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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Day 305: Halloween

Halloween
Who wants pumpkin pie?

C'mon, like I was going to review any other movie on Halloween. Sex In The City did cross my mind, but even I can't handle that type of unspeakable horror. While not the first in the slasher genre (Both Black Christmas and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre predate it), Halloween propelled the idea to the next level, spawning countless knock-offs, remakes, and sequels. It also helped make John Carpenter a household name in the world of horror. While Halloween was not intended to be a franchise based on Michael Myers, the character proved to be so popular that when the third Halloween had nothing to do with the killer, audiences reacted negatively. Rather than randomly picking a movie out of the franchise and possibly suffering through the one with Busta Rhymes, I figured it's best to start at the beginning.

Halloween is a 1978 slasher horror film written and directed by John Carpenter (They Live, The Thing). The movie stars Jamie Lee Curtis (Trading Places, True Lies) as teenager Laurie Strode and Donald Pleasance (Escape From New York, Prince Of Darkness) as Dr. Sam Loomis. On October 31, 1963 in Haddonfield, Illinois, a young boy named Michael Myers brutally murders his sister with a butcher knife. Michael is sent to Smith's Grove Sanitarium where he is placed under the care of Dr. Loomis. For almost fifteen years, Michael remains in an almost catatonic state, showing no emotion and never speaking. The night before Halloween, Michael escapes the sanitarium and Dr. Loomis desperately tries to track him down, believing he will head back to his childhood home. The next day, high school student Laurie Strode continuously has the feeling that she is being watched and followed. She is unaware that Michael Myers is the one stalking her. That night, Laurie babysits a young boy named Tommy Doyle (Brian Andrews, Halloween II, The Great Santini) while her friend Annie (Nancy Kyes, Assault On Precinct 13, The Fog) babysits a young girl named Lindsay Wallace. Tommy is constantly afraid that the boogeyman is going to get him, but Laurie reassures him that there is no boogeyman. Dr. Loomis combs the streets with the local sheriff, searching in vein for Michael, who is going around the neighborhood killing people. Annie goes to see a boy and drops Lindsay off with Laurie, but is soon murdered by Michael. Will Dr. Loomis be able to stop Michael in time before he gets to Laurie and the kids?

It's like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a JESUS, LOOK AT THAT KNIFE!

This is the movie that started it all for slashers and it did so on the strength of it's story, not with a big budget or fancy effects. Made for around $325,000, Halloween manages to be scary and thrilling without the use of gimmicks. Carpenter weaves a story that is entirely realistic which helps give the movie a scary credibility. Setting the events in the suburbs and in people's homes brings the fear straight to the audience. The atmosphere is dark without drifting off into fantasy. The music is probably one of the most lasting parts of the movie. Everyone knows the classic theme music, but it's the simple 2-note piano throughout the film the truly creates tension. We know something is going to happen, just not what or when or where. The movie has a good amount of action with some fun and unique kills. There is a decent amount of blood, but nothing compared to today's movies. There are some truly great scenes like when Laurie continuously finds bodies in the house and when she fights Michael at the end.

The character of Michael Myers is the manifestation of all our fears. He is unstoppable in his singular goal of murder. There is no reasoning with him, no pleading for your life. He does not speak and his featureless mask (a modified Captain Kirk mask) allows the audience to project whatever they want onto the killer. Carpenter does a great job of drawing the audience in at the beginning and then paying off when it comes to the action. Jamie Lee Curtis is very good in her role and comes off as a believable heroine at the end. The movie does run into a little bit of trouble with the “annoying kid” factor, but so much is going on that it's easy to ignore. Donald Pleasance is great as Dr. Loomis, exuding an air of urgency while still remaining level-headed. It's his steely resolve that makes his mission seem all the more important. If he was frantic and terrified, it would have made the movie cartoonish and silly. Thanks to Carpenter's writing, the characters are all believable and enjoyable to root for.

Paper beats rock, gun beats giant butcher knife

While it wasn't the first slasher, Halloween may be one of the most important horror movies. It is proof that you don't need a big budget to make a lot of money and have an impact on future generations. The story is highly enjoyable and treats the audience as equals. Donald Pleasance and Jamie Lee Curtis are both very good in their roles and help make the movie more complete. The action is solid and the kills are fun to watch. The movie has the right kind of atmosphere, thanks largely to the great, simple music. While a little tame compared to today's standards, Halloween still has a lot of frights and a genuine feeling of horror. Once you're done trick or treating and partying, turn off the lights, curl up on the couch and watch the horror classic.

10/10

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Day 304: Creature From The Black Lagoon

Creature From The Black Lagoon
Apparently, the lagoon gives you soft, pouty lips

Dracula. The Wolfman, Frankenstein's monster (Frankenstein is the name of the doctor, people). The Mummy. These classic movie monsters receive lots of love and attention and rightfully so. They've had countless remakes and adaptations, appeared in video games, comic books, and products. To this day, people still get dressed up as these monsters for Halloween. There is one classic monster that always seems to be left out: The Creature from the Black Lagoon. What is it about the creature that doesn't put it on the same level as the others? Is it because the creature doesn't really come from a well-known novel? Is it a lack of sequels and remakes? Is it because it doesn't actually have a name? It's certainly not because the movie is bad.

Creature From The Black Lagoon is a 1954 monster movie starring Richard Carlson (It Came From Outer Space, The Magnetic Monster) as Dr. David Reed and Julie Adams (The Rifleman, Maverick) as his girlfriend, Kay Lawrence. While on an expedition in the Amazon, Dr. Carl Maia (Antonio Moreno, The Searchers, The Spanish Dancer) discovers the skeletal remains of an arm that appears to have a webbed hand. Maia is able to convince his friend Dr. David Reed, an icthyologist, to aid him in the excavation of the skeleton. They are joined by David's girlfriend Kay and Dr. Mark Williams, who funds the expedition. The take the steamer Rita down the Amazon to the camp site, where they find Maia's team brutally murdered by some sort of animal. Unknown to the group, the killer was actually an amphibious humanoid, the same species as the skeleton that Dr. Maia discovered. The group travels into the nearby black lagoon in hopes of finding more of the skeletal remains. The creature, or Gill-man, watches the expedition as the search the lagoon and becomes infatuated with Kay. It eventually kills two of the crew members on the ship. They poison the water and are able to capture the creature for a short time, but it escapes. Will they be able to capture this creature before it takes Kay?

"Has anyone seen my chapstick? I'm feeling chappy."


In classic monster movie fashion, Creature From The Black Lagoon has an equal mixture of mystery, action, romance, and traditional scares. While the movie may be almost 60 years old, it still manages to be quite entertaining. The action starts out almost immediately despite not showing the creature right away. We only see it's amphibious webbed hand, but it's enough to whet the audience's appetite and send imagination's soaring. Gill-man is essentially a man in a rubber suit (technically two different men, one for land shots and one for swimming), it looks far better than other monsters from the same era. Strong detail is given to the suit with authentic looking skin and fins. The face does have some motion to it and actually appears to be breathing when out of water. Many of the underwater scenes look very good, thanks to being shot in a studio rather than an actually body of water.

