Sunday, June 7, 2015

Horror Film Review

Asmodexia (2014):  Supernatural Spanish shocker (subtitled) is surprisingly short and certainly silly.  And no, it has nothing to do with Ass Mode.  I wish it did, not because I miss Craig Ferguson's Late Late Show (I do) but because there would have been fewer irritations and no outright anger.  While Ass Mode is a way of life, asmodexia is a made up word from the mind of the film's director (Marc Carrete).  What is it supposed to mean?  Hell if I know.  He doesn't explain, which is a clue as to what you're in for if you watch this contrived and manipulative exorcism tale.

Eloy (Lluis Marco) and his teenage granddaughter Alba (Claudia Pons) wander around the outskirts of Barcelona conducting exorcisms a few days before 12/21/2012 (the date of the dreaded and ultimately false Mayan Apocalypse).  According to Eloy, this is the date of the Resurrection and Alba is the key to that heralded event.  Via a series of maddeningly vague flashbacks, we learn:  Alba is the daughter of a possessed woman, Eloy was the leader of a hippie sect of true believers, and that two sisters (one now a cop and the other locked up in a loony bin) were members.  The cop follows the carnage left in the wake of Eloy and Alba's exorcisms and becomes increasingly nervous as 12/21/2012 approaches.  The loony finds that her asylum-mates are going more and more mad.  Possessions.  Turns out the asylum was build on top of a church where Alba is supposed to instigate the Resurrection.  Also turns out that everything you think is happening isn't really happening.  Confused?  Good.  Welcome to my world.

Time to spoil the shit out of this movie.  Think The Sixth Sense or The Usual Suspects...without either the quality or the charm.  As you may have guessed, the "possessed" folks Eloy battle are not controlled by demons but by heavenly beings sent to stop Eloy from opening the gates of hell.  Eloy's cult was Satanic.  Alba is both his granddaughter and daughter.  Oh, and she's also dead.  Sort of a zombie but not really.  The loony was the last line of defense...and so on and so forth.  Blah, blah bite me.  I don't mind rooting for the bad guy in horror movies if it's warranted (stupid kids doing stupid things at a cabin in the woods deserve what they get).  Learning that I've been tricked into rooting for Satan and his subjugation of mankind...I do mind.  You might say I deserved to be tricked because I couldn't figure out the twist or that the filmmakers did such an awesome job, I have no right to complain.  Um, nope and nope.  There was nothing to even hint that Eloy was anything but a Christian exorcising demons.  I felt played and robbed, almost bullied into the mindset dictated by the director.  An audience needs to be guided, not forced.  Because we will resist and, in the end, not like your movie very much.

The Skinny

Acting:  Marco as Eloy is all ham and cheese.  Pons as Alba is, well, lifeless.  The loony, Ona (Irene Montala) does the best.
Story:  The plot holes are legion.  Really, would God mount such a pathetic defense?  Before she's killed, Ona invokes Michael the Archangel.  He doesn't show.  Why not?  And what the hell does the Mayan calendar have to do with the resurrection of a fallen angel from Christian mythology?  I'll tell you...not a blessed thing.
Direction:  Choppy and disorienting.
Production Values:  I think they shot it on special film stock to make everything feel washed out.  Spain is a beautiful country, although you'd never know it watching this.  The budget was half a million euros.  Must have all gone to the actors.
Gore/FX:  The make-up for the possessed isn't bad.  No gore or CGI to speak of.
Scares:  If only.
Ending:  Bad guys win.
Verdict:  Should you see Asmodexia?  If you're a masochist or enjoy exercises in extreme frustration, then go for it.

Rating:  2 out of 5

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Horror Film Review

Zombeavers (2014):  I know, I know.  Just hear me out.  It's not what you think.  OK...it is what you think, but it's not as bad as you think.  With a nod to 70s exploitation and 80s schlock, Zombeavers threads the horror/comedy needle with subtle satire, outrageous sight gags, and what's gotta be sub-par acting by design.  And there's absolutely no damn good reason it should work.  It just does.

We start with Luke (John Mayer) and Joseph (Bill Burr) driving a truck loaded with poorly secured barrels of biohazardous waste (fluorescent green, of course).  They hit a deer which sends a barrel flying into a river where it floats downstream to a beaver dam.

Cut to the cliche:  Three girlfriends, bitchy Zoe (Cortney Palm), nerdy Mary (Rachel Melvin), and blond bombshell Jenn (Lexi Atkins) drive to a remote lakeside cabin to enjoy a boyfriend-free weekend together.  I'll state the obvious now because it's important later:  no cell phone service.

Anyway, they swim and tan (Zoe topless) and meet creepy local hunter Smyth (Rex Linn of CSI: Miami fame).  They also discover a beaver dam spattered with green goo that they ascertain is beaver pee (?).  Later, the boyfriends show up unannounced.  Jenn's mad at Sam (Hutch Dano) who cheated on her.  Mary's guy is the take-action stud Tommy (Jake Weary) and Zoe's is the annoying party douche Buck (Peter Gilroy).  Jenn finds a "rabid" beaver in the bathtub.  Tommy pulps it with a bat, bags it, and dumps it on the porch.  It's gone in the morning.  They shrug and go swimming.  Then the real fun begins.  Buck loses a foot, a dog is sacrificed, and the group barricades themselves in the cabin...although they soon realize Buck may need a hospital since Buck is bleeding to death.  Tommy, Zoe, and Buck make a run for it in Mary's car.  The beavers felled trees, blocking the road...and they also coincidentally chewed through the phone lines.  Smyth to the rescue!  Sort of.  We soon learn the effect of a zombie beaver bite.  Yes, humans transform into zombie beavers.  And wouldn't you know it, in addition to being experts at chewing through wood, beavers are also fabulous tunnelers.  In the end, a few of the survivors make a break for it in Smyth's truck.  Let's just say the result probably isn't what they hoped for.

The undead beavers are animatronic puppets instead of CGI, thank God.  Yes it's goofy but with this movie, that's the point.  Many scenes are a riotous hoot.  Like when the beavers are popping up through the floor and Sam and Mary, using a bat and hammer, are forced to play Whack-A-Mole.  And then there's the bit where a beaverized Jenn uses her newly grown buck teeth to gnaw off Sam's, uh, manhood.  Guys may want to avert their gaze at this point.  Luke and Joseph really bring the funny with their off the wall banter in the truck.  I wish they'd had more screen time.  And an understated Linn as Smyth is simply hilarious.  However, the best part comes at the very end in the form of a song.  It sounds like Sinatra (it's not) and he sings the Zombeavers theme.  Oh, my dear Lord, it's good.

Complaints are few.  While a relatively short film, it's a slow starter.  I think Zoe's boobs were used to keep the viewer interested until the blood-letting began.  I'm no expert, but they seem to be pretty nice boobs.  In fairness, we are also treated to smartphone pics of a penis.  Not a very nice penis.  I would normally wholeheartedly bitch about plot holes and the moronic behavior of the characters (e.g. how in hell does Zoe run into the only tree in a huge yard?), yet in this case, it's expected.

The Skinny

Acting:  You'd have to ask them, but I'd wager the players adjusted their performances to fit the material.  In other words, good actors acting like bad actors.  If true, it's genius.
Story:  Not something you see every day.
Direction:  Sluggish at the outset.  I'm not convinced the time spent establishing the characters and exploring Sam's infidelity was time well spent.  Could have used more consistent beaver carnage.
Production Values:  Surprisingly beautiful cinematography during the opening of a film that while obviously low budget, certainly looks nothing like a low budget film.
Gore/FX:  Plenty of blood yet not as gory as I anticipated.  Except for when Sam gets his junk mauled.  Gross.  The only CGI is Buck's footless leg.
Scares:  Oh, maybe a jump scare or two.  Frightening the audience was not a priority.
Ending:  Let's just say it all comes full circle.  After the film is over, we're treated to a short gag reel followed by the groovy theme song not sung by Frank Sinatra.
Verdict:  Should you watch Zombeavers?  You should, yes.  I need to mention that this film was suggested to me by my friend Scott, the man responsible for my love of horror (he forced me to watch Romero's Night of the Living Dead in college).  Oddly, he has yet to watch it himself.  So I'm dedicating this review to you, Scott.  It's got everything you love:  boobs, blood, and beavers.  See it, already.

Rating:  4 out of 5

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