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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Day 274: The Reaping

The Reaping
Read 'em and reap

Religion and horror. I've said it before and I'll say it again. They go together like peanut butter and jelly. Most religious-based horror revolves around possession and exorcism, but there are a few that try to go a different route. Or, more accurately, they try to portray themselves going a different route in hopes that the audience thinks they're being original. Throw in some special effects and an Academy award-winning actress, and you have yourself The Reaping.

The Reaping is a 2007 horror movie starring Hillary Swank (Million Dollar Baby, Boys Don't Cry) as Katherine Winter. Katherine is a current professor at Louisiana State University specializing in debunking supposed religious miracles. She is also a former ordained minister who lost her faith after her husband and daughter were killed during a missionary trip to Sudan. Katherine receives a call from her former missionary partner, Father Michael Costigan (Stephen Rea, The Crying Game, V For Vendetta) saying he has received a warning from God that she is in trouble. Doug Blackwell (David Morrissey, The Other Boleyn Girl, Basic Instinct 2), a science teacher from the small town of Haven, comes to Katherine asking for her help. The river by the town has turned red and the locals believe it is a plague brought on by a young girl named Loren McConnell (AnnaSophia Robb, Race To Witch Mountain, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). They think that Loren killed her older brother in the river and that God is punishing the town. Along with her colleague Ben (Idris Elba, American Gangster, Thor), Katherine travels to the town and tests the red water. There, Katherine meets Loren and has a vision of Loren turning the water into blood. At the same time, Ben witnesses frogs falling from the trees. Soon, lice infect the town and the livestock dies. It appears that the 10 plagues of Egypt are now befalling the town. Katherine gives scientific explanations as to why things are happening, but people do not believe her. As the investigation continues, Katherine has more visions of Loren seemingly killing her brother. She meets Loren's mother, who has a strange symbol carved into the door of her home. Loren attacks her mother and Katherine flees. She calls Father Costigan, who explains that the symbol is from a satanic cult that sacrifices the second born in an attempt to create a child with “the eyes of the Devil” to bring them to power. He also tells her of an angel being sent to destroy them. The plague of boils strikes the town and a mob forms to kill the girl. A plague of locust, controlled by Loren, swarm the mob. Will Katherine be able to stop Loren before the town kills her or is there more to the story than she knows?

Who set the heat lamp to "Kentucky Fried"?

Initially, I thought The Reaping might have been a different sort of religion-based horror movies. I'm not really sure why, but it probably has something to do with the use of the ten plagues. I like the use of the plagues as a plot device since most people know what's coming, but isn't sure when or how it will be done. Beyond that, though, The Reaping plays out like every other religious horror movie cliche. We have the crisis of faith from a formerly religious character, the town of religious zealots, and the outcast “satanic” family. Just in case that wasn't painfully obvious, we're given a character named Katherine Winter. They might as well have named her Jesus Neverbelieve. The spirituality in the movie is particularly shallow and not believable. I appreciate that the movie tries to give a scientific explanation for the plagues, but about halfway through, Katherine just kind of accepts things. When the movie focuses on cults and rituals, it became obvious that The Reaping was no different from other movies and I essentially stopped caring.

My biggest issue with the movie comes within the last 15 minutes. The Reaping goes from “boring, but passable” to “screaming headlong into the fiery pits of lunacy”. They give their little twist, which isn't very surprising and comes off as cheap and meaningless. Then they slap the audience with a ridiculous and implausible ending, complete with horrendous special effects. They should have just cut out the ending and left some things to the imagination. Instead, we get everything laid out in a surprising display of bad film making. The cast tries to rise above the cliched story and poor film making. Hillary Swank and Idris Elba actually have a very organic chemistry together which helped the characters feel more natural. They tried to portray AnnaSophia Robb as creepy or scary, but she's just too cute for the evil villain role. The movie does have some action and a bit of violence, but not enough for your average horror fan. 

"It's not  blood, it's chocolate milk! No's blood."

The Reaping comes from a long line of tired religious horror movies that all seem to fall into the same traps. You pretty much know what is going to happen about halfway through the movie. The religious issues are delivered in a ham-fisted way and the final act is just horrendous. The big reveal is neither exciting nor interesting and the special effects are laughable. The use of the plagues are fun to see, but that's about all that is interesting in the movie. The acting is fine, but it's not enough to overcome a weak story and bad film making. The Reaping had a chance to be unique, but settled for something we've seen many times before.


Saturday, September 29, 2012

Day 273: Friday The 13th Part 8: Jason Takes Manhattan

Friday The 13th Part 8: Jason Takes Manhattan
I heart movies that actually take place where they say they do

As I expressed in my review of Resident Evil: Retribution, it becomes increasingly difficult for a movie franchise to stay fresh and entertaining the longer it continues. While the Resident Evil franchise has managed to stay relevant and fun, others have not been so lucky. Friday The 13th is a prime example of what happens when studios become lazy and crank out a horror movie in hopes of making a quick buck based on villain recognition. Hellraiser has done the same thing, only on a much more franchise-ruining level. When you get to a certain point in a franchise, you're bound to run out of ideas so you just throw the main character into different locations or situations. While I'm still holding out for Friday The 13th Part 11: Jason's Super Fun Slumber Party, today we'll have to settle for Manhattan.

Friday The 13th Part 8: Jason Takes Manhattan is a 1989 slasher movie starring Kane Hodder (Jason X, Hatchet) as Jason Vorhees and Jensen Daggett (The Single Guy, Major League: Back To The Minors) as Rennie Wickham. One year after the events of Friday The 13th Part 7: The New Blood, a boat's anchor rips through an underwater power cable, reviving the previously defeated Jason Vorhees. The next morning, the senior class of Lakeview High School boards the SS Lazarus and heads to New York City for their graduation. Rennie's uncle, biology teacher Charles McCulloch (Peter Mark Richman, Naked Gun 2 ½, Beverly Hill 90210) chaperones the trip, ensuring that no one causes any trouble.
Unbeknownst to the passengers, Jason has climbed aboard the ship. He kills some of the students and the ship's captain as the boat heads towards New York City. Jason throws one of the students onto the ship's control panel, sparking a fire. Rennie, Charles, the captain's son Sean (Scott Reeves, General Hospital, The Young and the Restless), and a few others are forced to abandon ship, taking a small row boat to New York City. There, Rennie is kidnapped by two thugs and injected with heroin. They attempt to rape her, but Jason, who followed the group to the city, kills them both. Jason than chases Julius, a boxer, to the roof of a building. Julius unloads a flurry of punches to no effect, tiring himself out. Jason throws an uppercut that literally knocks Julius's head off his body. With Jason on the loose in the dangerous city, how will Rennie and her friends survive?

I can make it anywhere!

Full disclosure, I watched this movie because I knew it wasn't going to be good. For those that don't know (or couldn't tell) most of the movie takes place on a boat instead of Manhattan. Time and budgetary constraints forced the majority of the movie to not be shot in New York City. I can understand why you would want to have Jason running around in New York during the 1980's. It was dirty, scary, and dangerous. Times Square wasn't the family destination it is now with Disney Stores and restaurants. By having Jason in New York, you can add a lot more kills to the movie, having him take out thieves and drug dealers, sort of like a horror version of Death Wish. That's the entire point of interest for anyone picking up this movie. Sadly, this is not the case and instead we're forced to sit through Jason Takes A Dingy.

The plot is very, very predictable as by now the series had just become “Let Jason kill lots of people”. By now, we all know who Jason is, but the movie does attempt to talk about his origins. Rennie's weird visions of a young Jason asking for help and her connection to Crystal Lake at least try to make sense of things. On paper it's a half-decent idea, but on screen it's a hot mess. The characters are not predictably interesting and it's tedious having to sit through mindless dialogue with barely-there development. There's some sub plot about Rennie and her uncle, not approving of her life, but it has no relevance other than to kill time until Jason shows up. Another reason why I watched this movie was to see the incredibly ridiculous fight scene on the roof. It is so funny for all the wrong reasons. Take a look for yourself: As a former boxer, I have to say that Julius is carrying his left hand way too low and leaves himself open for a counter-punch.

The acting is fine for what's required, but that's not saying much. If you ever wanted to see a young Kelly Hu (X2, The Scorpion King) in her first movie role, this is your chance. There are a variety of creative kills throughout the movie and the audience ends up cheering for Jason by the time he gets to New York. The portrayal of Manhattan is very silly even by 80's standards. If your only knowledge of the island came from this movie, you'd think the city was made up of bums, thieves, steam-spewing pipes, and toxic waste. Yes, I said toxic waste. For whatever reason, there are barrels of toxic waste just hanging out in alleys, just waiting for Jason Vorhees to dunk someone in them. You didn't know that the city flushes toxic waste in their pipes? Well now you do! In the 80's, New York City was grittier and more dangerous than now. The movie, though, makes the city look like a cartoon version of itself. I can only imagine what someone from say Kansas thought of New York if they saw this movie.

This is awkward. We're wearing the same thing!

I knew Friday The 13th Part 8: Jason Takes Manhattan was going to be bad and I wasn't disappointed. That's losing while still winning. Most of the movie doesn't take place in New York and when it finally gets there, we're bombarded with one ridiculous scene after another. There is plenty of violence and creativity in the killing, but nothing we haven't come to expect. There isn't much in the way of plot or character development as most of the movie is just a vehicle for Jason to kill people. You can't expect much by the time you've gotten to the eighth of anything, let alone the eighth movie in a horror series. Jason Takes Manhattan is good for a laugh and for some over-the-top violence. Other than that, you're better off with the original.


Friday, September 28, 2012

Day 272: Mulberry Street

Mulberry Street
Where the streets have no names...well, except for all the ones that do

New York City is a great location for horror movies. Plenty of scary things happen there in the real world so it's only natural that horror films would fit in. Whether it's Cloverfield or Midnight Meat Train, or C.H.U.D., the city allows for all sorts of scary genres and subgenres. In a city where anybody can feel like a nobody, anything can happen. You can have large cataclysmic events or self-contained person terrors. In the case of Mulberry Street, you get both.

Mulberry Street is a 2007 “zombie” movie released by After Dark Films (Zombies Of Mass Destruction, The Deaths Of Ian Stone). The movie stars Nick Damici (World Trade Center, Stake Land) as Clutch, a retired boxer living in a shabby apartment on Mulberry Street in New York City. Clutch's daughter Casey (Kim Blair, The Look, The Mighty Macs) is a soldier returning home to New York from war, sporting fresh scars on her face from battle. Clutch is preparing for her return with his friend Coco, when strange news reports about rat attacks across the city start to come out. The building's super Ross is busy fixing all sorts of problems with the buildings when he is bitter by a diseased rat. Ross begins to slowly transform, first with coarse hair growing on his body and then facial mutations. Similar mutations occur across Manhattan as the city shuts down public transportation in hopes of containing the outbreak, which is transmitted through infected bites, from spreading. Waves of violent cannibal attacks stretch across the city as Casey tries to reach her father. Ross has now become a full-fledged zombie with Clutch and Coco fighting him off and locking him in a closet. At the same time, Clutch ventures out into the mayhem to find his neighbor, Kay (Bo Corre, Eldorado, Harrow Island) whom he has feelings for. He finds Kay at the bar she works at and the two fight off the infected people, who now resemble giant humanoid rats. Casey, who stole a car, manages to find her father, but Kay is grabbed by a zombie before they could save her. Quarantine is declared for the city with scientists and soldiers planning to come in and exterminate the infected. They make it back to the apartment and barricade themselves inside. Ross has escaped the closet and is crawling around the walls of the apartment. With the infected inside the walls and pounding at the door how will the tenants of Mulberry street survive?

"Oh, Lordy! Save me, Cheeseus!"

There's some debate online if this movie is officially a zombie movie or not since the infected are technically mutated rat people and not the undead. For all intensive purposes, Mulberry Street is most definitely a zombie movie. All the tropes are there: infection caused by a bite, mutation, cannibalism, loss of humanity, and swarms of mindless monsters chasing the uninfected. I mean, there's a scene straight out of Night Of The Living Dead where the mutants hands are coming through the door trying to grab Clutch and Casey. Just because one detail has been changed from typical zombie canon does not change what the movie is about. The story itself is fairly standard zombie fair, complete with chase scenes and bloody violence. The movie smartly uses New York City as the setting for the movie. The infection spreads incredibly fast (the events of the movie take place in just one day) and the quarantine makes sense, as Manhattan is an island. In all likelihood, it wouldn't have worked, but for the story, it's acceptable. If you've in a New York City subway station, you've seen the rats, so the basic concept is sound as well. Unfortunately, we never get a reason as to why the rat bites are changing people. It would have been nice to get some sort of clue just to add to the overall horror. Was it a chemical leak or nuclear waste? How about a comet hit the city? Just give me something to work with.

The lack of a reason, while not important to the story itself, does present another overall problem in the movie and that's a lack of social commentary. Like all good zombie movies, there needs to be a bigger overall meaning to the movie. While other zombie movies question human nature or our impact on the environment, Mulberry Street pretty much ignores all of this. I thought they might be building something with Casey, showing her post-traumatic stress from the war or hiding her scars, but nothing came from it. Even the ending was another lost opportunity, with soldiers coming to the apartment to kill the infected. It was a good chance to talk about government conspiracies or human nature, but again, we get nothing. I don't need to be preached at, believe me, but I need something more than just “mutant rat people overrun New York City”.

Mulberry Street is obviously a low budget horror movie as most of the movie is shot within the apartment and on public streets. The movie gets the most of it's actors thanks to good performances from everyone. On paper, the idea of Mulberry Street sounds silly, but it's actually a decent horror film. You can probably compare it to 28 Days Later in terms of fast chase scenes and frantic action. The violence is good with a fair amount of blood and gore. The mutated rat people look decent, though the camera never really focuses on them, so I can't really determine if the makeup and effects were great. My biggest issue with the movie is the grainy, low quality footage. Some scenes are perfectly clear, but it's when they venture outside of the apartment where the quality of the footage goes down the drain. The poor quality of the film makes multiple scenes extremely difficult to see what is happening. It's not an artist decision by the director, it's just a cheap camera and the rest of the movie suffers for it.

Seriously, did they smudge sand all over the camera when they shot this?

Mulberry Street is a decent zombie movie that tries to make the most out of a low budget. While the idea of mutant rat people running loose in New York City sounds worth of the SyFy channel, the movie is actually not as silly as it sounds. There is a good amount of action and violence with some nice suspense. The acting is what helps keep the movie from becoming ridiculous. The biggest problems in the movie come from the low quality of the film during certain scenes and the lack of social commentary. Mulberry Street has it's moments and with a bigger budget and a little more thought in the script, it could have been great.


Thursday, September 27, 2012

Day 271: House Of Wax

House Of Wax
More like the Outhouse of Wax

When is a remake not really a remake? When you use the same name as a far better movie and the most basic of premises. In recent years, there has a been an avalanche of classic horror movie remakes. While I'm not entirely for remakes, I will admit that sometimes a fresh prospective or updated effects can do wonders. The Thing and Dawn Of The Dead are two prime examples. Ultimately, what makes these two remakes work is that they are still true to the source material. Some characters may change, some events may be added, but the story and the heart of the movie is still the same. A lot of these new remakes, though, take the name of a much-beloved classic horror movie, along with a loose interpretation of the material, and crank out a movie in hopes that people will see it on name recognition. One of these movies is House Of Wax.

House of Wax is a 2005 horror remake of the 1953 Vincent Price classic of the same name. Completely forget what you know about the original because this one does as well. The movie stars Elisha Cuthbert (The Girl Next Door, 24) as Carly Jones and Chad Michael Murray (One Tree Hill, The Haunting In Georgia) as her brother Nick. Nick, Carly, her boyfriend Wade (Jared Padalecki, Gilmore Girls, Cry Wolf), her friend Paige (Paris Hilton, Repo! The Genetic Opera, Veronica Mars), Paige's boyfriend Blake (Robert Ri'chard, Coach Carter, The Vampire Diaries), and their goofy buddy Dalton (Jon Abrahams, Scary Movie, Meet The Parents) go on a road trip to see a football game in Louisiana. As night falls, the group decides to pull over and camp out in a field for the night. A truck drives up to their campsite, shining it's headlights on them, but the driver refuses to get out. The truck flees when Nick throws a beer bottle at it and the group goes to bed. In the morning, Carly and Paige go exploring in the woods. Carly falls down a hill into a pit full of dead animals and what appears to be a dead hand. the group tries to leave to find out that Wade's car will not start thanks to a broken fan belt. A disheveled redneck comes buy and pulls the hand out of the pile, revealing it to be fake. He drives Carly and Wade to the town of Ambrose, but they become uneasy being in his presence and decide to get out and walk to town. When they arrive in Ambrose, the town is virtually deserted. They find Bo (Brian Van Holt, S.W.A.T., Black Hawk Down), the town mechanic, who offers to fix their car. While they wait, Wade and Carly explore the House of Wax, a wax museum where literally everything is made out of wax. The statues are incredibly lifelike and downright scary. When they go to Bo's house, Wade is attacked by a long-haired man in a wax mask named Vincent (also Brian Van Holt). Vincent covers Wade in wax, turning him into a living wax sculpture. While waiting for Wade, Carly notices the truck from the night before in Bo's yard. She tries to escape, but Bo eventually captures her. At the same time, Nick and Dalton arrive in town looking for their friends. Dalton meets the same fate as Wade while Nick fights off Bo and gets to Carly. They discover that Bo and Vincent have been turning people into wax figures for years since the death of their mother. Meanwhile, Vincent goes to the campsite and kills Blake and Paige before pursuing Carly and Nick. How will they survive with two homicidal maniacs chasing them in a ghost town filled with creepy wax figures?

Whiter than a party at Mitt Romney's house

If you've seen the original House of Wax or just watched the movie's segment on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments, you know that this remake has almost nothing to do with it. To say this is a loose interpretation is in fact a loose interpretation of the the saying “loose interpretation”. Other than the name of the movie and the setting in a wax museum, these two movies really have nothing in common. They try to give a nod to the original by naming one of the characters “Vincent” but that's not nearly enough. I wasn't expecting anything near the quality of the original movie (I mean, Paris Hilton is in the movie), but I assumed this version would at least have the same basic story. That's my fault for having common sense when it comes to remaking a horror movie. Instead, we get a borderline slasher/torture horror movie more in line with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre than House of Wax.

While that's incredibly disappointing, it's actually one of the few things the movie does right. It has a surprisingly good amount of gore and violence, far more than I expected. The blood and effects used in the movie are very good and made things entertaining. I was impressed with the actual house of wax in the movie, especially during the final chase scene. The story is rather plain and uninspired, playing out how you would expect. The movie tries to go for a few surprises, but the only garnered a mild shrug from me. House of Wax is actually a well-made movie, despite not actually being a good movie. The sets look great and the direction is quite competent. The acting ranges from decent to bad and I probably don't need to tell you which actor belongs to which rating. While Paris Hilton isn't good, she's fairly tolerable in the movie, thanks in part to not being the main focus. 

What the hell are you smiling at?!

The idea behind remaking House Of Wax is a sound one. The younger generations have probably never seen the original and it's not ingrained in pop culture, like Friday The 13th or Halloween. It was a chance to bring a good horror story back to the screen, with updated effects and a fresh take. Unfortunately, this version decided to take the name, throw in some pretty actors and hope that people go see it. Well, they were right because the movie made about $70 million, so I guess I'm the idiot. Regardless, the movie is much closer to the slasher genre with it's chase scenes, jump-at-you surprises, and extreme violence. If you like blood and gore, you may actually appreciate certain scenes in House Of Wax. The acting is mostly tolerable, but the direction is good and the special effects are great. Maybe in a few years, we'll get a House Of Wax remake that will be more faithful to the source material.


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Day 270: The Faculty

The Faculty
School's out for summer

Public high school is a pretty scary experience. You're stuck in a place for hours, forced to take classes you have no interest in with people you hate, and on top of that, the food is terrible. Sure, public school builds character and prepares you for the real world far better than a private school, but it's still one of the circles of Hell. With cold, sterile lifeless buildings, it's no surprise that so many horror movies involve high school students.

The Faculty is a 1998 science fiction horror movie directed by Robert Rodriguez (Machete, From Dusk Till Dawn) and starring Elijah Wood (Lord Of The Rings, Sin city) as as high school student Casey Connor. At Herrington High School in Ohio, the faculty begins to act strangely, starting with football coach Joe Willis (Robert Patrick, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, The Marine). A slug-like alien dependent on water, takes over the coach, turning him into an aggressive, emotionless drone. The coach then begins to turn other members of the faculty into alien drones. Casey finds one of the aliens on the football field and brings it to his science teacher, Mr. Furlong (Jon Stewart, The Daily Show, Half Baked). When water accidentally spills on the alien, it revives and is able to self-replicate. Along with Casey, only a few students notice the weird changes that are going on: the popular Delilah (Jordana Brewster, The Fast & The Furious, Chuck), goth outsider Stokely (Clea DuVall, Carnivale, The Grudge), former quarterback Stan (Shawn Hatosy, John Q, Dexter), drug-dealing loner Zeke (Josh Hartnett, 30 Days Of Night, Pearl Harbor), and new girl Marybeth (Laura Harris, Dead Like Me, 24). Casey and Delilah sneak into the teacher's lounge to see if they can find any clues. They hide in a closet and watch as Nurse Harper (Salma Hayek, From Dusk Till Dawn, Desperado) is attacked by the coach and transformed by the alien. At the same time, Casey and Delilah discover the dead body of one of their older teachers in the closet. They flee and when Casey returns with his parents and police in tow, all the evidence is gone. With the police now under alien control and the teachers now infecting students, the group gathers in the science room to get the alien Casey found only to discover it's gone. An infected Mr. Furlong attacks the group and is only stopped when Zeke stabs him in the eye with his homemade drug, a diuretic called Scat. The group flees to Zeke's house where he studies on of the aliens and determines that they constantly need water to live. Stokely hypothesises that killing the queen alien will turn everyone back to normal. Unsure if anyone in the group is an alien, Zeke has everyone snort the drug, revealing that Delilah is, in fact, infected. The rest of the group head back towards the school to find and kill the queen alien whom they believe is their principal. To their surprise, killing their principal does not cure everyone. Who is the alien queen and how will the group be able to stop her?

Who wants spaghetti for dinner?

I admittedly have a soft spot for The Faculty in my heart because I watched it a lot growing up. It's your quintessential teen horror movie, complete with a ragtag motley crew of characters that many teens can identify with. A lot of movies, not just horror, involving high school students tend to come off as disingenuous. That's not a problem in The Faculty with it's smart script and good direction. Writer Kevin Williamson (Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer) does a good job of crafting enjoyable, though cliché, characters with believable dialogue. It also helps that the actors portraying high schoolers actually look like they are still in school. I mean, Elijah Wood still looks like he could be in high school over ten years later. What makes the movie work so well is the fast pace and good acting. The cast is downright massive with talented actors who later went on to bigger careers. The movie has a good amount of suspense that blends well with the action later in the movie. The special effects are decent for the time and the alien queen looks very good in her true form. The soundtrack is late 90's awesomeness, with songs by Stabbing Westward, Garbage, The Offspring and Class of '99, which consisted of Tom Morello from Rage Against The Machine and the late Layne Staley from Alice In Chains and Mad Season.

Some may notice the movies striking resemblance to Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, even going so far as to call The Faculty a direct ripoff. In the movie, they actually acknowledge how their scenario is similar to Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, so I think it's unfair to label the movie as a ripoff. They're openly acknowledging that the movie exists, so if anything, The Faculty should be viewed as either a re-imagining or a tribute since the movies are similar, but not entirely the same. A theme of the movie is that everyone in the group wants to change who they are. It's certainly a true sentiment for a lot of high school students which helps add an air of authenticity to the characters. My only issue with this is at the end when some in the group completely change who they used to be. Stokely, for example, was a goth loner who now wears bright girly clothes and changed her hair. The drug-dealing slacker Zeke is now on the football team. It's a good message to change for the better, but I didn't like the total 180 turns they did, implying that completely changing yourself will mean your happy. 

"I'm not Tobey Maguire!"

The Faculty is a fun sci-fi horror movie that can be enjoyed by teens and adults alike. There is plenty of suspense and action to keep things interesting and entertaining. The ragtag group of students is a bit cliché, but it allows people to identify with a certain character or characters. The cast is very impressive in terms of star power and acting ability. Robert Rodriguez does a good job of capturing the thrills and horror of the movie while writer Kevin Williamson crafts likable, if flawed, characters and dialogue. While it's not entirely original, The Faculty is still highly entertaining to this day.


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Day 269: Killer Workout

Killer Workout 
All filler, no killer

Basing an entire horror movie around a fad is never a good idea. Would you really want to see a scary movie about ultimate Frisbee, the Atkins diet, or Pokemon cards? Passing fads are just that: passing. What may be “in” at the time will just look silly 5, 10, or 20 years later. Basing your movie on a trend forces the movie into a tight niche and limits possibilities. It does allow for creative violence, but that requires good writing and clever ideas. Who needs good writing when you have a slasher movie about aerobics?

Killer Workout (also know as Aerobicide) is a 1987 slasher horror movie starring Marcia Karr (Real Genius, Maniac Cop) as gym owner Rhonda Johnson. The movie begins with Valerie Johnson, a model about to break it big, who was horribly burned in a freak tanning bed accident. Two years later, Valerie's twin sister Rhonda is running a local gym where aerobics classes are all the craze. An unknown killer begins murdering gym goers with a large safety pin, leaving few clues behind. Detective Lieutenant Morgan (David James Campbell, Scarecrows) starts to follow the case, trying to find out who the killer is. At the same time, Chuck Dawson (Ted Prior, Surf Nazis Must Die, Born Killer) begins working at the gym, drawing the ire of muscle head co-worker, Jimmy (Fritz Matthews, Born Killer, Operation Warzone). The two come to blows with Chuck coming out the victor. The body count begins to rise as Det. Morgan (slowly) gets closer to uncovering who the killer is. Is it the new guy, Chuck? Is it the unhinged Jimmy? How does Rhonda's sister Valerie fit in to all of this and what is Rhonda hiding?


I feel pretty silly criticizing a slasher movie set to aerobics music, but I'm going to do it anyway. Killer Workout actually came quite late to the slasher crazy which really began in the late 70's. In true slasher/exploitation form, we get lots of T & A thanks to multiple scenes of women during aerobics. There's enough pelvic thrusts and squats to make your own hips hurt. I lost count around the fifth time the movie felt the need to show us aerobic workouts. The movie also gives us loads of hilariously cheesy 80's workout music, complete with lyrics about pushing things to the limit, working hard, and other cliches. Admittedly, the music is kind of catchy, but for whatever reason, the music continues during scenes with dialogue. The version I watched was a poor VHS transfer to online, so the dialogue was hard enough to hear without the music blaring on top of it. There is a decent amount of violence and blood in the movie, but there is a serious lack of creative killing. You'd think setting a slasher film in a gym would allow for all sorts of violence with weights and machines, but sadly, that's not the case.

There really isn't much to Killer Workout's story beyond pretty women being killed. The choice of a large safety pin being used as the weapon is certainly, uh, unique to say the least. It's completely random other than to show the audience who the real killer is at the end. Why a safety pin? Your guess is as good as mine. The movie does have a twist, but it's not shocking since I didn't even know a twist was possible. I didn't even know Valerie and Rhonda were related until the reveal. Initially, I thought Valerie was just a random victim of the killer. They should have made the connection clearer in order to make the twist more interesting. Det. Morgan may be one of the most inept police officers in movie history. His detective skills move at a snail's pace and he's a complete asshole every time he's on the screen. It's a combination of bad writing and even worse acting. The inclusion of Chuck is rendered moot when he eventually disappears towards the end. The various fight scenes, including a drawn-out chase through an empty construction sight (yes, really) are all unintentionally hilarious and worthy of a Rifftrax/Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment.

Someone set her makeup applicator to "Homicidal Clown"

Whenever you focus a movie on a very specific trend, you're bound to look silly a few years later. Having a slasher movie based around aerobic workouts in the 1980's makes sense, but in 2012, it comes off as a novelty. It's like having a horror movie about Zoomba workouts. The movie has lots of suggestive dancing and clothes, but a relatively low amount of nudity. The acting is pretty bad and some of the characters are barely developed. The violence is decent, though the use of a big safety pin as the murder weapon still confounds me. Killer Workout is best seen with a group of friends who like to make jokes during movies. It still manages to be entertaining, but mostly for the wrong reasons. The horror isn't great, but Killer Workout is a fun little snapshot in time when spandex and big hair ruled.


Monday, September 24, 2012

Day 268: Cujo

Nothing says "killer dog" like a white fence with red paint on it...

I love dogs. I mean, I love just about all animals, but dogs hold a special place in my heart. Their love and loyalty is second only to humans. Sorry cat-lovers, but it's true. I can't remember the last time a cat was really excited to see me. It's because of this love that I despise animal cruelty. It boils my blood to read about someone abusing an animal. Even if it's just in the world of movies, it still bothers me a little bit. It's under these general feelings that I watched a movie I had been putting off for a long time.

Cujo is a 1983 horror movie based off the novel of the same name by Stephen King (The Shining, The Shawshank Redemption). The movie stars Dee Wallace (Exit Humanity, The Howling) as Donna Trenton and Danny Pintauro (Who's The Boss?, As The World Turns) as her son Tad. A large St. Bernard named Cujo is bitten by a bat and contracts rabies. Cujo's behavior changes go unnoticed by it's owner, mechanic Joe Camber (Ed Lauter, Not Another Teen Movie, Youngblood). Donna's husband, Vic (Daniel Hugh Kelly, Ryan's Hope, Memphis Beat) rightfully suspects that Donna is cheating on him. When a work crisis forces him to take a long business trip, Donna takes her car to Joe to be fixed. Unknown to Donna, Cujo has succumbed to rabies, attacking and killing Joe and his friend. When she arrives, they are viciously attacked by Cujo, who smashed the car's windows and damages the exterior. They try to drive away, but the car will no longer start. The dog waits outside and repeatedly attacks every time Donna tries to get out of the car. Donna and Tad are forced to sit in the car for days, enduring intense heat and dehydration. Vic finally returns home from his trip to find his house vandalized and his wife and son missing. He calls the police, blaming the man Donna had an affair with for their kidnapping. A local sheriff is sent to Joe Camber's house and is attacked by Cujo. With no more help coming and death all around her, how will Donna be able to escape with her son?

"Hello, we'd like you to have this flower from the Church of Consciousness!"

If that description of a movie seems slim, don't blame me. Not much really happens in Cujo as the first half of the movie is just filler to kill time until Cujo attacks the car. Of course, the other problem is that the second half of the movie is essential just two people sitting in a car. We know Stephen King can write horror and suspense, so the source material isn't the problem. The story plods along with nothing particularly interesting happening for long stretches of time. The first few minutes of Cujo attacking Donna's car are actually frightening, but the movie gets stuck in the same gear from that point on. The true horror of a story like Cujo lies in suspense and psychological torture. It's the waiting that should be scary, the knowledge that going outside of the car means death, but staying inside the car also means death. That's pretty scary, especially in written form, when it's done correctly. Unfortunately, it's not done that way in Cujo and comes off as just boring. It's not entertaining to watch essentially the same scene over and over for half a movie.

As I mentioned above, I don't like seeing animals hurt. Cujo's transformation is quite heartbreaking, especially because it was due mostly to neglect by his owners. Selfishness is a big theme in the movie, between Cujo being ignored and Donna cheating on her husband. The entire adultery story didn't work for me as it was never portrayed as a particularly important part of the story. It didn't really change all that much or effect anyone's decisions or motivations. If anything, it just made me hate Donna and not care about her well-being. On top of that, Tad falls into the all-to-common trap of children in horror movies being incredibly annoying. I don't blame Danny Pintauro, I blame lazy writers and directors that just had him scream and cry for 45 minutes. Horror movie writers and directors, I beg you, please stop making kids in horror movies annoying or stupid. It makes me want to cheer for the bad guy to get them just so I don't have to hear or see them anymore.

Director Lewis Teague (Navy SEALs, Cat's Eye) manages to suck the life out of the few action scenes in the movie with some questionable shots. There is one scene where Donna and Tad are stuck in the car where the camera continuously swings around 360 degrees. It wasn't creative, it was just nauseating and unnecessary. He's forced to stretch out scenes far longer than they could manage and it kills what suspense the movie could muster. The acting is passable with just about hovering around my annoyance tolerance level. I don't normally pick up on a lot of errors in movies, but there is one scene in Cujo that I couldn't believe made it out of editing. On the first night of Cujo's attack, a phone ringing inside Joe's house causes Cujo to jump through the window. Before the dog leaves the house, we clearly see the trainer's hand reach up and pull the dog down. How can you miss something like that? It's not even like it was a quick flash of a hand and then a cut away. You clearly see an arm shoot up and pull the dog down. What a screw up!

"Give me all your Pupperonis!"

I like Stephen King's work and have enjoyed a good amount of the movies based his stories. While Cujo is a well-known story, I just don't think it had enough to create a complete movie. Like another King adaptation, Graveyard Shift, Cujo essentially has one important scene and nothing else going for it. Scenes feel too stretched-out and all the emotion from the characters feels drained and pointless. The adultery storyline never really goes anywhere and just feels like unnecessary filler material. By making Donna a cheater, I felt less inclined to cheer for her survival. Throw in an annoying child and I was practically cheering for Cujo to finish them off. I didn't like seeing the dog's transformation, but it wasn't gruesome or particularly harsh. Cujo has a few good moments and a scare or two, but it's just not enough to make the movie good.


Sunday, September 23, 2012

Day 267: Resident Evil: Retribution

Resident Evil: Retribution
Resident Evil: Photoshop

When you reach the fifth installment in anything (movies, books, video games, meals) you already have a pretty good idea of what is going to happen. You could never see a Friday The 13th movie, but you already know who Jason Voorhees is and what he looks like. It's important to keep things fresh while not straying too far from the formula that got the movie where it is in the first place. It's a fine line to walk and not always the easiest. Once again, look at Friday the 13th: They ran out of ideas and eventually shot Jason in space just to give him something else to do. The Hellraiser series is the worst offended, eventually sending Pinface and the rest of the Cenobites into cyberspace. The point is, it actually takes effort and love to make a movie entertaining and relevant when it's already been done multiple times.

Resident Evil: Retribution is the fifth installment of the Resident Evil horror/action series starring Milla Jovovich (The Fifth Element, Ultra Violent) as Alice. After a brief recap of the past 4 movies, which you can read reviews of here, here, and here) the movie picks up where Resident Evil: Afterlife left off. I strongly suggest you read the other reviews first, because this one will be hard to follow if you don't know what occurs in those movies). After being attacked on the rescue ship “Arcadia”, Alice wakes up in a surburban home, married to the supposedly dead Carlos Olivera (Oded Fehr, Resident Evil: Apocalypse, The Mummy) and mother to a hearing-impaired girl named Becky (Aryana Engineer, Orphan). Their perfect world is quickly shattered when zombies swarm their neighborhood, killing Carlos. Alice and Becky flee into the street and get a ride from the long-dead Rain Ocampo (Michelle Rodriguez, Resident Evil, Machete). They are hit by a truck and Alice and Becky run into a house, trying to hide from the zombies. It is revealed that all the people involved in this scenario are just clones. The real Alice awakens inside an Umbrella Corporation base and is interrogated by a mind-controlled Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory, Resident Evil: Apocalypse, Eragon). The Red Queen, the computer program created by Umbrella, is determined to recapture Alice or kill her if necessary. During a power failure, Alice escapes her cell and arrives in what appears to be Tokyo. She fights off a horde of zombies and manages to escape into a control room. There she meets Umbrella rogue agent Ada Wong (Li Bingbing, 1911, The Knot) who has teamed with Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts, Resident Evil: Afterlife Diary Of The Dead) to fight the Red Queen and her zombie hordes. Wesker reveals that the Umbrella base is actually underwater and ice in Russia and that a team has been dispatched to meet her. The team is made up of Leon Kennedy, Barry Burton and Luther West (Boris Kodjoe, Resident Evil: Afterlife, The Gospel). The base is a training ground, complete with human clones, used to show governments the effects of Umbrella's biological weapons in urban settings. Alice and Ada must travel through multiple areas to meet the group and escape. After going through New York City and fighting to Axemen, Alice and Ada arrive in the suburbs and find Becky still alive. Becky believes that this Alice is her mother and is unaware that she is actually a clone. They have to fight off “bad” clones of Rain, Carlos, and James “One” Shade (Colin Salmon, Resident Evil, Punisher: War Zone). Ada is captured with Alice and Becky escaping with the “good” Rain into Moscow. There they meet up with their rescue group and try to escape the compound. Will they be able to stop the Red Queen and escape in time?

"Ugh, nothing gets zombie blood out!"

In the era of reboots and sequels, it is actually impressive that Resident Evil has managed to last this long with the same actors and actresses. It's always good to see a movie, far into it's story, recognize past events and characters and Retribution does this in spades. We get characters and references to every movie and video games as well. As I've sad before, I'm not much of a video game player, but I was still able to pick up on some references, such as a chainsaw-wielding zombie in the Moscow scene. Of course, if you don't know anything about the video games, this comes off as completely random. Cool, but random. Speaking of video games, Retribution is completely laid-out like a video game, complete with different levels and even end bosses. The previous movies all had a similar feel, but this one was the most obvious. Of course, this did allow the movie to show zombie outbreaks in fun and different locations. We've seen zombie Nazis in Dead Snow and Zombie Lake and now Resident Evil: Retribution has given us zombie Soviets. Ever wanted to see a zombie invasion in Times Square? Well now you can. I should mention that by setting scenes in Times Square and Tokyo, there is a lot of in-movie advertisements. It's a little obvious and slightly annoying to see a giant “Gamestop” sign in the middle of a video game movie. We get it.


The fifth movie in a zombie action movie is never going to be Citizen Kane. The writers know this, director Paul W.S. Anderson knows this, and the audience knows this. More attention is placed on great action sequences and stunning visual effects than a cohesive, complex story. Survival is the theme with lots of guns and explosions. While previous Resident Evil movies strayed from the original zombie path, Retribution makes up for it with one of the best zombie invasion scenes in recent memory. It's undoubtedly similar to the opening from the Dawn Of The Dead remake, but if you're going to be like a zombie movie, you couldn't do much better. Certain scenes or character motivations are questionable and require some willing suspension of disbelief. The fight scenes are the usual high-octane, popcorn-movie fodder full of unbelievable jumps and twists. The final fight scene, while fun to watch, goes on for way too long, especially when you find out that the movie doesn't end when they finish.

Well, I guess it's good she's wearing red

Milla Jovovich is as good as ever and I believe she is one of this generation's best action stars. I'm glad she has stuck with the Resident Evil series as her personality and ability plays well in these over-the-top scenarios. If they stuck someone else in her role, it just wouldn't work. The supporting cast is just as good, fitting into their characters well. This was Li Bingbing's first role in an American movie, much to my surprise, since she seemed so natural in her role. The movie is in both 2D and 3D, but I saw the 2D version. I am not particularly interested in the 3D gimmick and have only seen 3D movies when no other option was available. You can definitely tell in the 2D version which scenes were meant for 3D with all sorts of things flying at the screen in super slow-motion. Director Paul W.S. Anderson picks up where he left off in the previous movie with tons of fluid action and heavily computerized effects. We get all sorts of different angles to capture the action and plenty of slow-motion so we can see every shot and punch.

It's like a family reunion, but with way more guns (or way less, depending on your family)

If you've seen any previous Resident Evil movie, you pretty much know what you're going to get with Retribution. The movie is a believer in “if it ain't broke, don't fix it.” It is full of violence, action, blood, and a dash of intrigue and science fiction. This movie does a good job of giving nods to previous movies thanks to the inclusion of Michelle Rodriguez, Siena Guillory, Boris Kodjoe, Colin Salmon, and Oded Fehr. Milla Jovovich is very good, as always, and the supporting cast helps keep the movie going when she isn't on screen. There are also a few scenes taken from the video game series, but I'm sure hardcore gamers picked up more than I did. It was fun to get new characters like Ada Wong and Leon Kennedy, though I would have liked a little more background information on them. Retribution uses more zombies than in previous installments and uses them well. While you may not be enthralled by the uncomplicated story, you'll still enjoy all the action and violence. It's a Resident Evil movie, what more can you expect?


Saturday, September 22, 2012

Day 266: Meridian

Nothing says "romance" like Bark At The Moon-era Ozzy Osbourne

Fairy tales are way scarier than we realize. We generally think of the cute, cuddly Disney versions when talking about stories like Snow White, Cinderella, and Peter Pan. If you go back and read original stories, such as the Grimm Fairytales, you'll find out that these stories were extremely violent and perverse. Beloved characters have terrible fates filled with enough torture and pain to make even the most ardent horror fan blush. Maybe it's our preconceived notion of fairy tales, but these stories would make a great horror movie, right? Right?!

Meridian (also known as Meridian: Kiss Of The Beast) is a 1990 horror/romance movie produced and directed by Charles Band (Puppet Master, Evil Bong). The film stars Sherilynn Fenn (Twin Peaks, Fatal Instinct) as Catherine Bomarzini. After her father's death, Catherine inherits her family's castle in Italy. Excited by her new home, Catherine invites her friend Gina (Charlie Spradling) to join her at the castle. Gina is tasked with restoring a 15th century painting recently donated to a church, but puts it off in favor of going to the castle. The women come across a traveling sideshow outside the castle gates where Catherine begins to feel a strong connection with a masked performer. Gina invites the head magician Lawrence (Malcolm Jamieson, Victor Victoria, Howards' Way) and the rest of the troupe back to the castle for dinner. Both women are drugged with Gina being raped by Lawrence. Catherine is raped by the masked man, who turns out to be Lawrence's twin brother Oliver. He tries to be romantic, but really, it's rape. During the act, Oliver turns into a monstrous beast. The next day, Catherine begins to see a ghost of a murdered girl in the castle. Her servant, Martha, explains that the girl she thinks she is seeing may be Catherine's aunt who had been killed due to a curse put on the family in the 15th century. The curse involves the members of the troupe the women encountered the day before. Catherine begins to dream of the beast and starts to fall in love with him, believing that he is a tragic figure. At the same time, Gina discovers the painting she is restoring is Catherine's castle, and two figures in the painting resemble her and Oliver. Will Catherine be able to free herself and Oliver from their curse?

When a man-beast loves a woman, can't keep his paws on anything else

The movie is inspired by the Beauty And The Beast fairytale though I don't recall the Disney version having so much nudity and molestation. I have to assume they were trying to build off of the 1987 “Beauty And The Beast” television series starring Linda Hamilton and Ron Perlman. The movie tries to be romantic or erotic, but none of that really makes sense because the main character is drugged and raped by some sort of man-beast. One does not build an everlasting loving relationship by forcing oneself upon another. One also does not create an entertaining movie by having this scene last over 10 minutes long! It's bad enough that you want to have this ridiculous supernatural beast-rape scene in your movie, but why do you have to make the audience suffer through what can only be described as the extended director's cut version? There is nothing sexy or erotic about it and anyone that thinks so should seek professional help. The story itself is insultingly ridiculous filled with implausible actions and inexplicable scenes. If my summary of the movie confused you, well, it confused me too. Why would someone invite a random group of circus performers to their castle for dinner? Why would you not go to the police? What does this have to do with a ghost that shows up half-way through the movie? Why the hell does Catherine fall in love with the beast that raped her? WHY? WHY? WHY?

The acting throughout Meridian ranges from balsam to redwood in terms of woodeness. I can't really blame the actors that much because when you have such a terrible story, there's only so much you can do. Phil Fondacaro (Land Of The Dead, Bordello Of Blood), a Full Moon Productions staple, does have a small role and he's enjoyable in just about anything. The makeup on the beast makes it look like if the Wolfman and Jocelyn Wildenstein (google her) had a baby. The movie is thankfully short because I was begging for this movie to end quickly. If there is one redeeming value to the movie, it's the music. The heavily synthesized music is delightfully cheesy and reminiscent of 80's horror movies. Beyond that, Meridian has almost nothing going for it.


Meridian is the visual equivalent of a “face palm”. It is certainly not scary and by no means romantic unless you also consider “The Last House Of The Left” a romantic movie. The story is absurd with character motivation summed up as “just because”. The plot devices don't work and the extended rape scenes, while not graphic, are still incredibly disturbing. It's ridiculous that the romance between Catherine and Oliver/The Beast is based on her being drugged and taken advantage of. This is either extremely lazy writing or extremely disturbed writing. I supposed I shouldn't be surprised considering Charles Band has been behind such “classics” as Decadent Evil, Cryptz, and Terrorvision. Any goodwill he had built from Puppet Master and Re-Animator has been gone for a long time. While the basic idea of making Beauty And The Beast into a horror movie is interesting and bold, Meridian fails in just about every aspect.


Friday, September 21, 2012

Day 265: Exit Humanity

Exit Humanity
 Collect the whole set!

When you think of the average zombie movie, what comes to mind? I'll bet it's lots of blood and gore and plenty of violence. It's probably filled with lots of “jump-at-you” scares and some chase scenes. What a lot of zombie movies forget to include is a sense of humanity in the main characters. Zombie movies are the quintessential “us vs. them” story and plenty of stories forget to include that. Of course, no one wants to die, but what are the other dangers of living in a zombie-infested world? A loss of purpose, a loss of identity, and a loss of humanity. Those thoughts are a bit deeper than your average horror movie, but someone had to address it at some point.

