Posts Tagged ‘horror

09
Dec
09

Movie Review: The Box

WTF?

Starring James Marsden, Cameron Diaz, and Frank Langella. Directed by Richard Kelly. Based on the short story, “Button, Button,” by Richard Matheson.

Instead of a straight-forward review of the film, I have chosen to write an open-letter:

Mr. Kelly

I’m a freelance blogger and movie reviewer. In my articles (or posts) I usually give a rundown of the film, likes/dislikes, and why they should (or should not) go to see the movie I reviewed. Two days ago I watched your latest film, “The Box,” and found myself with the problem of not being able to logically break down the film and make it sound worthy of theatrical attendance. For my review of “The Box” I am posting this open letter to you and I have to ask:

Dude, what were you thinking?

Before I go too much further let me offer my thoughts. You’re an interesting director and let no one say that you’re not original. I liked “Donnie Darko.” I wasn’t smitten with the concept but I liked how you wove time-travel and destiny into a thought-provoking storyline. “Southland Tales” spoke to me because of its spiritual-based undertones and the segment where Justin Timberlake lip-synced to The Killers’ “All These Things That I’ve Done.” While it was a mess of a movie, I really did like it. I was willing to give you the benefit of the doubt when it came to “The Box.”

I had good expectations for the movie. First off, I’ve read Matheson’s “Button, Button.” It’s definitely a dark short story as well as an interesting premise: what if you were given a box with a button on it that, when pressed, you were awarded a cash amount and someone that you don’t know dies. In the original story the husband died because his wife, who pressed the button, didn’t know him. Dark comedy; gotta love it. Somehow you wanted to take that dark comedy and twist it so that it wasn’t funny, amusing, ironic, or even at a base level, entertaining. What we, the moviegoer, experience is the “haunted object” sub-genre where evil continues to perpetuate ad nauseum because the entirety of humanity is vain, shallow, and greedy. Maybe this wouldn’t have been so bad if there was as long a discussion about the moral principle of the box in the movie as there was in the original short story. Then again I’ve seen this movie formula in such fare as Joe Carnahan’s “Blood, Guts, Bullets, and Octane,” about a car that brings death to every owner it has, and even further back to the “Twilight Zone” episode, “From Agnes With Love,” about a computer that begins to have feelings for whatever scientist works on it, driving them to the edge. No offence, the formula probably goes back further than that.

There are so many problems with this movie that film school students could spend years dissecting it and still not figure out where it went wrong. Here are a few questions that I have:

– What was the motivation behind the alien inhabiting Mr. Steward? He gives the couple $1 million and we see it’s because of greed yet, when a wife is chosen over a son/daughter, he makes a statement about the $1 million being put into a bank account that the child cannot touch until he/she turns 18. Why would that matter? If he really wanted to see greed destroy someone wouldn’t he just give the kid the $1 million?
– Why have the three portals (one to salvation, two to damnation) if they’re not going to make any real difference in what happens in the end?
– Why the crème-colored lens? I know the idea was to make it look like 1976, but not all films shot in the Seventies used it; just a lot of the bad ones e.g., “Burnt Offerings.”
– How was the alien able to control everyone? I know that the idea probably sounded good on paper and in a Seventies/Eighties sci-fi/horror sense it may seem a good idea, but no, it didn’t work. It just made me feel like I was in a bad M. Night movie.
– What was the deal with the creepy student/waiter Charles?
– Who exactly is supposed to be the audience for this movie, outside your family and friends?

These are just a few of the questions off the top of my head. I know that you’re a capable filmmaker who has an interesting take on sci-fi, but this is too away-from-base for me. I had hoped that you were taking a good Matheson short story and crafting a great movie, not taking a better story and cinematically destroying it. I will give you credit for the ability to create suspense in a few scenes, and a little wonderment at the possibilities I saw, but for the most part as a movie watcher I was disappointed and let-down. I’m not asking for my $9 back but I do hope that you’ve read this.

My grade for your movie, sir: D+

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25
Nov
09

Remake Radar: The Crazies

 

Welcome to Remake Radar, where we take on Hollywood’s penchant for remaking films for better or worse (which is most of the time). This month’s movie:

“The Crazies” (1973)

Stars: W.G. McMillan, Lane Caroll, and Harold Wayne Jones

Director: George A. Romero

Story: A military plane carrying a dangerous bio-weapon crashes outside the small town of Evans City, Pennsylvania. Troops and scientists are dispatched to contain the area. Meanwhile, the biological agent infects the town’s water supply causing death and permanent insanity to the residents. When the troops show up, all hell breaks loose.

What do we know now?: Pretty much the same plot. Tim Olyphant, Radha Mitchell, and Joe Anderson star. Breck Eisner is directing.

The release date is February 26, 2010

Original trailer:

Remake trailer:

 

 

12
Nov
09

Movie Review: Paranormal Activity

paranormal_activity

 

 

Quite honestly, the best damn tent-pole movie in a long time.

Starring Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat. Directed by Oren Peli

It’s gonna be rough trying to sleep tonight.

Before I get much further into the review, let me explain what I said in the first line. “Tent-pole” movies were ones that movie studios bank on to “pay for” all the other flops. Further insight: the Studios’ plan on one movie making the money that twenty movies will lose. The idea actually goes further back to when motion pictures were the “new technology,” and people gathered under tents at fairs and the like, huddled around a screen and watching a train pull up to a station or a cowboy point a gun at the audience and pull the trigger (reportedly several people ran out on this one).

What we have here is an indie horror film that delivers in a way that the previous horror movie, “The Blair Witch” can’t touch and light years away from anything “Cloverfield” could’ve ever hoped to be. Yeah, I said it. I put down my money and watched both; “Blair Witch” was a good campfire “ghost story” movie with an excellent marketing campaign (the webpage alone made you seriously think about the movie) whereas “Cloverfield” was an over-hyped “Godzilla” wannabe. And I’ll say it again: both movies fall short of this one.

Before I go much further if you have any inkling to go see this movie, do so. It’s worth the theater experience. And yes, it’ll scare the crap out of you. And stop reading now.

Still there? Alright. The story involves Katie and Micah (pronounced me-kuh). They live in a condo in San Diego. Micah is a day-trader who, encouraged by weird things happening in their abode, decided to invest in a high-grade prosumer videocamera. His live-in girlfriend Katie isn’t crazy about him buying the camera or even what he wants to use it for: trying to find out if their place is really haunted.

When they call in a psychic (Mark Fredrichs) to give them answers Katie spills the beans on her “haunted” past while Micah remains skeptical, videotaping all the while. The psychic gives them an answer they weren’t expecting: the condo isn’t haunted, but a demon could be plaguing Katie. Micah proposes setting up his videocamera to record their bedroom and what happens during the night, the camera firewired into a laptop and a mic capturing any and all sound.

Following this is the simplicity of horror that escalates: murmuring voices, their bedroom door opening and shutting, a sonic BOOM shaking the condo, and Katie being adversely affected by the ghost. Katie wants to leave but begins to believe that she truly is being the object of a demon’s affections, while Micah wants to continue videotaping and compiling evidence. Each morning Micah reviews the night’s videos and wants to know more while Katie wants it all to end. The demonologist recommended by the psychic is out of town, and the psychic himself doesn’t want to have anything to do with it, so they truly are on their own.

It gets much worse after Night 17. I’m still reeling from the final scene. You won’t see it coming…

With the lackluster return of the slasher flick, or rather the onslaught of horror remakes, I’m picky about what horror films I’ll see. The last few that I liked were “The Mist,” the first “Saw,” the director’s cut of “1408,” and “Session 9.” I can’t remember any other good ones (maybe “Murder Party”). “Paranormal Activity” got right what most current Studio productions got wrong: horror is about simplicity. The demon has a purpose and it will not stop until that purpose has been carried out. It doesn’t need to be explained by a lifetime of pathos or even some weird Nazi science experimentation with the occult. Sometimes the best horror is hearing footsteps and creaks in staircases, lights flickering on and off, unexplained shadows, bedsheets mysteriously moving, and the slow descent into insanity (or possession).

