Movie Review: The Human Centipede 3: Final Sequence (2015)

hc3 posterFilmmaker Tom Six completes his own three segment cinematic centipede exactly as he intended and with no compromises artistically. While some may regard his trilogy as torture or splatter porn, I would argue that much like Tobe Hooper’s original classic, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a lot of what you think you saw in the original was what you, the viewer projected onto the film itself and not necessary what occurs on the screen. With each installment following the original, Mr. Six has taken an entirely different approach to dramatizing his vision from the at times sterile, but almost dreamlike like setting in the original that suited the unimaginable inhumanity that befalls the characters as contrasted to the orderly world of the mad Doctor (Dieter Laser), who like all mad scientists takes great pleasure and subsequent loathing to his unprecedented creation. Is it not a sad fact that there is a part to the human condition where sometimes we may love something just as much as we may come to hate it or grow to hate what we love? I would wager that a great deal of the divorces that occur every year began as relationships where the participants truly were in love with each other. As for loving what one hates, turn on any popular successful dramatic TV show and very often in the more operatic kind, viewers will gravitate toward the villain almost as much if not more than the hero because a well written villain is in someways more interesting than a hero. This can be seen in many television programs, movies and works of classic literature.

hc3 stillThis brings us to the the second installment and here is where Tom Six begins to subtly break the fourth wall by continuing his story right at the moment where the previous film concluded and through the use of grainy, yet stark black and white photography that is evocative of the classic Germain expressionist style of filmmaking, we are brought into the world of his new protagonist and antihero of sorts, Martin (Lawrence R. Harvey), who is our window into the world outside of the world of the first film where Martin’s obsession with the original film prompts him to take control of his life. Just not the way most of us would because Martin is a depraved victim and like any victim of severe abuse over a life time from many people who should be a part of his support group, Martin tortures the seemingly innocent and puts people into his own centipede nearly indiscriminately. It was with the inclusion Ashlyn Yennie, one of the protagonists from the first film, playing a characterized version of herself, who thinks she is going to audition for Quentin Tarantino, that Six takes a step beyond meta fiction and self referencing pop culture. It was here that I personally knew this was as much a parody of the first film and I then began to truly see Tom Six as more than a filmmaker. He is an artist.

HC3The question now is what would Six do for his encore. Metaphorically and literally Tom Six completes his cinematic centipede by fulfilling a promise he made going back to the first film. For like the second, The Human Centipede 3: Final Sequence Six begins at the end of the second film and brings us into a different exaggerated and satirical world that is sun drenched and natural as Mr. Six brings back Dieter Laser and Lawrence R. Harvey along with alumni from the first two films all as different characters that include Akihiro Kitamura, Bill Hutchens, and Peter Blankenstein. Tom Six even joins the cast playing himself as what started out as a horror film completely becomes both a very dark and extreme comedy that parodies the entire trilogy without ever falling into slapstick. Joining the cast for this final installment are Eric Roberts, Bree Olsen, Tommy “Tiny” Lister, Robert LaSardo, Clayton Rohner and Hamzah Saman. In a role that is even more over the top that Dennis Hopper’s role in the David Lynch film, Blue Velvet, Dieter Laser plays an insane Prison Warden, who through coaxing from his Accountant (Lawrence R. Harvey), is convinced that to save their jobs they must create a five hundred prisoner long human centipede that would not only be cheaper to house and easier to imprison, but who could stand as such a horrible example of punishment that it could be the ultimate criminal deterrent.

hc3 still 2Nothing and nearly no one is too sacred to satirize here whether it is Tom Six making fun of himself, the veteran actors from the previous films calling subtle cues that will remind fans of the previous installments and together with the new cast for this final segment. They all genuinely look like they are in on the joke, but never does it get too far that we see any tongue in cheek or winking at the camera type of gags. The intensity of the gore remains consistent with the previous film, but oddly enough the most cringing moment is not gory at all, but it is graphic. To reveal it I feel would be giving away a big spoiler and would be unfair to everyone. All I can say is Tom Six lays it all out for us and puts it in our face in what could be the ultimate way of breaking the fourth wall in the film series short of having the characters address the audience directly. Fans of Dieter Laser should definitely check out this film because I think his performance is absolutely masterful. Remaining true to his vision, Tom Six deserved praise for creating a trilogy that is truly a work of art on every level with no compromises. I think these films will be studied by student filmmakers the way films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Todd Browning’s Freaks, and the works of Lars Von Trier are studied and celebrated in academia and on home video. This is more than a cult film. Always remember that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and art does not have to be pretty. The Human Centipede 3: Final Sequence will debut in select theaters and on demand courtesy of IFC Films on Friday, May 22, 2015.