Originally filmed in 3D, the movie doesn't have the usual hallmarks you see in modern 3D films. There are no blatant scenes where someone is specifically pointing something at the screen for 3D purposes. The horror of the film is helped along thanks to the music in the film, which consisted mostly of blaring trumpets. It serves it's purpose, but tends to be a little grating by the end. Director Jack Arnold has a good eye for capturing both the action and terror in the movie. The acting is good, especially considering the creature is just a guy in a suit. Julie Adams doesn't play the straight damsel in distress role, giving the character more depth. There are just enough characters involved to kill off a few without diluting the story. The movie has a good amount of action, but since it's from the 1950's, of course there is no blood. C'mon, there are kids watching!

"Attica! Attica! Attica!"

Creature From The Black Lagoon is a fun monster movie from an era where a man in a rubber suit was still terrifying. The story movies quickly and has a good amount of action for the time period. The underwater scenes look great and the makeup used for the monster is spot-on. The combination of good acting and directing helps elevate the movie to a better level than other contemporary monster movies. The movie doesn't have the built-in story that other classic monster movies do, but it still manages to be entertaining. Why Gill-man doesn't get as much attention as it deserves, it's still a classic monster from a classic movie. Maybe you should dress up like Gill-man for Halloween tomorrow.

8/10

Monday, October 29, 2012

Day 303: Terror Train

Terror Train
“If you've heard this story before, don't stop me, because I'd like to hear it again”

I hope all of you are safe and sound if you're dealing with Hurricane Sandy. If you're not, I hope you're having a lovely day, possibly watching cartoons and eating tacos. Either way, stay safe and hopefully the power stays on so I can keep posting my reviews. During the height of the slasher boom of the late 70's and early 80's, horror movies were forced to get a little creative. I mean, not too creative, it was the 80's after all. There's only so many movies you can make based at a summer camp or in a house. We have slashers set in high schools, college, malls, aerobics gyms, boats, and, of course, trains. Well, at least this movie has Jamie Lee Curtis in it.

Terror Train is a 1980 slasher starring Jamie Lee Curtis (Halloween, Trading Places) as college student Alana Maxwell. During her freshman year, Alana played a prank on awkward fraternity pledge Kenny Hampson (Derek McKinnon, Family Motel, Breaking All The Rules), making him think she wanted to have sex with him. Instead, he finds a woman's corpse inside their bed and is so scarred by the incident that he is committed to a psychiatric hospital. Three years later, Alana and the frat members who arranged the prank are taking a having a costume party on a moving train. As the train moves through the snowy wilderness, an unknown killer moves throughout the cabins, killing everyone involved with the fateful prank. Alana thinks something is amiss, but bodies keep getting moved. The train conductor Carne (Ben Johnson, The Wild Bunch, The Getaway) tries in vain to track down the murderer while keeping the party goers unaware of what is happening. The killer continuously switches costumes, making him difficult to capture. Will Alana survive and just who is the killer?

"I'm sorry about the "train of thought" pun!"

Terror Train is your run-of-the-mill slasher movie. You pretty much know exactly what is going to happen, but it's OK, because you know what you're getting into. Beyond taking place on a train, the movie doesn't offer much in the way of creativity. The train setting does give a small sense of claustrophobia that other slashers lack. It takes away the option for the characters to just “run away”. There are some good long hallway shots and the special lighting in the train. I do also like that the killer continuously switches costume, adding a bit of shock and surprise to certain scenes. Unfortunately, the movie goes to the well a few too many times and the music swells and jumps become tiresome. Terror Train spends a large amount of time focusing on both Carne and a magician that is performing on the train. The movie is almost unsure if Carne should be the hero or not, never fully committing to the character. The magician is a misdirect, but still gets way too much screen time.

For being a slasher in the early 1980's, the movie has a surprising lack of blood and gore. The kills are nothing special and there doesn't appear to be a central weapon used either. While over the top gore and blood isn't necessary for a slasher, it's odd that the movie decided not to go all out like similar slashers. When you take away the fun violence, you're just left with a mediocre train mystery. Jamie Lee Curtis plays her role well and has far more emotion than in Prom Night. The rest of the cast is fine and the direction is good enough to keep the movie going. The movie includes a lot of different characters, which is great for upping the kill count, but it's hard to keep track of who is who. It also cuts down on the attachment level and the audience no longer cares since they have interest in who is being killed. 

Hey, it's 80's era Mick Jagger, complete with bloody cocaine-nose!

Terror Train does have it's place in the slasher heyday of the late 70's and early 80's, but is ultimately a second-tier movie. It lays out like most other slashers with just a change in location. The acting is fine and it's always fun to see Jamie Lee Curtis in a slasher film before she really hit it big. Probably the biggest disappointment with the movie is the lack of blood and gore. It would have made the movie much more interesting than it was. Terror Train isn't a bad movie, it's just nothing special. If you've seen a slasher movie before, you've pretty much seen Terror Train. It's nice for a nostalgic factor and good to mark off on your checklist, but don't expect to be blown away.

5/10

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Day 302: The Wicker Tree

The Wicker Tree
Make like a Wicker Tree and leaf

I've reviewed a lot of movies over the past year. I've watched originals, sequels, prequels, remakes, sequels to remakes, re-imaginings, and all other sorts of movies. I didn't think there was anything else left and then I saw today's movie, The Wicker Tree. Now, you may see the title and think, “Hey, that must be a sequel to The Wicker Man.” Nope. “Oh, OK. It must be a prequel.” Nu-uh. “Hmm. Remake? Re-imagining? Sequel to the prequel to the remake?” No, no, and no. The Wicker Tree is classified as “companion piece” to The Wicker Man. A companion piece, in regards to film, is a movie that is similar in nature and themes to that of a previous movie. Or if you want to put it another way, a movie that is pretty much the same as another one, just not as good.

The Wicker Tree is a 2011 horror film written and directed by Robin Hardy (The Wicker Man, The Wrath Of The Gods). The film is adapted from the Robin Hardy novel, Cowboys For Christ. The movie stars Brittania Nichol as pop country singer Beth Boothby and Henry Garret (Red Tails, Re-Kill) as her cowboy fiance, Steve Thompson. Both are evangelical Christians from Texas, wearing purity rings and belong to a group called “Cowboys For Christ”. They travel to Scotland to do missionary work, bringing Jesus to a group of people who have abandoned Christianity. They are welcomed by Sir Lachlan Morrison (Graham McTavish, Colombiana, Rambo), the leader of the town, who has arranged their trip. Beth performs a concert at the local church and we later learn that at one point in her career, her songs were all about promiscuity. The people of the town are not interested with Beth and Steve's teachings, rejecting Christ in favor of the Celt goddess Sulis. We learn that a terrible ecological accident occurred in the town, seeping into the water and forcing the community to not have children. The May Day celebration is approaching and Lachlan insists on having both Beth and Steve partaking in their events. Unbeknownst to them, the town plans to sacrifice both to Sulis in order to help increase fertility and restore their population. Will Beth and Steve realize what is happening before it is too late?

