Monday, October 18, 2010

Review: Let Me In

Owen isn’t a happy kid. His parents are getting a divorce, he’s bullied at school, and he has no friends. When his mother isn’t stuck in the bottom of a bottle, she’s far too busy to notice the crumbling child left in her care by a father we never really meet. The harsh New Mexico winter brings a steady snowfall and a new neighbor, Abby. The strange girl walks around the snow without shoes and is cared for by a secretive father. As a friendship blossoms between Owen and Abby, a series of grisly murders begin to haunt the city. Unlike the original film, “Let Me In” doesn’t obscure the real menace… Abby is a vampire. She’s a monster from very early on in the film and this adaptation drives home the absolute horror in this tale. And that’s where this film differs from the original Swedish version. It’s not fair, but it is extremely difficult to watch “Let Me In” without comparing it to the original Swedish adaptation of “Let the Right One In”. The announced remake, even if it was going to mark the return of Hammer Studios, had already set my mind against the film and I wasn’t even going to give it the opportunity to let me down. I had no idea how wrong I was going to be proven when I stepped into the theater.

Vampires are monsters. Let me make this clear for you, dear faceless reader… Vampires are undead monstrosities that need to survive on living blood. They do not sparkle, they are not super heroes, and they do not woo the teenage love interest and buy sports cars and vacation homes for fun and leisure. They feed and they hide from the light of day because it will kill them. They keep their identities a secret because ignorance is their greatest weapon. They exist for as long as they continue to feed and they are slaves to this hunger. Abby is a cute little kid, but the thin disguise shatters and we see her for the monster she is. Blood and gore drip from her chin, her eyes are blackened by feral hunger, and she quickly decays without the source of her strength. We don’t have exceptions to the rules; we don’t have arrogant monsters proclaiming their immunity to movie magic. We do have a dyed in the wool hardcore vampire unable to enter people’s homes without invitation, weak during the day, and fearful of discovery. It’s the devotion to traditional horror that sets “Let Me In” apart from the pack or recent trendy vamp flicks or teenage angst horror. The introduction of a potential “Vampire Hunter” character also gives the film a twist that I thought the original lacked. The police officer is brilliantly played by Elias Kotas and provides a much needed “human” touch to the story.

There is a brilliant use of focus and lighting in order to obscure features and isolate certain images. In many cases, the obscurity itself is isolated to show a sense of separation and seclusion between the characters. The director breaks with traditional expectations in order to capture difficult imagery, including a gruesome car crash sequence filmed entirely from a stationary position from the backseat. The films only real failing comes with the CGI sequences, somewhat out of place given the look of the film. But even that failing isn’t enough to detract from the whole of the story. Hammer is definitely back on the map!

5 out of 5.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Review: Frozen

Shot on location during a harsh winter month, Frozen is the story of three young college students stuck on a ski lift. The perfect series of mistakes are made, leaving the three kids up on that lift without hope of rescue for at least a week. And while it sounds like a simple story, I know what might be running through your mind as you read this: All the ways in which this couldn’t possibly ever happen, all the things you would do if you were in this situation, and writer/director Adam Green obviously had the same thoughts you had. This is a simple story, but its telling will rip your nerves ragged and leaving you wincing and near tears. This is hardcore and it will not stop tearing at you once these kids are stuck, ripping at your heart and your soul as you see them make mistakes. The simple act of touching becomes harsh and vicious when frostbite sets in, and then the unflinching burn from a relentless sun simply beats down on them all day long. There is no merciful reprieve for our main characters; no clever till turn of chance and opportunity that lands a pizza on their laps. They are stuck and time is working steadily against them.

Two boyhood friends regularly take the mountain ski trip in order to get away from the stress of their school life. They’ve made this trip on dozens of mountains, sharing jokes and camaraderie in the way so many men have. They’ve been bound by a lifetime of familiarity and experience. But now the girlfriend of one of the two wants to tag along wants to learn how to ski, wants to spend time with the man she loves and share in his experiences. This is a triangle dynamic where two people hide their resentment of one another for the sake of their one point of common concern. So as much as this film is about three people facing the rigors of nature, this is also about a group dynamic that seems destined to crumble from the very beginning. The acting is unbelievably intense with an unbelievably deep performance from Sean Ashmore that finds greater strength than we think him capable of at first.

Look, going any further with regards to this film will spoil it for any future viewer. I’ve seen many horror films, as my blog attests. I love the genre, from the gory and sometimes comedic to the serious and oftentimes disturbing. “Frozen” falls into the latter category. My nerves were shot through with panic, fear, and pure horror. I was left a ragged little ball of tear-stained misery by the end. Green presents a film that is intimate and personal with a kind of horror I rarely ever find in this day and age. He drives a proverbial fist to the gut, yanks you back by the hair, and spits on what is left of your dignity with a cocky smile and dismissive drop to the ground. That damn Green just has a knack for doing sadistic things to my mind, I think.

5 out of 5.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

2 Reviews: The Good, the Bad, and the Weird & Pig Hunt

Joheunnom Nabbeunnom Isanghannom

“THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE WEIRD” is set during the Japanese occupation of Korea and northern Manchuria with all the trappings of a traditional “spaghetti” Western. The Good (Woo-Sung Yung) is a fairly straight laced bounty hunter on the trail of a number of outlaws. The Bad (Byung-hun Lee) is an outlaw and assassin with a checkered reputation for cruelty. He is sent by a crooked employer to steal back a map from the Japanese representatives of a bank in the northern mainland. His plan to rob their train goes awry when another outlaw hits the Japanese train car first, introducing The Weird. Yoon Tae-Goo (Kang-ho Sung) is a fairly comedic loser pulling a number of small jobs when he manages to get his hands on a coveted map. The rest of the story involves a race to secure the map and find the “treasure” to which it leads. The three main characters are pursued by Korean Rebels, the Japanese Army, and outlaw criminals hoping to cash in.

Though we have three main characters, it’s really The Weird who stands out as the heroic scoundrel with his eye toward the prize. A mysterious past and a bizarre reputation for survival seem a little hard to believe as you watch him stumble across one good fortune after another. His fumbling across the desert toward his goal and the consistency to which he seems to fall one step behind everyone else seems to prove the adage that fortune favors the foolish. Stunt work highlights the antics of the Good. He swings and leaps from rooftop to rooftop, rides herd on the entire Japanese army, and blasts away at the thuggish outlaws with his trusty rifle. “The Bad” is a sadist, murdering friends and foes alike to fill the emptiness within him. He has little interest in the map, however. He pursues the Fool for a past slight, a loss that has not been forgotten in a great many years.

Dealing the goods on Asian-style action cinema, THE GOOD sets the mythic Western on fire with a number of inspired twists on familiar sequences. The classic train robbery, a visit to a house of ill repute, and cowboy style vigilante justice takes a step toward the East. The Japanese occupation is reminiscent of America’s own Civil War period and the Cavalry charges from Army outposts. A blend of traditional “Moricone”-inspired themes play throughout the film with a number of soft jazz themes and disco twists. The amazing soundtrack builds on the already wonderful action sequences and creating an atmosphere that settles this western firmly in the East. Director Ji-woon Kim (Tale of Two Sisters) continues to prove that he is a force to be reckoned with for future releases.

4 out of 5.

Pig Hunt:

Joining the “After Dark” festival and Sam Raimi’s “Ghost House Releasing”, Fangoria’s Fright Fest is this years Halloween series of “independent” horror releases coming straight to DVD for major distribution. James Isaac’s (Jason X, Skinwalkers)“Pig Hunt” seemed the most promising title in the bunch; a crazy blend of backwoods horror and monster animal stalking. John Hickman’s (Travis Aaron Wade) uncle used to take him hunting as a boy, so the young man decides to pay a visit to the old cabin and bring along a bunch of friends for their first hunting trip together. Once in the woods they hear the story of “The Ripper”, the monster pig that may have been the cause of his Uncles’ death. The premise introduces a couple of San Francisco “city slickers” heading out for a weekend hunting trip. John brings his girlfriend along, they run across some backwoods hippies, a pair of redneck brothers sharing a troubled past with the films lead, and a mythical Hogzilla type of monster who randomly stalks and kills various characters. The promotional material promises a gory horror comedy DVD, but only manages to get one of those adverbs right. The film is certainly gory, but even that does not save the film from its many faults.

Pig Hunt, how do I approach thee? You have all the makings of a wild and crazy backwoods horror comedy, complete with colorful characters and a soundtrack by the legendary Les Claypool. Why, then, do you waste nearly an hour of your precious film stock with the characters walking through the woods? I understand that they were trying to build some sort of tension, but it never really pays off. Some of the “Boys” don’t like the girlfriend (Tina Huang), the redneck brothers don’t like the main character, the girlfriend feels a little out of place, and none of it makes any real sense. The group dynamic seems to have no real reason to be angry with one another, even going so far as to explain the Redneck brothers’ history and then blowing it off as a somewhat meaningless childhood accident. The truth is, these people are just tense and frustrated and maybe a little spoiled. The more time spent on building tension, the more we realize that these people have no reason at all to be tense with one another except for the fact that the story requires it. A little tighter cut would have probably done much more to drive the film forward, but it just sort of meanders along to the catchy music and delivers a bunch of gory kills between scenes of dialogue.

As far as the Fangoria Fright Fest goes, Pig Hunt delivers a fairly standard little bit no more or less exciting than the average direct to DVD feature. I didn’t find anything special, but the film delivers on gore with a few decent performances outside the completely bland main characters. The Redneck brothers come off as one part creepy and another part common sense intelligent, making it hard to tell if they were supposed to be villains or not. This is one where I’m bound to find a couple of people thinking that I’m insane to have not liked the film, but the truth is that I just didn’t find it all that interesting.

2.5 out of 5.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

REPO! The Adventure Continues...

My love for "The Genetic Opera" is certainly no secret. It was one of the most anticipated movies of the year for me when it came out, I drove well over two hours and into the heart of Berkeley in order to catch it on opening weekend, and it's become a staple diet of cinema to share with friends. My wife and I both consider it one of our favorite adventures and even she, who is not a fan of gore, enjoys the music and spectacle of the opera. So I kind of jumped a little for joy when the local Paper Wing Theater decided to run a live performance and a friend of mine was lucky enough to join the cast. I knew I'd be going, I definitely picked up tickets when I got the chance to swing by and meet him, and I was definitely eager to see what they would do with the presentation. I had to miss opening weekend... I had to miss the following weekend... but I finally managed to swoop in for a front row seat in the splatter zone, my wife and I dressed as satisfied Geneco customers.

First, let me get to the heart of a very serious rumor that may be going around. I did not actually cry during the final duet between Shiloh and her father. I was leaking precious hatred and violence fluid through my optical nerves. I did not openly weep at the heartbreaking performance of Allison Bojorques because everyone knows that my heart is pure iron ore and I am a manly MAN! With that said, I hope these horrible rumors come to a brutal and quick end and that no one even thinks that this young womans' performance came anywhere close to having any such effect on me. With that said, I think the Paper Wing Theater found pure titanium with her performance because it would have completely blown away any person of lesser fortitude than myself. AS it was, I sat rooted in my chair without a single real tear flowing down my cheek. Shivers along my shoulders and down my arm were clearly coincidental.

The blood did flow from open wounds, splattering knives, and a sadistic display of bone, organs, and human suffering. Driven forward with a live band performance, the opera unfolds as pitch perfect Graverobber introduces the world we've been transported to. A world where all people should fear the legal assassin, the dreaded Repo Man. Do not for one moment mistake my admiration for Shiloh as any sort of dismissal for the rest of the cast. This performance, quite frankly, may have ruined any future viewings of the DVD in my collection. Blind Mag's voice was haunting, the Largo brothers shared incredible chemistry, and Rotti's voice simply COMMANDED attention. But the story really does rely on a duel performance from Nathan, The Repo Man. One part a caring and loving father, the other a monster and villain without remorse. L.J. Brewer pulls it off fantastically and you absolutely know which is in control at any given time. We get all the best music from the theatrical release in addition to a number of songs that only barely appear, if at all, in the film. I held off this long in mentioning Amber Sweet for only one reason... probably one of the best songs performed was Ambers "Blame Not My Cheeks". It's an odd moment of campy levity, and Amber is AWESOME throughout the whole show. Quite honestly, I think Ambers' character is an extremely important counter to Shiloh and is an extremely risque performance as a result. Bravo to the whole cast, all the smaller parts I may have glossed over... the Surgery Sluts, those who testified, those who died... fantastic! AWESOME!!!

Look, I have every intention of catching this show again. I'm hoping to drag more people with me, in chains if necessary. I don't want to have to resort to that tactic... I don't want to drag folks in at the end of my hook, don't want to tie them to a chair, don't want to pry their eyelids open, but I'm not entirely well in the head.And I assure you, even if you do see a slight measure of dampness around the eye area, those will not be tears. I don't know what excuse I'll come up with next time, but I'm sure it'll be another doozy.

I'm pumped. I was going to wait until tomorrow morning to write this review, but it's now 4:28 AM and I'm still wired from the show. I went to work all day and did the Office Drone thing until my eyes were aching... but now I can't get to sleep!

Friday, October 1, 2010


Moments after the last Hatchet film ends, Hatchet 2 opens with Marybeth managing to escape from the clutches of Victor Crowley(Kane Hodder). Danielle Harris replaces Tamara Feldman as our heroine whose encounter with Crowley reveals horrible family secrets. She looks for help from Reverend Zombie(Tony Todd) and a group of local hunters to return to the swamp. They prepare to hunt a ghost that no one really believes in. What follows is a blood-soaked, balls out, gory ride through the Louisiana Bayou! Adam Green is completely unfettered by the MPAA in this film and every splatter, tear, and rip comes through without interference and in all its horrid glory.

Green manages to assemble one of the best casts in order to present his story. He pops a number of genre vets in front of the camera for various moments, looking for a cheap giggle before hitting you with a genuine laugh in well timed dialogue. He manages to deliver good gory fun throughout the film. After collecting the group of colorful characters together, Green systematically one ups himself with one violent kill after another as he eliminates the hunters and narrows in on Harris and Todd. There are hatchet deaths, the belt sander returns, the biggest chainsaw ever wielded by man, and the bodies pile up as buckets of blood are liberally splashed around in glee. I don't want to spoil anything, but everytime I thought that Green couldn't possibly top himself the man would virtually rip my jaw out and deliver another gruesome horror bit of candy for my eyes. I had high expectations for this film as the first quite literally knocked my fucking boots off, so there was no way I was going to be forgiving if this thing didn't live up to the hype. Green took my expectations and shattered my goddamn skull with the heel of his boot, laughing sadistically as I cried in a puddle of my own blood and piss.

Tony Todd manages to snatch one of the most interesting characters he has ever played, a voodoo con-man with insidious designs on the swamp of Crowley. Todd goes over the top in his presentation, a spooky drawl and fluttering hand motions dismissed as so much bullshit by the people that know him. But beneath the goofy con beats the heart of a true scumbag who uses peoples low expectations of him to trap them in a truly insidious plan from the very beginning. Tony Todd's haunting voice narrates the twist on Crowley's origin that the first film only began to touch on, a backstory that presents a death bed curse and answers the question regarding Victor's mother. Another surprising performance gives some emotional depth to the role of Crowley's father, also played by Hodder. R.A. Mihailoff (Leatherface) and Tom Holland (Director of Fright Night and Childs Play) join the cast in pivotal roles. Parry Shen also returns, brother to the first films' tour guide.

5 out of 5... and more. More more more! This film finally sated my bloodlust, the first film to do so since Dead Alive! Incredible gore and a special effects team that deserves all the praise they are likely to get. Slasher nastiness pushes the envelope and raises the bar.