Saturday, April 16, 2016

Horror Film Review

Attack of the Herbals (2011):  Scotland is a groovy country.  The highlands, William Wallace, haggis, Craig Ferguson...  Unfortunately, this grooviness does not extend to horror comedies.  The movie poster says "Hot Fuzz meets Shaun of the Dead."  As far as lies go, this one ranks up there with the Greeks saying, "Hey, let's be friends.  And here's a giant wooden horse to show how much we care."  The only similarity between this film and those two is that they were all made in the U.K.  As for the tag line, "Putting the 'tea' back in terror," that just makes no fucking sense at all.  Perhaps by now you've puzzled out that I'm not exactly a fan.  I shall explain why.

 It starts with Nazi doctors experimenting on a number of unwilling participants by force feeding them some kind of tea.  As the Allies close in, the remaining tea is packed into a huge crate and heaved off the end of a pier.  Flash forward to the present to big city failure Jackson (Calum Booth) grudgingly returning to his home village of Lobster Cove where no one except his grandparents and former mate Russell (Steve Worsley) are pleased to see him.  Needing quick cash to prevent greedy asshole Bennett (Liam Matheson) from taking over his grandparents' shop, Jackson and Russell decide to sell packets of herbal tea they found in a wooden crate that's washed ashore.  It's a splendid plan that works beautifully.  Except, that is, until the villagers begin to act a tiny bit strange.  By tiny, I mean a hell of a lot and by strange I mean psychotic and homicidal.  They discover too late the "tea" was the Nazis' failed attempt to create a super-soldier.  Oops.  So the town is a bloodbath with some creative and occasionally humorous killings.  The end, of course, involves a showdown between Jackson and Bennett.  By this time, I'd stopped caring and hoped they'd all die.

A great many problems this film has.  First of all, this "tea" looks like dog food or maybe twigs.  It's not leaves or a powder or anything I've ever seen before.  But Jackson and Russell automatically assume it should be brewed and drunk?  Sure.  Why not.  Another annoyance are the actions of Jackson's old Lobster Cove employer Danny (Lee Hutcheon) who didn't drink the tea and therefore is not batshit crazy.  Instead of simply waiting for the homicidal villagers to kill each other off (which they do with gusto), Danny wades into the melee with guns blazing.  It's pointless and silly.  Another irk is the suspiciously convenient presence of the local vicar, a silver-haired German named Adolf (Alan Fraser).  No, he's not meant to be Hitler.  He's just there to present the Nazi backstory and tell Jackson and Russell how stupid they are.  An unnecessary contrivance that falls flat.

One bright spot that actually made me laugh out loud involved the disabled town drunk in his wheelchair being chased by a psycho on one of those mobility scooters.  I can't explain why it's funny, though.  Probably better that way.

The Skinny

Acting:  Herein lies my biggest beef.  Worsley is the best of the lot as Russell but even he's not what you'd call stellar.  Surprisingly, the worst actor was cast in the leading role (Booth).  He must have owed the director money or something.
Story:  I admit the idea is unique.  The problem came when attempting to translate the idea into a workable script.
Direction:  Too much time is spent on Jackson's homecoming woes.  When the action finally gets cranking, it's oddly lethargic.
Production Values:  Shot for a little over twenty grand on the weekends with the actors all working for free.  Filming in Scottish villages lends it authenticity.  The sound and lighting don't suck.
Gore/FX:  The blood and gore, what there is of it, is cartoonish.  CGI fire and blood splatters may have been created on an Apple IIe.
Scares:  About as scary as a kitten sleeping on a pillow full of dandelions.
Ending:  Got on a boat and rowed away.
Verdict:  Should you see Attack of the Herbals?  Should the Trojans have pulled that giant wooden horse into their camp?  I'll say it again:  not like Hot Fuzz or Shaun of the Dead.  Hell, it's not even a zombie flick.  More like The Crazies...but bad.  If given a choice between watching this and eating haggis, go for the sheep's stomach.

