Movie Review: Final Girl (2015)

Final GirlAbigail Breslin portrays a young would be assassin trained from childhood by her mentor (Wes Bentley), who is assigned the task of killing a bunch of tuxedo wearing high school sadists who every night hunt young blond women for sport. This is her first assignment where she will be flying solo as they say and she must use were wits to lure in and single handedly defeat each boy. Final Girl was directed by renowned celebrity photographer Tyler Shields, who wanted to make a thriller without any CGI and instead uses evocative lighting and atmosphere to bring the surreal world to life. Visually the forest scenes look great and there are some bizarre instances where characters imagine things they think are in the forest to torment that lend gravitas to the film. The problem here is while Shields creates a surreal world of barren training grounds, nostalgic diners, and spooky moonlit woods, the story suffers from a lack of meaningful momentum. We know very little to practically nothing about Breslin’s or Bentley’s characters and we know even less about the boys other than they pick up and target young blonds out of what appears to be the same diner over and over again while wearing tuxedos and then take them into a clearing where they give the girl a head start while the boys, who one must keep in mind are still wearing immaculate tuxedos follow each with their weapon of choice.

One boys uses a bat, another carries an axe, one carries a gun while the other seems to prefer using his bear hands to strangle the women. How no one would have caught these for teenage murderers by now is never explained. They certainly stick out like soar thumbs. Instead they are basically singled out to be hunted by Beslin’s character as her graduation assignment. Thus there is really not much to like or care about here because the film’s title says it all. Last Girl. Life she fails then she will be another victim. However since we know little about her and her trainer, we can root for her to beat the boys, but the film puts the odds in her favor early on so the killers really never have a chance and the viewer always know the girl will be triumphant. What would have been more interesting is to have her capture the boys and bring them to justice instead of just killing them one by one with the help of psychedelics the killers have no idea they have ingested.

So the boys hallucinate and Breslin’s character takes them out one by one and that is basically it. No revelation or payoff. Just a straight flat line with a slither of a story and flat characters. Final Girl is nothing but style over substance with the exception of Abigail Breslin’s performance. She can look scared and make it believable without coming off like a scream queen. Bentley just sleep walks his way through the film and his talent seems wasted.

Final Girl opened both theatrically and on Video On Demand on August 14, 2015.

Check out the Final Girl trailer:

Movie Review: Hocus Pocus (1993)

hocus-pocusDisney Studios released its family-friendly film “Hocus Pocus” on 16 July, 1993 to lack-luster reviews. Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy portrayed the Sanderson Sisters, witches who brewed potions to suck the youth from the children of Salem, Massachusetts. The town folk discovered their nefarious plans and hanged them, but not before the sisters killed one girl, Emily Binx, transformed her brother Thackery Binx into an immortal black cat, and unleashed a curse on the people of the town.

Their vow to return after 300 years required a virgin lighting a black flame candle on the night of All Hallow’s Eve. Enter Max Dennison (Omri Katz), unhappy transplant from Los Angeles. He and his sister, Dani (Thora Birch) embark on a Halloween adventure with Max lighting the candle to frighten and impress Alysson (Vinessa Shaw) The witches returned with a desire to punish Salem by stealing their children’s life essences, starting with Dani Dennison.

Joining in the fun, Gary and Penny Marshall entertain the witches as they learn to adapt to the changes of the twentieth century. Thieving trick or Treaters confuse Mary Sanderson’s caninie-like ability to sniff out children. A bus driver cavorts with the “lovely ladies,” promising them children, but maybe not on the first attempt. The eldest and smartest Sanderson sister, Winnie, raises her ex-lover Billy Butcherson (Doug Jones) from hallowed ground to aid their pursuit of the kids.

hocus-pocus-1993-01-gThe inspiration for the movie arose when producer David Kirscner told the story to his children. Encouraged by the kids’enthusiasm,, he published the tale in “Muppets Magazine” before transforming it into a film. Kenny Ortega directed the campy fun. Mark Shaiman arranged Bette Midler’s “I Put a Spell on You” which set the village adults to dancing. James Horner’s “Sarah’s Theme” (also known as “Come Little Children”) finds a haunting lyricism when sung by Sarah Jessica Parker. John Debney produced the film score.

The movie is set in beautiful Salem, Massachusetts and filmed there, in California, and in Marblehead, Massachusetts. To create the talking black cat Thackery Binx, film makers used dozens of real cats and audio animatronics. September, 1994 saw initial VHS USA release Since then, the film has DVD and Blue Ray versions available. The film hit foreign markets in October, 1994 under the name “Abracadabra.”

