Hypothermia (2010)

SEPTEMBER 30, 2012


At first I was confused by the clear plastic case on the DVD for Hypothermia instead of the standard black, but when I opened it up it all made sense - it comes with a reversible cover that boasts completely different box art, so the clear plastic was there to let you see it. I also noticed that it was superior art, and as I slid it out to reverse it I realized that my assumption about the film was backed up by this alternate cover, which I have posted below for your enjoyment (you can see the "default" cover on the Amazon link below).

Now, I see that poster and I think: "Oh cool, this looks like a B movie from the 70s." You know, something you'd catch on late night cable, perhaps with a horror host, scaring the shit out of impressionable youth or entertaining those who were possibly a bit drunk. Then it would disappear, find its way onto MST3k or one of those Mill Creek budget packs, and be championed by nostalgic viewers and/or people like me who watch a lot of crap and can appreciate a straight up monster movie every now and then. Plus it's eye-catching, unlike the rather bland cover they went with that shows some people standing on the ice, plus the monster below them if you look at it really closely. I guarantee everyone who buys this DVD will be sporting the alternate cover, and I can ALMOST guarantee that they probably cost themselves a few sales by not using it in the first place.

As for the movie itself, it's pretty good, with two big blunders that keep it just shy of a full blown recommendation. One would be the not particularly good monster suit; while one could argue it totally fits with the cheesy 70s Bigfoot and swamp creature suits you'd see, that sort of "retro" approach can only get you so far, and as a result it never feels very menacing. And either by design or by post production second guessing, many of its attack scenes are confusing, as the shots of the monster never last long (and are often set in near total darkness). So you can barely see anything and what you DO see looks silly - it's not a good combo.

The other issue is the very ending, which... actually I have no idea what the hell happened there. I will welcome all theories, but I'd be even more interested in hearing someone who found it in any way satisfying. Even with the cheesy suit, I was on board with the movie and ready to defend it (a few friends had offered "condolences" when I tweeted that it was today's HMAD), but that ending made it hard to argue with them. Much like my love of pop rock bands and the show Prison Break, I understand why folks find it so bad, and it's not worth the debate - by any reasonable measure you're "right", but dammit I like it anyway.

And I can justify that admiration with the film's first hour or so (it's only 72 minutes with credits), which quickly sets up the scenario and its characters, and keeps the pace chugging along as the monster stalks them from above, surfacing often enough to keep it from being dull but not so often that we don't get a chance to know who our characters are. It's certainly interesting to see Michael Rooker playing a normal family man for a change; I can't even remember the last time he played a character that didn't put me on edge (Cliffhanger?), and he actually acquits himself nicely in the role. If nothing else, hopefully some filmmakers/casting types will see this movie and realize Rooker can play sympathetic roles and not just villains and weirdos.

Also: yay, practical FX! One of the characters gets a pretty nasty wound on his arm early on, and the other assorted injuries and deaths are given the ol' pre-CGI treatment that I always prefer. Hell, I can even appreciate that they tried to do a practical monster rather than a CGI one; it would probably look bad either way on this budget, so at least the actors have something to react to and interact with instead of staring at ping pong balls and green screens. I can also appreciate any movie that takes place almost exclusively on the ice - there's a cabin we see briefly in the first act and a little trailer that they use every now and then (which we learn is a set on the making of featurette), but the rest of the time they're really out there on the ice, falling through holes into the freezing water when applicable and probably not having too much sensation in their fingers and toes throughout the bulk of their scenes.

That tidbit is one of the few things learned on the making of, which is sadly lacking much in the way of interviews or anything like that - it's mostly just a random assortment of production footage and "fly on the wall" type stuff. The guy who designed the suit offers some thoughts (and we see director James Felix McKenney give it his approval), but otherwise there isn't much to chew on here. Rooker shows up a few times (it ends on his last day of shooting), but the other actors are barely glimpsed, which is a shame as I would have liked to hear the actress playing his wife explain why she had the same scolding look on her face and tone to her line delivery throughout the film. Doesn't matter if her husband is being a Clark Griswold-ian family man, or there's a monster swimming nearby, or she's just seen a loved one get killed, she always looks and sounds like a woman who just found out her kid got caught smoking at school and has to drive over there on her day off to pick him up from the principal. Bold choice.

However the other two bonus features are kind of awesome. One is the full version of the fishing show that we see on a TV for a brief moment; it's too small to tell in the film but the star of this "show" is none other than Larry Fessenden, and he's a riot playing a straight-faced parody of those Sunday morning shows. It runs about four minutes, just long enough to amuse and make it worth your while. The other one is even better - a ten minute account of the guy who has to bring a major prop for the film all the way to upstate New York. He's joined by his dad, and a hefty portion of the piece is his old man telling him about watching horror movies with the (future) mom of the family back when they were first dating. It's a wonderfully sweet little concept, and the exact kind of bonus feature I like - something unusual that you know wasn't slapped together by one of the producers looking to make his DVD look more interesting to buyers. No one will buy Hypothermia for this little piece, but damned if it isn't worth keeping the disc out of respect for such a great idea.

The underwhelming monster and totally jarring ending make this one a tough sell, but if you're in the mood for a more serious monster movie (i.e. NOT the ones they show on Syfy) with a unique setting, I think it's worth the whopping 70 minutes it takes to watch it. Rooker fans should enjoy seeing him do something a little different, and it's a huge improvement on McKenney's Off Season, something I always like to see. Knock em dead next time, sir.

What say you?


Chained (2012)

SEPTEMBER 29, 2012


If you haven't seen Bereavement yet, perhaps Chained (formerly Rabbit) will intrigue you a lot more than it did me, as both films had the same central concept: a woman hating serial killer takes in a young lad and eventually "trains" him as his protege. But whereas Bereavement took a different turn and played up its horror elements (as it is a prequel to the cult slasher Malevolence), Chained chooses option B, opting for something a little more hopeful... and then nosedives thanks to a laughable twist.

Now, I won't spoil it for you, but it's kind of an interesting one in that writer/director Jennifer Lynch gives you some pretty huge clues about it throughout the film, yet it's so stupid that even though I considered it momentarily, I instantly chalked it up to "no way in hell they would do that". Alas, my instinct was right, and there I sat, laughing and shaking my head when the movie went there, but also doing it quickly and without fleshing out its nature. If she had made it a twist for the end of the 2nd act and let the 3rd act play out with all the pieces in place, it might have come together - but its just so abrupt and goofy that it just simply doesn't work.

I'm also unsure what kind of movie she was trying to make. She says on the commentary she doesn't think of it as a horror movie but a "movie with horrific elements", but if not horror then what is it? You can't end a drama on something this goofy, and as a thriller it lacks any real tension. Vincent D'Onofrio is the most prolific serial killer in (non franchise) movie history, but despite not living too far outside of town and being a weird loner type that would be the first suspect in a wave of killings, there isn't a single cop character in the entire film. Rabbit only makes a single escape attempt early on, and is caught instantly, so there's not a lot of suspense derived from his situation either - after a while he's just a meek slave.

And we never leave them, which turns the middle of the movie into a blur of repetitive sequences: D'Onofrio tries to teach him something, Rabbit rebels, and D'Onofrio gets angry. In Bereavement we had the Michael Biehn character and his family to break things up, but here it's like these two exist in some sort of alternate universe where the only other characters are unnamed victims in montage scenes. Again, the police never come snooping, we barely ever see him operating his cab when he's NOT killing people, etc. There's also another nagging question any viewer would probably have, but it's answered by that dumb twist - not sure if that counts as a red mark on the film or not. On one hand, you can appreciate that they don't cheat by exploring this issue beyond a single newspaper clipping (sorry, trying to be vague - once you've seen the film you'd know what I meant), but on the other, it just adds to the movie's baffling lack of an outside presence - and the twist only explains one of those many concerns.

On the other hand, the movie is worth watching for D'Onofrio's performance. Sporting an accent that's somewhere between stereotyped Midwest and his own Edgar from Men In Black, he goes full force into making Bob a three dimensional character. He's got a weird tic where he's constantly wiping his mouth with a hanky, and the routine he has for his killing habits borders on autism; it's a terrific, strangely captivating performance. The kid playing Rabbit is quite good as well (actually, they both are as there's an 8ish and a 17ish one), and while their roles are very limited, it's nice to see Julia Ormond and Jake Weber as Rabbit's parents. Gina Philips also pops up, still quite lovely. Just a shame all of their screentime amounts to about 7 combined minutes because Lynch keeps her film focused on two guys who never let their antagonism really come to life; whenever it seems like things will hit the next level, Lynch pulls back and keeps things more or less the same.

Lynch and D'Onofrio provide an audio commentary that leans heavily on the latter's acting choices (the hanky thing was his idea), as well as shooting locations, the DP's use of color (she blows her own "this isn't horror" claims by saying she didn't want it to be colored blue "like OTHER horror movies"), and other minutiae. The story and the occasional twists (D'Onofrio's character has a very messed up flashback about his "first time") are mostly ignored - more often than not the two just sit in silence whenever anything major happens. If you're a fan of D'Onofrio (and why wouldn't you be?) and/or of acting then it's worth a listen to hear some insights into his process, but otherwise, like the film itself, it lacks a strong hook.

The only other bonus feature (besides a trailer) is the original version of one particular murder, which the MPAA made them modify in order to secure an R rating. The only difference is the amount of blood we see, making it the latest in a long line of MPAA decisions that simply make no logical sense. If you're an impressionable youth, a woman getting her throat slit and bleeding to death will do just as much damage as a woman getting her throat slit SLIGHTLY LESS and bleeding to death. And you can see the difference quite clearly, as this is an Anchor Bay release and thus carries their usual top notch transfer. On that note, they oddly don't have a trailer reel at the top, which is a tradition of AB releases - are they wising up in their later years?

I really wanted to like this one, and at times I did - D'Onofrio is terrific, it's well made, and there's a bit of sadness to the entire thing that I admired. But the boneheaded twist and seeming lack of a real world beyond Bob's front door just kept me at bay, and the similarities to another film (also released from Anchor Bay, incidentally) were a bit hard to forgive when that one was doing this stuff so much better.

What say you?


Hotel Transylvania (2012)

SEPTEMBER 28, 2012


I could have just gone to a neighborhood theater for a midnight Hotel Transylvania, but I have come to really like the 3D presentation at the Rave 18, which is like 25-30 minutes from my house (and longer tonight as there was an accident on the freeway). For a good 3D film, it's worth the gas (and 2 dollar parking - my other theaters are free), but alas the 3D for this particular entry in the growing "animated kids horror movie" genre was among the weakest I've seen - even some of the trailers beforehand were more impressive. Being that I'm not the target audience for the film, feel free to disregard everything else I say below, but I know 3D and this wasn't even remotely worth the extra 3 bucks (especially if you're bringing your kids).

The movie itself was fine. Again, it's aimed at folks who are at least 20 years younger than me, and there's no law that says every animated film has to appeal to the adults as well. If your kid likes fart jokes and the like, he/she will find plenty to enjoy here, but if you want something that works on "all ages" I would suggest opting for Paranorman or waiting for Frankenweenie (which I haven't seen, but have heard plenty of good things from folks I trust). For adults, there's only a handful of gags that might go over the 6-7 year olds' heads - the random jab at Twilight was a delight (even if this film is just as guilty at reducing the iconic nature of a vampire), and I particularly loved the strange bit where a sentient sponge seemed to be getting off as it was used to clean up a puddle of wolf pee.

In fact, that's kind of my weird issue with the movie - it's Adam Sandler and a bunch of his usual pals (Steve Buscemi, Kevin James, David Spade, and new cohort Andy Samberg), but precious little of their trademark scatological humor. I was hoping we'd get the Sandler who would see imaginary penguins and hang out with guys who are obsessed with touching people's feet, but it seems they didn't bring much to the table beyond showing up and recording their voices. None of his usual collaborators are among the five (!) people credited with the script, unless you count Robert Smigel, who probably did some work with him at SNL (this is his first writing credit on a Sandler film). In other words, despite the influx of familiar co-stars, this is not an animated Adam Sandler film - it's an animated film that happens to feature him.

However, it does share one trait with those movies - a nonsensical plot that only serves to string the gags together. It's a pretty hit or miss formula (more misses than hits as of late), and this one sadly is much closer to a miss, as the writers seemingly go out of their way to avoid any actual conflict or drive to their story. Any time something interesting is brought up, it's instantly resolved. Basically, Samberg's character is a human who wanders into the hotel one day, which sends Dracula (Sandler) into a panic because he has convinced his daughter that all humans want to do is kill them. So he has Samberg pretend to be a monster like his buddy Frankenstein (yep, it's a movie where they confuse the Monster for the doctor), but the kid falls for the daughter and thus threatens to expose his human nature, and that's pretty much it. There's no ACTUAL human villain, the daughter isn't in any real danger, and even Dracula doesn't seem particularly engaged in his own drama - within minutes he's basically Samberg's best friend, "surfing" through the castle on magic tables.

It also fails to give the other monsters anything to do. "Frank", the Wolfman, the Invisible Man, and the Mummy are in nearly every scene, but most of the time are just sitting around doing nothing beyond offering the occasional one-liner. When everyone arrives it seems like they'll have their own subplots - the Wolfman is being driven batty by his giant litter, Frank's wife nags him, etc, but these things never stretch beyond their initial setup, and serve just to give the actors something to do - you could cut them all out of the movie and it wouldn't make much of a difference until the climax, where they each get to do one little thing as they all make their way to try to stop Samberg from leaving. But the "Hotel" aspect, and even their monstrous nature, are completely wasted as the movie focuses on the generic love story and Dracula's realization that his little girl has grown up - why even risk losing some of the audience when you can just do the same exact story with, I dunno, a hotel for primates or something? Drac can be a baboon, Frank can be a gorilla, Mummy can be an ape... basically it feels like an extended pilot for a TV show about a hotel for monsters, where we're just learning who everyone is and setting up the world, before the series really begins and gets interesting.

From what I understand, this movie went through SIX directors, and it's worth noting that the three guys credited with the film's story aren't either of the ones credited with its screenplay, so this is clearly a movie that has been retooled and revised beyond any hope of being truly memorable. I don't mean to be a Pixar snob, but they are the only animation outfit who are consistently delivering something that you'll want to show your own kids someday - Sony, Dreamworks, FOX... their entries are just typical junk you throw on to distract the youngsters during long car rides or something, for the most part (that said, Dreamworks' Rise of the Guardians looks incredible). This is no different - it's cool to see all these monsters together with state of the art animation, and while they're just background characters there's a lot of great design work here to enjoy (the one time the 3D comes to life is during big crowd scenes), but the almost non-existent story and lack of any real laughs makes it a tough sell when there are superior horror-centric family options still out there. It held my attention, nothing more - but someone call me when they make that TV show!

What say you?


Fantastic Fest: And All The Rest

SEPTEMBER 28, 2012


As always when I attend a festival, I see more films than I could possibly write full reviews for (at least ones that live up to my high-ish standards), but it's worth saying a few words about those other flicks. And this being Fantastic Fest and not all horror like most festivals I go to, I don't really have an outlet to review the others in full anyway, as we had like eight writers from BadassDigest there in Austin all seeing the same movies, so some of these already have full reviews on the site that you should go read as well. Those folks are better writers than I am anyway.

Anyway, without further ado, here are my thoughts on the others. I also put up my whole schedule so you can get an idea of how nutty it could be - any "missing" time was probably spent at the Highball, writing these reviews and wolfing down the onion rings.


Sinister (review HERE)

Chaos Reigns Karaoke Party
Not as good as last year's - because I DIDN'T GET TO SING! OK, bias aside, it just didn't have the same vibe - there was a lot of crowd turnover, and by the time it was half over the room was already kind of empty as people would just come back to do their song. And while I didn't even try this time around, I'm appalled that Tim League would scoff at "Total Eclipse" but allow that overplayed, obnoxious "We Are Young" with no qualms.


The Collection (review HERE)

Berberian Sound Studio (review HERE)

Universal Soldier: Day Of Reckoning
Um.... what? I really enjoyed the last sequel, and was excited that Dolph, Van Damme, and director John Hyams were all coming back, plus Scott Adkins (not a great actor, but a hell of a fighter) - all in 3D! But Hyams apparently went off the deep end at some point, and instead of delivering more of the ass-kicking fun we should expect in what is essentially Universal Soldier 6, he gave us a very slow, perplexing film that owes more to Gaspar Noe and Christopher Nolan (plus a LOT of Coppola's Apocalypse Now) than, well, John Hyams, director of Universal Soldier: Regeneration. I have a tag-team review with fellow Badasses Sam Strange and FILM CRIT HULK that will be up next week for more thoughts, but suffice to say I left equally disappointed and confused.

The ABCs of Death (review HERE)

Fantastic Debates
Outside of movies, this is THE must-see event at Fantastic Fest, as it's as brilliant as it is insane. After a spirited debate on a topic (usually film related), the two debaters don boxing gloves and proceed to beat each others' faces in, with the crowd declaring a victor for the verbal portion and an ass on the mat deciding on the latter. I had zero interest in the first "debate", featuring some twin sisters promoting their movie. The debate was merely the two of them yelling at each other, and their fight seemed slightly staged. I'm sure it was exciting to some (they're attractive ladies, no doubt), but I found little amusement in their attention whore-y antics. And the 3rd debate was even sillier - it was Tim vs the director of Miami Connection (an 80s "so bad it's good" thing that was recently re-discovered), who refused to even fight, leading Tim to just sort of chase him around the ring.

However, the middle event more than made up for the others. My boss Devin fought filmmaker Joe Swanberg on the merits (or lack thereof) of "mumblecore" filmmaking. Being that Joe has made a career for himself with these type of films, you can guess which side he was on, leading Devin to slam his (and others') films on their poorly improvised scripts, self-indulgent plots, and general abundance of suck. He took a few cheap shots (most of which were still very funny) but also was able to smile and even laugh a bit when Joe would shoot back, unlike Joe himself, who seemingly had no sense of humor about the entire thing. Unsurprisingly, the fight was far from good natured - these two really went at it full throttle. Sadly, it didn't last long - Devin took a pretty good hit to the head right off the bat (his contact actually flew out of his eye!) and since they neglected to have headgear placed on the fighters, he was never able to fully recover from that first blow. He got a few good body shots in, but after toppling for the 3rd time (not from a hit, he was just totally out of it) the ref called the match over. Obviously, Devin lost the boxing match, but I think he won the debate - both men made great points, but Dev also understood that it's supposed to be entertaining for the crowd (all of whom are skipping out on a movie to watch), something that must have escaped Joe. Footage and transcripts are available online if you'd like to judge for yourself, but from where I was standing, Devin had the V until things got physical.


No Rest For The Wicked
As soon as I can, I'm going to watch the rest of this one - after a night of almost no sleep, its mix of detective drama and Spanish subtitles was too much for me, and I passed out after 20 minutes, only to wake up a half hour later and simply exit rather than try to figure out what was going on after missing nearly a third of the narrative. I liked what I saw though!

I Declare War
The tonal shifts could have been smoother, but I loved the concept of this one - a kids' "war" game played out with actual weapons, serving as the backdrop of a very realistic and even somewhat sad tale of how quickly kids can turn on each other over trivial matters. Anyone who's ever fought with their childhood best friend over a broken toy or a misunderstanding during a game ("You cheated!" "Nuh uh!" type stuff) should be caught up in this inventive, touching action/comedy/drama mix. And kudos to the casting folk - the kids are perfect.

The American Scream (review HERE)

Homemade Haunted House Hellbash
Right after American Scream, we were ushered into a makeshift maze inside one of the closed stores next to the theater (they are pretty much closing down the entire plaza - the Alamo and the Highball are being renovated/moved, hopefully in time for next year's FF), which was like a typical Halloween maze - corridors where costumed characters jump out at you, strobe lights, lots of props... it was a glorious way to cap off the terrific doc. Also, unlike most of those mazes, we were given free drinks and candy at the end of it.


Memory of the Dead (review HERE)

My Amityville Horror
We've all seen documentaries where the subject got a bit angry at his interviewers, but never have I felt as terrified for the very LIVES of the documentarians as I did here, as Daniel Lutz constantly seems about two seconds away from smashing the camera or worse. As the son who lived in the infamous house for those 28 days in the 70s. As we've learned over the years, the events were more than likely the complete fabrication of George Lutz, Daniel's stepfather - but that doesn't make them any less real to Daniel; I don't believe that anything supernatural happened there, but I believe HE believes it, and that is what gives this documentary its power. George sounds like pretty much the worst person in the world, with Daniel's accounts of his abuse and iron fist ruling (he refused to marry Daniel's mother unless he could legally adopt Daniel and his two siblings) makes the ghost stuff almost sound preferable. It's more about this conflicted, disturbed man than the house (or the movies, which are mentioned a few times), but there's enough new-ish info here for fans of the tale, and it's in some ways the scariest film I saw at the festival.

Fantastic Fest Awards
It's interesting the way that they do the awards here; by placing them in the middle of the schedule, it can make you rethink your options for the following days - that film you were going to skip wins two awards, and suddenly it's worth trying to see instead of sleeping late or going somewhere besides the Highball for dinner. And you gotta love the awards themselves - beer steins that are filled and MUST BE drank before the award can be accepted (if the winner does not drink, someone from the film must drink it instead; if no one is there, then the presenter has to chug). Obviously not the healthiest awards show ever, but certainly the most enjoyable. And I'm proud to report my friend BenDavid Grabinski won an award for best bumper (those festival-based shorts that play before each movie), no doubt due to the fact that he had a certain horror-loving, gray-haired schmuck in a horror shirt as one of his extras.

Fantastic Feud
A huge improvement over last year's abbreviated version, this VERY loose mix of Family Feud and trivia contest is a fun way to kill 90 minutes if your brain is too fried to focus on a movie. Pitting a team of five USA festivalgoers vs five foreigners (both teams a mix of filmmakers, journalists, and festival personnel), it was a delight, even if the host completely boned the US team by giving the first chance at answering the final question to the foreign team even though it was the US team's turn (we tried explaining his error, but a crowd full of drunks shouting at a guy who is stoned isn't going to solve anything). And I was able to secure a point for the US team after both sides failed to answer a question about The Descent and it was turned over to the audience, so that was fun. Hopefully next year they'll let me be on the team so US can be assured a victory!


The Exorcist in the 21st Century
I was very excited for this doc, which focused on the real life exorcists and what they do in a world filled with horror movies glorifying their profession, but it was a snoozer; possibly the weakest film I saw (tied with Memory anyway). The only time it came to life is when the priests start talking about the impact The Exorcist had on them, highlighted when the main guy inexplicably claims that the film was the first one from Friedkin (he had already won an Oscar) and that he hadn't done anything since. If the best part of a movie is the lead subject sounding like a total idiot (when the movie isn't trying to paint him as one), then it's probably not the best use of your time. I had some delicious French Toast while I watched it, however.

Drawn and Quartered: Animated Fantastic Fest Shorts
I didn't get to see the horror shorts this year, which bummed me out, but at least the animated block had a couple that fit, including the awesome (but a bit too long) Bobby Yeah from Robert Morgan. Imagine Frank Henenlotter directing an epic length video for Tool and you'd have an idea of what this trippy, super inventive piece was like. There was also an utterly insane/amazing "let's go out to the lobby" type piece from MK12 that topped even the ATHF movie's own parody of these things for delirious and sick awesomeness. Post Human was also quite good, though it left me wanting more (unlike most of the others, which went on too long).

But the best was last, and not genre related at all. Disney's Paperman, which will be attached to Wreck It Ralph this holiday season, was a wonderful, refreshingly old-school short about a guy trying to get the attention of a crush by using paper airplanes. The terrific (black and white!) animation and utterly perfect score by Christophe Beck put a huge smile on my face throughout; if I wasn't excited about Ralph (and I am), I'd still go see it just to watch this again. Terrific stuff, and hopefully Disney will continue embracing 2D animation.

The Mafu Cage (review HERE)

And that's it! I had a ticket for the 100 Kills at midnight, but I opted to spend my last few hours in Austin with friends over at the Highball. Someone secured a private karaoke room where I was able to finally get my Bonnie Tyler on (with most of the room singing along with me, thank you very much) and talk movies some more with folks I'm not likely to see again until next Fantastic Fest. At around 2:30 am the heroic William Goss (a terrific writer who you should already be reading) drove me to the airport for my early morning flight (rule of thumb - if your flight is before 8 am, it's best to just sleep at the airport rather than try to wake up and get there), and thus Fantastic Fest was officially over for me.

Overall I definitely had more fun this time. The extra day was a huge help - I was able to relax a little more often and partake in other events like the debate, as I didn't feel the need to cram as many movies in (despite the extra day I actually saw the same number of films). This probably didn't help my health any - if I'm in the theater I might feel OK to just have some water, but if I'm at a table in The Highball I feel obligated to keep drinking soda or eating those damn onion rings. But I can't think of a more glorious way to endanger my health, and I encourage anyone reading this site (or Badass) on a regular basis to venture to Austin at least once and experience one of the best festivals ever. See you in 2013!


Retro Puppet Master (1999)

SEPTEMBER 27, 2012


"Wait, is that a mistake?" you might be asking after reading "own collection" as the source of a later Puppet Master film. But it's true - thanks to Echo Bridge I now own all NINE "canon" Puppet Master movies to date (vs Demonic Toys is left out), and I immediately popped in the first in the series I hadn't seen as of yet - the 7th entry: Retro Puppet Master. I don't think I've seen the two after that, either, so this is awesome as I can cross off another "Completely Reviewed Franchise" on the HMAD list. Thanks, EB!

Anyway, for a late period one, it's actually not too bad. It's certainly better than Curse (the worst of the canon lot), and even a slight step up from the underwhelming 5th entry. Most of its problems can be chalked up to budget - there's not a lot of action, the puppets' role is once again minimized (and when they DO move it's via servos and rods and closeup shots to hide them - no stop-motion at all this time), and I don't quite buy the usual Romanian locales as Paris in 1902. Pretty sure this is the first movie that takes place in Paris and yet no one has a view of the Eiffel Tower out of their window. Way to break cinema's grandest tradition, Mr. Band.

It also introduces a few new puppets that are not particularly interesting (though Dr. Death looks pretty cool), given that they, like the "Retro" versions of Six Shooter, Blade, and Tunneler, don't get to do a hell of a lot throughout the movie. In the third act they kill some of the movie's villains (these weird dudes in suits that seem lifted directly from Dark City's Strangers), but these scenes are lackluster and brief, and all play out the same, giving no opportunity for the new guys to really stick out. At the end of the film Toulon promises that he'll explain where they went in another story, but as of yet it seems that hasn't happened (I'm using a chart on Wikipedia that someone actually took the time to put together. Poor bastard). Not that I really care much, but still, don't promise a movie you're not going to make - it'd be one thing if this was the last entry, but they made 2-3 more after this!

But despite the absentee puppets, it was still relatively painless. The script was better than most, telling the story of a young Toulon as he is introduced to the puppet master power for the first time. According to someone who takes these things way too seriously on the IMDb, this contradicts what we were told in Puppet Master II, but I would argue that it doesn't fucking matter in the slightest. The franchise has a general continuity that's actually kind of elaborate and impressive (considering who we're dealing with here), so I can forgive the mishaps with the dates (Toulon supposedly killed himself in the late 30s but he's telling the story of this movie in 1944) and ret-conned explanations. At least they were putting some effort into it - most folks probably wouldn't care if they merely just had the puppets killing a new group of folks in Band's castle each time out.

And it's nice to see Toulon as a full character, instead of just some old dude spouting nonsense. He's played by Greg Sistero in the Paris scenes (Guy Rolfe returns for the framing sequence), and if that name sounds familiar it's because he later went on to play Mark in The Room (the guy that's just on the roof, thinking). You gotta wonder what he was more embarrassed by on his resume - the 6th Puppet Master sequel, or the "worst film of all time". Anyway, he's got some nice chemistry with the love interest, and while I don't believe he'd look like Guy Rolfe in 40 years, he's at least a step or two above the actors they get nowadays. He also looks a bit like the singer from Lifehouse, which I found amusing as they often toured with the band The Calling, whose frontman was Charles Band's son Alex.

Weirdly, the movie is PG-13. The kills are pretty bloodless and there isn't any nudity or even profanity that I can recall, which is puzzling as these are DTV movies that have always been R rated. I know theatrical franchises often soften as they begin to age, in order to ensure a wider possible audience to make up for the original fans jumping ship, but it makes no sense for a video series. Pretty sure they went back to R (or simply "not rated") for the following entries (again, except for vs Demonic Toys, which was a Syfy Original)>, making this a peculiar anomaly.

So it's a mixed bag. On one hand, I liked that they were trying to tell a real story for once, and I enjoyed seeing the "retro" designs of the familiar puppets. But on the other, it's very slow and it lacks the franchise's usually impressive stop-motion work, which is pretty much the only reason to keep watching these damn things. Your call.

What say you?


Snakes On A Train (2006)

SEPTEMBER 26, 2012


Coming home from Fantastic Fest and watching an Asylum mockbuster on streaming video is sort of like punching yourself in the balls the morning after spending the night with Kate Beckinsale, but honestly I couldn't find anything better than Snakes On A Train. Stuck at work and having forgotten my rental DVDs in my still unpacked suitcase (I brought them to Austin for emergencies), I looked on Netflix for a solid 15 minutes before admitting defeat and hitting play on a movie that I knew to be the cheap knockoff of a movie that already felt under-budgeted.

Plus, the real Snakes sounded better on paper than it actually was in execution, something that plagues most Asylum mockbusters. I'm always hopeful - I know the budgets are pitiful, but the fact that they DON'T have to play theatrically (yet) should give them a little more leeway to be creative, and smart filmmakers would use their lack of financial support as a motive for telling better stories. But no, time after time they merely offer enough action to fill a trailer and pad the rest of the movie out with scattered nonsense and underdeveloped subplots that no one would find amusing even ironically.

For example, we're promised 100 passengers on the box art, but in reality there are only about 15, max. Two of them are smuggling drugs, and this subplot takes up enough screentime that you'd think it'd pay off - maybe they'd drug the snakes or something, or the bad guys would come along and make things worse for them, but no. The subplot is dropped, and one of the women dies without much fanfare. But their "drama" took up 10 minutes, so we're closer to being a feature film! The trio of stoners and other assorted folks don't fare much better - even the ones that survive are basically anonymous extras in terms of how much any sane viewer would care about them.

I will give the movie this much though - the snakes are on the vehicle for a better reason than "A mobster put them there to take out a witness", a concept that was dumber than even SOAP deserved. No, this time our female lead is cursed by her family over an arranged marriage that she refused to commit to, and needs to get to LA in order to find a shaman that will lift the curse. The snakes are part of the curse - she pukes a few up every now and then, and they very slowly and casually attack the other characters. Here the box art is even more ambitious; they promise 3000 snakes when we get MAYBE 10 of them, most of them no bigger/scarier than something you'd find in your yard. Near the end there's a viper or something, and then one character turns into a giant snake, which is amazing, but even for an Asylum production I was very disappointed by the small number of snakes, as well as the minimal number of crimes they commit (though one of the bigger ones eats a kid - score!).

And originally we didn't even get the giant snake eating the train (it's awesome, it just chomps its way through it like Homer eating the potato chips while in zero gravity). Apparently they sold the movie to a foreign territory with a "Snake eating the train" poster, and those buyers demanded that the scene appear in the movie. When the best part of your movie was just a way to cover your own ass from some distributors in another country, you have most likely made a bad film. The deaths are admirably gory (and the wound FX are actually solid), but there simply aren't enough of them to make up for the film's unrelenting tedium.

It also fails to utilize its best asset: the character of Frank, the train's conductor who is played by an actor who is either terrible or smarter than anyone else in the movie and simply amusing himself by being ironic (he DOES have a hipster mustache...). Either way, his awkward line readings and truly silly character (he spends a good chunk of his screentime asking the passengers if they've been in contact with their luggage the entire time?) gave the movie some life whenever he was on-screen, and it's a pity he wasn't the male lead as this movie might have been less of a chore if he was on-screen for another 30 or so of its 90 minutes.

Luckily, this is 2006, and no one even remembers Snakes On A Plane, let alone its unnecessary mockbuster. I don't have to worry about anyone else actually watching it. THIS REVIEW SERVES NO PURPOSE!

What say you?


The Mafu Cage (1978)

SEPTEMBER 25, 2012


Ordinarily, the revival screenings at a film festival don't interest me much, as they're often widely available movies and/or ones I've seen with a crowd (like last year's FF selection of Fulci's Zombi), so I'd rather go see something new. But I didn't get to spend much time with my buddy Sam, and he was all about The Mafu Cage, I opted for it over the other films playing in the same slot (none of which excited me much anyway - plus, if I didn't see this I'd have to find a horror movie to watch on Netflix or something and watch it at the bar, since none of the other films playing today were HMAD-ready).

And man, I'm glad I did. This is the sort of movie where you NEED to watch it with others, because otherwise I'd be convinced I made it up after a fever dream or something. Before the film began, Kier-La Janisse (who wrote a book called "House Of Psychotic Women" and chose Mafu Cage (as well as The Entity) to show at the fest to help promote it) claimed that the film featured Carol Kane's all time craziest performance, which is a very bold claim to make - that's like saying "This Spielberg movie has the most shots of people looking ever!" But damned if she wasn't exaggerating - Kane starts the movie off already pretty nuts, and just gets crazier from there. And she's fully committed to it, to the extent that I often wondered if co-star Lee Grant ever felt unsafe during their more heated scenes.

Now, she's not some generic psycho character - she's a childish, VERY anti-social woman who was raised in African jungles (their father was an explorer/activist type) and has taken to their customs. She's also obsessed with having an ape, and when the film begins she has apparently killed her previous one and is desperate for another. After some concerns are raised, Kane gets her way, and the film gives us one of the most batshit montages I've ever seen - Kane and her new pal (named Mafu) bonding as they play together, share food... it's one of those scenes where the movie could really go either way from this point. Does the ape get possessive, a la Monkey Shines? Does Grant get jealous that her sister no longer depends on her as much?

Well, I won't spoil the answer, only to tell you that things go horribly awry, and the film gives us one of the most horrifying things I've ever seen in a film. And so the madness continues, the levity of the montage a long forgotten memory by the time it reaches its grim conclusion. Sure, there are still moments where one might laugh, but not because it's funny or even pleasant - it's just so damn nutty that you might have to laugh because there's no other way to react to what you're seeing. Even independently, I remain baffled how such a strange, upsetting film ever got produced and theatrically released (and now given a special edition DVD!), because there is absolutely nothing commercial about it. I would love to hear from someone who saw it under the alternate title "Don't Ring The Doorbell", which would suggest it belonged in the same section as Don't Go In The Basement or Don't Answer The Phone - i.e., sleazy drive in type stuff (our very faded print had another title: Deviation).

But in reality director Karen Arthur shies away from anything too exploitative - the film's occasional violent bits are very brief (or off-screen entirely) and the hints that the sisters have had an incestuous relationship are just that. Given the setting (a festival heavily populated with boundary-pushing films), you might expect some full blown exploitation, but it's admirably tasteful. Even when Kane paints herself black as part of a ritual, it doesn't come off as racist ("blackface" aside, she's actually celebrating their culture in a very dedicated way).

And both actresses are so good that it never feels like camp; if I were to describe any scene in detail you might think this was one of the most ludicrous, garish movies ever made, but on-screen it always plays very real and even somewhat sad. Both women are victims of a weird upbringing and have just become broken in different ways (it reminded me a bit of Mysterious Skin in that regard). It's only because she's the more colorful character that the focus lands on Kane - Grant is just as solid, and without her character's turmoil the movie wouldn't work. Kane's just nuts, but Grant is forced to protect her sister and care for her while trying to have her own life. The consequences of those actions are what gives the film's 3rd act its drive; needless to say, it wasn't exactly a stand up and cheer type of ending.

Now, going in expecting a horror movie is not the way to see this, so don't take my vagueness as me trying to hide the fact that a giant monster shows up or something. It's definitely closer to drama territory than horror, but that doesn't mean it's not terrifying. An odd choice for me to close out my time at Fantastic Fest (I proceeded from the theater to a Highball karaoke room, where I remained until a heroic friend drove me to the airport at 2am), but also exactly the sort of thing I fly to Austin to see in the first place: strange, unusual films that will never find their way into a multiplex. That it happened to be 35 years old (and so obscure that it still doesn't have a Wikipedia page or a trailer on Youtube) is irrelevant.

What say you?


Memory Of The Dead (2012)

SEPTEMBER 24, 2012


Several pals warned me away from Memory Of The Dead (Spanish: La memoria del muerto), but if I listened to a negative review of a movie, the only movies I ever would have seen are Back to the Future and ET (maybe Boogie Nights too. And yes, I've heard people dismiss Die Hard and Jaws). Everyone is going to have a different opinion of every movie ever, and if anything some bad word of mouth might even HELP - my expectations will be lowered and I might walk away surprised.

However, this is not one of those cases. My friends were right - this was not a very good film, and I can only hope that whatever I chose it over was just as underwhelming, or else I'll hate myself for life. As I've explained in other reviews, I'm not here the whole time, so using up a limited moviegoing slot on something forgettable and pointless is just torturous.

The main problem with Memory is that it's so tonally scattershot, I never knew what was being played for laughs and what was supposed to be taken seriously. The film begins with a fairly creepy nightmare scene, followed by the strangest death in cinema (our main character wakes up and her husband is bleeding from the mouth and about to die - no explanation is ever given). Then there's a wake, which is actually kind of moving thanks to Pablo Borghi's quite lovely score and the above average performance from Lola Berthet as the grieving wife. So far, so g- well, not too bad.

But then director Valentín Javier Diment decides that his film needs to be an homage to Evil Dead 1 and 2, so we get crazy supernaturally charged scenes without much logic behind them, seemingly played for laughs - is there a way to take household objects "laughing" seriously? The characters all split up and have their own little horror plots, all of which are paced poorly as Diment will come back to a character after 20 minutes but they will still be in the same position as we last left them. And the complete lack of any rules for the evil forces at play make them even harder to enjoy - it's impossible to tell if something is just in their head, or really happening, because we don't understand anything about the villain.

And if it's entirely played for laughs, that would be OK, because as long as we're having fun it's doing its job (that said, even the Deadites had some semblance of a clear MO). But the movie keeps dipping into tragic/dramatic territory - not sure how it's OK to laugh at a scene when it follows a character's revelation that she was molested by her father. On that note, there's a lot of incest in this movie; the girl in question also has a consensual affair with her cousin, and another character's horror vignette includes an apparition of his mother, whose affectionate motherly kisses proceed into something that involves a little more tongue. And continuing on the theme of taboo sex, a major subplot involves a character having a gay affair in order to get closer to the man's wife! Any one of these elements on their own is fine, but when you add them all together in one relatively short film, you start wondering what is up with the director on a personal level.

However, there IS a skeleton of a good movie here - if this was the first draft of the script, then perhaps 2-3 passes would have resulted in a solid film that was more worthy of inclusion in the festival. I quite liked the idea of resurrecting someone you love by sacrificing other people that loved them, because even with one person doing the planning it still potentially puts them in harm's way once the other characters figure out what's going on. Had the movie just proceeded as a straight forward slasher thriller, with the supernatural elements confined only to the ritual itself, it might have worked. And the actors are solid across the board, giving some life to characters that even on the script level had more personality than usually afforded in these sort of movies (quick, name one thing about Cheryl or Scott's life before they went to the cabin). Also, while it doesn't work on a tonal level (because of the aforementioned shifts never letting us know what's supposed to be funny or not), the ending is kind of ballsy, and probably would never happen in a studio released American horror film.

Of course, that's the problem here - ordinarily I'd say "hopefully someone will pick this up for a remake so they can do it right", but I suspect that any Americanized version would strip away its character and occasional daring attitude, and we'd be left with a streamlined Evil Dead wannabe that may improve on the original's schizophrenic nature, but lose its identity as well. Then we'd just have TWO disappointing versions of this movie. Guess it's best to just move on and hope someone merely rips it off in a few years.

What say you?


Cockneys Vs. Zombies (2012)

SEPTEMBER 23, 2012


I couldn't make any of the screenings of Cockneys vs. Zombies at Fantastic Fest (it's actually playing "tonight" at midnight, but alas there's no way I'm missing the haunted house!), so like Dead Sushi, once again I find myself watching a screener by myself for a film designed to be enjoyed with a big crowd on a big screen. Then again, the film's excess of digital blood might be even MORE of a bother on a bigger screen with superior resolution, so maybe this was for the best. Still - hopefully next year their schedule won't be so much at odds with my own.

Anyway, I enjoyed the flick quite a bit. It's so short (82 minutes or so) that there simply isn't TIME to get too dull or repetitive, and I found myself charmed by the characters even though they were criminals. Our hero group is in the process of robbing a bank when the zombie invasion begins, and while that usually turns me off, director Matthias Hoene and screenwriter James Moran (who co-wrote Severance, which is what drew me to this) do a fine job of making most of these guys kind of lovable, mostly via quick flashbacks that showed them displaying their criminal skills, or lack thereof (love the guy who gets caught trying to rob a convenience store because he starts hitting on the clerk). Plus, they're not just out to fund their lifestyles, nor are they professional criminals - there's a legitimately sweet reason for their robbery that I found endearing.

It also provides a nice B-story: the residents of a nursing home (the main robbers' granddad lives there) also fending off the undead in their own way. Led by the great Alan Ford (who is backed up by the always awesome Honor Blackman), this scenario could almost be its own movie, as they have different weaponry at their disposal, some cheap but funny gags about senility and the like, and a scene 506797 zombie movies into the making: a slow zombie "chasing" a guy with a walker. I'm sure the gag has been done elsewhere, but it doesn't make it any less funny to see all these quick cut closeups that make it look like an exciting chase, only for a wide shot to reveal how slow and unscary it is. It's a terrific gag. I also loved the old guy who though they were up against vampires, and thus advised that they needed "garlic, sunlight, holy water, and Christopher Lee."

And that leads me to the other thing I loved - they knew how to dispatch zombies! During the first big shootout the female lead (Michelle Ryan), she explains to shoot them in the head, because "everyone knows that!" FINALLY, someone who agrees with me that there have been enough zombie movies by now for their weaknesses to be a given, just like vampires with sunlight. And having the spunky, attractive heroine be the one to explain it to the slower males in her group was just a bonus - I wanted to marry her on the spot.

The humor was also pretty spot on, opting for the same low-key, dry humor that served Shaun of the Dead and Doghouse so well (what the hell is it with London and zombies? I feel I've seen that city overrun more than Pittsburgh at this point). And a lot of it was character driven, like a guy pointing out to his brother that they definitely had a radio because he heard him listening to Dido on it earlier. Then there's a guy with a metal plate in his head, which of course leads to a scene where he becomes a zombie and they can't kill him because the metal blocks their bullets. That's a pretty typical indication of the movie's overall feel - it's just fast-paced, good-natured fun, with a lot of payoffs for things set up in the first reel (not unlike Shaun, albeit not as dense or clever).

It's also got a great soundtrack. Things kick off with the awesome "Monster" from The Automatic (which accompanies a terrific title sequence), and both the instrumental score from Jody Jenkins and other song selections are just as enjoyable, giving the film a boost of energy to make up for the fact that this IS the billionth zom-com. It certainly has enough of its own personality and a roster of enjoyable characters, but you won't be able to avoid feeling some deja vu if you've kept up with the genre in the past 5-6 years. And the action itself isn't all that impressive; there are a few good gags here and there (including a nice triple impaling where the 3rd seemed to be a happy accident), but most of it is fairly forgettable, set in equally unimpressive locales (a warehouse, a dock, etc).

But the charming heroes (Harry Treadaway is going to be a big star, I think) and endearing relationship between them and their grandfather won me over, and like Dead Sushi, it just hit the spot for me. I know some pals weren't fans (at least one flat out HATED it), but I couldn't find anything to get worked up about; as long as you know it's not going to revolutionize the British zom-com genre, I think it'll do ya just fine.

What say you?


The American Scream (2012)

SEPTEMBER 23, 2012


Full disclosure: I had a huge bias going into The American Scream, as it's a documentary about folks in my home state of Massachusetts who dedicate their lives (and a hefty portion of their available funds) to create haunted houses for trick r treaters to walk though on Halloween night. If there's any time of the year I get really homesick, it's late September and October, when the weather is perfect and I can bust out my (now small) collection of comfy light sweaters, sipping on Dunkins and a seasonal donut while enjoying the foliage and what not. So the subjects in the film might as well have been talking to me directly, or at least singing some Meat Loaf or something, just to further prove that this movie is seemingly tailor-made for me.

But even without those personal sweet spots being hit, this is truly a wonderful film, and unanimously loved by just about everyone I talked to (the worst I heard was that it was merely "good"). At festivals, polarized reactions are the norm, but unless everyone in the audience was a Halloween fanatic that can't wait to start putting up the decorations and, er, watching horror movies every day, I think it's safe to say that just about anyone with a soul and/or heart will be swept up by this account of three different families in Fairhaven, MA and their attempts to make the perfect (or the "good enough") haunted house in time for Halloween night.

The main focus is the Bariteau family, whose patriarch Victor is a perfectionist that seemingly spends every waking moment working on the various props and monsters that will overtake his yard (and house?) come October 31st. He works as an IT guy whose job is about to be outsourced to India, so you really feel for the man - this is the only thing to look forward to, really. Scouring yard sales and the like for things he can use to improve on his previous year's arrangement, you root for the guy not only because it seems like the thing will be pretty awesome, but because if it falls apart for whatever reason, he'll probably sink into depression. Granted, he has his family (all of whom tirelessly assist him; his older daughter is shown to be a budding "house haunter" herself), but take it from me - when your day job is dull and unfulfilling, hobbies like this can be literal lifesavers. And his wife makes a strong point - he's not out gambling or doing drugs with his spare time and money - he's doing something that not only makes him happy, but gives hundreds of strangers something to look forward to (for free!) every year. In other words, he's a hero even before we learn a little more about why he focuses so much on this particular holiday.

Manny, a friend of Victor's who runs his own maze two blocks away, has his own reasons for doing it, but he's not quite the perfectionist his pal is. Not that you can tell from looking at it - it seems pretty damn professional to my eyes, if a bit looser with the idea of any sort of theme. While neither of them are doing like, "a haunted spaceship" or "evil funhouse" or whatever, Manny seems like he'll throw up anything horror-related (including a Bates Motel sign), whereas Victor looks to be a bit more selective. Then again, this might just be something that we "see" as a result of editing; for all I know Victor had a guy with a Jason mask and a Freddy Krueger glove wandering around his mad science lab or something.

But every documentary of this type needs the character who isn't quite as skilled as the others, and that's where Rick and his father Matt Brodeur come in. I'm not sure if they do it for a living or not, but they work as party clowns (complete with lovably HORRIBLE jokes and gags, like an umbrella with cats and dogs hanging from it) for most of the year. However, come... maybe a week before Halloween, it seems, they go about setting up their own little maze, with Glad bag walls, paper mache aliens, and two demon babies on a see-saw. It's obvious that they're neither as ambitious or skilled as the other guys, but it doesn't make their efforts any less sweet, and since putting together a prop doesn't come so easily to them, it makes their successes all the more joyous when they occur - getting that damn see-saw to work resulted in the biggest cheer of the night, I think (and there were a lot of them).

We also get into all of their personal lives a bit; Victor's job troubles, Manny's health issues, and Rick's friendship with a female pal who is clearly in love with him but he "sees her as a sister" (one of the audience questions was whether or not he's come to his senses yet - sadly he has not). Obviously these things take a toll on them, and temperatures flare up (this film is the Planes, Trains, and Automobiles of documentaries as it leaps from a PG to an R with just a single scene), which helps us get even more invested into the success of their respective haunts. That said, I wouldn't have minded a bit more with Manny, we don't get to see his family nearly as much as Victor's, and early on he talks about this sort of localized app that will create a map of all the haunts in Fairhaven, but we never see if it takes off (or even if the Brodeurs' maze made it on there). I guess since their mazes are a bit similar (there's a montage of all three on Halloween, and while the Brodeurs' sticks out, I had trouble telling the other two apart) and Victor and Rick provide a pretty good yin and yang, his role got a bit reduced in the editing. Indeed, at the end we get an epilogue about Victor, but not even a text prompt letting us know what the others are doing for Halloween 2012.

Otherwise, my only "complaint" is that it's a documentary produced for a 2 hour block on cable (Chiller!), and thus it only runs about 90 minutes instead of several hours. It's rare to see a movie where you realize it's just about over and you feel the same disappointment you get on an actual holiday when the last guest leaves and you realize its over, but that's precisely how I felt when it began winding down. I could have easily watched more of Victor's attempts to finish his newest big prop (an Egyptian demon), or of Manny welcoming guests to his maze, or even of Matt sorting through his soda can tabs (something that baffled me so much I had to ask about it at the Q&A - apparently they donate them to the hospital for some sort of charity, but I still don't know why he is sitting there STIRRING the damn things for a hefty chunk of one scene). They're all my favorite type of people in the world - those who want to spread the joy of Halloween - and if I still lived in MA I'd be making my plans to drive to Fairhaven on the 31st. Instead I'll probably just watch this again when it airs on Chiller later in October. I implore you to do the same.

But I'm glad I got to see it on the big screen with a huge crowd first, for a reason summed up in the film itself. Unlike Thanksgiving or Christmas, Halloween is a community holiday, where friends and strangers come together to celebrate something awesome, and thus even though it's obviously a bit of a departure from the usual Fantastic Fest programming, I am stoked that I was able to see it in this environment. And it's another winner from Michael Paul Stephenson, who was behind the equally charming Best Worst Movie. If he wants to be the go-to guy for unusual documentaries that relate to my favorite topic, I couldn't be happier about his career choice, and I can't wait to see what he tackles next.

What say you?


The Collection (2012)

SEPTEMBER 22, 2012


It's not often enough that I am reminded of a particular action movie while watching a horror flick, and I'm sure they were actually thinking Aliens, but at a certain point in The Collection, a team of hardasses demands that an unwilling "expert" help them infiltrate a place he escaped, which is totally the scenario from The Rock, albeit with Cage and Connery combined into one dude: our hero, Arkin.

Arkin was the survivor of the first film in this budding franchise, and despite the 3+ year gap, this one more or less picks up the next day or so. Arkin has escaped from his box with some pretty major injuries, and the Collector is up to his old tricks, decimating a group of folks (in a scene that rivals/tops the opening of Ghost Ship in terms of mass slaughter) and collecting a new victim. But said victim happens to be the daughter of a guy who appears to have ties to the mob or something, so he has his right hand man assemble a team of hardasses to find her, with Arkin being the guy they need to navigate their way through the dungeon he just escaped.

Obviously, things don't go smoothly, as the Collector has his own lair just as decked out with booby traps as his victims' homes. The movie is then just a series of narrow escapes and the gradual reduction of the group's number; the Collector has some surprises up his sleeve (in addition to the booby traps, there are other living antagonists), but there's not really much of a story this time around. The whole reason Arkin is involved in this world is because he was trying to secure a chunk of money to save his wife and daughter from some loan sharks (or something, it's been a while), a plot that is completely ignored here. In the one scene with his wife she doesn't even mention the fact that there's a price on her head, and their daughter has seemingly been ret-conned out of existence. In fact, the movie might play better to those who haven't even seen the original - the revised history won't distract a newcomer the way it was to me, and they do a pretty good job of explaining the rest of the original's plot in the opening scene (presented via news broadcasts).

But while it lacks a complicated story, they more than make up for it with the number and variety of death scenes, which surpass what we got in the original (and, let's face it, is the reason we're here). By setting it in his own territory, we don't have to worry about how he had the time to set all this stuff up, and can just enjoy his skills as a demented Kevin McCallister. Sure, his ability to plan ahead for people's actions would make Jigsaw jealous, but it's all part of the fun, and the abrupt manner in which several characters are killed (one coming directly after another quick surprise) adds immensely to the film's sense of playfulness.

However, the best bit of violence is committed not by the Collector, but by Arkin on an innocent guy. At one point they find a barred window and see two homeless dudes warming their hands on a barrel fire a block away, and neither of them hear their calls for help. So Arkin does what you or I would do - he shoots one of them! Just in the leg or something, just to have a shot fired in order to get the police on the scene, but it's such a hilariously absurd/psychotic escape plan. It's glorious, and it's the sort of unpredictable moment that made screenwriters Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan's (who also directed) Feast* films so fun.

They also wrote the last four Saw films, they have brought over composer Charlie Clouser and editor Kevin Greutert - a nice reunion for folks like me who miss the annual Saw-fest. And even on the script level this can feel a bit like those at times with the big abandoned factory, huge industrial traps, and characters who aren't exactly lovable. Again, our hero shoots a homeless man for no reason (couldn't he just shoot the barrel?), and the rest of our protagonists are basically thugs who treat Arkin like dirt. The heroine is likable in that she doesn't seem to be a piece of shit, but there isn't much to her character - she's a plot device, and one of her few traits is that she is hearing impaired, but that never really has a payoff.

But don't get me wrong, none of this stuff mattered to me in the slightest as I watched the film, as it was early in the morning and I was operating on very little sleep, so the movie was "perfect" as is - a nearly nonstop series of kills and nutty trap designs (big fan of the makeshift iron maiden, as well as the hallway that slices pretty much everyone running through it). Add in the 80 minute runtime and hilarious final line (no spoilers), and you have a movie that's essentially a cinematic energy drink: terrible for you, but it gets its job done awesomely.

What say you?

*Look for an all too brief cameo from Feast director John Gulager! I know we're supposed to be quiet at the Alamo, but screw it, I had to cheer my satisfaction.


The ABCs Of Death (2012)

SEPTEMBER 22, 2012


Anyone who thinks we're not seeing enough anthology horror films should be pretty happy about the past year - V/H/S, The Theatre Bizarre, the US release of Little Deaths, the upcoming 5 Senses Of Fear project... and then The ABCs Of Death, possibly the most high profile since it seems to be the most ambitious: a full length film comprised of 26 short films, one for each letter of the English alphabet. Perhaps to make up for the fact that the concept won't make much sense to a foreign language country, a hefty number of the shorts aren't in English, as at least 15 countries are represented here.

As I expected, there isn't a wraparound or bookend segment tying all of this together. One could go on Youtube and find 26 horror-centric shorts for each letter and more or less create their own version of the film. The shorts don't share a common theme (beyond death), the tone ranges from absurd (there's a shocking amount of fart/poop humor) to deadly serious (one short tackles the mass murder of women in Mexico), and the technical quality also jumps around (we even get a few aspect ratio changes). The only unifying theme is that they all end on a shot of red, at which point the title appears. Some of these transitions work wonderfully, others feel forced, like the director quickly scribbled "and then we pan over to something that can be red" in their script before calling "action" for the first time.

But the best is when you're unsure what the letter could stand for, something that usually causes a laugh when revealed. Some I didn't quite get (producer Tim League explained some of them have been changed - this was a very close but not entirely final version of the film), others were pretty obvious from the start ("T is for Toilet" is a good example), but I suspect the reason there hasn't been a widely circulated list of the films is because, not unlike Edgar Wright's "Don't", saying the name of some might spoil the surprise/punchline. I'm sure it can be put together with enough effort on Google, but to the best of my knowledge, there's no master list.

And that's a problem, because I figured there WAS and thus just wrote down a word or two for each entry, figuring that I could put it up to a master list and have my memory jogged enough to write a couple lines on each piece, as I would usually do for an anthology. Alas, right after seeing the film I was hustled into a gym where I had a few beers and proceeded to play part of the entourage for my Badass-in-Chief Devin Faraci, who was engaging in a "Fantastic Debate" with filmmaker Joe Swanberg (who was behind one of the V/H/S segments, and starred in another directed by Ti West, an ABCs contributor who also trained Swanberg for his fight). So that plan has gone out the window - without the context of the filmmaker responsible (or even the names), I feel it'd be a bit disingenuous to try to review the film on a short by short basis.

Besides, it's an anthology with TWENTY SIX segments! There's no way in hell I'd love every entry, and there's no way in hell YOU would either. And the ones I loved will be the ones you hated, and vice versa. With pretty much every genre I've ever used (with tags, i.e. ghost, serial killer, zombie...) represented in some form or other, not to mention the varying skills the 26 filmmakers bring to the table, it'd be more of a recap than a review anyway. And again, I don't want to spoil the surprise of any of their titles (plus, like V/H/S, I think finding out who was behind this or that slice of insanity is also part of the fun).

But I took the time to compose this thing in the dark on an Alamo order card, so I refuse to let them go to waste! Thus, here are my notes, just to give you a look at my intended process (and titillate you!):

A - Eh
B - Heh
C - What?
D - Turns around
E - Great concept
F - Really?
G - Not great white?
H - Nonsense
I - Wrong movie
J - Pointless
K - Animated poop
L - Boundaries
M - Punchline
N - Music video
O - Amer
P - Pointless
Q - !!!
R - More Japanese Nonsense
S - No
T - Yes!!!
U - Too long
V - Feature?
W - Q better
X - French
Y - Too much buildup
Z - Go out strong?

I won't bother explaining them all (in some cases, I can't - I have no idea why I just wrote "No" for S), but a few deserve clarification. For Q, the 3 exclamation points mean I loved it, and in retrospect it's even more impressive as W had a similar gag but didn't execute it nearly as well. F is for "Fart", which isn't a surprise since the whole thing is just two girls farting, and it's from Japan which should explain my comment for R. And for D, "turns around" means it was the weakest yet at first, but turned around and became the best (and remained at/around the top for the rest of the film). And my excitement for T might as well be explained, since that was the one that won the filmmaker contest (the other 25 were handpicked by the producers; fans voted on the 26th) and has been seen in full. I love stop motion/claymation, and while I'm not crazy about toilet humor, it came along when the movie needed this sort of aesthetic diversion.

On that note, I should point out that the letters B, N, and Y have been swapped. What I saw as Y is now B, B is now N, and N is now Y (so when you see it, if for some reason you want to compare these notes: B will be "too much buildup", N will be "heh", and Y will be "Music video"). Obviously that doesn't help me much, since A and Z underwhelmed me, thus preventing the film from starting OR finishing strong, but again, those two might be your favorite segments which will have you walk away feeling even better about the film as a whole. As far as I know, those were the only swaps, and I think the film will play even better that way - moving N near the end (as it became Y) in particular is great, as both it and L dealt with a particularly taboo topic, and seeing it more or less back to back was a bit much.

And that's far from the only touchy issue that's on display here. Animal lovers will have particular trouble with a few segments - I had to look away during one sequence in "P", in fact. A number of segments are intended to provoke a reaction, so the attempts at shock value and outdoing one another can get a bit tiresome as you enter the film's second half. A bit of repetition sets in (TWO "Robo Fart Ninja" shorts, TWO self-mutilated women in the bathroom, TWO stories about poop, etc), and a touch of sensory overload - short as they may be, it's still 26 different narratives coming at you in succession. I'm at a loss to choose what would be the ideal setting for this particular film - a theater filled with movie fans, cheering and jeering (and having plenty of folks to discuss it with afterward), or at home, where you can take a break or two and let a few of them digest a bit before going back for more.

But either way it's an easy film to recommend. No one will love every segment, but I'd be willing to bet no one would hate them all either. With so many great filmmakers here, it's awesome to see them "collaborating" in one mega-movie; it's sort of the Expendables of modern independent horror. And like that film, a sequel might even attract bigger names for a second go-around - it seems this could be an annual release, with a revolving talent pool and different ways of putting it together (having the films connect somehow, or maybe using another alphabet). And the sheer variety is admirable on its own - even in this slightly changed order, the pacing was more or less perfect as you'd get a short, jokey one, followed by something a bit scarier, which would be followed by longish one with a twist ending... it's like a well designed roller coaster in that regard, balancing the highs and lows to optimize the viewing experience. Well done, all.

What say you?


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