Saturday, February 14, 2015

Horror Film Review

Dead Snow 2 - Red vs Dead (2014):  Finally, after five long years, the sequel is here.  The original is a low-budget, Norwegian masterpiece of zombie mayhem that joined the ranks of heavy-hitters like Evil Dead and Night of the Living Dead.  Given such a tough act to follow, how does the sequel measure up?  Well, let's just say it's bigger, brasher, and most definitely bloodier.  But is it better?

We pick up the action where the first movie left off.  Martin (Vegar Hoel) just sawed his own arm off with a chainsaw, accidentally killed his girlfriend Hanna (Charlotte Frogner), and escaped from the clutches of a horde of Nazi zombies that killed the rest of his friends.  OK...so "escape" may not be technically correct since the undead led by Herzog (Orjan Gamst) attack before Martin can get his SUV started.  Herzong loses an arm during the scuffle and Martin crashes after shaking the Nazi commander.  In hospital, the police think Martin murdered his friends.  Worse, the doctors reattached what they thought was his severed arm.  The arm has a mind of its own and helps Martin flee...after killing a rather pleasant 12 year-old boy who'd been in touch with a group in America known as the Zombie Squad.  This "Squad" consists of three nerds who still live with their parents.  They are leader Daniel (Martin Starr), Monica (Jocelyn DeBoer), and Blake (Ingrid Haas) and after getting the full story from Martin, fly to Norway to kick some zombie butt.

Martin discovers that Herzog's arm has the power to resurrect the dead, and these reanimated corpses are loyal him (Martin).  Daniel and Martin figure out that 70 years ago, Hitler gave Herzog a mission to wipe out a small Norwegian town and undead Herzog's goal is to complete his mission.  The Nazis raid a WWII museum and get their hands on a tank and march toward said town.  In order to stop them, Daniel convinces Martin to use his arm power to reanimate a troop of Russian soldiers Herzog executed (hence the Red vs. Dead).  The final battle takes place in the conveniently evacuated town.

The tongue in cheek humor is reminiscent of Evil Dead 2 and even Army of Darkness to a degree.  At one point, Daniel tells Martin, "I've seen a thousand zombie movies but never anything like this.  You've created a whole new genre."  Like that.  Plot holes abound but are offset by scenes like when the Nazis siphon fuel for the tank by using the intestines of a still-living victim.  Creatively speaking, though, individual death shots and the final battle in general are surprisingly dull.  Also surprising were the number of gag-inducing scenes involving vomit.  Just...gross.  Worse yet is Martin's decision to visit the grave of his dead girlfriend.  Remember his new power?  Yes.  You sit there thinking, "Oh, he won't do that.  Will he?"  Again...gross.  By the way, the first film was in Norwegian with English subtitles.  This time, everyone speaks English.  I'm not sure why, really.  At least it's not dubbed.

I should mention this film broke the rules.  They killed kids.  First the 12 year-old, then a group of three younger boys playing in a sandbox were run over by the tank which then lobbed a mortar at two baby carriages.  Oddly, this didn't bother me much.  It's that kind of movie.  So over the top that you automatically forgive their trespasses, whether they be narrative goofs or child murdering.  Or perhaps the filmmakers wanted to reinforce what we all already know:  Nazis, dead or alive, aren't very nice people.

The Skinny

Acting:  Hoel plays Marin in much the same way Campbell played Ash; hapless, confused, but ultimately heroic.  Starr channels his inner Zachary Levi (Chuck) to such an extent that for a few seconds, I thought it actually was Levi.  DeBoer and Haas could stand to spend some time at the Actor's Studio but aren't awful.
Story:  Unique?  Absolutely.  The only beef I have is the failure to explain how Herzog became cursed and by whom.  The hint of supernatural influence is too much of a tease.  Maybe we'll get a better explanation in the next film.
Direction:  It felt awkward.  Nothing detrimental, just...cumbersome.  Could be an editing issue.
Production Values:  I've said it before and I'll say it again - Norway is a beautiful country.  They spent nearly six times as much on this sequel as they did on the first film, and if I'm honest, it doesn't show.  Maybe Hoel wanted more money or maybe it was for the tank.  At any rate, it looks fine.
Gore/FX:  Oh, deary me.  There is gore, yes.  And blood by the truckload.  In other words, groovy.
Scares:  Scares were not on the menu this time around.
Ending:  Let's see...Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart" plays while Martin and undead girlfriend Hanna reenact Jack and Rose's steamy backseat scene from Titanic.  In other words, all kinds of wrong.  There's another ending after the credits roll that leads one to believe another film is inevitable.
Verdict:  Should you see Dead Snow 2 - Red vs. Dead?  Of course.  It's gonzo zombie craziness cranked to eleven.  What's not to like?

Rating:  4 out of 5

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Horror Film Review

The Guard Post (2008):  South Korean horror flick that I must admit is very difficult to review, not because it's convoluted (which it is) but because the person in charge of subtitles was either drunk, stoned or the laziest human ever to walk the earth.  Half the dialogue did not get translated (I know a little Korean), so half the story went over my head.  I got the gist, mostly, and it's that gist I'll attempt to explain.  I must forgo the use of the actor's names because, again, the subtitles were buggered and the filmmakers didn't run credits with matching photos.

I lied.  I do know one actor's name, and thankfully he's the main character.  Onward...

 Trouble at a South Korean military outpost near the North Korean border forces the brass to send investigator Sergeant Major Noh Seong-Gyu (Ho-jin Chun).  It seems a well-liked and mild-mannered young soldier took an axe and hacked his buddies to pieces.  I'm not exaggerating when I say the room was an abattoir.  Gross.  Anyway, Noh notices everyone at the base is acting squirrelly, especially the lieutenant and doctor.  Pages of logs have been torn out and the surviving soldiers are nervous.  So what the hell happened?  A picture is painted for us via a number of flashbacks; however, not all flashbacks are necessarily real.  (I later learned this was pretty clever of them.  At the time, with incomplete subtitles, I was just confused and annoyed.)  We learn a squad that went on patrol in the woods brought back some type of contagion.  This bug causes nasty rashes and, oh, yeah...homicidal behavior.  Axe Boy may not be the bad guy after all.  Indeed, through the flashbacks I really liked the guy.  Unfortunately, as it is with any character I become attached to, he doesn't make it.  In the end, Noh decides the contagion must not be allowed to escape the base and so rigs the joint with explosives.  It's a race against time because reinforcement are on the way and the infected want out.  The climax is really quite exciting.

The Skinny

Acting:  Chun is good as the broody and introspective Noh.  There is some ham with the other actors but the performances are solid for the most part.
Story:  The basic plot isn't new (think The Crazies), but using the Korean DMZ is inspired.  Adds an extra layer of tension.
Direction:  Could have been tighter.  The film's too long at 121 minutes.  Succeeded, though, in conveying a sense of claustrophobia.
Production Values:  The million dollar budget was used well.  Honestly, I don't know how they made it look so good with so little money.
Gore/FX:  Oh, there's plenty of blood and guts to satisfy the most discerning horror nerd.  As they say in Korean, 대박 (pronounced daebak).
Scares:  There are a couple of jumpy bits and a lot of squirm-in-you-seat bits.
Ending:  Boom.
Verdict:  Should you see The Guard Post?  Despite the subtitle debacle, the film does have a lot to offer.  It's interesting, gory, and includes a hint of zombie action.  What else do you need?

Rating:  3 out of 5


Saturday, December 27, 2014

Horror Film Review

Ragnarok (2013):  Creature feature from Norway that seeks to explain Norse mythology's concept of the Apocalypse known as Ragnarok.  It's a complicated myth involving battling gods and the eventual deaths of Odin and Thor.  In one part of the story, the Midgard serpent causes the Vikings all manner of grief.  This is what the movie focuses on.  How did the legend of the Midgard serpent come to be?  Let's find out, shall we?

Single father archaeologist Sigurd (Pal Sverre Hagen) is obsessed with the Ragnarok myth.  When his partner Allan (Nicolai Cleve Broch) discovers a runestone that pinpoints the location of a ancient event that may have originated the myth, Sigurd drags whiny teenage daughter Ragnhild (Maria Annette Tandero Berglyd) and happy-go-lucky pre-teen son Brage (Julian Podolski) to the northernmost portion of the country.  Their destination is a landlocked island known as the Eye of Odin.  Evidence of Soviet occupation is everywhere.  Evidence the Soviets in that area came to a sticky end while "fishing" for something in the massive lake is somehow overlooked.  The creature finally makes its appearance halfway through the film.  Bit of a letdown, if I'm honest.  It's just a snake.  Granted, it's the size of a freight train with a super scary head, but still just a snake.  Anyway, there's much running and screaming and a couple of minor characters get eaten.  In the end, Sigurd "bargains" with the creature by using its hatchling as leverage.  It's silly, really.

The plot holes in this film are as numerous as they are huge.  How did the serpent reproduce if there's just the one?  And if it's been laying eggs for over a thousand years, why isn't the planet ass-deep in giant snakes?  Also, it's a ridiculous notion that the Soviets would simply abandon an operation to capture or kill the creature.  Another ridiculous notion is that an archaeologist would allow his young children on an expedition filled with countless potential hazards.  And on, and on.

The Skinny

Acting:  Hagen is believable and sympathetic.  Sofia Helin as Elisabeth is wasted.
Story:  A good idea that needed a few more rewrites.
Direction:  Seamlessly well executed.
Production Values:  The cinematography is jaw-dropping.  Makes me want to visit.  The technical aspects of the project are highly professional.  No complaints.
Gore/FX:  Unfortunately, the film's rated PG-13 so there's no gore and come to think of it, no blood either.  Bummer.  The CGI used for the creature is well done.  It's still just a big freaking snake, though.
Scares:  There are some tense moments but nothing to make you jump out of your skin.
Ending:  Not what you'd call realistic.  Plot holes.
Verdict:  Should you see Ragnarok?  Meh.  I could have done without it.  If you're interested in Norwegian cinema, go watch Dead Snow.  You can't go wrong with Nazi zombies.

Verdict:  2 out of 5

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Haunted House Update

Well, the walls aren't bleeding nor have we been inconvenienced by demon possession but things do keep happening that remind me exactly where I live.  As I climbed into my car one afternoon last week, I glanced up and noticed both porch lights were on.  I distinctly remember turning both off when I woke up that morning.  Also last week, I was sitting in the living room while my partner played the piano in another room.  After a while, he asked if I'd stood behind him and placed my hands on his shoulders as he played.  I had not.  In addition to these occurrences, we still experience corner-of-the-eye shadows and the sensation of someone sitting on the edge of the bed on a regular basis.  One thing that may or may not be related are my peculiar nightmares.  Every night, and I do mean every night, I have a nightmare immediately upon falling asleep.  I jolt awake after 26 minutes, wait for my pulse to drop under triple digits, and then sleep normally for the rest of the night.  The nightmares are always different:  chased by a giant shark, trapped on a sinking submarine, zombie apocalypse, etc.  I find it annoying...but oddly fascinating as well.  If nothing else, it's good cardio.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Horror Film Review

Knights of Badassdom (2013):  Tricky business making a film that's part horror, part comedy, and part fantasy that also doesn't suck balls.  While it's obvious the folks behind this effort weren't exactly flush with cash, their finished product is an amusing if not dark take on the nerdy world of LARPing (live action role playing).  And so as it turns out, the film does not suck balls.  Mostly.

Eric (Steve Zahn) and Hung (Peter Dinklage) drag best friend Joe (Ryan Kwanten) to a weekend of LARPing to help Joe forget getting dumped by Beth (Margarita Leviava).  Using a mysterious spell book he bought on eBay, clueless wizard wannabe Eric accidentally summons a succubus demon from hell that immediately proceeds to dispatch other LARPers in a variety of disgustingly violent ways.  Realizing his mistake, Eric attempts to banish the demon by reciting another spell, which causes the demon to transform into a bigger and much scarier demon.  Oops.  Thus the friends along with Gwen (Summer Blau), her slightly psychotic cousin Gunther, and LARP event host Ronnie (Jimmi Simpson) step into roles of real heroes in order to avenge the dead and save the world.

What surprised me the most in this film was its ability to elicit laughs while managing to also convey the pathos demanded by the seriousness of gruesome murders.  That's very very hard to pull off.  Much of the credit goes to Simpson and his Ronnie character.  Well done.  Now, as for the negatives in the film, they are legion but for the most part harmless.  What was the deal with the paintball rednecks?  That subplot went nowhere and did nothing to further the main plot.  Fodder for the beast, I reckon.  I'm also confused by the decision to kill nearly everyone at the LARP event when a handful of deaths would have sufficed.  It was excessive and, in my opinion, a mistake.  Finally, the ending.  It's...goofy.  And for reasons I don't really understand myself, brings to mind Tenacious D and the Pick of Destiny.  That's not necessarily a good thing.

The Skinny

Acting:  Zahn is oddly lifeless.  Dinklage is a hoot.  Kwanten and Blau do well enough.  Simpson excels.  By the way, Ted Raimi has an uncredited and hilarious cameo.
Story:  Speaking of Raimi, you definitely feel the influence of Sam Raimi's Evil Dead movies.  Especially Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness.  And that is necessarily a good thing.
Direction:  The action is smooth and the transitions between acts seamless.  The only bump in the road is the paintball redneck thing.
Production Values:  No budget information but it was obviously made on the cheap.  I can think of only three scenes shot indoors.  Cheap, however, does not equate to unprofessional in this case.
Gore/FX:  Oh, you know.  Beheadings, eviscerations, punching through chest cavities, etc.  It's not rated R for the cussing.  The demon monster at the end was not CGI but old school costume work and a bit silly looking.
Scares:  Not that kind of movie.
Ending:  It felt rushed.  And it's goofy.
Verdict:  Should you see Knights of Badassdom?  Despite the flaws, it's amusing enough and gross enough to warrant 86 minutes of your time.  One piece of advice:  eat afterwards.

Rating:  3 out of 5.