Exit Humanity is a 2012 zombie movie written and directed by first-timer John Geddes (producer on Scarce, Monster Brawl). The movie stars Mark Gibson (Monster Brawl, Psych) as former Confederate soldier Edward Young. The story comes from Edward's diary, read by his descendant Malcolm Young, voiced by Brian Cox (X2, Troy). Broken up into separate chapters, the story begins after the Civil War with an outbreak of the dead coming back to life and eating the living. The walking dead claim the lives of Edward's wife and young son, scarring and haunting Edward. He burns his son's body and gathers the ashes with the plan to scatter them in a special spot. Broken by their loss, Edward fails at a suicide attempt and beings to wander hopelessly through the Tennessee wilderness. He questions life, nature, and the essence of humanity and the world falls apart around him. He happens upon a small village where he meets Isaac (Adam Seybold, The Chair, Stock and Awe), another survivor. Issac convinces Edward to aid him in rescuing his sister Emma (Jordan Hayes, House At The End Of The Street, Nostrum) who has been kidnapped by rebel soldiers, led by General Williams (Bill Moseley, House of 1000 Corpses, The Haunted World of El Superbeasto). General Williams has been capturing survivors and forcing them to be bitten by zombies in hopes of finding someone with an immunity. During their rescue, Edward is shot and they bring him to the home of Eve (Dee Wallace, Cujo, The Howling) a supposed witch, who can heal him. Edward recovers and for a time, all four live together in relative peace. Eve reveals that it is because of her that the zombies now roam the land. Her sister was raped and Eve, using her knowledge of medicine, terminated the pregnancy. Her sister was killed by the town and Eve was shunned. Through a spell, Eve was able to bring her sister back to life, but the process turned her into a flesh-craving zombie, thus starting the outbreak. Initially angry, Edward manages to forgive Eve and find peace within himself. One night, Emma is bitten by a zombie, but reveals that she has already been bitten before and is immune. He completes his journal to the special spot, a beautiful, serene waterfall, and empties his son's ashes into the water. At the same time, General Williams and his men discover that Emma is immune to the zombie bite and capture her, killing Eve in the process. Will Edward be able to stop General Williams and save Emma before it is too late?

"My cramps are gone by my head is still killing me!"
While it may not seem like it from my general summary, Exit Humanity is far deeper than your typical horror movie. The movie constantly asks existential questions and addresses complicated themes. Edward Young's tale of survival is not just of the physical, but of the emotional and spiritual as well. He is tortured by the loss of his wife and son and, unlike typical zombie movie heroes, gives up. He doesn't run blindly into a horde of zombies and “kicks ass”. His inability to protect his family has shattered his psyche, making him question his own capabilities as a man. He comes out of his despair when he crafts a new “family” with Emma, Issac, and Eve and then casts off his humanity all together when he goes to get Emma back. This character development is much more in-depth than straight-forward movies, let alone horror. Despite all of this inner turmoil and existential crisis, the movie is still relatively easy to follow, even for those not looking to be touched. Of course, the movie does include the usual "man is the real enemy" theme found in most zombie movies.

Exit Humanity has a lot of poignant, heart-breaking moments, but also gives the audience a good amount of action and violence. It doesn't have a large amount of gore, but if that's all you're looking for in a zombie movie, you've come to the wrong place anyway. The zombies look good and move at my preferred slow, lurching speed. The locations used in the movie are absolutely stunning and make the poignant moments beautiful. Exit Humanity also includes a few animated scenes throughout, usually at the beginning of chapters. I'm not exactly sure what the reasoning was behind the use of animation, but regardless, they look very good. The way the movie was shot is very reminiscent of Valhalla Rising, with it's sweeping camera work, beautiful natural landscape, and directorial decisions. With only a few acting credits to his name, Mark Gibson plays the role of Edward Young very well, which is not easy considering the amount of emotional and physical acting required. Despite being a relative newcomer, John Geddes has a fantastic eye for great shots and flexes his directorial muscle with an array of creative and unique scenes. The music used throughout the movie is downright beautiful and if I have any complaint it's that we actually hear the music too much and miss out on some good lines of dialogue.


I like that the movie was set in the post-Civil War era, separating the movie from other zombie movies. You shouldn't believe that the movie is just “zombies in the Civil War” because Exit Humanity is much more than that. The Civil War is just the backdrop for the deeper questions posed by the movie. Writer/director John Geddes crafts a fun and emotional zombie movie that is well acting and beautifully shot. The inclusion of animation is certainly different, but helps separate the movie from other zombie films. The movie clocks in at about 2 hours, so be prepared for a long watch. If you're looking for a movie with lots of gore and over-the-top violence, you will be disappointed. If you like the movies to have more meaning and ask difficult questions, you will enjoy Exit Humanity. Exit Humanity is special and hopefully other horror movies follow suit. I look forward to future work from John Geddes.


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Day 264: The Resurrected

The Resurrected
Is this a horror movie or an antacid advertisement?

H.P. Lovecraft is one of my favorite writers. His ability to craft creative horror and science fiction that is still scary almost 100 years later is second to none. For whatever reason, almost every adaptation of his work on the big screen is terrible. Some movies draw strongly from the source material and some use the basic premise, but the end result is usually the same: horrendous movies. It's also not uncommon for a movie to use Lovecraft's name and his titles only to trick people into watching their celluloid bowel movement. The Tomb is a perfect example of this act. I'll never understand why it's so difficult to make a good movie based on H.P. Lovecraft's work. Maybe it's because I have such high expectations and I'm setting myself up for disappointment. What better way to explore this theory than by watching a movie I didn't initially know was a Lovecraft adaptation?

The Resurrected is a 1992 direct-to-video horror movie adapted from the H.P. Lovecraft short story “The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward”. Directed by Dan O'Bannon (Alien, The Return Of The Living Dead), the movie stars John Terry (Full Metal Jacket, 24) as private investigator John Marsh. The movie is told mostly in flashback from Marsh's recollection. John is hired by Claire Ward (Jane Sibbett, Friends, The Second Arrival) to look into the increasingly strange behavior of her husband, Charles Dexter Ward (Chris Sarandon, Dog Day Afternoon, Child's Play). Charles has moved from his spacious house in Providence, Rhode Island to a small bungalow in the rural Pawtuxet Valley region. He receives deliveries of long, wooden crates at all hours of the night and is very secretive of it's contents. The deliveries are followed by the overpowering stench of rotting meat or animal carcasses. Charles also begins to surround himself with undesirables, including the mysterious Dr. Ashe. Claire tells John that Charles had recently inherited the belongings of a long-dead relative named Joseph Curwen. Curwen was a shipping magnate and alchemist in the 1700's, eventually earning the reputation as a grave robber. Through his research, Curwen was able to unlock the secrets of immortality with the usage of “essential saltes” and fresh corpses. Charles' personality has changed so much that he now speaks in an antiquated style and is eventually committed to an insane asylum. John, along with Claire and his partner Lonnie, break into the bungalow and discover and underground laboratory which is filled with the ashes of other known occultists and alchemists. It is revealed that Curwen has in fact come back to life as Dr. Ashe and intends to bring back others. Along with the lab, there are a series of tunnels and the group encounter hideous half-human monsters and abominations, including one that kills Lonnie. How will John be able to stop the resurrected Curwen and is it too late to save the true Charles Dexter Ward?

Today's weather: Partly cloudy with a chance of grease

Initially, I didn't know The Resurrected was going to be an H.P. Lovecraft story. It became pretty obvious once the story took place in Rhode Island (a Lovecraft staple) and the name “Charles Ward” was mentioned. Of course, this raises the question, “Why did they not just named the movie 'The Case of Charles Dexter Ward'?” I, along with other Lovecraft fans, would have discovered this movie much sooner if the connection was more obvious. The title “The Resurrected” is fine, but it's so generic that it could be about anything. I mean, “The Resurrected” is probably the name of a local metal band. Or hardcore band. Or punk band. See what I mean? As far as Lovecraft adaptations go, this movie actually fairs better than most other attempts. It's updated to the early 90's (which is apparent in the furniture, clothes, and greasy “professional” mullets) with some extra characters and situations added, but it's essentially the same story. Lovecraft himself didn't like the story and it was published posthumously, but I enjoy it immensely. The original story has a good mixture of mystery and suspense with a healthy dose of old-fashioned horror. The film version fairs well-enough in trying to incorporate all of these elements into a cohesive film. One funny thing I noticed in the movie is when John tells someone that he drove two hours to get from Providence to Pawtuxet Valley. In reality, it's about a 15 minute drive and the area is neither rustic nor remote. When Lovecraft wrote the story, that might have been more true, but today it's a silly mistake. It was also disappointing to see that the movie was actually filmed in British Columbia and not actually in Rhode Island.

Despite having an obviously low budget, The Resurrected manages to use some pretty good special effects and makeup. I was actually surprised at how good some of the monsters looked in the movie as the prosthetics look quite scary. There is also a good amount of blood and gore which was completely unexpected. Despite writing scary stories, Lovecraft's work was never particularly gruesome or graphic. The problem is that these scenes are too few and far between. The movie is about 20 minutes too long and tends to drag in the beginning. For this type of story, a fast, steady pace would have been better than the slow drips we got. The acting is decent, but some of the dialogue is too cheesy for me to handle. Chris Sarandon puts on the best performance in The Resurrected, but not until about halfway through when his personality changes. It's a whole lot of scenery chewing, but in a fun way, and fits in well with the new character. I do question why they set the movie in modern times when they competently show flashbacks to pre-Revolutionary times. I think the movie would have had a more authentic horror feel if it had taken place in the early 1900's instead of the 1990s.

"Does my throat look red? It feels sore."

The Resurrected is a decent adaptation from a lesser-known H.P. Lovecraft story. While it may not be the first Lovecraft movie that deserves a shot at the big screen, it is a fun and exciting story, that in the right hands, could have been great. The movie has some good moments, mostly from gory violence and good prosthetic work. The pacing is a little slow and the movie runs about 20 minutes too long. Chris Sarandon is great with the rest of the cast pulling up the rear. If you're a Lovecraft fan, you'll enjoy the references and effort, but may be disappointed in the end product. Still, The Resurrected isn't a bad watch and some may enjoy it as a starting point to get into Lovecraft's work.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Day 263: Jeepers Creepers

Jeepers Creepers
And now the song is stuck in your head forever

Stay on the highway. For the love of all that is good and holy, do not take the scenic route, do not take back roads, and do not stop. Of course, if people actually followed these common-sense rules, we'd lose hundreds of horror movies. Just like how horror characters just have to run upstairs to get away from a killer, they also have to take the most dangerous road possible, preferably in a car that is guaranteed to break down. These tropes and cliches are tried and true in the horror genre. The real challenge is to fill in all the details with something different or interesting.

Jeepers Creepers is a 2001 horror movie starring Justin Long (Dodgeball, Galaxy Quest) as Darry Jenner and Gina Philips (Dead And Breakfast, The Sick House) as his sister, Trish. The siblings are driving one the back-roads of Florida, heading home for Spring Break from college. Their 1960 Chevy Impala is run off the road by a large, rusted truck. Further down the road, they spot the truck parked outside of an old church. They see the driver, a hulking man who's face is obscured by a cowboy hat, dumping what appear to be bodies down a large pipe. The drive sees Trish and Darry and pursues them in his truck, attempting to run them off the road again. They escape and, at the insistence of Darry, double-back to the church. Darry climbs down the pipe on a rope, but Trish loses her grip and Darry falls into a small cavern. Inside, Darry discovers hundreds of dead bodies, all of which have been eviscerated and sewn back together. He is able to escape the cavern through the church and is traumatized by his experience. Trish takes Darry to a nearby gas station where they call the police. While waiting, they get a phone call from an unknown woman, warning them of what is to come. She plays the 1930's song “Jeepers Creepers” saying that when they hear that song, they are in terrible danger. The ignore her warning and join the police on the way to the church when the police receive word that the church is on fire. On the way, the police are attacked by the driver who eats the tongue out of one of the officer's decapitated head. The driver pursues Trish and Darry, but Trish hits him with her car repeatedly. To their surprise, the driver sprouts large bat-like wings. They drive to a local police station to wait for their parents when they meet Jezelle Hartman (Patricia Belcher, The Number 23, (500) Days Of Summer) the woman who warned them on the phone earlier. She explains that her dreams predict the future and that the driver is an ancient immortal demon known as The Creeper who feasts on human body parts to stay alive. The Creeper smelled something it liked on Trish or Darry and will stop until he gets what he wants. How will Trish and Darry survive?

Creeper is way better than his original name 'Pizza-Face Lipschitz'

Jeepers Creepers is a horror movie geared towards the high school and sleepover crowd more than the typical horror fan. That's not to say that the movie is low on scares or gore, because it's not, but the overall feel of the movie just doesn't feel like an adult movie. Perhaps it's the main characters, Trish and Darry, who's lack of maturity make the movie come off as something more suited for viewing with a group of friends. It might also be because Justin Long has a very punchable face and I say that as someone who thought he was funny in the movie Dodgeball. Maybe that's because those douchey “I'm a Mac” commercials starring Long are still fresh in my head. The plot is undoubtedly generic, but does try to create it's own mythology by adding a new monster to the mix. The plot also relies on people doing incredibly stupid things which does get tiresome once you've already seen a lot of horror movies. Jeepers Creepers tends to set things up well, but fizzles after the action, leaving a lot of questions. If the Creeper has been around for years, why would he bother driving like a maniac and honking his horn, drawing attention to himself? How does Jezelle have these future-telling dreams? Why is there no follow-up after The Creeper kills a bunch of cops inside a police station? Why couldn't Trish and Darry just keep running away?

I give Jeepers Creepers credit for having the two main characters be brother and sister instead of boyfriend and girlfriend. It is very rare to have that and gives the movie a different dynamic than your average “attacked on the back roads” horror movie. Of course, it does bring up the small issue of a lack of romantic interest. Just about every movie has a romantic interest for the main character(s), but Jeepers Creepers does not. Why is that? The Creeper is a decent supernatural villain with some fun powers and an overall creepiness thanks to his cannibalism and strange look. I would have liked more on his origin a little sooner in the movie, but something is better than nothing. The is a fair amount of fun violence and more gore than you would expect from this type of movie. The inclusion of the Jezelle character is a bit too random and I'm not a particular fan of the “magical lady” character that occasionally pops up in horror and science fiction. She reminded me a lot of The Oracle from The Matrix, though much more enjoyable to watch. The movie also feels short, just barely making it to the 90 minute mark. I know I complain about movies being too long, but this really stuck out to me. The acting in the movie is fairly good and the dialogue relatively believable for college-age people in the early 00's.

"You don't understand. I'm a Mac! Doesn't that mean anything to you?!"

Jeepers Creepers has it's moments thanks to some good violence and gore. There is also a bit of dark humor in the movie, which may or may not elicit a laugh or two. The plot is pretty standard with a lot of the typical cliches and tropes you've come to expect in these types of horror movies. There are a few good scares and a genuinely creepy monster to keep things entertaining. The usage of the song “Jeepers Creepers” doesn't really make sense and feels forced in to the plot just so they could use the name for the title of the movie. The character development is a bit rushed and iffy at times and the lack of a love interest surprised me. The acting and direction is fine though nothing stands out in particular. There is already one sequel made with a third on the way. Jeepers Creepers doesn't have much that you haven't seen before, but it could be considered a good starter movie for someone just getting into horror.