Monday, July 4, 2011

Celluloid Horrors Movie Reviews

PRIEST (2011)- In Theaters

Director: Scott Stewart
Cast: Paul Bettany, Karl Urban, Cam Gigandet and others.

review written by Nickolas Cook

Based on the cult classic Korean graphic novel of the same name, this is action packed, horror edged entertainment. Now I didn't see the 3-D version...mainly because I freaking hate having stuff thrown at me on the screen. I find it cheapens the movie going experience.
From the expository animated short at the beginning of the movie to let us know where we stand in this apocalyptic future of super powered Vampires (which look sort of like aliens from the Alien franchise; the vampires even build hives like them) vs Priests, super badass trained martial arts warriors that fight for good.

I do martial arts. What we see in this movie are unrealistic action and fight sequences that no one with half a brain would take it seriously. Everything is uselessly over the top.

But this seems to be par for the course in what passes for modern American genre cinema, especially the video game minded bullshit that seems to appear with more and more frequency in the 21st century.
And it is from the same visual effects man turned difrector who gave us 2010's "Legion", another ridiculously video game minded flick with little substance and too much style.

Listen, as an audience we should make it well know that we expect a little more from out movies than this sort of subpar emotional and intellectual garbage.

Anyway, back to why this movie is for kids...

Sadly, they took some really adult oriented narrative and diluted it into this cartoon. Although, I will grant their were some interesting visuals, as they attempted to recreate some of the graphic novel's dark vision.
It's a simple story of good vs evil, but it's tough to know which side the characters might be on at times, as the lines tend to blur as one climbs the church's heiarchy.

When a heroic, but embittered, man of the order (played with Clint Eastwood-like stoney face and growling one liners) decides to defy the church and go after his kidnapped neice (which turns out later to be...never mind...I won't ruin the only true surprise of the story), he is joined by her young lover, and they go off into the radioactive wastelands to fight for her return, matching their guns and fists against the blood sucking creatures of the night and their minions.

If at times this seems more like a huge video game concept turned film, I'm with you. There are moments where it even feels like we've fallen into a "boss challenge sequence" at the end of different levels as the movie progresses.

Quite annoying.

It loses touch with anything slightly resembling realism in its narrative and character several times. And when the first appearance of the vampires occurs...can we say OVERBLOWN CGI?

Yeah, again, big budget Hollywood studio decides to use too many slo-mo sequences, mixed with unbelieavbly badly articulated CGI monsters, that look like every other CGI monster in every other movie since "Jurassic Park" (1993)

What we get is a variation on the-man-with-name western (everyone even dresses like they're in the Old West), mixed with sci-fi and "horror lite", along with something that barely touches on the classic ideal of the vampire, and builds almost zero suspense: No one ever seems truly in danger.

But we old timer Horrorheads get a treat in the form of Brad Dourif, who has a bit part, but who's always welcome in any movie, for those of us who are older than 20.

Besides the aforementioned visuals, there is a great score by the always talented Christopher Young, a man who has worked with a lot of horror films in his career. One can even hear a nod to those old spaghetti westerns in his soundtrack for Priest, a sort of homage to the great Ennio Morricone, full of choral layering and ambient orchestral work, mixed with some lowkey electronica soundscaping.

It's fairly mindless entertainment, inoffensive and not challenging. I guess that's an okay thing, sometimes. But to be honest, I think I'd rather have seen a real anime of this story, since I think an Asian production would have been more realistic for this type of film.

Better luck next time, guys, since we're left with the discinct sense that the story is only just beginning for the new war between vampires and priests.

Who knows...maybe I should have seen this one in 3-D, after all. Maybe having something more than stupidty thrown at me on the screen would have been a welcome change of pace.

--Nickolas Cook

SUPER-8 (2011)- In Theaters

Director: J.J. Abrams
Cast: Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler and others

review written by Nickolas Cook

Should've been called " was okay-8". One of the most underwhelming movies, given the amount of hype it received pre-release, that I've seen from a summer "hit" in some time. Part of the problem I had with it is that it tries too hard to be too many things at once. Is it horror, sci-fi, a teen romance. Abrams tries to give modern audiences a sense of the late 70s- the look and feel of that time in American history as it appeared in the then contemporary genre films. Think "Phantasm", "Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind", etc., etc.

I grew up then and so I lived the period, saw the movies, and while this made the attempt, it doesn't always work quite right for someone who did live in the late 70s. It feels to "over-produced" and comes off feeling as "bogus" as the intentional use of some of the teen American idiom of the time (most of which wasn't in use for my town's teen population until later). There are the obligatory pot references, with a very anti-drug message that you would not have seen in the late 70s films (after all, it was a couple of years later that Cheech and Chong movies became huge theatrical hits for almost a decade...because of the social acceptance of drugs like pot). It looks to me as if they thought having men with long hair and sideburns and using a recognizable late 70s melange of pop music and a disco reference was supposed to be enough to give us that sense of the 70s in midtown America.

Let's talk special effects, because I was really expecting something special from an Abrams/Speilberg production. What I got was lackluster CGI that looked like some leftover designs from the alien bug from "M.I.B." (1997). Too smooth and unnatural articulation that looks as fake as the late 70s production values attempt. The alien's actual body, with the tentacular design doesn't really suit the supposed technology is uses to get from planet to planet. Very mismatched looking.

And don't look for any of that trademark Speilberg cute monster crap, here. It didn't make it into this modern day genre flick. Guess nobody wanted another "E.T." (1982)


I found the whole thing a little insulting, intellectually and emotionally.
But guess what?

Yeah, this film wasn't really meant for me.

It was meant for that all powerful money making machine in American cinema known as the "Summer Teen Moviegoer".

Apparently, Hollywood really feels that these video game obsessed, emotionally stunted morons that range in age from 11-16 are the only ones who deserve summer films in this country.

The film spends a long time developing these relationships between characters (time which I felt was badly spent, wasted, in fact) and then pretty much scraps them to make sudden changes in, throwing peripherial characters together and then staring over with the developement.

And the final scene with the kid's memento feels like they worked a long time to get to this 'punchline'. She's going to the stars...right?
How freakin' modern day typically new age idiotic.

As a huge fan of Abrams's "Cloverfield" (2008) production, I have only one word for this movie: disappointing.

--Nickolas Cook

INSIDIOUS (2011)– DVD review
By Brian M. Sammons

Director: James Wan
Cast: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Ty Simpkins

I’m pretty much a fan of the movies of James Wan, and when he teams up with his buddy, the actor/writer Leigh Whannell, usually very good things happen. The pair gave us the movie that started the franchise that won’t die, SAW. Sure the endless sequels jumped into the toilet, but the first one was a very well done gory thriller. Then they did the criminally overlooked and underappreciated evil doll flick, DEAD SILENCE. So with that in mind, I was pretty happy to hear that the dynamic duo was teaming up once again to give us their version of a haunted house film. But is their third time together a charm, or just a strike out? Let’s find out.

A young couple with three small children moves into a new house, and soon after spooky things start happening. However, when one of the kids slips into a mysterious, medically baffling coma, things really start getting out of hand. Of course only the wife sees the spooks and the husband doubts her, but then they do something that I have never seen done in any other ghost film; they actually move the hell out of the haunted house. You know; the exact same thing you yell at the characters on the screen to do in every haunted house movie ever made. So points to the filmmakers for doing the obvious audience reaction…and then not having it do a bit of good.

Yep even in a brand new house, the ghosts keep a-coming, and in fact things get worse, all the while the coma kid keeps on sleeping. Enter the prerequisite semi-wacky ghost hunters, the slightly creepy lady psychic, and the séance where things don’t go as planned. Ok, got to take points away from Wan & Whannell for breaking out the overused cliché trifecta. Anyway, the long and short of it is that the coma kid’s spirit is being held prisoner, I won’t say how as to not ruin it for you, by a demon who wants to claim ownership of the boy’s body. And here in lies my biggest problem with this movie: the demon is simply silly looking. It’s a regular guy, painted head to toe black, with a bright red and black face. The end result is far more Darth Maul from Star Wars than creepy demon from hell. The fact that this “fiend” wears furry pants that are supposed to be goat legs and has shiny, bejeweled finger knives that scream more goth kid than scary weapon, doesn’t help things. Every time this guy was shown in the movie, and sadly he’s shown a lot and quite clearly, it shattered any dread or horror the film was going for. Whoever thought this was a good look for the big bad of the movie really missed the mark by a mile.

Bad makeup decisions aside, this movie has a fun, creepy vibe, a few good shock scares, memorable scenes, and best of all, great sound effects. I think I jumped as much, if not more, in this film due to the sound design as I did due to the visuals. It is well acted, has some originality in the story to offset the clichés, and is very well directed by Wan. That man knows how to tell a good, scary movie.

The DVD brought out by Sony has only 3 special features on it, which isn’t bad, but it’s not great either. And just like the amount of extras, the quality is only ok at best. There’s a ten minuet interview with director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell about their film and horror movies in general. There’s a pretty standard behind the scenes bit on the set of the film that is also very short, at just eight minutes. The shortest of the three mini-featurettes, at only six and a half minutes, is about the ghosts that appear in the movie. And that’s it. There’s not even an audio commentary, and that’s just sad in 2011. So while not a bare bones disc, the extras on this DVD are nothing to write home about.

While INSIDIOUS is not Wan and Whannell’s best effort, and it does has a silly Darth Maul demon in it, there is enough effective atmosphere and honest to goodness horrific and chilling moments in it to make it mandatory viewing for fright fans. Consider this one a slightly more than moderate recommendation, only because of the film’s poor choice in a main villain and the less than stellar DVD release.

--Brian M. Sammons

[Rec] 2 (2009)- DVD

Review written by Steven M Duarte

Director: Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza
Cast: Jonathan Mellor, Óscar Sánchez Zafra, Ariel Casas, Alejandro Casaseca, Pablo Rosso and others

The first person perspective/lost footage genre has recently been getting a bit old. I originally thought it was pretty clever when Blair Witch first came out then lost interest in this filming style as time went on. That is until I watched REC for the first time. It was a different type of film that really put you dead in the center of a zombie apocalypse that was occurring not in an open field in the mid west but confined to one apartment building. The last shot of the female lead being pulled away by some unknown being was pure genius from a horror head stand point.

Fast forward a couple years and we have a US remake named Quarantine and now REC 2. The US remake of the first REC was basically a shot for shot remake where you don’t miss out on much if you do not watch the original. Now the sequel is something to talk about. You are on the edge of your seat from the beginning credits down the last.

The film starts 15 minutes after the original ended with a SWAT team being deployed to the apartment building. They are given vague instructions and are told there is a known infection in the building that they have to contain. They have a Bio scientist sent with them to study the virus. This beginning scene was very reminiscent of the old school Resident Evil games where the STARS teams were going in to neutralize the infected. While this seems pretty straight forward everything is not as it seems. Do not read the next paragraph as they contain spoilers.

*********Warning Spoilers ahead*********

We end up finding out what the virus is and why it occurred in this building. The film takes a 180 and turns into a demon possession film. I know everyone figured the infected were either zombies or 28 days later Rage infected individuals. In a surprise twist they turn out to be demons. The secret room they find in the first film turns out to be a Vatican priest’s laboratory who was conducting tests on a young girl who was possessed by a strong demon none like the church had seen before. I was taken back by this Sixth Sense like twist. Bravo to directors Jaume Balagueró & Paco Plaza as I rarely get that blown away by a plot twist.

**********End Spoiler&*************

Final Thoughts:

In the end I was genuinely creeped out and wanted more once the credits ends. More as in it was that good. I recommend REC 2 to those who have seen the first as going straight to this film will not make too much sense even though the second one has enough to stand on its own. Now the real hard part is waiting til the already announced REC 3 comes out….

--Steven M Duarte

MST3K Vs. Gamera: Mystery Science Theater 3000, Vol. XXI [Deluxe DVD Edition] (1965-1971)

By Brian M. Sammons

Director: Various
Cast: Joel Hodgson, Kevin Murphy, Trace Beaulieu, and others

Gamera, the giant, flying, fire-breathing, child-loving (not that way, you pervert), red-headed step-child to King of the Monsters Godzilla. Yeah I grew up watching him battle a variety of odd giant creatures on the Saturday afternoon Creature Feature, but truth be told; they’re not great movies. Maybe that’s because they were first and foremost made for children. Maybe that’s because the foes in Godzilla were mostly badass, like the awesome three-headed dragon, King Ghidorah, and Gamera was stuck facing off with the likes of Guiron, a doggy like dinosaur with a knife for a head. Or maybe it’s because the idea of a jet powered giant turtle is just so silly? So yeah, the original Gamera films (yes, there were some more giant turtle flicks made in the 90s) are not good monster movies. In fact they are cheese-tastic. But it’s because of that that they make for great, and I mean GREAT, fodder for the original snarky movie-riffers; MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000. Well if you are a Mistie like me (that being a fan of MST3K) then put on your party hats and go woo-hoo because we’ve got a new DVD collection featuring Joel, the bots, and five, yes count them: five of the original Gamera flicks. That totals almost 10 hours of entertainment, not including extras, but is this big chunk of Gamera goodness worth the price of admission? Well I think it is, but to try to prove it to you, let me count the ways.

First of all, the DVDs come in a handsome tin collector’s box. In addition to the five individually packaged DVDs inside the tin, it also contains five cardboard mini-posters featuring the movie monsters and the bots of MST3K. Cool looks and trinkets aside, the start of the show are the actual shows. Five full length episodes, thankfully minus commercials, featuring the movies; GAMERA, GAMERA VS. BARUGON, GAMERA VS. GAOS, GAMERA VS. GUIRON, and GAMERA VS. ZIGRA. If you’ve never seen these giant turtle flicks and you’re a fan of Japanese monster movies, then you’re in for a treat. If you’ve never seen these episodes of MST3K then you’re in for a huge treat, as the famous movie riffers were never better than when they were giving these movies the business. Ok, maybe their MANOS: THE HAND OF FATE episode was better, but that’s about it.

Wait, just hold on a second.

Could it be that you’ve never seen MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 before? Could you not have the slightest idea of what I’m talking about? If so, then wow, my heart truly bleeds for you, as you’ve missed out on some of the best TV ever. Anyway, here’s the Cliff Notes version. Joel was a regular guy shot into space aboard the Satellite of Love by two mad scientist and forced to watch really bad, Z-grade movies until it drove him mad. In an effort to hang on to his sanity for as long as possible, Joel made some robot buddies to pal around with and make fun of the movies he had to sit through. This very simple formula was hilarious as hell and a huge success. In fact, even though the show, MST3K is sadly no more, the writers and stars continue to do their thing with the famous Riftrax, and the lesser known, but equally as awesome, Cinematic Titanic. Google either of these if you hunger for some more movie riffing. And if you never saw the original MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000, then this is a great place to start.

Lastly, in addition to the five flicks, the tin, and the posters, there are some cool extras on the DVDs. There are three sizable featurettes to be found here. The first has interviews with the creators, writers, and stars of MST3K about their extended run on the Gamera films. Another featurette is an in-depth interview with three special effects guys on the technical side of the Gamera movies. The third and final featurette is an interview with a historian and expert on all sorts of “guy in a rubber suit” monster movies. All three of these special features were fun and informative and not just your usual talking head blather.

If you’re a fan of Gamera, MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000, and especially of both of them, then this collection was tailor made for you. For hours and hours of hilarious giant turtle fun, I can easily and highly recommend this new five DVD set from Shout! Factory.

--Brian M. Sammons