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: