Saturday, April 25, 2015

Horror Film Review

Zombieworld (2015):  This ambitious if uneven anthology of short films is a satirical homage to the zombie apocalypse sub-genre.  I'm' not normally a fan of anthologies like this.  I prefer one story with three acts that I can lose myself in for 90 minutes.  However, since B-horror icon Bill Oberst, Jr. stars, I wasn't about to pass it up.  I'm glad I didn't...for the most part.

We hit the ground running with an exciting, Cloverfield-esque quickie where terrified folks are fleeing a nuclear power plant meltdown.  They get a bit more terrified when radiation zombies attack.  It ends weird, though.  A golfer attacking a 20-foot tall, amorphous monster with a putter.  Cut to...

A newsroom where anchor Marvin Gloatt (Oberst) with his truly awful suit and even more awful hair axes a few zombies off camera before getting down to the business of reporting the end of the world.  With a wonderfully cheesy dramatic flair, Gloatt (who is slowly and hysterically turning into a zombie after suffering a bite to the neck) introduces a series of vignettes from around the world.  Interspersed among these stand-alone pieces are government PSAs designed to instruct the population on how to survive the zombie apocalypse.  The PSAs, grainily filmed Grindhouse style, poke great fun at zombie movie cliches and also pay tribute to classics like The Evil Dead.

As for the numerous vignettes, some are very good, some are very bad, and some are just fucking odd.  One of the odd tells of how Jesus botched the Lazarus miracle which leads to Jesus and Judas battling a swarm of zombie Hebrews, zombie Romans, and zombie cowboys (don't ask) with nothing but an endless supply of fish that Jesus uses like throwing knives.  Bizarre as this may be, even stranger is that rather than Aramaic, they speak Spanish.  Jesus eventually gets the miracle right by resurrecting Judas, who'd hanged himself.  There's irreverent and then there's this.  Devout Christians with no sense of humor beware.  The second oddest involves a man with impressive anger issues in Ibiza, Spain who is instructed by his doctor to take a holiday and by all means remain calm.  At the beach, green sea-zombies emerge from the water and attack the tourists in a most spectacularly gory fashion.  Our angry man keeps a smile pasted on his face and remains calm...until his Walkman dies.  He flips out and to say he goes medieval on the zombies' asses would be a colossal understatement.  At one point, he uses the corpse of a girl as a club.  You get the idea.  Both this and the Jesus story feature cartoonish, over the top gore that makes Peter Jackson's Dead Alive look like a Nickelodeon sitcom.

The best two come from Ireland and Australia.  The Ireland tale pays homage to Shaun of the Dead and is very funny.  A man returns to his flat to find his flatmate dying on the floor which prompts a monologue full of regret and reflection.  While lamenting the imminent death of his friend, said friend hands him a note explaining he's committing suicide because he hates his guts.  Bloody marvelous U.K. humor.  The polar opposite of this comes from Down Under where a lone woman is holed up in the countryside with her recently turned husband chained in the cellar.  This is a dark and often terrifying entry that eschews dialogue and background music in order to effectively tell a haunting story of loss and hopelessness.  Well done.

Oberst's Gloatt is the glue that keeps this film from collapsing under its own weight.  You must ignore the fact that these "reports" from around the globe can't possibly be on-the-spot journalistic items nor can they possibly coexist in the same world as Gloatt.  If you are able to suspend your disbelief in this regard, Zombieworld is campy, B-horror fun.  By the way, Gloatt eventually does turn.  Sorry, Bob.

The Skinny

Acting:  Oberst as Gloatt is a hoot (Ron Burgundy eat your heart out).  Another standout is Noe Blancafort as Judas.  Everyone else, especially the Ireland and Australia folks, do well enough.
Story:  Stories, really, and they're hit and miss.  The only one that I feel is truly unique is the "Fist of Jesus" segment.  Unique, however, does not necessarily translate into good.
Direction:  I couldn't even begin to critique the various styles involved here.  This project must have been an editor's worst nightmare.
Production Values:  Ranging from obviously cheap to not bad at all.  At least they're all on film and the sound and lighting doesn't suck.
Gore/FX:  Words are not sufficient to describe the level of gore you'll find here.  Weird, wild stuff.
Scares:  Only the tale from Australia come close.
Ending:  Unless you count Gloatt's transformation, there really isn't a denouement to speak of.  That's why anthology pieces aren't my favorite...no emotional payoff.
Verdict:  Should you watch Zombieworld?  If you're a fan of zombie flicks or Oberst, then absolutely.  I'm both so it was a win-win for me,,,.with a heaping side helping of WTF.