Rating:  1 out of 5

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Horror Film Review

Grave Mistake (2008):  Oh, I've seen fire and I've seen rain, but  never in my entire movie-going years have I witnessed such an irredeemable dumpster fire of a film.  Sadly, it's not one of those it's so bad it's good endeavors.  This hot mess isn't even in the same solar system as good.  It makes Plan 9 from Outer Space seem Oscar worthy.  Yet I found myself watching until the final credits rolled.  Why?  Morbid curiosity (or temporary insanity) is the only possible explanation.  OK...let's make this quick.

A drunken moron named Karl (Stephen W. Eckles) dumps a cocktail of noxious chemicals on a grave.  Why?  Who the hell knows.  Said Karl is a fat, racist fuckwit who enjoys beating on his teenage step-son Alex (Seth Darling).  Alex is friends with Phil (David Lionbarger), an assistant mechanic of questionable mental capacity.  Phil's boss Mike (James Blackburn) is an ex-SEAL who's sweet on Monica (Wendy Andrews) whose teenage son Woody (Keola Melhorn) is a moody asshole.  They're all gathered in Mike's shop when the town is suddenly (the suddenness is inexplicable, by the way) filled to the rafters with zombies.  The overly excited Phil, expert on all things undead, is killed immediately, of course.  The rest decide to try for the national guard armory.  And that's about it, really.  Naturally, most of them die in the attempt.  None of them makes it to the armory, in fact.  Lone survivor Alex instead rushes to find his mom.  Unfortunately, he finds her.  And then blows her head off.  Right...and there's a zombie dog, too.  And a knight with a sword who saves Alex from the zombie dog.  It's all really quite ludicrous...not to mention dumb as a barrel of bean bags.

If I chose to air every grievance I had with Grave Mistake, this blog entry would eclipse Tolstoy's entire body of work.  Perhaps you think I'm exaggerating.  Doubt me at your own risk, folks.

The Skinny

Acting:  I checked.  There wasn't any.  The "performance" that came the closest to real acting was Darling's.  Everyone's first time in my life where I both cringed and winced whenever someone spoke their lines, Eckles being the worst offender.
Story:  I checked.  There wasn't one.
Direction:  Confused and always a step behind.  The "action" sequences couldn't possibly have been blocked prior to filming.  Besides disorganized, it's like they're in slow motion.  Doesn't help that zombies fall down from the lightest tap.  And whoever edited this thing shouldn't be allowed within ten miles of an editing room.
Production Values:  I checked.  There is no value.  Seriously.  Out of focus on bad film stock with poor lighting and muffled sound.  Not to mention the cheap sets (except for the hardware which I'm pretty sure was a real hardware store).
Gore/FX:  The usual...too-fake blood and stretchy latex skin.  The serious gore was CGI and bad CGI at that.
Scares:  ???
Ending:  Well, now, if I'm honest, it could've been worse.  Alex and the knight doing a Butch and Sundance routine.  I'm fairly certain the outcome was roughly the same.
Verdict:  Should you ignore my dire warnings and your own common sense and watch Grave Mistake?  Might as well ask if you should shove your arm in a wood chipper to see if it will hurt.  In both cases, I guarantee it will hurt.  A lot.

Rating:  0 out of 5

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Horror Film Review

Goodnight Mommy (2014):  This movie pissed me off.  Critics raved and praised like they did with The Witch, and as with that overrated film, this one tries to convince us it's unique and assumes we'll simply gush over the originality.  But because I've watched more than a dozen horror flicks in my life and am not a moron, gushing shall not be forthcoming.  What will be forthcoming are an ass-load of spoilers.

The mother of pre-teen twins Elias and Lukas returns home after what appears to be some rather extensive cosmetic surgery.  Her head's wrapped up like she's the invisible man.  The boys are wary, the mother seemingly awkward and nervous.  We're ten minutes in and I'm already annoyed.  Why are the boys alone in the house?  Why's the mom acting squirrelly?  Where's the dad?  I know there is one because he's briefly mentioned.  Anyway, the mom gets even more squirrelly, the boys almost immediately conclude she's not their mom, and there's a 50-gallon fish tank full of fucking cockroaches for no reason whatsoever.  I suppose one could make the case for a Kafka influence, but it won't be me.  Elias defies mom, wants proof she's his mom, which sends her nearly over the edge.  He gets smacked around, locked in his room, and forced to repeat ten times that she is his mother.  But what about Lukas, you ask?  Now that's the primary reason I'm pissed.  Any horror nerd with half a brain will immediately spot it.  Elias' twin isn't really there.  Either a ghost or a hallucination.  It's around this time that the boys decide something must be done with the person passing herself off as their mother.  And that's when this movie shifts gears and suddenly becomes Misery.  Instead of Kathy Bates we have two 10 year-old boys.  We start to notice that Lukas sure whispers in his brother's ear a lot.  What possible agenda could a dead boy have?  Like I said, not a moron, seen tons of horror flicks.  We eventually piece together that there was an accident (no details), Lukas died (no details) and Elias still sees him (duh), and mom and dad separated (no details).  Does Lukas drive Elias to start the fire that kills him and their mom?  (Oh, right.  Yes, she is their mom.)  Of course he did.  He wanted them all to be together.  Is any of this original?  No.  Is it gush-worthy?  Hell no.

A few additional and random annoyances.  Early on, the mom walks into the woods at night, naked, and does one of those supernatural full body spasms where they shake like a can of paint on the mixer.  Why?  A red herring.  While she sleeps, the boys nudge a huge cockroach into climbing into her mouth.  She doesn't wake or even twitch.  Why?  Another red herring.  Really early on, the boys stumble upon a cave full of human bones.  For this one, I got nothing.  Then there's the thing with the cat suspended in formaldehyde in the re-tasked fish tank...  OK.  That was original.

The Skinny

Acting:  The acting wasn't the problem.
Story:  This was the problem.
Direction:  And this.
Production Values:  Not a problem.
Gore/FX:  Problem.  Too little of both.
Scares:  Bigger problem.  There weren't any.
Ending:  Problematic in that you see it coming but hope to God you're wrong.  You're not.
Verdict:  Should you see Goodnight Mommy?  I can't imagine why you'd want to.  The boys aren't cruel enough and the mom isn't enigmatic enough to make it work.  Go watch Children of the Corn and Misery instead.

Rating:  2 out of 5

Monday, March 28, 2016

Horror Film Review

He Never Died (2015):  I love Henry Rollins and I love this movie.  What else do you need to know?  Well, maybe a couple of things.  While ostensibly a horror flick, it's also wickedly, darkly funny.  I didn't expect that, especially when I found out who Rollins' character is (also unexpected).  The movie poster is a clue although not a good enough one for you to guess correctly.  No, he's not an angel nor a fallen angel.  It's much more interesting than that.

Rollins plays Jack, a quiet man of routine and simple habits.  When not at home sleeping with the sounds of his past battling in his head, he's at the local diner frustrating the waitress who's sweet on him or playing bingo at the local church with the old folks.  The steamer trunk in his room is full of cash and memorabilia going back centuries.  So he'd old.  Really old.  We find out later why he's so old...he can't die.  Why can't he die?  Well, that would be telling.

The intrusion of his troubled teenage daughter disrupts Jack's solitude and routine.  He's annoyed but dutifully takes her in.  Here's the thing about Jack:  he rarely talks but when he does, it's curt and simple and totally without guile.  You begin to question if he's mentally challenged.  He's not.  English isn't his first language...or fortieth.  He's also desperately trying to restrain the darkness within, a darkness that's tortured him for an incredibly long time.  But when local thugs kidnap his daughter, the darkness erupts and Jack finds himself doing all manner of distasteful things.  Mostly to the bad guys, who mostly die, although Jack does occasionally have a, um...nibble.  Yeah.  He eats people.  It's complicated.  (And no, he's not a vampire either.)

The Skinny

Acting:  At first, I thought Rollins was too wooden, too stiff.  Then I realized given his character, his performance was spot on.  Quirky and weird, but spot on.  Jordan Todosey as his daughter and Kate Greenhouse as the waitress are quite good.
Story:  I've ever seen anything like it.  Despite being a tad lean on the details, the basic idea and subsequent treatment is inspired.  Groovy.
Direction:   Not frenetic by any means, rather the action is doled out at at near perfect pace.
Production Values:  I could find no budget data, but it's obvious we're not talking about Avengers money here.  That being said, at no time does it feel like a low budget cheapie.  Film stock, sets, sound, lighting...nothing is sub-par.
Gore/FX:  The violence and blood levels are cranked to 11.  I don't remember seeing any CGI.
Scares:  It's not that kind of movie.
Ending:  The one stumbling block.  Left hanging is the understatement of the century.  Dammit.
Verdict:  Should you see He Never Died?  Absolutely.  Simply put, it's not like anything you've ever seen before and a hell of a lot of fun.

Rating:  4 out of 5

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Horror Film Review

Re-Kill (2015):  Zombie flick that's part 28 Days Later and part Cops.  Ever wonder what TV shows and commercials would be like five years after a virus kills then reanimates a substantial chunk of the population?  Well, wonder no more!

It begins with a little girl coming home to discover her house a shambles and her parents gone.  After wandering from room to room calling for her mom and dad to no avail, she sadly sits down in front of the television which is tuned to a channel dedicated to all things post-outbreak.  The Cops-like reality show that happens to be playing is Re-Kill where a reporter and cameraman are embedded within a paramilitary unit tasked with tracking down and destroying re-ans (reanimated folks).  And they're not the slow, Romero zombies.  These fuckers are fast.  Via rookie reporter Jimmy, we're introduced to the unit members who are as diverse and screwed up as you'd imagine and also shown how awful their job is from a perspective of innocence and naivete.  After a few terrifying skirmishes, the unit is ordered into the Zone to investigate disturbing reports regarding the origin of the outbreak and ongoing experimentation.  The Zone, by the way, is the walled-off island of Manhattan that was used as a zombie dumping ground.  No one ever goes there because the last units to venture in never returned.  Jimmy's unit learns the zombies are massing...and organizing.  If a second outbreak occurs, everyone knows humanity is doomed.  No pressure.  In the end, the unit is predictably decimated although one survives to warn of the impending horror.  From the beginning, rumors of an "ark" that would save our species run rampant.  We do learn if those crazy rumors are in fact true.  Take a wild guess...

Interspersed throughout the show are commercials for everything from drugs that claim to protect you from the virus if bitten to public service announcements encouraging all Americans to have sex to help repopulate the country.  These ads work because they're made well and played straight, but they're a bit annoying because they break up the action of the show.

One aspect that confused me was the supposed one camera perspective.  On more than one occasion it's obvious from the angles we're shown it's impossible a single camera was utilized (unless members of the unit were wearing near invisible helmet cams that we weren't told about).  Another...mistake was the use of tension-heightening background music during certain scenes.  Kind of defeats the purpose.

The Skinny

Acting:  Roger R. Cross as Sarge is excellent, his performance chock full of pathos and dread.  Bruce Payne as the subtly psychotic, evangelizing Winston is disturbing.  Scott Adkins as the assholish Parker is too hammy and therefore a distraction.  Everyone else manages a decent job.
Story:  I would have bet real money I'd hate watching a zombie tale by means of a reality show.  I would have lost real money.  Unfortunately, the story itself is overshadowed by the novelty of how it's told, which in a zombie flick, isn't a deal breaker.
Direction:  It's counter-intuitive to think a single perspective film is more difficult than a normal film.  It should be easier.  It isn't.  Which is why I was impressed, for the most part, by the direction.
Production Values:  Pretty high given the budget was just under $10 million.  No small portion of that must have gone to the insane number of extras.
Gore/FX:  Blood?  Oh, there's a drop or two.  Gore?  Yes, yes there is.  The zombie make-up is predictably icky awesome.
Scares:  By golly, there are.  One of them, while they're fleeing in a tunnel under the Zone, may cause sudden and involuntary bladder voiding.
Ending:  Unexpected but too Hollywood-ish.  They could have done better.
Verdict:  Should you see Re-Kill?  Yep.  Not just for the novelty but for the groovy violence one expects in a military vs. zombies flick.  Come to think of it, it's part 28 Days Later, part Cops, and part DOOM (video game, not the shitty movie).  It's worth an hour and 28 minutes of your life.

Rating:  4 out of 5