Attack The Block (2011)

MARCH 31, 2011


I ordinarily try to avoid as much as I can about a movie before I see it, but when Devin told me that I could count Attack The Block as a horror movie, I figured I’d watch the trailer to see if I could make a good judgment call from it. And I still wasn’t sure; the aliens looked kind of scary and there was a jump scare in there, but that could be editing. But all those fears quickly went out the window when the film began with an awesome homage to The Thing (even the score was kind of Carpenter-y), and then the first scare made me jump. ME.

So yeah, it counts as a horror movie. In fact I was often reminded of the tone of Critters, where it’s fun and scary in fairly equal measure, but Block is even MORE of a horror than that film, which dealt heavily with its sci-fi aspects (i.e. the opening scenes, pretty much anything with the shapeshifter guy, etc). Also, unlike Critters, it’s a great movie that I think will hold up 10-20 years from now, possibly beyond.

I literally had no issues whatsoever with the film. I was laughing and cheering throughout, and many of the scares did indeed give me a jolt. And I LOVED the aliens, which were sort of ape-like, but without eyes, blue-glowing teeth, and fur that was “blacker than black” (something they use somewhat sparingly). Plus, it’s an R rated horror movie starring a bunch of kids barely into their teens – and there’s still a decent amount of gore. Not all of our little heroes make it out, which surprised me – they introduce some older characters who I assumed were just there to allow the film some deaths without actually killing off a 14 year old, but that is (thankfully) not the case.

I also enjoyed how small the focus was. Pretty much the entire movie takes place in a single apartment building, not an entire block (hey, it's Critters 3, then!), and, without spoiling anything, there’s a perfectly movie-logical explanation for why the entire city of London isn’t being besieged by the alien monsters. It’s not like Night of the Living Dead where we are focusing on one part of what is obviously a large scale problem – the aliens are all sort of contained to this one area. It’s the rare alien film that has an open and shut story without having some lame deus ex machina at the end to solve all the problems in one fell swoop.

The Carpenter influence isn’t just from The Thing, either – the relationship between the two main characters mirrors that of Assault on Precinct 13 (or Ghosts of Mars, I guess – Mr. Beaks from AICN hilariously pointed out that Attack the Block retroactively justified the existence of that film), and I always love that sort of thing. It didn’t hurt that the female of the pair, one Jodie Whittaker, was wonderfully cute and even more personable – she reminded me of Sandra Bullock from her Speed days. John Boyega as Moses was also quite good; there’s a minor ‘reveal’ about his character late in the film, and what’s great about it is that for a second you might think “Oh come on!” but then if you think about it and pay closer attention to that aspect of his character, it makes total sense. Well played, sir.

And all this from a first time feature director. Joe Cornish has done some TV work, but this is his first full length film, although you’d never know it from watching. The pacing is perfect; aliens arrive pretty much in the first scene, right after the character conflict between Whittaker and Boyega is introduced (that’s economy!), and the pace barely lets up after that, as our heroes make their way around trying to stay ahead of both the aliens and 3rd parties who are after them for various other issues I won’t spoil here. But it still finds time for plenty of good character tics and well placed humor (the little white kid of the group, whose name escapes me, gets most of the best lines), and no one element ever overcrowds the others – the balance is flawless.

Speaking of the humor, the trailer would have you believe that Nick Frost is a bigger character than he is; in actuality nearly his entire performance is in the trailer. Hopefully no one sees it just for him, they will be disappointed. But otherwise, I didn’t recognize anyone, which is also a plus – buying into the reality is actually more important than usual, since the movie at its core is about some misguided kids looking out for their own. I really believed they were a bunch of punks from London; something I wouldn’t have been able to do if they decided to throw in a Harry Potter cast member looking to surprise his fans by playing a punk. That said, the accents can be a bit thick at times, but nowhere near as impenetrable as they were in Cherry Tree Lane. I know there was a rumor about dubbing or subtitling the film, but I find that ridiculous – I think there was maybe one line in the entire movie I didn’t quite catch. And I’m an ignorant American (comment section).

I am confounded that the movie doesn’t have a US distribution as of yet. This is a hugely entertaining, nearly perfect horror/adventure that deserves to be seen on the big screen. This and other praise aside, it’s the type of movie that should come out in August and just shock the hell out of everyone who had grown tired of the generic summer fare coming from the big studios. It was fitting that the Hangover 2 trailer debuted a couple hours before the screening began – that trailer was almost insulting as it rehashed the original movie note for note, and we can probably expect the same sort of déjà vu from Pirates 4, Transformers 3, and every other major genre film hitting over the next 3-4 months (let’s not even BEGIN to consider Cars 2, a sequel to the only Pixar movie no one likes). Attack The Block may be informed by films of the past, but it’s very much its own thing, and not insulting to those films OR their fans in any way shape or form. Without a doubt, I can say that I felt the most pure joy watching this movie than I have in years; I think I’d have to go back to Trick R Treat for something else I watched with so much glee and admiration. The rare genre film I honestly could not even conceive of someone disliking. Believe!

What say you?


Contamination .7 (1993)

MARCH 30, 2011


One of my favorite things about Italian horror movies is how many titles they often have, and Contamination .7 might be my go-to example in the future. You just have to look at the top of its IMDb page to get confused – it’s listed under Creepers, with Contamination .7 underneath as the “original title”, and a poster for The Crawlers next to it. And, as of this writing, the Newsdesk headline refers to its occasional status as Troll 3. Four titles for one movie, and we still haven’t even gotten to foreign language titles!

Oddly, the Troll title isn’t even that offensive, since it appears to be shot in the same location as Troll 2, and features the same sort of non-actors who come off like they haven’t spoken English before. I was actually convinced most of them were Italian folks speaking phonetically, but my IMDbvestigation revealed that they were all seemingly local hires, as most have no other credits to their name (the only exception is Mary Sellers as Josie, whose other credits are all Italian productions, including a fake Demons 5). So maybe they were just stupefied by the dialogue, which in many cases tops Troll 2's “You can’t piss on hospitality!” insanity. Pretty much anything involving the character of Brian is pure gold, such as when he asks why someone is surprised that he has a wife (response: “No, I think it’s a great idea!”). There’s also this slice of heaven, which occurs as our protagonists, seeking help, run up to a pay phone:

Brian: “Who are we gonna call, who?”
Kid: “Yeah, who?”
Matt (the hero): “I don’t know, but we gotta call someone for help!”

Brian could have conceivably repeated the first line of the exchange, and then we’d be stuck forever. The sheriff is also quite taxed when it comes to saying his lines, dropping in odd pauses and laughing at things that don’t appear to be jokes. He’s also a total moron – there’s this depressing old man who loses his dog to the killer plants early on, and the sheriff notices he looks like shit. “I’m in mourning!” the old man says. The sheriff asks if it’s because he ran out of booze, laughs, and then says “Hey, where’s your dog?” Way to put 2 and 2 together, asshole.

And then there’s the things you come to expect from these movies; oddly hateful characters (Al and Peg Bundy showed more affection toward each other than our hero couple), bizarre character tics such as the 10 year old kid who is obsessed with plants, characters who come out of nowhere and then die, and pathetically bad special FX. The branches aren’t too bad, but when it comes time for them to destroy a helicopter... well, see for yourself:

Speaking of FX, it’s a fairly bloodless movie. The plants (depicted primarily with tentacle-ish branches) just sort of drag and/or suffocate people, instead of beating them to death or tearing them apart. At one point, the greedy power plant owner (his dumping of nuclear waste is what caused the killer plants) shoots himself, but it’s off-screen entirely and we don’t even see his body lying on the floor. Speaking of this scene, it’s another hilarious bit – he takes a good ten seconds to do it but no one makes even the slightest attempt to stop him or even yell “No!”. Yet, this is the only Troll movie that has an R rating – seems they should have just trimmed out the profanity and got themselves the same PG-13 the last one had. I poked around for a while, but there doesn’t seem to be any ‘unrated’ version or anything. Part of the charm I guess.

So if you enjoyed Troll 2’s epic badness, you should probably enjoy this one too. I actually PREFER this one, because killer trees (ones that seemingly have a thing for the elderly!) are a lot funnier than goblins, and it’s thankfully a few minutes shorter. The final “scare” is a lot better here too – no weird, depressing deaths, just a killer Christmas tree!

What say you?


The Resident (2011)

MARCH 29, 2011


I can only assume that The Resident was re-edited and tampered with, since filming took place in 2009 (and then "additional shooting" in 2010), and two editors are credited, which is unusual unless they are a team of some sort (the two share no previous credits in this case). Also it’s a goddamn mess, with Hilary Swank telling Jeffrey Dean Morgan her sob story about having to keep the bed her boyfriend cheated on her in, about 15 minutes before her character actually informs him that her boyfriend cheated on her. And why her character is someone who can afford to pay $3800 a month in rent but can’t afford a new bed is never explained.

And it’s a real shame, because on paper this had promise. Boasting three good stars (Christopher Lee also appears as Morgan’s grandfather) and the creepy premise of someone suspecting that one of her neighbors is actually spending most of the time “living” in her apartment, this could have been an above average thriller in the vein of all those 90s psycho movies like Pacific Heights or Single White Female. Plus, it’s the first original production from Hammer in decades, following the remake Let Me In, with Lee’s participation signaling an act of some sort of confidence.

But right off the bat I suspected something was off. In addition to the confusing matter of Swank’s past, it was also unfolding with incredibly generic broad strokes. It’s one of those movies where anytime the heroine’s phone goes off, her sassy best friend automatically knows that it’s her ex boyfriend, and instantly says “Why are you still talking to him?” even though the woman silenced her phone and thus decidedly is NOT talking to him. Or when she goes apartment hunting and the realtor boasts about the "great view" and it’s just a wall – hilarious... in 1982. And every 5 minutes they cut to her jogging, because she’s a strong, healthy woman! Not a loser! Except for the fact that she can’t bring herself to buy a new bed.

And of course, Morgan seems like the perfect guy, so you know he’s the villain. There’s a quick glimmer of hope when Lee is introduced, because for a few minutes they sort of play with the idea that he might be the villain, not Morgan, and maybe the movie would be about our heroine trying to figure out which of these two men are trying to kill her (like Sliver!). Or, even better, they’re both deranged and working together in some sort of creepy father-son tag-team. But then it all goes to hell once they ‘out’ Morgan as the sole bad guy, in a ridiculous "finale of Saw"-like sequence in which we watch pretty much every scene in the movie again, except now with cutaways of Morgan standing in the shadows looking creepy. We also learn that he actually engineered the entire chain of events that led her to taking the apartment, which seems like a lot of planning for a dude to hook up with a specific woman. That it happens only a half hour into the movie is sort of admirable – at least they’re not trying to trick us for too long – but this also means you’re already re-watching scenes that have barely ended the first time.

Plus they never explain why he is so infatuated with her and/or why he seemingly can’t land a date. He’s a handsome guy, and not socially awkward like Norman Bates, so what’s the problem? And why HER? She’s not particularly interesting, in fact all we know about her is that she’s an ER doctor – wouldn’t he want someone who might have a more normal schedule that would allow him to do his creepy stalker thing? It’s like he goes out of his way to pick the least compatible stalkee in New York.

From this point on, Lee has no purpose in this movie. He doesn’t try to help Swank, he doesn’t assist Morgan, he seemingly harbors no secrets of his own... he just hangs out in doorways and his bed until Morgan injects him with something and kills him, and the character is never mentioned again. You’d think they’d give their golden boy a meatier role. It’d be like if Roger Clemens came back to the Red Sox and they put him at 7th on the relief roster.

Most damning, it’s just dull as dirt. There’s seemingly no one else in all of New York, so the entire movie is just Morgan watching Swank. She gets a security system that Morgan never seems to notice (despite the fact that she leaves the program running on her giant computer monitor while she’s gone), her friend never shows up again, and her boyfriend re-enters the picture but never even has a real scene with Morgan. So there are all these opportunities for good suspense scenes, but they are never taken. Instead, once Swank finally catches up to the audience, the two just smack each other around, chase each other through the apartment building, and then smack each other around some more, for what seems like a full twenty minutes at the end of the movie. Luckily, there is one true Hammer quality to the film – it ends as soon as the bad guy is dead. Most of these movies hover near the two hour mark, but this one is 90 minutes with credits.

It’s a shame they screw up the ickiest aspect of the movie, which explains why Swank keeps sleeping through her alarm. It’s actually quite disturbing, and it wouldn’t surprise me if it was part of the initial concept and they reverse engineered the movie to get to that point, but it’s too little too late. Plus, by that time it’s impossible to take Morgan seriously as the villain, because we’ve seen him fondling himself in her tub (fully clothed!) and using her toothbrush, which I guess is supposed to be creepy but it’s just laughable. Maybe it’s just because of my fondness for Morgan, but he’s too much of a guy’s guy to buy into this. Perhaps he and Lee Pace (as her ex) should have swapped roles – I can buy Morgan as a guy who fucked up and wants to get back with the woman he betrayed, and I can buy Pace as a creepy stalker who jacks it in someone else’s tub.

I really don’t know who this movie was made for. It’s rated R, but only for 2-3 F bombs and the most obscured “nude” scene of all time. The body count is 3, and one is by injection and another is off-screen entirely, so we’re clearly in PG-13 territory in that department. So: middle aged single/divorced women seeking something a little more risqué than CSI, I guess? Every man in the movie is a piece of shit, so I can’t see male audiences warming up to it either.

The Blu-Ray isn’t all that much to write home about either. Apart from a few nice exterior shots of New York (oddly, most of the interiors were shot in New Mexico), nothing really pops, and detail isn’t as crisp as I’d expect from a newer film in high def. Black levels seem a bit off too – one of those two editors loves to fade to black, and when they do so you can plainly see that the movie’s blacks are more like gray. Only extra is a trailer, which is a shame as I was hoping to get some sort of explanation for how Renny Harlin ended up with an executive producer credit.

I really hope Hammer gets it together. Let Me In is a perfectly decent movie, but it’s also a pointless remake of a 2 year old film, and thus it’s hardly the sort of thing to point to when rejoicing that Hammer has returned. And this is a thrill-less thriller that rightfully went direct to video. Their next film is another original, a ghost tale called Wake Wood - third time’s the charm, I hope?

What say you?


High Lane (2009)

MARCH 28, 2011


Hey all right, the French ARE capable of making something that doesn’t knock my socks off! While most French flicks I see make me go “Why can’t the US make horror films like that?”, High Mile (French: Vertige) caused me to say “Hey, they’re ripping off our movies, and not even doing a very good job of it!”. It’s not a bad film, but it’s shockingly generic, and bizarrely structured to boot, ending without resolving some subplots and having a third act that all but ignores the thing that worked best about the film – the climbing/rope bridge perils.

For the first 40-45 minutes, the movie is a straight up survival movie in the vein of Thirst or whatever, with five youths on a mountain adventure filled with peril. The film’s best sequence finds them crossing one of those super-thin rope bridges, and of course things go wrong. One of the movie’s strengths is that the kids aren’t easily identifiable (as of yet) as the hero, the asshole, etc. I couldn’t even tell which of the two females was the obvious Final Girl. So when things start going bad (bolts slipping, metal hooks stretching into a straight, useless rod, etc), I really believed that the girl could fall, making the sequence all the more nerve-wracking. Plus, they actually found a way to pay off the ever present “angry boyfriend” subplot. Seems like 90% of these movies have a guy who came along despite having just broken up with one of the girls, who of course has her new fellow with them, adding to the “tension”. I find this to be an obnoxious recurring theme, but here it actually pays off – the new boyfriend stubbornly refuses the hand of the ex to help him up off the bridge, and instead he pulls on one of the ropes the wrong way, which causes all the problems. It’s a decent justification for an otherwise tired element.

And then the rest of this sort of stuff is pretty good – someone gets caught in a trap, the others run around for help, and at one point a girl quite shockingly falls into a pit. I was perfectly fine with this being a straight up survival thriller without any slashers or cannibal monsters or whatever. Sadly, that’s exactly when a mutant cannibal slasher shows up. Now, I could have been OK with this if they were doing anything interesting with him, but he’s the same sort of Wrong Turn reject we’ve seen a million times. Hell, he even has a little shack in the woods! With all of these natural element-based locales (woods, cliffs, etc), why not have him in a cave? Why make the Wrong Turn (itself a throwback to older films like Hills Have Eyes) association even stronger?

Worse, once he shows up, there’s no more mountaineering type stuff. There could have been some really cool scenes of the kids trying to make their way up a cliff face with their pulleys and ropes and what not while the mountain man redneck climbs using nothing, but from here on out it’s just the usual run and slash. Except with the added “bonus” of the love triangle nonsense rearing its ugly head, with the new boyfriend leaving the ex to die for no reason (he clubs him over the head and locks him in a basement!), and then later the ex lets HIM die seemingly to get him back... come on. The bridge part made sense – he’d rather do something foolish than let the guy help him, but the fact that they essentially try to kill each other is just stupid.

Oh, and then they rip off Cold Prey. Look, steal from Wrong Turn and Hills Have Eyes all you want. Hell I’d even accept a few lifts from The Descent. But Cold Prey? That movie needs more love and recognition! That’s like an established comedian stealing from a struggling guy instead of letting him open for him. Basically, our killer’s back-story is identical, except they apparently forgot to actually set it up, because it comes out of nowhere in the post-movie text that also tells us that the bodies of our heroes were never found (it also tries to tell us that 3,000 people have gone missing in these mountains, which is nonsense). Apparently there is a 90 minute version of the film (the Netflix one is 85), so maybe that sets it up a bit more.

I actually wouldn’t mind watching the movie again in its original form. Not only for that extra 5 minutes that might make things a little more interesting, but the dubbing is particularly bad. Lately I’ve actually been preferring to watch the dubbed versions due to half-assed subtitle work, and more often than not I don’t find it particularly bothersome, but here I found it quite distracting. Not only is it poorly mixed (the entire movie is outdoors but everyone sounds like they’re in the world’s smallest booth), but they are seemingly trying to match up the words to lips, which makes it distracting. Just ACT! No one will care that it LOOKS dubbed as long as it sounds correct.

And again, it’s not a bad flick. The opening theme alone makes it worth watching the movie, as it sounds sort of like Trevor Rabin’s older stuff before he got obsessed with electronic instruments. I also liked how much of it took place in the daytime, and the movie is wonderfully shot (and yes, the Netflix stream was quite nice to boot). Even the redneck action isn’t all bad – I like how he has a fondness for headbutts, and the grim ending is also a nice touch. But it’s a shame that something that started off so promising ended up being just another kids vs. backwoods killer movie, even if it was a relatively well made one.

What say you?


Sugar Hill (1973)

MARCH 27, 2011


I wish someone would do a modern, big (ish) budget voodoo zombie movie like Sugar Hill. Despite coming along after Night of the Living Dead, Hill’s zombies are the old school type – minions who are resurrected for a specific purpose and don’t do much else. Granted, the more popular kind of zombie is more exciting, but I don’t think the basic concept should die. They eventually went “back” to making straight slashers again after Scream, there’s no reason why they can’t go back to making the “other” zombie movies.

This is a pretty good movie, too. Like Blacula, it’s not as silly as I was expecting, though it’s not quite as successful as that film either. The racism is a bit cartoonish at times, with one character literally going out of her way to be a horrible bigot (though she pays for it at the end), and the plot seems to move on rails at times – nothing ever really seems to complicate matters. Sugar (Sugar Hill is a person, not a locale!) gets a voodoo priest to have some zombies help her get revenge on the guys who killed her boyfriend, and she does so in a largely unchallenged manner. There’s a smooth cop trying to find out who’s killing these goons, but he’s far more interested in hooking up with Sugar, which keeps his investigation from ever really getting in the way. In fact he basically admits his true intentions at one point in the second act, after “questioning” her. She asks “Do I look like a killer to you?” and he replies, charm cranked up to 11, “Girl you always look just fine to me!” And that’s pretty much the extent of his interrogation.

The murder is also a bit botched. The bad guys confront the boyfriend in plain sight of everyone else in the restaurant, yet when they beat him to death later (with no one else around) they’re wearing stocking masks. Hell they even have the same ridiculous pimped out 70s clothes on! So it’s a bit hard to take this moment seriously, even though it’s the inciting incident for the entire plot. But once Sugar resurrects the zombies it picks up. I particularly liked the creepy design for the zombies; their eyes are covered with these golden/silver balls, and they have a tendency to stand perfectly still while in the process of scaring the victims out of their minds.

The death scenes are also pretty varied – one guy gets eaten by pigs (!), another gets stabbed via voodoo doll, one drowns in mud.... no lame shootings or whatever here. Plus, while I would have liked a complication or two, it’s also remarkably straightforward. It’s kind of like The Crow, but without giant shootout/rooftop chase scenes coming out of nowhere and distracting away from her very specific goal of getting back at the five guys who were responsible for her man’s death. Also like The Crow, the 5th man wasn’t present at the killing but is the one who put the others up to it. And this movie’s “Top Dollar” type is none other than Robert Quarry, in his final film for AIP (the plan for him to replace Vincent Price never really worked out). He’s only in a few scenes, but he’s as delightful as always, and also a bit admirable, admonishing his racist girlfriend for being ignorant and, well, racist.

And it has a theme song! As I’ve said several times, any movie with a theme song about the plot is automatically worth a look, and Sugar Hill is no exception. “She do voodoo! Supernatural voo-doo wo-man!” It even plays twice! Since the thing everyone’s fighting over is a night club, I was afraid there were going to be a bunch of endless, dated music numbers, but thankfully the music is more or less confined to the theme song. Speaking of confinement – I was sad to learn that star Marki Bey only made one more film after this before appearing in a handful of TV shows (including six episodes of Starsky and Hutch!) before retiring all together. She’s definitely got a Pam Grier thing going on, but I found her even more charming (and beautiful) than Grier. Hopefully she retired on her own terms (unlike Quarry, who was disfigured in a car accident and thus took an extended break from filmmaking, only to return in a slew of crappy DTV movies in the 90s).

So while I wasn’t quite as impressed as I was with Blacula, I still found it quite enjoyable and less dated than expected, and I’m kind of surprised QT didn’t book it for his festival (supposedly it is referenced in Pulp Fiction? Anyone know the specifics? It’s one of maybe 5 movies on the list of “Movie Connections” that doesn’t give the details). But it’s on instant, and the transfer is pretty good, so check it out if you can. Now, come on Netflix – where are the rest of the “blaxploitation horror” movies? Dr. Black and Mr. White, Abby, etc... let’s do this!

What say you?


Servants Of Twilight (1991)

MARCH 26, 2011


Somehow, despite the fact that I’m hovering around the two thousand movie mark, Servants Of Twilight is the first Dean Koontz-based movie I’ve watched for HMAD. I’ve seen a few of the movies based on his novels (Intensity, Phantoms, and Hideaway), but that was “back in the day”, so no reviews for those. Might be able to do Hideaway though, I can’t remember a goddamn thing about it. But I must watch the Watchers films first!

Anyway, it’s a pretty bland but watchable movie. I won’t remember a damn thing about it beyond what I write in this review, but I wasn’t annoyed or notably bored while watching either. Basically, there’s a cult that comes out of nowhere and claims this little Charlie Korsmo-y kid is the Antichrist, so it’s up to his oddly accented mother and Bruce Greenwood to protect him. It’s kind of hilarious how many people die protecting this kid, including what seems like Greenwood’s entire Rolodex of colleagues, but not as funny as the fact that the cult guys like to shoot first and ask questions later when it comes to these borderline anonymous fellow bodyguard/PI types, but are unable to take out the mom or Greenwood. Yet, through all of this, no one ever bothers to really look into whether the cult may be on to something.

Basically, the issue is that they don’t spend enough time with the cult. What spurned them into action, anyway? The kid is like 6 or 7, but we’re led to believe that they never approached him or the mother prior to the start of the movie, and it comes out of nowhere too. Maybe if he had done something unusual that got people’s attention or something, it would make more sense, but the cult leader just sort of follows them around a parking lot one day and starts spouting nonsense. And this leads to the other major problem – obviously the kid IS the Antichrist, or else there’s no point to the movie. He doesn’t do anything that could be construed as a miracle (or, anti-miracle, I guess) or act strangely – he just plays his Game Boy and looks wide-eyed at everyone in sight. But it takes too long until Greenwood starts to suspect the kid might be evil; it should have been around the 45, 60 minute mark tops, but it’s more like 10 minutes before the movie ends.

There’s also a confusing framing device, in which we find Greenwood telling the story of how he met these folks and what happened. Luckily he has a beard in these scenes, because it’s the only way to tell them apart – there’s no flash or fade or anything to signify that they are going back and forth in the narrative. Worse, he’s telling the story to a guy he talks to several times in the regular part of the movie, which makes it even harder to penetrate, beard or not. The one successful thing about these scenes (the early ones anyway) is that we don’t see the kid or the mother, so there is that feeling that perhaps he’s gone crazy because he’s killed one or both of them.

I also liked how they worked a rather sad subplot into the Antichrist stuff, which I didn’t see coming. Early on, the cult folks chop off the family dog’s head (off-screen, thankfully), and the kid wants another dog for extra protection. And they come back with an identical looking dog, and I’m thinking “Aww, poor kid just wants his pal back, not a different one” (also “Aww, the production couldn’t afford another dog”). But it turns out it IS the same dog – he used his Antichrist powers to resurrect him. Which, I dunno, isn’t exactly the most evil way to use your Antichrist powers. Even the real Christ would have to admit that’s actually kind of sweet.

There are also a couple of other minor things I appreciated. For example, when the kid plays his Game Boy, we see that it’s Tetris, but we also HEAR that it’s Tetris. Usually a movie just tosses in some generic bleeps and bloops for a game (or the Donkey Kong soundtrack), but it’s that goddamn Russian music that everyone with a soul would turn off after 30 seconds (another hint that he’s the Antichrist). He even says “I want to play Tetris”. Helps make it a little more realistic. I also liked that they didn’t “cheat” during a fake scare involving a plumber. Now fully paranoid, Greenwood and co. assume everyone is a cult member trying to get them, so when a guy arrives in a white van unexpectedly, they assume he’s with them. But no, he’s just an actual plumber trying to clean a drain. Ordinarily, the filmmakers would go out of their way to try to trick the audience, but here if you pay attention, the guy’s van had the company logo on it, whereas the cult van was plain white. Good work!

However I sort of wish he WAS involved. It’s not spoiling anything to say that one of Greenwood’s men is part of the cult, which is how they’re always finding them (even when the traitor is specifically shown NOT being told where they are going), but it would have been kind of cool/scary if they showed up in more places. Like at one point they go out for some take out – maybe they could have had a cult member there. There was this comic a while back called “Global Frequency”, and it was about this group that had hundreds (thousands?) of agents all over the world ready to spring into Bourne-like action at a moment’s notice – it might have been cool if the cult operated like this, where instead of just constantly tailing the kid, they would have already been in key locations around the country (or, California, since they never venture far outside of Los Angeles county) and then been “activated” when they spotted him stopping into their hotel or restaurant or whatever.

But, it’s based on a Koontz book. I don’t have a problem with the guy, but the books of his that I’ve read tend to be a bit too straightforward for my tastes. He seemingly comes up with a concept and executes it in a very workmanlike manner without a lot of twists and turns or even complexity. And any book is “smarter” than its subsequent movie version, so I can’t really fault it for not having a lot of meat on its bones - especially since it comes from the folks who gave us Dorm That Dripped Blood and Soul Survivors, which is oddly close to a title by Koontz (“Soul Survivor”) but is not based on his book. Also worth noting, the original book is simply called “Twilight”, but they had the foresight twenty years ago to avoid being mistaken for a silly sparkly vampire movie and thus added the “Servants” part of the title. Good call!

What say you?


Horror Hospital (1973)

MARCH 25, 2011


On the day that Michael Gough passed away, Blockbuster emailed to announce they were sending me Horror Hospital, in which Gough plays the film’s villain. So now I’m going to be scared whenever I get a movie that its own lead actor will die that day. Luckily I buy all of Bruce Willis and Kevin Costner’s movies whether I like them or not, so I shouldn’t have to worry about them too much (Chevy, on the other hand... I just cannot justify buying Karate Dog or Jack & The Beanstalk). At any rate, RIP Mr. Gough, and I apologize for all of my friends who referred to you as Alfred.

Anyway, good movie. Any film that opens with two folks being decapitated by a blade protruding from a Rolls Royce is automatically a success, but when you add in a villain who seemingly only wants to kill hippies (yay!), the deal is just sweetened. By the time our hero announces that “our only chance is a freaky little dwarf they got”, in reference to Gough’s little person slave who does indeed help them out and ultimately dies trying to save them, I knew this was a movie that would have to go out of its way to make me dislike it, and even then I’d probably still give it a pass. I’ve seen enough creepy little person villain sidekicks in my lifetime – we need more like this guy!

And, of course, more movies where the mad scientist is just wearing a mask to look human. Underneath, Gough’s character is this misshapen THING that sort of resembles Paul McCrane right before Kurtwood Smith splatters him in Robocop, which was a nice surprise. In fact, there’s a sort of low-key “kitchen sink” approach to this movie – there are old school zombies (slave drones), the freak, crazy experiments, out of nowhere bar fights, plus a good (and most welcome) dose of genuine atmosphere, Hammer-style. For example, when our heroes get off their train in the town where the girl (the lovely Vanessa Shaw) is supposed to be met by her aunt, and there is simply no life to be seen anywhere. At midnight this morning (that right?) I saw Sucker Punch, which ALSO had a kitchen sink approach (and off-record lobotomies!), but in that movie I just found it exhausting after a while. Here, however, the laid back approach (even played for laughs on occasion – our hero stops to gobble some pie left out on a counter as they make their way through the kitchen during their escape attempt) works in its favor, because these surprise little elements still seem organic to the story, as opposed to Sucker Punch’s “Hey you know what else would be cool? Nazi robots!” mentality.

There’s also an odd non-twist. In the film’s third act, another guy shows up at the creepy hospital, looking for his girlfriend. He shows one of the villains her photo, but we don’t see it, so it seems they are setting up that his girlfriend is actually the girl our hero has been hooking up with after meeting on the train there. But no, it’s just some other girl that we didn’t really get a good look at. Also, the guy doesn’t die – once I realized he wasn’t the boyfriend of our heroine, I figured they just added him to the movie so they could get another death in there while allowing our heroes to live, but nope. Usually this would kind of bug me, but again it sort of fit the film’s laid-back charms, like the dude just sort of wandered into the movie and stuck around for the ride.

I didn’t get the ending though. Gough gets decapitated, but that doesn’t seem to kill him, because right near the end we see his hand rising out of the swamp where he was killed. That part’s OK – doesn’t make a lot of sense, but whatever. However, from that they cut to the train station conductor, who was in cahoots with Gough, lying dead on the tracks, clearly from stab wounds or something of the sort. Who killed him? Headless monster Gough? Why? They were partners! In fact the conductor was pretty much the only one on his payroll that didn’t turn on him. Maybe he was just pissed off, like when Satan smashes Udo Kier’s head in End Of Days.

I also wasn’t too big on Jason, the film’s hero. He’s really ratty looking, and kind of annoying (way too pushy with the girl too, though she only seems to mind once). The guy who shows up near the end was actually more likable, I wish they had swapped roles. I guess it’s nice to have a sort of alt-hero in one of these things, instead of the usual handsome charmer. Speaking of him – his dialogue seems to be dubbed at times, particularly on the train. Bad ADR, or replacing a thick British accent?

There’s a new DVD by Dark Sky that has a commentary, but alas I was sent the original Elite pressing, which is non-anamorphic and lacks any real extras. The only thing this one offers besides “chapter selection” is the awful trailer, which oversells the film’s horror aspects and spoils one of the twists in the ONE shot of the movie it actually shows, though I guess without context it won’t mean much. I can only assume the commentary explains some of the more puzzling aspects of the film, such as why its called Computer Killers on the IMDb (there’s no computer in the movie), or why they list a “85 min/100 minutes (uncut)” running time when all releases I can find (including the new Dark Sky one) run 90 minutes.

One final note, mainly aimed at younger and future readers - the man that Jason goes to see is a “travel agent”. Back in the day, we would use these people to book our hotels, flights, etc, when planning a vacation, because we didn’t have Expedia or whatever to just do it ourselves (and cheaper). Oddly, last night’s 30 Rock made a joke about the death of this particular profession, so it was a weird coincidence that such a person appeared here, as it’s not like travel agents are particularly common fictional characters even back when they were at the peak of their popularity. I think the last one I can recall being in a movie was Truman Show. Weird.

What say you?


Curse Of Alcatraz (2007)

MARCH 24, 2011


As I inch closer to exhausting the entire horror section at my preferred Blockbuster (for real), I am actually getting kind of excited. Online, I can rent stuff like Curse Of Alcatraz without the soul-crushing moment where the clerk double-checks to make sure I’m renting what I thought I was renting ("And you're renting Curse of... Alcatraz. Correct?"). Yes, I am of sound mind and body, renting Curse Of Alcatraz. And next week I’ll finally tackle that Freakshow movie, just a heads up. However, it IS a shame that Blockbuster (at least, this particular one) is no longer bothering to order even a single copy of newer DTV/indie horror movies, because I feel the occasional gem like Frayed or Baby Blues will slip past me.

Curse, of course, is not a gem, but it’s not the bottom of the barrel either – it’s just the type of OK movie that you just don’t bother to go out of your way to watch, especially 4 years after it hit shelves. But to be fair, for a half hour or so I was kind of digging it. For starters, it was shot on film, which automatically puts it a notch or two above most other indie horror films of this sort. I know it’s a simple thing (and, yes, a preference), but to me it instantly says “we are trying, here”. Any schmuck can pop a tape in and get decent footage with a DV or HD camera, but to get good looking footage with film, at least SOMEONE on the crew definitely knew what they were doing, and for a low budget production, that they were willing to put a good chunk of their dough into film is quite laudable.

And it was unfolding slowly, not unlike an old 70s haunted house movie or maybe something from Hammer/AIP. But the characters weren’t just endlessly dicking around either; something minor occurs early on, with a guy pricking his finger on the teeth of a recently uncovered skeleton (our heroes are archaeology students), and the 60-90 seconds we spend watching him bandage it up lets us know that this is going to be important. But he doesn’t turn villain instantly, instead we continue to learn more about the skeleton, the island/prison itself, etc. It may not be particularly exciting, but it’s different, and I liked that they were keeping the usual hijinks to a minimum. One guy wants to bang one other girl, but otherwise they stick to business. Sort of reminded me of Session 9 at times in that manner; so many horror movies come up with a reason for the protagonists to be wherever they are but never bother to show them actually doing anything related to that after 5 minutes, but even at the top of the 3rd act they’re still dusting bones and such.

The 3rd act, unfortunately, is also where it loses steam. Basically, a couple of folks become infected and run around killing each other, while our two final heroes get locked in a cell and start spouting endless exposition to one another. The audio on the movie isn’t the best, making it hard to understand what they are saying at times, and the girl has a thick accent on top of that (attempts to use subtitles had a hilarious result – it crashed the DVD-ROM player, as if to suggest that it too couldn’t understand what they were saying). Some of the deaths are surprisingly gory, but it just got a bit monotonous watching poorly lit scene after poorly lit scene of these folks taking each other out in succession.

And the dialogue I COULD understand tended to be insufferable. The final girl has an inexplicably profane mouth, even referring to her friends with four letter word intensifiers (“It’s fucking Tiffany!”), which got obnoxious. Plus there were some just plain awful lines, like when another character (fucking Tiffany, I think) shouts “Control panel? I don’t even know what a control panel IS!”. On the other hand, they DID have a better excuse than normal for not having cell phones – the thick walls and often underground locales they were exploring kept them from being able to get a signal, and they’d have to go outside to get one, which was unsafe at night due to the lack of lights and such. Hey, I’ll take it.

Speaking of the locale, it’s kind of interesting that Alcatraz is visible from the very bright, populated San Francisco mainland. Most horror films are built around isolation of some sort, and inner city horrors tend to avoid these sort of “trapped” situations because of that. So even though it’s not a plot point or anything, there’s something kind of intriguing about our heroes being isolated and alone when you can see this major (but inaccessible) metropolis in the background. On the commentary, the director points out that the prisoners who could see the city from their cell windows tended to get violent or suicidal more often than the rest of the population, because the “so close yet so far” sight of the city would drive them mad.

That’s just one of many little tidbits or insights that makes the commentary worth a listen (provided you could stand the movie – the IMDb board is, of course, loaded with “Worst movie ever made!” type drivel). Director Daniel Zirilli and screenwriter Glase Lomond are up front with a few of the movie’s shortcomings (not all), and also provide helpful info for would-be filmmakers (one of them points out that they are, after all, the target audience for commentaries, something I wish more filmmakers would realize), such as imploring them not to waste time getting cool, showy shots that serve no purpose to the movie when you’re on location and on a tight budget – get that sort of stuff if you have time/money when the important stuff is done. They also confirmed something I suspected when watching – some of the interiors were not at Alcatraz but in an Oakland correctional facility. How did I know this? Because the characters ran by the same, oddly grade school-like cafeteria that I mocked nearly four years ago in the god-awful Death Row, which was also shot there! I love how I can remember THAT but it took me until this morning to remember to mail in the Netflix disc that I watched on Monday (Penance). Stupid BC.

Anyway, as these things go, it’s passable. There’s more effort and attempt at telling a good story than I tend to expect from Lionsgate releases of this sort, though I think only a guy watching them all the time would recognize its relative quality.

What say you?


Stake Land (2010)

MARCH 23, 2011


While it’s always nice to see a movie early (and free!), sometimes I’d rather just wait for the theatrical release, because I find most of the screening rooms in LA are uncomfortable (not to mention always in a high traffic area, which today was exacerbated by the rain). Call me crazy, but I like to be comfortable when I watch a movie. But I don’t care if the chairs were made out of broken glass, I wouldn’t have passed up the chance to see Stake Land, which I’ve been reading about for a while now and is from the team behind Mulberry Street, which was at the time and remains one of my favorite After Dark releases, not to mention simply one of the more impressive indie films of recent years.

Oh and Danielle Harris was in it. That doesn’t hurt.

Oddly enough, the movie was kind of similar to The Road, which I saw in the exact same screening room. I knew it was a sort of post-apocalyptic movie (with vampires instead of cannibals), but I didn’t know they both featured a man and a younger kid sort of making their way to a place they believe to be safe, facing harsh survival conditions, and encountering others along the way while trying to avoid some evil humans, in this case a devout religious group whose members are prone to releasing vampires into the safe havens of folks who opposed their order.

But this is the superior film, in my opinion. For starters, it’s got the balls that film lacked. In The Road, the threat of cannibals never felt real to me, because they never friggin’ ate anyone! But here, the religious nutjobs do some damage, and no one is “safe”. In the film’s centerpiece scene, we follow our heroes into a new town, fenced off from the vampire threat, and it’s all quite cheerful and optimistic, all in one tracking shot that finds them dancing, reuniting with a friend thought dead, etc – and then the cult drops in some vamps from a helicopter, turning everything to hell. Not only is it a technical marvel (the shot continues throughout the chaos – think Children Of Men but without the benefit of tens of millions of dollars), but not everyone makes it out alive. In literally one shot, we know to fear both enemies in equal measures, something The Road never managed to accomplish.

It’s also not trying to be an awards darling. Throughout The Road, I kept thinking how everyone seemed to be trying for an Oscar or something, but there is no such pretension to be found here. Not that their work shouldn’t be recognized (Jeff Grace’s score is easily more impressive than anything that got nominated last year save maybe Inception), but it’s not showy or stuffy work – it’s simply GOOD work, pretty much across the board. Co-writer Nick Damici may not have the gravitas of the sort of anti-hero man with no name type characters that may come to mind, but in some ways this is actually to the movie’s benefit – he doesn’t have the baggage that might inflict upon the movie’s story. Throw Kurt Russell in there and you’re thinking Snake Plissken; but Damici doesn’t have that sort of “signature badass role” to distract you. It allowed me to buy into the world in a fare more successful way than usual. Only Harris momentarily distracted, but that was due more to her introduction – she’s pregnant and singing. After this she blended in just as well, appearing without makeup (and brandishing a shotgun at one point – hell yeah).

The two younger actors also worked well. I guess the main kid, Connor Paolo, is on Gossip Girl, but I don’t watch that nonsense so to me he was just Martin, only surviving member of a family attacked by vampires early on in the outbreak (curious if that particular name was an homage to a certain vampire classic). And Sean Nelson from Fresh, I hadn’t seen him in a while so it took me a while to even recognize him. With ANY post-apoc movie, I think it’s best to either cast with relative unknowns or introduce the characters are quickly as possible – it’s hard enough to depict a world gone to hell in a believable way, but even harder when all of a sudden you’re seeing the star of a hit TV show or a beloved Oscar winner popping up halfway through the movie.

I also liked how low on dialogue it could be. I think Harris has her first line (not counting her song) like 15 minutes after we’ve met her, and other long stretches go by with minimal or no talking at all. And that’s fine by me, because then I could focus on the impressive “wasteland” look and buy into the isolation that they were feeling. Plus it’s a nice looking film (a bit too dark during some action scenes however), and it seems our characters are constantly on the move – there’s more change of scenery in this movie than a James Bond film. Sure, it’s mostly just forests and decaying makeshift cities or back country roads, but it’s not like most post-apoc movies where they settle in one particular area for a long period of time. A minor feast for the eyes, especially for someone like me who has seen enough ugly consumer-grade DV movies to last a lifetime (for the record, this was shot on the Red and transferred to film – looked great).

There is quite a bit of voiceover from Paolo, however, which irked me at times. Top and bottom of a movie – fine. But when there’s VO throughout, I start to get a little tired of hearing a disembodied voice speaking, especially when it’s basically all variations on “The world sure is different now, but we try to make the best of it”. Coupled with the melancholy score and wordless scenes of folks doing mundane things, you start to get the idea of what a Terrence Malick horror movie would be like. The middle of the film could benefit from some tightening; dropping one or two of these VOs would probably help.

The climax also could have had a little oomph. Without spoiling much, you know it’s going to come down to a final confrontation with both the religious group and the vampires, but it felt a bit too convenient and simplistic. I don’t need a big True Romance style multi-stage blowout, but it felt no different than the other action scenes (actually less of one if you count the long shot attack). Luckily there’s another surprising (ballsy!) death built into it, re-enforcing the movie’s emphasis on character and mood over story and action, but still – another beat or two in the action wouldn’t have hurt.

Dark Sky is releasing the film next week, but I believe only in NY and LA. Hopefully an On-Demand or DVD option won’t be far behind. If you enjoyed Mulberry Street, in some ways this is even better, and thus you should seek it out. And needless to say, I eagerly await Mickle and Damici’s next collaboration.

What say you?


The Beast Within (1982)

MARCH 22, 2011


I never understand the folks who get angry when a movie is made from a book and things are changed. The book's still there, and whether someone loves or hates the movie you can say "the book is different/better", so it's kind of win-win. All I care about is if the movie is good, and, if I KNOW it's a book beforehand, do I spend the entire movie feeling like I've been handicapped because I didn't do the reading beforehand. The 6th Harry Potter film, for example, was the first time that I felt not reading the corresponding book beforehand was leaving me at a disadvantage (I had only read the first three). Likewise, I spent a lot of my time watching The Beast Within wondering how much better/coherent the book was.

It seems like the movie is missing most of its first act. After the prologue, in which we see the female lead being raped (mostly suggested) by a beast/monster of some sort, we flash forward 17 years, where the product of that rape is in the hospital for some illness. It almost seems like he had been there his entire life, because we never got even a single scene of him awake and living his normal day. But that is not the case, he had just fallen ill recently. Anyway, his parents travel to the town where the rape occurred to find some answers (glad they finally got around to that), and a short time after that, the kid wakes up and escapes the hospital, only to go to the same town, a coincidence no one seems particularly surprised by. And so it goes, racing from one plot point to the next in its first 20-25 minutes...

...and then it just sputters to a crawl. There's no mystery to who the killer is - it's the son, who is exhibiting classic movie werewolf behavior (though he bites the neck and seemingly enjoys blood, which is more of a vampire move), i.e. getting angry and lashing out at the drop of a hat, profusely sweating, and displaying abnormal strength when killing folks. Instead, the mystery is why he is killing these particular people, which you'd think would be something his father (Ronny Cox) would go about trying to solve. Instead, he just tags along with the cops for the entire movie, finding corpses along with them, nodding along when someone else offers some insight to the sheriff, and finally standing around with a gun during the movie's climax. I like Cox, but seriously this is the least heroic hero in movie history, and after a while I just started wondering why the cops kept allowing him to walk onto crime scenes and such with them, because A. he wasn't a cop and B. he wasn't doing a goddamn thing anyway.

But the real problem is, again, never spending any time with these folks before things started getting bad. The key to any "guy slowly becoming a monster" movie is caring about him prior to the accident or incident that caused him to be that way, but the movie doesn't bother with any of that. Hell at one point he meets up with a girl and it took me half the movie to realize that they didn't already know each other, because they instantly become each other's closest friend. Where are his friends from before he got sick? What was his life like before this? Did he ever question the circumstances of his birth? All of these things would have helped make the story more compelling, but there's nothing of the sort to be found.

I was also surprised (not in an entirely good way) how un-batshit it was, considering that it was directed by Howling II/III maestro Philippe Mora, who sadly kept his insanity in check for the most part. This movie NEEDED some of his silliness, but apart from the overlong and ridiculous transformation scene (where everyone just stands there in minor horror as our young "hero" turns into a cicada (?), waiting until he starts attacking to finally move or do anything to help), it's crushingly straightforward and coherent.

At least it's well made. Apart from some occasionally puzzling editorial decisions (like when the killer is hiding under a morgue sheet as his victim, thinking it's someone playing a prank, seeks him - and he cuts to show us which one the guy is under, botching the scare), the movie is well put together, and the 2.35 imagery is solid. It looks more like a 70s film, actually, which is fine by me. On that note, the score is a bit like an overly dramatic 1950s horror score, but I assume that was the intention, and thus it worked. The FX are also better than I expected (I've honestly never heard of this movie until today), the one saving grace to the ridiculously long transformation scene is that the extra time spent looking closely at the changing effects doesn't reveal too many flaws in the process (really dug the bulging head stuff). The kills aren't too impressive for the most part, but there's a good head ripping near the end, and the gunshot wounds in the hospital scene also hold up nicely.

But it's just all weightless. I didn't care enough about the kid to feel sympathetic when he started turning into a were-cicada, and Cox wasn't given enough to do (literally or figuratively) to make his character's rather depressing arc (a guy who loves a son that's not really his is forced into a situation where he might have to kill him) compelling - if it was an unknown actor in the role (he was the only one in the movie I recognized), I probably wouldn't have cared about him at all. It's sort of ironic; all of these movies sort of crib from The Wolf Man, but I think this is the first I've seen that took the whole "Father has to put down his son" angle, which should have been a bonus as it's one of the less-copied elements and thus should have been welcome. But like everything else in this movie, it just felt underdeveloped and fruitless.

In short: I haven't read it, but the book is better.

What say you?

NOTE: Two days later I saw a new interview with Holland and he reveals that there actually IS no book, the author fell behind and never actually published (wrote?) it, but they left in the "Based on Novel by" credit to sort of cover themselves just in case. So most of my review is based on incorrect assumptions; it's just sort of messy by design. Well, his writing skills certainly improved after this.


Penance (2009)

MARCH 21, 2011


There are cynically produced movies, and there’s Penance, a movie so calculated to be created for a particular market and cast to be sold overseas that the director finds himself mentioning it more than once on the DVD. Seriously, in a 20 minute interview, the words “investor”, “foreign territories”, “pre-sale”, and other buzzwords that are more suited for a Deadline article about some Sundance movie pop up with alarming frequency, while things like “script” or “meaning” are glossed over or skipped entirely.

Needless to say, the movie is awful. I wasn’t aware that it was a found footage movie, but I did know the plot, and was thus instantly confused – “How are they going to justify using the camera?”. Well, they don’t. Despite running a “hospital” where they routinely kidnap, torture, and murder women, the main villain (Graham McTavish, who deserves better) for some reason has someone follow him around filming everything, which makes the motivations in Cloverfield look plausible in comparison. Not to be outdone in the stupidity department, our heroine (Marieh Delfino) decides to use her still camera’s “movie” function to film the various other women who have been abused, as “evidence” for the police once she escapes. Now, she’s just as mangled herself, and thus had all of the “evidence” she would need right there on her own body, so why she didn’t focus more of her attention on escaping is beyond me.

Even sillier, when she FINALLY mounts an escape attempt, she has her roommate (the lovely Alison Lange) join her, and gives her the camera. Now this girl is bleeding profusely all over from multiple wounds and likely in a severe state of shock, yet she picks up the camera and films Delfino as she makes her way down the halls and what not, instead of looking where she is going, or running wildly like someone who had been abused would do if they suddenly found themselves relatively free. So it’s stupid enough from a storytelling perspective, but the fact that it’s supposed to be the POV of a character in the film just makes it insulting. Even Diary of the Dead’s various snafus weren’t this offensive.

They can’t even sell the camera angle properly. Despite the fact that we plainly see that she is using a little still camera with a video function, Delfino is able to film long, high definition shots for a few days, when even the highest memory chip would only allow a couple minutes at most. She also grabs it and films herself sometimes, but uses both hands to do so (thumbs covering the lens and all!), which is just laughable. Thus, most of the time you will probably either forget that it’s supposed to be a verite film, or be thinking “where is she hiding this obviously giant camera?”, because they seemingly go out of their way to do everything about it completely wrong.

Hilariously, the only reason the found footage aspect seems to exist (besides helping sell it to certain markets, of course!) is to pay off a framing device that was all but completely removed from the film. Originally, there would be two cops looking at the footage, and they’d cut to them every now and then, with one cop seemingly fascinated by the villain while the other is detested by it. And the cops are played by two “names”, Jason Connery and Lochlyn Munro, who are given 2nd and 4th billing, respectively. But all of this was cut, leaving just a snippet of their final scene in the end titles (AFTER their otherwise baffling credits have rolled by), which also lacks the payoff, in which you’d discover that the cop Connery was playing was actually McTavish wearing a mask. I’m not joking. But without this stuff, you spend the entire movie wondering why you are watching everything through the camera lenses of its characters.

Ignoring all that, it’s still just a terrible movie. McTavish fancies himself a religious man, which means were treated to the usual babble about cleansing sins and other shit, as he cuts off women’s genitalia. Riveting. And when he’s not doing that, the women are being tasered or whipped, or just plain shot in the head for various infractions such as opting to take a large suitcase full of money and leave when offered the chance to do that OR stay and keep getting tortured (weirdest trick question ever). And as expected, the names in the cast, such as Michael Rooker, Tony Todd (who also popped up in the equally awful Bryan Loves You – stay away from found footage movies, Tony!), and James Duval, have limited screentime, so if you’re thinking “Well ____ is in it, so there’s something” – you can cue up a deleted scene from any of their other films and get just as much pleasure out of it. Writer/director/producer Jake Kennedy once again demonstrates his peculiar fascination with mutilating the male organ; on his previous film Days Of Darkness, when you turn into a zombie your penis and testicles fell off, and here, McTavish decides to castrate himself and then pull the gonads and other surrounding tissue out with his bare hands. What the hell is with this guy?

If the movie gets one thing right, it’s the casting of Delfino as the desperate mom turned stripper. A lot of movies cast insanely gorgeous women in these sort of roles, but Delfino, while attractive, does NOT look like stripper material, so in those few scenes she sticks out like a sore thumb, as she’s supposed to. Speaking of the stripper scenes (which are also burdened by the inane documentary approach – who the fuck would allow a guy to stand RIGHT next to them and film while they are getting a lapdance?), I love how instantly the women snap on any male presence. Duval plays a drunk college guy, and he walks over to Delfino and tries to strike up a conversation, the type of somewhat aggressive but also harmless flirting one would probably expect at a private stripper party. Yet he barely even gets around to asking her name before she’s giving him attitude and saying BACK OFF!, before running away from him entirely. Later, as soon as Rooker appears in the room, one of them smashes a bottle and holds the neck up to his face. What the hell is with these girls? It was one thing when Delfino freaked out – she’s new to this. Why are the seasoned pros so instantly scared of a guy arriving late to the party?

But those are the sort of things one would consider and revise if they were putting any effort into the script, which Kennedy clearly wasn’t interested in. As mentioned, his entire 20 minute interview is devoted to explaining the ins and outs of financing and distribution (even Mike Feifer mentions the story once in a while), and both of his commentaries (one with another producer, one solo) are largely given to discussing such matters, in addition to the usual low-budget horror production stories (“This is my producer’s house.” “This actor was only available for one day.” Etc.). He does offer that the genitalia-mutilating doctor was a real case in Australia, and the hospital is thankfully NOT the Linda Vista, so I’ll give him some minor credit on those points. Also, he mentions that his post producer was none other than Demian Lichtenstein, director of the awesome 3000 Miles To Graceland, which in a fairer world would have been a huge success and thus kept him away from trash like this.

Then there’s about an hour’s worth of what can be considered deleted scenes, including three alternate endings and 12-13 minutes’ worth of interviews with the characters (not the *actors*). Supposedly the first cut was around two hours, and the finished product is about 85 with very long/slow credits, so I guess it’s nice that they included pretty much everything that they cut, but most of it is explained in the Alone in the Dark-esque ending text crawl anyway. Anything you can read in this movie instead of watch – that’s a good thing.

The only bonus feature that I found actually inventive and impressive was an “Anatomy of a Shot” piece (not the actual IFC show) where Kennedy and some stand-in actors block out an entire scene as they run through it, making notes and adjustments where necessary, and then finally showing us their “good” take alongside the finished product. POV or not, blocking/rehearsing is an important but oft-rushed (sometimes skipped entirely) part of filmmaking, and poor planning can result in massive delays when you arrive on the set and realize you can’t quite do what you “shot in your head”. So A. it’s good to know they actually considered such things (at least for this scene), and B. it’s the type of feature I wish they had more often on movies. Especially nowadays, when bonus features are basically just there to instruct wannabe filmmakers (unless it happens to be your favorite movie – which I sincerely hope is not the case for anyone with this particular film), anything that can genuinely help someone rethink their process before setting out to make their own film is a valid use of disc space. Just a shame when it’s supplementing a worthless film like Penance.

What say you?

P.S. Mr. Kennedy – might want to spell check your text-based epilogue next time around. “Anonomous” is not a word. I hope that didn’t cost you a pre-sale in a key European territory.


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