Rating:  3 out of 5

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Horror Film Review

Find Me (2014):  Harmless haunted house flick that reveals how spectacularly awry a game of hide and seek can go.  I say harmless because it's neither a cinematic masterpiece nor is it a complete waste of celluloid.  It just sort of...is.

Emily (Kathryn Lyn) and husband Tim (Cameron Bender) move back to her hometown of Silt, CO where they purchase a suspiciously inexpensive house and immediately begin experiencing all manner of weirdness.  I was impressed by the choice to have the characters accept without question a ghost is responsible.  Seems that Tim enjoys the ghost hunting TV shows.  Crystals, sage burning, seance session...all fail.  This spirit isn't exactly malevolent, rather it's more insistent.  Keeps writing "Find Me" on mirrors and walls.  Tim says the ghost looks like Emily.  That's a clue.  Eventually they discover old Polaroids of a number of young girls in a crawl space, one of which is Emily.  Apparently.  Turns out Emily had a twin sister who disappeared when they were six, her mutilated body later found in a nearby creek.  Well, they thought it was her.  Here's what happened:  Emily's sister begged her to play hide and seek.  Emily told her to go hide with no intention of seeking.  A creepy guy in the neighborhood abducted her and held her captive until he died many years later.  The house Emily and Tim bought?  Yep.  His.  The dead girl in the creek?  Not Emily's twin but one of many girls creepy guy killed.  So the ghost is a very pissed off twin sister who blames Emily for her kidnapping and years of captivity.  In the end, Emily finds the hidden room and her sister's corpse.  Then the ghost exacts its revenge in a manner that, if I'm honest, makes precious little sense.

The easy-going nature of this film is strangely lulling.  There's no ridiculous drama between Tim and Emily, which is refreshing and practically unheard of.  The suspense is subversive; it sneaks up on you, gives you a poke, then runs away.  Old school horror.  The danger, of course, is that if you lull your audience in the first two acts, the denouement must grab them by the throat and shake them silly.  Sadly, that didn't happen.

The Skinny

Acting:  Surprising.  I expected sub-par performances from Lyn and Bender.  What I got was remarkably realistic portrayals.  They acted like how normal folks would act in that situation.
Story:  Tried and true ghost revenge tale.  Nothing unique here.
Direction:  Like being nudged along a slow moving river in an unstable canoe.
Production Values:  No budget data but it probably cost as much as a new Ford Focus.  My only complaint is the lighting.  There wasn't enough of it.
Gore/FX:  A few pints blood splashed around a bathroom; no gore.  No CGI.  Old school.
Scares:  There are a few, yes.  And they're well-earned, none of that cat-jumping-out-of-nowhere crap.
Ending:  Not exactly a shocker.
Verdict:  Should you watch Find Me?  Many worse films out there (see previous movie review), to be sure.  This one is worth your time...if not your money.

Rating:  3 out of 5

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Horror Film Review

Zombie Dawn (2011):  It's rare for a movie to be so irredeemably awful that I can't see it through to the end.  On those rare occasions I don't even bother with a review (this helps explain long gaps between entries in this blog).  So why now?  Simple:  I feel it's my duty as a critic and American to warn the general public.  Die hard fans of zombie flicks may think I'm exaggerating.  They may think they want to check it out for themselves.  That's like saying you want jam an ice pick in your knee to see for yourself if it will hurt.

From what I could gather, a mining company in a South American country through means that are not entirely clear caused a zombie outbreak that decimates a majority of the nation.  The area is cordoned off and guarded by what's left of the military.  In an effort to wipe out the remaining zombies and to cover up their involvement, the company hires mercenaries.  These hired guns are not nice people, by the way.  Once in the zone, instead of encountering hordes of the undead, they engage in a fire fight with folks who ignored the evacuation order.  So at this point, the movie's half over and I bailed.

The Skinny

Acting:  I've always said I can't gauge a performance when the actor speaks a foreign language.  This is the exception to that rule.  Everyone is uniformly stinky.
Story:  Convoluted, chock full of holes, and worst of all, boring.
Direction:  Every scene lasts at least a minute too long.  Maddening.
Production Values:  The film stock is so grainy it's reminiscent of 70s porn.  For lighting they relied on the sun and maybe a flashlight; that is to say it's murky at best.  None of this is surprising given that the budget was all of 22 grand.
Gore/FX:  All the blood is CGI.  It's not great but it's the only remotely positive aspect of this mess.
Scares:  Oh, come on.
Ending:  No idea.
Verdict:  Should you...  No, you should not.  If you're given the choice between watching Zombie Dawn and reenacting the Bataan death march, then book that flight to the Philippines.

Rating:  0 out of 5

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Horror Film Review

Wolfcop (2014):  If you're lamenting the dearth of B schlock in the horror genre, boy have I got a flick for you.  Well, it's horror in that there's a werewolf...and enough gore to make Chuck Manson queasy, but the filmmakers couldn't give two shits about scaring you.  They're after laughs.  And more often than not, they succeed.

Lou (Leo Fafard) is an alcoholic deputy sheriff in a smallish town.  He comes to work late, drinks on the job, and ignores all crimes in progress he happens upon.  His boss (Aiden Devine) is a jackass and fellow deputy Tina (Amy Matysio) is a by-the-book overachiever.  Lou investigates a complaint of kids partying in the woods.  He wakes up in his bed with a bloody pentagram carved into his chest and a jumble of nightmarish images dancing in his booze addled brain.  Turns out three shapeshifters infiltrated the town 200 years ago, and every couple of decades they conduct a ritual to turn a man into a werewolf.  Why?  Because they need to drink werewolf blood during an eclipse in order to maintain their youth, of course.  But from where did these shapeshifters come and what, exactly, are they?  Dunno.  It's not explained.  Will you care?  Not in the least.

Alcohol, it seems, affects those afflicted with lycanthropy in an interesting way:  it makes them stronger.  So with his gun store owning buddy Willie (the hilarious Jonathan Cherry), Lou tricks out his cop car and goes on a crime-busting spree.  Unfortunately for Lou, Willie, Lou's jackass boss, and seductive bartender Jessica (Sarah Lind) are the shapeshifters and they manage to capture Lou.  They chain him to a tree in the woods and prepare for the bloodletting ritual.  Will Lou along with the help of Tina escape their clutches?  Well, yeah.

The many laugh-out-loud scenes in this movie can be credited to Cherry.  By far the most gruesome and most funny is where Lou and Willie literally burst in on a gang's barn HQ where all manner illegal shenanigans are taking place.  While Lou goes medieval on everyone's ass, Willie stays in the car and provides a running commentary.  The best gag involves Lou ripping the face off a bad guy who then (without a face, mind you) runs screaming to Willie for help.  Sounds awful, doesn't it?  It's seriously one of the funniest bits I've ever seen.

The Skinny

Acting:  No Oscar performances here.  Cherry does the best.
Story:  A new spin on a very old idea, the script is lean on the hows.
Direction:  We get from A to B to C in record time with nothing unnecessary.
Production Values:  Amazing considering the budget was just one million Canadian dollars.  Of course most of that probably went to the FX guys.
Gore/FX:  The blood runs far and free.  Beheadings abound, as do befacings (just made up a new word).  You might want to turn away during the urinal scene, though.  That's just nasty.  No CGI.  When the gang's barn hideout with the meth lab explodes, it's a model that goes boom and it's quite impressive.
Scares:  Not in the game plan.
Ending:  Bad guys all dead, good guys all alive.  Shocking, I know.
Verdict:  Should you see Wolfcop?  Sure.  Why not?  It's a goofy, over-the-top schlockfest chock full of grins and gore with a kick-ass soundtrack.  And just like they used to do at the end of James Bond movies, Wolfcop promises another installment in 2015.  I'm both appalled and excited at the same time...

Rating:  3 out of 5

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Haunted House Update

A rather large, oval portrait of my grandfather in his WWI uniform hangs over my fireplace.  Not long ago, I awoke to find that it had flung itself off the wall and into the middle of the room.  The nail upon which it hung was not bent nor even loose, which means the portrait would have needed to be lifted up first in order to come down.  I have no explanation.

A few nights ago, I experienced that sensation of not being alone despite the fact I was.  I ignored it as I usually do.  In the kitchen, I retrieved a bottle of water from the refrigerator.  I set it on the table but when I turned to fetch something from the cupboard, the bottle was knocked to the floor.  The table wasn't bumped, the bottom of the bottle wasn't warped, and there was no draft...or earthquake.  So again, no explanation.

On a positive note, the weird nightmares that used to wake me every night after exactly 26 minutes have ceased.  I still have to sleep with the light on, though.  Small price to pay.