Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Horror Film Review

The Battery (2012):  Odd little zombie flick that's part Walking Dead and part Clerks.  I know that sounds more than a little counter-intuitive, but I can't think of a better way to describe it.  While not as good as either, The Battery is still a tense, claustrophobic journey through zombie-infested New England that for reasons I can't quite sort out, holds your attention for the full 101 minutes.

Ben (Jeremy Gardner) and Mickey (Adam Cronheim), fellow semi-pro ball players who are more acquaintances than friends, survived a zombie siege and decide to stick together.  Ben's adapted to the present circumstances, taking on the role of protector and leader.  Mickey...well, Mickey has yet to kill even one zombie and mostly just listens to his CD player, content to leave the heavy lifting to Ben.  When Mickey overhears an errant CB conversation between a man and woman, he begins obsessing about the possibility of having a somewhat normal life...that and the woman herself.  Mickey's horny.

Despite several warnings to knock it off, Mickey keeps trying to communicate with her.  This, of course, leads to a confrontation in which Ben gets shot in the leg and their car keys tossed into a field.  As a result, the final act of the film is Ben and Mickey trapped in an immobile vehicle that's surrounded by scores of zombies.  After a couple of days, Mickey mans up and chooses to make a break for it to search for the keys.  Doesn't go very well.

The Battery is less horror and more character study, which by no means makes it any less interesting.  And it's one of the most realistic portrayals of post zombie apocalypse life I've ever seen.  Now, of course that doesn't mean we get to know the cause or get to see how Ben and Mickey survived the siege.  Weirdly, you won't care because of how well the filmmakers draw you into the present.  As interesting as it is, however, my only real complaint is the lack of action.  It's a tiny bit boring.

The Skinny

Acting:  About on par with the boys from Clerks.  Not awful but not exactly Oscar-worthy.
Story:  Not complicated.
Direction:  Really not complicated.
Production Values:  Made for the shocking sum of six grand, it has the best money/quality ratio I've ever seen.  Impressive.
Gore/FX:  Average amount of blood.  No CGI that I remember.
Scares:  One or two minor jumps.
Ending:  Not unexpected.
Verdict:  Should you see The Battery?  It's worth your while unless you need gratuitous carnage and ridiculous plot devices in your zombie flick.  If you do, just go watch Wyrmwood instead.

Rating:  3 out of 5

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Horror Film Review

Wyrmwood - Road of the Dead (2014):  It's settled, then.  Australia needs to make more zombie flicks.  This one is a  phenomenal hybrid of post-apocalyptic thriller and undead creeper, as if Mr. George A. Romero remade Mad Max. With its gore, humor, and pathos, Wyrmwood hits all the right notes and pushes all the right steampunky buttons.

A meteor shower of biblical proportions precipitates a mass infection that changes certain folks into flesh-eating ghouls.  Why?  No idea.  It could be the end of the world as portended in the book of Revelation, or it could be an extraterrestrial contagion.  Doesn't matter, really.  The focus of the film is on three people lucky (or unlucky) enough to be immune.

Benny (Leon Burchill) is a wise-cracking Aborigine with a sawed off shotgun.  Barry (Jay Gallagher) is a husband, father,  and nail gun-toting mechanic.  Brooke (Bianca Bradey) is Barry's ball-busting sister who ends up having a worse day than anyone.  Barry escapes the city with his wife and daughter but unfortunately is forced to dispatch them both.  Initially suicidal, he eventually decides to find his sister who, unfortunately, has been taken by a psychotic doctor determined to understand the illness by any and all sadistic means necessary.  Barry and Benny join up with Frank (Keith Agius) and subsequently learn all fuels (gasoline, kerosene, etc.) are no longer flammable but zombie blood and zombie breath is.  They construct a Mad Max-esque vehicle that runs on zombie breath and begin their journey to find Brooke.  Brooke, after many hours of experimentation, discovers she has developed the ability to telepathically control zombies.  As you may imagine, things don't end well for Dr. Nutjob.  Once they finally meet up, Barry, Brooke, and Benny square off against the military man who ordered the experimentation, the Captain (Luke McKenzie).  It's a hell of a thing, that final fight.

The telepathy angle is new and interesting.  So is the deal with the flammable breath and blood.  It doesn't make a lick of sense, but it's fodder for some pretty groovy scenes.  I think this is the first time where I wasn't annoyed with the lack of scientific explanations.  Just didn't care.  Why?  Because the filmmakers assaulted me with wild visuals at a pace that didn't allow for a whole lot of thinking.  (We eventually do find out immunity is based on blood type.)  I also very much enjoyed the dry, dark humor which is made even better with the Australian accents.  Example:  Trapped in the truck and surrounded by zombies, Frank decides to try to sleep and tells Barry, "If they break and and kill me while I'm asleep, wake us up, will you?"  My only real complaint is how they resolve (or don't resolve) Brooke's situation.  Weird and a bit awkward.

The Skinny

Acting:  There are no Hugh Jackmans or Mel Gibsons here, but they do all right.
Story:  Goofy and strange and a little bit wonderful.
Direction:  Frenetic camera work, almost spastic at times, keeps the action moving along.  You won't be bored.
Production Values:  There's a pervasive raw grittiness that really does remind one of the original Mad Max.  See the movie poster?  Like that.
Gore/FX:  They didn't skimp on the blood, that's for damn sure.  Zombie nerds won't be disappointed (I wasn't).  The CGI is utilized mostly for head shots, zombie breath, and fire and isn't horrible.
Scares:  One or two, which surprised me.  Don't normally see them in zombie flicks.
Ending:  Probably meant to be upbeat.  I found myself scratching my head because of Brooke.
Verdict:  Should you see Wyrmwood?  Abso-freaking-lutely.  It's a hell of a lot of fun from our friends Down Under.

Rating:  4 out of 5

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Horror Film Review

Remington and the Curse of the Zombadings (2011):  Weirdness from the Philippines that very nearly defies description.  How do a serial killer with a ray gun, a homophobic boy, and zombies made up like Diana Ross tie together?  The short answer?  Very loosely.  Let me give it a go...

As a small boy, Remington (Martin Escudero) had a bad habit of publicly mocking his village's gay men.  He'd point and call them the Tagalog equivalent of "faggot."  In a cemetery one day, he made the mistake of mocking the wrong man, who consequently placed a curse on the lad.  Once the boy reached a certain age, he'd become gay himself.  As a young man, Remington is a slacker who has a crush on Hannah (Lauren Young).  Problem is, he's gradually changing into the stereotypical, lispy queen who now finds his best friend inexplicably attractive.  At the same time, someone is killing off the town's population of gay men with a weapon originally created by a high school student to determine the sexual orientation of livestock.  No, really.  The gun will only fire if the target is gay.  A side effect of getting zapped by the weapon (besides getting dead) is that your skin darkens and your hair changes into a big, black 'fro.  A physiological explanation was not provided.  Remington's mom is the cop in charge of the investigation.  Meanwhile, Remington finally remembers the curse and seeks out the man who placed it on him.  Now for the extra special weird part.  Now that Remington is gay, the killer catches up with him and fires but hits the old guy who did the cursing instead.  Properly pissed, the guy's assistant casts a spell to raise all of the killer's victims from the dead and sends them after their murderer.  By the way, Remington can be straight again only if he can find someone to trade places with him.  Eventually, he does.  And it's, well, weird.

Silliness aside, this film manages to both demean the gay community and request tolerance at the same time.  It's quite disorienting.  So to speak.  I should point out that the zombies don't appear until the third act.  Most of the film focuses on Remington's "problem" and I will admit is pretty funny.  Seeing a macho punk transform into a flamer who starts wearing his little sister's clothes...yeah.  Amusing.  The zombie carnage, when it comes, is mostly just goofy.

The Skinny

Acting:  Escudero as Remington and Young as Hannah both do well.  Everyone else is fair to middling.
Story:  No doubt concocted after a night of heavy drinking and LSD use.
Direction:  Given the disparate and, let's fact it, wacky threads of the plot, I was surprised at the ease of flow.
Production Values:  I have no budget data, but I guarantee this was made on a shoestring.  Location shooting keeps it from looking cheap, though.
Gore/FX:  The make-up is lame and the CGI sub-par.
Scares:  Not what they were going for.
Ending:  Disturbingly upbeat.
Verdict:  Should you see Remington and the Curse of the Zombadings?  If you like bizarre, foreign horror, then go for it.  If you're gay, there are worse things to do for 96 minutes than watch the very cute Escudero.

Rating:  3 out of 5

Horror Film Review

It Follows (2014):  The best American horror was produced from the late 60's through the early 80's.  You know what I'm talking about.  Rosemary's Baby, The Exorcist, The Changeling, Suspiria, Halloween, The Evil Dead, Poltergeist, etc.  I've watched, if not studied hundreds of scary movies over the years and more often than not can explain exactly why they're scary.  The films made during this period of roughly 14 years, however, all contain an intangible I've never been able to satisfactorily sort out.  It's a gritty vibe one associates with vacuum tube TVs, steel V8 behemoths from Detroit, and shag carpeting of either a green or gold flavor.  I mention this because the folks who made It Follows somehow managed to recreate this retro intangible nearly to perfection.  But is it enough to hoist this little film into the pantheon of horror awesomeness?

To clear up a spot of confusion I encountered on IMDB, the story is not set in the past, although the dearth of cell phones, computers, and anything resembling modern fashion or furnishings could lead one to think otherwise.  Said story is a simple one.  Dispossessed teenage suburbanite Jay (Maika Monroe) decides to have sex with her boyfriend Hugh (Jake Weary).  When has teenage bonking ever ended well in horror movies?  In this case, post-coitus activity includes Hugh tying up Jay in an abandoned warehouse and explaining she is now cursed, that an entity only they can see who can assume the appearance of anyone will follow her with the sole purpose of killing her.  Jay, of course, doesn't believe him.  At first.  Then she does, and the chase is on.

Along with her sister Kelly (Lili Sepe), childhood friends Paul (Keir Gilchrist) and Yara (Olivia Luccardi), and neighbor Greg (Daniel Zovatto), Jay first attempts to run away and then hunts down Hugh to get some answers.  Hugh, however, has little to add other than to encourage her to pass the curse on.  He hasn't a clue where or why it started or how to break it.  Jay decides to pass it to Greg.  That doesn't end well for Greg, and so the entity resumes following Jay.  Geeky friend Paul has a crazy-ass plan to kill the entity involving a swimming pool and dozens of small household appliances.  Doesn't work.  Paul, who's been crushing on Jay for, like, ever convinces her to pass the curse to him so they both can see the danger coming.  And that's it.  Last scene is the two of them walking down a sidewalk, hand in hand...while someone follows them.

Needless to say, so I'm going to say it anyway, the ending leaves the viewer hanging just a bit.  The person I watched the film with perhaps summed it up best when she said, "Are you fucking kidding me?"  Dubious denouement aside, my issues with It Follows are what my issues always are:  lapses in logic and no rationale for the existence of the supernatural bad guy.  The latter is self-explanatory.  The former...I'll give you a for instance.  At one point, Jay shot the entity in the head with a pistol.  Like a zombie, it got up and kept coming (I know, zombies shot in the head don't get up.  Just go with it, okay?).  So why did they think electrocution would do what a brain-destroying bullet couldn't?  Also, this thing can't walk through walls.  It has to break in, usually a rock through a window.  So why not lure it somewhere it can't break out of like an unused box car or an old meat locker with one of those big stainless steel doors?  Trap it and then figure out a way to kill it.

That said, the filmmakers get full points for style and atmosphere.  And for some pretty groovy camera work.  The soundtrack brought back memories of Suspiria, Halloween, and The Exorcist.  Ultra creepy music that ratchets up the tension and makes it feel like bugs with icy feet are crawling down your spine.

The Skinny

Acting:  Monroe plays Jay to near perfection.  Her support group also do well, the only weak spot being Zovatto as Greg.
Story:  I look at it as a new take on the classic zombie tale.  The entity is slow, only walks, but inexorable.  And single-minded.  There's something extra terrifying about that.
Direction:  Lots of long and establishing shots make it work.  Always seeing someone in the distance following (or standing buck-naked on a rooftop) is quite effective.
Production Values:  Filmed in Michigan for a song ($2 million), the cinematography is astonishing.  No aspect of this movie (film stock, sets, lighting, etc.) will make you believe it wasn't a big budget, Hollywood endeavor.
Gore/FX:  The opening scene with the girl on the beach is pretty gross.  We get to see what happens when the entity catches up with its prey.  Not much blood otherwise.  What little CGI there is works well enough to not be distracting.
Scares:  Yes, yes there are.  One in particular may cause a bit of poo to come out.
Ending:  If you can call it that.  A sequel is a veritable certainty.
Verdict:  Should you see It Follows?  Yes, yes you should.  The ending is annoying, sure, but there's enough high quality horror here to make it worth your while.  Ya follow?

Rating:  4 out of 5

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Horror Film Review

Asmodexia (2014):  Supernatural Spanish shocker (subtitled) is surprisingly short and certainly silly.  And no, it has nothing to do with Ass Mode.  I wish it did, not because I miss Craig Ferguson's Late Late Show (I do) but because there would have been fewer irritations and no outright anger.  While Ass Mode is a way of life, asmodexia is a made up word from the mind of the film's director (Marc Carrete).  What is it supposed to mean?  Hell if I know.  He doesn't explain, which is a clue as to what you're in for if you watch this contrived and manipulative exorcism tale.

Eloy (Lluis Marco) and his teenage granddaughter Alba (Claudia Pons) wander around the outskirts of Barcelona conducting exorcisms a few days before 12/21/2012 (the date of the dreaded and ultimately false Mayan Apocalypse).  According to Eloy, this is the date of the Resurrection and Alba is the key to that heralded event.  Via a series of maddeningly vague flashbacks, we learn:  Alba is the daughter of a possessed woman, Eloy was the leader of a hippie sect of true believers, and that two sisters (one now a cop and the other locked up in a loony bin) were members.  The cop follows the carnage left in the wake of Eloy and Alba's exorcisms and becomes increasingly nervous as 12/21/2012 approaches.  The loony finds that her asylum-mates are going more and more mad.  Possessions.  Turns out the asylum was build on top of a church where Alba is supposed to instigate the Resurrection.  Also turns out that everything you think is happening isn't really happening.  Confused?  Good.  Welcome to my world.

Time to spoil the shit out of this movie.  Think The Sixth Sense or The Usual Suspects...without either the quality or the charm.  As you may have guessed, the "possessed" folks Eloy battle are not controlled by demons but by heavenly beings sent to stop Eloy from opening the gates of hell.  Eloy's cult was Satanic.  Alba is both his granddaughter and daughter.  Oh, and she's also dead.  Sort of a zombie but not really.  The loony was the last line of defense...and so on and so forth.  Blah, blah bite me.  I don't mind rooting for the bad guy in horror movies if it's warranted (stupid kids doing stupid things at a cabin in the woods deserve what they get).  Learning that I've been tricked into rooting for Satan and his subjugation of mankind...I do mind.  You might say I deserved to be tricked because I couldn't figure out the twist or that the filmmakers did such an awesome job, I have no right to complain.  Um, nope and nope.  There was nothing to even hint that Eloy was anything but a Christian exorcising demons.  I felt played and robbed, almost bullied into the mindset dictated by the director.  An audience needs to be guided, not forced.  Because we will resist and, in the end, not like your movie very much.

The Skinny

Acting:  Marco as Eloy is all ham and cheese.  Pons as Alba is, well, lifeless.  The loony, Ona (Irene Montala) does the best.
Story:  The plot holes are legion.  Really, would God mount such a pathetic defense?  Before she's killed, Ona invokes Michael the Archangel.  He doesn't show.  Why not?  And what the hell does the Mayan calendar have to do with the resurrection of a fallen angel from Christian mythology?  I'll tell you...not a blessed thing.
Direction:  Choppy and disorienting.
Production Values:  I think they shot it on special film stock to make everything feel washed out.  Spain is a beautiful country, although you'd never know it watching this.  The budget was half a million euros.  Must have all gone to the actors.
Gore/FX:  The make-up for the possessed isn't bad.  No gore or CGI to speak of.
Scares:  If only.
Ending:  Bad guys win.
Verdict:  Should you see Asmodexia?  If you're a masochist or enjoy exercises in extreme frustration, then go for it.

Rating:  2 out of 5