Despite negative reviews from critics, this 96 minute family-friendly movie was nominated for several Saturn awards in 1994, including best effects, best film-fantasy, best actress (Bette Midler), best supporting actress (Kathy Najiminy), and winning Best Costumes. At the Young Artist Awards, Thora Birch won best youth actress, with the rest of the young cast garnering nominations. With rebroadcasting by Disney and ABC, particularly their “Days of Halloween” specials, the film has obtained a cult status. In July, 2014, rumors circulated of a sequel.

Movie Review: Harbinger Down (2015)

harbinger-down-posterNearly thirty years ago a ship crashed somewhere in the arctic. Now the crew of the a crab fishing ship Harbinger has discovered the remains without realizing the deadly organism that is aboard. Harbinger Down is a science fiction horror film directed by Alec Gillis as an homage to classics of the cinematic sub genre such as Alien and John Carpenter’s The Thing. The film also calls to mind some lesser films in the sub genre like Leviathan and Virus. In 2012 Oscar winning Character FX studio Amalgamated Dynamics, Inc., posted a video of their animatronic effects that were cut from the film The Thing 2011. Their incredible work had been replaced with CGI. ADI co-owner and writer/director of Harbinger Down took note of the fan outrage. Through Kickstarter the film became the highest publicly funded science fiction and horror picture in the history of Kickstarter. The film as cast well with Lance Henriksen, leading the ensemble, which also includes Camille Balasamo, Matt Winston, Reid Collums, Milla Bjorn, Winston James Francis, Mike Esteem, Giovannie Samuels and Edwin H. Bravo. Tom Woodruff Jr. serves as a Producer.

While the cast tries their best to engage the viewer, the majority are little more than flat “Red Shirts” and the monster is a disappointment because in trying to make a film that celebrates practical effects, what they deliver is a largely generic looking mess and forget that monsters don’t have to be beautiful, but in addition to being scary, they should look cool and spark the audience’s imagination such as the Yautja in Predator, the Xenkmorph in the Alien franchise and chameleon monstrosity of John Carpenter’s The Thing. The creature isn’t really scary and since the characters are flat, one doesn’t feel heavily invested in them aside from the faces one recognizes, but when one thinks back to the characters in the films this motion picture pays homage too, we only saw glimpses of the monster and each glimpse made the audience want to see more until the final terrifying reveal. The characters in the films even if they were not always three dimensional, they had a distinct quality to them and each character had a certain look that added personality and thus even if we don’t know who it is that is being devoured, we at least can remember who they were by face and it did not matter if the cast had one or two recognizable stars and the rest were largely unknowns.

HD2The monster should have been interesting. The characters should have been more distinctive and the story should have been scary. Considering Amalgamated Dynamics is one of the best practical effects producers in the world, I expect a lot better than what was presented here. Writing a story and developing distinctive characters does not cost anything except time. So despite the best intentions, I am afraid what should have been a showcase for practical effects relevancy in modern cinema ends up being a squandered opportunity that should have been thought out more.

Harbinger Down opens in theaters and VOD on Friday, August 7, 2015 and will be followed with a DVD release on September 1, 2015.

Check out the trailer!

Movie Review: The Drownsman (2015)

Drownsman-posterAfter a year of torment following a trauma wherein a young woman almost drowned, her friends decide to do a seance with the hope the terrifying visions she is suffering from will cease. Unfortunately the supernatural events only intensify as the vision begins to seize them one by one never to return. The Drownsman combines modern supernatural horror with a traditional 1980s horror flair that is quite entertaining.

On Blu-Ray Disc, The Drownsman is presented in a widescreen (2.35:1) aspect ratio with full and clear 1080p full HD picture quality.  A vibrant and effective English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround Soundtrack is provided along with English Subtitles for the Deaf and Hearing Impaired and Spanish Language Subtitles encoded as options. There are no extra value features directly related to this film on Blu-Ray Disc.

The Drownsman was released at retailers on and offline on Blu-Ray Disc on March 12, 2015 courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment.