Close your eyes and think of the Queen

Despite being written and directed by Robin Hardy, who directed the original The Wicker Man, The Wicker Tree lacks what made The Wicker Man so great. In The Wicker Man, a strong sense of urgency and suspense rings throughout the entire movie. There, we want Sgt. Howie to find the missing girl as all the events lead up to his fateful meeting with the wicker man. In The Wicker Tree, we already know what is going to happen since the movies are so similar in nature. This kills any possible suspense, even though there isn't much to begin with. We know that everything is leading up to the May Day event, but nothing of real consequence happens to get us excited or interested. When you don't have suspense, all you're left with is a middling and boring story. I found myself constantly checking how much time was left just so I could be finished. There's a small side story with a police officer and a local woman, but I failed to see the point. There is a little bit of action towards the end, but it doesn't have the great shock and horror as The Wicker Man's final scene.

The movie also lacks the same strong characters and performances as The Wicker Man. Both Beth and Steve are far too naive and goofy to be considered likable and therefore, the audience has no real interest in what happens to them. Apparently, this is Brittania Nicol's first full-length film and it shows. She's not horrendous and delivers her lines well enough, she just lacks the appropriate emoting needed for such a role. That's partly due to the poor dialogue and lack of character progression. There is a very, very brief scene with Christopher Lee, which caused many to believe that The Wicker Tree was in fact a sequel. In it's original form, The Wicker Tree was going to be titled Cowboys For Christ and had Sean Astin, Christopher Lee, Vanessa Redgrave, and LeAnn Rhimes in major roles. Unfortunately, the project lacked funding and was never picked up. It's a shame, because having a stronger cast would have helped the movie greatly. Also, being under a different name would have reduced expectations. When you hear the word “wicker” in a horror movie title, you have a certain frame of mind when watching and you're bound to be disappointed.

Kids, say no to drugs and companion pieces
 
Though not a true sequel, The Wicker Tree does have the same elements and ideas as The Wicker Man. The stories are very similar and the brief inclusion of Christopher Lee connects the movies even further. Sadly, The Wicker Tree is nowhere near the quality of The Wicker Man in almost every way. The characters are not as good and the acting is nowhere near the quality of The Wicker Man. There is some action, but nothing great. The movie actually has a lot of humor in it, though I didn't really find myself laughing. If the movie was under a different night, I might have been more forgiving, but that is not the case, and I found myself very disappointed with The Wicker Tree.

3/10

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Day 301: Dead Men Walking

Dead Men Walking
Walk this way

I hate The Asylum film studio/distributor. You may think that hate is a strong word and I agree, but it's appropriate for my feelings towards this company. My animosity is two-fold: First, The Asylum resorts to making cheap horror films using the same names and plots as other, more popular horror films. A quick scan of their horror section (yes, they do other genres for some reason) brings up movies with such thinly-veiled titles as Snakes On A Train, Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies, Transmorphers, AVH: Alien vs. Hunter, H.G. Wells' War Of The Worlds, and Paranormal Entity. Part of their business plan is to piggy-back off the work and success of other movies in hopes that people accidentally buy their product thinking it's the movie they're actually looking for. My second point of contention is the severe lack of quality to their films. I don't expect anything from movies like Mega Python vs. Gatoroid or The 9/11 Commission Report. It's when the movie sound potentially good, thereby duping unsuspecting consumers just looking to for a decent horror movie. I've fallen into their trap (though at no cost, thankfully) and have sat through some very terrible movies. Feel free to go in the way-back machine and read my reviews on Zombie Apocalypse, Freakshow, The Beast Of Bray Road, and I Am Omega. If you don't feel like reading those reviews, I'll give you the short version: They all suck. Of course, it's not fair to just say every movie on their list is an abomination.

Dead Men Walking is an independent 2005 zombie movie starring Bay Bruner (Bachelor Party Massacre) as Samantha Beckett, an official with the Center For Disease Control. A man named Travis Dee is arrested after going on a murdering spree, shooting people infected with an unknown virus. Infected blood gets in his eyes and mouth and as he arrives at Haywood Maximum Security Prison, Travis has become very ill. He begins to vomit blood directly into the face of the prison doctor before being hauled off to solitary confinement. On the way, he vomits blood on several inmates. When he continues to vomit, a guard lets him out of his cell only to be bitten by a now-zombified Travis. He is shot in the head by the head guard, Lt. Sweeny (Chriss Anglin, Hillside Cannibals, Dracula's Curse), splattering blood on the guards. Beckett is sent to the prison and speaks with Johnny (Griff Furst, American Heiress, Alien Abduction) another prisoner who came in to Haywood with Travis. He explains that Travis was talking about a highly contagious toxin that had infected his friends, forcing him to kill them. The virus spreads throughout the prison, causing a full-scale zombie riot. The guards try to kill the zombies, but are soon overrun. The prison is put in lockdown Will Beckett and Johnny be able to escape the prison before it is too late?

Too...much...chocolate...pudding...

It's pretty clear that the entire basis for Dead Men Walking came from the simple idea of “zombies in a prison”. It's actually a fun and different idea in terms of zombie movies. You already have plenty of weapons on hand, places to hide, and lots of disposable people to become zombies. Beyond that premise, there really isn't much going on in the movie. The plot is pretty thin and barely a whisper of social commentary. It's almost as if they started filming the movie without having a specific story that they wanted to tell. At least they gave a brief description of how the virus came about, something that a lot of other zombie movies don't even bother with. Granted, it's not a good explanation, but I appreciate the tiny effort. The acting is mediocre with Chriss Anglin putting in the best performance as Lt. Sweeny. He gets off a few funny lines and plays his role well. Bay Bruner is not too good, but this appears to be her first movie, so I'll cut her some slack. The Asylum has a habit of using the same actors for multiple movies. I have to assume that's because most other actors want nothing to do with them.

The movie has a lot of action and a large amount of blood and a decent amount of gore. Seriously, the movie should have just been called “Blood Vomit”. There are multiple scenes of entrails being ripped apart, and while it is gory, it's nothing you haven't seen before. The makeup for the zombies looks decent and there is good usage of prosthetics. For being a maximum security prison, there aren't a lot of guards in the movie. Hell, there's not that many prisoners. The movie has a habit of introducing unimportant characters in the middle of the movie without much explanation or forethought. Writer Mike Watt crams in different types of people who would be in a prison, like a woman visiting her man for a conjugal visit or a mother with two children visiting their father, just to kill them. That's all fine and good, but why do they just randomly pop up in the middle of the movie? It would have been better if they were introduced earlier and then we check in on them later on. By having them show up halfway through the movie, it kills the momentum and forces the audience to say “Wait. Who the hell is that?” The direction is fine, though certain scenes are a little too dark and make it difficult to see. 

"Not on the first date!"

