Thursday, July 21, 2011

Rammbock: Berlin Undead (2010) Short Movie, Short Review

Clocking in at just over an hour, the German infection horror offering Rammbock: Berlin Undead offers some really good moments in what turned out to be a mostly decent little horror flick sponsored in the United States by the wonderful horror news website Bloody Disgusting.  It's a pretty straightforward story with basic undertones of longing and lingering loyalty.  No frills, as the story takes place in one location, an apartment building in Berlin that falls under attack by victims of a mysterious illness that causes them to become raving, mad-dashing, bitey zombie-ish thingies.

Milquetoast Michael is in Berlin to return keys to his very-recently-ex-girlfriend Gabi, who isn't home when he arrives.  He meets young plumber's assistant Harper just in time to witness the plumber working on Gabi's apartment turn into a frothing-at-the-mouth nutjob with milky eyes.  They get out of that situation, but quickly realize it's not just one rabid dude teeming with infection, but all of Berlin.  They hole up in Gabi's apartment, with Michael worrying about his ex - who hasn't returned his frantic phone calls - and Harper worrying about his family.  From the window, they watch as those in the courtyard are slaughtered, and meet other survivors through their own windows.  Michael sets about finding a way to a man's apartment after the man offers food in trade for some sedatives for his infected wife. This begins an odyssey through the next apartment and into the attic, where Michael finds one thing he's looking for, but it's not what he had hoped.  The rest of the movie is not only the struggle for survival, but Michael's own transformation from a relative wimp pining for his ex-girlfriend to a resourceful hero for those he meets on his journey to escape.  Not going to spoil it here for you, but the movie ends on a bittersweet note.

There's nothing fancy about Rammbock: Berlin Undead.  It tells its story, and tells it better than some vehicles for infection horror.  There's an air of urgency and hopelessness laced throughout, with signs of hope just enough to not make it a total downer.  As anyone who reads this knows, I liked to see the scale of devastation in these movies, even for a glimpse.  The scene where Michael casts his eyes on Berlin from a rooftop, as shown in the American movie poster, sums up the insane odds against anyone surviving the plague.  The infected - not sure if calling them undead is accurate, since we never really know if they die and come back - are of the fast-running, rabid variety, as seen in 28 Days Later and [REC], only with eyes that film over when infection fully occurs.  I found the characters intriguing from the main characters to the brother/sister across the way (a scene where she cries on the balcony is heartbreaking) to the silent tattooed man with what appears to be a bite on his arm.  The man who offered food and his infected wife have a particularly tragic scene.  While Rammbock didn't offer me anything new, it was tried and true, and sometimes that's just fine.

Honestly, it's not all that bad of a way to spend an hour if you're in the mood for some of your basic flash mob zombies.

Until next time, fellow more flights to Berlin for a while.  Let the infection blow over.  Here, enjoy the trailer:

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Insidious (2010) I Blinked And They Switched Movies

You know those dreams where in it, you're on a wild rollercoaster, twists and turns, dips and peaks, the best rollercoaster you've ever been on...and suddenly the dream switches, and you're in a bumper car far too small and you're the only one there not a unicorn driving the cars?

Or is that just me?

That's how I can describe my experience with 2010's Insidious, from the writer Leigh Wannell and director James Wan, the team that brought the world the very original Saw.  I was watching one movie when suddenly it switched to another, and I swear I only blinked.  The first three-fourths of the film was a creepy, atmospheric, and quite excellent haunting story built on the strong acting of Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson.  The last act was, for me anyway, like that unicorn bumper car dream.  It seemed somewhat related to the rest of the movie, but didn't seem to fit.  Suspense and tension seemed to give way to super-powers and demons from the fringe of Hell.  Don't get me wrong:  combining super-powers and demons would make for a sweet movie, but it didn't seem to gel here.  Take those two elements, make two films featuring those traits, and you've got the potential for two outstanding movies.  As it is, Insidious combined the two and made one mostly good movie, in my opinion.

Josh and Renai Lambert (Wilson and Byrne) have moved into a new house, when strange things begin to happen:  weird noises, their oldest son Dalton being afraid of things in the house, and so on.  Dalton falls off a ladder in the attic while exploring and encounters something frightening.  The next morning, he doesn't wake up and even the doctors are puzzled, as all his tests are normal.  He's in a coma, but not any coma they've ever seen.  Three months pass and mysterious events happen again, increasing in intensity until Renai has a horrifying encounter with what can only be described as a ghost.  She insists they move, and they do.  However, the bizarre spirits follow them.  This time, Josh's mom (Barbara Hershey) calls in an old psychic friend Elise (Lin Shaye) to help determine not only why this is happening, but how it relates to Dalton.  Turns out Dalton's got himself a little super-power:  the ability to project his astral self with ease, and he's been lured too far from his physical body, leaving it open for bidding amongst the restless spirits.  I won't spoil how the rest of the movie goes, as secrets are revealed and a showdown with those spirits takes place in a netherworld known as The Further.  Needless to say, it's an abrupt change from the rest of the film, the way I saw it.

Now before anyone assumes I thought the whole thing was a mess, let me say this:  overall, it was not a bad film.  The acting is very good and the chills through the wonderful first three-quarters of the movie are genuine and well-executed.  The clues leading to the climax were placed well, and we're given great examples of foreshadowing and flashback.  The score by Joseph Bishara consists of both traditional music and jarring noises that lend an unsettling air to the proceedings, and "unsettling" is a good thing to shoot for in this style of film.  I pay attention to how the titles look, and I loved the old-school lettering of the title card.

There were some moments that seemed borrowed or meant as a tribute to other movies, such as Poltergeist (which I'm sure the movie has been compared to, and that's not entirely fair to it) and The Haunting.  Something that struck me was the world of The Further.  I was often reminded of the bleak afterworld glimpsed at the end of Lucio Fulci's The Beyond (see my review of that film here), but with a little less light.  A character hurrying through The Further, lantern in hand, and seeing a house shrouded in pale light and fog reminded me a great deal of the video game series, Silent Hill.  These reminders may not have been intentional on the filmmakers' part, but I couldn't help seeing those other images in my mind as I watched.

Insidious was alright, and I urge people who have been wanting to see to go ahead and see it.  This is just one man's opinion, and really, I didn't hate it.  As I always say, judge for yourself.  Maybe you'll like it, maybe you'll hate it.  That's the beauty of individual tastes:  we all like things to different degrees, and it can make for healthy discussion.

Until next time, enjoy the trailer, and don't wander too far if you're good at astral projection.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Dance Of The Dead (2008) A Hell Of A Night

I remember prom.  It was the 80's, so those proms you see in "homage movies"?  Yeah, that wasn't my school.  That's not to say our prom wasn't bad.  It was fun for the most part.  I dressed in a white tux (that came with a swank cane), took a girl named Julie to dinner, then prom.  Nothing crazy, nothing wild.  Nobody threw up on the dance floor, nobody spiked the punch, and nobody was a reanimated corpse hungering for human flesh.

Yes, that is me.  Now BASK in the glory that was my nerd-before-nerd-was-cool 80's self.  At least the cane was swank.

That's essentially what happens in Ghost House Underground's Dance of the Dead, written by Joe Ballarini and directed by Gregg Bishop.  You've got your teen hormones, rivalries, drama, and a horde of undead firing out of the cemetery like rocks from a catapult.  It's a little movie with a modest budget and no "big-name" stars, but that doesn't take away from it in the slightest.  The cast more than holds their own in creating what is a very good zombie movie with healthy doses of comedy, adventure, and romance to round out the flavor.

In a cemetery near a nuclear power plant, the poor caretaker is apparently the only one that knows the radiation is causing the buried dead to come back to life.  He calmly goes about his day, cleaning headstones, trimming hedges, and making sure the dead stay in their coffins.  Meanwhile in the town of Cooas, the teen population is readying for the prom.  The characters go through an assortment of typical teen pre-prom excitement.  Troublemaker Jimmy (Jared Kusnitz) thinks everything is a joke which causes his sweet, prom committee girlfriend Lindsey (Greyson Chadwick) to dump him in favor of smarmy popular guy Mitch (Jeff Adelman).  Jimmy's buddy Stephen (Chandler Darby) aches over asking out cute cheerleader Gwen (Carissa Capobianco), whose date just canceled on her.  Gwen, although very sweet, has eyes for the high school rock star Nash (Blair Redford).  Thrown in the mix, but playing important parts, are adrenaline junkie/bully Kyle (Justin Welborn of The Signal) and the Sci-Fi club, led by John Heder lookalike Jules (Randy McDowell).  All the characters are in place thanks to some nudge-nudge-wink-wink 80's-style montage action and when the Sci-Fi Club heads to the cemetery for some exploring, the action begins.

The dead come to life and literally explode out of their coffins.  Interestingly, the speed of the undead seems to depend on how long they've been buried.  More ragged zombies move slowly, while "fresher" ones zip along with reckless abandon.  Not all of the Sci-Fi clubs make it, and Mitch - who just tried getting a little too forward with Lindsey - loses his head over the whole zombie-rising situation.  They make it to, of all places, a funeral home and hole up there.  While running from the undead, Jimmy meets up with Kyle - who has a gun - and Gwen, who is oblivious to the zombies as she's out for a run with her iPod.  They escape into the sewers after hearing from Lindsey and make their way to the funeral home.

After a battle in the home in which Kyle is killed, Gwen makes a daring run to retrieve the hearse and the gang escapes.  Running into the wild-eyed, militaristic gym teacher, Coach Keel (Mark Oliver), they load up on weapons and plan to rescue whoever is left at the prom.  They pick up Nash and his band along the way, gaining some important intel:  the zombies are affected by sound waves.  They stop and sway to music which provides a shade of hope to the little group of living rebels.

The school is overrun by the time they get there, so Keel goes through with a plan to blow up the school with all the undead in it.  The Sci-Fi Club and Gwen embark on a rescue mission while Jimmy and Lindsey undertake the mission of retrieving the explosives trigger that the Coach dropped in a bowl of potato chips.  Not everything goes as planned, and not everyone makes it out alive, but the school is destroyed while the dialogue afterwards sets up the possibility of a sequel.

Dance of the Dead really is a fun little movie.  It might not be the greatest zombie movie ever made, but it ranks pretty high on my own list.  The actors are having a blast and there's a definite nod to 80's-style teen comedies running through it.  Each character has a distinct personality and interacts well with the other characters in the story.  No one really clunks through a scene with a counterpart.  The movie moves along quickly and sharply, with the main emphasis being on the fun.  Yes, friends die and yes, the town is overrun by flesh-eating zombies, but as the viewer, relatively safe from the zombie plague in his or her home, is enjoying the ride.  There are some great scenes of comedy, especially when Kyle interacts with the "geeks" or dispatches zombies in his own Jackass-inspired way.  There are some heartfelt moments, such as when Jimmy comes into his own and the final fate of Gwen and Stephen (although you could include laughs and gore with their final scene, too).  Whether or not Dance of the Dead is your bag, take a look and judge for yourself.  Personally, I did have fun both times I've seen it, and I'd see it again.

Next time you have a rough night out or lament having a "lame" prom when you were younger, just be glad there wasn't a zombie apocalypse in progress.

Or was there?

Now go on, enjoy the trailer: