Archive for January, 2011

THE RITE

Posted in 2011, Cinema Knife Fights, Devil Movies, Exorcism Movies with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 31, 2011 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THE RITE (2011)
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(The Scene: The interior of a darkened room. The shades are drawn and the door is closed . L.L. SOARES is tied to a chair . MICHAEL ARRUDA, dressed as a priest, stands over him.)

MA: Tell me your name, demon!

LS: Never! Get out of my face, priest!

(MA splashes LS with holy water . LS licks his lips.)

LS: Mmm . Lemon flavored. I rather like that.

MA: Stick to the script .

LS: The props department actually gave us lemon-flavored holy water?

MA: The usual crew’s on vacation. Someone new is working props this week.

(CUT to DONKEY and SHREK playing around inside the prop room.

DONKEY: How about some lemon-flavored holy water?

SHREK: I don’t know, Donkey. I don’t think they drink it.

DONKEY:  Don’t drink it? What else do they do it with it? Splash it on their foreheads or something?

Cut back to MA and LS.)

MA: Demon, tell me your name!

LS (Curly voice): Sointantly! I’m the devil. I go by many names. Lucifer. Beelzebub. Jay Leno!

MA: Begone! That was easy.  Now that that’s over with (unties LS) let’s get on with our review.

Today, we’re reviewing THE RITE (2011) the latest movie about exorcists, this one starring Anthony Hopkins. I did not have high hopes for this one, as I didn’t expect it to come close to last year’s excellent and very scary exorcist movie, THE LAST EXORCISM (2010), but I have to admit, I was surprised.

THE RITE is the story of young Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donoghue). He lives with and works for his mortician dad (Rutger Hauer), a life he really wants to escape from, so he decides to enter the seminary because, as he tells his friend, in his family the men either become morticians or priests. Michael admits to having lots of doubts in terms of his faith, and so he fully expects that after four years in the seminary, he most likely will drop out.

After four years, he decides to do just that, but his advisor priest tells him he sees lots of potential in him and doesn’t want him to leave the priesthood. He asks Michael to give the vocation one more chance and go to Rome to take a course in exorcism, and then make his final decision. Michael accepts the offer, and when he continues to express his doubts in Rome, the priest there teaching the course on exorcism, Father Xavier (Cirian Hinds, who played Julius Caesar in HBO’s series ROME), sends him to work with Father Lucas Trevant (Anthony Hopkins) an eccentric local priest and very experienced exorcist.

Trevant is anything but conventional. He invites Michael to take part in an exorcism within moments of meeting him; in the middle of an exorcism he answers his cell phone; and he is, by all accounts, an odd fellow, but there is something charismatic about him, perhaps his honesty in acknowledging that he too has doubts.

At first, Michael continues to be skeptical, but then weird things begin to happen that make Michael think twice about his lack of faith. To add fuel to the fire, Father Lucas himself becomes possessed by a demon, and suddenly Michael has lost his mentor to the other side. He enlists the aid of a reporter, Angeline (Alice Braga), he had befriended earlier in the exorcism class, and the two of them together confront the evil that is stalking Michael and Father Lucas.

(LS snores loudly)

MA: Hey, wake up!

LS: Huh? You were putting me to sleep.

MA: Uh oh. I guess that means you didn’t like this one, but I’m not surprised . There weren’t any scenes of torture in it.

Again, I was pleasantly surprised by THE RITE. I did not think I was going to like it, but I have to say, I did.

First of all, I found the story believable….

(LS laughs hysterically)

MA: Let me finish before you choke to death on your funny bone—I’m not just talking about the good and evil stuff, as in whether one believes in God or the devil . I’m talking about that I believed in these characters and their beliefs and doubts. They were convincing, as was the story. It’s a solid story, and while it’s not flat out scary, it is kinda creepy. There’s an undercurrent of dread throughout this film.

(Someone knocks at the door)

MA: Come in!

(A very pregnant Italian girl enters)

GIRL: I am here for my exorcism.

MA: Sorry, the exorcist is on a lunch break. We’re doing a movie review here.

GIRL: That’s okay. I’ll wait. (She sits down on the chair LS was previously sitting in)

MA: The other thing I liked is it didn’t go overboard with the exorcism scenes. These scenes didn’t come off as fake, where we see priests acting like Jedi knights, fighting off demons and the devil, as if they’re supervillains. The exorcism scenes in THE RITE were realistic, in that nothing that happened in the scenes jumped out at me as phony. I wasn’t thinking “that would never happen.” And that’s why this one remained subtly disturbing; there was a strong sense of realism throughout.

LS: Realism? No, wrong word. You must mean boredom. Because the exorcism scenes just never go far enough. They seem on the verge of really turning into something, but they never cross the line into real scares.

MA: So, you’re saying that a movie can’t be scary if it’s not graphic? I don’t agree with that at all .

LS: Stop putting words in my mouth! (begins to choke and then spits up plastic words onto the ground)

Ouch. No, I wasn’t saying things have to be graphic to be scary. But this movie would have been a lot better if it had the balls to take its premise all the way.

Of course the limitations of the PG-13 rating don’t help. What that means is that instead of spouting real profanity, the possessed souls spout gibberish which is a mix of “acceptable” swear words (for the rating) and nonsense that sounds like swearing.

MA: So, if a demon doesn’t say four letter words, it’s not realistic? That doesn’t make any sense.

LS: Actually, it does. And, in this movie, the sexuality also just goes so far – but doesn’t cross a line.

MA: That’s right. No boobs . I guess you don’t like this movie then!

LS: If you’re possessed by a demon – chances are pretty good you are going to have some extreme behavior that is going to go beyond the limits of PG-13. This movie always seemed on the verge of wanting to cross over into truly disturbing territory, but it never does. It wimps out repeatedly. In turn, the “scary” scenes never get really scary. We know they will only go so far. And the most we get in the way of unsettling imagery is people spitting up iron nails.

