Saturday, December 5, 2015

Horror Film Review

Krampus (2015):  Lauded as a new classic holiday comedy/horror flick in the tradition of Gremlins.  It's really not.  Dammit.  I was hoping.  What I got is one of those "almost" movies that's too PG-13 to be viable as horror and too on the nose regarding annoying family members to be truly funny.  And I have a hunch that the studio fat cats were allowed too much input, which resulted in this cinematic equivalent of a stocking full of coal.  Humbug.

All pre-teen boy Max (Emjay Anthony) wants is to celebrate Christmas with his family and recapture the magic from Christmases past.  Unfortunately, people grow up and apart and Max's family has lost what spirit they once had.  Frustrated at everyone, Max declares he hates his family, hates Christmas, and then rips his letter to Santa to shreds.  Bad idea.  An inexplicable blizzard whips up, power and cell service is lost, and no one seems to be out on the roads.

Worried about her boyfriend who lives only a few blocks away, Max's sister Beth (Stefania LaVie Owen) decides to walk to his place.  Not terribly bright of her.  Yeah, she doesn't quite make it there.  Her dad (Adam Scott) and uncle Howard (David Koechner) go look for her in Howard's Hummer.  They're attacked, Tremors-style, by something under the snow.  Something else destroys their ride.  They limp back and barricade the house.  That's when the shit really hits the fan.  All manner of evil toys, along with a few rogue gingerbread men, attack.  It's kinda scary and kinda silly.  I wasn't sure if I should laugh or freak out.  I ended up doing neither.  At one point, Max's German grandmother (Krista Stadler) finally shares her story (told in bizarre flashback animation) about her run in with Krampus when she was a girl about Max's age.  It took her folks but let her live, supposedly as a example to others.  When the others make a break for it, she remains behind to confront Krampus, a ten-foot tall, cloven hoofed monstrosity that, annoyingly, doesn't speak.  The encounter doesn't end well for grandma.  If I'm honest, and spoiling the ending, things don't end well for anyone.  Even Max.  Or do they?  There's a twist, of a sort.  I'm very surprised the marketing morons decided to advertise the twist in the movie poster.  Yes...Krampus doesn't kill.  He collects.

There are a few positives.  Max is cute and sincere and I found myself rooting for him every step of the way.  Aunt Dorothy (Conchata Ferrell) is a hoot and the source of most of the film's humor.  And other than Beth's ill advised walkabout, the characters didn't make the usual horror movie blunders (taking a shower, going off alone, etc.).  There were other blunders, though.  No explanation of Krampus' origin other than to say he's thousands of years old and a shadow of St. Nick.  The lack of gore is simply unforgivable.  But perhaps the biggest blunder of all is the absence of St. Nick himself.  As the film wore on, and Max recanted his earlier declaration and even offered his life for the life of his cousin, I honestly thought Santa would swoop in and kick some Krampus ass.  Man, that would have been groovy.  Alas, it was not to be.  Dammit.

The Skinny

Acting:  Anthony as Max is quite impressive.  Toni Collette is good (as usual) as Max's mom.  Scott is a bit wooden as the dad.  I really liked Allison Tomlin as Howard's wife.
Story:  Way too many "oh, if only" moments.  Also too many "WTF" moments.  If Krampus wants to collect, then why are all his toys and gingerbread men trying their damnedest to kill everybody?  Also, is Krampus there just for Max's family or the whole neighborhood?  And if the neighborhood, why?  When it was Max's actions that precipitated the onslaught?  Maybe I think too much...
Direction:  Haphazard is a strong word and yet the most appropriate.
Production Values:  I will say this...by God, the blizzard looked real.  You know how hard that is to get right?  Snow looked like snow and not potato flakes.  Beyond that, the bulk of this $15 million film is set in the house.  It could have been the theater's fault, but toward the end, it became increasingly difficult to understand the dialogue.  As if someone turned the mid-range all the way down.
Gore/FX:  None.  There is a dash of blood when Howard gets his leg munched on, but that's it.  The CGI isn't awful.  The Krampus make-up and outfit is too busy.  Can't really tell what the hell he's supposed to be.
Scares:  They tried, but I didn't bite.
Ending:  It's like fruitcake...leaves a bad taste in your mouth.
Verdict:  Should you see Krampus?  It's not that this is a terrible film, it's that it could have been so much better that rankles me.  Still, I can't recommend it.  For crazy, holiday horror (rated R) I will, however, recommend Rare Exports - A Christmas Tale.  No humbug there.

Rating:  2 out of 5

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Horror Film Review

Battle of the Undead (2013):  Zombie flick from Israel, land of the original zombie (a four-day dead Lazarus).  Originally entitled Cannon Fodder, it's unfortunately dubbed instead subtitled.  Not that I understand Hebrew, mind you, rather it's my experience that the majority of dubbed foreign horror is done so quite badly (nothing wrecks a movie quicker than hearing a guy from, say Tokyo, speaking with the voice of a guy from Brooklyn).  In this case, they at least found voice actors with suitable accents, so from that standpoint, the film doesn't suck.  But what about all other standpoints?  Well...

Legendary operative Doron (Liron Levo) is called back from his honeymoon by the shady, one-eyed Gideon (Amit Leor) to lead a special mission into Lebanon to extract a scientist who created a virus (supposedly at the behest of a terrorist group).  What Gideon forgot to mention to Doron is that this bug transforms folks into zombies and that the bug has a toehold in Israel.  Doron is teamed up with three soldiers.  I'll just call them the geeky one, the black one, and the asshole.  Once they reach the scientist's compound, they discover in a big damn hurry how screwed they are.  The only survivor is the scientist's daughter Noelle (Yafit Shalev) who explains it was actually Gideon who forced her father to create the biological weapon.  So now the five of them must not only dodge hordes of ravenous and speedy zombies but also obtain a sample of the scientist's blood as he is patient zero.  Things don't go very well for three of them.  In the end, they reach the seaside and by some crazy coincidence, the only yacht in the harbor happens to be that of Doron's new bride.  Even more unbelievable is that the evil Gideon somehow escaped from a zombie-overrun Tel Aviv, knew where to find the boat, and also knew Doron would find it, too.  This is the definition of "contrived."  All just to set up the final confrontation that, if I'm honest, doesn't pay off.

Complaints?  The opening credits and the closing credits.  In the opening, they play music that's goofy and inappropriate for the montage of somber images shown.  The closing is a panel discussion TV show that is so badly written and acted that it's jarring.  Be like showing a Tom and Jerry cartoon at the end of Shindler's List.  I think someone in post-production was either drunk or had a grudge against the writer and director.  Nothing else makes sense.

The Skinny

Acting:  Levo is above average, Leor below, and the rest somewhere in between.
Story:  Military missions and zombies isn't a new idea, but making it intimate and personal was clever (and probably cheaper).
Direction:  A bit of floundering around, like a teenage boy fumbling with a bra clasp.
Production Values:  I have no budget data, yet I'd wager it was well under a million.  Just has that feel.  Lots of exteriors.  And whether the film stock or via technical manipulation, there's a high contrast grittiness.  See this a lot in foreign horror.
Gore/FX:  Blood a'plenty, to be sure.  The gore, however, was pervasive and at times quite icky.  The CGI could have been better.
Scares:  There are, actually.  Don't see this a lot in zombie flicks.
Ending:  Closing credits aside, the final confrontation on the yacht is short and not terribly satisfying.
Verdict:  Should you see Battle of the Undead/Cannon Fodder?  There are worse ways to spend 93 minutes.  And it's always interesting to see how other countries and cultures do zombies.  It's not always awesome, but it's at least interesting.

Rating:  3 out of 5

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Horror Film Review

Unearthed (2007):  Good news!  We now know what happened to the Anasazi.  It seems that mysterious and ancient Native American tribe was bumped off by an Alien/Predator lovechild.  Sounds like a premise that would make for an exciting creature feature.  Ah, if only...

In the remote Four Corners region of the U.S., something awoke from a very long nap and is not only cranky but a bit peckish.  An unlikely series of events begins when a tanker truck clips it on the road, flips over, and effectively barricades the highway...which just happens to be the only route to civilization.  Also, and for reasons I can't quite work out, the accident cut power to everyone in the county.  Alcoholic sheriff Annie Flynn (Emmanuelle Vaugier), alcoholic because of some vague on-the-job trauma, investigates the accident and takes a piece of the critter to an amateur botanist who lives with her grandfather (Russell Means) and is a descendant of the Anasazi.  Four stranded travelers (fodder) have taken advantage of Grandpa's hospitality and unfortunately are in attendance with Sheriff Annie when the creature attacks.  Annie escapes with a few others, and she takes them to the camp of rogue archaeologist Kale (Luke Goss), a man who's slightly nuts but knows exactly what's going on and, apparently, how to kill it.  Anasazi pottery inscriptions detail the recipe of a potion of sorts.  He tries it.  Doesn't work.  The granddaughter figures out the missing ingredient is uranium.  No, really.  Then it's lots of running and fighting and dying until in the end, Annie squares off with the marauding ET and chooses a surprising yet effective course of action.

The filmmakers overly complicated things at nearly every turn.  Unimportant characters are given unnecessary backstories while important characters aren't given adequate ones.  The reason the creature wiped out the Anasazi is totally glossed over as is why bullets won't kill it but tiny amounts of uranium will.  Not the first time common sense is sacrificed for the sake of action.  And there are a number of...irritants.  The power is out, but when Annie opens her fridge door, the light comes on.  Annie's driving a truck while shooting a shotgun.  Possible, sure; however, her left hand is on the steering wheel, the shotgun in her right when we hear the pump shotgun getting pumped.  How?  In her position, it's simply not possible.  Actually, the only one-handed pumping of a shotgun that I can recall is Arnold in Terminator 2.  I'm the last person on earth to say anything disparaging about women, but Annie is no Arnie.

The Skinny

Acting:  Vaugier, Goss, and Means are pros and do all right.  The majority of supporting players, whom I lovingly refer to as fodder, do a bit less than all right.
Story:  Part Alien, part Predator, and part Tremors so not remotely unique and unfortunately, not remotely interesting.
Direction:  It could have used some.
Production Values:  Shot on location in Utah and one of After Dark's 8 Films to Die For, it looks ok.  That's not the problem.  No budget data, but I'm guessing less than a million.
Gore/FX:  The gross factor is shockingly high, so it does have that going for it.  The CGI is on par with SyFy Channel's original movies.  Yeah, pretty bad.
Scares:  There were a few.  Could have knocked me over with a feather.
Ending:  Again with the feather.  It didn't suck.
Verdict:  Should you see Unearthed?  Nah.  Go watch the Alien, Predator, and Tremors movies again.  Except for Alien 3.  That one was just plain stinky.

Rating:  2 out of 5


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Horror Film Review

The Battery (2012):  Odd little zombie flick that's part Walking Dead and part Clerks.  I know that sounds more than a little counter-intuitive, but I can't think of a better way to describe it.  While not as good as either, The Battery is still a tense, claustrophobic journey through zombie-infested New England that for reasons I can't quite sort out, holds your attention for the full 101 minutes.

Ben (Jeremy Gardner) and Mickey (Adam Cronheim), fellow semi-pro ball players who are more acquaintances than friends, survived a zombie siege and decide to stick together.  Ben's adapted to the present circumstances, taking on the role of protector and leader.  Mickey...well, Mickey has yet to kill even one zombie and mostly just listens to his CD player, content to leave the heavy lifting to Ben.  When Mickey overhears an errant CB conversation between a man and woman, he begins obsessing about the possibility of having a somewhat normal life...that and the woman herself.  Mickey's horny.

Despite several warnings to knock it off, Mickey keeps trying to communicate with her.  This, of course, leads to a confrontation in which Ben gets shot in the leg and their car keys tossed into a field.  As a result, the final act of the film is Ben and Mickey trapped in an immobile vehicle that's surrounded by scores of zombies.  After a couple of days, Mickey mans up and chooses to make a break for it to search for the keys.  Doesn't go very well.

The Battery is less horror and more character study, which by no means makes it any less interesting.  And it's one of the most realistic portrayals of post zombie apocalypse life I've ever seen.  Now, of course that doesn't mean we get to know the cause or get to see how Ben and Mickey survived the siege.  Weirdly, you won't care because of how well the filmmakers draw you into the present.  As interesting as it is, however, my only real complaint is the lack of action.  It's a tiny bit boring.

The Skinny

Acting:  About on par with the boys from Clerks.  Not awful but not exactly Oscar-worthy.
Story:  Not complicated.
Direction:  Really not complicated.
Production Values:  Made for the shocking sum of six grand, it has the best money/quality ratio I've ever seen.  Impressive.
Gore/FX:  Average amount of blood.  No CGI that I remember.
Scares:  One or two minor jumps.
Ending:  Not unexpected.
Verdict:  Should you see The Battery?  It's worth your while unless you need gratuitous carnage and ridiculous plot devices in your zombie flick.  If you do, just go watch Wyrmwood instead.

Rating:  3 out of 5

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Horror Film Review

Wyrmwood - Road of the Dead (2014):  It's settled, then.  Australia needs to make more zombie flicks.  This one is a  phenomenal hybrid of post-apocalyptic thriller and undead creeper, as if Mr. George A. Romero remade Mad Max. With its gore, humor, and pathos, Wyrmwood hits all the right notes and pushes all the right steampunky buttons.

A meteor shower of biblical proportions precipitates a mass infection that changes certain folks into flesh-eating ghouls.  Why?  No idea.  It could be the end of the world as portended in the book of Revelation, or it could be an extraterrestrial contagion.  Doesn't matter, really.  The focus of the film is on three people lucky (or unlucky) enough to be immune.

Benny (Leon Burchill) is a wise-cracking Aborigine with a sawed off shotgun.  Barry (Jay Gallagher) is a husband, father,  and nail gun-toting mechanic.  Brooke (Bianca Bradey) is Barry's ball-busting sister who ends up having a worse day than anyone.  Barry escapes the city with his wife and daughter but unfortunately is forced to dispatch them both.  Initially suicidal, he eventually decides to find his sister who, unfortunately, has been taken by a psychotic doctor determined to understand the illness by any and all sadistic means necessary.  Barry and Benny join up with Frank (Keith Agius) and subsequently learn all fuels (gasoline, kerosene, etc.) are no longer flammable but zombie blood and zombie breath is.  They construct a Mad Max-esque vehicle that runs on zombie breath and begin their journey to find Brooke.  Brooke, after many hours of experimentation, discovers she has developed the ability to telepathically control zombies.  As you may imagine, things don't end well for Dr. Nutjob.  Once they finally meet up, Barry, Brooke, and Benny square off against the military man who ordered the experimentation, the Captain (Luke McKenzie).  It's a hell of a thing, that final fight.

The telepathy angle is new and interesting.  So is the deal with the flammable breath and blood.  It doesn't make a lick of sense, but it's fodder for some pretty groovy scenes.  I think this is the first time where I wasn't annoyed with the lack of scientific explanations.  Just didn't care.  Why?  Because the filmmakers assaulted me with wild visuals at a pace that didn't allow for a whole lot of thinking.  (We eventually do find out immunity is based on blood type.)  I also very much enjoyed the dry, dark humor which is made even better with the Australian accents.  Example:  Trapped in the truck and surrounded by zombies, Frank decides to try to sleep and tells Barry, "If they break and and kill me while I'm asleep, wake us up, will you?"  My only real complaint is how they resolve (or don't resolve) Brooke's situation.  Weird and a bit awkward.

The Skinny

Acting:  There are no Hugh Jackmans or Mel Gibsons here, but they do all right.
Story:  Goofy and strange and a little bit wonderful.
Direction:  Frenetic camera work, almost spastic at times, keeps the action moving along.  You won't be bored.
Production Values:  There's a pervasive raw grittiness that really does remind one of the original Mad Max.  See the movie poster?  Like that.
Gore/FX:  They didn't skimp on the blood, that's for damn sure.  Zombie nerds won't be disappointed (I wasn't).  The CGI is utilized mostly for head shots, zombie breath, and fire and isn't horrible.
Scares:  One or two, which surprised me.  Don't normally see them in zombie flicks.
Ending:  Probably meant to be upbeat.  I found myself scratching my head because of Brooke.
Verdict:  Should you see Wyrmwood?  Abso-freaking-lutely.  It's a hell of a lot of fun from our friends Down Under.

Rating:  4 out of 5