Sunday, December 1, 2013
Recently fired janitor W.C. (Dan Palmer) returns to the office building where he worked during a Christmas party in order to steal the money from a charity drive. Toolbox full of cash, he pops into the ladies' room for reasons that still elude me. A couple of party-goers intrude. W.C. hides in a stall. Before engaging in some impromptu lesbian shenanigans, one of the women mentions in passing to the other that an overzealous delivery man bit her. She turns, feasts on her friend, then goes after W.C. who pins her head to the inside of the stall door with a screwdriver. By this time, other zombies have piled in and W.C. discovers someone else is trapped in the stall farthest from his. Her name's Heather. We don't see her, just hear her voice as she and W.C. talk. It's almost like Tom Hanks and Wilson in Castaway. What do they talk about? Mostly Christmas and W.C.'s relationship with his mother. Not exactly what I expected.
There is silliness. An old-fashioned, break-glass fire alarm is on the far wall by the door. Operating under the assumption that triggering the alarm will result in rescue, W.C. uses severed zombie fingers as ammo and a bra as a slingshot in an effort to break the glass. Doesn't work, although we are treated to a hilarious and physics-defying ricochet. Eventually, W.C. remembers there's a crawlspace behind the stall wall, breaks through but encounters more zombies. He does break through Heather's stall wall and learns she's not who she pretended to be. That scene comes close to real drama if not tears. In the end, W.C. wraps himself in multiple layers of toilet paper and makes a dash for the bathroom door through a mob of very grabby zombies...while The Little Drummer Boy plays in the background. Surreal. And a tiny bit groovy.
Acting: The only performance worth discussing is Palmer's, and while it's loopy at times, it's not so much bad acting as the dialogue. Of course, since Palmer also wrote the movie, it's his own fault.
Story: A full-length zombie flick that takes place in a public bathroom? That's a first for me and a good thing.
Direction: You'd think this set up would make things easier for a director. It's actually more difficult, but Christian James pulls it off.
Production Values: With a budget of 450,000 pounds sterling, the quality is about what you'd expect. Not awful but not Hollywood by any means.
Gore/FX: The blood gushes and spurts with abandon. And W.C. pukes a lot. Interestingly, they didn't bother with zombie make-up. No CGI.
Scares: There's a thing with a rat. Bastards.
Ending: Palmer calls his estranged mother from a call box...which is promptly surrounded by about a hundred zombies.
Verdict: Should you see Stalled? I was intrigued and surprised. It's goofy without being stupid and dramatic without being lame. A must for zombie fans or fans of British horror. And in case you didn't know, in Brit lingo, W.C. means toilet. Water closet. That wacky British humor...
Rating: 3 out of 5
Posted by Nate Dean at 9:44 PM
Monday, November 25, 2013
Policewoman Lisa Nolan (Ruth Bradley) is filling a two-week substitute position on a small island off the coast of Ireland. Her new partner is the unimpressed and alcoholic Ciaran O'Shea (Richard Coyle). After a meteor crashes into the sea nearby and fisherman start going missing, their investigation leads them to the beach where they find volleyball-sized eggs and then the mother who laid them. They run. Because momma's the size of a bulldozer and nothing but tentacles and teeth.
Assisted by local scientist Dr. Smith (Russell Tovey) and local drunk Paddy (Lalor Roddy), Nolan and O'Shea figure out that the critters drink blood but if the blood is at least 0.2% alcohol, they die. So the cops herd the townsfolk into the pub promising free booze. They don't need to ask twice. Things fall apart quickly when big momma and her offspring show up. A very drunk and therefore overconfident Dr. Smith confronts the creature. It doesn't end well. The quite tipsy Nolan accidentally starts the bar on fire. In the end, O'Shea and Nolan lead the monster away from town to a quarry where they make their final stand armed only with a bottle of Paddy's homemade moonshine and a flare gun. And, ironically enough, a bulldozer.
Only the Irish would make a movie where the best protection against alien attack is to drink heavily. Pure genius. Not so genius, though, was the utter lack of guns. It's unrealistic to think cops, no matter how small the town, wouldn't have a firearm somewhere. Even more unrealistic that folks in a rural area wouldn't at least have a shotgun or two. And then there's the call for help. O'Shea makes two calls actually, one to his absent boss who blows him off and the other to the coast guard who says they can't come because a storm is blowing in. I realize the plot needs it to be this way, but come on.
Acting: Russell Tovey (Being Human, Doctor Who) is good as the goofy Dr. Smith. Coyle and Bradley are all right but the intended chemistry between the two never gels. Roddy as Paddy is a hoot and a holler.
Story: Simplicity itself. The plot holes can be forgiven.
Direction: It does lag in places but the important third act is a pleasant thrill ride.
Production Values: Despite the relatively small four million euro budget, this film has the feel of a Hollywood flick. I'm pretty sure most of the money went into the special effects.
Gore/FX: Not much blood, but there are a few severed heads rolling around. The creatures are CGI and extremely well done. Could've knocked me over with a feather...or a tentacle.
Scares: A slight jump or two.
Ending: A cliché. A slow, ominous zoom in on a cluster of the creature's unhatched eggs. I may have yawned.
Verdict: Should you see Grabbers? If you like horror flick send ups with surprisingly decent special effects, then this one's for you.
Rating: 3 out of 5
Posted by Nate Dean at 1:04 AM
Sunday, November 17, 2013
First off, we learn the sequence of events that occurred after the boiler in the Overlook went nuclear and blew the joint, and Danny's bat-shit crazy father Jack, to hell. It's about what you'd expect. Danny's mom Wendy works hard to keep them from the poorhouse and Danny works hard to keep from going insane. His shining has no off switch, and eventually, he turns to booze to escape its maddening whispers. You'd think given all he was forced to endure at the hands of his alcoholic father, the very last crutch Dan would grasp would be one of the 80-proof variety. But he does, and his adult life is utter shit. He drifts, finds work at hospices or nursing homes where he occasionally eases folks over to the other side, and is invariably fired for absences due to the booze. Rock bottom for Dan is waking up next to a barfly after a night of drunken carousing. While sneaking out, Dan encounters the woman's infant son who goes for the cocaine left on the coffee table. Dan moves it out of reach, senses the kid's the victim of abuse but instead of helping, steals money and bolts. Drifting north, he ends up in New Hampshire where he discovers stability, sobriety, and finally, a sense of belonging. He also discovers a girl named Abra Stone.
Abra is a seemingly normal adolescent girl whose own shining eclipses Dan's by an incredible degree. She's over the moon at finding a kindred spirit in Dan. Her excitement is tempered by the fact there's a family of human-looking monsters hunting and torturing gifted kids like herself. They feed on their shine. It keeps them young and powerful. These people are led by a nutty gal named Rose the Hat and roam the country's highway system in RVs. Rose reckons a girl as strong as Abra could sustain them for a long time, perhaps indefinitely, and so sends her minions to New Hampshire while she remains in Colorado. Yes, the True Knot is headquartered in a park next to where the Overlook stood.
Dan recruits some of his new, non-shining friends and devises a plan to wipe out the True Knot. Of course, that plan involves Dan returning to where he was traumatized and terrorized as a child. The Overlook. With the hotel gone, though, his visit feels contrived and hollow. Sure, there's the final showdown with Rose, but it's oddly tame if not downright boring.
My problem with Doctor Sleep is just that...it's too tame. As villains go, the overly dramatic Rose and her band of goofy-named cohorts are pathetic. The True Knot doesn't exude menace like the Overlook's undead inhabitants did...like Jack Torrance did. The critters made out of the hedge were more menacing than the True Knot.
In The Shining, King made a fire hose terrifying. In Doctor Sleep, nothing is terrifying. Don't get me wrong. Stephen King can write excellent, non-horror fiction. But if the fiction he writes is the sequel to an iconic horror novel, he really shouldn't forget the scary.
Posted by Nate Dean at 8:53 PM
Friday, November 8, 2013
Slacker brothers Marion and Jarmon Mugg (Mike Bradecich and John LaFlamboy) own a rundown apartment building in Chicago. The gas has been turned off, they're stealing electricity from the church next door, and tenants are starting to bail. Oh, and pets have gone missing. Lots of pets. They witness a man-shaped creature absconding with a dog, predictably freak out, and then try to figure out what to do. First, they clean out an animal shelter thinking keeping it fed is the way to go. That doesn't go as well as they expected. Next, they pick up a homeless man (Tim Kazurinsky), cook him a steak dinner in exchange for cleaning out the basement. Again, things don't turn out (SNL alum Kazurinsky is hysterical, by the way). Eventually, after much commiserating in the bar, Marion and Jarmon decide they must kill the puppy-munching monster themselves. If they can keep from killing each other first.