MA: Last time I checked, a person spitting up iron nails is kinda unnerving.

LS: Not really. I thought it was kind of lame.

MA: The acting was excellent. I thought Anthony Hopkins more than made up for his subpar performance in THE WOLFMAN (2010). He created a very memorable character in Father Lucas . While I don’t think Father Lucas is quite as dynamic a character as the Rev. Cotton Marcus in THE LAST EXORCISM, he’s pretty darn close. Whereas Marcus considered exorcisms to be phony and went through the motions to satisfy his “customers,” Lucas believes in the demons he’s fighting . Lucas is a much more deeply haunted character than Cotton Marcus, and Hopkins does a terrific job bringing this character to life.

LS: Okay, maybe his performance in THE WOLFMAN wasn’t the best, but that was certainly a better movie than this one.

MA: I thought THE RITE had a tighter story, but I wasn’t really comparing the movies, just Hopkins’s performance in them.

LS: You’re right. The acting in THE RITE is very good. Hopkins is fine. So is Colin O’Donoghue as Michael, and I liked Alice Braga a lot as the reporter, Angeline. My problem isn’t with them. My problem is with the script. It’s a friggin snoozefest.

(Suddenly, the GIRL starts screaming. Her legs rise and a BABY’s head pokes out from between them.)

BABY (in a gruff voice): Do you guys mind? I’m trying to sleep in here.

LS: Everyone’s a critic.

MA:  I also appreciated the fact that once Father Lucas becomes possessed, the film didn’t deteriorate into a silly “good vs. evil” melodrama. What happens to Lucas is consistent with the story, and how Lucas reacts during the possession is also very realistic. He doesn’t become Bad Ass Devil Villain from Hell . He’s simply Father Lucas possessed by a demon. He’s not running through the streets trying to take over the world.

LS: Yeah, Father Lucas is possessed by a demon. An incredibly wimpy demon who really doesn’t know how to generate real scares. He has a few good moments, but overall, the possession scenes were a letdown.

BABY: Yeah!

MA (to BABY): You’re annoying, and you’re not even born yet! I disagree about the exorcism scenes. I thought they were adequate enough.

LS: Adequate. What a ringing endorsement!

(BABY laughs)

MA: As you pointed out, Colin O’Donoghue delivered a strong performance as Michael Kovak. Again, it comes down to believability. I believed in his character’s doubts . I also enjoyed how Kovak doubted at every turn, and how he was quick to express these doubts, telling Father Lucas that the girl they were helping needed a doctor not a priest, to which Lucas quickly quipped, “I am a doctor.” I was happy to go along with Kovak on his journey, and this was because of both O’Donoghue’s performance and the writing.

LS: Yes, O’Donoghue is very good in this movie. I liked his character, too. Too bad he wasn’t in a better movie.

MA: And yes, Alice Braga was also very good as the reporter Angeline. We saw Braga in a couple of movies last year, PREDATORS (2010) and REPO MEN (2010). She was good in both those films, and she’s good here in THE RITE. And it’s always fun seeing Rutger Hauer in a movie, as he remains one of my favorite actors, even though his role here as Michael’s father is not very big.

Michael Petroni wrote the screenplay based on a book by Matt Baglio, and for the most part, I thought it was a decent script. Petroni created a very memorable character in Father Lucas, brought to life by Anthony Hopkins, and he crafted a story that remained convincing throughout. I could have done without the “inspired by true events” at the beginning. These words appear so much in movies nowadays it’s almost like writing “this is a horror movie” on the screen, or “inspired by thoughts in the writer’s head.” If it’s not a documentary, I’m really not all that interested in knowing that true events might have inspired it. After all, isn’t this the case with most fiction? Duh!

THE RITE was directed by Mikael Hafstrom, and he proved adept at the helm. There were a lot of neat and memorable images in this one. I liked the demonic donkey, which sounds goofy, but in the film it’s anything but.

DONKEY (Pokes head out from behind a curtain): I knew there was a reason I was appearing in this column today, other than my good looks!

LS: Actually, it was a mule. And yeah, I liked it too.

DONKEY: Mule, donkey, what’s the difference! Who cares! I still get to be here!

LS: (His eyes suddenly turn bright red) Possessed animals are cool.

BABY: Yeah!

DONKEY: YIKES! (runs away)

MA: The exorcism scenes were handled well, as they were scary without going over the top .

LS: Actually, when a demon possesses someone in a movie, going “over the top” is exactly what should be happening. All HELL should break loose. Demons aren’t mannered and adhere to boundaries of good taste. They go wild. Not once in this movie does anyone go wild. And you’re right, there are exactly zero scares in this movie.

MA: Yes, that was one area where THE RITE could have been better . It’s not all that scary.

LS: You think?

MA: But getting back to the “over the top” comment again. I’m talking about movies like EXORCIST: THE BEGINNING (2004) where the exorcism scenes were overdramatic and phony. I thought the scenes here were low-key, yes, but they were realistic and a bit creepy.

And I don’t think THE RITE fails as a scary movie. I mean, it’s not an in-your-face- scarefest . It’s more of a “quiet horror” story.

LS: Quiet? Try mute!

MA: I thought there was an undercurrent of discomfort throughout THE RITE. While I wouldn’t describe it as edge-of-your-seat by any means, still, you could find yourself with a sweaty palm or two.

LS: Maybe you did.

MA: It moves at a deliberate pace, and it takes its time telling its story.

LS: Deliberate pace? That’s a nice way of saying it’s very drawn out and slow and boring, right? Because that’s how I saw it.

MA: I wasn’t bored . I was captivated pretty much from start to finish, again, because of the solid writing, acting, and directing.

