Archive for March, 2010

HOSTEL

Posted in 2006, Cinema Knife Fights, Extreme Movies with tags , , , on March 30, 2010 by knifefighter

(It’s no secret that I love the HOSTEL films. But pulling this review out, I have to admit, I have no memory of reviewing this one with Michael. ~ LLS)


CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: HOSTEL (2006)
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(Inside a dilapidated mill, the walls covered with disgusting muck, MICHAEL ARRUDA and L.L. SOARES wear butcher aprons. Behind them, strapped to a chair, is a giant GINGERBREAD MAN, and next to him, a tray full of knives, saws, drills and a Slinky).

MA (Taking in surroundings): Ah, this job takes us to the finest places!

LS: Kinda looks like my living room.

MA: We’re here to review HOSTEL (2005), the new thriller produced by Quentin Tarantino. Now, as most of you already know, I don’t exactly have an affinity for ultra-violent movies. You might say, I hate them. I might say that too.

However, I went into HOSTEL with an open mind, and to prove it to you, here it is (pulls out brain from a backpack). We had a good time together. Both enjoyed the popcorn.

HOSTEL begins well. Three young men are backpacking through Europe, doing the things that most young men either do or dream about doing – having sex with beautiful women. They arrive at a hostel which supposedly has the most incredible women in Europe. They are not disappointed, but then the nightmare begins.

One of the guys disappears, and the search for their friend leads the two young Americans to answers they’re certainly not expecting to find, involving dark rooms, brutal tortures and painful mutilations.

The first half of HOSTEL is well crafted, with fine European locations and superb acting performances by its two male leads, Jay Hernandez and Derek Richardson. Even though I didn’t really like these characters at first, they grew on me. I even cared for them a little bit. And when the soundtrack played the siren song from THE WICKER MAN (1973) during one of the steamy sex scenes, the film really won me over.

But then the violence is thrown in – like a bottle of ketchup on a burger. You don’t need a whole bottle of ketchup! It ruins the flavor.

LS (Eating a dripping hamburger): Says you!

MA: Instead of crafting a creative mystery, a chilling tale of terror, writer director Eli Roth goes for the gross-out with graphic scenes of torture. The fun stops here.

The second half of HOSTEL is a disappointment, which is sad because it had an intriguing beginning. And the story itself, once explained, is pretty dumb. HOSTEL is a movie with nothing to say, which is too bad, because its premise led you to believe it did.

(To LS) I won’t even ask you how you liked it. I’m sure you were slobbering with glee the whole time.

LS: If HOSTEL is any idea what we have to look forward to in 2006, then this is going to be a very good year for horror movies. Of course, you’re wrong about a lot of the movie, but since I’m shocked you even agreed to see this flick, I guess I should be glad we’re reviewing it at all.

MA: Hey, thank the open mind, here.

LS: The “Tarantino Presents” tag-line is obviously there to sell tickets, but this movie stands or falls on the ability of the director, Eli Roth. This is the same guy who gave us the overrated CABIN FEVER a couple of years ago, which for me, was a big disappointment. But Roth seems to truly love the genre, so I was rooting for him to finally live up to his promise with his second film.

HOSTEL doesn’t disappoint. I actually loved this movie from beginning to end. In a lot of Hollywood horror movies, the “victims” are one dimensional sheep waiting to get slaughtered. Most of them are pretty annoying, too. But I liked the characters in HOSTEL and found them believable. I know people just like Hernandez and Richardson’s characters. They seemed real to me. And so, I cared about what happened to them, which is crucial if you’re going to make a horror movie work.

The first half of the film is well-paced, pulls you in quickly, and keeps you interested. We agree about that. But you’re totally wrong about the second half, and you’re totally missing the point. The violence in HOSTEL is not gratuitous. It’s the point of the whole movie. It HAS to be there because that’s what the plot is all about. The way Tobe Hooper exploited the fear Northerners had of the Deep South in the original TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, Roth exploits the fear many Americans have of foreign countries.

MA: I didn’t find these characters afraid of Europe.

LS: Stick to your Hammer movies, Pollyanna. The very fact that the violent scenes made you care about the characters means the movie succeeded. If the torture scenes weren’t so intense, then you wouldn’t care as much.

MA: Well, I actually cared about these characters BEFORE the violence began.

LS: But this is a horror movie, dammit! I also think that in these times, when incidents like the Abu Ghraib prison scandal are in the in the news, a movie like HOSTEL is more relevant than ever.

MA: I don’t buy that argument at all. The only relevance a film like HOSTEL has in the real world is that it adds to the mindset that horror movies are crap.

LS: No. HOSTEL says a lot about human nature and isn’t dumb at all. If HOSTEL and Rob Zombie’s latest film THE DEVIL’S REJECTS are any indication, there is a new generation of horror directors coming up to take the mantle from the old masters like Romero and Carpenter and Hooper.

And that’s very pleasant news indeed.

MA: About as pleasant as the muck on those walls. Take a good look at that muck, because that’s the stuff films like HOSTEL are made of.

Horror deserves better.

LS: What horror deserves is its balls back, and HOSTEL is a step in the right direction.

(Cranks up a chainsaw. Looks at GINGERBREAD MAN, who is quaking in fear)

LS: Dessert, anyone?

—END —

© Copyright 2006 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Advertisements

PANDORUM

Posted in 2009, Aliens, Cinema Knife Fights, Science Fiction with tags , , , , on March 29, 2010 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT – PANDORUM (2009)
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

FADE IN.

(THE SCENE: a vast spaceship. Thousands of humans are in metallic coffin-like pods, in suspended animation. For the most part, the huge craft is silent and deserted. MICHAEL ARRUDA wakes, gasping, as his pod opens)

MA (gasping for breaths): What the hell? Where am I? Where is everybody else?

(L.L. SOARES enters the room, eating a giant meatball sandwich)

LS: I’m here. It’s about time you woke up!

MA: Who am I? Where are we? And where can I get one of those sandwiches?

LS: You don’t have time to eat. We’ve got a movie to review. (Takes a bite) Which is too bad. This sandwich sure is good.

MA: A movie? I feel disoriented. What a headache! I feel like I’ve been sleeping in deep space hibernation for years! (Belches).

LS: How many beers did you drink last night?

MA: Just a couple.

LS: Yeah, right. Are you ready for the review or what?

MA: Sure. Let me just get my wits about me. Why don’t you start?

LS: Yeah, yeah. This week our movie is PANDORUM from 2009. Somehow, we missed this one when it was released in theaters, but it’s come back on Comcast OnDemand (and DVD) to get the CKF treatment anyway.

It’s basically the story of a spaceship, called the Elysium, sent into space by a dying earth. Our planet is overpopulated and at the verge of destruction.  The Elysium is the last chance for human kind as it surges toward the earth-like planet Tanis, in another galaxy, to give mankind its big second chance.

When ship’s engineer Bower (Ben Foster) wakes, he finds himself strangely alone in the recovery bay. Other pods stand silent around him, and there’s no sign of the previous shift of workers who he’s supposed to be replacing. It’s as if the ship computer just awakened him randomly. He doesn’t remember who he is, or where he is, at first, but it slowly dawns on him. He’s not sure what has happened, but it’s clear something is wrong.

Soon after, his superior officer, Lt. Payton (Dennis Quaid) is also revived, and has many of the same questions. They’re supposed to be revived in shifts during the long, intergalactic journey, but the men see no sign of previous activity on the craft. There’s also a power outage in some parts of the ship (although the sleepers seem to be unharmed by this).

MA (returns): I thought these early scenes were very creepy and enjoyable. There was a deep sense of mystery pervading them.

LS: Determined to find out what has happened, Bower and Payton try to find a way out of the recovery bay (with the power outage, the doors won’t work, and Bower has to squirm through a ventilation duct and out into the body of the ship), to find out what the problem is.

While exploring the ship, Bower finds lots of strange sights, including two humans who have reverted back to an almost animalistic/savage state, Nadia and Manh (Antje Traue and Cung Le), and strange, violent creatures who have become predators aboard the ship, hunting down human prey. Are they aliens, or have some of the sleeping human somehow mutated into these horrific things?

MA: The creatures reminded me of souped- up Nosferatus. Bat people from hell! Not that they were vampires, but they looked like NOSFERATU was their great, great, great, great granddaddy!

LS: They reminded me of the monsters from the spelunking horror film THE DESCENT (2005), except they wear body armor and wield spears. But they move and look a bit like THE DESCENT’s cave creatures. They’re cool monsters and work well enough as the major threat in this movie.

MA: I didn’t find them so cool, but more on that later.

(Cannibalistic CREATURE is suddenly breathing menacingly over MA’s shoulder.).

MA: On the other hand, the cannibalistic creatures had their moments.

(CREATURE growls, dripping drool)

LS: I don’t think you’re off the hook yet.

MA: Um, Nosferatu is a famous horror movie icon, and you reminded me of him. How’s that?

(CREATURE nods, pats MA on head, and exits).

LS: Meanwhile, Payton, still trapped in the room he woke up in, eventually finds another human in the ventilation duct named Gallo (Cam Gigandet), the lone survivor from the previous shift of security officers, who has some disturbing secrets of his own.

That sets up the storyline. From there, it’s just a matter of gradually finding out what is going on, and how to save the last hope of mankind from cannibalistic monsters.

MA: I thought the story was very good. There were actually several things going on at the same time that kept the story fresh. It wasn’t just about the strange, violent creatures on board. It was also about the characters fighting to remember what they were doing on that ship and what their mission was, as well as the issue of pandorum, or space madness, that sets in for people on long deep space missions.

