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

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Horror Film Review

Knight of the Dead (2013):  A zombie flick set in 14th century Britain during the Black Death that involves the Holy Grail sounds awesome...in theory.  Sadly, sometime during the process where theory becomes practice, anything even remotely approaching interesting was irrevocably lost.  What we ended up with is a dreary, meager tale that like the plague itself, should be wiped out before it can infect an unsuspecting public.

The first misconception is that this film involves King Arthur's knights or any kind of knight like the one in the movie poster over there.  Nope.  There's the priest Leuthar (Feth Greenwood) and four bodyguards:  Bjorn (Dylan Jones), Anzo (Lee Bennett), and brothers Gabriel and Raphael (Alan Calton and Jason Beeston).  Leuthar was ordered to pick up the Cup of Christ from a monastery and transport it to a mountain.  Or something.  The details regarding the grail's destination and reasons for its move are murky at best.  Anyway, the group manages to piss off some local thugs and must flee through a valley said to be cursed by God.  Yeah, no shit.  It's filled to the gills with the undead.  A mysterious woman named Badriyah (Viven Vilela) appears and offers to act as a guide through the punishing landscape.  The thugs, meanwhile, are hot on their heels and led by Calon (George McCluskey) who obviously gargles with gravel every morning.  One by one the bodyguards are taken out by the zombies.  Leuthar and Badriyah engage in behavior that can only be described as naughty.  Calon catches up with them and there's a three-way showdown.  Everybody loses.  Well, Leuthar and the grail survive, but we still don't know where the hell they're going.

The film was not shot in black and white but damned close.  It felt like I was watching it through a pair of sunglasses.  When I said "dreary" I didn't just mean the story.  They went out of their way to make it as gloomy as possible.  Gloomy wasn't enough for these filmmakers, though.  They also had to confound us with a nonsensical plot that had more holes than Christ's body after crucifixion (pardon the irreverent analogy).  The worst offense to logic came when Leuthar had one of the bodyguards drink from the grail after being bitten by a zombie.  Did it cure him?  Did it keep him from turning?  No and no.  So what was the point in making us believe it's the real grail?  Beats the hell out of me.  One other irritant...the guys know they have to destroy the head and yet they keep slashing and whacking at the upper torso.  Why?   It's times like this when I find myself rooting for the hordes of undead.

The Skinny

Acting:  The best actors die earliest.  The worst actor lives and therefore is afforded the most screen time.  There is no justice in the picture business.
Story:  Great idea, awful execution.
Direction:  Lifeless.
Production Values:  A study in dull.
Gore/FX:  There is one fairly groovy shot where one of the swordsmen cleaves a zombie in half with a battleaxe.  Vertically, not horizontally.  It's CGI, of course, but still...not bad.
Scares:  None.
Ending:  Riding away on a horse.  ???
Verdict:  Should you see Knight of the Dead?  I can't imagine a scenario in which you'd want to.  OK...I suppose if you were given a choice between this and watching a Honey Boo Boo marathon, then it would be acceptable.  Just.

Rating:  1 out of 5

Friday, September 5, 2014

Haunted House Update

In horror films, one of the most effective scare tactics is to show a shadowy figure dart across the other side of an open doorway.  It's usually done without a sudden crash of music which, for me anyway, makes it all the more terrifying because real life doesn't have a soundtrack.  With all of this in mind, you can imagine my...consternation when I learned a shadowy figure has been darting across the open doorway of the basement family room.  When this happens, one of the two pet bunnies who roam freely down there can be found standing on her hind legs staring intently at said doorway.  Bunnies stand this way when they suspect danger is afoot and therefore attempt to get a better look to judge the threat level. It's really quite an unnerving sight.  Animals hear better than we do and most can sense when their lives are in jeopardy (it's well known that critters run for their lives many minutes prior to the first rumblings of an earthquake).  On most occasions, the rabbit soon loses interest and wanders away.  A few times, however, she bolted in fear and hid under the couch.  And she'd thump.  You all know Thumper from the Disney film Bambi.  Well, rabbits really do thump like that to warn others of trouble.  Again...unnerving.

Then last night in that gloaming realm between wakefulness and sleep, I had a "dream" about this shadowy figure.  It was an older guy I'd never seen before in my life.  He stood in the doorway to my bedroom, gazed at me for a few seconds with a blank expression, then skittered back into the darkness.  Who needs a cardio workout when shit like that happens?

And finally, there have been the routinely inexpiable creaks, footfalls, and bangs of course.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Horror Film Review

Alien Abduction (2014):  Found-footage fare featuring foul freaks from far, far away.  See?  I can do alliteration, too.  Seriously, though, this movie was surprise in that I've come to loathe found-footage, sci-fi horror because found-footage, sci-fi horror invariably sucks and yet this one did not.  Suck, that is.  In fact, overlooking the overly ordinary title, Alien Abduction might just be the best I've seen to date.

Peter and Katie Morris (Peter Holden and Katherine Sigismund) decided to load their three kids into the SUV and trek to North Carolina's Brown Mountains for a few fun-filled days of camping.  High-schoolers Corey and Jillian (Corey Eid and Jillian Clare) along with their 11 year-old, autistic brother Riley (Riley Polanski) aren't exactly jumping up and down with glee but neither are they pouty jerks about it.  Riley has the video camera.  It's a coping mechanism (this is code for plot device).  Anyway, on their first night, the kids witness three UFOs zipping about the sky.  Since the area is famous for this kind of thing, no one gets too worked up over it.  While searching for their next campsite, the GPS fails and they become hopelessly lost (no cell phone service, naturally).  Eventually, they stumble upon a tunnel with a dozen or so recently abandoned vehicles strewn around.  Dad, Corey, and Riley enter on foot to investigate.  I'll interject here to say the sense of foreboding in this scene was practically palpable.  A figure appears at the far end of the tunnel, spectacularly backlit, and dad hails him.  Mistake is an understatement.  Aliens pop out of the woodwork and give chase.  Papa Morris sacrifices himself to give his kids a chance to escape.  As Corey grabs Riley and runs like hell, they hear their father scream in a most blood-curdling manner.

Mom and the kids find a backwoods cabin owned by Sean (Jeff Bowser), who also owns many guns, a banjo, and a shortwave radio.  Riley's footage convinces him they're not nuts.  A frantic call from his brother on the shortwave doesn't hurt either.  Sean takes off, the aliens come, and then it's Corey's turn to do the sacrifice routine.  After much running and hiding, the remaining three end up in a barn where Sean finds them.  Alas, rescue is not in the cards as Sean and mom are subjected to a decidedly unhealthy beam up.  So now it's Jillian and Riley on the run.  Thankfully, they discover the highway and then a passing cop.  They're saved!  Oh, wait...

The Brown Mountain Lights are a real thing.  Really.  Look it up.  Interesting stuff.  OK...back to the review.  The way this was filmed, we're supposed to believe there was a mass abduction in the Brown Mountains a few years ago and the United States Air Force covered it up.  Riley's video was "leaked."  Weirder things have happened, I suppose.  I'm babbling because I'm desperately trying to think of what I didn't like about this movie but am drawing a blank.  Ah, now I remember.  When the family first encountered the abandoned vehicles at the tunnel, they couldn't turn around because their SUV was running on fumes.  Why not siphon off a few gallons from that Yukon over there and haul ass?  The writers could have at least had one of the kids mention it in passing.  One other thing...an alien jettisons Riley's video camera from the upper atmosphere or perhaps low earth orbit and it survives not only the descent but the landing.  Right.  I didn't buy it in Unidentified and I don't buy it here either.  Might be time to give Mythbusters a call.

The Skinny

Acting:  They're all pros so no complaints, although Bowser's hillbilly schtick wears thin fast.
Story:  I did like the use of a real phenomenon as a basis for the plot.  Makes suspending your disbelief just a skosh easier.
Direction:  Snappy.
Production Values:  No budget information, but they did film it in North Carolina so the exteriors are pretty groovy.  If this had really been shot on the Riley's camera, I'd be complaining about lighting and sound and such.
Gore/FX:  No blood to speak of but there is some cringe-inducing sounds during the beaming up process.  (All I can say is that whatever space the aliens needed to fit the abductee into must be quite small.)  The CGI is impressive.
Scares:  There is one that sneaked up and got me good.
Ending:  Not as depressing as you'd think.  There's a bit more movie after the credits that allows one to hope.  Nice.
Verdict:  Should you see Alien Abduction?  You bet.  Other than a disappointing lack of gore, it's got everything you want in a sci-fi horror flick.

Rating:  4 out of 5