30 Days of Fright – 30: Halloween (2007)

And so on the last day of this year’s reviews we come full circle and find ourselves back where we started, with Halloween, though this time it’s the 2007 version.

Unlike the original, this version of Halloween starts off following young Michael Myers as he goes about his business of developing serious psychopathic tendencies. Young Mikey’s home life is shite so he likes to hurt small animals (you can see the obvious pop-psychology link there) but quickly moves up to killing one of the kids at school. After a particularly rough evening at home, coincidentally Halloween, Michael kills his sister, her boyfriend, and her mother’s boyfriend. Mike soon finds himself banged up in a secure hospital where he’s being treated by Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell).

Fifteen years pass and the once co-operative Michael has retreated from reality and become obsessed with making masks. Loomis has given up on the case and decided that there’s an easier living to be made from writing books and lecturing about Michael as opposed to treating him. Michael’s mother had also taken the easy way out and killed herself leaving her only remaining child, still a baby, behind to fend for herself.

Michael, now grown, busts out of the clink one night and heads home to kick off a major killing spree, with Loomis hot on his tail (probably feeling guilty about raking in the cash on the back of young Mike), and the local sheriff helping out too. Once home, Michael focuses his attentions on a young girl, Laurie Strode, who is roughly the same age as his little sister would be…

Is Mike Myers gonna hav’ ta choke a bitch?

Rob Zombie took the directing job for the remake of Halloween and did an outstanding job. The 2007 Halloween is a far superior film to its predecessor, offering at least some explanation for Myers behaviour and a nice twist in the little sister angle as well as modernising the story with care, not trampling over the original but just making it, well, good.

There are some nicely unsettling scenes, especially the killing of the kid near the beginning, and there is more than one nice homage to the original, the gravity defying scene where the guy is pinned to the wall with a knife is there, but with humour and this time you can laugh along instead of going “that can’t happen”, and Blue Oyster Cults “Don’t Fear The Reaper” gets a spin too.

The performances in this version are great, the young Michael is an evil little bastard and McDowell as Loomis is just right in that he’s not quite balanced himself, which makes for a decent screen psychiatrist. The show is stolen however by Scout Taylor-Compton as Laurie – her performance puts Jamie Lee Curtis to shame as she managed to make the character likable and someone you don’t want to see hurt, as opposed to Curtis who you wish would get killed quickly just so you wouldn’t have to put up with anymore of her bullshit.

It’s hard to find fault at all with this Halloween, the only gripe I can think of is that in order to fully appreciate this version you need to suffer through the original.

Two Thumbs Firmly Up for Rob Zombie’s Halloween

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halloween_%282007_film%29
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0373883/

30 Days of Fright – 29: Drag Me To Hell

Like many people I have recently developed a problem with Michael Bay, the director/producer behind such commercially orientated movies as the recent Transformers flicks and the incredibly dodgy (i.e. shite) big screen adaptation of Miami Vice. Michael Bay doesn’t really make movies at all anymore; instead he trots out overly long commercials for a wide range of useful products, from soft drinks to cars and movie tie-in happy meals.

That’s why so many people have difficulty with him, he takes the basic elements necessary to successfully sell you something and packages it in a special effects laden bag of crap with a Linkin Park soundtrack that he then chucks at fourteen year old boys, safe in the knowledge that the cash will soon come tumbling in. What really bothers me is how Michael treats his audience, like they’re just the worst kind of idiot who will buy anything; it’s as if he looks down his nose at the people who watch his movies. He’s supposed to be serving the audience in the cinema but seems to be more concerned with his advertisers and pushing their shit. As a salesman I’m sure he’s quite effective, but as a movie maker he really is the most base fucker out there!

Movies with too much CGI that treat their audience like fools have become a Michael Bay trademark of sorts, but unfortunately he is not the only film maker who operates like that.

Sam Raimi’s Drag Me To Hell (2009) tells the terrifying tale of Christine Brown (played by Alison Lohman) as she tries to shake off her rural upbringing and make it big on the mean streets of L.A. as a loan officer for a high street bank. Scary.

Christine is up for a big promotion and this has an impact on the way she deals with a particular customer one day. An elderly woman of eastern European extraction, Mrs. Ganush, calls into the bank looking for an extension on her mortgage as she’s been ill and is having difficulty meeting her payments. The bank is about to foreclose on the loan and seize her house, so things are bad for Ganush. Christine decides to “make the tough decision” to impress her boss and declines the request. Ganush gets down on her knees and begs Christine to reconsider, but this just prompts security to throw her out, which shames the old woman terribly.

As many elderly eastern European women are (at least in the movies), Mrs. Ganush is in league with some kind of dark force and she puts a curse on Christine, promising that before three days have passed, Christine will be the one begging for help. Christine dismisses this of course, until that evening when, as she’s leaving the bank, she’s attacked by a sinister presence in the car park that turns out to be Ganush, who attacks her in a vicious manner using handkerchiefs and concrete blocks and bodily fluids.

Christine tries to shrug this off and seeks solace in her boyfriends arms. On the way home they stop so that she can get her fortune read. The fortune teller is well read and actually gifted in clairvoyance and he informs Christine that something terrible is cursing her and she’s in some serious trouble. The serious trouble is a demon called Lamia that torments its victims for three days before dragging them to Hell.

Christine soon takes the threat seriously and tries a variety of different techniques to shake off the curse, but as with any ancient evil there’s no guarantee that anything will work…

In my country I neurosurgeon, now I compare many many meerkats!

Drag Me To Hell has one of the most spectacular opening scenes in a film ever and the opening credits are a joy to behold in that they capture the essence of the great horror movies from the late sixties and early seventies. Watching the opening ten minutes of this movie reminded me of films like The Wicker Man and Witchfinder General, so I was full of hope and admiration from early on. As the movie progressed however my hopes and dreams were crushed and I was left a shell of my former self, angry for having been suckered in.

The main problems with Drag Me To Hell are as follows:

The Oscilloscope Effect:
The music gets quiet… there’s a shadow… then… BOOM!!! A REALLY LOUD NOISE!!! A FLASHING LIGHT!!!!!! SCARY!!!! Then the music gets quiet… there’s a shadow… then… BOOM!!! A REALLY LOUD NOISE!!! A FLASHING LIGHT!!!!!! SCARY!!!! Then the music gets quiet…

This is how each five minutes of the movie is structured. After the first two times it’s as boring as shit and it makes the film woefully predictable. If you’re a young man bringing a girl out for the first time then this would be a great film to bring her to (if she’s the sort to jump at movies. If on the other hand you’re a girl who doesn’t jump at this sort of thing then find a young bloke who does and bring him to see it – see, no sexism here!). Sam Raimi has used this trick in an effort to get you to jump as opposed to giving you a genuine fright and it’s an unfortunate patronising device. One reviewers comment on the DVD case is that DMTH is the “scariest movie of the decade” – trust me it’s not, being made to jump this way is not scary, it’s just a reflex from a loud noise.

The Bucket of Sick:
The other big problem is the dependence on gross-out scenes where bodily fluids and other materials are splashed into people’s mouths. The Ganush character pukes all sorts of things into Christine’s mouth at various times and while its gross the first time it happens too much. The puking is also a symptom of the other major problem.

The Xbox Live Subscription:
There is waaaaaay too much CGI in this film. All those bodily fluids and strange shadows are done on a computer and done badly. Other special effects that feature are just as bad, in particular the levitation scene is fucking appalling and is reminiscent of Scary Movie, with the levitating character literally dancing a jig just like in that film.

I love the idea of a horror movie about a curse, as a concept it’s a refreshing change from the run of the mill horror that gets made. But, Ganush had the ability to curse her enemies as well as having a propensity for violence, so how come she had such trouble paying the mortgage? For that matter, why did she have a mortgage at all? Couldn’t she use her powers to look after herself a little better?

And what’s the whole thing about Christine being fat as a kid? Was that just so the eastern European one could make a comment about how she used to be fat or was it about the ice creams? Ice Cream is mentioned at least twice and seems to have something to do with letting the audience know that Christine is under a little pressure. Really? No fucking shit Sherlock – she’s about to be dragged to Hell for an eternity as the plaything of the Devil and all his little goblins, I think it’s a safe bet that we could all figure out that she’s under a little strain (though it didn’t really effect her appetite).

One final big gripe. The poster/dvd cover is deceptive – the girl in the picture looks far hotter than the chick who’s in the movie:

Leathery Jackety Hotness!
Meh. Probably would, you know, if there was nothing better to do

Everything about Drag Me To Hell is lazy and commercial and that reinforces the notion that Sam Raimi didn’t care about his audience this time out. I wish I could have liked this movie more than I did, but I was deceived from the start, Drag Me To Hell was supposed to be more than it is.

Two Thumbs Down for Drag Me To Hell

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drag_me_to_hell
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1127180/

30 Days of Fright – 28: The Haunting in Connecticut

Amazing! Magnificent! A roller coaster ride from start to finish! A powerful portrayal of the human condition as it relates to the possibility of life after death! A tour de Force! These are all ways that will never be used to describe The Haunting in Connecticut as it’s as boring as shit!

The Haunting in Connecticut (2009) follows the Campbell family as they struggle with their eldest child Matt who is being treated for cancer. Matt’s mother routinely takes him on long trips to the hospital where he is part of an experimental treatment programme. The travelling back and forth is having an adverse effect on Matt and often takes twice as long as it would if the boy were healthy.

Deciding that Matt’s health is being effected by the commute the Campbell’s decide to rent a house nearer to the hospital. Matt’s mother Sara finds a nice large house that she can rent cheaply due to its past as a funeral home. Sara decides to keep this fact from the rest of the family, not wanting to scare the younger children or to dwell on it herself. Shortly after they move in Matt begins to experience strange visions and at first he believes they are related to his treatment but he soon discovers the true nature of the house and the horrific activities that its previous tenants practiced there.

All the pictures I found from The Haunting in Connecticut were as dull as the film, so here’s shock rocker Marilyn Manson instead!

Haunting is more of a human drama about coping with a very sick child in the family than a horror film, or even a drama about the paranormal, Matt’s suffering a lot, his father had trouble in the past with alcohol, his mother is trying her best to hold the family together the best she can, and the other children are trying to live as normal a childhood as possible under the circumstances, which makes for a tragic tale to be sure but who gives a fuck? I came for the haunting part, not the remake of Beaches or some other shite.

In terms of the haunting, the film uses the terrible history of the house as the basis for the supernatural activity. The house used to be a funeral home, which is a juvenile device – it’s like setting a film in a cemetery or morgue, frightening to children but not really popular haunts for ghosts due to the fact that people don’t tend to die in these locations but are already dead when they arrive.

The family are only renting the house, which is not a very strong bond to a place, I mean why be prepared to sacrifice everything for someone else’s property, it’s not the family home nor is there a big financial motivation for ignoring the obvious as there would be if the family were after buying the gaff.

Despite one of the main young characters suffering from cancer it’s still hard to care for anyone in Haunting as both the past and present characters are just too dull. The frustration caused by the boys sickness and his uncertainty as to whether the things he sees are real or not is underplayed and his momentary descents into apparent madness are just too much of a cliché to be acceptable.

Haunting could have worked as a drama, that is without the haunting at all, and I’m sure it would have appealed to audiences who like those sorts of films, however as a horror it falls flat. The quest for a decent, modern haunted house story continues.

Two Thumbs Down for The Haunting in Connecticut.

To discover more (the film is supposed to be based on a true story after all) then check out:
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Haunting_in_Connecticut
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0492044/

30 Days of Fright – 27: End of Days

There aren’t many films that you could accurately describe as Action/Horror but it’s by far the best way to describe the amazing trip that is End of Days.

Governor Schwarzenegger (R-CA) plays Jericho Cane, an ex-cop turned heavy drinking, heavy hitting, private security specialist protecting those who can pay in downtown New York city in late 1999. He is tasked with providing security for some yuppie banker type played by Gabriel Byrne who has just recently been possessed by the Devil and is walking the Earth in an attempt to find a particular girl who is capable of having his child and thus usher in a new reign of Hell on Earth.

Cane saves the yuppie from an assassination attempt by a wayward priest who warns him of the impending End of Days and sparks some of that old cop instinct. Cane investigates and realises that the old priest was trying to protect a certain girl – the same one old Gabriel is interested in – from a rather nasty fate as the Antichrist’s mammy. Meanwhile, the Devil is on hot pursuit of his new girlfriend, who’s been living with a bunch of Satanists all her life without realizing it. Old Nick turns up to claim his woman but is foiled by Arnie who takes the poor girl under his wing.

The Devil, being who he is, doesn’t take kindly to this, and tries to tempt Ahnold into betraying the girl and revealing where she’s hidden by offering him back his wife and young daughter who had been murdered, and thus return him to the life he had known before their deaths. Being the decent bloke he is, the Governator doesn’t rat the girl out, which forces the Devil into a more drastic course of action, just as the New Year approaches…

 Where’s Gabriel’s other hand?

I first mentioned this movie here and it in part inspired this blog – my original Halloween movie reviews from 2008 had been published on my Bebo page and it was time for a new home and at the time I’d been spending a lot of time thinking about how rare real hackers are and how rare real Devil worshippers are, hence Hacker’s Coven (it’s a blog for them both!), so you can probably guess that I like this film. You’d be right!

However, End of Days is a deeply flawed movie on many levels. Firstly, The Devil, while pretty naughty is, well, not very Satanic. He has some powers and he likes to kill skateboarders, but while he can look into the hearts of men and see their deepest desires he is incapable of keeping track of the one girl he really needs. Somehow he knew she was in New York but after that he’s clueless. He’s able to bend space and time to present Arnie with the chance to have his family back, but for some reason he couldn’t nip back to yer one’s birth and maybe have some sort of tracking device surgically implanted into her. And while he’s able to survive a fall from an apartment window onto the street below he gets badly hurt when hit by a train or shot with the right sort of gun.

The acting in the film is, to be fair, totally shite, except for Gabriel Byrne who did a decent enough turn (though he was channeling Al Pacino as the Devil on more than one occasion). Kevin Pollak (Hockney from The Usual Suspects) was good too and I’d like to have seen more of him in the movies, but I think his inclusion in End of Days played a big part in the other major problem the film suffers from.

End of Days feels like a rip-off of some other films. There are some very strong parallels between End of Days and The Devil’s Advocate. Both movies deal with the Devil trying to start a family, both feature power-house performances from the actor in the diabolical role that greatly outshines everything else in the movie, both are set in New York, both are set in the winter (so as to allow the main men to wear long coats), and both feature the hero of the story suffering roughly the same fate. Also, there are a good number of times when Pollak and Byrne are on screen that you think you’re watching the (really fucked up) sequel to The Usual Suspects, you half expect Arnie to cut out the accent and start walking properly as you figure out he was Keyser Soze all along.

Despite its failings, End of Days is a really fun movie that has enough blood and guts and Satanism to make it a horror as well as plenty of guns and bullets to make it an action flick. It’s really hard to watch End of Days and see Arnie peg the Devil out of a window and not think “fuckin’ a!”

Two Thumbs Up for End of Days

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/End_of_Days_%28film%29
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0146675/

30 Days of Fright – 26: The Amityville Horror (2005)

Some people just don’t get the recognition they deserve. I’ve long thought that Robin Hardy (the director of the original Wicker Man) should have gotten an Oscar for that film. Thomas M. Disch, the American author of “The M.D.” and many other fine works, doesn’t get half the recognition he deserves, even after his death which is usually the fast-track to the big time. And the bloke in Cafe India in Tullamore who makes the Jalfrezi sauce should be given a medal for his fine work.

To this list I must unfortunately add Mellissa George, the fine actress who has graced many great horror movies with her presence, featuring as Stella in 30 Days of Night, and as Helen in wΔz, as well as turning up in Dark City and (apparently) Grey’s Anatomy and Home & Away (not that I’d know, never having seen these shows, of course!). She’s back again in the 2005 version of The Amityville Horror as Kathy, the poor cow married to George Lutz.

The 2005 version of The Amityville Horror starts off in roughly the same manner as it’s 1970’s predecessor. A family is brutally murdered in their beds one night by one of the kids. The action skips forwards a few years and along come the Lutz family, Geaorge and his missus Kathy and her kids from a previous marriage. They are able to buy th house at a discount price due to the killings putting most buyers off.

Things are grand at first, it’s a big house so there’s plenty of space and the grounds are impressive so life is good for the Lutz’s. However, George starts to act strangely, getting distant and waking up in the middle of the night for no good reason. He gets more and more irritable, especially as he finds it increasingly difficult to stay warm, and he begins to take things out on the rest of the family. Soon, the kids are getting caught up in things too, as the youngest has a new imaginary friend, who may not be imaginary at all, and the situation gets progressively worse in and around the house, until the Lutz’s are in danger of becomming the next family of victims…

George & Kathy go to play house – but if they’re out here, then who turned on the lights?

There’s a lot right with the new Amityville and there’s a lot wrong too. Firstly, Melissa George is excellent and to be fair, Ryan Reynolds as Geoarge Lutz isn’t bad either, I just wish he didn’t go around showing off his overly chiselled torso every chance he got (it’s demeaning to us good looking fellas!). The big problem with Reynolds is as soon as he begins to establish himself as George Lutz, he pulls a face and he’s right back to being Van Wilder all over again, no amount of beard can ever cover that up.

The remake takes a lot of liberties with the Amityville story, for example moving the house further into the countryside and thus making it more remote, adding several hundred years to the age of the house so that it can have much more of a sordid history and therefore shift the blame for the trouble in the house away from Ronnie Defeo (the real life killer) to the unsettled spirits of the indians buried on the ground the house is built on. Yep, that’s right, an Indian Burial Ground.

It’s unfortunate that Amityville gets bogged down in devices like these as the first half or so is outstanding, with some proper scary moments up to about the point where the babysitter is telling the story to the kids. There are effects that will make you jump and certain scenes that leaves a lingering sense of dread – then we get into George’s troubles and the wheels come off the wagon.

The real George Lutz died in 2006 but did get a chance to see the remake. He fucking hated it, calling the film “drivel” and then sueing the film makers. I shall be a little kinder…

One Thumb Up and One Thumb Down for the remade Amityville Horror.

To find out more (and there’s loads more to find out) then take a gander at:
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0384806/
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Amityville_Horror_(2005_film)
For a far-out and wacky take on the story, check out The Amityville Murders: http://www.amityvillemurders.com/
Another nice look at the story can be found here: http://www.prairieghosts.com/amityville.html

30 Days of Fright – 25: Saw

It’s hard to write something frightening. The act of sitting down and coming up with a story that can make people afraid is tough due to the fact that most writers aren’t going to get the heebie jeebies from something they wrote. This seems to have led to film writers taking easier and easier options when scripting horror, the escaped killer for a teen slasher for example, or in recent years the notion of Torture Porn.

Torture Porn, as I’ve said before, is a sub-genre of horror that basically puts people you don’t care about into situations you don’t care to watch. The style is marked by only a passing interest in story, no attention to character development, and an over-dependence on techniques that film students would be reluctant to use. There are a few notable examples of TP and last nights flick is one of the leading lights of this particularly crass type of film.

The main action in Saw (2004) is set in a manky bathroom where two lads are chained by their legs to opposite walls – a photographer called Adam and a Doctor called Gordon. Neither of them know how they got there or why, nor do they know each other. Lying in the middle of the room is a dead body, a man who appears to have died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. The corpse is still holding the gun in one hand and in the other a small tape recorder. Both of the boys find tapes in their pockets and manage to get the recorder to play them. The tapes contain a recording of a man giving each of the bucko’s a mesage, one must escape, the other must kill or his family will be murdered.

The lads think really really hard about why they might be there and over the course of the film they figure out that they the victims of a killer who kidnaps and puts people into situations where they ultimately kill themselves. While they’re figuring this out they find different things in the room that may or may not help them, including the saw of the title that turns out to be useless on chains but ideal for cutting off feet. Meanwhile, a police investigation into the killer is on-going and as we see that progress it becomes apparent that the two lads in the bathroom are part of a much bigger picture and may not be the total strangers they claim to be…

Clowns – Creepy Bastards!

I’ve never seen a film that didn’t have a narrator depend so much on exposition to tell the story as Saw. All the way through the two boys remeber things that they explain to each other that moves the story along a little, but it’s just so ham-fisted as to be laughable. If only that was the only problem with the film.

Saw takes some people you know nothing about and shows them being subjected to tortures. The reasons for the torture are meaningless, the character of the killer is underdeveloped and really only exists because somone has to be behind the murders. The motivation given for the killer doing what he does is outlandish to say the least, as many people must go through the ordeal he did and not come out the far side wanting to preach via torture, even if they had seen Seven once too often. How he had the time and money to do what he did is never explained either.

The violence isn’t the only shocking part of Saw, the terrible performances from the leads are the real horror. Danny Glover is appalling as the cop and Cary Elwes is totally unbelievable as the Doctor, which is a shame as he can actually act, as anyone who stuck with the X-Files until the last few seasons (like me) can testify.

Saw is a big part of the torture porn phenomenon and has become the most financially successful horror franchise in cinema history, beating out classics like the Nightmares on Elm Street and the Fridays the Thirteenth. I’m not sure why people flock to the cinemas to see this stuff, maybe it’s the gross-out violence or maybe they enjoy laughing at the victims (while giving thanks that it’s not happening to them). Whatever the reason, and it’s probably a pretty base one, audiences have enjoyed watching people getting badly hurt and killed to the tune of about $670 million.

I’m not one of them.

Two Thumbs Down for Saw.

IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0387564/
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saw_(film)

30 Days of Fright – 24: Scream

Do you like scary movies? I do, and I’ve watched a few recently.With the large number of horror films out there it’s probably no surprise that so many of them are quite similiar. Once you start categorising these films into Vampire, Teen Slasher, Satan, Zombie categories, then the similarities become even more apparent. The teen slasher genre probably has more cliches and trademarks then all the other types of horror movies put together which is probably what makes it such an easy target for taking the piss.

Scream (1996) is set in a rural town in Godknowswheresville, in sleepy middle America. One night a high school girl and her boyfriend are brutally murdered after the killer taunts his victim over the phone with odd questions about horror films. The town is shocked by the killings which bring the news media down once again, as one year prior a woman was raped and murdered there. Her daughter, Sidney, is a classmate of the dead girl and she and her friends deal with the killings as only teenagers can.

Sidney’s father is away on business, and the next night she is attacked in her home by the killer. She escapes, but her boyfriend Billy becomes the prime suspect for the murders, until the killer calls Sidney while Billy is in jail for questioning.

With the killer still on the loose the school is closed and a curfew imposed. With the kids all off home and unbeknownst to anyone, the school principle is murdered. That night, the kids throw a party and are having a great time until an uninvited guest turns up…

Why do those telesales people always ring during dinner?

Scream reinvigorated the market for teen slasher movies in the mid-ninties, and it did this by throwing in a few decent tricks. Firstly, audiences were shocked by a big name actress, Drew Barrymore, getting viciously slaughtered in the first five minutes of the film. With the girl everyone thought was going to be the lead dead, anything was possible.

With the big shock only sinking in audiences were treated to a series of decent homages to practically every horror movie made since 1970. A Nightmare on Elm Street is referenced all over the place due to both movies being made by Wes Craven, and the scene in the school with Fred the janitor is brilliant. But it’s not just Craven movies that get the nod, Texas Chainsaw, Halloween (a lot), Frankenstein, and rakes of others. This was a smart move, acknowledging the films that set the ground work for Scream and introduced a level of humour that worked very well.

Scream is a clichéd story but that’s the point, it plays up to the things you expect from a movie like this, the running up the stairs, the cheerleader type victims, the ending that’s not the ending, and so on.

The over-riding sensation I got as I watched Scream was a sense of déjà vu and not just because I’d seen the film before but because it’s stunning how similar Scary Movie is to the film it parodies, it’s almost as if Scary Movie wasn’t a parody at all but in fact a remake, which makes a little more sense when you think about it, as Scream is really a parody itself.

Two Thumbs Up coz “it’s a Scream, baby!”

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scream_(film)
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0117571/

30 Days of Fright – 23: Dawn of the Dead

Once upon a time Zombies movies were a staple of low budget horror. The same is still true and zombie movies do get trotted out every now and then, thanks in no small part to films like 28 Days Later reinventing the way zombies are portrayed on screen, making them fast for example, or not really creatures of the undead but victims of terrible disease. Whatever the style of the film the theme of a zombie flick is usually the same, dealing with matters of social collapse and how people in extreme situations will do anything to survive.

In recent years there have been only a few zombie films that weren’t low budget productions, 28 Weeks Later
being one of them, but last nights film really set the standard for big budget Hollywood zombie films.

Dawn of the Dead (2004) is based on a 1978 movie by Gearge A. Romero, the zombie master himself. Sarah Polley plays a nurse who heads home after a long shift to her suburban palace in middle America, in a nice neighbourhood where kids play on the street and all is well. She wakes up the next morning and the place has gone to hell, zombies everywhere, rioting in the streets, ambulances knocking down people, children turned cannibal, all sorts of bad stuff. She makes a break for it but ends up crashing her car.

Escaping on foot she runs into a cop and a group of other survivors who decide to hide in a local shopping mall. In the relative safety of the mall, the survivors set themsleves up with food and entertainment, occassionally taking in additional survivors as they turn up and fighting off the zombie hoards who swarm around the mall.

Deciding after a while that they can’t stay in the mall forever and that all the potentially safe places nearby are now infested with the undead, the group decide to reinforce some buses in the the mall car park and make a break for the marina, from where they intend to escape on a boat.

Across from the mall is a gun store where the owner is holed up. He’s not doing so well, starving in fact, so a rescue mission is launched, but the rescuers forgot to factor in the raw determination and iron grit creatures of the undead exhibit while in the pursuit of brains…

The Guinness marketing team hard at work

Dawn of the Dead is easily the best of the remakes of those seventies zombie movies. It’s a good film in it’s own right, made with all the gloss and special effects that a pile of money can afford. The acting is OK too, though some casting decisions seem to have been based on name recognition as opposed to ability, not that I’m going to name anyone (Ving Rhames), and it would have been nice to see more of Matt Frewer.

Dawn of the Dead features a great soundtrack featuring twists on contemporary rock tracks as well as some older country tunes – the use of Johnny Cash on the soundtrack was inspired – and the music used in the film ties in with the humour in the script very well, for a real laugh watch the scene in Dawn of the Dead where the lads are shooting celebrity look-a-like zombies.

Two Thumbs Up for Dawn of the Dead

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dawn_of_the_Dead_(2004_film)
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0363547/

30 Days of Fright – 22: Cannibal Holocaust

People who know me know that I am probably the least likely person in the world to write a diet book, yet I am seriously contemplating publishing what I’m calling The C-Plan. If by this point you’ve guessed that the C stands for Cannibal then well done, however I’m not going to be recommending that you turn man eater but instead simply watch Cannibal Holocaust whenever you’re feeling hungry – trust me it’ll drive thoughts of food right out of your head.

Cannibal Holocaust (1980) is, as the name suggests, basically an exploitation film about cannibals. A film crew with a reputation for getting extreme footage from war zones head to the Amazon to make a documentary about the native tribes. The crew disappear and an anthropologist is hired by the TV company who were financing the documentary to go and find them.

Monroe, the anthropologist, and his guides go into the rainforest and encounter the tribes living there. They witness the various barbaric traditions of the tribes including cannibalism and, as they get closer to one specific tribe, are dragged into some unsavoury practices. After winning the trust of the tribe, Monroe retrieves the films the missing crew had shot and returns to New York.

The TV company executives push for the release of the film but Monroe discourages them until he finally forces them to watch it for themselves and see not only what happened to the film crew but also what they did down in the Amazon…

I couldn’t find a picture from Cannibal Holocaust that was suitable for publishing so here’s Dr. Phil, a bloke who wrote a diet book but never missed a fucking meal in his life!*

Cannibal Holocaust is, well, it’s pretty shocking, but it’s not that shocking and to be fair, it’s not that bad. Cannibal was part of a spate of movies that hit cinemas in the late seventies and early eighties and like the zombie craze of about the same time, nearly all these films came from Italy. Unlike its counterparts though, Holocaust actually has some cultural merit.

In terms of the movie itself, the story is decent enough and proved to be the inspiration for films like The Blair Witch Project. The idea of making a documentary in the Amazon must cross TV producers’ minds all the time, and the idea of sending down a team of hardened film makers to get cutting edge footage is reasonable, as is the trouble they get into when they meet the tribes. Sending an anthropologist is also reasonable, so as to smooth over any problems that may have occurred with the natives. Basically, Holocaust is a well written film, though the dialogue is just what you’d expect from a low budget Italian film made in 1980.

The actors chosen for Holocaust are interesting, picked mostly for their Italian credentials as opposed to their acting abilities – one major point of interest is that Robert Kerman, who played Monroe, was a porn star at the time. I think it’s fair to assume that a few of the others in the film were into adult movies too as there’s a good bit of full-on nudity in Cannibal Holocaust and at one point one of the lads (who really liked to rock out with his cock out) performs a move that really belonged more in a porn film then a horror.

Things really got interesting for Cannibal Holocaust once the film got a public airing. After a showing in Milan, the director, Ruggero Deodato, was arrested and charged with murder as the effects in the film were so realistic (for the time) and the documentary scenes looked so authentic (for the time) that the Italian authorities thought Cannibal Holocaust was a snuff film and that some of the on-screen killings were real. Deodato got away with it, but the film was banned for ages, caught up in the video nasty business in the eighties. The film is still controversial as there are genuine scenes of animal cruelty in it that are sickening and some of the cannibal moments are disturbing even to sophisticated modern audiences.

So, if you’re a tubby greedy guts then take a gander at Cannibal Holocaust before meals and you’ll soon be a size zero (and therefore quite un-appetising to local cannibals!)

One Thumb Up and One Thumb Down for Cannibal Holocaust.

* Please note that the Dr. Phil joke is not mine, I nicked it from Denis Leary (who probably nicked it from Bill Hicks!)

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cannibal_Holocaust
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0078935/

30 Days of Fright – 21: House of Wax

Paris Hilton is a skanky hoor and I sincerely apologise for the following review as it’s about a movie she’s in, thus keeping that skank in the headlines for longer then she deserves!

House of Wax (2005) follows a bunch of six American teens out on a road trip to see a football game. After a little fiddling with the GPS in one of the cars the gang get lost and are forced to make camp for the night in a remote part of the countryside.

During the night the camp is visited by someone in a jeep who never gets out but makes the kids a little nervous anyway. The next morning one of the two cars they’re travelling in is found to have a broken fan belt so all bar two of the group head off to the game, leaving the cars owner and his girlfriend to head into a nearby town to get the part for the car.

In town they run into an unsavoury mechanic who tells them the story of the family that ran the wax museum in the town and the tragedy that befell them, despite the amazingly realistic wax sculptures that were once a tourist attraction.

Of course, bad things start to happen to our intrepid football fans and they quickly discover that there’s more to the town then just great wax statues.

Cry, bitch! (how I fucking hate Paris Hilton)

 It’s important when discussing the 2005 version of House of Wax (yep, it’s a remake, soon I’m going to stop mentioning that as so many of these films are remakes) to state right from the start that Paris Hilton does get killed in this film. However, as far as I’m concerned, her death was a poor one, over far too quickly and with nowhere near enough gore.

Hilton aside, House of Wax is not a bad film. For a change it’s easy to like some of the characters in this movie, so you do feel concern for them as they go through the motions of their ordeal. Carly (Elisha Cuthbert) is likeable as is her brother, even the villain of the piece is someone you don’t mind seeing on screen.

One of the other things I really liked about House of Wax is the soundtrack which features great music from bands like Deftones and Marilyn Manson, though there are times where figuring out the name of a certain song playing in the background or just thinking about a band is preferable to watching the movie, especially in the first act or so which is a little slow as it’s setting the scene for the action to take place.

Certain scenes in House of Wax feel very familiar – the ankle cut that marks the beginning of the violence is a wound that was made popular by Hostel, though as far as I can figure, House of Wax came first – in fact all the horror in House of Wax is a tad familiar and on that front there’s nothing new here – still I can’t bring myself to really dislike this movie.

One Thumb Up and One Thumb Down for House of Wax.
Two Thumbs Down for Paris Hilton.

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_of_Wax_(2005_film)
imdb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0397065/

30 Days of Fright – 20: Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning

I never thought I’d live to see the day when this happened, yet here we are. A prequel. A horror prequel. And it’s really good! So good, in fact, that I am forced to say “Yay!”. “Yay, Prequels!”. And thrice I say “Yay”.

The idea of a prequel being good is alien to most as by definition a prequel is a movie that you already know the ending to. What potentially makes a prequel worth watching is to find out how a character gets to the point where you first get to know them. What made this particular outing so different was that the character worth watching was not the character you’d be expecting.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006) (which is a prequel to the 2003 Chainsaw remake) starts off with the unusual birth of a baby in a meat processing factory. The child is disfigured and abandoned only to be discovered by a poor starving woman searching the factory rubbish bins for scraps. She takes the kid home to raise it as her own, commenting to an unknown male associate that the child is beautiful – the bloke turns out to be R. Lee Ermey (the Sheriff from the first movie and the drill sergeant from Full Metal Jacket) who utters a line of such comic value that it sets the tone for the entire film and immediately distinguishes The Beginning from the original.

We spin forward in time up to a point four years before Chainsaw Massacre takes place (so 1969) and the little tyke is all grown up and is none other than Leatherface himself, Thomas Hewitt, working away in the same meat factory, right up to the point where the place closes down. Tom doesn’t take this well so he kills his boss and nicks a chainsaw. The local sheriff (some dude other than R. Lee) turns up at the Hewitt house looking for R. Lee to help him apprehend Leatherface. R. Lee doesn’t take kindly to this plan and kills the Sheriff and assumes his identity.

Into this idyllic portrait of an American family come four youngsters – two lads and their girlfriends – who are living it up before the boys ship out to Vietnam. They have a little accident on the road and come to the attention of the “Sheriff” who brings them back to his place for a little torture.

Holy dogshit! Texas, only steers and queers come from Texas!

Undoubtedly what makes Chainsaw: The Beginning better then the original is R. Lee Ermey. Once the film makers gave him centre stage they were all set. The kids, Leatherface, the rest of the Hewitt family, the chainsaws, and all the blood and gore are nothing compared to the lines R. Lee was given and delivered so very well. Beginning is a horror and there are some unpleasant scenes of teen torture, but the humour that runs rampant throughout the script totally compensates for the gore.

What I particularly liked is that the makers of The Beginning seem to be in possession of a time machine. My evidence for this theory goes as follows:

1. Last week I reviewed the 2003 version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and during the course of my write up I pointed out a couple of things I disliked, including how an evil dude gets to be Sheriff and how the lads seemed to be avoiding Vietnam.

2. One week later and I’m watching the prequel that deals with these very issues! And explains why the old man in the Hewitt home (Uncle Monty – I kid you not – Uncle Monty!) has no legs. See, time travel. The producers of Chainsaw read my comments and went back to 2006 to make a movie to address my concerns and win me over at the same time!

Temporal mechanics to one side, The Beginning is a fun little movie that should be enjoyed for the gory laughfest it is – not scary but bloody, not a masterpiece but good for a chuckle or two, there’s no real depth here but who wants that while you’re watching a biker get cut in half with a chainsaw?

Two Thumbs Up for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning

For more info (or to apply for the position of Sheriff) then check out:
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0420294/
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Texas_Chainsaw_Massacre:_The_Beginning

30 Days of Fright – 19: Night of the Living Dead

Remakes are as common as muck in the horror genre, for some reason more popular then the “special edition” phenomenon that’s more prevalent in the world of Sci Fi. With a science fiction film you’re more likely to find that a director wants to tweak the special effects or add back in deleted scenes as opposed to in horror where directors and writers prefer to take another go at the whole film wherever possible. As far as I can figure this fondness for taking a second go at a film is probably due to the relatively low budget of most horrors vs. the high cost of effects laden sci fi.

Night of the Living Dead (1990) is a remake of a 1968 film of the same name. The original was written and directed by the legendary zombie master himself George A. Romero, and Georgie himself re-wrote his original screenplay for the 90’s version. This time he let someone else direct, Tom Savini, but I doubt anyone could have gotten over the problems inherent in the script that Romaro wrote.

The action begins with two people visiting a cemetery where the recently deceased pop out of their graves and start chasing the living around the place. The male of the two is promptly killed (quite spectacularly) and his female companion gets the heck out of dodge, fleeing to a remote farmhouse for safety. While hiding there, a bunch of other survivors turn up and a few that were already hiding there make themselves known.

As bolt holes go, the farm is not the safest of places and zombies attack, causing all sorts of mayhem. Unfortunately, the real trouble comes from within as the people hiding in the house start to get on each others nerves and argue over the best survival strategies, with disasterous consequences.

Is the same ol’ theme, since 1916, zombie, zombie, zombie ee ee ee

Where Romero lost the run of himself this time is in trying to make a movie that’s more about the human condition in tight quarters during a crisis as opposed to a good zombie flick. If he’d simply told the story he had plotted out instead of lingering over how good girls turn bad when given guns and the undead to shoot at then the result would have been a more well-rounded film whereas the Living Dead that made it to the cinema is just preachy bullshit. If the story had been told without the lecture then it’s likely that audiences would have come to the conclusions about mans inhumanity towards man without having it force-fed to them like so much rotting flesh.

What’s likable most about a Romaro zombie outing is that there’s never any crap about viruses and while I was watching Living Dead I realised why that whole area bothers me so much. The idea of a virus causing zombies allows for the possibility of a cure or at the very least quarantine. However, if the recently deceased are just springing up for no reason then there’s obviously something supernatural (in every sense of that word) going on, which is a much more frightening concept and potentially a situation utterly without hope.

One Thumb Up and One Thumb Down for the remade Night of the Living Dead.

To find out more (straight out tha’ casket, risin’ up) then check out:
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0100258/
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Night_of_the_Living_Dead_(1990_film)

30 Days of Fright – 18: The Masque of the Red Death

Considering the enormous reputation for appearing in horror films he has, it’s maybe a tad surprising that this is the first time we’ve encountered Vincent Price in a movie. Price starred in dozens of movies over the course of his illustrious career and made for a great horror baddie, what with that weird voice of his and unusual manner. Modern audiences are perhaps not as kind to Price as they should be as it can be easy to laugh at him rather than with him as he intended. If, however, you watch a Vincent Price movie and know that he wasn’t taking it seriously either, then it becomes a totally different experience, and in certain circumstances, a really disturbing experience too.

The Masque of the Red Death (1964) is set during an outbreak of a plague-like disease in medieval Europe where Prince Prospero (our man Vinnie) rules a kingdom with what can politely be called an iron fist – a more accurate description might be that he’s an evil fucking bastard who worships Satan and kills indiscriminately for fun and profit.

Prospero is organising a masked shindig at his gaff for all the local nobility and arse-kissers in order to enable them evade a painful death and at the same time bolster his power over them. The party gets underway with only one rule, no-one is allowed to wear the colour red. Things move from a quiet couple of drinks at Prospero’s into a full-on debauchery session that would make Caligula blush, with entertainment including performing dwarves and Prospero humiliating his guests by making them act like animals.

Meanwhile, there are a couple of things going on in the background. One of the dwarfs is out for revenge on his master as Prospero has been abusing his miniature missus; Prospero is trying to talk a local peasant girl into the kind of acts that would get him ten years inside if he pulled a stunt like that nowadays; and one of Prospero’s women takes matters into her own hands and makes a pact with the Devil herself, bypassing Prospero.

Amidst all the palace intrigue and mad goings-on at the party down in the main hall, a strange figure dressed all in red makes their way through the castle…

Who’s a pretty boy then?

Masque is one of those 60’s movies that at first you find kinda funny, what with the cheesy acting and dodgy sets and so on. Then suddenly you realise that they’re not pulling any punches when it comes to things like worshipping the Devil – a subject that is rarely touched on in modern films due to it’s taboo nature. In Masque, Prospero is a flat-out Satan worshipper, with an alter and all sorts, who’s out to corrupt the young and gain power on Earth over his peers. On top of his love of all things Satanic, Prospero is a murderer and has some other unsavoury tastes, especially a love of dwarves that reminded me of Denny Crane (though Denny never abused them in quite the same way).

Denny Crane – Dwarf Lover

Masque is based on an Edgar Allen Poe story, which goes a long way to explaining not only why it’s so dark in nature but also why it’s so good. Poe’s material details the human relationship with the dark aspects of nature and builds well on medieval works that taught about death and how it gets us all in the end, and how we all in some way influence what may happen to us after we shuffle off this mortal coil.

Two Thumbs Up for The Masque of the Red Death.

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Masque_of_the_Red_Death_(film)
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0058333/

30 Days of Fright – 17: Event Horizon

I’ve looked at the concept of horror in space before when I reviewed Alien but while there are some similarities between it and last night’s film, there are many more differences that set Event Horizon into a league of its own in terms of horror.

Set in the way off distant future of 2047, Event Horizon (1997) follows the crew of the search and rescue vessel Lewis & Clark as they set off to Neptune to investigate a distress signal that has been detected. With the regular crew of hard chaws is the reserved and academic (nerdy) scientist Dr. William Weir who explains that the distress signal is coming from the research ship the Event Horizon, that was lost some seven years earlier. The Event Horizon was a cutting edge ship that featured a new type of propulsion system that could travel faster than light. The ship disappeared during her maiden voyage and hadn’t been heard from until her signal mysteriously appeared.

The ship is caught in the stormy upper atmosphere of Neptune and the Lewis & Clark crew have a tough time just getting to her. When they do get aboard they find the ship in a state of deep cold with no sign of her crew, despite the unusual life signs they get on their scanners. While exploring the ship one of the rescue team, Justin, is sucked into the core of the gravity drive that powers the ship. The core spits Justin out and sends out a pulse of gravity that badly damages the Lewis &Clark. As repairs get underway the investigation into what happened to the Event Horizon and her crew reveals some shocking details of how the ship works and where it may have been, or worse – what it may have brought back with her…

Dr. Weir’s laser eye surgery took an unexpected turn for the worse…

There is no doubt that even with the space ships and Neptune and faster than light travel and all that, Event Horizon is a horror film. There’s blood and gore, references to Hell, a couple of creepy characters, more gore, and even some Latin thrown in for good measure. As with any good scary movie the key to Event Horizon is the atmosphere, in both a metaphorical and literal sense; the ship itself providing a great setting for the horrific events to unfold in, and the upper parts of the planet Neptune providing more lightning and storm effects then even the cheesiest Frankenstein flick. The movie tips it’s hat to Alien as well – the scene where the crew are fetching the CO2 filters is almost an exact copy of a scene from Alien – which is a good move considering that comparisons are always going to be made between the two.

The performances in Even Horizon are spot on as well. The script calls for a level of hamming it up that the cast all seem willing to do and they’re all willing to laugh at themselves as they go along, the scene where the crew is introduced is the best example of this – just watch for DJ offering his job title “Trauma” and the resulting laugh the rest of the crew have at his expense – it smacks of an improve scene that made it into the film.

The script is the weakness of the film and there are too many lines that are quotable for the wrong reasons. At one point Miller (Laurence Fishburne) asks if a fellow crewmate has ever witnessed a fire in zero gravity – when Event Horizon first hit the cinemas myself and a chum of mine used to wile away the hours substituting different materials for fire, including snot, pee, and my personal favourite:
              “Have you ever seen diarrhoea in zero gravity? It’s beautiful. It’s like liquid it… slides all over everything. Comes up in waves. And they just kept hitting him, wave after wave. He was screaming for me to save him.”

Two Thumbs Up for Event Horizon

To find out more (as it comes at you in waves) check out:
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0119081/
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Event_Horizon_(film)

30 Days of Fright – 16: A Nightmare on Elm St. Pt2: Freddy's Revenge

The eighties were great weren’t they? In the movies they seem excellent but as someone who counts the 1980’s as the first full decade they lived through I can tell you first hand that, as a period of human history, it really wasn’t as good as it may seem. If nothing else, there were loads of supernatural killers running around the place, probably left over from the seventies.

Nightmare 2 (1985) picks up the action five years after the events of the first film. A new family move onto Elm Street and into the same house that belonged to the family of the heroine from part one. The eldest son begins to suffer terrible nightmares about a strange, horribly disfigured geezer who wears Indiana Jones’s hat and has knives for fingers. In his dreams the young lad, Jesse, is being pursued by this evil figure who wants him to kill on his behalf.

As Jesse continues to unpack his stuff he and his new friend from school, Lisa, find a diary that belonged to Nancy (from the first film). The diary details what was happening to Nancy (which I won’t divulge here so as not to spoil the original film) and outlines who the killer is: Freddy Krueger!

Freddy keeps up his efforts to get Jesse to do his bidding and after a series of acts of violence Jesse begins to believe that he’s having more than just bad dreams so he and Lisa try to deal with bad ol’ Freddy the only way they can…

Funny hat and strange glove…
Funny hat and strange glove…

Nightmare 2 is not as good as the original, no surprise there, but what is surprising is that it’s still an enjoyable movie. Nightmare 2 shows the lives of 80’s teens in the idealised way that only Hollywood ever can; driving cars to school and partying hard when the parents go to bed, and having cool bedrooms. This vision of teen life is what makes Nightmare 2 fun to watch – it’s like a really bloody Halloween episode of Beverly Hills 90210, where the annoying kids you’d love to see carved up by a psycho killer from beyond the grave are carved up by a psycho killer from beyond the grave!

On top of that there’s the sense of humour that carries over from the first film. Freddy still gets the best lines and makes you smile the most, but the funniest thing in Nightmare 2 is the sadistic gym teacher, if his punishing the kids by putting them into stress positions you’d normally associate with an Iraqi prison wasn’t enough then his secret second life will make you laugh out loud!

One Thumb Up and One Thumb Down for A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge.

To learn more about this psycho killer from beyond the grave (unless you’re too frightened and afeared) then check out:
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0089686/
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Nightmare_on_Elm_Street_2:_Freddy%27s_Revenge

30 Days of Fright – 15: WΔZ

Ho-ly Shiiit but I enjoyed this movie! When I got into writing the reviews for the 30 Days and last years 27 Days of Fright I looked forward to watching some films that I may not have otherwise bothered with. As I work through this years list there have been a good few disappointments, films that looked good on the trailer or on the back of the DVD case turned out more often then not to be crap. Then a film like WΔZ comes along.

Before I go any further let me get this out of the way, WΔZ is actually pronounced “double-u, delta, zed”, the zed because while it’s set in America it’s actually a British film, the delta part leads me to the following point that I must make:


I can’t reasonably discuss this movie without dishing out spoilers and, because it was so good, I intend to gush on a little and that will reveal details that will spoil this movie for you. If you’re the sort who like to remain in the dark before seeing a film, then I won’t be offended if you skip this review – however, you must promise to see WΔZ when you get the chance!


And so to the film…

WΔZ (2007 in Ireland & the UK, 2008 in the US) follows Detective Eddie Argo and his new sidekick Helen Westcott as they investigate the murder of a young pregnant woman whose body has been dumped in unusual circumstances, and who has “wΔz” carved onto her body. The victim is the girlfriend of a local badass gansta type and the cops nip round to his place to ask a few questions. When they get there they find him hanged in an apparent suicide, though it’s quickly revealed that there’s more then appearances to it, he really did top himself. There’s evidence that he’d been tortured and both him and his girl had traces of a strong sedative in their systems.

Shortly after there’s another double death, two brothers and associates of the suicide victim. One brother has been murdered in the same way as the girl via electrocution and his brother died from a series of terrible wounds inflicted as the result of torture. The mysterious wΔz engraving appears again and  Eddie and Helen dig into the case further by tracing the sedative used on all four victims. Only one local lab has been using this particular stuff so the cops call round for a chat. There they find a rather squirrelly scientist who does a legger when Eddie and Helen spot the “wΔz = cov(wi, zi)+E(wiΔzi)” equation written on a blackboard.

However, the scientist is only nervous as he’s been peddling drugs to students and is not a murderer. He does explain the equation and the nature of his research into altruism in animals. He explains that the idea of a creature sacrificing itself for others is un-natural and that, in the right circumstances (or wrong circumstances depending on how you look at it) any creature will kill to save itself, that desire for self preservation being more powerful then even love.

Another two victims are discovered, a woman and her child. The mother is a drug addict and associate of the other victims. The cops are shocked to discover that the mother is alive and the child, her very young son, is dead. She had been put into a situation where she had to kill her son in order to save herself and she had done just that, her need to survive particularly troubling the cop Helen, who wanted to believe that a mothers love would be stronger than anything.

All the victims are linked by a series of petty crimes and one major one. They had all been involved in the brutal and incredibly violent rape of a girl in her home in front of her mother, who the gang had forced to watch. They brutalised their victim for hours before offering her the chance to end her suffering by telling the gang to kill her mother. In terrible pain, she had offered her mothers life in order to save her own. The rape victim, Jean Lerner, had recovered and found employment with the drug dealing scientist as his assistant and through her work at his lab had developed her own understanding of the nature of altruism and self-preservation, and had then developed her own experiments that she gladly applied to her attackers, none of whom served a day in jail for her rape or her mothers murder.

Who said you’d never use algebra after school?

Now, it may seem like I’ve really told the whole story there but you’ve gotta trust me when I say I’ve barely scratched the surface of this movie. The investigation into the murders takes up maybe the first half of the film and the hunt for Jean is roughly the second half. The last act of the film hasn’t been mentioned above, so hopefully it’s not totally ruined for anyone who’s read this far.

WΔZ has surprised me on a few different levels. Firstly, this is one of the most realistically made films I’ve seen in a while. It uses the shaky camera documentary style that is so popular at the moment but it really does feel like a documentary in parts as people and things behave the way you expect. Eddie (played ably by Stellan Skarsgard – Bootstrap Bill Turner from Pirates of the Caribbean) is a cop on the cusp of middle age and who smokes too much, so when he has to run after someone he’s shite at it, and when he jumps over a fence and down a stairs – a distance of about 10 to 12 feet – it messes him up, the way you expect it to. Selma Blair (the childish one from Cruel Intentions) as Jean seems every part the vengeful victim who may not really be up for what she’s doing. At one point, just as she’s about to hurt someone, she leaves a bucket down and after she’s inflicted some pain she pukes into it herself, obviously disturbed by what she’s done. On top of that, she has realistic facial scars from her attack, the kind of scars that people who’ve been beaten do tend to carry with them.

Finally, Mellissa George as the cop Helen, plays her role well, though to be fair hers is probably the least developed of the main characters in WΔZ and serves primarily to balance Eddie’s.

WΔZ is in many ways like the films Seven and Saw but I cannot describe it as a torture porn film as it’s not about that at all, and therein lies another issue; is it fair to call WΔZ a horror film at all? This makes me ask is Silence of the Lambs a horror? Is Seven? My instinct says no, but why? The situation is horrific, torture and murder, so why aren’t these other films horrors? Is it because the action follows the cops – people who deliberately put themselves into the situation of the film? If that’s the case why do we say that Halloween is a horror – the action centres around Jamie Lee Curtis but there’s a cop all the way through. And what about Scream? or A Nightmare on Elm Street? All these films feature cops, albeit in supporting roles, and Nightmare is the only one with a supernatural element at all. Does the main character have to be a cop to take the film out of the horror genre unless there’s something supernatural going on?

I guess that’s why I enjoyed WΔZ so much, it made me keep thinking long after the end credits, which are beautiful to watch by the way, rolled. I do wonder about WΔZ’s longevity, will this be another case of the Cloverfields – will it be another film that’s excellent on first viewing and terrible anytime thereafter – ask me again in about six months and I’ll let you know.

Two Thumbs Firmly Up for WΔZ.

For more info (this time I really think you should read these) check out:
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W%CE%94Z
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0804552/
For more about selfish genes and altruism in animals: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Price_equation
and: http://pandasthumb.org/archives/2008/02/w%CE%B4z-evolutionar.html

30 Days of Fright – 14: Black Christmas

There’s nothing quite as sad as a missed opportunity. Sit down and take a look at Black Christmas (2006) and you’ll see what I mean. The idea of the film is really really simple:

There’s this house, and it used to belong to this couple. The couple had a child who suffered from an unfortunate medical condition, a buggered up liver, so his skin was an off yellow. The mother was particularly upset by this so she abused him and locked him in the attic. The child grew up, the mother had another child, a girl this time who’s a little more normal. There are some murders.

Now the house belongs to a sorority full of spoilt women. The young lad has grown up and has escaped from a mental hospital and has returned home to kill some people. Oh yeah, it’s Christmas. Then at the end there’s a big twist.


The missed opportunities are plentiful with this movie. Let’s be kind and start with the piss poor script that drags things out for ages and ages before you get to see any murder. Or the shocking casting decisions. Or the way you don’t care for anyone in the film. Or how, because the potential victims in the house don’t realise they are in danger, there’s no sense of dread or fear on their behalf.

Ah fuckit, let’s cut to the chase here: This is a film about a bunch of attractive college age girls in a house together on a cold winters night and THERE’S NO FUCKING NUDITY! There’s no girl on girl kissing, no running around in underwear – there’s barely any sideboob action. What the fuck was going on at the studio that authorised a film like this, with rakes of young girls and not a single reason for lads to watch it?

My indignation is real because I sat all the way through Black Christmas always expecting something to happen to relieve the boredom, but alas nothing did. This is one seriously dull film, even the attempts at gore towards the end fall terribly flat. Unlike the girls.

Two Thumbs Down For Black Christmas.

30 Days of Fright – 13: Thir13en Ghosts

As a fan of trivia I enjoy digging out neat little facts about things that I can then regurgitate at the most inappropriate moments. Fun facts about people waking up during operations just before a friend goes into surgery or telling nervous women about the local rat or spider population just before bed are always good for a giggle. The problem with trivia is that there are times when the fun facts around something, be it book, album, or film, are better than the material itself.

Take, for example, the movie Thir13en Ghosts (that’s not a typo by the way, that’s how they write the name of this flick) – the fun little fact about it is that it’s yet another fucking remake, this time, however, that makes this movie ever so slightly more interesting.

Thir13en Ghosts (2001) opens with a ghost hunt. An (I assume) eccentric (maybe just drunk) rich bloke, Cyrus, is out with a bunch of his mates hunting a ghost in a junk yard. Turns out that Cyrus collects ghosts for a particular purpose and he’s after a really mean one. In the process of catching the ghost a number of the hunters, including Cyrus, get bumped off.

We then flip over to the story of Arthur (Tony Shaloub (Monk, from the TV show of the same name)), the daddy of an all American family whom tragedy has seen fit to visit; a house fire has taken the life of his wife and Arthur is not faring out well as the grieving widower. Finally, a little good fortune comes along in the form of Cyrus’s lawyer who reveals that dear old uncle Cyrus has left his house to Arthur.

Arthur and his two kids (the eldest of which is played by Shannon Elizabeth) along with their comic-relief nanny go with the Lawyer that evening to see the house. Cyrus’s place is a monument of glass and bare metal and, frankly, a really interesting space in the post-modernest style – in other words it’s cool looking. The unusual house entertains the kids but worries Arthur. Waiting for the family is Matthew Lillard, badly disguised as a power company engineer who claims that problems with the local electricity are being caused by a fault in the house. Lillard is actually a psychic and one-time assistant to Cyrus and he’s visiting the house for a bit of a nose. Lillard is shocked to discover that the basement is a type of prison for ghosts and where Cyrus kept his collection. Terrified by his discovery he rushes to tell the others, just as trouble breaks out…

Maybe it’s a decomposing, rotten, creature of the undead, maybe it’s Maybelline
Thirteen Ghosts (I got sick of typing it the other way) is not about scare, though an 18’s rated movie it’s more like a gory version of The Haunting in that it’s all about the house and the dead relative’s obsession. Now, I like The Haunting, though it’s unlikely it’ll ever end up on a 30 Days list, it’s a fun movie. Thirteen Ghosts is very similar but with a newer house and more contrived backstory. This is where the interesting little fact comes in. Both Thirteen Ghosts and The Haunting are remakes of movies from the early 1960’s. The similarities in these movies is no coincidence but instead an odd reflection of the moods of two different periods.
The source material for the films comes from a time when horror was about haunted houses and ghosts, maybe the occassional vampire, but on the whole very traditional ideas about scary movies.The original Thirteen Ghosts hit cinemas in 1960 while The Haunting followed a few years later, getting released in 1963;  the modern Thirteen Ghosts is a 2001 film while The Haunting got its remake in 1999. The original movies relect the attitudes of the early 60’s, along with the then current approach to film making. Thirteen Ghosts used blatent gimmicks to get bums on seats, including 3D style glasses to see (or not see) the ghosts, while The Haunting was filmed in a way that highlighted the atmospherics of the house and built up a feeling of dread. The remakes both used special effects and recognisable names to cover an utter lack of ability on behalf of the director.
Despite the gore and blood, the remade Thirteen Ghosts feels like a kids film, even more than The Haunting which actually IS a kids film. This is possibly due to the original movie being aimed at younger audiences but is more likely down to the fact that the director, Steve Beck, lost the run of himself in trying to please the fickle audience with a hollow script while at the same time never really asking for anything from the actors.
In terms of performances, Shannon Elizabeth is functional as the daughter, in fact all the actors are functional, but with Shannon it’s more of a disappointment for some reason; it’s like she was shaping up to be good and then just didn’t bother. The scene with her in front of the mirror with the ghost behind her demonstrates what I mean, like she’s really not trying, and the bit where she’s attacked and her clothes are ripped is a severe let down on so many levels! Tony Shaloub is an odd choice for a film of this nature and his casting as the father is just another of the odd decisions the film makers made. Matthew Lillard is playing the same role he played in Scream and Hackers, and like in Scream, he tends to spit a lot, though his character is one of the more interesting ones in the film.
The overall star of the piece is the set design which is amazing – the house is brilliant, made up of glass etched with latin inscriptions and with large mechanical things everywhere. The biggest let down though has to be the Ghosts themselves as they’re all rubbish, made up in more of a super-villain style then in a genuine attempt to scare.
Two Thumbs Down for Thirteen Ghosts (and Two Thumbs Firmly Down for the scene where you think you’re going to see Shannon Elizabeth’s boobies and then don’t!)

30 Days of Fright – 12: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)

What the hell is wrong with Jessica Biel’s mouth? Here’s a girl with an attractive figure (which is the diplomatic way an engaged man like myself says “she’s a fit bitch”) but a face that looks like something a mutant would go “yuk” at. Holy Christ, the makers of the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre managed to get this girl from all the wrong angles close up.

I mean, look at this,

Here we see young Miss Biel in a normal enough shot, looking reasonable:

Even in this shot she looks alright, I suppose:

But what’s going on here? What’s with the catfishmouth thing?
 Or here? Dear Lord the wheels came off the wagon….

So anyway, after sitting all the way through the 2003 edition of Chainsaw the state of Jessica Biel is really and truly the most interesting thing to talk about, due in no small part to this being another run through an already shite script.

Set in 1973 and like the original, Chainsaw 03 tells of a bunch of college types travelling through Texas, this time on their way from Mexico to a concert in Dallas. They’d been south of the border for a little R&R and to purchase drugs with intent to sell. The kids are all roughly the same as in the ’74 movie only this time they’re all able bodied, no room for wheelchairs in this version. They pick up a hitch-hiker (a girl this time) who kills herself (instead of attacking the kids in the van). It goes on and on like this, it’s the same as the original but just a little different – just enough as to stand on its own.

The kids stop and look for help. They meet the wrong sorts who direct them to their deaths, all except perky Jessica Biel, who after a bit of chase gets away pretty much without a scratch and quite hoarse from all the screaming. The End. Again.

With oil prices returning to normal, the chainsaw is once again the weapon of choice for deranged psycho killers!

This is a film chock full of conveniences. Some of them are OK, like the leaking water pipes in the house built in one of the hottest states in America – the pipes are leaking just so that there’s water in the basement for Jessica Biel to fall into, thus soaking her T-Shirt, making it nice and see-through; or the water in the meat factory that’s there for young Jessica to fall into in order to re-soak that T-Shirt of hers; or that sudden change in the weather towards the end where it starts pissing rain in one of the hottest states in America just as Ms. Biel’s shirt was drying out. Like I said, these conveniences are OK. But the most evil family in America living in apparent isolation, miles from anywhere though also on the main road from the Mexican border to Dallas – I don’t buy that.

Or one of the evil family getting elected Sheriff? Or these five morons trafficking quantities of drugs across the border? Nope, not going for that either, though the lads must of had something going for them – why else were they galavanting around Mexico and Texas instead of off fighting in Vietnam?

Two Thumbs Down for the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Two Thumbs Up for Jessica Biel’s Arse.

To read more (as opposed to watching this film) check out:
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0324216/
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Texas_Chainsaw_Massacre_(film)

30 Days of Fright – 11: Shrooms

Why aren’t there more horror movies set in Ireland? With the scenery and historic locations and wealth of folklore it seems odd that the nearest thing to an Irish horror movie is Tom Cruise’s “Far and Away”. That said, there’s no decent Irish Sci-Fi either, or homegrown television come to think of it, so it’s basically a miracle that every few years an absolute gem of an Irish movie comes along. Alas, as for last nights film…

Shrooms (2007) tells of a group of five american teens who travel to Ireland to meet a college friend. The friend, Jake, takes them out into the woods in order to score some magic mushrooms. Jake’s a bit of a storyteller and first tells a tale of dogging – people having sex in cars and inviting strangers to join in.

The next story he tells is about the dreaded Deathcap mushroom, that only comes into season every now and then and is (coincidentally) in season now. He explains that the Deathcap gives anyone who consumes it the gift of premonition, if you survive the eating of the mushroom in the first place, in most cases it’s leathal. One of the gang, a young, blond, and attractive girl called Tara, eats of the evil little fungi and is just snatched from the jaws of death by Jake.

Later that night, around the campfire, Jake tells another story of a mad monk who ran a home for wayward boys and who used to torture and even kill the children in the home, until, after having killed one of a set of twins, the other decided to poison the monk with a stash of Deathcap mushrooms. The plan, in the story, backfired as the mushrooms unleashed all the violence the monk was capable of and set him off on a major killing spree. Now, the monk and the only other survivor from the home, a feral child, haunt the woods.

One of the group takes a big pile of mushrooms and then heads out into the woods, well and truly out of his bin. The next day, and in various states of conciousness as a result of drinking mushroom tea, the rest of the group head out into the woods in search of their missing friend and promptly get lost and picked off by some unseen murdering force, all the while Tara, as a result of her brush with the Deathcap mushroom is seeing premonitions of their demises and ultimately sees more than she ever could have imagined in even her worst drug induced nightmares.

Monks on Shrooms – adds a whole new dimension to “High Clergy”

So let’s dispense with the obvious. Shrooms is about teenage drug abuse and the users of the mushrooms come to sticky ends, but the movie is not about moralising over drug use. Instead, the mushrooms initially add an angle to the film that is not unlike A Nightmare On Elm Street, in that after taking the mushrooms and tripping, no one is able to tell what’s real and what’s not. This is disconcerting at first, but the trippy visuals soon become tiring and once you see the background shimmer in a certain way you know somethings going to happen, it’s just another cue, like when the music gets quiet right before the baddie shows up.

Unfortunately, the point about the trippy visuals just about sums up Shrooms. It’s a pedestrian horror movie with a few jumpy moments but nothing to recommend it after the first half hour of American kids running around stoned off their gimp in the woods up in Monaghan. Like too many recent movies the makers of Shrooms seemd to think that quantity was more important than quality and threw in too many possible villians as well as ‘overdosing’ on the same visual tricks over and over again.

That said, it was nice to see a movie set and filmed in Ireland on the list, even if most of the people in it were American.

One Thumb Up and One Thumb Down for Shrooms.

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shrooms_%28film%29
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0492486/
For an insight into the world of bad ass mushrooms: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=seven-deadly-shrooms

30 Days of Fright – 10: Dog Soldiers

Holloywood disappoints. I’ve mentioned this before. In order to find decent cinema it’s often necessary to look to the independent film sector. Good independent movies are not exactly common, but it’s easier to forgive the indie crowd when they produce a pile of dirt because they make their movies from the heart and are prepared to ignore the populist choices while making their films. On the other hand, when a good independent film comes along it can blow you away!

Dog Soldiers (2001) follows a squad of British soldiers on a training exercise in the remote Scottish highlands. Their training scenario has them behind enemy lines and they have to get back to their side. They select a route and set off. The squad are up against special forces types but aren’t phased by their opponents as they’re dripping with testosterone and bravado.

Along the way they encounter the remains of the special forces squad who appear to have been attacked. There’s one survivor, a Captain Ryan. He’s been injured and has a bad chest wound that looks like an animal attack. The soldiers try to get out of the area by calling for a helicopter but discover that their radio gear is no longer working. A closer inspection reveals a bug has been planted in the radio. Deciding that they need to get out of the area they start to hike out, concerned that whatever attacked the special forces team is coming back.

As they move out they are indeed attacked and take casualities. As they leg it they run into a girl in a jeep who takes them to a house where they make a temporary base and try to survive the night, a night with a full moon. Realising that the squad are being hunted by werewolves they try to fight off their attackers but soon discover that they’re not just fighting the creatures outside the house…

Eye, Eye, Captain!

I saw Dog Soldiers in the cinema and hated it. At the time there was a spate of British horror movies that got cinema releases that most of them didn’t deserve. Having watched Dog soldiers again I have to say that it was one of those films that didn’t deserve its time in the picture house. This does not mean that it’s bad. In fact, Dog Soldiers is fucking excellent!

Dog Soldiers tells a simple story set over the course of only a couple of nights but it is jammed packed with good characters, great scenes, and a developed sense of humour that works brilliantly. There are some funny moments that honestly made me laugh out loud and there are some great horror moments too, filled with situational terror and copious amounts of blood and intestines.

The two principle actors, Sean Pertwee and Kevin McKidd gave cracking performances and their portrayal of army life is one of the best recruitment pieces I’ve seen since Black Hawk Down. Then, it was explained to me what’s off with Dog Soldiers. It’s a really bad movie for the cinema but excellent on DVD; it’s kinda like a made for TV movie in that it works so well on the small screen, partly due to the actors being people you associate with their TV appearances.

So, Two Thumbs Up for Dog Soldiers (on DVD).

30 Days of Fright – 09: The Covenant

There are few tales from history that can invoke chills in the same way a horror film can. One such tale is of the events in the early 1690’s that took place in Salem, Massachusetts. During that dark period of American history nineteen people were hanged as witches and at least one other died under torture. The colonies in the 1690’s were full of superstition and fear and it’s unlikely that everyone involved in the process of those trials really believed in witchcraft to the extent that was claimed. Like many modern legal wrangles, the business in Salem was really about land and grudges between neighbours.

The reality of the witch trails doesn’t reduce the power of the story and how it can still send a shiver down the spine. When I first started really reading up on Salem I found myself wanting there to be a deeper, supernatural element to the tale, and I suspect that I’m not alone in that desire. Salem has been the source material for many fine works, just look at The Crucible (play or film) and you’ll see what I mean. It’s surprising that there haven’t been more films based on the witch trials. Having sat through “The Covenant” I can only hope there is never another attempt at such a film.

The Covenant (2006) begins with a little backstory about the “Ipswich Colony” that was home to five magical families that formed a covenant of silence in order to escape the persecution that was going on at the time. These families passed a magical power (named, with stunning originality, “The Power”) down along the male bloodline to the first born son. The Power manifests itself at age 13 and there’s a period of adjustment up until the age of 18 when The Power gets turned all the way up to it’s highest setting. The Power lets you do all sorts of cool stuff, like fly a bit and move stuff around and look all windswept and interesting or dark and brooding depending on the occasion.

One of the families got a little Power mad and were booted out of the club and their bloodline seems to have died out. Can you guess at this point what happens? Are you thinking that maybe that bloodline didn’t really die out? Hold that thought.

Skip forward about three hundred and twenty odd years up to the present day and we find four lads who are all chums, suitably dark and brooding, come from families that date back to colonial times (and are therefore for some reason all stinking rich) and have The Power. They’re 17 years old and one of the gang, Caleb, is nearly 18 and about to get his full dose of Power. The boys all attend a really really good boarding school that only admits good looking kids. A couple of new kids have just transferred in to the school and one of them, a windswept and interesting looking type called Chase, gets on with the boys quite well.

Remember the thought you were holding? Yep, Chase is the descendant of the fifth family and he has a whopping dose of The Power. You see, The Power isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Every time you use The Power you get your life shortened a little as the human body can’t handle the strain. And using The Power is addictive. Young Chase is in town looking for the boys so that he can get more Power for himself, so he’s keeping up the family tradition, which is nice.

I love you man!

  No I love YOU man!

The Covenant snuck onto the list of 30 Days movies due to its Salem credentials. However, despite all the references to Books of Damnation and witchcraft it is not a horror film. Calling it a supernatural thriller is a stretch. The Covenant is more like a super hero movie as it’s all about wielding The Power and product placement for Mustang and Ducati.

There really isn’t all that much to say about this film beyond it’s just rubbish. To be fair I think you’d love it if you were fourteen as it has teenage girls in their underwear (nothing wrong with that of course) and cool cars and bikes (again, nowt wrong with that) and bugger all in the way of substance. The story is decent and I have to complement Sebastian Stan, the dude who played Chase, as his performance was genuinely excellent, but after twenty minutes of processed, alternative but commercially acceptable rock music, and overly slick visuals, you want more. All the actors in the film, with the obvious exception of the two or three adults, look like they should either be dancing about in a Coke ad or serving Coke in the lobby of the cinema.

The Covenant was mis-sold as having something to do with horror and supernatural goings on, but is really more suitable for audiences suffering from either ADD or photo-sensitive epilepsy (both of which were probably brought on from having seen “Transformers” once too often).

Two Thumbs Down for The Covenant.

To read more (though why you’d want to is a mystery) check out:
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Covenant_%28film%29
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0475944/
For a decent account of the true events in Salem: http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/salem/salem.htm

30 Days of Fright – 08: 1408

Anyone who visits the cinema on a regualar basis understands that Hollywood dishes out disappointment all the time. There’s nothing worse then going to see some flick you’ve been looking forward to for ages only to realise half way through that it’s muck. Last night, Hollywood introduced me to a whole new level of crushing disappointment – the Director’s cut of a film that makes it worse then the original release!

1408 follows John Cusak as author Michael Enslin who writes trashy books about haunted hotels, motels, cemetaries, castles, etc. After releasing another of these books he receives a postcard from a hotel in New York that bares the cryptic message “do not enter 1408”. He contacts the hotel and is told that he cannot stay in that room. Enslin, believing this to be an elaborate publicity stunt, gets his publisher to lean on the hotel and book him into the room for the night.

Enslin travels to New York, which is where he used to live with his wife and daughter, before the little girl died of some unnamed illness. At the hotel he is greeted by the manager (Samuel L. “Snakes on a Muthafuckin’ Plane” Jackson) who does his level best to dissuade Enslin from staying in the room, telling him about the large number of deaths that occurred there. Enslin, it turns out, is the biggest skeptic in the world ever, despite making his living off creepy travel guides, and doesn’t believe there’s anything to be afraid of.

Upon entering the room, a few odd occurrances make him reconsider his position on the supernatural, and over the course of an hour in the room he is subjected to a terrifying ordeal that not only makes him rethink the paranormal, but nearly costs him his sanity as he is subjected to an array of horrors, some of which are from his own past.

I hate getting a room in a hotel right above the Nite Club too!
1408 introduced me to a strange phenomenon. The first time I saw this movie, I saw the theatrical release that has one of the best horror endings to a movie I’ve ever seen. I won’t go into details for fear of ruining it, but it was spectacular, especially as the first hour twenty of the film is lackluster at best, going through the motions of what passes for horror.
The directors cut, I thought, can only be better, maybe add in some atmospherics, or tidy up some of the cliché scenes that litter the forty five minutes of Cusak sat in a hotel room. But no! The durty bastards totally change the end! The last ten minutes of the movie are totally different and totally fucking shite!
Some research revealed that audiences in the US felt that the original ending was too much of a “downer” so it was re-shot – the big surprise is that they were right! The original ending is the one on the directors cut. The revised ending was the one I first saw and really really liked. Not so down, but far creepier! Sometimes, not often to be sure, but sometime test audiences are right!!!
As for the rest of the film, well it’s kinda dull. Cusak is a decent actor and I’ve loved him in films like High Fidelity and Grosse Point Blank, but he can have difficulty picking scripts and tends to play the same type of cynical, introverted, understated character all the time, just like he does in 1408. Samuel L. (Snakes on a Muthafuckin’ Death Star) Jackson is his usual functional self but he does give the game away a little when he comes into the movie – in fairness, if you turn up at some hotel and Samuel L. (Snakes on a Muthafuckin’ Tarantino) Jackson is the manager, then you know you’ve got trouble coming! The acting highlights come from the girl playing Cusak’s daughter who has a couple of great scenes and from Mary McCormack – not that she was anything special, I just like to see her get some work from time to time, the poor cow.
1408 is based on a Stephen King short story, thus explaining why it’s not great. Why Hollywood likes Stephen King so much is a mystery – sure there have been a couple of huge hits off the back of his work, but for every win there are at least ten losses, everyone remembers The Shawshank Redemption but what about Needful Things? or The Mist? or Dreamcatcher? Stephen King’s work tends only to frighten children anyway and the subplots and attempts at commentary on American life never hit the mark they way they should – it’s time to let someone else take a crack at scary movies.
One last thing. What is Hollywood trying to say about families that only have one child? In 1408, the Enslin’s only have their daughter and when she died it caused Mr and Mrs Enslin to split up. Fair enough, you might say, but isn’t that roughly the same thing that happened in Minority Report (though it was a missing (likely dead) child in that case)? Is there some notion that only children are able to hold people together and once they’re out of the equation then it’s splitsville for mum and dad? For me, that’s the real downer in 1408.
Two Thumbs Firmly Down for the Directors Cut of 1408.
To find out more (for the want of somthing better to do) check out:

30 Days of Fright – 07: The Blair Witch Project

Time flies. There’s no doubt about it. It seems like only yesterday that we were getting used to the introduction of the Euro (well, those of us in the Euro zone anyway), people like me were making a pile of cash off that Y2K bullshit, and George W. Bush began his run for the US Presidency. All these things happened in 1999 as did another horror.

The Blair Witch Project is the movie cobbled together out of the supposedly recovered footage of three student film makers who went into the woods near Burkittsville (a town formally called Blair) to make a documentary about the local legends of witches and murder. The film was recovered but the three students never were.

The footage that was found shows how the three, Heather, Josh, and Mike, set off in high spirits to make their film over a day or two. They find a couple of locals to interview who tell them the different local folk stories and basically fill their heads full of nonsense. Out in the woods, they visit a couple of landmarks to film and make camp for the night. The next day they managed to get lost in the woods and are forced to camp again as morale in the group begins to deteriorate.

As none of the gang possess any outdoor skills at all they remain lost and make camp for an unexpected third night. During the night they experience a series of unsettling disturbances and they become convinced that locals are messing with them, until the disturbances take a nasty turn.

After a hard day peeling onions, Heather was looking forward to taking off her silly hat (and blowing her nose)

The Blair Witch Project was a phenomenon of public relations that introduced the wider world to the concept of viral marketing and faux documentary style film making. There never were three kids making a film who disappeared, there never was a Blair Witch. What really happened was a very effective internet marketing scheme that made the public believe that the whole thing was real, thus predisposing audiences to being proper scared of the movie as they were sure they were witnessing what happened to the three eejits who vanished in the woods.

You may remember this being effective right up to the point where you actually saw the movie. No amount of internet hype could cover up the fact that the film is shite.

The three students are all equally unlikeable and monumentally stupid so almost from the very beginning of the film you just want to get onto the scary parts to see what happens to them, and you’re hoping it’ll be bad. For the majority of the film nothing happens except the three fighting with each other. You never really see anything frightening so you’re expected to derive any horror in the movie from the fear of the unknown that the kids are experiencing, but you don’t care for them, so you end up sitting through a viewing of Blair Witch in a kinda numb state, all the while trying to get passed stupid trivialities like why did Heather keep filming (despite her bullshit reasonings) and if they were going filming for a day or two how come they had enough batteries and film in the cameras to last nearly a week, and how come they complained all the time about the lack of food but never once mentioned water?

The only redeeming feature of the film is the end (I won’t spoil it). The end is either really simple or shockingly contrived, I’m not sure which, but it did get my heart racing.

One Thumb Up and One Thumb Down for The Blair Witch Project.

For a little light reading (for when you can’t sleep) check out:
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blair_Witch_Project
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0185937/
Official Site: http://www.blairwitch.com/

30 Days of Fright – 06: Land of the Dead

I really enjoy cinema. I love it as an art form. When a writer creates a piece of work and you then read it you and the writer have shared something; the writer had one thing in mind and you interpreted what was written in your mind into something similar but different. If two writers contribute to a piece a new interpretation is thrown into the mix. Now keep adding people up to the number you get on a film crew, from the director, actors, camera crew, sound people, script doctors, and so on, and the resulting film is the interpretation of possibly hundreds of people, and truly becomes a piece of art far greater than the sum of its parts.
My love of cinema drives me to really fucking hate bad movies. When a movie comes along that has a big plot hole or similar failing, I feel that the film makers were either lazy or didn’t care, and if they didn’t care it’s because they feel the audience won’t care because they’re stupid. I’m not keen on being treated like a dullard, unless I’m shitfaced – I can be pretty dumb in that situation!
My attitude to movies does not exclude the fact that some films are made as mindless entertainment and I only get really wound up over films that are dressed up as something more then that. When a piece of pure silly entertainment comes along I can enjoy it just like anyone – be me drunk or be me sober.
Land of the Dead (2005) is set in a large urban outpost after an outbreak of zombies. In this world, the dead rise from the grave (no virus’s here, thank you very much) and anyone who dies becomes a zombie, no matter the cause of death, though a bite from a zombie makes you one in about an hour or so. Riley is a commander of a small group who forage for food and other supplies in the towns and villages in the areas surrounding the outpost. Riley’s had enough of his current situation and plans to quit his job and escape to the north in a car he’s bought.
Riley has a subordinate, Cholo, who dreams of a better quality of life in the outpost with the wealthy citizens who all live in a tower block complex called Fiddlers Green. When Cholo’s plans to move in are blocked by the de facto ruler of the outpost, Kaufman (who’s also Riley and Cholo’s boss), Cholo flips his lid and steals the armoured truck the lads use when out looking for fodder. About this time Riley discovers his plans have been buggered up too, as his car is gone from the garage. Down amongst the plebs he makes to drown his sorrows but instead saves a prostitute from being fed to two zombies as an entertainment for piss-heads.
Kaufman then sends Riley out after Cholo to retrieve the truck, just as a bunch of filthy murdering zombies invade the outpost.
Even Zombies can have it their way at Burger King!
The fact that Land of the Dead makes bugger all sense is no real surprise. The fact that all the characters are underdeveloped, one dimensional, and not worth caring about is no surprise. What is surprising is that despite the numerous problems with the film, Land of the Dead is actually quite good, though firmly in the Mindless Entertainment category.
Trying to analyse a film like Land of the Dead and look for a B plot, or subtexts, or hidden meaning is a waste of time. It’s just mad, gory fun. Characters you dislike get their comeuppance, the heros win out, and there are no explanations for anything. Just loads of blood!
One Thumb Up and One Thumb Down for Land of the Dead – fun, entertaining, but basically mental.
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