Movie Review: Maggie (2015)

Maggie PosterArnold Schwarzenegger stars along side Abigail Breslin, who plays his daughter and Joely Richardson, who plays his second wife in the drama Maggie. While Maggie has the typical elements that appear in zombie horror films like slow moving zombies that eat human flesh, a person going into a convenience store alone when one knows anytime characters split up in horror films, usually something bad is going to happen. It also has apocalyptic scenes of cities smoldering in the horizon and there is even a reference to I guess one could say might be “prayer” even though the word God is not used. Instead it is a variation on the “no one is listening” line used in some zombie films like John Leguizamo’s quip in George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead, where his character says, “God left the phone off the hook.” No one ever says the word “zombie” either, which I think would have been refreshing to hear for a change in a zombie film, especially a drama like this. Instead they are called the “infected,” which seems kind of lame since the term is used already in better films and television, hence my reason for thinking they should drop the pretentiousness and just call it what it is, a zombie.

There is a scene of men wearing gas masks and armed with automatic weapons breaking through a door as Martial Law has been declared due to the global pandemic and there are people who try to shelter the infected despite the danger because they hope for a touch of humanity to still be within their loved ones and there is lots and lots of brooding and the typical radio broadcasts revealing tidbits about what is going on in the world beyond the scope of our core characters.

Yet despite all these common traits, Maggie is really a tragic drama about loss that could have made a great one shot set of webisodes for The Walking Dead even though The Walking Dead has covered similar territory with greater depth and a lot more action and gore than anything you will see here.Yet as long as you know what you are getting into, I think Maggie is an okay film though make no mistake, this is a bleak story. Schwarzenegger’s character of a father who wants to savor every last moment with his doomed daughter even after it seems everyone has deserted him has moments that are genuinely emotional even though I think Abigail Breslin carried Schwarzenegger a bit and made him look good, but Arnold is a father and so he can in so much of his range will let him, show a gentler side most people have never seen before because he is a father in real life. It is a good move on his part and I hope he continues to explore different kinds of roles outside of his action pictures and the comedy collaborations he did with Ivan Reitman.

At times the film is a bit slow and there are a few elements that could have been more interesting if they were hinted at instead of just building something up that ultimately feels anticlimactic at times. The skies are always overcast and there is often scenes with smoke in the horizon as well as fires and abandoned homes with messages left behind for whoever reads them. The conclusion though bleak is not as frustrating than the feeling that the ending seems flat and more could have been done as a whole to make the film get across it’s points in a more interesting way.

maggieThen there are inconsistencies too like what appears to be a reinforced metal or heavy duty wood door with a big bolt across it and yet the rest of the house has wide open widows one
could walk through, which is almost as bad as honking a horn in a zombie film. At times I felt that certain things just would not happen like parents allowing high school age children to hangout outside in the open at night with infected people who could turn very soon just so they can have one last night out. I mean if I had a child, I wouldn’t let my kids out when the dead could be anywhere.

Caveats aside however, Maggie at least tries to reach for something different, but whether or not their reach exceeded their grasp is at best extremely relative. Maggie is now playing at select theaters and is available for rental on demand.

Maggie 2ADDENDUM: I do not usually state things like this because once I have reviewed a film then that is it, but sometimes after viewing a picture, it sticks with you and so I gave it a second look and upon screening it a second time, I have to state that Maggie plays better upon second viewing and I do think it deserves a place among one’s zombie horror collection provided one realizes that this is still a drama and probably one of the bleakest films I have ever seen since Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia. Despite the PG-13 rating, I highly recommend parental guidance before, during and or after viewing Maggie on the big screen or small. Adults who fantasize about the zombie apocalypse and think of it as some kind of survival adventure should see Maggie if only to get into one’s mind that survival under such circumstances would be about as likely and fun as trying to survive nuclear fallout after a war. Worse than anything you may have seen dramatize before. So put the video games down for two hours and prepare for a sobering reality check and be thankful it was just a movie.

Check out the Maggie trailer:

TV Review: Penny Dreadful

Penny DreadfulHonestly, I had low expectations for the first season of Penny Dreadful. But I am happy to report that I walked away with another serious TV addiction. I am hooked and in love with this show.

The story, which takes place in Victorian England, introduces us to Vanessa Ives (Eva Green), a young woman troubled by demons and haunted by conscience over the betrayal of her childhood friend, Mina Harker. Mina’s father, Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton) enlists the aid of a small band of warriors to combat the evil vampire who has seduced Mina and seems to be hungering, ultimately, for Vanessa. An unheard of ancient Egyptian prophecy also comes to light and it suggests that Vanessa could inevitably become the mother of a darkness that could drown humankind.

Fostering a love/hate relationship with Ives, Sir Malcolm nonetheless uses her to find his daughter Mina, hovering between life and undeath, before her soul is permanently damned.  Sir Malcolm also enlists a young Dr. Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) and a Wild West performer and ace gunslinger harboring his own demon, Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett).