Dead Men Walking is a fun idea for a zombie movie. Unfortunately, that idea the best part of the film as the story goes nowhere and the acting leaves something to be desired. The movie does have a lot action and the zombies look decent. There is a lot of vomiting, so if you're sensitive to that, you may not want to eat before watching. Dead Men Walking is better than other movies by The Asylum, but that's not saying much. It has it's moments and if you're looking for a basic zombie movie, you could do worse. If you're looking for things like story, character development, or good acting, you should pass on Dead Men Walking.

4.5/10

Friday, October 26, 2012

Day 300: They Live

They Live
Cue Yello's "Oh Yeah"

As I've said in other reviews, I'm not one for conspiracy theories. I don't believe that the Freemasons or The Bildeburgs or the Girl Scouts Of America are planning a takeover of the world. If people can barely get your order right at the drive-thru, how can there be a global conspiracy to control money or power or whatever you want. That's not to say the average person isn't kept down through various means, I just don't think there's a few guys in an underground liar scheming to make me buy blue jeans or listen to that Gangnam-style song. But things are not always what they seem. What if there was some one, or some thing, suppressing the human race? Would you stop it? Could you stop it?

They Live is a 1988 science fiction/horror movie directed and written (under a pseudonym) by John Carpenter (Halloween, The Thing). The movie stars “Rowdy” Roddy Piper ( WWF/WWE Superstar, It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia) as unemployed drifter John Nada. Nada finds work doing construction in Los Angeles and befriends Frank Armitage (Keith David, Barbershop, The Thing). While at a shantytown, Nada notices strange activity at a nearby church, and when he investigates, he discovers the church is actually a front, as the only thing in the church are boxes. That night, the police raid the town, beating on the homeless and knocking over their dwellings. When Nada returns the next morning, he finds one of the boxes from the church. Inside the box are sunglasses and Nada takes a pair. When he puts them on, the world suddenly becomes black and white. He can now view messages that are unseen to the naked eye all over the city. Messages like “Sleep” “Consume” and “Buy”. These messages of conformity and consumerism are controlling the population. Even more disturbing, Nada is now able to see that certain people, mostly those in positions of wealth and power, are in fact humanoid aliens. When he confronts an alien woman she speaks into her watch, notifying others that he can see her true form. Two policemen try to stop Nada, but he kills them, taking their guns and going on a killing spree at a nearby bank. He escapes the police and takes Holly Thompson (Meg Foster, The Lords Of Salem, Leviathan), an assistant director at television station Channel 54, hostage. While suffering from headaches due to wearing the sunglasses for too long, he tries to convince Holly about what is truly going on. During an intense headache, Holly kicks Nada out of a window, sending him down a hill. He stumbles back to the alley where he found the glasses and meets with Fred. He tries to convince Fred about the aliens and when Fred refuses to put on the glasses, they get into a fight. After the long fist fight, Fred finally wears the glasses and understands what is really happening. They join members from the “church” who are really an underground resistance planning to take down the aliens. The aliens use a signal from Channel 65 to camouflage themselves and it's up to Nada and Fred to destroy it. How will they be able to get in and destroy the signal, freeing the world from the alien's grasp?

Where's your Hulkamania now?

They Live is a really fun science fiction movie with just enough horror to keep things scary. While most alien invasion movies take place during (or slightly before) the invasion, it's already happened in this movie. There is no warning that they are coming, no giant space ship to announce their arrival, and no explosions to show their dominance. They are already in charge when the story begins. Reflecting the political and social climate of the times, Carpenter manages to capture the hopelessness of the average man who has no work or self-worth, hence the name “Nada”. The alien villains are the rich and powerful, using their wealth and status to keep the poor humans down. The secret messages to consume and stay complacent are chilling to see, opening the audience's eyes to real world advertising. I can see where certain types (*cough*Conservatives*cough*) may take issue with such commentary, but it's just subtle enough where the theme doesn't dominate the movie. There is a good amount of action throughout, which helps break up the overall message as well.

Roddy Piper may seem like an odd choice for a protagonist in a movie like They Live, but he is spot-on perfect in his role. He's a great mixture of brash attitude, charisma, and broken-down everyman that just fits so well for the character of John Nada. The famous line “I'm here to chew bubble gum and kick as...and I'm all out of bubble gum,” was a Piper original, not something from the script. Keith David is very good in his role as well. No amount of description can do justice to the incredibly long fight scene between both men. Rather than a quick scuffle or a cutaway, we see every punch, every tackle, and every crotch kick. South Park lovingly recreated this scene a few years ago, down to every punch thrown. This is also where Piper fits in well as his wrestling experience makes his physicality believable. John Carpenter is in his element as writer and director, crafting a fun movie with lots of action and just enough creepiness to make the audience uneasy. 

I knew the Golden Girls were skull-faced alien fascists!

They Live is a politically subversive movie with a good mixture of science fiction, horror, and action. While not a financial success, the movie's message and impact is still felt today. While the message is heavy, it's broken up nicely between the action and suspense. Roddy Piper is great and highly entertaining to watch. The movie has it's funny moments along with it's thrilling ones. The skull-like makeup for the aliens looks very good and certainly increases the horror aspect. John Carpenter manages to create a fun movie with plenty of social commentary. I'm surprised They Live has not been remade, but I'm glad it hasn't yet. No need to mess with something so fun.

9/10

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Day 299: Stake Land

Stake Land
Hamburger Town

The zombie apocalypse vein of horror stories has become well-worn in recent years. Thanks to the popularity of Left 4 Dead, 28 Days Later and The Walking Dead, just about everyone knows what a zombie outbreak would look like. As much as I love the genre, it's been done to death. It's in television, movies, books, video games, and even on t-shirts. This poses the problem for writers and filmmakers. How do we have a zombie apocalypse without being a zombie apocalypse? Take out the zombies and put in vampires! Problem solved!

Stake Land is a 2010 vampire movie starring Nick Damici (Mulberry St, World Trade Center) as the enigmatic Mister and Connor Paolo (Gossip Girl, Revenge) as Martin. A wave of vampires has spread across the world as humans try to save themselves. The government has fallen and only small towns remain. A young man named Martin is saved by the vampire hunter Mister after a vampire kills his family. Mister trains Martin to kill vampires, explaining that guns hurt them, but stakes to the heart kill them. They travel through America's heartland on the way to the supposed safe-haven of New Eden in Canada. The visit small towns where people are still trying to live their lives amidst the carnage. One day, a nun runs in front of their car, pursued by two men in robes. Mister kills the two men and the nun, only known as Sister (Kelly McGillis, Top Gun, The Innkeepers), joins Mister and Martin on their journey. They stop in one seemingly-abandoned town only to be captured by members of The Brotherhood, a Christian cult, that has been taking over the country through violence. Their leader, Jebedia Loven (Michael Cerveris, The Vampire's Assistant, Fringe), reveals that one of the men that Mister had killed was his son. Mister is left in front of vampires in the woods while Martin and Sister are taken back to camp. Loven allows Martin to leave, who manages to find Mister still alive. They continue to make their way when they pick up another traveler, a pregnant girl named Belle (Danielle Harris, Halloween II, Left For Dead) and a marine named Willie (Sean Nelson, The Freebie, The Wood). They return to where The Brotherhood was camped and Mister leaves Loven to be eaten by vampires. The group manages to find Sister in a small town, but the Brotherhood drops vampires into the town via helicopter. How will Mister and Martin survive and will they ever reach New Eden?