LS: That makes one of us.

MA: One question I did have about the story is why would the demon take so much interest in Michael in the first place? Michael was a skeptic who didn’t believe in the devil. Now, since this was the case, if the demon had simply left Michael alone, Michael wouldn’t even give him the time of day. Why bother? To me, the demon would have benefited by Michael remaining a skeptic.

LS: You’re wondering why the demon in this movie isn’t smarter? No one said a demon has to be smart, Michael. They aren’t forced to take IQ tests.

MA: No, I’m saying it’s a plot point in this movie that’s questionable because the demon goes after Michael, seemingly trying to get him to believe in him, which when you think about it, will only lead to Michael’s believing in God as well, which is not going to help the demon’s cause. But I guess that’s what demons do. They go after people whether they believe or not, which is actually a point Father Lucas makes in the movie.

LS: No, this is not what demons do. This is what demons do when a writer makes them do it so that we get this forced plotline of an unbeliever forced to become a believer. It’s the same old tired redemption plot we’ve seen a hundred times. I liked Michael, but I couldn’t care less if he got faith. The entire movie seems like a recruitment commercial for the Church. Maybe exorcism will look exciting and more men will sign up for the priesthood.

BABY: Yeah, a commercial. Just like there’s an obvious moment in the movie that is advertising McDonald’s.

LS: Exactly!

MA: Can you two stop chit-chatting so I can finish my point? Jeesh! The demon’s focusing on Michael was counterintuitive to me . I could see the demon wanting to get back at Father Lucas, since he had performed so many exorcisms, but Michael didn’t believe to begin with.

LS: Don’t strain your brain too much about this. It’s not worth it.

MA: But all in all, I liked THE RITE a lot . I thought it was a solid piece of storytelling, well-acted, and well-written. Definitely check this one out. I give it three knives.

LS: That’s funny, because it’s almost like we saw different movies. I thought this movie was a complete bore. It moved too slow. Nothing ever goes far enough. There are no scares. I thought the acting was very good, but not good enough to save a very weak script. I thought the best scenes were when Father Trevant tries to exorcize a pregnant Italian girl (Marta Gastini). These scenes are the only ones that even come close to pushing the envelope, although they stop short before they can push us into “R” rated territory.

I wanted more from this movie. I wanted scares. There wasn’t one moment when I felt the characters were in real danger. The scenes where Hopkins’ character are possessed just seemed like a babbling old man who had lost his marbles (with some CGI lines growing on his face to look spooky). I wanted this one to really cut loose. It never does. And the pacing is just way too slow.

The direction by Mikael Hafstrom is fine, and the movie looks good. It’s the script that is the fatal flaw here. It’s just much too restrained and weak for the subject matter.

Ironically, the only good exorcism movie I’ve seen in the last ten years was THE LAST EXORCISM, which you mentioned earlier. Ironic, because that movie was also rated PG-13 and had the same limitations on what we could be shown. And yet it worked. It worked surprisingly well within its boundaries. But I’m thinking that was a fluke. I doubt we’ll see too many more PG rated exorcism movies that are any good.

MA: I completely disagree. THE RITE worked.

LS: When we’re talking about demons, we are talking about creatures capable of extreme behavior. They want to scare us. They want to shock us. Just look at the king of this genre, THE EXORCIST (1973). There’s a reason why that movie is still such an iconic classic. At the time it came out, it pushed boundaries aside with ease and gave people something they’d never seen before. it freaked people out! THE RITE offers us nothing new, nothing we haven’t seen before.

MA: Yeah, because in THE EXORCIST it’s not just a demon possessing the Linda Blair character, it’s the devil himself, and so things were supposed to be more extreme.

LS: In contrast, there is NOTHING shocking or scary about THE RITE. It’s just a showcase for good actors working with a slow, tedious, unscary script. It’ll make you sleepy! I give this movie one knife. And that’s mainly for the acting. Don’t waste your money seeing this one in a movie theater. Wait for it to come to Netflix or cable.

MA: No, no, no . Go see this one. This is exactly the kind of horror movie horror fans should be supporting . High production values, solid acting, and a decent story are all in this package. Just because it doesn’t jump out at you with traditional shock scenes doesn’t mean it’s not enjoyable. See it!

Well, it looks like we had very different reactions to this one.

LS: Yeah. I’m right and your wrong. That was easy enough.

MA: What’s with the right and wrong crap? I liked it, and you didn’t.

BABY: Good review, you two. But can you guys leave now? I wanna come out of my momma’s womb, and I’m shy. I don’t want you to see me naked.

MA : Shy? You haven’t shut up since you stuck your head out!

LS: We’re done anyway. Let’s go Michael. Let’s give them some privacy.

MA: Gladly.

(They leave)

—END—

© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
.

Michael Arruda gave THE RITE3 knives

LL Soares gave THE RITE1 knife

JANUARY MONSTROUS QUESTION – Answer 2 – LL SOARES

Posted in 1950s Sci-Fi Films, 2011, 80s Horror, Aliens, Hammer Films, John Carpenter Films, LL Soares Reviews, Monstrous Question of the Month, Remakes, Yetis with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 28, 2011 by knifefighter

MONSTROUS QUESTION OF THE MONTH – January 2011
(Monstrous Questions provided by Michael Arruda)

THIS MONTH’S QUESTION:
What’s your favorite winter horror movie(s)?

Answer #2 (of 3). This one is from L.L. SOARES:

Well, the first movie that comes to mind is the most obvious one, John Carpenter’s 1982 version of THE THING.

THE THING is easily my favorite of Carpenter’s films, and it’s one of the rare cases where a remake is better than the original, although the original 1951movie—which has the longer title of THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD—isn’t too bad.

THE THING takes place at a military base in the Arctic where researchers find a spacecraft lodged in the ice. When they try to extract it, they accidentally thaw out an alien life form that can change constantly to duplicate whatever is around it, and it has a strong desire to kill humans. It’s just an all-around excellent film.

The other movie that comes to mind is THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN (1957), a low-budget Hammer film starring Forrest Tucker and Peter Cushing. This one is about an expedition in the Himalayan Mountains to find a Yeti. But when they finally find one, things don’t go according to plan.

This is a small movie, yet it has stuck with me over the years for some reason. And I remember the Yetis being pretty cool.

And it cracks me up that SHRIEK OF THE MUTILATED (1974), one of Nick’s choices, wasn’t originally on my list. How the hell did I forget that one? Not just because it should be one of my choices for best winter-themed movie, but because it’s one of my all-time favorite movies, period.

SHRIEK OF THE MUTILATED (1974) had amazing special effects that were ahead of their time.

—END—

Suburban Grindhouse Memories: NIGHT OF THE DEMON!

Posted in 2011, 80s Horror, Bigfoot!, Campy Movies, Nick Cato Reviews, Suburban Grindhouse Memories, VIOLENCE!, Yetis with tags , , , , , , , on January 27, 2011 by knifefighter

Suburban Grindhouse Memories No. 22:
Who Knew Sasquatch was so MAD?!
By Nick Cato


While listed as being made in 1980, the gory NIGHT OF THE DEMON looks to be a few years older.  I caught this on a double bill (around 1983) with the lame killer-rat film OF UNKNOWN ORIGIN, and while I can hardly remember ORIGIN, NIGHT OF THE DEMON turned out to be a very well done monster-on-the-loose flick.

Faithful readers of this column have heard me mention the Amboy Twin Theatre, one of Staten Island’s finest venues for underage patrons to be admitted to an R-rated film.  OF UNKOWN ORIGIN was a mainstream release, and had a solid TV ad campaign.  But during its second week of release, several theaters in the NY/NJ area decided to add a second feature to it…and I’m glad they did.  I’m still convinced whoever was responsible for this didn’t watch either film; while they’re both “monster” movies, DEMON’s penis-amputating Sasquatch was just slightly more hardcore than ORIGIN’s annoying rat.  And thanks to the money-hungry suburbanites at the Amboy Twin, my sophomore eyes got to see the hairy carnage on the big screen.

An anthropology professor (why do all these bigfoot/yeti films have an anthropology professor?) convinces a bunch of his students to go looking for the source of a rash of recent murders (for a professor, the guy’s a real moron) as the culprit is reported to be a Sasquatch-like creature.  That’s basically the entire story…but what makes NIGHT OF THE DEMON tolerable (and so much fun) are the kill scenes.  The professor tells his posse (around a campfire) some of the stories he’s heard of Sasquatch-related killings, the best being some poor biker who pulls off the road to take a leak.  As he whizzes into a bush, he gets his Johnson yanked off by a strong, hairy arm.  With the exception of the infamous decapitated-head-goes-down-on-woman sequence from ReANIMATOR (1985), I can’t recall a crowd going crazier for a scene…and this was one of the earliest kills in the film.

In an attempt to add a little bit more to the story, our search party finds an old woman who lives isolated in the woods…and they eventually find out she had a baby with the Sasquatch (oh yes folks, this was one of the finest moments in American cinema in my opinion).  While we only get to see the offspring’s head in a quick close-up, he looked an awful lot like one of the title creatures from WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS (1966).

DEMON’s body count puts most slasher films to shame. In one Oscar-worthy sequence, a couple shagging in a van fall victim to the irritated Bigfoot (and why he’s so pissed off is never clearly explained).  There’s also proof that Sasquatch is almost as inventive as SAW’s Jigaw: two female tour guides—walking around with pocket knives—are picked up by the hairy demon who then smashes them together, causing them to stab each other until they’re both a bloody mess.  There’s also an arm amputation, bodies impaled on glass, rocks, and in one of the more memorable scenes, Sasquatch rips some guy’s intestines out and uses them to whip and strangle a room full of coeds.

YES…this is entertainment, folks.

Like any genuine trash film, NIGHT OF THE DEMON is plagued by sub-par acting, inept dialogue, and so many technical errors my friends and I had a hard time keeping up with them (but not to fear…CODE RED DVD has promised a deluxe DVD treatment later this year!  Are you as psyched as I am?  Probably not.  Your loss.).  There are also plenty of boobs flopping around the forest, so perhaps, like your standard human slasher, Sasquatch just doesn’t go for sex on his turf.

Despite its low budget and everything else it has going against it, this film still manages to work.  It entertains more than any other Bigfoot/Yeti film this side of SHRIEK OF THE MUTILATED (1972).  And considering this was the only film directed by James C. Wasson, it’s safe to say he put everything he had into this, so at least give him a big E for effort.

If the sheriff looks familiar to you, you may be one of the six other people who saw him as a detective in the nearly impossible-to-watch MEATCLEAVER MASSACRE (1977).  No?  I didn’t think so…

© Copyright 2011 by Nick Cato

“A college student finds out the hard way that Bigfoot doesn’t like pop-in visits…”

JANUARY MONSTROUS QUESTION – Answer 1 – Nick Cato

Posted in 2011, 70s Horror, Cannibals, Indie Horror, Monstrous Question of the Month, Nick Cato Reviews, Yetis with tags , , , , on January 26, 2011 by knifefighter

MONSTROUS QUESTION OF THE MONTH – January 2011
(Monstrous Questions provided by Michael Arruda)

Okay, folks, here we are in the middle of January, the month of freezing cold temperatures, snow and ice.

With this in mind, here’s the MONSTROUS QUESTION OF THE MONTH for January:
What’s your favorite winter horror movie(s)?

First up with an answer this month, it’s Nick Cato.  Take it away, Nick!

Answer # 1 (of 3).  This one’s from NICK CATO:

Here’s a couple of my WINTER-time faves:

SHRIEK OF THE MUTILATED (1974). I first saw this on a cold winter morning on TV.  It’s one of my favorite so-bad-it’s-good movies, about a cannibal cult that uses a guy in a Yeti outfit to scare people to death.  In most of the outdoor shots you can see the cold shooting from the actor’s mouths, and one flashback Yeti-attack scene in the snow was quite effective (at least for an 8-year old who should have been watching cartoons). I think of this flick whenever the white stuff starts falling from the sky…

Also,

Larry Fessenden’s WENDIGO (2001) is a great, quiet-horror film that takes place in Upstate New York.  Patricia Clarkson and Jake Weber (the lead actor in the DAWN OF THE DEAD re-make from 2004) star as parents of a young boy who learn the isolated cottage they’re using as a get-away from the stress of city life is haunted by the spirit of a Wendigo, a half-man, half-deer creature of Indian folklore.  The constant sound of wind and the icy backgrounds cleverly add to the slowly growing tension.

When the Wendigo finally makes its appearance during a trippy-looking camp fire scene, goose bumps ran down my spine…the way it walks is as creepy as it gets.  Few films give me the physical or mental chills like this one.

—END—

ARE YOU SCARED 2

Posted in 2011, Garbage, LL Soares Reviews, Psycho killer, Sequels, Serial Killer flicks with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 25, 2011 by knifefighter

ARE YOU SCARED 2 (2009)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares


If you read this week’s Cinema Knife Fight column, where Michael Arruda and I reviewed the movie ARE YOU SCARED? (2006), you might think things can’t get much worse than that one.

You’d be wrong.

Despite all its flaws, and the fact that it was a pretty blatant rip-off of the SAW movies, the first ARE YOU SCARED? at least had a coherent plot, and you could tell what was happening throughout. In other words, it made sense, even if it was a bad movie.

ARE YOU SCARED 2 doesn’t even attempt to tell a coherent story.

First off, I don’t even know why this one is billed as a sequel. It has absolutely nothing to do with the first movie. Even though the villain of the first one, Shadow Man (Brent Fidler) survived at the end of the first movie (sorry to spoil that for you, folks!) and could easily have continued his story in this one.

Instead, ARE YOU SCARED 2 starts off showing us a group of fun-loving idiots who go around digging up hidden suitcases all over the place. They’re professional scavenger hunters and the group we’re watching, “Team DNA,” is one of the best (or so we’re told). They’re made up of four friends: Dallas (Tristan Wright), Andrew (Chad Guerrero), Taryn (Andrea Monier) and Reese (Kathy Gardiner). They check the Internet each day for new challenges, and are given coordinates by strangers to the next hidden item. The “prizes” can be anywhere – we first see them navigating through a junkyard to find a cache in the trunk of a rusty old car. And they film their exploits and post them on their site, where they actually have a following (!). The girls even do “sexy chat’ on the site.

So you think, “Okay. This new movie has nothing to do with the first one – which was bad anyway – so all we can go is up, right?  The fact that this movie is a complete departure from the first one’s plot is a good thing, right?”

Wrong.

This time, we see another guy in an isolated room watching a bunch of computer monitors. This time it’s not Shadow Man, though. This time it’s CANDYMAN (1992)! Yes, Tony Todd himself appears in this movie for some bizarre reason (Can’t he get better roles than this?). He follows these morons’ scavenger hunts online, and decides he wants to be in on the fun. So he posts the coordinates to his spooky old house online (the scavenger hunters have no idea who posts each hunt – it could be anyone). Team DNA decides to accept the challenge and track down the coordinates to the house and get inside.

From here, the movie just plunges into complete sewerage.

The kids find the hidden suitcase pretty fast in one of the upstairs rooms. But it has a severed arm handcuffed to it. They assume the arm is fake and find a ton of money inside the suitcase. So they’ve hit the jackpot, right? Not so fast. Sleeping gas fills the room and knocks them out. And when they wake up, they’re part of a brand new game. This time, instead of a scavenger hunt, it’s hide and seek.

It turns out they’re not alone in the house. Also hiding inside are two nutjobs (Mark Lowry and Dallas Montgomery). One talks constantly in a Southern accent and always seems to be on the verge of crying. The other one is a hulking Leatherface wannabe in a skull mask. Tony Todd is their “boss” (in the credits, he is just called “Controller”), and tells them to hunt the kids down and kill them. All the while, Todd is filming the goings-on for his own internet reality show – which caters to the underground snuff film crowd.

The psychos hunt the kids. The kids wander around the house with a GPS unit that Todd has provided for them, trying to get out and avoid the killers. And Todd watches and films everything that goes on in the house, and in the surrounding woods, with surveillance cameras that are posted everywhere.

Reese, who’s actually very pretty, gets captured first and tortured by Southern Guy, while Skullface tracks down the rest of them. There are a lot of close calls, violent confrontations, and twists. Some of the kids are driven to tap into their dark sides. But it all culminates in utter stupidity.

First off, I have absolutely no clue why Tony Todd is in this movie. Technically, he runs a snuff site and wants to make money off the footage. But why is Tony Todd the ACTOR in this one? It appears as if most of his scenes were filmed separately (until one of the kids finally find him towards the end), and amount to him sitting in a chair, watching computer screens and talking to himself. That is, when he’s not spouting soliloquys to his pet turtle, Timothy. Most of his scenes seem completely incoherent. Sure, he’s still got one of the best voices in the business, and could make anything sound great, but the dialogue he’s forced to expound here is just ludicrous. It’s like someone on an acid trip wrote down a bunch of gibberish and then gave it to Tony to say in his scenes alone.

The psychos could be interesting, but they’re not. Southern Guy just pretty much tries to imitate Edwin Neal’s performance of Chop Top from the original TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974), talking in a strained voice and making all kinds of goofy faces. First he does something horrible and then he begs his victim to forgive him. Then he does something else sadistic. I have to admit, it’s more of an effort than this movie deserves, but not enough is done with this character. Skullface has a nice spooky presence but most of his scenes just involve him breaking doors in and crashing through walls. Nothing all that scary. It would have been nice if the insane characters had a bit more of a backstory or a smidgen more character development. Who are these people? How did Tony Todd find them? I guess it really doesn’t matter, after all.

The kids, the main characters — the ones we’re supposed to identify with — are completely annoying. You don’t once think “I hope these kids live.” They’re just idiots. Reese, while pretty enough, is incredibly whiny and you’re glad when she’s captured. But her friends don’t even seem to care. At one point they have a chance to get away, but they go back. Not because they want to save Reese (hell, they don’t even acknowledge she may be in trouble), but because they want revenge on the person who did this to them. Poor Reese! It makes sense that we don’t care about her, but you think her friends would!

Aside from the fact that the kids are horrible actors, that the dialogue throughout is dumb, that the psychos just aren’t scary enough, that Tony Todd’s scenes force him to say nonsense (in a very cool voice), and the production values aren’t very good (this isn’t filmed anywhere near as well or atmospheric as the first one, and instead opts for a more “reality TV” look that is just lame). Aside from all that, we don’t even get to really see most of the kill scenes! A lot of the time, I had no idea what was going on. Someone would be struggling with a psycho or getting tortured, and you’d see their face, but the real damage is done off-screen and you have NO IDEA WHAT IS HAPPENING TO THEM. I found this completely annoying and stupid. No matter how bad the first movie was, it at least took the time to show you a drill boring through someone’s forehead or an axe chopping someone’s head off. But in ARE YOU SCARED 2, most of the gore happens off-camera and we don’t even get to enjoy it!

Andy Hurst, who directed the first ARE YOU SCARED? isn’t even around for this one. Sure, we pointed out he did an awful job, but compared to ARE YOU SCARED 2, the first one was a work of genius! In the second movie, the culprits are John Lands and Russell Appling, who both wrote and directed the movie. I only mention them, because frankly, we should know who turned out a movie this bad, and perpetrated this crime against cinema.

By the end, I realized I’d just completely wasted 94 minutes of my life. Of course, I should have known better. The first movie was bad enough. You’d think I would avoid the second one like the plague. But I was curious to see just how bad Part 2 was. And I wanted to see what the great Tony Todd had to do with the storyline. Todd is the one I feel worst for – the guy is a talented actor and deserves a lot better than this crap.  Won’t someone making a good movie hire this guy for Chrissakes? And not just for a cameo like in HATCHET (2006)!

So no, when I was watching ARE YOU SCARED 2, I was NOT scared. Not for a second. But I was annoyed and sad by the time the credits rolled. Because I realized I was dumb enough to sit through this one.

As for a rating — how many knives I give this one — let’s just skip it this time. To talk about giving this one a rating is a joke. I can’t believe I watched this one right to the end.

-END-

© Copyright 2011 by L.L. Soares

ARE YOU SCARED?

Posted in 2011, Cinema Knife Fights, DVD Review, Garbage, Psychos with tags , , , , , , , on January 24, 2011 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: ARE YOU SCARED? (2006)
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares


FADE IN

(The Scene: The interior of an old warehouse. As MICHAEL ARRUDA and LL SOARES stand in front of a filthy metal wall, a projector suddenly plays a film clip on it)

LS: Hey, that’s me!

VIDEO IMAGE OF LL: Yeah, I’d love to be on this show. I could use the cash. Heaven knows I’m not going to get rich writing Cinema Knife Fight. As for what scares me? Having to sit through really awful movies.

MA: You must be pretty scared, then.

LS: Whatever do you mean?

MA: We just sat through the movie ARE YOU SCARED? Can’t get much more awful than that.

LS: Well, um, it wasn’t THAT awful.

MA: Yeah, sure. Then why don’t you start our review then?

LS: Do I have to?

(MA nods his head)

LS: Okay. Since there was nothing for us to review this weekend at the theater, we decided to review a DVD. Instead, we ended up checking out OnDemand movies on our cable system, and drifted over to FEARNET, which happened to be showing this particular film, called ARE YOU SCARED?

MA:  I actually watched it streaming through Netflix, which is another great way to get movies these days.

LS:  I’d heard a little bit of buzz about this movie – it even spawned a sequel – and thought it might be a good one to review. But I could have been wrong about that.

MA: I’d say so.

LS: ARE YOU SCARED? bears a very strong resemblance to another movie franchise. That would be the SAW films.

MA: Ya think?  When this one started, I thought it was another SAW sequel.

LS: Point taken. This one’s a blatant rip-off that tries to do a clever variation on the theme. But it’s not all that clever.

You see, in this movie, the victims think they’re part of a new TV show called, ARE YOU SCARED? It’s kind of a cross between that TV show FEAR FACTOR and the SAW films. People send in their videos saying why they should be on the show, and what scares them. Then they’re filmed facing their fears head on, in a gross, abandoned warehouse. These scenes involve stuff like power drills and shotgun blasts to the chest.

Where the SAW movies had this pretense of “teaching people a lesson,” things are a little different in ARE YOU SCARED? Because in the SAW movies, there’s always the chance, however slim, that the victims might be able to survive their torture. They have a fighting chance. But in ARE YOU SCARED? there really isn’t a chance anyone is going to win. They’re all pretty much screwed from the get go.

MA:  That’s kinda how I felt watching this one.

LS:  Six kids wake up to find themselves trapped in a warehouse. They’re told they’re on the show, and surveillance cameras are everywhere. But the only viewer is a mysterious “Shadow Man” (as he’s called in the credits, played by Brent Fidler) who sits in a control room with a dozen very old computer monitors (these look like the first home computers ever made – they are ancient!) watching as each of his victims try to “beat” their phobias.

Each person is shown the video they sent to the show, their audition tape, and then they undergo a creepy torture that incorporates their individual fears.

The acting is pretty awful all around. In fact the acting and the production values made me think an awful lot of a bad TV show, or one of those “original movies” made by the SyFy channel. Especially bad are two cops who are trying to track this killer down, Detective Jay Bowman (Eric Francis) and FBI Agent Christine Robinson (Jennifer Cozza). In fact, Eric Francis might just win the prize as the worst actor in this movie.

MA:  Yep!  He was the worst.

LS:  As for the Shadow Man, he doesn’t send any puppets in to do his dirty work, like that pesky Jigsaw from the SAW movies, but he does like to watch everyone on video screens and likes to talk to his victims in a spooky voice.

DEEP SPOOKY VOICE:  This movie sucks.  Don’t bother.

LS:  What the—?  (turns to see MA, who is speaking through a voice-changing device)  Hey! Cut that out.

MA:  Sorry.

LS: By the end, we find out that the Shadow Man has a personal vendetta against one of the victims, and that is the main motive behind all of this, but it doesn’t explain why everyone else had to die. Then again, these kids are so stupid and annoying, that’s probably reason enough.

MA:  Yep, I agree one hundred percent.  I thought the explanation at the end was stupid and pointless.  If you don’t tack that ending on, at least the Shadow Man would have been a mystery, even though he still would have been ridiculously underdeveloped as a character.

LS:  I actually kind of liked Brent Fidler as the Shadow Man. Half his face is disfigured and my favorite scenes are of him sitting in front of his ancient computer monitors, watching horrible things happening to people, and he’s laughing out loud in his chair. For some reason, that was pretty funny.

MA:  Maybe because the rest of the movie was so awful!  I didn’t like the Shadow Man.  Sure, his scarred face was a little creepy, but when you come right down to it, he’s boring.  Take away that stupid creepy voice, and all you have is an old man with a scarred face watching computer monitors.

LS: He’s not that old!

MA: You don’t even get the PHANTASM/Angus Scrimm factor, as he hardly says a threatening word.  Ah, the Tall Man.  Where are you  now?

TALL MAN:  I’m right here behind you.  Come here, boy!

MA:  Yikes!  He still gives me the creeps.

TALL MAN:  I said, come here!

MA:  You’re talking to me?  Are you talking to me?

LS:  Scram, shorty.  Can’t you see we’re reviewing a movie, here?

TALL MAN:  I can’t see anything.  I dropped my glasses.  Why do you think I’m asking to come here for?

MA:  I don’t know.  I thought— well, if you need help finding your glasses, that’s another story entirely. (approaches TALL MAN.  Suddenly there’s a loud CRUNCH! sound.)  Oops.  Were these your glasses?  (holds up a crushed pair of eyeglasses.)

TALL MAN (growls):  Why, you—!  Kids today!  (exits)

LS:  Speaking of kids, none of the kids in the movie is great, and they’re all pretty forgettable. Soren Bowie plays Dylan, an annoying skateboarder and Althea Kutscher plays a girl named Kelly. They probably stand out the most, even though they’re not much better than the rest.

MA:  I agree.  (in background TALL MAN blindly walks into a wall, before stumbling out a doorway.)  I actually didn’t think the acting was all that bad, except for the people playing the two cops.

LS:  Even though this movie is a rip-off of another film and pretty laughable, I have to admit I found ARE YOU SCARED? to be entertaining at least. You’ll find yourself laughing at this movie more than anything, and you certainly won’t be scared.

MA: Entertaining?  ARE YOU SCARED? was about as entertaining as a drill to the forehead!

LS (turning on a large power drill):  That can be arranged!

MA: If I ever have to watch the sequel, I might take you up on that!

ARE YOU SCARED? was a complete waste of time.  I didn’t like this movie at all.  You hit the nail on the head.  It’s a rip-off of the SAW movies, a franchise I think is horrible.  So, if you’re like me, and you don’t like the SAW movies, you’re not going to like ARE YOU SCARED? It doesn’t offer anything different or better than the SAW movies.

I was hoping that this one would be creative.  I like the TV show SCARE TACTICS, where people are scared CANDID CAMERA-style (anyone out there remember that old gem?) and the show is actually pretty funny.  Not that I was expecting ARE YOU SCARED? to be funny, but I hoped that the threatening situations the characters found themselves in might be variations of the situations found on SCARE TACTICS.

This was not the case—not in the least.  The only situations the characters found themselves in were torture situations.  This story provided one scene of torture after another, interspersed with incredibly awful scenes of two bad actors playing cops.  Oh, this is a lot of fun!  ARE YOU SCARED? was a complete waste of 90 minutes for me.

LS: It was only 84 minutes.

MA: Thanks for the clarification, Mr. Spock.

It doesn’t even provide a good villain.  The Shadow Man is about as compelling as a real shadow and about just as scary!  Heck, even a cardboard cutout of Angus Scrimm as the Tall Man is scarier than the Shadow Man!

I also thought the ending was stupid and unnecessary.  I think it’s about time movies stop giving us revelations about secret family members.  “I AM your father!”  “She’s his sister!”  “The killer’s his mother!”  “It’s the baby!”  “It’s the dirty uncle!”

Well, that last one I haven’t seen, but you know what I mean.  Can’t villains/killers just be evil for the sake of being evil?  Or maybe they just don’t like people?  Or perhaps they suffered from a bad childhood?  But, stop with the chasing down of a relative bit already! Give us a break for a while, will you?

I give ARE YOU SCARED? one knife, and I only give it one knife because other than the two actors playing the cops, I didn’t find the acting all that bad, and the direction by Andy Hurst was pretty good, in that the film looked good.  But I don’t recommend this stinker at all.

LS: I guess I give it one knife, too. I’m surprised they got away with making a movie that is such an obvious SAW knock-off. But it’s still better than BEHIND THE WALL, your choice the last time we reviewed a movie off cable. Remember the one about the ghost in a lighthouse? That one was almost unwatchable. But don’t get the idea I’m recommending this movie at all, because I’m not. It’s pretty bad.

MA:  I enjoyed BEHIND THE WALL better.  I’d rather watch a lame ghost story movie than a lame torture movie.

(A room down the hall lights up)

SPOOKY VOICE: Come on, go into the room. I have a game for you.

LS (to MA): Didn’t I tell you to quit using that voice changer device?

MA:  It wasn’t me!

SPOOKY VOICE:  I’m the real deal!  Now go into the room!

LS: Screw that, I’m going home. I’ve already spent too much time here already.

MA: Me, too.

SPOOKY VOICE: Aw c’mon. Please? Pretty please?

MA:  Pretty please?  What kind of a spooky voice are you?  See ya, pal!

(LS and MA leave out of the front door)

SPOOKY VOICE (Pounding furiously on the wall): PLEASE!  PLEASE!  PLEASE!

FADE OUT

© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives ARE YOU SCARED? 1 knife

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LL Soares gives ARE YOU SCARED? 1 knife


GIALLO (2009)

Posted in 2011, Dario Argento Films, Italian Horror, LL Soares Reviews with tags , , , , , on January 21, 2011 by knifefighter

GIALLO (2009)
A Film Review by L.L. Soares

GIALLO, like a lot of Dario Argento’s recent films, is a mixed bag. Referring to both the color yellow (‘giallo” is Italian for yellow), and the pulp paperbacks with yellow covers that featured the violent mystery stories which gave the Italian genre of books and films its name, GIALLO gives us a fairly straightforward tale of a serial killer known only as Giallo/Yellow (Byron Deidra), who drives a cab through the busy streets of Milan. He is drawn to beauty, and when a beautiful woman gets into his cab, chances are good she won’t be heard from again. In his apartment building, there are catacombs beneath the house that give him lots of places to hide his prey. He tortures them until they die, and then he moves on to the next one.

When a model named Celine (Elsa Pataky) becomes Giallo’s latest victim, her sister Linda (Emmanuelle Seigner), who has just arrived from the airport, is determined that her sister will not become just another statistic. Refusing to give up, she turns to Inspector Enzo Avolfi (Oscar-winner Adrien Brody), a former New York cop who now solves the more gruesome crimes that arise in Milan. Allegedly a master of detection, Inspector Avolfi seems almost like a modern-day Sherlock Holmes, except for one thing. Where Holmes was mostly infallible, Enzo is not always so good at his job.

Avoiding the kind of stylish visuals he is known for, Argento mostly plays things straight here. Too straight. There’s nothing especially unique about this film, nothing that really stands out, except for Brody, who turns in an okay performance in an otherwise pedestrian film. There is absolutely no evidence here that GIALLO was directed by the same guy who gave us SUSPIRIA (1977) or OPERA (1987). I’m really starting to wonder if the real Argento has been replaced with a pod person!

When we finally see Yellow, who gets his name because of jaundice due to a liver disease, he’s a guy with an awful make-up job and a giant nose. I guess he was supposed to be deformed, and this should explain to us why he hates beauty so much, but he’s  just incredibly fake-looking. Every time he was onscreen, I was reminded of those over-the-top goofy villains from the DICK TRACY movie (1990). That alone made me want him to get caught and get his comeuppance. Yellow, as a source of menace, is just plain laughable!

And the killer is not much of an adversary for Brody. He’s such a dim-witted fool he makes Enzo seem like a genius. But Yellow has one advantage—a thorough knowledge of the catacombs. And it is this knowledge that gives him the upper hand in at least one key scene.

I remember when Argento’s MOTHER OF TEARS came out in 2009, some people gave me a hard time for praising it so highly. But the truth is, it was a rare time in recent memory when Argento seemed at all passionate about his work, instead of just going through the motions. Even if you hated the more campy elements of MOTHER, you couldn’t miss the fact that here was a stylist, having fun, perhaps at his audience’s expense. But at least it felt vibrant at times, alive. That’s been something rare in Argento’s recent work.

There’s no such feeling with GIALLO. It is drab and workmanlike. There is no art here to be seen. And it’s rather forgettable once the final credits roll.

For someone considered a master of disturbing visuals and surreal atmosphere, there’s none of that to be found. The only visual that we remember is of the killer – a preposterous fool whose appearance generates more laughs than scares. I haven’t seen this bad  a make-up job in a horror movie in a long time.

It’s ironic that GIALLO was pulled from distribution shortly after its release in America. Due to a financial dispute with the producers who failed to pay him, Brody’s contract stipulated that his image couldn’t be used by the film until financial matters were corrected. The irony is, Brody is the only really reason to see this one. I saw it on Cable OnDemand during its brief run here in the summer of 2010, but now it’s unavailable. It’s not that big of a tragedy, because it’s pretty forgettable, but if the money people behind GIALLO really want to recoup their expenses, they would best pay Brody what he is due. This is minor Argento, given a slight boost by the presence of an actor who deserves more respect than he got here.

I give this movie one and a half knives. The only actor who stands out in this one is Brody, despite that fact that this is not one of his more memorable roles. And I chuckled at the hilarious make-up job on Byron Deidra.

© Copyright 2011 by L.L. Soares

LL SOARES gives GIALLO one and a half knives