Movie Review: L.A. Slasher (2015)

LA-Slasher
L. A. SLASHER is directed, written and produced by Martin Owen. Producers are Jeffrey Wright, Daniel Sollinger, and co-producer Sean Decker. Director of Photography is Chase Bowman. Starring Mischa Barton (“The O.C.”), Drake Bell (“Drake & Josh”), Brooke Hogan (“Hogan Knows Best”), Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy), Abigail Wright (“Anger Management”), Tori Black (“Ray Donovan”), Frank Collison (“Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman”), Marisa Lauren (Superhero Movie), Danny Trejo (Machete) and Andy Dick (“The Andy Dick Show”).
SYNOPSIS: A biting, social satire of reality TV and the glorification of those who are “famous for being famous,” L.A. SLASHER takes aim at the current state of the entertainment industry, where it is acceptable (and even admirable) to gain influence and wealth without merit or talent – but instead through shameful behavior, and the notoriety that comes from it. Driven to rage over the tawdry excess of reality television, a self-appointed cultural crusader kidnaps several famous nobodies to make his point – but his crimes only generate more tabloid frenzy.

MY THOUGHTS: Having had my damn fill of the Kardashians, Honey Boo-Boo and the Duck Dynasty crew, this was a refreshing and timely horror/comedy hybrid that I recommend. The direction and cinematography is fresh and the cast really skirts the line between reality and unreality. L.A. Slasher debuted in a limited theatrical release on June 26th. For more info: http://laslashermovie.com/

 

Check out the trailer:

Classic Horror Movie Review: The Others (2001)

The Others old ladyIn 2001, Alejandro Amenabar wrote, directed, and scored a dreamy, atmospheric film called “The Others.” The story followed Grace Stewart, a beleaguered mother of two children afflicted with extreme photosensitivity. With her husband away at war, Grace welcomed three mysterious servants. Thereafter, strange things make her believe the family is not alone in their secluded English country home.

Her head-strong daughter, Anne, drew pictures of four people she claims to have met within their home. Catholic Grace punished her daughter for lying, yet strange happenings distress everyone. Heavy curtains meant to block out the sun and thus protect the children from the blistering effects of the sun were opened, despite such precautions as locking doors to prevent access to rooms. A piano that is not to be played disturbed migraine-seized Grace.

The movie presented the difficult lesson that the living and the dead needed to find a way to exist together.

The Others familyThe superb acting earned Nicole Kidman, who portrayed Grace, and six-year-old Alakine Mann, the actress portraying Anna, acclaim. Fionnula Flanagan, the housekeeper, was nominated for a “best supporting actor” Saturn award. The film won 8 Goya Awards, including best film and best director. It was nominated for 6 Saturn Awards, a Golden Globe, and a BAFTA. Nicole Kidman earned the title “Actress of the Year” from the London Film Critics.

This excellent ghost story was spoofed in “Scary Movie 3” and “The Simpson’s 25th” Halloween special. “Hum Kaun Hai” was a Hindi remake of the tale.

Movie Review: Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Poster-Art-bride-of-frankensteinWarning:  Here there be spoilers!

 

I recently wrote an article presenting man’s desire for love and companionship as to the possible reason behind The Bride of Frankenstein being favored over its predecessor.  However, in this review, let’s not dig so deep.  Another valid argument could be that the monster himself gets much more screen time—starting nearly right away.  We get to see him interact, kill, learn, smoke, drink and then be rejected by his arguably hot would-be female companion.

 

The movie begins with bride actress, Elsa Lanchester, playing the role of Mary Shelley, as she tells her friends that the Frankenstein story she had penned didn’t end where they thought it did.  This segues into the meat of the film.

In the audience’s eyes, the Frankenstein monster from the first film was nothing more than an unfortunate and misunderstood man-made creature.  Never meaning anyone real harm.  However, this movie temporarily drops the innocent act, as the monster starts right away with a murderous rampage and outright kills the first two people he sees, as he pulls himself from the wreckage that buried him at the end of the first film.  We momentarily drop that sympathy we once had for the monster only to later return to those old empathetic feelings, as he struggles to accept himself and find companionship in someone…anyone!

Meanwhile Dr. Frankenstein is coerced, though unwillingly, by his old mentor, Dr. Septimus Pretorius, into continuing the experiments, in particular providing a mate for the monster.

bride-of-frankensteinWhile Frankenstein’s monster was nothing but a shambling potpourri of dead body parts in the first film, here he begins to learn bits of the English language as well as lessons on the local culture when he stumbles across an old blind man.  Because the man is unable to view the monster’s hideous appearance, he invites the monster in and they make a party of it—complete with smoking and drinking.  Now normally I would have chalked up the hand-rolled smoke as tobacco, but it seemed it held a wacky component when after a few puffs the monster goes from excited to calm in a second’s time, entering a trance-like state as a result.  Later on, Dr. Pretorius would use alcohol as a lure, coaxing the monster out of the lab using a bottle of whiskey like a carrot on a stick.  The poor guy is “alive” for only a few days and they’re already corrupting him.

It isn’t until the end of the fairly short film that we get to see what the monster would hope would be his companion, a friend—the bride.  However, upon first sight of the monster, his female counterpart shrieks in terror like everyone else he has run across.  While now dealing with the rejection of the one thing he thought would accept his puzzle-piece of a body, he decides to end it all by throwing a switch within the lab that would blow it up.  Before he sheds a tear and pulls the said switch, the monster pleads with his creator and the creator’s new wife to “Go!  You live!” and declares “We belong dead,” referring to himself, the undead bride, and Dr. Pretorius.

Every fan of the genre should see the classics, but I’m with most when I deem The Bride of Frankenstein superior over the original Frankenstein.  I’m not sure I’ve ever run into anyone who has not chosen this film over the original.  Again, my guess is more screen time from the monster.  Any chance we get to see Jack Pierce’s amazing makeup job is a real treat.

Watch the trailer:

Movie Review: All I Need (2014)

all-i-need-poster

All I Need Director: Dylan K. Narang Writers: Dylan K. Narang, Dylan K. Narang Stars: Rachel Melvin, Caitlin Stasey, Jonathan Erickson Eisley. Foggy Bottom Pictures

Start with a closeup of a young woman in distress, tied up in a strange room wearing only her underwear, coming back to consciousness. Every corner of the room is a veritable slasher’s buffet, both beds, the closet, the shelves, everything, is covered in dead or unconscious women in their underwear. Heavy footsteps announce the arrival of the psycho-du-jour, who drags one of the other girls out of the room to her inevitable doom. The soon-to-be-final-girl must lie on the floor, hands and feet bound, mouth gagged, as she listens to the other girl being tortured and killed in the next room.Cut to the streets outside to follow the story of a vagrant drifter, new to Los Angeles, as his life finishes swirling down the drain. He receives an offer from a mysterious unseen man to begin doing odd jobs around town to make money. Bounce between both stories. A man growing desperate for cash, a woman desperate to save her own life. Tension is the strongest point of ALL I NEED. The story is wanting.

Cut to the streets outside to follow the story of a vagrant drifter, new to Los Angeles, as his life finishes swirling down the drain. He receives an offer from a mysterious unseen man to begin doing odd jobs around town to make money. Bounce between both stories. A man growing desperate for cash, a woman desperate to save her own life.

Tension is the strongest point of ALL I NEED. The story is wanting.
It’s not hard to see where everything is headed, so I hesitate to call this a spoiler alert, but y’know…there’s your warning. The moment the drifter takes his first job, I knew that ALL I NEED would be the story of how he became a psychotic killer. The movie doesn’t go out of the way to disguise this twist. The third act takes a strange turn when the killer actually gets his mask-and-pitchfork job offer from the deranged billionaire boss behind the mysterious unseen man. Said billionaire’s request is made during a rambling, semi-coherent speech, a pitch that isn’t nearly convincing enough to make a man kidnap, torture, and kill young women.

What director Dylan Narang does, he does well. This movie makes effective use of limited viewpoint, music, and sound to ramp up tension quickly from scene-to-scene. The performances from the major characters are all very solid. Unfortunately, they aren’t given much story to work with. The only reason I know the final girl’s name is Chloe is through the magic of IMDB. I know she can survive while wearing only underwear, and…that’s about it. She is otherwise a nameless victim, the trembling mouse in a nature film about a hungry python. We never learn who she is, who she was, how she came to be in the murder room. It’s hard to feel deep sympathy and fear for her beyond hoping she escapes from the killer. She feels less like a true scream queen and more like the main character in a threadbare survival horror game.

Instead, we learn more about Andrew, the drifter. Giving a slasher some backstory and motivation is a great idea. We might be able to humanize and empathize with him, or at least understand what’s feeding his fire, but the movie doesn’t dig too deeply into those details. The leap of faith we have to take to believe he becomes the monster in the locked room is too farfetched. His backstory isn’t established enough to show that he’s desperate enough to kill innocent people, nor focused enough to make us believe him capable of doing the heinous things he does.

Both killer and victim spend a bulk of the second act making supremely dunderheaded choices: Why didn’t he just keep pitchforking when he had her cornered? Why didn’t she kick the door when his fingers were poking through? I was too busy thinking Why? Why? Why? (and not in that fun, bas-movie way) instead of Look out behind you!

There are frustrating moments when Chloe needlessly delays her own escape due to deer-in-the-headlights syndrome, or walks by five things she could use as weapons to defend herself. If Chloe had a backstory, we might understand or forgive her some of these choices. At the end, the movie becomes less about a struggle for survival and more about a most inconvenient day for killer and victim.

Horror films should be getting smarter and more intricate. We don’t need to see jiggly damsels in distress anymore. We love seeing cunning, tough, determined women slay the dragons of their deepest fears. Chloe definitely has the toughness, but aside from seeing copious amounts of her blood onscreen, we never get to see what’s inside that makes her tick. It’s a shame. With a solid story, this could have been a modern horror classic. That said, everyone involved in this movie did the best with what they had, and they will most likely move on to some really great projects in the future. ALL I NEED left me needing more.

Movie Review: We Are Still Here (2015)

We-Are-Still-Here-posterBarbara Crampton and Andrew Sensenig star as parents who move into an old New England house in a seemingly quaint little town following the untimely death of their college age son. Following some eerie happenings and accidents around the home, the parents call upon two New Age friends of theirs whose son attended the same college as their’s. Together they discover that not only is there a secret being kept in the town, but their home may be built upon a gateway to a malevolence far more terrifying than whatever else may exist there.
we are still here still 1We Are Still Here is an above average spooky story that delivers on creating a true sense of gloom and doom while delivering well cast performances from talent that also includes Lisa Marie, Larry Fessenden, and Monte Markham. There are some legitimate chills and great atmosphere created in part from the film’s score and songs chosen for the soundtrack. The makeup and gore effects appear spot on. The film at times may ask the viewer to suspend their disbelief a bit more than they may be inclined it only because the story uses classic elements that have become self referential by default because horror filmmakers in the past have been deconstructing themselves for the last twenty years. This is not a film that deconstructs the genre, but horror film fans may find certain elements to be predictable though for the most part the film is very fresh and entertaining and it moves at a good pace too. The story, while short, also has enough mystery to it that first time Director Ted Geoghegan knows what should .
be left over to one’s imagination while keeping  the viewer focused and entertained throughout.
We Are Still Here will premiere theatrically and on VOD on June 5, 2015 courtesy of Dark Sky Films.

Movie Review: Let The Right One In (2008)

Let the Right One In (2008, Sweden) Director:  Tomas Alfredson Writer:  John Ajvide Lindqvist (screenplay, novel) Starring:  Kare Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson, Per Ragnar, Henrik Dahl

ltroi 1Based on the 2004 novel Lat Den Ratte Komma In by Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist, who also wrote the screenplay, Let the Right One In is an indie foreign film beautifully shot and told.  I’ve only seen two or three dozen foreign films in my time, but I’ve never been let down once by any of them.  Let the Right One In ranks up there with the best I’ve seen.  And while there are only a small handful of vampire films I thoroughly enjoy:  Near Dark, 30 Days of Night, and Salem’s Lot being three of those, you can add Let the Right One In to that list.

The film tells the story of Oskar, a timid bullied preteen, and his relationship with new neighbor, Eli—a girl who shares his age and who is slowly revealed to be a vampire; something we figure out well before Oskar does.  The somber winter tone of the film is perfect for setting up the lonely existence that each of the characters face on a daily basis.  Eli’s situation is unique, as she relies on a co-conspirator to help supply blood; though completely inadequate at doing his part, she ends up taking things into her own hands.  Because of the compassion she has for Oskar, recognizing commonalities they share, we root for her and any help she can provide her new friend, as he too unwaveringly accepts her for who she is.

Though there are some frighteningly creepy scenes throughout, the film is really about the relationship between the two children and how they act as each other’s savior in a world where they feel helplessly alone.

ltroi 2When a movie this subtle brings the horror, the tiniest thing can be a smack in the face that’ll leave you stunned for days.  With the use of clever cinematography, haunting imagery will stick with you for weeks.  I’m not talking jump scares with spooky faces here.  This movie is much more intelligent than that.  The bleak tone of the film helps add to the storytelling and mysteriousness of what lies next.  This is not a predictable story.  Foreign films are like that.  They provide something original for us in the states.  Case in point, both The Grudge and The Ring, American remakes of Japanese horror, utilize a very common ghostly image in the films:  The onryo—a young girl with long black hair dangling in her face.  For us it was new and frightening at the time, but for the Japanese it’s so last summer.  Let the Right One In feels fresh.  And as beautifully told as it is, I would gather it’s just as genuine in Sweden.

I’ve not read the book this film is based on, nor have I seen the American remake so I can make no comparisons.  I can only state that I now understand why I’ve seen the Swedish original mentioned in numerous places.  This is an excellent piece of cinema that should be appreciated by any fan of the genre and even those who hate the vampire subgenre.

 

Let The Right One In trailer: