Saturday, June 23, 2012

3 MOVIES!!!: Chop, Don't Go In the Woods, and High Lane!


I’m a regular visitor to the website, an online horror news and information service. The company recently entered the distribution market, signing a couple of films to their brand for DVD and Direct to Cable distribution, with “CHOP” as one of the major headliners in their series. It’s an independent film directed by Troma veteran, Trent Haaga. Best known for his antics in front of the camera, Haaga is no stranger to taking the directors seat with the movie “Dead Girl” firmly under his hat. He’s got an eye for uncomfortable subject matter and proved capable of adding a new twist to familiar horror tropes.

CHOP follows a similar pattern by adapting the “stranger” trope best known in films like “The Hitcher” and setting it on its head. Our main character is an average guy named Lance, and we’re quickly pulled into the world of this character when he’s kidnapped and forced to kill his half-brother. A maniac threatens to kill Lances’ wife if he doesn’t meet his demand, claiming that this is revenge for something Lance did to him. From that point on, the movie spirals out of Lances control when he starts to wake up with pieces of his body missing. But where this movie seems to be a familiar trope, the twist is that Lance really is NOT a likeable character. He’s done terrible things to people with casual dismissal. The stranger peels back layers from Lance revealing one terrible confession after another in a desperate bid to force him to remember what Lance did to him. And, as a result, we find ourselves sympathizing far more with the “Stranger” than we do with Lance. Stranger is polite, respectful, and truly hurt by Lances’ inability to even so much as remember his face. He’s been driven to these monstrous acts, one worse than the other, because of Lance and the more we get to know the lead the more we identify with his tormentor.

CHOP is, at moments, darkly hilarious. We meet some of the people who have been affected by Lances’ horrible acts, few of whom are innocent in their own lives. (The lead actor), another Troma vet, is hilarious as Lance. The dialogue throughout the film often seems surreal given the circumstances surrounding the characters, and both men play off one another very well. There’s so much stuff that just WORKS in this film that to talk about it would just spoil the story, and this is something where the absolute shock of various moments need to be felt for the full effect. Check it out.

4 out of 5.


Don’t Go In The Woods.

Vincent D’Onofrio’s “Don’t Go In the Woods” picked up some good reviews on the festival circuit before finding it’s way to my own television set and DVD player. The simple premise of taking a group of young people out into the woods for a bloody massacre gets an interesting spin when it’s turned into a musical. I was promised “camp entertainment”, “catchy musical numbers”, along with “GORY!” special effects. The fact that this is an artistic achievement is certainly NOT under dispute, because it takes some immeasurable degree of talent to take all of those elements and still manages to deliver one of the most boring, uninteresting, and annoying films I’ve seen this past year.

Firstly, there is no “camp” beyond the fact that the band sets up their tents and builds a fire. The Young musicians head out in the woods to write new music, but this is pseudo-rock “emo” music with a bunch of shoe-gazers with whiny voices. None of the songs fit in with any narrative structure and do very little to push the story along, we’re sort of watching a bunch of kids sing songs as they wander the wood and goof off with one another. And none of the songs really differ from one another in any significant ways. The songs are sung with the same screamy-whine nasally cracking brittle voices, no matter if it’s a ballad or something more up-beat, and every song gets a reprise a few moments after its initial performance when someone randomly wanders down the path for one reason or another. This is the bulk of the movie. The dialogue consists of one character yelling at the others to stop fooling around, partying, drinking, talking on cell phones, and to just sing a new song. The band is joined by their respective girl-friends and hangers on, but that just makes the one “serious” character get all the more upset when they won’t work on new material. And all the dialogue gets rinses and repeated time and time again. There’s very little to rescue this movie from the tedium with which it drives itself, unless one is a fan of the type of music on display here. Acoustic guitars, whining vocals, and “semi-Punk” bass playing with the occasional drumbeat with high focus on the snare.

My only reason to continue with this film is to deny Vincent D’Onofrio the satisfaction of my defeat! I made it through Birdemic, I can make it through this drek!

There are some halfway decent “gore” effects, but I’ve already long lost interest in watching any of these characters. Their deaths mostly occur in the last twenty minutes of the film, and all stalking is thrown aside for a quick flurry of seemingly confusing cuts designed to make the audience think this film is far edgier than it is. We’re supposed to be shocked by the ending and they go far out of their way with it, but the killers’ identity is never a surprise and the cuts only serve to satisfy a sense of self-congratulation. This is about D’Onofrio being an “artist”, and it doesn’t matter if we’ve already seen this cinematic “technique” in far too many films and that it’s basically a cheat to the audience; it’s been used so much that it no longer fools the audience. The pacing is a grinding snails pace crawl from the moment they enter the woods to the moment that the killer is revealed.

1 out of 5.



And here we have another formulaic movie about young group of post-teens on a hiking trip through the woods. This one is a foreign import, the location is the Balkan Mountains, and the Youngsters have all the makings of a decent body count; The girl coping with a recent incident in her life, her new boyfriend, her ex, her best friend, and the best friends boyfriend who invited the ex along without realizing the tension it would create. And the trail they want to take is closed down, a bridge that would make it easier to get back to civilization winds up breaking, and there’s a homicidal maniac on the loose. You can pretty much label each character with a number, because you already know the order of their deaths if you’ve seen this sort of thing before. We’re not reinventing the wheel here, and a paint-by-numbers rote is kind of what I was looking for after the travesty of “Don’t Go in the Woods.”

Some of the scenes here are actually really well done, and adding the mountain climbing aspect made for great suspense moments as the characters hung off cliffs by little more than their fingertips. The cinematography is beautiful and the landscape is breathtaking, so there’s a lot of pretty stuff to look at and the director does a decent job in presenting the film. We do become a little invested with the climb, with some of the characters and their reactions to the events around them, but the whole thing is just extraordinarily predictable. I’m not going to lie to you and tell you this is an amazing film, because it’s really not. It’s just what it presents itself to be and that’s not entirely a bad thing. I’ve often said that even the predictable can be entertaining so long as it’s done ‘well’…. This movie was done well and it entertained. That’s pretty much all I can say about it.

3 out of 5.

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