Monday, February 10, 2014
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
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 more...so, 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
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
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 Swanbery (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...
Monday, January 6, 2014
The "whodunnit" subgenre of mystery always holds possibilities for something fun. From guessing the "who" to the "why," it's the next best thing in audience participation to actually being there. And it's easy: just keep watching or reading and the mystery will be solved.
The problem with reviewing whodunnits is accidentally revealing spoilers. So, I'll do what I can, but I can only go so far. Seriously, I can't even put the right labels on this blog entry without revealing what happens in the film, Open Grave. Part of the fun is getting there, and slipping in a label that spoils it: no fun.
Open Grave was written by Chris and Eddie Borey and directed by Gonzalo López-Gallego (Apollo 18), and stars Sharlto Copely (District 9, The A-Team) as a man who suddenly awakens in a pit during a late-night thunderstorm. Lightning flashes reveal the soft, squishy ground he's recovered on: the pit is filled with dead bodies. Before he can do a total freakout, and wracked with pain from some unknown cause, someone lowers a rope down and helps him out. The man finds a house in the darkness, occupied by several other jumpy, rightfully paranoid people. The thing is, no one knows who they are. Their memories are pretty much wiped, although there is some instinct memory. One of them knows how to load and reload a gun. Another can speak Latin. But all of them have no idea how they got to this house, why the pit is full of dead people, and how the puncture marks got on their arms. Slowly, the group searches for clues and starts to realize that something is definitely not quite right. In some areas, there are dead bodies bound to trees with barbed wire. One of the group who presumes he was a soldier encounters an emaciated man trapped in a barbed wire fence - an encounter that goes south really quickly.
I can't go past this point without including clues that point toward the twists that make up the rest of the movie. It goes in a direction I wasn't expecting, and that's not a bad thing. All I can say is that it's an interesting take on a somewhat familiar scenario. Clues come in, but it keeps you guessing until the revelation kicks in.
Despite a couple slow spots, and they really weren't even that slow, I found the story engaging and had some fun trying to put the pieces together. The acting was very good, especially from Copely. He's never disappointed me, and he is great in this. Josie Ho, who plays the mute woman who also can't communicate in English, takes the ball and runs with it. She provides clues and emotional insight with facial expressions and body language, connecting us to the movie without a word. The movie just plain looks good as well. I wasn't much of a fan of López-Gallego's previous effort, Apollo 18. It wasn't horrible, but just didn't mesh with me. Open Grave was more my flavor, and I found it worth the money to rent it.
So, you think you've had it weird when you wake up in a place you don't recognize, make sure you still have your memories. Until next time, dear readers, check out the trailer...
Friday, January 3, 2014
OK, this will be the first blog entry that I've written that will take time over two years to write. Well, not really. I started it on New Year's Eve, 2013, and hopefully will finish it in 2014. The way I've been blogging lately, I can't seem to guarantee that.
Nonetheless, let me tell you a little about what I thought of 2013's Stoker. The movie, written by Wentworth Miller (one of the stars of TV's Prison Break) and directed by Park Chan-Wook (the original cult film Oldboy), pays tribute to the great Alfred Hitchcock without ever really ripping him off. Miller stated in interviews that he was inspired by Hitchcock's Shadow Of A Doubt, and I do see a touch of Hamlet in the basics, but the finished product here completely stands on its own.
The story follows India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) who both celebrates her 18th birthday and mourns her father (Dermot Mulroney), who dies in a car accident. A quiet, awkward young lady (who is also a crack shot thanks to hunting trips with her late dad), she's torn apart, but keeps her feelings quiet. Her mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) unravels and barely holds on to any form of stability. Enter India's uncle, Charlie (Matthew Goode), a charming and charismatic fellow who's been traveling the world, living adventures that the sheltered India can only dream about. Right away, you know there's something not quite right with Charlie, but hey, there's something not quite right about the entire Stoker family at this point. Despite protests from other family members, Charlie insinuates himself into the Stoker household. And what's not to like when you first meet Charlie? He's eloquent, refined, plays piano, and has a sweet ride. Still, he's pretty creepy. Not uncle-falling-asleep-on-the-recliner-in-his-tighty-whities creepy, but don't-turn-your-back-keep-him-in-sight-at-all-times creepy. No spoilers here, but the movie hurtles quietly towards a collision between the truth about Charlie and India's painful coming of age. What intentions Charlie has and how life will unfold for India are things you'll just have to check out for yourself.
The movie is well-paced and beautifully shot, as Park Chan-Wook comes from the recent wave of Korean directors who paint lavish pictures on film. Each shot is carefully crafted, guiding you by the eyes. Miller's story is compelling and mysterious, pushing more and more tension on you until the final moments, including the little twist at the end.
Stoker showed up on a lot of top 10 lists for the year, and I can see why. There are no supernatural elements here, but yeah, that creepiness factor is ratcheted up a few notches thanks to Goode's performance. I mean, he was measured and deliberate in Watchmen, but really carries that over to this role. Wasikowska and Kidman are equally great as daughter and mother, struggling with age and responsibility as well as mourning.
So until Uncle Charlie shows up on your doorstep, take a peek at the trailer right here...
Sunday, December 1, 2013
I had heard a little bit about this small film called Some Guy Who Kills People, and with that title alone, I knew I had to take a look. It smacks of horror-comedy with a wink and a nod which, when done right, is usually a good time at the movies. I didn't get that, but what I got was definitely a nice surprise. Yeah, sure, the wink and nod were there, but what I didn't expect was how much heart the movie had. While fitting firmly in the horror genre, it also owes a lot to the whodunnit as events unfold.
Written by Ryan A. Levin and directed by Jack Perez, Some Guy Who Kills People is the story of hapless Kevin Boyd (Kevin Corrigan), a man just coming off a stay at a local mental hospital after suffering a nervous breakdown and overwhelming depression. He lives with his mom (Karen Black), works in an ice cream shop with his one friend Irv (Leo Fitzpatrick), and has sad memories of a group of bullies literally torturing him. One of those bullies, now older and fatter, suddenly turns up dead with a hand axe buried in his forehead. Sheriff Fuller (Barry Bostwick) attempts to solve the crime, which turns plural when another of the former bullies shows up dead (and headless) - all the while wooing Kevin's mom. What Kevin refuses to realize is that he has more going for him than he thinks: he's caught the eye of a young British woman named Stephanie (Lucy Davis), he's a fantastic artist, and he finally meets his 11-year-old daughter, Amy (Ariel Gade), the product of a one-night stand years before. Amy is a breath of fresh air in his life, even if he doesn't want to breathe. She's brilliant and straightforward, and also has problems he can relate to. But there's that pesky issue of former bullies turning up dead. Everything sets on a collision course in Act 3 that I just won't spoil here.
I really like it when I set out to see a movie, expecting it to be pretty good, and discovering it to be really, really good. That was the case with Some Guy Who Kills People. It's deftly written and directly, and the acting is tremendous. Corrigan, who played a mysterious information broker on the great sci-fi series Fringe, is perfect as Kevin. He comes across as awkward, nervous, unsure of himself yet harboring dark secrets. He doesn't say much at first, and when he does, it's in short bursts. Gade is amazing as Kevin's daughter, Amy. Whip-smart and outgoing, she's the complete opposite of her father, and she is comfortable and natural in the role. Bostwick is also outstanding as the town sheriff, equal parts dim bulb and brilliant detective. He commands every scene he's in, and offers some of the movie's best lines of dialogue. He's funny, and you often wish he'd use his brain a little more, but man, is he likable. Really, everyone has shining moments in this film, supporting and main characters. Davis is sweet and awkward, and the late Karen Black plays the mother as complex and often mean, but ultimately she's a mother who loves her son.
Pleasant surprises are always welcome when I'm watching a movie, and Some Guy Who Kills People brought some heart and soul to a familiar pair of genres. Just good stuff from beginning to end. Great way to cap off the holiday weekend!
Until next time, dear readers, here's the trailer: