Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Avatar review, + 3 random movies.


James Cameron digs down deep and delivers a visually striking film with amazing use of CGI technology, creating a world that is captivating and beautiful. It’s a fully realized planet with it’s own evolution of life that connects each organism to one another on a level that is beyond human understanding. And with all these lush colors, fierce beasties, and extraordinary effects he still manages to deliver one of the single most bland film experiences. Despite, or perhaps because of, the huge budget and ten years to develop his “masterpiece”, Cameron constantly dips the script into one generic cliché after another in order to show us another pretty thing… floating mountains, dragon-like mounts, or local fauna that bursts with fantastic light and color. Prior epic films are pillaged for their emotional plot points. Vibrant lands are torn apart by future human technologies in order to mine some generic ore deposit Cameron saw fit to call “Unobtainium”, a legend regarding the taming of a fierce beast is told just in time for us to understand why the Deaux Ex Machina is supposed to be important, and the Princess tasked with teaching our “Hero” the ways of her people has got a prior hot-headed suitor who comes to odds with the main character. Some liken the film to Dances With Smurfs, but the pillaging of prior “epic” films only start with that point and move on through one film after another. Sigourney Weaver reprises her role from Gorilla’s in the Mist, hover planes right out of Terminator drop off the mercenary Marines bearing arms ripped straight out of Aliens, all while our hero narrates everything we’re currently seeing just in case there’s one person in the audience too stupid to realize what’s happening.

I’d like to alert you to some spoilers, but the whole film spoils itself at least ten minutes before any “major twist” that occurs. You’ve seen them all before, in the most basic Disney film to the most elaborate epic ever conceived. Braveheart, Furn Gully, and on and on and on…. Cameron beats us over the head with the “message” regarding the evils of military conquest and the way humanity will find any excuse to take what they want. Of course, it requires that we believe that “Unobtainium” is so unbelievably valuable that some corporate executive would completely ignore the financial opportunity of exploring organic telecommunication technology that the local scientists have discovered on the planet. The film is a two hour lecture on the evils of humanity, the wonders of the natural world, and the ability to spend $500 MILLION on the same technology that relies on the same evil ore mining, low wage part assembly, and unskilled craftsmanship to develop the machines that make it possible for “visionary” artists to trick us into thinking that something so beautiful must be an original and groundbreaking film.

3 out of 5.


In what I thought sounded like an interesting concept, an inbred backwoods cannibal family kidnap and torture young women by forcing them to compete for the dubious “honor’ of carrying on the family “seed”. One of their victims turns the tables on them when her brothers come to reclaim their “Baby Girl”, sparking a family feud between the two families. But where the conceptual idea of having two lunatic families go at it seems like a winner, the story itself is vastly generic as the girl and her brothers aren’t quite the vicious opposition they seemed to be in the films description. They’re really a rather average trio who happen to enjoy the out-doors and do a lot of hunting and fishing. The Lunatic cannibals are wrapped in cheap latex to sell their in-bred nature, and spend most of the film whooping, hollering, laughing, and ultimately boring the heck out viewers. The film seems like it wants to push the envelope in some scenes, but then pulls back from crossing too many lines by falling back on one cliché after another. It never lives up to the gory expectations of its opening scene, either. The film seems almost fit for “Lifetime” television, but for all the cussing and nudity.

2.5 out of 5.

Die, You Zombie Bastards

AKA: What the heck did I just watch? This little indie feature is a rock-a-billy trip through perversion, insanity, gore, and just about every twisted thing that refuses to grow anywhere near sunlight. A serial killer with a heart of gold dons the caped costume of a super-hero in order to save his equally psychotic bride from the vile clutches of a villain named “Dr. Nefarious”. The Evil Doctor intends to use his Zombo-tron to turn the world into his private army of Zombie slaves, mate with Redd’s wife, and do all sorts of other nasty things in this wild film that includes an amphibious guy, robots, werewolves, and Ninja. There’s something not quite right with the mind of a person who would make this kind of film, but it hits all the right notes and makes no apologies for what it is. I just have no idea what it really is… there are no compromises, no attempts to appeal to the main stream audience, and seems hell bent on flipping the bird to Hollywood. I loved it.

4 out of 5.

Laid To Rest

Stalked by a killer in a chrome mask and a shoulder mounted video camera, a young woman flees for her life with no memory of who she is or how she wound up in a coffin at the beginning of the film. She’s helped by a passing driver who takes her to his house, where the killer eventually chases them both all over town and kills many more people in order to take out his victim. The film is finely paced, the gore is spot on, but the film seems to be a little bit messy at times and logic takes a back seat to one kill after another in this fairly typical slasher film. Still, we get some pretty good moments and the films main characters are engaging enough for us to care about what happens to them and why the lunatic is continuing to hunt them down. We also have a few appearances from genre vets and fairly interesting twist near the end.

3.5 out of 5.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Top Ten of 2009

Addendum: These are only movies that either had a major theatrical release or I happened to catch them in the theater. I'll give my favorite DVD movie list of the year a little later, as I need to actually check on the release dates of many films I've seen. At the end of the list I'll give some honorable mentions that will include some DVD's along with some lamentations regarding the retched failures in theaters this past year.

10. Last House on the Left

I haven't been a big fan of remakes over the years. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a travesty so far as I'm concerned. Prom Night is a movie that shouldn't even be spoken of in mixed company. But sometimes, the movie is done exactly right... striking all the right notes and improving on the flaws of the original source material. The Hills Have Eyes, The Fly, and, of course, The Thing. Then, there are remakes that really don't deserve the comparison... most recently, Dawn of the Dead was such a completely different film from the original that they can't really be compared. And that's where Last House wound up falling for me. Personally, I still prefer the original film. I think it's more shocking. But I can't grumble about this effort, either... the two films aren't the same piece of work, they don't deal with the same issues, and their tones are just vastly different

9. Crank 2: High Voltage

Chev Chelios hits the ground with a sickening thump, his body broken and dying as the Chinese Poison continues to seep in his veins. Within moments, he's scooped off the pavement and wheeled away in a van to a secret location where his life is saved and doctors begin to harvest his organs. When he wakes up, he finds his heart has been replaced and he sets out to get the original Cherry Tart put back in his chest. This movie was INSANE!!! I loved every crazy lunatic moment of it as they continued to push the envelope and up the ante with one scene after another.

8.Friday the 13th (Re-Imagining)

Jason returns to his roots with a reworking “reboot” of the film series. The film boils down all the essential plot elements from the original series, including aspects from parts 2 through 4 in order to build an independent story. Derek Mears manages to shine in a largely stereotypical script, while nearly all the other performers seem to phone in several bland parts with the exception of the “token minorities”. It was a fun little jaunt through the woods, but a poor soundtrack and a lazy script didn’t give the fan base much to chew on.

7. The Collector

Far meatier than the reintroduction of Friday the 13th, this “Saw”-inspired slasher film hit all the right notes for a gore-hound and introduced a brand new villain to the horror scene. Although the story suffers through one dimensional characterizations of the “family in peril”, the cat and mouse routine between the killer and the burglar tends to keep the audience on the edge of their seat. With a little spit and polish, this movie could have easily climbed to the top of the heap and nearly accomplished just that if hadn’t been for a few random additions to the year in cinema.

6.Drag Me to Hell

Sam Raimi returns to horror! After spending the past several years with Spidey, Raimi returned to the genre that turned him into a legend with a film that throws back to the days of classic spook-shows. A gypsy curse haunts a young woman, promising to drag her to hell after three days have passed. The gags are plentiful, though low in gore. It works as an early introduction to Raimi’s new “Spook-house” subdivision of the Ghost-House brand, introducing a younger audience to the world of horror and acts as a fun ride through familiar territory for the die-hard fans.



Driven to cannibalistic rage traced to a bad hamburger, the world is overrun with Zombies and it’s up to a group of misfits to overcome their own fears and distrust in order to survive the new world around them. Hilarious, gory, and as over the top as it comes… Zombieland was a rollercoaster ride that hit all the right notes for me.



Zack Snyder brings the epic graphic novel to life. Love it or hate it, The Watchmen was probably the second biggest “event” movie of the year. This movie pretty much had it all; Amazing visual effects, a deep story, and a top notch performance from several of the films stars including a stand out performance from Jackie Earle Haley.


Star Trek:

We probably won’t hear to much about the film when it comes time for Hollywood to break their hands with back patting. JJ Abrams does the unthinkable and successfully manages to reboot the Star Trek franchise with a film, story, and twist that manages to captivate the hardcore, casual, and younger generation fans. Not enough good could be said about this movie and will probably be number one on many peoples’ lists for the year.


Inglorious Basterds:

Tarantino’s war epic “Men on a Mission” story finally sees the light of day. Brad Pitt is featured as Aldo Raines, but it’s the villainous Nazi investigator who steals the show. A bunch of “outlaw”-minded American Soldiers, a British Spy, and a Jewish projectionist converge in a plot to kill the Nazi High Command. Must see film.



A modern fairy tale delivers young Coraline to a new home with her work-a-holic parents. Discovering a small door, the young girl finds an alternate world where her “Other” Mother waits to dote. The reality is that this world is a trap and a horrible creature waits to devour the children she lures in with empty promises. By far one of the more terrifying stories this past year, Coraline is based upon the book by Neil Gaiman and was a rare jewel for this year.


With that said, I don't know if it's a good thing that my favorite film of the year was a family movie or if it's just a sad state for the genre film industry. My Bloody Valentine had me excited, and the first ten minutes looked like a solid delivery making good on it's expected promise... but then the rest of the film threw itself backward to the "Scream" cliche. But there were some interesting promises in the direct to DVD and foreign markets: Dead Snow gave us an old school cabin in the woods zombie feature, Hills Run Red was a good throwback to the cheap slashers of the 80's, while Raimi's Ghosthouse Releasing got their hands on some fairly brutal films for the Season. Deadgirl was an interesting story, even if I didn't really enjoy the experience and is showing that Trent Haaga is a storyteller to be reckoned with. The biggest highlight of the year to hit DVD, by far, was Trick R' Treat. Long awaited by genre fans, this anthology film manages to twine three seperate stories about the events which unfold in a small town on the eve of Halloween.

G.I. Joe, Wolverine, and the worthy Outlander round out the rest of the honorable mentions.

Now, here it comes... worst film of the year:

Where the Wild Things Are

A more wretched hive of depression and misery would be hard to find, but this film manages to sink lower than some of the more disgusting features to date. So there you go, Faceless Readers... my top ten of the year.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Clash of the Titans review

Clash of the Titans

With a remake on the horizon, I decided to revisit my childhood by renting this classic to watch with my young son and sort of give him an introduction to the world of Myth and Monsters. The last film from Special Effects guru Ray Harryhausen boasted a fantastic cast that included Laurence Olivier as Zeus, featured cutting edge monster designs, and special effects that stand up well even with the modern CGI blends of today. Watching the film brought me back to my youth and reminded me that this was also my own introduction to Greek Mythology and inspired my love for heroic storytelling and fantasy films. I owe so much to this film, and so many others from that period of time, that I’m honestly surprised it’s taken me so long to rediscover it’s magic. I can’t remember having seen this film in some twenty years or so, but I remember owning a lunch box from the film as well as several of the action figures of that time. Although I’d not thought of them since, I remembered how Thalos had been my favorite figure and that I often included several figures from the Star Wars line in retelling the classic Greek myths in my room. I remembered exploring the local Library shelves for books, learning about Hermes, the original story of Perseus, Heracles, and on down the line. It all started with this film. And while it’s nice to reminisce, the question is whether the film itself can withstand the test of time and deliver the goods to an audience that is, frankly, spoiled rotten on gluttony of huge CGI effects.

The Gods are vengeful children playing with the lives of mortals to spite one another, lavishing gifts and praise to their children while punishing others for faults of their own making. Zeus orders the destruction of a city and it’s people when their King casts his daughter and her son to the sea. The child is Perseus, son of Zeus, guided to a safety upon an island where he knows little of the outside world and lives in peace and tranquility. He is delivered to the kingdom of Joppa by a spiteful goddess, whose own son was punished by Zeus and transformed into a beast that now terrorizes the city of his fiancée. Perseus finds and falls in love with the girl, the hauntingly beautiful Cassiopea, and he must solve the riddle, catch the winged Pegasus, defeat the cursed Calibos, seek guidance from the Fate Witches, cross the river Styx, defeat a two headed dog, cut off the head of the Medusa, and destroy the Kraken, all to win the hand of Cassiopea and save all of Joppa. And he does all this while wearing a toga. Ray Harryhausen brings the creatures of myth to life with his signature style of claymation, blending live actors with the art of his craft that delivers true heart and soul to the screen. The biggest highlight of the film, however, comes when Perseus confronts the Medusa… a dark and tense scene that uses a great many elements to draw the viewer into a dark nightmare, where the ever-present rattle of the approaching monster threatens to turn every corner and the labyrinthine pillars and statues offer both sanctuary and threat in the dim shadows. The mere sight of her turns all living beings to stone, and the blood is a vile and acidic poison. The scene is shear brilliance in an otherwise fantastic film that truly brings mythology to life.

5 out of 5.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Opening Slew of Reviews: Just a taste of things to come.


My first time in a video store, I wandered into the horror / Sci-Fi section of the two bit shop and my eyes fell on the box cover to this British movie. It boasted several quotations that guaranteed this would not be my first rental for the new VHS player my family got for Christmas that year, but it did stick out in my mind for several years. But, when I was old enough to start renting movies this title still seemed like a forbidden taboo that I shouldn’t cross. As the years went on, I sort of lost track of ever finding the movie again but it kept scratching at the back of my mind. I eventually remember watching it late at night, severely cut on one of the USA network “late night” shows, but it really didn’t seem to make much sense. So I put it on my Netflix queue and waited, not with especially baited breath (I had long since lowered my expectations based on various reviews of the film).

Late on Saturday night, I flung Xtro into the DVD player when my gaming group left the house and laid out on the couch to enjoy the film. A father is abducted from his family, his young son the only witness. Three years later, he comes back a changed being and wants his son to join him in the stars. So… okay, that’s as basic a rendition of the storyline as I can figure, but the movie is such a mess that it’s hard to follow some of the logic of the things that are going on. It’s also hard to figure whether the father’s return is a good thing or a bad thing, even though some truly disturbing and terrible things are happening as a result. There is plenty of grue to satisfy the gore-hound, but the movie is so bizarre and strange that it’s just hard to take it seriously. It seems that being partially transformed into an alien creature by his father has given the boy, Tony, some special powers and abilities that simply defy any sort of belief.

It’s not a good movie, but there’s a strange fascination and appeal to the movie that makes it worth watching. The bizarre elements are all thrown together in a blender and the audience just sort of has to sit there and watch things happen with little to no explanation. I remember watching Eraserhead with the same kind of wonder. The surreal nightmare quality of Xtro was probably less purposeful, but it still works as a strange little oddity in the world of cult cinema. Check it out, but don’t expect to be blown away.

2.5 out of 5.



Honestly, where and how do I start with talking about this movie? Two young women travel to a distant village where they intend to relax in the natural hot springs and get away from the rest of the world. One girl recently broke up with her long term boyfriend, the other is a promiscuous man-hunter, and their friendship is somewhat strained by their uncertain affection for one another. Few things are truly what they seem when the girls separate and their stories take divergent paths linked only by their desperate attempts to reach one another on their cell phones. Time is a fluid commodity for the director as he travels back and forth through the same moments, giving us different views from each of the two protagonists.

One girl discovers the terrible secret of the village and finds that she’s only the latest victim of the traditional sacrifices practiced by the misshapen residents. Worshiping their victims as “Living Gods”, they ritualistically remove the left leg and hang the mummified corpses as scarecrows around the village. Afraid for her life, only one real question continues to haunt the girl… did her friend lure her to the village?

Meanwhile, the other girl is stalked by a homicidal lunatic wielding various shears. Having wronged her attacker some months back, the girl is chased and attacked by her insane assailant who never seems to stop. As she tries to find some means of escape, she is also holding back on a secret from her friend.

A mishmash of styles, the movie shifts from eerie and frightening to slapstick comedy and fan-boy action without even the slightest degree of contrived awkwardness. Both stories, and all the mysteries, unfold and converge in an explosive climax. X-Cross is a brilliant little film from Japan with plenty of action, laughs, and gore to satisfy the genre-minded fan boy.

4.5 out of 5.


Blood Moon Rising

Zombies, Werewolves, vampires, Demons, aliens, and a witch converge to open (or close) the gates of Hell in this low budget love letter to the Grindhouse experience. Cut with fake dirt, missing footage, and horrible sound, this movie delivers the sleaze and the grue in buckets with one quipped one liner after another. Ron Jeremy makes a cameo appearance for all of about four minutes, but the film is virtually carried by it’s two lead actors when a comic-book nerd and party-skank are employed as saviors to the World against legions of monsters thrown together with bottom dollar effects. We have zombies, vampires, werewolf bikers, demonic knights, and the daughter of the Devil herself running wild! It’s a chaotic jumble of genre baddies, but the film comes together with typical grindhouse simplicity as the good guys just blast their way through most of their problems.

Now, obviously, I had a blast with this film. But I need to point out the faults because I don’t share the same interests with… well… a majority of the rest of the world. Everything that worked in the movie could also work against the movie. It was chaotic, with some creatures switching sides for no apparent reason, characters dying and then coming back as either a werewolf, zombie, or vampire through various means and the double-billing of it’s lead actress as both the heroine and the villain. The acting flipped between overdrive and wood, sometimes in the same scene, and the effects were bottom dollar stitched together rubber costumes. The only area where I thought the film truly suffered was in the sound quality, with crappy over-dubs and some dialogue that just went too low with the high volume soundtrack music. So if any of these things are a major irritant to you, than skip it and rent something a little more friendly to your interests.

4 out of 5.


The Hills Run Red

Fans are always on the look out for the next “Holy Grail” in horror. They track down rumors and hearsay regarding films that have fallen to obscurity, extreme movies touching on the raw nerves of the few fans privileged to experience such epic horror. Rarely do the films ever live up to the expectations, but we still keep an eye out for them and we still track them down and we still watch them. That’s the general premise behind “THRR”, the search for the Holy Grail when a fan makes his search into a quest and manages to track down the daughter of an obscure director to a film only screened once. It’s not a new storyline, to be honest. The film uses the same Self-Irony of the Scream franchise, the “Torture” scenario from Hostel, the psychotic backwoods setting of the Chainsaw Massacre, and the Trademark Killer from 80’s Slasher movies to shove a quick little gore fest that brings a few interesting twists but is otherwise the same stuff we’ve seen a hundred times before. And that’s the way it should be!

Horror films don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time they get a green light. The Hills Run Red gives you exactly what it promises to give you; a quick little run through the guts and the gore with a couple of laughs thrown in to keep it safe. Baby Face is a fun little iconic image, the kills are twisted little gore-bits, and the characters are neatly packaged for a quick little jaunt that clocks in at nearly an hour and fifteen minutes. Some of the effects work better than others, but the film had over-all satisfying feel to it and is worth the time of a rental and a cheap purchase.

4 out of 5.


Inglorious Basterds

Once upon a Time in Nazi-occupied France…

This isn’t about historical accuracy. Tarantino’s “Spaghetti Western” employs the mythic storytelling of the Italian Western and sets it in the desolate desperation of France during the Nazi occupation of World War 2. He fills his movie with colorful characters, not the least of which begins with the title characters led by “Apache” Aldo Raines. A group of Jewish-American Soldiers dropped behind enemy lines in order to perform acts of sabotage and to terrorize the German forces before the Americans initiate their landing on the beaches of Normandy. Brad Pitt chews up his dialogue as Raines, a grizzled veteran with a deep southern accent and a mysterious scar across his throat. The rest of the Basterds are highlighted by Donnie Donowitz (played full tilt by Eli Roth), and a psychopathic ex-German enlisted man named Stiglitz. But the whole movie is virtually hijacked by Tarantino’s villain of the piece, a devoted SS officer whose nickname is “Jew-Hunter”. This character opens the film for us with one of the most compelling scenes that truly wrap you up in precisely who he is, what he does, and what kind of obstacles our heroes have to overcome in order to achieve their mission. In the same scene, we are also briefly introduced to Shosanna, a character who becomes pivotal to the rest of the story as she flees the Nazi forces and eventually finds refuge under an assumed identity over the course of several years.

The plot is simple: The Basterds are tasked with aiding a British operative as he infiltrates the World Premiere of a film directed by the Nazi high command, featuring the true story of a Nazi sharpshooter’s heroics. The object is to kill as many members of the high command as they possibly can, including the last minute inclusion of Adolf himself! Multiple schemes and plots converge at once for an epic ending. The movie is violent and features the usual poetic dialogue that’s made Tarantino so popular.

There are some problems I had with the movie, though. He seems to be repeating himself as many lines of dialogue seem to be taken straight out of Kill Bill and Jackie Brown. They weren’t pivotal lines and could have been thrown out in favor of something less familiar, but it may be that Tarantino didn’t even realize the repetition at the time of his writing. Additionally, the film seemed far too short for the story and the characters… which may sound odd for a 2 hour war epic, but with so many interesting characters it seemed that Tarantino could have done more with them had he taken more time. The Basterds, especially, seemed to have less screen time than just about anyone else in the movie. With rumors about a prequel to the film, this could probably be rectified by bringing some of the cast members back for another waltz through the landscape of World War

2. 5 out of 5.

The first Rant, and a film suggestion

Hollywood continues to confuse and amaze me with their measured indifference to the “fan-boy” crowd, despite some of the more successful Direct to DVD enterprises over the past few years. The Sci-Fi channel continues to air some of the z-grade features, Charles Band is back to producing films for his Full Moon line, and Sly Stallones’ kid has a pretty successful DVD venture with Grindhouse Releasing, while Troma is still alive and kicking. Several low-budget film companies have managed to take advantage of the Net in order to produce, market, and deliver on several independent projects that really push the envelope and introduce audiences to some truly imaginative works. And despite the alternatives that are out there, it’s still hard for a fan-boy like me to find information on these projects, much less to get excited about and promote these projects for like minded sicko-psycho-monster flick lovers. The websites and magazines devoted to the genre tend to focus most of their articles on the mainstream releases, with consistent updates from twitter accounts of the films stars and production teams. So while you might find some ad for an obscure feature shot on some kids’ home camera in the way back corner of Rue Morgue, you’ll rarely ever actually see these films get some review space in the same magazine. The classic cult features that find themselves put out on DVD might get reviewed in some of these magazines and/or websites, but these are classics from an older generation that had the “benefit” of finding these films in Drive-ins and Grindhouses around the country. It’s a sad state that I can remember the thrills and excitement with seeing Evil Dead and Toxic Avenger while kids today whisper in hushed tones about Two Girls and a Cup.

The truth is that it takes a lot of money to make any sort of feature film, and the only way to really recoup your costs on a project like this is to sell that film to some major studio’s low budget “independent” branch. They’re going to spend the money on advertising, they’re going to put their polished finish to it, and they’re going to market the film in their catalogues for the chain stores to pick up on surplus. If they lose money on the project, they can write it off as a tax liability and recoup their losses from other ventures. In fact, some companies purposefully release these types of films for just that sort of end result. Meantime, you have these smaller companies attempting to promote their films in trade magazines and they sell them through the mail on an individual basis. At $20 a pop, these DVD’s are rarely of the same quality as a mass-marketed production from a Major Studio’s various branches, and they barely scratch the surface of recoupment for production costs. With a close-knit fan base, the only chance to really promote your film comes from the attendance of various conventions and competitions throughout the country and hope that one of your films is seen by a few key people who are either interested in picking up your flick for sale, or that you find enough people to spread the news of your project through “word of mouth”.

Why am I bothering to rant about all of this? I just spent some of the day perusing my favorite horror movie website, where there were pages upon pages of “news” regarding the recent “Twilight” film, news about the return of Sydney Campbell in the latest Scream film currently in pre-production, and several “Sneak Peak” photos of the new Freddy Krueger make-up by way of showing the new Toy Line being produced to coincide with the films release date. I have to pull a search for any low budget film reviews, much less any in-depth news regarding the production or release of these films. Admittedly, so few people even care about these low budget productions that they probably wouldn’t be able to find a profitable business from exploring the news on these features… but it would be nice to see someone make an effort to introduce fans to the newest indie horror flicks out there. I found out about Hatchet through this same website, but they’ve long since been purchased by larger media conglomerates that news of that films’ sequel has been virtually a dry riverbed of apathy as far as their headlines go. With that said:

Go find yourself a copy of Two Front Teeth, a holiday horror flick I absolutely fell in love with last year. It featured Ninja-Nuns, a vampiric army of Elves, a world-wide conspiracy, and even an Easter Were-bunny. It’s a crazy film and everyone should check it out.