The biggest surprise in this movie? The idiot passenger in those Sonic restaurant commercials plays a stoner. The scariest thing in this movie? Mike Bradecich. He looks and talks so much like Seth Rogen that it's frightening. The dumbest thing in this movie? The scenes with the cops. Unrealistic, unnecessary, and unfunny. The best thing in this movie? The chemistry between Bradecich and LaFlamboy. You'd think they're real brothers.
Acting: The mains are good enough. Some of the supporters...not so much.
Story: If I'm honest, there are plot holes. Legions of them. Not that it matters.
Direction: Let's just say it's laid back. Practically comatose in some places.
Production Values: $350,000 sure doesn't go very far these days. It's not that it looks cheap...it just feels cheap. At least it's on film and not video.
Gore/FX: No blood to speak of. They don't show the demise of any of the pets. I was fine with that. What we do see of the mole man is prosthetics and rubber. No CGI that I can remember.
Scares: Not really what they were going for.
Ending: Odd and not terribly satisfying.
Verdict: Should you see The Mole Man of Belmont Avenue? Oh, I don't know. Certainly not if you want a straight horror flick. But if you're looking for something a little different and don't hate Seth Rogen, you could do worse than this.
Rating: 3 out of 5
Posted by Nate Dean at 11:36 PM
Monday, October 28, 2013
Roger and Carolyn Perron move their daughters into a rural house without knowing its history. Oops. The dog refuses to cross the threshold and is found dead the next morning. They discover previous owners had boarded up access to the basement. After Roger removes the barricade, strange things being happening. Carolyn wakes up with bruises. The girls get their feet tugged in bed, sleepwalk, and see shadow people. Doors open by themselves, loud bangs come from nowhere, and the last straw is the simultaneous attack on Carolyn and the oldest daughter. They need help. Fast. Carolyn attends a seminar presented by the Warrens and afterwards, convinces them to investigate.
Lorraine's research shows the house and its land are connected to a pre-Salem witch who sacrificed her newborn to Satan, cursed anyone who dwelt on her property, and then hung herself (see movie poster to see where). Subsequently, the witch would either possess the owner and kill the family or drive them to suicide. Not great news for the Perrons. Even worse, the Catholic Church won't authorize an exorcism without documented evidence. So the Warrens and their two assistants set up cameras and recording equipment and hunker down to wait. It doesn't take long. The witch possesses Carolyn and without a priest, it's up to the Warrens to battle not only for her life, but for her soul.
I like that the film has two story lines. One follows the everyday life of the Warrens as well as the drama at the Perron home. We learn Lorraine was recently traumatized during another exorcism and is a still a bit shaky. We see the Warren's home and their room full of haunted artifacts including that freaky doll. I also liked it when Ed tells Lorraine the priest wants them to check out a possible case out in Long Island (Amityville). If you look closely during the seminar scene, you'll see the real-life Lorraine Warren sitting in the front row. Groovy.
Ultimately, The Conjuring works on all levels. As a true story, it's credible. As a haunted house story, it delivers the expected jumps and jolts. And as an exorcism story, it's sufficiently intense in an edge-of-your-seat, nail-biting way. So much is going on and all of it at such a breakneck pace that you barely have time to recover from one scene before Wan launches you into the next. For the viewer, it's like this, "What the hell was that? You see that? Jesus, what's going on? Holy crap!" Yeah, boredom is not on the menu.
Acting: The women rule this film. Vera Farmiga as Lorraine is astonishing. Lili Taylor as Carolyn is equally good. I felt Patrick Wilson's Ed to be somewhat lifeless. Ron Livingston as Roger does quite well as the bewildered and besieged man of the house.
Story: Truth is stranger than fiction. And more interesting.
Direction: As far as I'm concerned, Wan should be mentioned in the same breath as Romero, Argento, and Carpenter.
Production Values: The $20 million budget seems excessive, but given the end result, who am I to judge? Wan chose to mimic how horror films looked in the 1970s, which means it's a little grainier, a little darker, and has funkier colors.
Gore/FX: Now, it is rated R, but oddly, there's no gore and very little blood. The MPAA justifies the rating by proclaiming "sequences of disturbing violence and terror." Well, no shit. However, keep in mind that World War Z was rated PG-13. I think the MPAA folks are heavily into opiates.
Scares: What do you think?
Ending: Surprisingly upbeat. The end credits are worth hanging around for. They're...haunting.
Verdict: Should you see The Conjuring? Indeed you should. No question. It's the perfect flick for Halloween. Or if you just want to scare the crap out of yourself.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Posted by Nate Dean at 1:25 AM