 

creatureWhat is outstanding about this show is how effortlessly it combines so many legendary fictional characters and monsters. It makes sense that so many creatures of shadow would be assembled in this place and time.

Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney) is a brilliant standout character and Carney plays up the mundane trappings of immortality quite well. The Creature (Rory Kinnear) shows up to thwart Frankenstein’s second attempt at creating life from death and his back-story at the Grand Guignol makes perfect sense and it is heart wrenching to see the monster not know what to do with kindness when he finally receives it. Of note also is an all too brief role of Van Helsing as portrayed by the great David Warner.

What makes this series is the dialogue, which all at once feels authentic, barbed, purposeful and duplicitous. Eva Green is marvelous to behold in the role of Vanessa Ives. She looks as if she has walked from the set of a Universal Horror movie and she is often put through serious emotional, spiritual and physical upheavals. I thought her serviceable as an actress, but her turn in Penny Dreadful  shows her as a powerhouse performer.

 

Episode 104There are plot twists that you will see coming from a mile away, but that does not take away from the pleasure of watching this show. I am also very anxious to see what new characters, appropriate for the time period, may come.

Season Two began last night on Showtime, and it is off to a great start!

Made for TV Horror

 

When I was a kid and there were only a few television stations, it was always a thrill when a made for TV horror movie or mini-series was announced. I was a horror junkie before I hit the age of ten. But there were many movies I was not allowed to go see at the drive-in.

So when a made for TV horror flick hit the airwaves, I was allowed to watch it without question. At this period in time, there were no television age ratings and very seldom would you see a viewer advisory.

But make no mistake: some of these TV terrors made me plead for a nightlight after viewing them. They may have been relatively clean of foul language, sexual  situations and gore, but those have never been the ingredients required to make something frightening. These spooky television adaptations were scary as hell. Many left a deep impression and have become favorites of mine.

Here are my five top Made for TV Horror films:

Gargoyles
5. Gargoyles: 
This was released in 1972. I was seven years old. The story:  an anthropologist and his daughter who, while traveling through Arizona, stumble upon a settlement of evil gargoyles. Though the plot and writing were barely above mediocre standards, the award-winning effects provided by Stan Winston (his earliest professional effort, I believe) allowed this flick to rise above its cheesiness.

It

4. IT: Definitely Stephen King’s most terrifying creation, Pennywise the clown was brought to manic life by Tim Curry. This mini-series was aired in late 1990 and boasted a cast including the late John Ritter, Annette O’Toole and Richard Thomas. This was a highly enjoyable viewing experience, but even with the great Curry personifying IT, this adaptation felt like a diluted version of its source. Still, it provided enough chills to make my #4 spot.

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark

3. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark: Kim Darby plays a housewife stalked by little demons living in the hellish bowels of her mansion. This 1973 TV gem was remade not long ago by Guillermo del Toro. And while I adore his work, his version isn’t even half as creepy as the source.

Salem's Lot TV

2. Salem‘s Lot: It was a coin toss between this one and the number one on my list. Tobe Hooper’s 1979 mini-series which was based on Stephen King’s bestseller was an event in my house. It was looked forward to as feverishly as the Oscars or Superbowl. My family was hooked on the work of Stephen King, and everyone talked about this one for weeks afterwards. The casting was fantastic and standouts were David Soul as Ben Mears, a writer returning to his childhood home to bury his fears and James Mason as Straker, the (somewhat) human harbinger of Barlow the vampire.

The Night Stalker

1. The Night Stalker: The year was 1972 and this made for TV movie introduced us to a protagonist that would influence horror creators and fans for decades. Played by character actor Darren McGavin, Carl Kolchak is a tackily dressed but tenacious investigative reporter in Las Vegas. Hot on the heels of a serial killer claiming young beautiful women on the strip,  Carl discovers that the suspect, a 70 year-old Rumanian millionaire, may actually be a bloodthirsty creature of legend. A huge inspiration to the X-FilesNight Stalker would spawn a made for TV sequel and an often maligned and short-lived television series that is still more enjoyable than most modern horror fair. This is due to the dry wit, subtle genius of McGavin and Kolchak’s ability to embrace a situation (no matter how unlikely) when left with only the dark facts that can’t be dispelled. This is my favorite Dan Curtis production ever. The Night Stalker became ABC’s highest rated original TV movie, earning a 33.2 rating and 54 share.

