showing on the screen behind me and my little bro at a 3 screen drive-in, where my family and I were there to see another movie altogether. But I was so intrigued by Terror that I spent most of the time watching it in the rearview mirror instead of the movie we were actually hooked up to via speaker to see. So there are scenes in this film that have stuck with me for going 32 years now-- and that with no sound. This was the first time I'd ever seen it with sound and it still works. There are some disturbing scenes, that remind me of a young Dario Argento, albeit with a more staid British sensibility about it. There's some cinematography and it's quite gory. The acting has some low points, but all and all, it's a pro cast, filled with people who take the ridiculous story just serious enough to make it worth the watch. It has a sharp Technicolor look to it and a deliberate (and as I said, creepy) pace. The ending might not grab everyone, but it still works for me.

--Nickolas Cook

Vault of Horror (1973)
review by Nickolas Cook

Director: Roy Ward Baker

Cast: Terry-Thomas, Dawn Addams, Denholm Elliot, Curt Jurgens, Tom Baker, Michael Craig, Terence Alexander, Glynis Johns, Mike Pratt, Robin Nedwell, Geoffrey Davies, Daniel Massey and Anna Massey.

1973's The Vault of Horror (also known as Tales From the Crypt II in some countries)was produced by one of the great old school exploitation British studios, Amicus Productions, a poor cousin to the much more superior Hammer Studio. Amicus sometimes skewed from the traditional Gothic horror and delved more into the urban horror tales, something which Hammer took a few more years to follow, and may have been one of the reasons for their eventual downfall. This is probably because Amicus was founded by two American producers, who brought with them a modernized sense of what new horror fans were looking for.
Like many of Amicus's other films, this is an anthology film, tied together with a thin narrative thread. One of the stories stars everyone's favorite Doctor Who (Tom Baker) who finds himself in a nasty spot. There are also some other familiar faces among the cast such as Denholm Elliot and Anna Massey. Like Amicus's more well known anthology horror film Asylum, these are stories written/adapted for the screen by none other than the legendary Robert Bloch (not Block, as some of the promo posters read). I've been a huge fan of Amicus's work since I saw Asylum (1972) when I was a kid at a local drive in. This is a fun little film that every Horrorhead would do well to add to his/her collection. So seeketh it out, my fellow Horrorheads. You will love it!

--Nickolas Cook