LS: Hey, I was getting to that! Some people traveling long distances in spaceships just seem to go insane over time. Not everyone, but like a lot of other illnesses, it’s unpredictable where and when it will strike, which just adds another layer of tension to the proceedings. Which characters are struggling to stay alive, and which are losing their minds due to PANDORUMMMMMMM?

(The word “PANDORUM” echoes throughout the spaceship)

LS: Hey, that’s cool!

There’s definitely an ALIEN (1979) vibe going on here. Like that film, we have a handful of humans going up against strange, murderous creatures in the body of a huge spaceship. But this movie, while interesting and well-acted, is nowhere near the same league as Ridley Scott’s classic.

MA: No, it’s not. Visually, it’s nowhere near as impressive as ALIEN, and the creatures themselves are nowhere near as memorable as the acid-bleeding Alien.

LS: True enough. Ben Foster, as Bower, turns in a good performance. He’s a young actor who has been getting a lot of buzz lately, and this movie is more proof that he’s more than capable of handling a lead role. I still think he looks a lot like Screech from SAVED BY THE BELL, but despite that, he’s got good acting chops and his career will just continue to grow. He got a lot of recognition recently for his role in the more “mainstream” film THE MESSENGER (about soldiers whose job it is to tell families their loved ones have died in war), but he has had previous genre roles like the crazy prisoner in the jail cell in 30 DAYS OF NIGHT (2007) and The Angel in X-MEN 3: THE LAST STAND (2006).

MA: And don’t forget my favorite performance turned in so far by Foster, the crazed gun-slinging villain in the Russell Crowe/Christian Bale western, 3:10 TO YUMA (2007).

LS: Another good one! Dennis Quaid is good as Lt. Payton as well, although he’s played a lot of similar crusty superior officer-type characters before. It doesn’t seem like much of a stretch for him. But he sure has been in a lot of genre movies lately (most recently, LEGION, which we reviewed in January). He can be relied upon to put in a decent acting job, but he never really seems to hit the ball out of the park. Maybe because many of his characters are so much alike.

MA: I would agree with that assessment.  I actually liked Quaid better in LEGION, which I thought contained one of his best performances in a while. He was really good in that one.

LS: Relative newscomers Cung Le and Antje Traue (who are Vietnamese and German, respectively) are good in their roles, and the fact that English is their second language probably adds to the feeling of distance/confusion their characters exude so well. We also saw Cam Gigandet in some recent genre fair like THE UNBORN (2009) and TWILIGHT (2008).

(A blood-curdling horrifying shriek rings out).

MA: Shh! Don’t say that word so loud.

LS: What? Twilight?

(Another bone-chilling scream.)

MA: You know what that word does to our audience.

LS: Hey, wait a minute, that was YOU doing all the screaming.

MA: What can I say? The contagion is growing. And to think, the third installment of that series is on its way to theaters later this year.

(More screaming.)

MA: That time it was YOU.

LS: Okay, okay.

MA: Anyway, back to PANDORUM. I was less impressed by these supporting actors. I thought they were just okay and didn’t do anything to make their characters all that memorable.

LS: There’s also an interesting turn by Eddie Rause as Leland, a loner survivor who is locked away in his own part of the ship, and who perhaps has gone a little mad, being alone for so long with those creatures outside, trying to get in. He reminded me of an emaciated Benecio del Toro, and he’s an interesting addition to the mix.

MA: He didn’t do much for me either. While I thought Foster and Quaid were fine, the rest of the cast didn’t wow me.

LS: Like I said, I thought Rause’s character was interesting. But yeah, he didn’t knock my socks off or anything. And yeah, I’d probably say the same for Le and Traue. Nobody gives an awful performance that ruins the movie, at least.

Overall, I liked PANDORUM. It was better than I was expecting, and the acting was good. I found it pleasant enough for a movie I ordered on cable, but I’m glad I didn’t pay the price of a ticket to see it in a theater.

MA: I was definitely on the fence with PANDORUM, and I went back and forth as to how I felt about it.

I thought the story was excellent.  I liked it from start to finish. I thought the opening with Bower and Payton waking from their deep slumber with little or no memory, confused, disoriented, and finding themselves in a dark, barely functioning spaceship, which is a behemoth of a ship by the way, was creepy and a very compelling way to get the audience interested in the story within the film’s first few minutes.

LS: The ship wasn’t anything new. We’ve seen this kind of scenario before. But yeah, it works well enough here.

MA: I also liked the idea that they knew their full memories would return later, but that it would take a while, which opened the door for gradual revelations throughout the movie. Again, this was a good plot device. It helped move the story along.

The fact that Bower and Payton are separated from each other almost immediately adds to the suspense. Right off the bat, you’ve got just two characters on board this crippled mammoth ship, and then within minutes, they’re separated from each other, so now they don’t even have each other to rely on. You’ve got two solo characters dealing with their own fears alone, only able to communicate with each other through electronic means. I thought this also was very effective.

