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.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Horror Film Review

Dead Snow 2 - Red vs Dead (2014):  Finally, after five long years, the sequel is here.  The original is a low-budget, Norwegian masterpiece of zombie mayhem that joined the ranks of heavy-hitters like Evil Dead and Night of the Living Dead.  Given such a tough act to follow, how does the sequel measure up?  Well, let's just say it's bigger, brasher, and most definitely bloodier.  But is it better?

We pick up the action where the first movie left off.  Martin (Vegar Hoel) just sawed his own arm off with a chainsaw, accidentally killed his girlfriend Hanna (Charlotte Frogner), and escaped from the clutches of a horde of Nazi zombies that killed the rest of his friends.  OK...so "escape" may not be technically correct since the undead led by Herzog (Orjan Gamst) attack before Martin can get his SUV started.  Herzong loses an arm during the scuffle and Martin crashes after shaking the Nazi commander.  In hospital, the police think Martin murdered his friends.  Worse, the doctors reattached what they thought was his severed arm.  The arm has a mind of its own and helps Martin flee...after killing a rather pleasant 12 year-old boy who'd been in touch with a group in America known as the Zombie Squad.  This "Squad" consists of three nerds who still live with their parents.  They are leader Daniel (Martin Starr), Monica (Jocelyn DeBoer), and Blake (Ingrid Haas) and after getting the full story from Martin, fly to Norway to kick some zombie butt.

Martin discovers that Herzog's arm has the power to resurrect the dead, and these reanimated corpses are loyal him (Martin).  Daniel and Martin figure out that 70 years ago, Hitler gave Herzog a mission to wipe out a small Norwegian town and undead Herzog's goal is to complete his mission.  The Nazis raid a WWII museum and get their hands on a tank and march toward said town.  In order to stop them, Daniel convinces Martin to use his arm power to reanimate a troop of Russian soldiers Herzog executed (hence the Red vs. Dead).  The final battle takes place in the conveniently evacuated town.

The tongue in cheek humor is reminiscent of Evil Dead 2 and even Army of Darkness to a degree.  At one point, Daniel tells Martin, "I've seen a thousand zombie movies but never anything like this.  You've created a whole new genre."  Like that.  Plot holes abound but are offset by scenes like when the Nazis siphon fuel for the tank by using the intestines of a still-living victim.  Creatively speaking, though, individual death shots and the final battle in general are surprisingly dull.  Also surprising were the number of gag-inducing scenes involving vomit.  Just...gross.  Worse yet is Martin's decision to visit the grave of his dead girlfriend.  Remember his new power?  Yes.  You sit there thinking, "Oh, he won't do that.  Will he?"  Again...gross.  By the way, the first film was in Norwegian with English subtitles.  This time, everyone speaks English.  I'm not sure why, really.  At least it's not dubbed.

I should mention this film broke the rules.  They killed kids.  First the 12 year-old, then a group of three younger boys playing in a sandbox were run over by the tank which then lobbed a mortar at two baby carriages.  Oddly, this didn't bother me much.  It's that kind of movie.  So over the top that you automatically forgive their trespasses, whether they be narrative goofs or child murdering.  Or perhaps the filmmakers wanted to reinforce what we all already know:  Nazis, dead or alive, aren't very nice people.

The Skinny

Acting:  Hoel plays Marin in much the same way Campbell played Ash; hapless, confused, but ultimately heroic.  Starr channels his inner Zachary Levi (Chuck) to such an extent that for a few seconds, I thought it actually was Levi.  DeBoer and Haas could stand to spend some time at the Actor's Studio but aren't awful.
Story:  Unique?  Absolutely.  The only beef I have is the failure to explain how Herzog became cursed and by whom.  The hint of supernatural influence is too much of a tease.  Maybe we'll get a better explanation in the next film.
Direction:  It felt awkward.  Nothing detrimental, just...cumbersome.  Could be an editing issue.
Production Values:  I've said it before and I'll say it again - Norway is a beautiful country.  They spent nearly six times as much on this sequel as they did on the first film, and if I'm honest, it doesn't show.  Maybe Hoel wanted more money or maybe it was for the tank.  At any rate, it looks fine.
Gore/FX:  Oh, deary me.  There is gore, yes.  And blood by the truckload.  In other words, groovy.
Scares:  Scares were not on the menu this time around.
Ending:  Let's see...Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart" plays while Martin and undead girlfriend Hanna reenact Jack and Rose's steamy backseat scene from Titanic.  In other words, all kinds of wrong.  There's another ending after the credits roll that leads one to believe another film is inevitable.
Verdict:  Should you see Dead Snow 2 - Red vs. Dead?  Of course.  It's gonzo zombie craziness cranked to eleven.  What's not to like?

Rating:  4 out of 5