I prefer my steak medium well, not stuffed into a vampire's mouth

Before I get into things like the acting and violence in the movie, I have to address two very big plot devices: Politics and Religion. The movie has a huge Libertarian bent to it, to the point where they might as well be smacking the audience in the face with a copy of Atlas Shrugged. I don't buy into the cult of Ayn Rand and Ron Paul, so having to sit through a movie where a) the government folds faster than Superman on laundry day, b) towns and villagers still exist through self-regulation and C) everyone is thrilled that the government is gone is downright silly. The world may be coming to an end, but everyone is thrilled to have their guns, liquor, and drugs. If the movie had been subtle about this, it wouldn't have been such a big sticking point, but there's nothing subtle about Stake Land. That brings me to my second point on religion. Just like with libertarians, I am no fan of the fanatical Christian Right. Making the villains (besides the vampires) into religious zealots is fine, but making them specifically evil Christians came off as a bit vindictive. Combine that with the character of Sister giving her cross to Martin, carrying around a mini figure of Mary, and then pairing it with a mini Jesus and I've had my fill. The least subtle moment of the movie comes when Sister runs into a skeleton literally crucified in a corn field. Subtley is a virtue and Stake Land takes that virtue out back and clubs it in the head with a shovel. There is even a scene where a bartender tells Mister that they don't talk about politics or religion inside the bar. Oh that's good because you're so busy doing that for the other 96 minutes of the movie. Look, I appreciate social commentary in horror movies, but there is a certain way to get your points across without coming off the like a propaganda film.

The story, written by Nick Damici and director Jim Mickle, plays out like every other zombie apocalypse film and just replaces the zombies with vampires. It's never explained why the vampire plague started or where they came from, which I found annoying. At least give me some hints. Characters just kind of drop in and drop out with very little in the way of development. A new character is introduced as Martin's love interest literally 7 minutes before the film ends. What the hell? And really, did you have to name the one African American character “Willie”? The final battle scene, which you'd expect to be long and drawn out, takes about 4 minutes to finish. I will say that the movie did have a lot of good action with plenty of bloody violence. The acting is good and the Jim Mickle crafts a good-looking and atmospheric movie. The location scout deserves credit as many of the scenes look straight out of an apocalypse. There are lots of abandoned buildings and worn-out backgrounds which are fun to see. 

SUBTLETY!!!!

The action and violence in Stake Land is perfectly fine. It's entertaining and thrilling to watch and would make horror fans squeal with bloody glee. The acting and direction isn't the problem either. It's the slanted writing with an obvious agenda that really gets to me. I hate the politics and don't enjoy having it slap me in the face. There are no anti-Christian overtones, just anti-Christian tones. If these two themes had been subtle and cleverly written, it wouldn't be such a big deal. There is nothing subtle about this movie though and it makes everything that much worse. There plenty of holes in the story, and issues throughout, like “if Martin is being trained, why can he never kill a vampire?” If you're able to ignore things things like this, you'll really enjoy Stake Land. If you're like me, you'll be annoyed and frustrated at a movie that couldn't just leave well enough alone and be a horror movie.

5/10

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Day 298: The Call Of Cthulhu

The Call Of Cthulhu
Nice try, Cthulhu. I have Caller ID!

"Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn." To most people, that previous sentence looks like a word salad jammed into a sentence smoothee. For those, like me, who love the work of H.P. Lovecraft, that is probably one of the most famous lines in all of horror literature. The line comes from the Lovecraft story of the same name, the most popular and well known of all his work. Despite being a master of horror, Lovecraft's work has never been faithfully transitioned to the big screen. Hollywood can't seem to wrap their heads around his work and yet M. Night Shyamalan continues to get work. Sometimes you have to step out of the bright lights of La La Land in order to get to the real heart of a story and give it the love and attention it deserves.

The Call Of Cthulhu is a 2005 independent black and white silent film based on the story by H.P. Lovecraft (Pickman's Model, The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward). An unnamed man sits in a mental hospital, warning his doctor that something horrible is going to occur. The man relates the story of how he came to possess such knowledge. His grand uncle, George Gammell Angell, a professor at Brown University, had been treating a young man suffering from horrible dreams. Angell takes extensive notes until the man's death. In 1908, Angell and a group of other antiquarians gather at the American Archaeological Society in St. Lous, Missouri. John Raymond Legrasse, a police officer from New Orleans, produces a strange looking idol and asks the group of professors if they had seen anything like it. The statuette is of a hideous looking monster with wings and unearthly tentacles on it's face. While most are baffled, one eye-patched man, recognizes it and recalls when he was on an expedition and was attacked by an “Esquimaux”. He identifies the statue as “Cthulhu”. Officer Legrasses explains that the statuette came into his possession during a raid in the swamps of Louisiana. The police raided a ritual being performed by a cult who were praying to someone or something named “Cthulhu”. One prisoner is taken into custody and explains that Cthulhu is one of the Old Gods who now sleeps in the forgotten undersea city of R'lyeh. The cult is praying to Cthulhu and waiting for him to awaken from his slumber when the stars are right. After his granduncle's death, the man now in the hospital, read through his notes and became obsessed with Cthulhu, putting together all the different pieces from the story. He finds a news clipping that talks of the ship Emma which encountered the yacht Alert. Something horrible happened on that ship and only one sailor from the Emma survived. The man travels to New Zealand and then Norway in search of the sailor, only to discover that he has died. He does receive the man's diary which explains how the crew of the Emma landed on a strange and dangerous island. Who or what is on the island and does Cthulhu actually exist?

"That's the last time I eat White Castle before going to bed!"

Without a doubt, The Call Of Cthulhu is probably the best adaptation of Lovecraft's work to make it to the screen. The main reason why is works so well is because it is very faithful to the original work. Other Lovecraft adaptations like The Resurrected and The Dunwich Horror are changed around to fit a budget, or capabilities, or just because some filmmakers are lazy. Many in the past have claimed that The Call of Cthulhu story is “unfilmable,” but this movie proves the naysayers wrong. While not having a particularly large budget, director/producer Andrew Leman (The Whisperer In Darkness, A Shoggoth on the Roof: The Documentary) manages to make the most out of this lofty story through various filming and writing tricks. The movie is portrayed as being from the silent era of film and it works to the movie's advantage. Care is taken to have the film look aged and the music fits perfectly. The black and white footage allows for clothes and sets to be any color and very little makeup is needed for actors. By being silent, there's no need to worry about actors flubbing lines or audio editing. Since the movie has no speaking, the actors have to work that much harder to get across emotion and they all do a good job. How does one show the enormous and monstrous-looking Cthulhu? How about good old-fashioned claymation and perspective shots.

If there is one complaint with the movie is that it's too short. It clocks in at around 45 minutes which is a shame because it is so enjoyable. By having such a short run time, the story does feel rushed at times. While not Lovecraft's longest story, it is complex with many different parts fitting into the overarching Cthulhu story. A few too many details are crammed in and for those who are not familiar with the original story, the story may be a bit confusing. There are a few changes from the original story, but nothing significant to completely change the story. The claymation used for Cthulhu is just OK and some may even be disappointed. We only get a few brief shots and it does keep with the “era” that the movie is supposed to be from. To be fair, it's difficult to create a giant, winged god with tentacles on it's face. There is a bit of action, but no blood or gore to speak of, which is perfectly fine. The story has a traditional horror feel and it ends on the proper down-note.

Collect the whole set

With enough effort and love, just about anything can be created. While Lovecraft stories may not be the easiest to reproduce on the big screen, The Call Of Cthulhu proves it is not impossible. The story is translated well which keeps the hardcore Lovecraft fans happy while giving non-fans a good introduction to his work. By making the movie into a black and white silent film, they are able to create a unique viewing experience that most people have never seen. It also helps that doing so kept costs down. The sets look great and the expressive acting makes you forget there are no speaking roles. If you're a fan of Lovecraft or just want to see something unique, definitely check out The Call of Cthulhu.

9/10

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Day 297: Urban Legend

Urban Legend
Stop me if you've heard this one before

We've all heard a few urban legends. There are classics like the guy waking up in a bathtub full of ice with his kidney missing. Then there's story of the escaped convict with a hook for a hand terrorizing a parked car in the woods. And who could forget the girl who said “Bloody Mary” while looking into a mirror. These stories have their variations, but the main points stay the same and get passed on from person to person, town to town. Everyone knows someone who knows someone that swears the story is true. Even to this day, I still check the back seat of my car to make sure there's no one back there. That's just being safe and totally not at all paranoid. Since these stories are widespread and well-known it seems like a no-brainer that they would be the basis for a teen slasher flick. That doesn't mean they'll be good, though.

Urban Legend is a 1998 slasher movie starring Alicia Witt (88 Minutes, Four Rooms) as Natalie Simon and Jared Leto (Panic Room, Requiem For A Dream) as Paul Gardner. The movie beings with a Pendleton University student named Michelle Mancini stopping at a gas station. The gas attendant (Brad Douriff, Child's Play, Deadwood) tells her that her credit card company is on the phone, but when she picks it up, no one is there and the attendant locks the door. Afraid, she breaks a window and drives away, unaware that the attendant was just trying to warn her that someone was hiding in her back seat. Michelle is then killed by the hooded figure in the car. At Pendleton, Natalie and her friend Brenda (Rebecca Gayheart, Jawbreaker, Scream 2) listen to their friend Parker (Michael Rosenbaum, Smallville, Batman Beyond) discuss various urban legends. Paul, the school reporter, laughs off Parker's stories. The girls, along with Parker and his friend Damon (Joshua Jackson, Dawson's Creek, The Mighty Ducks), attend a class on urban legends taught by Professor William Wexler (Robert Englund, Friday The 13th, Inkubus). When Natalie hears of Michelle's death, she is shaken and Damon offers to take her to somewhere private so they can talk. When he exists the car, Damon is attacked by the same hooded figure who killed Michelle. When Natalie hears pounding on the hood of the car, she drives away, unaware that Damon is hanging from a tree. By driving away, she pulls the rope, which was connected to the car by the killer, thereby hoisting Damon high in the air. Soon, people close to Natalie start dying in mysterious ways, eerily similar to various urban legends. Who is behind the murders and what do they have to do with Natalie?

The pale and the restless

The mid to late 1990's were full of slasher flicks geared towards the younger crowd. The most obvious were Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and Final Destination, with Urban Legend bringing up the rear. The movie feels like a patchwork of other teen slashers from the same time period and could easily be mistaken for one of them. Essentially, it's pretty white people with flawless skin being attacked by a hooded figure. Despite having a huge cast of popular actors at the time (seriously, we have Jared Leto, Joshua Jackson, Michael Rosenbaum, Rebecca Gayheart, and Tara Reid all in the same movie), the movie has little else going for it. The initial idea of having a series of murders based around various urban legends is fun, but only if you're reading a Batman comic book. It's the type of idea that a 14 year old would come up with and then promptly forget by the time something good comes on TV. Set in the real world, the idea is convoluted and unnecessary, especially when we find out why the killer is committing the murders. The rest of the story is a strictly by-the-book slasher fest, giving us plenty of forgettable characters just to kill them off. I will give the movie credit for cramming in a whole lot of urban legends, including some I had never heard before. Of course, by doing so, the movie felt crowded and rushed at times.

The movie isn't excruciatingly bad or anything, it's just not very good. It's certainly watchable and if you've never seen a slasher movie, you might actually enjoy it. It has the usual music swells and jump at you moments that we've come to expect. The acting is fine for what is required. Rebecca Gayheart puts in a scene-chewing performance worthy of Tommy Lee Jones in Batman Forever and I mean that in the best way possible. It's highly entertaining and it's a shame it only comes at the end. The movie also includes horror veterans Robert Englund and Brad Douriff (Chucky from Child's Play), but only uses them briefly. If you have two great horror actors in your movie, wouldn't you want to use them as much as possible? There is a decent amount of violence in the movie and some blood, but nothing too over-the-top or gory.

"Ah! That jacket is so out of style!"

Urban Legends is a boiler-plate slasher film with only a gimmick that separates it from similar films. Logic and reason is thrown out the window in an effort to include various means of killing people through urban legends. It keeps things interesting, but requires the audience to not think. The violence is decent and the acting is good enough to keep things moving. The soundtrack for the movie is probably the best part, including music from Stabbing Westward, Monster Magnet, Ministry, and Motorhead. There have been a few sequels, but apparently they are far worse than the original. If you're feeling nostalgic, Urban Legend is fun to watch while wearing Jncos and drinking a Surge cola. It's your standard slasher and there are far better ones out there.

4/10

Monday, October 22, 2012

Day 296: The Devil's Rock

The Devil's Rock
The Angel's Roll

I've said it before, but it is worth repeating: There just aren't that many war-based horror movies. Sure, they exist, but compared to something like “babysitter slashers”, it's not even close. When it comes to war horror, most tend to be set during World War II. While I'd like to see a horror movie take place during the American Revolution or, say, The Peloponnesian War, WWII does offer a lot more room for creativity and variety. You can have various nationalities and locations in the movie without being historically inaccurate. Of course, these movies tend to blend together, so it's important to separate them with the horror itself. Some of these WWII horror movies have had zombies, ghosts, and for today's review, a shape-shifting demon.

The Devil's Rock is a 2011 supernatural horror movie from New Zealand. The movie stars Craig Hall (30 Days Of Night, The Water Horse) as Captain Ben Grogan, a New Zealand soldier on a sabotage mission one day before the Allied invasion of Normandy. Joined by Sergeant Joe Tane (Karlos Drinkwater), the two soldiers land on Forau Island to destroy a bunker and distract Nazi forces while the invasion begins. They hear a woman screaming inside the bunker and are surprised to see a Nazi soldier coming towards them, asking for help. Ben stabs him in the back and makes his way into the bunker. They are surprised to find the bunker empty except for the mutilated corpses of German soldiers. Joe discovers book of black magic and while he is distracted, is shot. Ben hears the gunfire and when he reaches Joe, he is knocked out. He awakens to discover that he has been bound by Colonel Meyer (Matthew Sunderland, Out Of The Blue, Stringer), who begins torturing him for information. Eventually, Ben escapes and chases Meyer through a series of tunnels and shoots him. He discovers a room covered in occult symbols and finds the source of the screams. He is shocked to discover that the woman screaming is his dead wife, Helena (Gina Varela, The Market, Xena: Warrior Princess). An injured Meyer shoots Ben in the leg and then shoots Helena in the head. He explains that she is really a shape-shifting demon, conjured up by the Nazis to use as a weapon. As proof, Meyer offers a still-alive Helena the leg of a dead German soldier. As she begins feasting, she reverts to her true demonic form. Can Ben trust Meyer in order to rid the world of this demon, before she manages to free herself?

"Do I have something in my nose?"

Zzzzzzzzzz. Oh, I'm sorry. I could barely keep my eyes open typing out that plot. If you couldn't tell, I found The Devil's Rock to be very boring. If I wanted to be lazy, I could have easily written just 3 sentences for the entire story and it would have essentially been just as good as the previous paragraph. There isn't much to the story beyond soldier finds demon who looks like his wife and can he trust this Nazi. The movie lacks any suspense, making the hour and a half feel like a marathon to watch. Without the suspense, what's the point of watching? Having a small cast doesn't help either. We know neither Ben nor Meyer can die too early, otherwise where is the conflict or the character foil? I never completely buy the demon's ability to persuade Ben other than just looking like his wife. Speaking of looks, when the demon's true form is revealed, I almost laughed out loud. Quick, think of what a cartoon devil looks like. That's how the demon in The Devil's Rock looked like. Of course, she was naked, but still, a cliché down to the rubber horns and bright red skin.

Seriously, where's your plastic pitchfork?

There is some action in the movie, but not as much as you'd expect from a movie set the day before D-Day. Most of the movie is filled with talking which was often too quite for me to fully hear, despite cranking up the volume. I was rewarded for my efforts to hear by having my eardrums blasted with insanely loud screams intermittently placed throughout the movie. I will say that the movie did put more effort into being historically accurate than most war-based horror movies. There is quite a lot of gore and blood, though we only see the aftermath of violence. Why not show us the goods? I mean, the makeup and prosthetics look great, but it would have made the movie far more entertaining to see the demon inflict violence on the Nazis. Everyone can enjoy that. There are references to actual events during the war and the movie is sure to include facts of New Zealanders fighting in the war. I can't say that I've ever seen a movie from New Zealand (Lord Of The Rings doesn't count) so it was neat to see a horror movie from a different perspective. Unfortunately, this movie is neither scary nor entertaining. 

No thanks. I already ate.

The Devil's Rock is a mediocre story that lacks that suspense to make it a good watch. There is not much in the way of character development or story progression. It lacks the proper amount of violence, especially considering the amount of gore we see. Seeing the violence would have made the movie more entertaining and would have created more suspense. Instead, we get a lot of dialogue, some of which is inaudible, and some screaming. The demon's true form looks ridiculous and would have been far more effective if they only hinted at what it looked like. It's nice that they made the effort to be historically accurate and to mention the efforts of New Zealanders during the war. Beyond being a horror film from New Zealand, The Devil's Rock has nothing else going for it.

3/10

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Day 295: Return Of The Living Dead

Return Of The Living Dead
Party time! Excellent! Woo-ooo-ooo!

When you say “zombie movie” the average person instinctively think of George Romero and his slew of movies. Horror fans, though, know of another series of zombie movies that have been terrifying movies goers for years. John Russo was a co-writer on Night Of The Living Dead. After Russo and George Romero went their separate ways, Russo kept the rights to any title featuring “Living Dead” and wrote a book titled Return Of The Living Dead. While the movie had essentially nothing to do with the book it was based on, it still served as a good jumping-off point for violence and mayhem.

Return Of The Living Dead is a 1985 zombie horror movie starring Clu Gulager (The Last Picture Show, The Tall Man) as Burt Wilson and Thom Matthews (ER, Return Of The Living Dead Part II) as Freddy. Freddy has just started his new job at the Uneeda medical supply warehouse in Louisville, Kentucky. The foreman Frank (James Karen, Any Given Sunday, Apt Pupil) shows Freddy the ropes when he decides to let him in on a little secret. He explains that the events of the movie Night Of The Living Dead are based on a true story. An experimental gas called 2-4-5 Trioxin escaped from the morgue in a VA hospital in Pittsburgh. The gas reanimated corpses and they had to be contained in giant drums. Due to a military mix-up, Uneeda received the drums, which they kept in the basement for years. Frank takes Freddy down to the basement to look at them and are accidentally hit in the face with gas from the drums, knocking them out. At the same time, Freddy's girlfriend Tina (Beverly Randolph, Underground Entertainment, More Brains!: A Return To The Living Dead) and her friends, a group of punk rockers, head to Uneeda to get Freddy. They have to wait until 10:00 for him to get out, so they break into the shuttered cemetery across the street. Frank and Freddy awake to discover that the corpse inside the drum is missing and that the gas has reanimated a cadaver in a meat locker. When their boss Burt comes, they try to subdue the raging zombie, hitting it in the head with a pick-ax. When that doesn't kill it, they dismember the body, but it keeps moving. They fill garbage bags with the body parts and head across the street to the mortuary run by Ernie Kaltenbrunner (Don Calfa, Bugsy, Weekend At Bernie's). Meanwhile, Tina has gone to Uneeda to find Freddy, but instead discovers the zombie that escaped the drum. She locks herself in a closet as the zombie tries to pry it open, screaming about eating her brains. The punks hear her screams and go to help her and one of them (Suicide) is killed in the rescue. Back at the mortuary, Ernie has cremated the zombie, sending it's ashes into the sky. Acid rain begins to fall, seeping into the ground in the cemetery, reanimating all the corpses. At the same time, both Freddy and Ernie have started to change into zombies themselves. How will the two groups survive against this horde of unkillable zombies with an unending lust for brains? 

"Oh my god! It's Justin Bieber! EEEEEEEE!"

Though it may not be the most well-known zombie movie (by mainstream standards), Return Of The Living Dead has managed to creep it's way into common knowledge. When you see references to zombies eating brains, they're most likely talking about this movie, not any Romero zombie film. Return Of The Living Dead is a fun zombie movie with lots of action and suspense. The movie mixes a lot of comedy into the horror which can be good or bad depending on your preference. It seems that every time the movie starts to focus on horror, they feel the need to crack a few jokes. It's not slapstick comedy, so it's nothing over the top or ridiculous, but it's enough to take the edge off the horror, which is unfortunate. The movie does have some genuinely scary moments like when Ernie speaks to half of a rotting corpse and learns that the zombies eat brains to reduce the pain of being dead. The puppet used in the scene is very creepy and it's eerie whisper-like voice still haunts me. There is a good bit of violence throughout the movie, though not as much explicit gore as you'd expect.

"Do I have zombie breath? I feel like I have zombie breath."

The story is pretty good with the action starting almost immediately. The inclusion of 80's punks to the story adds a fun uniqueness to the film and gives us a full-frontal naked dance scene in a graveyard. Unnecessary, but I won't complain. Director/Writer Dan O'Bannon (Alien, Total Recall) shot some classic scenes such as a horde of zombies swarming police cars as the pull into the cemetery. I do have a few nits to pick with the film, though. Why make the zombies unkillable? This takes the feeling of hope completely out of the film. All other zombie films have a way of killing the zombies, thus giving the characters and the audience a feeling of hope that they will survive. These zombies are also far smarter than the usual undead and they can also speak. The smarter thing, fine, I can deal with it, but how can they speak, especially zombies that are more bones than flesh? We get the iconic “Braaaaaains!” but I still don't like the ability of speech coming from a rotten corpse. Another issue, which may be the biggest, is the movie's inconsistency with bites. One of the punk girls, Trash, is attacked by a group of zombies. Later, she reappears, pale and demonic-looking, as a zombie. Beyond the fact that she is still in one piece despite being engulfed by zombies, why is she a zombie when some of the other punks are bitten? We see the same thing as a bitten police officer becomes a zombie, waving in more cops just to be ambushed by zombies. Consistency would have been nice.

 We're the kids in America!

Return Of The Living Dead is a fun, unique take on the zombie genre that adds it's own creative spin, which has become part of zombie canon. Many punk and metal bands have used sound clips from the movie in the songs. The zombiecore/thrash metal band Send More Paramedics get their name from a scene in the movie where a zombie gets on the radio in an ambulance. There is plenty of suspense, action, and violence to satisfy any horror fan. The acting is good and the directing is spot-on. The zombies look good, especially the more rotten-looking corpses. There are some genuinely scary moments along with comedic ones. The movie does have a few things in it that I didn't like in regards to zombies, such as being unkillable and inconsistencies with biting. If you're a zombie purist, little things like that may get to you. Overall, Return Of The Living Dead is a fun zombie movie and worth going out of your way to watch.

8/10

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Day 294: The Wicker Man

The Wicker Man
From the makers of The Chia Pet

I never understood the saying “You need some of that old-time religion.” What exactly does that mean? If the speaker is referencing Jesus or Christianity, then they're way off. If you want to talk about “old-time religion” you better be referencing the god of the harvest a while wearing goat leggings and singing a jig in a long-dead language. The term pagan is thrown around a lot nowadays in reference to many different things, but it's important to remember that there are people still to this day that actually practice the “old-time religion”.

The Wicker Man is a 1973 British horror film starring Edward Woodward as Sergeant Neil Howie (Hot Fuzz, King David) and Christopher Lee (Lord Of The Rings, Dracula) as Lord Summerisle. Sergeant Howie receives an anonymous letter requesting his assistance in the case of a missing girl on the tiny isle of Summerisle. Howie must travel by small plane to get to the island and can only get to shore by rowboat. He begins asking the town people about the girl he is searching for, Rowan Morrison, but the all claim to never have heard of her. The people of the island have a strange way about them and it makes Howie, a devout Christian, incredibly uncomfortable. The sing songs about the harvest, have sex in open fields, discuss the importance of the phallic nature of the maypole, and use old forms of medicine. Howie stays at a local inn while continuing his investigation and notices photographs from the island's yearly harvest. Last year's photo is missing and he is told that someone accidentally broke it. At night, Howie is tempted by the innkeeper's daughter Willow (Britt Ekland, The Man With The Golden Gun, Satan's Mistress), but he refuses, explaining that he is a virgin and doesn't believe in sex before marriage. He travels to the school, where he discovers more evidence that Rowan Morrison did, in fact, live on the island. Howie speaks with the leader of the island, Lord Summerisle, about his investigation. Summerisle tells Howie of the islands history, explaining that his grandfather came to the island and developed a new strain of fruit that he believed could thrive in their climate. He instilled in the population the idea that if they prayed to the old gods, that the crops would grow and they would thrive. With the old ways also came sacrifices to the gods to ensure good crops. Howie discovers Rowan's grave and unearths her coffin only to discover a dead rabbit inside. He also finds that Rowan is in the missing picture of last year's harvest, standing amongst a poor crop. He believes that she will be sacrificed on May Day, which is tomorrow. Will Sergeant Howie be able to save her and is everything on Summerisle as it appears to be?

"As you can see, the Wicker Man is quite roomy and has a lovely view."

Ignore everything you heard about the horrendous remake of The Wicker Man that came out a few years ago starring Nicholas Cage. That movie is an abomination. Thankfully, the original Wicker Man is highly enjoyable thanks to it's great acting, solid writing, and fun mystery. The movie doesn't start out suspenseful, allowing the fear and anxiety to grow over time. Some movies are all suspense all the time and it wears out the audience. The Wicker Man takes it's time while still having an appropriate pace and surprises the audience without resorting to quick “jump at you” moments or gory violence. The audience gets sucked into the mystery of Rowan Morrison and follows along with Sergeant Howie as he traverses this strange island. The story is really, really good, never tipping it's hand until the final act when the movie truly becomes horror. The scene where Howie finally “meets” the wicker man is both terrifying and deflating as we know his fate.

While the story is very good, it's the acting in the movie that really makes it great. Edward Woodward represents the Christian world and, to a lesser extent, the audience. He epitomizes the term “stiff upper lip” trying to keep his composure in a a land full of strange customs and acts. Christopher Lee is equally great Lord Summerisle. While he and the rest of the people are technically the villagers, the conduct themselves with a smile, something that most horror movies do not do. This makes the movie very unnerving the horror that much scarier. They are true believers, committing acts that others would deem barbaric all in the hopes of having a good life. Throughout the movie, we hear various pagan songs from the people and admittedly they are very catchy. Christopher Lee is actually a classically-trained singer and his iconic voice sounds great in the movie. He actually released a symphonic metal metal album and a heavy metal album a few years back. It's not bad, but you have to watch this ridiculous music video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cvKRbi2ovDY.

Touchdown!

The Wicker Man is occult horror without the flaming pentagrams and shouts to the devil. The movie doesn't require blood and gore or jump at you moments in order to be scary. The story has a great mixture of mystery and suspense that keeps the audience wanting to see more. The ending is fantastic and comes as quite a shock to the system without having to relying on a major twist. The acting is great with Christopher Lee and Edward Woodward putting in fantastic performances. The movie does bring up the power of religion and beliefs, but you can interpret that in however way you like. Wicker Man is a classic for a reason, but be sure to skip the remake. A “spiritual” sequel was released in 2011 and there is work on a third film entitled The Wrath Of The Gods. If you're thinking of checking those out, be sure to start with the original.

9/10