Movie Review: Saw II (2005)

Saw II saw 2 poster(2005) Director:  Darren Lynn Bousman Writers:  Leigh Whannell, Darren Lynn Bousman Starring:  Donnie Wahlberg, Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Beverly Mitchell, Glenn Plummer

Disclaimer (sort of):  If I find out ahead of time that a movie has a twist then I’ll be looking for it the entire time.  It can ruin the experience for me if I allow it.  I’d rather not read within the synopsis of a book or film that there’s anything that’ll take me for a ride.  Just let me get there on my own.  My family can testify to this.  Using the word “twist” in any description is spoiler enough for me.  That being said, if you’re as sensitive to spoilers as I am I may have already ruined it for you, so just know that I sympathize with you and I’m sorry.  However, the rest of you who are not so hypersensitive, not to worry, I will not reveal any true spoilers.  And because there’s so much to spoil in the movie, this will make for a rather quick review with a very minimalistic approach to any synopsis.

Marky Mark’s brother, and a SWAT team, are forced to play a serial killer’s twisted game while desperately trying to save eight people who are also forced to “play,” all the while being viewed through monitors by the investigating team.  Saw II answers a lot of questions we had after the first film and gives us insight into the “Jigsaw killer,” the man responsible for “blessing” his victims with forcing them to look at life from a different perspective and come out valuing it more than they had.  The problem is that if they actually made it through his psychotic tests, they’re forever warped themselves.

Saw 2 groupAfter seeing the first Saw when it first came out on DVD, like most everyone, I was blown away by the shocker ending.  I love movies that can trick me the way Saw did.  I had absolutely no idea the movie would end the way it did, and the writers gained my respect as a result.  But I knew they’d never get me a second time.  So when viewing the sequel, Saw II, I paid very close attention this time around.  I know I gave the screen a huge grin, and perhaps even clapped, when all was revealed at the endThey’d gotten me again.

Hand trap Saw 2Yes, I haven’t told you much about the movie itself.  You’ll either love me or hate me for it.  You choose.  So let me summarize my review in one last paragraph.  I’ve only seen the first four Saw movies, and I’ve really no desire to watch the rest.  I guess as I’ve grown older I left the senseless gore for something more cerebral, and as the Saw franchise rises in number, the traps become much more elaborate and gore-filled; however, the story suffers and lacks creativity.  The franchise is indeed a dead horse being flogged time and time again, even if the flogging uses a different weapon each time.  However, Saw I and II are a nice little package of cerebral entertainment that will leave you satisfied and thankful you’ve been had by the creators.  It’s not often that a sequel can stand up just as straight as its predecessor, but Saw II did it exceptionally well.
Check out the Saw II trailer:

Movie Review: Housebound (2014)

HouseboundHousebound poster. Director: Gerard Johnstone. Writer: Gerard Johnstone. Stars: Morgana O’Reilly, Rima Te Wiata, Glen-Paul Waru |

How do you solve a problem like Kylie? That is the first question posed by the new and fantastic Kiwi ‘ghost’ chiller, HOUSEBOUND. Sure, Kylie’s not as musical-sounding as “Maria”, but then Kylie Bucknell (Morgana O’Reilly) isn’t much of a perky, happy-go-lucky kind of gal. In fact, she’s actually more the kind of teen who stays in juvenile detention. A lot. So much so, she’s in trouble from the opening frames, when she and a bumbling partner make a really failed attempt at robbing a local ATM.

Kylie’s been in the system so long at this point, and in so many ‘rehab programs’ for wayward girls, that it fazes her not one bit to find herself standing before a judge. Again. The judge’s ruling this time, however, manages to effectively penetrate her wall of sullenness. He sentences her…to eight months’ home detention. With her mother.

For Kylie, that is absolutely the last thing she wants to hear. We soon understand why when we see the creepy old manse she’s about to be confined to, and we meet her mum, Miriam, (the hysterical Rima Te Wiata – a delightful New Zealand cross between Melissa McCarthy and ALL IN THE FAMILY’S Jean Stapleton, as the loveable Edith Bunker). Miriam’s a kind-hearted sort, but a bit scattered, and her constant prattling on about anything and everything is enough to pretty much make anyone want to leave. Which her first husband, Kylie’s father actually did, well before his daughter followed suit. Now Miriam lives in the house with Kylie’s estranged stepdad, Graeme (Ross Harper).

But facing a situation where she has to get reacquainted with her parents is hardly the most of Kylie’s worries, when she finds out accidentally that Miriam has taken to calling into a local paranormal radio show…about her haunted house. Kylie hardly has the time or patience to deal with the living, and she’s certainly not about to invest in nonsense from ‘the great beyond’.

Not until evidence starts to present itself…that all in the house is not what it seems.

With a mystery afoot for solving, Amos, Kylie’s ‘parole officer’ (Glen-Paul Waru in a great performance that matches Te Wiata’s comic timing step-for-step) springs into action and begins checking out the house, plying his other stock in trade: as a “paranormal investigator.” The three of them become a kind of stalwart “Scooby Gang” as they try to put the pieces of the house’s puzzle together, and soon discover that it’s not the house that holds the deadliest secrets…

Housebound Image
Housebound

The feature debut of NZ TV writer/director Gerard Johnstone, HOUSEBOUND wears his obvious love for scary movies, and especially the films of his fellow countryman, Peter Jackson, on its dusty sleeve. However, the difference between HOUSEBOUND and, say, DEAD-ALIVE is that Johnstone has a deft touch for when to incorporate the ‘crazy’ and when to rein it in. He wisely makes it more about the story and the relationships, using some particularly funny/gory ‘splatstick’ moments more as the ‘seasoning’ for the proceedings, and not the entire meal.

There are also a few nice twists to the tried-and-true scenarios you’d usually find in this genre, including the added wrinkle that some primary characters’ pasts not only play an important part in the house’s own distant history, but also in the present as well…and that’s about all I want to say about that. But it is a smart script choice from Johnstone’s writing that I really appreciated.

As another semi-spoiler for those in-the-know, Johnstone may also be displaying a love for vintage American ‘70’s thrillers here, as there are more than a few nods to a very old but popular made-for-TV movie from that era, called BAD RONALD. If you’re someone who is deeply familiar with the genre, my apologies for having dropped such a huge hint. For everyone else, ignore that last sentence and just keep ‘going with the flow.’

Housebound image twoOverall, I really enjoyed HOUSEBOUND, and particularly the chemistry between all of the lead actors. I have no idea if a sequel is planned, but I wouldn’t mind seeing this group together again for an encore, or in some other Gerard Johnstone project. They could even become for him, the same kind of dependable ensemble of players used by filmmakers like Richard Curtis, Edgar Wright or Sam Raimi.

 

 

Check out the Housebound Trailer;

Movie Review: Avenged (2013)

AvengedAvenged Poster. Director: Michael S. Ojeda. Writers: Michael S. Ojeda, Deon van Rooyen (additional dialogue). Stars: Amanda Adrienne, Tom Ardavany, Ronnie Gene Blevins. production Companies: Cart Before The Horse Productions, Green Dog Films, Raven Banner Entertainment.

Just when you’re starting to think the horror films you’re coming across are all going to be just ‘okay’ and ‘so-so’, along comes one that really shakes things up! AVENGED is definitely that movie – one that squarely fits into the ‘vengeance is mine’ category, but in a new way that you probably haven’t seen before.

Relative newcomer Amanda Adrienne plays Zoe, a gorgeous, deaf-mute free-spirit who is determined to take a solo trek across the Southwest, in her late father’s ‘68 GTO coupe. She’s pretty fearless, but the trip certainly worries her sister, Hannah, (Sara J. Stuckey) and her hunky fiancee, Dane, (Marc Anthony Samuel), the person she’s taking the trip to get to.

Her loved ones’ worst fears are realized all too soon, when Zoe interrupts the brutal assault and murder of two young Native Americans, by a group of the nastiest good-ole-cowboy rednecks this side of Central Casting (and even worse than the crew in that other great supernatural revenge-thriller, THE CROW, if that’s possible), lead by the especially rabid Trey West. Played to the fare-thee-well hilt by Rodney Rowland, with a panache that all his villainous screen predecessors will be beaming with pride for, Rowland does more than just make Trey hissable; you know you are going to enjoy seeing him and his cronies get theirs.

And you don’t have to wait too long. After the brutal assault, rape and near-murder of Zoe, she’s found by a nearby shaman, Grey Wolf, (RAVENOUS’ Joseph Runningfox), who tries to help bring her back. He does indeed succeed, but in the best tradition of this thriller sub-genre, she doesn’t come back alone….

Avenged still threeWriter, director and editor Michael S. Ojeda is known mostly for documentary and behind-the-camera work, but in the surefootedness he displays with this freshman feature film, you wouldn’t know it. The photography of the landscape (good old California standing in for New Mexico) is as harsh and bleak as the horrific events that unfold within it; age-old hatreds, prejudices and feuds still wreaking havoc and destruction with both the innocent and the wicked, as it always has and always will, so long as it’s allowed to proliferate…and to escalate. That might be the most important message that the movie imparts, but you won’t have time to reflect on it until afterward, as you’ll probably be too busy drinking in the well-choreographed fight scenes, and the practical effects beautifully handled on a limited budget by Hugo Villasenor and his crew. You certainly get a lot of bang for your buck out of this tale of violence begetting violence.

Avenged still oneTrey’s noxious crew and the ways in which they meet their fates will stick with you for some time, as will the performances of the actors portraying them, but besides that of Rowland’s, a couple of others definitely stand out. Tom Ardavany definitely makes a bold impression as Trey’s “red right hand”, deadly brother West, who could be a formidable force if he used his powers for good, (which he definitely doesn’t here,) making him an even more menacing bad guy. Not to be outdone in the rabid redneck department is Ronnie Gene Blevins as Jed, the dyed-in-the-wool bigot who isn’t blood kin to Trey, West or their other brothers Cody (Brionne Morris) or Skeeter (Kyle Morris), but is an integral part of the close-knit crew of cretins nevertheless. He’s one of the first to realize, way too late (as is traditional), that karma is about to deal them all a nasty taste of their own medicine…and THEN some.

Comparisons are going to be made – and aptly so – to movies like THE CROW, I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE and even in some respects, (but not in the more campy sense), THE MANITOU. I just can’t say that I’ve ever seen the disparate elements from those kinds of films ever combined in quite this way before.

Avenged still twoAlso, not nearly enough good things can be said about the balance of CG visuals with Villasenor’s wonderfully gooey, gory effects work. This reviewer is appreciating how filmmakers like Ojeda are striking this great balance of these visual and practical tools more and more, which only enhances the performances of the actors; rather than sticking them in front of a blue or green screen, wrapping them in fabric of the same color and asking them to ‘imagine’ scenery and physical effects. Not that this group of actors couldn’t have been talented enough to handle the task, but it’s certainly nice to surmise from the performances they gave, that they didn’t have to.

Best of all is how the doomed interracial romance between Adrienne’s Zoe and Samuel’s Dane adds a poignant note to what could have simply been a free-for-all of comic-book quality violence bordering on the cartoonish. And just as tragic in its own way is the ugly legacy of virulent racism passed down to the West brothers, save the near-catatonic Skeeter. They lived what they knew, and that was a hundred-plus years of choking on the xenophobic bile running deep in their veins, which galvanized them to assault, rape and murder those different from them, until one day the universe decided it had gone far enough…

Not to over-analyze it, however, just on the face of watching it as filmed entertainment, this reviewer is pleased to give AVENGED four out of five stars; as a lover of supernatural revengers, I’m just happy to recommend it as a damn fine satisfying ninety-plus minutes you’ll be more than happy to spend.

 

Check out the Avenged trailer:

Movie Review: Digging up the Marrow (2015)

Digging up the Marrow. Director: Adam Green. Writer: Adam Green. Stars: Ray Wise, Adam Green, Will Barratt. ArieScope Pictures

Digging up the Marrow posterLike his contemporaries, Adam Green is very much a fan of old-school, classic horror. Much of his work tends to reflect this, to the delight of more than a few of his fans. For this reviewer, however, his finished products are erratic in the effort to evoke the same kind of spooky, truly unnerving quality, as some of the iconic touchstones he tends to refer back to. Now, he’s put his hand to the found-footage genre, in an attempt to bring some freshness and maybe some of the same kind of hip irreverence reflected in his HOLLISTON TV series to the mix. With his latest effort, DIGGING UP THE MARROW. the result is a mixed bag, at best. While very entertaining, this film leaves you curiously as unsatisfied as the Big Mac meal you settled for, when what you wanted – and maybe expected – was a New York Strip steak with all the trimmings.

This horror mockumentary features Green, his DP, Will Barratt, genre fave Kane Hodder, and several other associates, friends and colleagues all playing themselves more or less, as he takes on the task of investigating the story of one William Dekker – superbly played by another genre vet and TWIN PEAKS alum, Ray Wise. Dekker claims to have found evidence of an underground city of ‘monsters’, who move between our world and theirs, which he calls “the marrow”, via a series of entrances located in different parts of the country. They are usually found in graveyards and other isolated locations. Dekker wants the world to know his story, but is understandably reluctant to completely trust Green and his friends for his own not-quite-divulged reasons.

Since found-footage has been done to death, back from the days when BLAIR WITCH caused the entire field to ‘blow up’, savvy audiences know how to spot all the tricks and tropes from a mile off. So Green is wise to cannily overstock his film with faces and places familiar to even the more casual fans; bringing in leading lights Mick Garris and Tom Holland to augment Kane’s appearance, and using locales like famous horror mecca Dark Delicacies, and the irreplaceable Porto’s restaurant a block down from it.

The two particular attributes of MARROW that keep the entertainment factor high, are Wise’s beautifully modulated performance as the possibly psychotic Dekker, and some quick glimpses at the effects work, based on the artistic renderings of fan favorite Alex Pardee, who also appears at the film’s beginning.

Ray WiseAn imaginative and fascinating scenario, filled with possibilities, the ‘what-if?’ of whether humans can co-exist with creatures inhabiting the darker realms of our world – and psyches – couldn’t have been mined more effectively than was done by Clive Barker in his own peerless ‘monster movie’, NIGHTBREED, and MARROW’S shortcomings reflect this.

Though we see much of Pardee’s/”Dekker’s” artistic renderings of the creatures he claims to have encountered over the years, not enough backstory of his relationship with the “marrow’s” denizens is provided to make the audience even give a damn about what’s going on.

Everything is fuzzily implied for the most part – does his wife live in the “marrow”? Does his son? Are they actually living down there as humans, or are they monsters as well? And how did that come to pass? What WAS it that Dekker was keeping in chains, in the locked room of a house that everyone else in the neighborhood assumed had been unoccupied for over a year?

I get it – not every single detail of a particular story has to be spoon-fed to you while you’re watching, and sometimes a film is all the better for leaving certain details ambiguous. Unfortunately, aside from the marvelous Wise, Green, Barratt and their friends and family are not skilled enough as ‘actors’ to help us suspend our own sense of disbelief, bring us further into the mingling of these two disparate worlds and help drive the story forward, the way that Barker’s wholly fictional construct was able to.
digging-up-the-marrowAnd also, the film’s main asset – Wise’s own presence – manages to take the viewer way out of the ability to suspend disbelief as well. Where BLAIR WITCH’s now-basic found-footage trope of using completely unknown actors added to the jittery ambivalence that first surrounded that movie (“Is this for real or not?”), even the most casual of horror fans would’ve had to have been living in a cave in Afghanistan for a few decades, in order to be unaware of Wise’s stature as a fan favorite – from his role as Leland Palmer in the iconic TWIN PEAKS, if for nothing else.

So my final verdict for DIGGING UP THE MARROW is to hold onto your ‘shovel’, and look for other prime excavation opportunities elsewhere…unless you are a staunch fan of Green’s, who needs to see everything he puts out, regardless, or if you are a Ray Wise fan, for pretty much the same reason.

 

 

Check out the trailer for Digging up the Marrow:

Movie Review: Creepshow (1982)

Creepshow (1982): Directed by:  George A. Romero Writers:  Stephen King Stars:  Hal Holbrock, Adrienne Barbeau, Leslie Nelsen, Ted Danson, Ed Harris, Stephen King, Fritz Weaver, Tom Atkins

Getting film and literary rockstars Stephen King, George Romero and Tom Savini together on a single project in the 80s is equivalent to creating a super group with Hendrix, Cobain, Jagger, and Bonham.  Yeah, I know…only one is alive and there’s no bassist, but you get the gist of it.  The film super group was formed, and in the fall of 1982 they released Creepshow.  With five separate short films bookended by comic book animation and a sub-story, the film paid homage to EC and DC horror comics from the 50s; right down to most of them regarding revenge and executions of “karma”—bad things happening to bad people.

The soundtrack that looms behind the scenes is the fabulous creepy synth of the 80s.  And it sets the campy mood perfectly.  From the beginning of the film it’s evident right away that you’re about to watch something very different.  Throughout the movie, intense moments are enhanced by vibrant back lighting use green, blue, and red hues.  It works wonderfully and certainly lends hand to the atmosphere they were trying to convey—pure campy, comic book horror.   Because they all have their own strengths and memorable makeup, I don’t necessarily have a favorite segment, so allow me to dissect each one:

 

Father's DayFather’s Day:  Written by Stephen King specifically for the film, this is essentially a ghost story with revenge.  On the rich estate of a murdered emotionally abusive father, family members gather for an annual traditional dinner.  The abused daughter (and alleged murderer) stops off at the gravestone of the father she killed and spills her whiskey on the grave.  Apparently that’s a catalyst for waking the dead, as the remainder of the segment reveals a beautifully constructed, maggot-filled zombie stalking those partying down on his estate.  And there’s also cake involved.

 

JordyThe Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill:  Country bumpkin, Jordy Verrill, played by Stephen King, stumbles across the remains of a meteor that landed on his property.  While making an attempt to contain the meteor in hopes of making a bundle of money, Jordy contaminates himself with an ever-growing weed that progresses rapidly, covering his property as well as himself.  While Stephen King has made cameos in various films, he’s no actor.  That being said, this role was made for him (actually, I think it literally was).  King’s performance as lunkhead Jordy Verrill is perfectly orchestrated.  It’s rather impressive.

 

Creepshow9Something to Tide You Over:  Whodathunk Leslie Nielsen could play such a believably evil character?  Surely not I (there’s a joke in there for the Airplane folks).  As far as acting in Creepshow, the talent lies in this segment.  Leslie Nielsen plays the victim of infidelity and he’s had enough.  His voyeuristic self premeditates a plan that leaves his wife and the home wrecker, played by Ted Danson, buried in the sand up to their chins, while the tide slowly comes in.  To satisfy Nielsen’s character’s vengeance, video equipment is set up to catch it all.  But like any good horror comic, the sinful couple come back from the dead, seaweed laden and waterlogged, to exact their revenge.  The makeup is excellent, with each drowned victim resembling a green thumb held in the tub for days—wrinkled and withered.

 

creepshow3The Crate:  For most, this is probably the segment that stands out for them, mainly because of Savini’s brainchild, affectionately deemed “Fluffy.”  This tale concerns a college janitor who is hungry for shiny things.  He runs into a crate that had been under a set of stairs for a century and a half and calls in one of the college professors to have a look see.  They open the crate and regret ensues followed by gore galore.  The crate’s contents are basically hairy teeth and claws bent on eating humans.  The crate is then used to exact….you guessed it:  Revenge.  A poor soul who happens to be stuck in a marriage with an emotionally abusive drunk-of-a-wife sees his chance at ridding his life of the alcoholic nag and so takes the opportunity.

 

creepingThey’re Creeping Up On You:  Out of all the stories, this one is probably my least favorite.  An arrogant, rich germaphobe lives in a building that is locked down, has high-tech equipment, and is pure white like some sterile prison.  The majority of the segment is us watching what a class-A butthole this guy is (prepping us for the big karma finale), and eventually roaches take over in this seemingly impenetrable, ridiculously sanitized building.  And then there’s some gore.  As you can tell, I don’t hold the same enthusiasm for this story as I do for the others.  It just wasn’t relatable and the situation was completely unrealistic.

 

The movie ends with a cameo by Tom Savini himself, as the remaining bookended sub-plot finishes the movie off.  There are currently three Creepshow movies out, and though the second one is quite a ride in itself, none of them pull off that perfect campy, comic-book feel that the first one does.  Highly recommended for those who haven’t seen it.  Creepshow is a one-of-a-kind experience.

Check out the official Creepshow trailer:

Movie Review: Unfriended (2015)

UnfriendedTrailerUnfriended. Director: Levan Gabriadze. Writer: Nelson Greaves. Stars: Heather Sossaman, Matthew Bohrer, Courtney Halverson. Universal Pictures.

Unfriended hits US theater screens on April 17th, 2015.

“Now, let us take a suspense situation. The bomb is underneath the table and the public knows it, probably because they have seen the anarchist place it there. The public is aware that the bomb is going to explode at one o’clock, and there is a clock in the decor. The public can see that it is a quarter to one. In these conditions this innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: “You shouldn’t be talking about such trivial matters. There’s a bomb beneath you and it’s about to explode!” – Alfred Hitchcock

From the opening shot of Unfriended, the audience is dropped, quite literally, into the lap of the protagonist. Blaire is hanging out at home, starting up a late night Skype chat session with her friends- the typical BS session kids would have about school, friends, parties. She starts a chat with her boyfriend Matt before they are interrupted by their other friends and… an anonymous user. What starts as an annoyance, the belief that a bored loser somewhere has hacked into their chat, quickly turns dark as the friends begin to figure out that this mysterious person seems to know quite a lot about them.

Unfriended Image 1It’s no ordinary evening – it’s the anniversary of the day their friend Laura Barns shot herself after becoming an unwitting star in a viral video that humiliated her. Laura was the victim of relentless cyber-bullying, in the end creating another viral video of her suicide.

Unfriended digitizes conventional horror tropes. Video lag and screen glitches create the unsettling atmosphere once inhabited by fog and shadows. Chases take place across social media instead of through creepy old houses. Blaire “runs” from Skype to Facebook to Google, scrambling to find info on the sinister person who seems to know a lot of dark secrets about her friends.

The entire cast gives solid performances, and the story also modernizes another old horror cliché. In the 80s, the mere act of drinking, using drugs, or having sex was enough to get you targeted by the killer. In Unfriended, it’s about the consequences of those things: bullying, lying, cheating, the secrets that we hide from one another. In the social media age, narcissism is the thing that brings everyone down.

Unfriended Image 2The spirit of Laura Barns is haunting her former friends, digging at them to reveal the unspoken truth that they all know; demanding that they reveal the secrets that will shred the bonds of their friendship. The pinnacle of suspense comes not from a chase scene or a jump scare, but possibly the wickedest game of “Never Have I Ever” ever played. The Spirit that haunts them treats death as an afterthought, and is more concerned with making everyone understand the depth and scope of pain that led her to take her own life. In the screening I attended, the scares got big reactions, but the revelations between friends truly sent chills through the audience.

In the end, we’re back to that Hitchcock quote about suspense. We’ve been watching a computer screen the entire time, watching Blaire’s friends die one by one, and there’s the unsettling dread of knowing that there is no fourth wall here. We’re seeing what Blaire sees, and what’s coming for her is coming for us.

Check out the official Unfriended trailer: