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 hatching 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:  3 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.


Sunday, December 14, 2014

Horror Film Review

Rigor Mortis (2013):  Visually speaking, this film's a slap to the face, a punch to the gut, and a kick in the balls.  On all other levels, it's a scratch to the head.  I'm not a stupid man (a member of Phi Beta Kappa even), but I never quite got a handle on what the hell was going on.  I have my hunches, the primary hunch being this is a bizarre Chinese version of Ambrose Bierce's "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge."  The main difference being this is set in Hong Kong and involves angry ghosts, suicide, rape, and uh...zombie vampires.

A mysterious man (Siu-Ho Chin) moves into room 2442 at a dilapidated tenement building and proceeds to hang himself.  Twin angry female spirits who inhabit the room take the opportunity to possess him but are thwarted by the sudden appearance of Yau (Anthony Chan) who cuts Chin down and drives the ghosts out with an exciting combination of black magic and martial arts.  We soon learn the entire building is a hotbed of supernatural weirdness and Yau is the resident keeper of the peace.  Chin then becomes attached to a disturbed woman and her young son, a situation that you know won't end well.  Another tenant, a seamstress has gone round the bend because her adult son died.  She's keeping his corpse in the bathtub full of mud while another resident who dabbles in the dark arts tries to reanimate him.  It works a bit too well, and it's up to Yau and Chin to stop the monster's rampage.

(Here there be spoilers.  Arrgh...)

I should explain that there's a hell of a lot more going on than what I just wrote.  There are numerous flashbacks and back stories and something about a snow globe.  Numerous as well are the disturbing scenes we're treated to including a rape and the aftermath of a boy getting literally torn apart by the resurrected dead guy.  The violence and gore are at a level I've rarely experienced in all my years of movie watching which will definitely be a turn off for some (okay...most) folks.  However, if you can manage to hold down your rising gorge, it's worth it.  The ending, on the other hand, is where the real trouble begins.  Why?  Because it makes no damn sense.  For the sake of argument, I'll stipulate it was all in his head, that the suicidal Chin imagined the whole crazy story in the split second before the noose squeezed the life out of him.  Fine.  My question, then, is who the hell came to ID him in the morgue?  The medical examiner asks, "Who are you?" and the guy replies, "I'm his son." That's it.  Credits roll.  You cannot end a movie like that.  Why?  Because throughout the whole film we're led to believe Chin's young son and wife are dead.  The "son" who came to the morgue is an adult.  So...??????  I could be missing something simple.  I could be an idiot.  I'll gladly admit my idiocy if anyone can explain it to me.

The Skinny

Acting:  As I've said before, I'm horrible at judging acting in foreign language films.  I can say that the performances are mostly reserved and subtle when they could have easily migrated into the realm of camp.
Story:  Bleak and sad with a dash of what the fuck.
Direction:  The second act drags and a handful of scenes are unnecessary.
Production Values:  It certainly doesn't look cheap.  The use of gray tones punctuated with brilliant color (usually blood) is effective.
Gore/FX:  Yes.  Lots of both.  The blood is comparable to that of the Evil Dead remake.  The CGI isn't the greatest but also doesn't detract.
Scares:  Strangely enough, very few.
Ending:  Maddening.
Verdict:  Should you see Rigor Mortis?  Sure.  If you have a cast iron stomach, don't mind subtitles, and can handle the bemusement-inducing climax, that is.

Rating:  3 out of 5

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Horror Film Review

Ouija (2014):  I dabbled with a Ouija board in high school.  Who didn't?  And while my experiences ranged from disappointment to abject terror, none came anywhere near to what happens in the movies.  Parker Brothers has been pumping these things out for decades.  If they really were conduits to the other side, half the population would have either committed suicide by or be possessed by cranky ghosts.  My point is you have to go the extra mile to suspend your disbelief when watching films about "spirit boards."  With this film, however, even that extra mile is about a thousand miles too little.

Debbie (Shelley Hennig) finds an old Ouija board when cleaning the attic.  She breaks the golden rule and plays with it alone.  Suicide by Christmas lights soon follows.  Her best friend Laine (Olivia Cooke) smells something fishy and decides it would be a fabulous idea to try to contact Debbie via...wait for it...Debbie's Ouija board.  Hey, no one ever accused these people of being geniuses.  So Laine with her sister Sarah (Ana Coto), her boyfriend Trevor (Daren Kagasoff), Debbie's boyfriend Pete (Douglas Smith), and fried Isabelle (Bianca Santos) give it a go in the house where Debbie hanged herself.  They make contact, think it's Debbie, soon learn, of course, it's not and then start dying.  The angry spirit is a little girl whose mother sewed her lips closed.  Laine visits the little girl's sister in an insane asylum and receives instructions on how to make her go away.  There's a plot twist here that's about as surprising as snow in December.  In the end, both the board and a corpse must be burned together to stop the spirit from bumping folks off.  Do they succeed?  Sure.  Well, maybe.  Yeah...it's one of those endings.

It never ceases to amaze me that in films like this, the protagonist barely bats an eye when their family and/or friends die tragically.  In the script, I suppose.  What was not in the script was a shred of originality, humor, or character development.  Also, the back story of the angry spirits is conveyed through exposition in roughly five minutes and ends up being a big bucket of who gives a damn.  Fatal mistake.  Unfortunately, it's only one of many that plague Ouija.

The Skinny

Acting:  Stilted and not remotely believable.  The performances garner no sympathy.  Feels like they want to get it done, get paid, and get the hell out.
Story:  About as interesting as a clump of crabgrass.
Direction:  About as dynamic as a comatose koala bear.
Production Values:  The budget was $5 million.  As it is a Hollywood studio film, it's got that air-brushed vibe.  I can't really complain about anything in particular, but everything is just a bit too unnatural.
Gore/FX:  No blood, gore, or anything fun.  What CGI there is turned out all right.
Scares:  One or two that may or may not cause you to yelp like you've been goosed by a pitchfork.
Ending:  Ho hum.
Verdict:  Should you see Ouija?  Nonein.  (If you think about it, I'm being rather clever with that answer.)  Go rent or download Witchboard instead.  I lost sleep because of that movie.  Scared the bejeesus out of me.  

Rating:  1 out of 5