Now, the strange violent creatures on board the ship that Bower discovers, at first, I found scary and cool, but it was the case where the more I saw of these things, the less I liked them. And that really is the problem with PANDORUM, and a huge reason why it doesn’t measure up to a movie like ALIEN. The visuals and the special effects to me were fair at best, and were nowhere near as well done as the story itself.

I thought the creatures, once you got a good look at them, were rather fake-looking, and not all that impressive.

LS: I didn’t think they were that bad, for the most part. Y’know, I actually thought the child monsters were scarier than the adults. They looked weirder.

MA: I don’t know.  The child monsters reminded me of those pictures of “Bat Boy” which show up every few years or so on the cover of supermarket tabloids.  You know, the kid with the oversized bald head and big bat ears, under the headline “Half boy, half bat, all monstrous!”

LS: That’s not just any supermarket tabloid. That’s from THE WEEKLY WORLD NEWS, the King of Tabloids.

MA: There were also lots of dark scenes that I found difficult to see. I would imagine that these scenes would have looked better on the big screen, but in my living room on DVD, they were dark, which made many of the action sequences hard to see.

LS: Yeah, I’ll agree with that. Usually, this kind of thing is done when someone doesn’t have the budget to do special effects as well as they’d like to. The darkness hides the shortcomings. I’m sure that was the intention here.

MA: But I really liked the story, and I think screenwriter Travis Milloy should be commended for writing an intricate and compelling screenplay. I’d give lower marks to director Christian Alvart. While the visual aspects of PANDORUM are okay, they didn’t impress me all that much. I thought the special effects and the visuals, like the ship itself, were fake-looking and reminded me of the Sci Fi Channel’s Movie of the Week.

LS: The visuals and effects aren’t groundbreaking, but they work for the story. I think you’re exaggerating a bit to compare this to Sci-Fi Channel movie. It’s not THAT bad. Besides, it’s called the SyFy Channel now.

MA: You would have to point that out.  SyFy.  It looks like somebody texting SuperFly.  SyFy instead of Sci-Fi is like the New Coke.  Remember that?  Nobody does, because it wasn’t good!  Here’s hoping Sci-Fi returns one day.

LS: Here’s hoping their movies get better.

MA: So while the story is excellent, in that it presents a very compelling mystery, it’s the technical aspects that hurt PANDORUMMMMMMMMM.

(The word PANDORUM echoes throughout the ship again)

LS: I still say that’s cool.

MA: In a nutshell, PANDORUM is an intriguing story hampered by so-so production values. You certainly could do a lot worse, but a movie with a good story like this, had it had better special effects and a set of threatening creatures that looked more authentic, it could have been a really good movie. As it stands now, it’s only okay.

But overall, I’d have to say I liked PANDORUM, and for me, what finally sold me on this movie was that I liked its ending. I thought the ending had a sense of wonder and awe that’s needed in a science fiction thriller like this.   So often, the ending of the movie is a major disappointment for me. Not so with PANDORUM, and as a result, it won me over.   Was the ending groundbreaking?  Was it amazing?  Certainly not, but it was solid, and it didn’t screw up all that came before it.

LS: It was okay. It worked. I’ve seen a lot worse movies.

MA: So, I’m going to recommend PANDORUM, but just barely. While visually it’s not all that exciting, I liked its story enough to overlook this flaw.

LS: I can live with that. It’s an entertaining movie, but nothing spectacular. I think you liked the movie more than I did, in some ways. But I think I liked the monsters more than you.

MA: There you have it. Okay, we’re done with the review. Can I have one of those meatball sandwiches now? I feel like I’ve been asleep for decades.

LS: Sorry, this was the last one. There’s no more food.

(CREATURES chuckle in the background)

CREATURE:  That’s what you think!

MA:  Um, are you referring to us?

(A bunch of CREATURES emerge from the darkness, drooling and licking their lips)

MA:  I think it’s time we say so long and get out of here quick.

LS (Finishing last bite of sandwich):  I hate to eat and run, but if we don’t (points to creatures) they will.  Until next time, folks.

(MA and LS flee with CANNIBALISTIC CREATURES in pursuit)

FADE OUT.

© Copyright 2010 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

INTRODUCING: SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES BY NICK CATO

Posted in News, Suburban Grindhouse Memories with tags , , , on March 26, 2010 by knifefighter

(Nick Cato’s SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES will be appearing on the Cinema Knife Fight Web site every other Thursday. Be sure to check it out!)


The term GRINDHOUSE should bring two things to mind: 1) Sleazy theaters located in shady parts of the city, and 2) Cheap exploitation films (or B-movies as they’re commonly called).  But what some people may not know is that grindhouses existed almost everywhere and weren’t exclusive to big cities. Even in nice, respectful small towns you could find that one theater that happened to show at least one film that wasn’t part of the mainstream.  And in the late 70s/early 80s here in New York’s smallest, most conservative borough (Staten Island), we actually had several genuine grindhouses.

In this educational (and hopefully entertaining) column, I’m going to take you back to a time when you could see unusual, uncut films in a theater on any given day; a time when you could see something like ZOMBIE ISLAND MASSACRE in theater No. 2, while AMADEUS played next door in theater No. 1.  And while suburban grindhouses might not have been as scary an experience as urban ones (and I’ve been to both countless times), most of the films I saw at these theaters usually featured at least one or two whack-jobs causing problems in the audience, as well as outside the theater,  before and after the film (and these experiences often helped shaped your opinion of the film itself).  “Audience participation” was not limited to THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (just ask anyone who saw PINK FLAMINGOS at a midnight screening several years before ROCKY HORROR had even been released).

While I’m a big fan of DVDs (especially all the nifty extras on better ones), there’s just NO substitute for seeing a good, trashy B-movie in a theater…and the sleazier, the better.

Welcome to my Suburban Grindhouse Memories

****

Nick Cato published the influential cult-film fanzine, STINK, from 1981-1991.  His short fiction has been published in several genre anthologies, including Deathgrip: Exit Laughing (2006 Hellbound Books), Southern Fried Weirdness Vol. 1 (2007 SFW Press), Strange Stories of Sand and Sea (2008 Fine Tooth Press) and Bits of the Dead (2008 Coscom Entertainment), and has been featured in magazines such as Dark Recesses and Wicked Karnival.  DON OF THE DEAD, Nick’s debut novel, was released by Coscom Entertainment in July, 2009. In October, 2010, Nick will be part of the highly-anticipated Dark Scribe Press film book, BUTCHER KNIVES AND BODY COUNTS. You can contact him through his blog: http://nickcato.blogspot.com.

Cinema Knife Fight is GROWING

Posted in News, Uncategorized on March 26, 2010 by knifefighter

We’ve got some big news for fans of the CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT site. We’ve got some growing to do.

So far, it’s just been me and Michael, keeping our Cinema Knife Fight brand alive, with a mixture of new columns (every Monday) and older columns from our archives throughout the week. But, as we come to the last of our old CKF reviews, we had a decision to make. We could either supplement the site with the many solo reviews Michael and I have done throughout the years – many of which will still be posted here – or we could take a new direction.

We decided to invite some other people to the party. New writers (new to this site, at least) who would begin to write regular columns of their own. These columnists/reviewers will be introduced to our audience gradually. The first is Nick Cato, whose new column – SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES – will appear here every other Thursday.

Just above this post is an introduction to Nick and his column. I think he’ll be a perfect fit here.

More reviewers will be introduced to our readers over the next few weeks. There are lots of changes in store for fans of the Cinema Knife Fight Web site.

Stick around and enjoy the fun.

~L.L. Soares
March 26, 2010

THE FOG (2005)

Posted in 2005, Cinema Knife Fights, Ghost Movies, Lame Remakes with tags , , , , on March 25, 2010 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:  THE FOG (2005)
by Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

(Note: this poster for THE FOG is actually much cooler than the actual movie. ~ LLS)

.

.

.

.(In a deep, menacing fog, a whistle blows—.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Tea’s on! (Picks up kettle and waves away foggy steam.)

L.L. SOARES:  You would drink tea!

MA (Pouring water into mug):  Hey, Christopher Lee drinks tea.  Nuff said!  Welcome everyone to Cinema Knife Fight.  Join us while I drink some tea and L.L drinks— blood, probably.

LS:  Hey, Christopher Lee drinks blood!

MA:  Touche! Today we’re reviewing THE FOG, the remake of the John Carpenter film from 1980.  There are two words to keep in mind today, pacing and style.  THE FOG (2005 edition) has neither.

There’s no pacing whatsoever to this movie.  It’s as slow and as boring as— well, fog.  The story, in a nutshell, for those of you who have never seen the original, is a ghost tale.  A ship carrying members of a leper colony sinks under mysterious circumstances.  One hundred years later, the ship and crew return in an eerie fog to haunt the descendants of the small coastal community, Antonio Bay, which caused the wreck in the first place.  Not a bad premise, really.

Now, I was psyched to see this film because although I do like the John Carpenter original, I admit the 1980 film has many flaws.  John Carpenter is one of the few filmmakers who has made great movies with lousy scripts.  THE FOG (1980) has more holes in its plot than SpongeBob Squarepants, the dialogue is hokey, and the ghostly villains are never quite fleshed out enough to make them truly scary, but what the 1980 film does have, and it’s all thanks to Carpenter, is style.

The fog in the 1980 version, with its otherworldly green glow, is immediately memorable, compared to the fog in the 2005 remake, which, while being more realistic looking, is also nothing we haven’t seen before.  It’s like watching THE PERFECT STORM again.  And the scene on the fishing boat in the 1980 version is one of the creepiest horror scenes of all time.  The same scene in the 2005 version is just ordinary.

John Carpenter also wrote amazing music for his films (anyone NOT know the HALLOWEEN theme?).  He wrote a similar haunting and effective score for THE FOG (1980).  The remake’s score is ordinary.  The 1980 version had a great cast which included Jamie Lee Curtis, Adrienne Barbeau, and even Janet Leigh.  The remake’s cast—you got it!— ordinary.

(There is a loud pounding on the door)

I went into this movie wanting to like it.  I was hoping the film would be an improvement over the 1980 version.  It’s not.

LS: Y’know, my take on remakes is basically that the only reason to do them is if you can make them better. A great example that comes to mind is John Carpenter’s remake of THE THING (1982). He took an above-average 1951 sci-fi movie about a violent alien discovered in the Arctic, and amped up the frights and effects, and even improved on the story. It’s one of the rare examples of someone remaking a film and doing it even better. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough THINGs to justify remakes as a whole.

MA:  Hammer Films made a living off remakes, don’t forget.

LS: I was never much of a fan of Carpenter’s original version of THE FOG; I felt it was one of his weaker efforts- all build-up and not enough payoff. It could actually be improved upon if it was remade by a director with real ability.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case with the new version. Director Rupert Wainwright this time around completely drops the ball and actually makes a movie that is much worse than the flawed original. At least Carpenter has a sense of style, even in his weaker efforts. The remake is as bland as they come. Like the original, this version takes forever to get to the good parts. And the characters this time around are mostly one-dimensional and forgettable. Tom Welling, TV’s Clark Kent from SMALLVILLE, isn’t horrible here, but he really isn’t given much of a chance to flesh out his character either. The same goes for Maggie Grace (from LOST), as Welling’s long lost love, come back to town to visit her estranged family.

MA: It’s interesting that in the original, the Jamie Lee Curtis character is picked up while hitchhiking, and she immediately enters into a sexual relationship with the man who picks her up, Nick Castle (Tom Atkins), the male lead and good guy in the movie.  In the remake, in a variation of the same scene, the hitchhiker turns out to be Castle’s girlfriend, completely erasing the “casual sex” angle.  What a difference 25 years makes!  Ever get the feeling sometimes we’re going backwards?

LS: You bet! Then again, casual sex might hurt Superman’s clean-cut image.

(Loud pounding continues)

(MA opens the door to find some kids dressed as Michael Myers, Snake Pliskin and The Thing): Trick or —!

(They see MA & LS and scream and run away).

LS (shouts):  Wimps!

(MA closes door):  We have such good candy, too. (Glances at bowl full of squirming things).

LS: Selma Blair as Stevie Wayne, the disc jockey who talks and spins records through most of the first half of the movie (what – CD’s haven’t reached Antonio Bay yet in the new version?), was probably my favorite character (although she’s no Adrienne Barbeau).

MA (bruised and bloody with a Sylvester Stallone chest):  Adrienne!  Adrienne!

LS: But even she was one step beyond a cardboard cutout.

The good bits include a few chilling scenes like a leprous hand that shoots out of a sink drain and infects Stevie’s mother, and shards of broken glass dancing in the air around a priest before skewering him. But there aren’t enough of these moments to make the new movie worthwhile, which is sad, because this story could have been done better the second time around.

MA: I agree.  It really is too bad, because the premise has so much potential.  Ghost ships in the fog are creepy.  It’s a great starting point for a story.  It amazes me that neither film took full advantage of what they had.

LS: Maybe, similar to the lepers who haunt Antonio Bay every hundred years, they’ll keep remaking THE FOG every 25 years until someone finally gets it right.

—END—

(Originally published in the HELLNOTES newsletter on October 20, 2005)

© Copyright 2005 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE

Posted in 2005, Cinema Knife Fights, Exorcism Movies, Paranormal with tags , , , , on March 24, 2010 by knifefighter

(This movie was the first time we became aware of Jennifer Carpenter, who of course went on to better stuff like QUARANTINE and the Showtime series DEXTER)

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE (2005)
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(In a room where twenty clocks are all stopped at 3:00AM, L.L. SOARES sits on the floor, twisted in the shape of a pretzel, when MICHAEL ARRUDA enters.)

MA: Yes!  It’s finally happened!  You’re possessed!

LS: Nope, I’m just doing some yoga (gets up). But that reminds me of the movie we’re reviewing this month…. (Suddenly, LS starts speaking in strange languages).

MA: See, you’re speaking in tongues!  You are possessed!  Demons exist!

LS: No, I’m swearing. I just stubbed my damn toe (grumbles).

This time around we’re reviewing THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE. In it, Laura Linney plays Erin Bruner, a defense lawyer who is also an agnostic. She is given the job of defending Father Moore (Tom Wilkinson) who is charged with killing 19-year old Emily Rose while performing an exorcism on her.

Linney’s opponent in the case, ironically enough, is prosecutor Ethan Thomas (Campbell Scott), who is also a man of faith. Scott’s character has to convince the jury that Father Moore’s actions led to Emily’s death by preventing her from getting the medical attention she needed.

The court case is pretty much the heart of the movie, but as we learn more and more about the case, we are treated to lots of flashbacks to Emily’s possession and the exorcism itself.

The movie is based on the supposedly true trial of a priest who performed a real exorcism that turned lethal. The question is – is possession real? Or was Emily Rose simply the victim of psychosis?  While the movie pretends to be neutral, it really isn’t. We know right away whose side the film is on, and who its sympathies are with, as even Linney’s character begins to believe in demons.

I had a real mixed reaction to this movie. I thought the scenes of possession weren’t that bad – this movie was a big improvement over the last exorcism movie we saw, the utterly boring EXORCIST: THE BEGINNING directed by Renny Harlin. Compared to Harlin’s lame take on this subject, EMILY ROSE is a work of art.

But this movie has a real sense of identity crisis. It was clearly promoted as a horror movie, yet it’s really a courtroom drama with horror flashbacks. It certainly could have focused more on the horror aspects and been a lot scarier. I have to admit, however, that I went into this movie with no expectations, and it was better than I expected. The acting is very good, and the movie at least tries to put an interesting spin to the topic of exorcism. It by no means comes anywhere close to the sheer genius of William Friedkin’s original THE EXORCIST, but it certainly is better than most other films on the subject.

I didn’t love EMILY ROSE, but I didn’t hate it either. It was certainly better than most of the movies we’ve been reviewing lately and isn’t totally brainless at least.

MA:  I agree.  Actually, I think I liked it more than you did.  Sure, it’s not as good as THE EXORCIST, but few films are.

First off, I thought it was scary.   I liked the exorcism scenes a lot.  They weren’t hokey.  They were real and frightening.  And I found the events leading up to the exorcism rather unnerving, where we see demons in various forms and the different stages of Emily’s possession.  I also liked the scenes where Laura Linney’s character is alone in her apartment in the middle of the night, and she’s spooked.  I was spooked, too.

LS:  Everything spooks you!  Boo!

MA (Screams):  Cut it out!

LS (Holding a butcher’s knife):   My pleasure!  I know what your problem is.  You’re so starved from all the awful movies we’ve seen lately, you think this is great filmmaking!

MA (Slobbering like a dog):  Starved? What makes you say that?

The acting was terrific, especially the two leads, Linney and Wilkinson.  It’s interesting how Emily Rose’s character isn’t really all that important in the film, but the movie doesn’t suffer from it.

LS: (Head spins completely around, but MA doesn’t notice): I actually thought that the actress who played Emily Rose, Jennifer Carpenter, was very good and convincing in the role. I wouldn’t have minded seeing more of her.

MA: I also enjoyed the camera work, especially during the exorcism scenes where the film has a gritty BLAIR WITCH PROJECT feel.

LS: (Pukes pea soup, then wipes his mouth): For some reason, I really felt that they were holding back in the horror scenes. That they could have gone further with the scares, but chose not to. I think EMILY ROSE could have been a much better movie if it weren’t so restrained. Then again, this was probably a conscious choice to preserve the desired PG-13 rating.

MA: It’s just simply a matter of being scary without being graphic.  I have no problem calling it a horror movie.  It’s not going to make audiences scream out loud, but as we’ve said before in this column, there are many different forms of horror.  EMILY ROSE falls under the category of “horror courtroom tale.”  Hmm.  Pretty original!

This is a film where you add up the parts and come up with a decent movie.  You have solid acting, a good script, and well-crafted, creepy scenes.  It doesn’t let the audience down.  It does have that TV-movie  feeling, since a lot of the film takes place in a courtroom and there’s lots of talking and little action, but to be honest, I found the courtroom scenes both compelling and a relief from the tense demonic scenes.  All in all, THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE was a pleasant surprise.

LS: I admit it was better than I thought it would be. I think EMILY ROSE is worth seeing. I’d just wait until it came out on DVD.

(LS begins growling again)

MA: What’s the matter? Did you stub your toe again?

LS: No. I AM POSSESSED BY DEMONS!

LS grabs MA and the lights go out.

—END—

(First published in the HELLNOTES newsletter on September 22, 2005)

© Copyright 2005 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

THE SKELETON KEY

Posted in 2005, Cinema Knife Fights, Ghost Movies, Haunted Houses, Paranormal, Voodoo Movies with tags , , , , , , on March 23, 2010 by knifefighter

(After you read this one, scroll down. There’s a reevaluation of the movie that comes after it. You can see if the critic changed his mind five years later ~ LLS)

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: SKELETON KEY (2005)
by Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

(Outside a sprawling Southern mansion, MICHAEL ARRUDA and L.L. SOARES sit in a garden sipping sweet tea.  Between them sits a grizzled old man resembling John Hurt in a wheelchair with the baby ALIEN protruding from his chest.)

MA:  Today on Cinema Knife Fight we’re looking at the new voodoo thriller, THE SKELETON KEY (2005).

THE SKELETON KEY tells the story of young Caroline Ellis (Kate Hudson) who moves into a New Orleans mansion to care for a recent stroke victim and invalid Ben Devereaux (John Hurt). She also has to deal with Deveraux’s abrasive and protective wife Violet (Gena Rowlands), but she is encouraged to stay on by the young family attorney Luke (Peter Sarsgaard).

When Caroline discovers a secret room in the attic, filled with voodoo artifacts, she learns of the horrifying history of the house.  As things grow more mysterious, Caroline suspects that Ben’s life is in danger, and she tries to determine just who it is who is out to harm him.  Her investigation leads her deep into a world of ghosts and voodoo.

(LS picks up a voodoo doll of MA and starts sticking pins in it)

MA: Ouch! Damn mosquitoes! THE SKELETON KEY is a well-acted, intelligent thriller that in spite of its slow pace, still delivers the goods.  It’s a performance-driven movie, especially from its two female leads, Kate Hudson and Gena Rowlands.   Not to be overlooked, John Hurt does an admirable job playing a man who can’t move or talk.  It’s not as easy as it sounds, and Hurt makes it look effortless.

(ALIEN creature poking out of John Hurt’s chest cheers and hoots.)

MA:  Be quiet, you!  Just because his chest was your film debut is no reason to make a fool of yourself now.  (ALIEN frowns).

The twist ending didn’t knock my socks off, but like the film as a whole, was just good enough for me to recommend it.  How about you?

LS: (puzzled look on his face) Did we see the same movie?

I guess the biggest surprise for me was how totally unscary this movie was. And how predictable. It got better towards the end, as we start to figure out what the “twist” is, but truthfully, it’s not much of a twist. In the old days, THE SKELETON KEY would have made for a mediocre episode of NIGHT GALLERY. Instead, they’ve blown it up to feature length and suckered some decent actors to star in it, all to trick us out of our hard-earned money.

MA:  I disagree completely.  It’s not a waste of money.  It’s actually a film I think people should go out to see.  Is it scary?  Not really, but then again, a horror film doesn’t have to be scary to be successful.  It just has to be entertaining, and THE SKELETON KEY, though slow, is entertaining.

LS: (jabs at voodoo doll) (MA winces): I found this movie too bland and predictable to be entertaining, despite a mostly solid cast.  John Hurt and Gena Rowlands are real actors. Rowlands, in particular, is one of the best American actresses ever. As for Kate Hudson, she’s “adequate” at best here. Where is the charisma she showed back in the film, ALMOST FAMOUS (2000)?

The thing that struck me most while watching THE SKELETON KEY was how I paid ten dollars to sit in a movie theater and watch a bad TV movie. With the PG-13 rating, it’s as safe and generic as anything on basic cable, with pretty much the same script quality. In fact, I’ve seen edgier and scarier TV movies on the Sci-Fi Channel.  I am so sick of pabulum like this being dished into our hungry horror plates on a regular basis.

MA:  I’ll tell you what I’m sick of, films containing one action scene after another, one scene of incredible bloody violence after another.  That bores me to tears.  Here we have a movie with an intelligent script, with wonderful acting by everyone in it, including Hudson, by the way, and you’re going to fault it by calling it pabulum and a bad TV movie?   Why does every film have to be fast-paced?  I think you’re missing the boat here.  This is the kind of film that fans of Val Lewton’s 1940s movies will really enjoy.

LS: You know me better than that. I love the movies Val Lewton produced. And I find it hilarious that you compare this claptrap to classics like that. I’m not saying all horror films need tons of action and gore; all I’m asking for is a decent script. And you’re really exaggerating how intelligent this movie is.  We’ve all seen this story before, and the twist is old hat. The fact that it surprised and entertained you is kind of laughable.

MA:  I didn’t say it surprised me.  The twist is average, I’ll give you that much, and the script isn’t Shakespeare, but it worked for me.

LS:  What do you know?  The film had potential, but never lives up to it.  If you want to see a good voodoo movie, rent something like Wes Craven’s underrated THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW (1988), or Val Lewton’s 1943 classic, I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE, or even the 1970s grindhouse classic, SUGAR HILL (1974).

MA:   See, I think THE SKELETON KEY captures the spirit and feel of a movie like I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE.  It’s nowhere near as good, but if you like I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE, chances are, you’ll enjoy this movie.

(LS sticks more pins in the doll)

MA: Ouch!  I’ve had enough.  (turns to BABY ALIEN)  Get him!

(ALIEN jumps out of old man’s chest and attacks LS.)

MA:  In the name of good taste, we will not be showing you the bloody battle going on behind me.  Until next time—.

(Green alien goo spatters MA in face).

MA:  You just had to get that in, didn’t you?

—-END–

(Originally published in the HELLNOTES newsletter on August 25, 2005)

© Copyright 2005 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares