Friday, April 11, 2014

The Bay (2012) That'll Put Me Off Swimming

If you look back at the early, rock-n-roll days of this blog, you'll find an entry in which I wrote a list of things that skeeve me out.  One of those things that skeeve me out is an object just under the surface of the water (boats, old buildings, skeletons) as well as things you know are there, but can't see (sharks, bigger boats, Cthulhu).

Well, you might was well add sea bugs to that list because The Bay did its share to do it for me.

The Bay is an interesting film even before you start watching it.  Released to little fanfare, it's made in the found footage style and it's an eco-horror film directed by none other than Barry Levinson (Diner, Rain Man, Avalon).  It doesn't seem like the type of movie one would expect from Levinson, but good directors often take chances.  For the most part, he scored quite well with this increasingly creepy movie with a message.

In a small, idyllic Maryland town, a celebration of its history on Chesapeake Bay brings the town together.  But there's a bit of a dark underside.  There's high levels of toxicity in the water thanks to a huge chicken processing plant and a cutting-corners filtration plant installed by the mayor to give the illusion of safety.  Two researchers know this, but are dead from a mysterious malady before they can turn in the proper proof.  Slowly, through the eyes of several security cameras, phones, news cameras, and video conferences, it's obvious that something is happening in the town.  People are getting violently sick, developing ugly sores on their bodies.  They begin to react violently or irrationally.  Then it all just goes downhill from there.  Our various emotions are toyed with as we see this horrifying epidemic unfold through a young reporter's tapes, town security cams, a young girl's iPhone, police dash cams, and the one that builds the most tension:  the video camera of a young family oblivious of what's happening taking a boat to the town.

Using a cast of talented unknowns, Levinson adds some meat to the bones of the found footage genre.  He uses some good jump scares here and there, but it's the creepy atmosphere that slowly builds over time that really made the film something good.  The town at the beginning is the town you want to live in, and the town at the end looks like something out of a Romero film.  This all happens in such a short amount of time, you wonder how anyone can get out of it or how they could possibly survive.  The tension and atmosphere are on display here.

Some viewers may applaud or bemoan the message of pollution and pollution regulation that sits behind the main face of horror here.  Keep in mind:  this is just a story.  It's fiction.  It's the fictional story of a fictional situation happening to fictional people because of some other fictional situation.  Relax.  Personally, I think pollution is pretty much bad all around.  I don't want to go swimming in unfiltered chicken poop, and I certainly don't want mutant sea bugs burrowing into my skin and giving me boils the size of dinner plates.

Enjoy the trailer:

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Babysitter Wanted (2008) Depends On Whose Baby

I was lucky working in college.  The highlight of my employment then was working in a video store (VHS, baby!), with the worst scenario being that some Lothario maybe got pissed because he couldn't impress his date since all of the copies of 9 1/2 Weeks were rented out.  I never had to babysit.  And after watching Babysitter Wanted, I count myself fairly lucky.

It was also that bygone decade, the crazy 80s that all the kids are talking about these days, when I attended my first college.  Long story.  In recent years, I've noticed a trend:  some horror movies are trying to reflect the look and ambiance of the 70s and 80s.  There's been a widespread return to the grindhouse and VHS days of old, and I gotta say that I really like it.  Sure, there are going to be some misses among the hits.  Law of averages.  But many of the recent ones I've seen have been on the "hit" side.

Babysitter Wanted falls on the "hit" side, but it did take me a minute to warm up to it.  Written by Jonas Barnes, and directed by Barnes along with Michael Manasseri, it tells the story of sweet, wholesome Angie (Sarah Thompson) and her first foray into college life.  Angie is devoutly religious and completely innocent of the underbelly of college.  Heading to Adams College (sorry, no nerds seen taking revenge), she moves in with a hard-partying but not unkind roommate and is forced to sleep on the crusty couch, since the previous tenant had sold the bed.  Looking for work, Angie grabs one of those phone number strips advertising a babysitting job.  She secures an interview, but becomes skittish when she realizes someone is following her around campus.  The sheriff (the always-great Bill Moseley) can't do much without more proof, but assures her that he'll come if called.  On the bright side, she meets nice guy Rick (Matt Dallas), whose intentions seem as pure as Angie's own heart.  Angie meets the Stanton couple (Bruce Thomas and Kristen Dalton) and their little tyke, Sam (Kai Caster).  Sam's a shy kid who always wears a cowboy outfit that his parents claim he never takes off.  Once the friendly Stantons leave, that's when the fun begins.  The mysterious figure stalking Angie shows up, and interrupts Sam's meal of meat and sauce to break into the house.

And that's when it takes a left turn I honestly didn't see coming.

Of course, you know I'm not going to spoil it here.  Nothing is what it seems, and Angie is seriously in for the fight of her life as her faith and sense of reality are shaken to the core.

The movie is good fun, filmed in the vein of early- to mid-80s slasher movies with an over-the-top secret.  It looks like something you might find on VHS, and that's a compliment.  I enjoyed how it looked.  The acting is solid throughout, especially by Thompson as Angie.  She plays innocent, scared, and determined all in one, even if she is a slight (intentional) caricature.  Kyle XY alums Dallas and Thomas are also good as well as Dalton as the mother.  I'm a Bill Moseley fan, so obviously I'll say he was good, too.  Oddly enough, he didn't play a villain, but rather a kindly, concerned sheriff.

It was definitely a fun little movie, sure to please the gore fans as well.  There were a lot of bloody shots, and they carefully didn't show what was surely the most wince-inducing "cuts."

So be careful about that babysitting job.  Not everyone can have an adventure like Elizabeth Shue.

Here's the trailer:

Sunday, March 23, 2014

I Am A Ghost (2012) Why I Love Indie Horror Films

One of the joys I have of writing this blog is spreading the word of various horror movies:  classic, new, big budget, indie, strange, subtle...well, you get the idea.  It's a genre I love, and I like to put my thoughts out there.  One of the bigger joys is touching base with independent filmmakers and performers.  I always feel like if I can get at least a few more people to see their work based on an article I write, then I'm happy with that.  It's fun for me, and I've been able to meet some really nice, talented people.

This brings me to the fun I had watching I Am A Ghost, an incredibly impressive independent horror film written and directed by H. P. Mendoza.  I'd been aware of the film for a while, and when I was made aware that the film was available on video-on-demand, I had to check it out.  Having been in touch with the filmmakers before, I was excited to see what they had created.

I was not sorry.

Boy, was I not sorry!  What I got to see was an ambitious, carefully-crafted thriller that looked great and featured an excellent performance from a leading lady, and taut suspense that wound up right until the final frame.  I love indie filmmaking because of the energy and the outside-the-box creativity and the hunger to craft a great film with sometimes very little in the way of resources.  "Working with what you got," some would say.  I Am A Ghost works with what it has, and then some.

Anna Ishida plays Emily, the title character.  It's no surprise that she's a ghost going through a mundane daily routine in a huge, beautiful house.  There are some things that seem a little off, such as Emily's breakfast time and the moments where she cries in pain and confusion in front of a mirror.  In one certain room, she hears a disembodied voice calling her name:  a medium named Sylvia (Jeannie Baroga in an unseen role).  Sylvia tries to help Emily leave the house, but some unknown factor keeps her there.  As the film unfolds, Emily struggles to uncover the mystery of how she died and how she can finally move on to the afterlife.

The film has a 60's and 70's look to it, right from the title card (and you know how I love those).  The screen borders are curved throughout, creating a unique point of view.  Despite the spaciousness of the house, there is a sense of claustrophobia.  Something is happening with poor Emily, and we're not quite sure what yet, although it becomes clear as the movie builds towards a horrifying climax.  Mendoza has built an intriguing, great-looking film that he expertly guides you through.  His is a voice and vision I'm excited to see grow from this already-strong base. In terms of performance, Ishida owns the screen.  Her Emily is scared, confused, complicated - and Ishida gracefully brings each of those facets to the forefront.  She is the face of the movie, and she is more than up to the task.

I've had the opportunity to see and review quite a few great independent horror features, and in communicating with the filmmakers and performers, I'm always happy to see the passion and the excitement they have in creating something new and something unlike the paint-by-numbers too often seen in big studio fare.  I'm excited to see what these creative people having coming down the pike, and really hope to see more from Mendoza and Ishida.

I Am A Ghost is available on DVD and VOD, and if you'd like more information, check out their website right here.

In the meantime, check out the trailer:

Monday, February 10, 2014

Dead Before Dawn (2012) Don't Play With Curses

So when I watched The Bell Witch Haunting on a whim, I insisted that I could no longer trust my whims.

But then I watched Dead Before Dawn on a whim, and well...I feel a little more trust in my whims again.

Now, I know that Dead Before Dawn wasn't received with open arms like other horror comedies.  Some liked it, many didn't.  But they're not writing this review...I am, and I declare that I found it to be snappy, fast-paced, fun, and often hilarious.  I also realize that horror comedies can be really hit or miss.  Three of my favorite movies, horror or otherwise, lean heavily towards comedy:  Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland, and Tucker and Dale vs. Evil.  They set the bar really high.  There's dozens more that can't match the perfect blend of frights and follies, but every so often, you run across a movie that still does a great job in its attempt.

Written by Tim Doiron and directed by April Mullen, the movie opens with a young boy witnessing his father being possessed by a demon in a store full of occult items.  Later in life, that same boy, Casper Galloway (Devon Bostick of Diary of a Wimpy Kid) is a jumpy but quick-witted young man who has a close circle of eccentric friends and a crush on a popular girl, Charlotte (Martha McIsaac).  When Casper's grandfather, Horus (Christopher Lloyd), wins a lifetime achievement award from occult enthusiasts, he recruits Casper to watch the store.  Of course, Casper is hesitant, but does out of respect for his grandfather.  When his friends come to visit him, an urn containing a malevolent spirit is broken.  Casper freaks out, but the others joke about a "curse," rattling off ideas of what the curse might be.  Turns out that what they say comes to pass:  people turn into zombie/demon hybrids called "zemons" when they make eye contact with any of the gang.  Also, oddly enough, if a person french-kisses a zemon, the zemon will become their slave.  Oh,  yes, and they have to reverse the curse before dawn or they become zemons as well.

As you might guess, the night goes south from there. 

It doesn't take long for the group to figure out that the curse is real, but not before there is carnage and confusion.  From there, it becomes a race against time to reverse what's happened before the sun rises.

I found Dead Before Dawn to be snappy with quick moments of hilarity and a likable cast of characters.  Lloyd even manages to sneak in a "Great Scott!" for all you Back To The Future fans.  Bostick is energetic and jumpy as Casper, and it I could see where that might grind on people after a while.  Still, his reactions are often funny and in some cases, genuine.  The rest of the cast seems to be having a great time making the movie, and you'll catch a couple interesting cameos by Kevin McDonald of Kids In The Hall and Boyd Banks of the Dawn of the Dead remake.

The movie was fun in my eyes, and went a long way to restore my faith in my "oh-let-me-take-a-look-at-this-film" whims.  The script by Doiron, who plays mug-obsessed Seth, and the direction by Mullen, who plays Casper's best friend and photographer Becky, are very key aspects in lending the film its youthful energy.

Now, for your viewing enjoyment, here's the trailer:

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Bell Witch Haunting (2013) I Tried, I Really Tried

Well, that was something.

Ah, The Bell Witch Haunting.  I should have known better.  Those rascals at The Asylum got me again, this time with a Paranormal Activity copy that had some accidentally decent scenes, but was mostly filled with surreal, head-scratching moments that made you wonder if you were watching the pre-editing version.

There are no credits.  Before and after the movie, there are no credits.  Not even an "Alan Smithee."  The movie just kicks right in, and it's pretty straightforward.  In fact, you've seen it before with Paranormal Activity.  Family buys a house in the Tennessee town where the original Bell Witch hauntings happened.  Strange things begin to happen.  People die.  Stranger things happen.  More people die.  Family decides to have the house exorcised.  Really bad things happen.  A showdown in the woods and local caves leads to an abrupt and confusing ending.

That's pretty much the plot.  I mean, if you want details, I can tell you that it's a family of four, with the daughter recording things during her "fashion blog," and the brother interested in making a movie about the weird things happening around him.  So, yeah, it's a found footage film.  About a haunting.  With ambient music building to warn you when something is about to happen.  Pretty much Paranormal Activity.

But...but the logic-defying things that happen.  Forget about the ghosts and demons and poltergeists.  There's a whole laundry lists of things that I just can't explain, and they're scarier than the movie.  It might help to ease the pain if you read the following questions in the voice of Jerry Seinfeld:

*  If the movie takes place in Tennessee during January, why are they having pool parties and dressing in shorts?  I've been stranded in that great state during blizzards in January, and I only wished I could have a pool party. And what the hey, palm trees?

*  A couple dies under mysterious circumstances after leaving the pool party at the beginning.  Why aren't they ever mentioned again?

*  The house seems to be in a suburban area, with lots of neighbors.  Why are there suddenly woods everywhere?  I can accept that the house sits on the edge of a wooded area, but when one girl wanders off by herself, suddenly they're in the deep woods.

*  And speaking of the neighborhood, why did they move next door to a junkyard?  Oh, wait, that's property formerly owned by the elder Bell back in the 19th century.  Okay.

*  I think they could have expanded on the father's power of premonition.  He has a bandage on his forearm, then he doesn't, then he suffers an injury to that forearm, then he has the bandage back.  He should have known.

*  The kid is so excited to document things happening in his house and to his family, so why doesn't he review his tapes?  All it would take is a "here, check this out" and that family would be outta there.

*  All these objects moving, strange voices, electricians getting zapped, friends and neighbors dying, and the family is most concerned with...unpacking.

*  Proofreading?  "January 21th"?  The mom's name changing from Jeanette to Martha?  I...I...I think my brain is crying.  So much, so much more.

OK, so you know me, I'll try to find something good even in movies that I just didn't enjoy.  So, here goes:  the actors are trying.  They are doing exactly what they're supposed to be doing.  The daughter, Dana, played by Cat Alter, stood out.  Her character suffers the brunt of the hauntings, and she does play the materialistic and ultimately frightened young girl very well.  There are a couple of decent jump scares as well, and those two factors saved it from being a total loss.

It blatantly copied Paranormal Activity and did so pretty boldly.  That low hum of ambient music is the most telling.  It just wasn't my cup of tea, but it did make me pine for a Mystery Science Theater 3000 version of it.

Still, it was no Hardly Working.

Here's the trailer if you're so inclined to view it:

Friday, January 24, 2014

We Are What We Are (2013) Now I'm Hungry

Yeah, I'm hungry, but I may never look at stew the same way again.

Let me just say that I'm increasingly impressed by director Jim Mickle. I first saw his work on the daring zombie-rat thriller Mulberry Street, then in what I believe is one of the very best vampire movies I've ever seen, Stake Land.  Mickle and co-writer/frequent star Nick Damici add another quality entry onto their resume with We Are What We Are, a remake of the 2010 Mexican film, Somos lo que hay.  Mickle and Damici go in a somewhat different direction and the result is a quietly creepy film that is photographed beautifully and well-crafted with suspense and some genuine chills.

The matriarch of a small, unassuming family (Kassie DePaiva of TV's One Life To Live...don't ask me how I knew that) suddenly dies one rainy day, and the family is consumed with grief.  They're a bit of an odd family, the girls (Julia Garner and Ambyr Childers) pale and soft-spoken, but very close with each other and their younger brother (Jack Gore).  Despite the death of their mother and through the kindness of the town (especially the motherly neighbor played by Kelly McGillis), the father (Bill Sage) insists that they will go ahead with some kind of ritual that their family has observed for decades.  While the father is very spiritual, the ritual is less religion than it is tradition.  In the meantime, a local doctor (Michael Parks) stumbles across a finger bone after the rains and is determined to find out its origins.  He's got the extra added motivation of having had his teenage daughter go missing - maybe this is her?  It's not a total spoiler to say that the Parker clan's ritual involves dining.  Missing people + a dining ritual?  I think you can put two and two together here.

The girls, Iris (Childers) and Rose (Garner) struggle with the idea of the ritual, wondering if they should rebel against their quietly firm (but simmering with rage) father.  Iris wants to act on her attraction to the deputy (Wyatt Russell), a former high school crush.  Rose wants to get their brother out of the house and away from the ritual.  Meanwhile, Doc Barrow (Parks) is closing in on the truth about the Parker clan and what may have happened to his daughter.

I won't spoil the ending, but it takes an intriguing strange turn that doesn't really seem out of place at all, despite what happens.  We Are What We Are is a beautiful-looking movie, with a structure and frame that really speaks to the telling of a story.  Director Mickle can put another knot in his success belt, in my opinion, as he tells an atmospheric, steadily-building story that has its abundant quiet moments coupled with scenes of meaty gore and bloodletting.  The acting was really good all around, with Sage showing understated menace, Garner and Childers showing a struggle with innocence, and Parks as a sad, hopeful, and vengeful father.

Now, while you wait for dinner, enjoy the trailer...

Monday, January 20, 2014

You're Next (2011) Livin' Up To The Hype

Yep, it was exactly as good as I thought it would be.

The home invasion subgenre of the horror film is extremely hit or miss.  Nice people in a house, bad guys break in, yadda yadda yadda, blood everywhere and maybe one nice person left alive.  It can be a formula, as most films are anyway, but when the filmmakers spice it up with snappy dialogue or strong characters or well-executed twists, it peaks my interest.

You're Next was made in 2011 and made the festival rounds before its wide release in 2013.  Written by Simon Barrett and directed by Adam Wingard, it's a well-paced, energetically creepy whodunnit with one of the best "final girls" in recent memory.

At a remote but opulent seasonal home, Paul and Aubrey Davison (Rob Moran and Barbara Crampton) prepare to welcome their children for an anniversary celebration.  It's a big home, still being renovated, and it makes lots of nice little bumps and creaks.  Crispian Davison (A. J. Bowen) and his Australian girlfriend Erin (Sharni Vinson) make their way to the home, and it's hinted at how dysfunctional the Davison family is.  Erin is happy to make the trip, though.  Once everyone is there, it doesn't take long for the dinner to break down into bickering, passive aggression, accusations, and...oh, yeah, a dinner guest getting a crossbow bolt in his forehead.  From there, it all breaks down as three men in farm animal masks begin picking off the family one by one.  With no leader stepping up, Erin rises to the occasion, trying to keep herself and the remaining family members alive.  And there's definitely more than meets the eye in regards to Erin, and in regards to the entire sticky situation.

The movie will take you on some twisty turns and one crazy-fun ride as you peel back more and more to find out the answers.  Everything fits in this movie, from the writing to the direction to the acting by a great ensemble cast of genre veterans and newcomers.  Bowen and Crampton are horror movie favorites, and the movie features appearances by producer/actor Larry Fessenden (I Sell The Dead), writer Barrett, director Ti West (The House of the Devil, The Inkeepers), and actor/director Joe Swanberg (V/H/S).  It's truly Vinson's movie, however, as she breaks out in her performance as Erin.

Like I said:  definitely a fun ride, and several notches above the usual home-invasion horror/suspense offering.  Fine acting and a truly suspenseful and often a tad gory journey through a night of terror, secrets, and boards with nails in them.

Now, here's the trailer to enjoy...