And these guys did it on an estimated budget of $11,000. Last weekend the movie grossed over $9 million. Take that next proposed horror remake.

If you haven’t made up your mind about whether you’re going to see it or not, just get up and go see it. This is the theatrical horror movie experience you’ve been wanting. While it’s fun to watch other people get scared, trust me, you’ll jump out of your seat as well. It really is all about the final scene.

My grade: B+

26
Oct
09

Movie Review: Zombieland

zombieland_ver2

 

Call it an American “Shaun of the Dead.”

Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, and Bill Murray. Directed by Ruben Fleischer

Sometimes going into a movie with low expectations is the best way to see it. I walked in hating the idea of the movie and walked out loving it.

Welcome to the United States of Zombieland; what’s left after a virus begins turning people into zombies (nothing new there). The narrator of this tale is “Columbus” (Eisenberg), an Austin college student from Ohio. He’s your standard post-Generation X nebbish, sensitive, shut-in “World of Warcraft”-playing collegiate that didn’t find out about the virus until his next door neighbor in 406 (Amber Heard) is bitten by a homeless guy and he offers a sympathetic shoulder. Unfortunately when he wakes she doesn’t want just his shoulder to cry on.

After the incident he ventures out into the world creating a list of rules as he goes along (up to 31 when the movie opens). The Rules for dealing with zombies include Cardio (being able to out run them), Double Tap (shooting the zombie twice, at least once in the head), Don’t Be a Hero, Check the Back Seat, Beware of Bathrooms, etc. It’s by these rules that Columbus survives.

On a highway with cars and trucks strewn everywhere (and a few burnt to a crisp) he meets Tallahassee (Harrelson), a shoot-from-the-hip zombie-killing badass. Tallahassee is 180 degrees different than Columbus: he’s brazen, redneck, macho, and says exactly what he thinks. His mission: killing zombies and the quixotic quest for Twinkies. His advice leads to Rule 32: Enjoy the little things.

This pair begin heading east and a stop at a grocery store leads to meeting sisters Wichita (Stone) and Little Rock (Breslin). Columbus and Tallahassee soon find that Wichita and Little Rock are more than just sisters; they’re con artists. This is found out multiple times after being taken for their weapons and vehicles (which they lose twice). Wichita and Little Rock are on a mission: Pacific Playland, an amusement park which supposedly has no zombies.

Before going in I wasn’t a big fan of zombie movies. I’m as done with zombies as I am with vampires. Yes, I loved “Shaun of the Dead. Who, except my brother, didn’t? I thought “28 Days Later,” was great. That’s it. I don’t fawn over every zombie survival guide or movie that’s released. This movie is something different.

The movie keeps a consistency: cynical narration from Columbus. We see and hear his internal thoughts, fears, wants, and desires. He thinks tough but can’t always pull it off. Add to that creative CG titling that brings to mind David Fincher movie intros. The initial opening sequence that shows the progression of zombies in the world and feels more than inspired from the intro to “Watchmen.” In fact Fleischer does a great job in doing what he wants with the zombie genre without making you feel like “we’ve seen this all before.” The world of “Zombieland” becomes a backdrop for a road movie where the characters are looking for illusory security.

Paying homage to “Watchmen”/David Finch intros is the most direct homage the movie pays to any other film. There is a scene at Pacific Playland where Tallahassee fortifies himself inside one of the booths where you throw a ball in the futile attempt to win a giant plush animal prize. Wearing a snakeskin jacket he blasts away at the oncoming zombies with a pair of gold-plated 9mms (“Face/Off” anyone?) He ejects the empty clips and reloads by slamming the cartridges standing on the table into the them (“Tomb Raider”-ish?) Speaking of video games the coup de grace scene where all parties involved have to defend themselves against the gigantic group of zombies reminded me of the days when I played “Doom,” while blasting hard rock music in the background. I’m just saying…

Is it gory? Yes. It’s also funny, witty, cynical, brazen, redneck, and a little romantic. Harrelson definitely carries the movie, but the cast looks like they were having film filming it. Eisenberg is good, but Michael Cera could’ve done just as well. Emma Stone works, and I’m becoming really impressed with Abigail Breslin; she’s more than just the kid you remember from “Little Miss Sunshine.”

So I’ve been saving Bill Murray for last. The group make it into Hollywood and after stealing a Map of the Stars they head to the home of the actor Tallahassee considers the top of the A-list: Bill Murray. Murray’s huge, lavish mansion is a little more than self-indulgent with various paintings of Murray. They almost mistake Murray for a zombie because he wears makeup to look like one (“It’s easier to blend in as a zombie.”) After an altercation Little Rock asks if he has any regrets to which he responds: “’Garfield,’ maybe.”

That’s as much as I’ll say about that. If this review can’t convince you to go see it, I don’t know what will.

My grade: A

23
Oct
09

Horror Movies on DVD Review: Burnt Offerings

burnt_offerings

 

Thank God it’s ‘only a movie, only a movie, only a movie…’

Starring Oliver Reed, Karen Black, Bette Davis, and Burgess Meredith. Directed by Dan Curtis. Based on the novel by Robert Marasco.

The DVD should be a ‘burnt offering.’

The Rolf Residence (Ben, Marian, and Davey) are looking for a place to hang out for the summer. Answering a classified ad they happen upon a large mansion in the countryside watched over by an old woman (Eileen Heckart) and her wheelchair-bound brother (Burgess Meredith). The propose renting the house for the summer for $900 (price not adjusted for inflation since 1976). The Rolfs take a day to think it over and –what the heck- they return. The sister tells Marian (Black) that an older sister lives upstairs and needs to be fed three times a day. This older sister mainly sleeps all day, doesn’t want to be disturbed, and she can leave the tray of food out for her. Those are the only conditions.

The Bro and Sis leave and the Rolfs move in, quickly finding out that while the interior does have its antiques and a large photo collection, the fridge and icebox are fully stocked. A bargain if they ever knew one. Along with them is Aunt Elizabeth (Davis), a happy old woman wanting to kick back, do some painting, and smoke. None of them know or realize the terror that ploddingly awaits them.

The unknown, unspeakable terror residing in the house (where most terrors of the kind do) begins affecting Ben (Reed). He begins having dreams about a creepy chauffeur (Anthony James) at a funeral he attended as a boy. When his son Davey (Lee Montgomery) decides to go for a swim in the pool, he begins playing around with him only to constantly dunk him to the point of drowning. This drives him to smoke, keep his distance, and begin questioning staying at the house.

Marian begins acting strange as well. She spends more time caring for an old woman that no one gets to see (not even the audience) than about what’s going on with her family. Ben tries to get romantic in the pool with her and she pushes away. When they try to “do the do” on the front lawn she sees a light coming from the old woman’s room and freaks out. As the song says, “no sugar tonight.”

Aunt Elizabeth isn’t holding up too well, either. A tiff develops between her and Marian. She goes from “smoking and carefree” to “tired and lethargic” finally settling on “back broken and rendered immobile by an unseen force.” Ben has decided that the family’s gotta get gone.

Which is easier thought than done. While they did make a trip away from the house for Aunt Elizabeth’s funeral, Marian isn’t 100% sure that the house is the malevolent force behind everything. Then again, dressing as a turn-of-the-century woman, Marian isn’t 100% there to begin with. Ben wants to leave, Davey wants to make sure mom’s coming along, and Marian wants to stay. What follows isn’t so much terror as just a long way to go to wrap up a story.

In my version of Hell, I’m pretty sure this is playing and I have to be locked-down like Alex in “Clockwork Orange,” forced to watch. As far as the “evil spirits in house” movies go, there are a lot better ones (as of this writing, “Paranormal Activities”). The movie is slow, plodding, and severely uneven. Davey can’t decide which parent he’s for or against in any one scene. Marian, at the end of the movie, looks and acts like Marian at the beginning of the movie. The circa-Seventies cream-colored filters don’t help anything out. Did I already mention it was slow?

My grade: D

Hor-O-Meter Level: -2 (there is no obligatory quote for negative numbers)

22
Oct
09

Horror Movies on DVD Review: Christine

christine

 

It’s a love story about a boy… and his demonic car.

Starring Keith Gordon, Alexandra Paul, John Stockwell, Robert Prosky, and Harry Dean Stanton. Directed by John Carpenter. Based on the novel by Stephen King.

Arnie (Gordon) and Dennis (Stockwell) are best friends despite their roles in the high school caste system. Arnie is your high school nerd brought up being part of the chess team, forced to study a lot, wimpish personal character, etc. Dennis is the jock; the high school number one football player. Dennis puts up for and helps Arnie out because they’ve been friends since childhood.

Enter Girl #1: Leigh (Paul). The new girl in school. Dennis is suddenly interested in her and try as he might, fails on delivery; she already has a date for the dance after the big game.

Enter Girl #2: Christine. At first sight she’s a definite fixer-upper. She’s rusted-over, out-of-shape, and a little beyond general disrepair. For Arnie it’s love at first sight. The crotchety old man selling it (Roberts Blossom) said that his brother, six weeks dead, loved the car and that he’s selling it to get a condo. Dennis thinks Arnie is crazy and tries talking him, and the old man, out of the whole deal. No dice. Arnie buys the car on the spot and takes her to meet the parents.

Mom and Dad Cunningham disapprove of her and Arnie is forced to take her elsewhere, ending up at Darnell’s Auto Shop where owner Darnell (Prosky) throws his weight around, threatening Arnie in the event that there should be any mischief. Arnie agrees to the terms.

The football game provides the crux of future events: Arnie is going out with Leigh, a group of guys pissed at Arnie plan to exact revenge on his car, and Dennis zigs when he should’ve zagged and wakes in the hospital, an inch away from paralysis. Arnie comes to visit Dennis and they talk. Apparently, Arnie has been spending more time with Christine than his girlfriend, parents, or even best friend. Arnie concedes that Christine is almost finished and looking better than ever, and Arnie is reflecting that change in himself.

Thus begins Arnie’s slow descent into heavy metal madness with the help of Christine. His girlfriend refuses to get into the car after almost choking on a burger and Christine locking the doors, not letting anyone in. The guys who assaulted Arnie earlier in the film and even destroyed Christine are subsequently hunted down and dealt with. Christine is one mean machine.

Detective Junkins (Stanton) comes to question Arnie. It seems that Darnell was found dead inside Christine and the guys who harassed him were all murdered. Arnie shows his new attitude, protecting Christine. Meanwhile Leigh gets with Dennis and the two plan a way to get rid of Christine and hopefully save Arnie.

From the 1957 open with the “birth” of Christine on the factory line and “Bad to the Bone” playing in the background to Arnie’s introduction to the car to the car fixing itself or driving around engulfed in flames to the end at a junkyard, “Christine” is a great adaptation of Stephen King’s loves: cars, horror, and rock ‘n roll. If you’ve read his work, not just this novel, this movie is a great marriage of his themes with a story without necessarily being a 100% dead-on take on the novel the movie is based on.

The only real drawback to the film is that it’s interesting. Not overly-engrossing but better than amusing. To Carpenter’s credit the film has aged decently and the story can still hold-up without feeling completely stilted or stuck in its time. While our current culture thrives on more emotion being in a film, this one does a good job at mixing action and emotion without sacrificing too much of either.

Is it scary? There are a few parts that the easily scared can probably freak-out at, but for the most part it’s more a dissertation on the descent into metal hell than “this car will kill everyone.” That job was for the truck in “Duel.” It is an entertaining film, and the scene where the car is on fire running a kid down should be in the Hall of Greatest Scenes Ever Filmed.

My grade: B

Hor-O-Meter Level: 2 – “Eight dollars for beer nuts? This room is evil.”

14
Oct
09

Movie Review: Jennifer’s Body

jennifers_body

It would be nothing without Megan’s body.

Starring Megan Fox, Amanda Seyfried, Johnny Simmons and J.K. Simmons. Directed by Karyn Kusama

Okay. I thought this movie was going to be crap-tacular. It wasn’t. I really wanted to hate this movie. I couldn’t. Then again, the movie wasn’t all that great.

The films begins with a teenage girl named Anita nicknamed “Needy” by her friends. Needy is in a mental hospital where she has been labeled “The Kicker” because she has a habit of not taking her medication and kicking the orderlies an appreciable distance. Upon being sent to solitary confinement, we learn that she wasn’t always like this…

Needy was your average, overlooked high school geek with a boyfriend named Chip (Johnny Simmons). Her best friend since sandbox days has been Jennifer (Fox), the popular, beautiful, attractive, head cheerleader. They live in the small town of Devil’s Kettle so named because of a waterfall that flows into a vortex where whatever goes is never seen or heard from again. Scientists have proved it using small, red GPS balls.

On one particular night Jennifer takes Needy out to Melody Lane, the epitome of small town dive bars, where up-and-coming indie band Low Shoulder are having a show. Jennifer has been a big fan ever since running across their MySpace page (amazingly they’ve never friend requested me) and they plan to “make it big in a Maroon 5 way” (the running gag of the movie). Before their first song is over Melody Lane catches on fire. Needy, Jennifer, and the band make it out alive. Transfixed with the band the lead singer takes Jennifer into his conversion van and bolts down the road.

Needy is upset with the band taking her best friend, more upset when Jennifer shows up covered in blood, and even more upset when Jennifer spews black liquid onto the floor before smiling and leaving. The next day Jennifer seems perfectly fine and happy, disregarding the fact that a bunch of her high school friends were among those trapped and burnt up in the Melody Lane blaze. Out on the football field she seduces the lead football player and takes him into the woods where we see Jennifer for who she is now: a demon possessing the body of Megan Fox (or a high school teenage girl, take yer pick).

Jennifer’s callous attitude strikes Needy as odd, as well as the “psychic” connection she has with Jennifer before a new victim is claimed. Turning to the occult section of the high school library (check your local school for yours, kids) she finds out about “demon transference:” if a sacrifice is not a virgin then she does not die. Instead she becomes possessed by a demon which will feed on human flesh. It can only be killed when the demon is hungry by piercing through its heart.

Jennifer is now Countess Elisabeth Bathory-come-demon from hell. When she’s “full” she’s nice, attractive, and feels great; when she’s hungry she’s grumpy, has blemishes, and feels like crap. During one scene Jennifer shows off her newfound abilities which include ripping into her skin and having it self-repair, explains how the band sacrificed her to make it big like Maroon 5, and passionately kisses Needy. Jennifer then disappears and sets her sights on the upcoming dance/benefit for the families of the victims of the Melody Lane mishap in which Low Shoulder will not only be performing but giving 3% of the proceeds of the sale of their single, “Through the Trees,” to the benefit. Low Shoulder isn’t the only reason Jennifer plans to attend; she wants Needy’s boyfriend Chip.

As I said before I really wanted to dislike this movie. In a sea of retarded 70’s and 80’s horror remakes (“Friday the 13th,” “The Last House on the Left,” “Sorority Row,” and that’s just this year) it’s good to have a horror film that tries to be as original as possible. The problem with this movie wasn’t so much the storyline as it was the direction. The movie starts off with what everyone expected: Diablo Cody’s signature “Juno” pop culture slang and vernacular. Jennifer and Needy speak some of it in the beginning but after the 1/3 mark, it almost ceases to exist. Not that it’s a bad thing because while it worked for “Juno,” the idea feels misplaced in the horror world.

The second problem with this film would be in the question “what kind of movie do you want to be?” It was tense but not scary. It had moments of satire but wasn’t a satire. Only one high school couple had sex and at least one of them lived to the end. Uneven overall would best be describing it. A few laughs, satire that barked instead of bit, and the wonder if it was supposed to be the movie it was trying to be or making fun of that kind of movie. Smarter than your standard slasher but more complacent than your standard studio horror remake.

I’ll let you decide whether this one is worth your time. My best suggestion is to save this as a Halloween Rental along with the Midnite Movie “Countess Dracula.” Megan Fox, Ingrid Pitt, some friends, and alcohol. How can you lose?

Watch for J.K. Simmons as Mr. Wroblewski, a science teacher with a claw hand.

My grade: B-