Archive for January, 2013

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou goes to GHOST TOWN (1988)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 1980s Horror, 2013, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Drive-in Movies, Ghosts!, Westerns, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , on January 31, 2013 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

William D. Carl

This week’s feature presentation:

GHOST TOWN (1988)

bbbghostposter

Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes.

Ah, Empire Pictures: A Charles Band Production – at one time those words sent anxious chills down my spine as I waited for the credits of the second feature to end and the next movie at the drive-in to begin.  Charles Band brought us unbelievably cheap, shoddy, stupid, and FUN movies during the 1970s and 1980s.  This is the man who unleashed lizard aliens in LASERBLAST (1978), a killer Chuck Connors in TOURIST TRAP (1979), Demi Moore pursued by a chest-bursting Alien-wannabe in PARASITE (1982), midget Satanist monsters in GHOULIES (1985), Tim Thomerson time traveling in TRANCERS (1985), and the list goes on and on. . . . TROLL (1986), TERRORVISION (1986), RE-ANIMATOR (1985), FROM BEYOND (1986), PRISON (1988), CELLAR DWELLAR (1988), CANNIBAL WOMEN IN THE AVACADO JUNGLE OF DEATH (1989), and who can forget 1988’s SORORITY BABES IN THE SLIMEBALL BOWL-A-RAMA?  With a few exceptions, these were bad B-movies, maybe even D or E movies, but there was a certain charm to the “I Can Do It” attitude everyone at Empire brought to their projects that compensated for most of the budgetary restraints.  What remained were fun little movies that many remember fondly.

One of the last Empire Pictures produced by Charles Band was GHOST TOWN (1988), a horror western hybrid that was actually head and shoulders above almost everything Band unleashed upon the poor suckers still in their cars at drive-ins at two in the morning.  This little baby fell between the cracks as Band folded Empire Pictures and brought forth Full Moon Pictures, which threatened to (and sadly, for a while, did) release a new movie on video every month.  Don’t get me started on Full Moon movies.  They made the Empire flicks look like Ernst Lubitsch in comparison, although they had their followers.

Anyway, as GHOST TOWN begins, a beautiful woman in a convertible, Kate, (Catherine Hickland from the TV shows CAPITOL, WEREWOLF, and ONE LIFE TO LIVE) races through the desert.  A fallen power line stops her, and she takes a shortcut (Uh oh!  We all know how those turn out).  She tosses a bridal veil from the moving car and she hears the hoof-beats of an invisible horse and rider following her.  Her tire blows, and a mysterious sandstorm envelopes her, all to the sound of many invisible horses, and something takes her, leaving the road completely empty.

Enter scruffy Sheriff Langley, played by Franc Luz (THE NEST, 1988 and WHEN HARRY MET SALLY, 1989).  He’s called out to the missing girl’s Mercedes.  Turns out she’s the spoiled daughter of the richest man in the county, who just turned runaway bride.  Langley has always had a yen for her, so he goes searching for Kate, and instead spots men on horseback who fade into the heat-waves (a cool effect).  Suddenly, a Wild West outlaw attacks his car, shooting it up.  Then, the tires explode and the car catches fire, leaving him on foot and stranded.  He finds a sign for a town, Cruz Del Diablo, and when he reaches for it, a desiccated zombie grabs his arms and rises from the sand.  It says, “You’re the one – the one who will rid my town from this fate worse than death.  Go!  Now!”  And the talking dead man promptly folds itself back into its grave.  This is followed by a raging storm, and Langley takes refuge in a dilapidated house.

Franc Luz as Langley

Franc Luz as Langley

In the morning, Langley discovers the old house is part of a rundown, deserted Western town.  Eventually, he runs into The Dealer, a drunken gambler played by Bruce Glover (CHINATOWN, 1974 and GHOST WORLD, 2001).  He informs the sheriff that the girl is in the town, and that they have nothing but time…nothing but time.  Okey-dokey.  Langley finds a sheriff’s badge in the local bar, and when he puts it on, he starts seeing the inhabitants of the town, including bar-owner/ bartender Grace (Penelope Windust of V, 1983 and IRON WILL, 1994).  She disappears just after informing him the telegraph wire has been down for “some time.”

The town is stuck in time, reliving the wild days before the Devlin gang killed everyone in the place, letting some roam as ghosts and others becoming only voices in the night, crying between heaven and hell.  Now, the zombified Devlin (the despicable Jimmie F. Skaggs of PUPPETMASTER, 1989 and  OBLIVION, 1994) and his gang of thieves hold the remaining townspeople hostage.  Kate, who looks an awful lot like Devlin’s old girlfriend who was killed by Devlin for rebuffing his advances, is being held hostage by his gang of outlaws while Devlin tries to (yuck) romance her.

Langley learns his modern day weapons don’t work on the ghostly Devlin gang, but when he uses the old, dead sheriff’s six-shooter, it kills ‘em real good!  So, it’s showdown time with a chase through Cruz Del Diablo and a final gunfight that, while not worrying John Ford, is exciting enough for a popcorn flick like this one.

Welcome to GHOST TOWN

Welcome to GHOST TOWN

GHOST TOWN is filled with alternating action set pieces and moments of creepy imagery.  There’s also plenty of gore during the exciting shoot-outs, as well as a man dragged by horses, skulls crying blood, a crucifixion on a windmill, silver smelting, and a Phantom of the Opera-type unmasking scene.   It gallops along fairly quickly, aided immensely by Luz’s self aware performance as Langley (you actually root for him; he’s earnest as hell and he’s actually pretty smart for a hick sheriff character, though his jeans are so tight you wonder how he runs in them at all) and the over-the-top histrionics of Skaggs as Devlin.  He isn’t just chewing the scenery; he’s putting a bib around his neck and sitting down for a buffet.  Beneath his yellow fake teeth and his scarred, shot-up face, he rolls his eyes and hisses every line of dialogue, laughing wildly while killing people and spouting lines like “I’ve seen the devil.  When you get to Hell, give him my regards.”

GHOST TOWN is beautifully shot on desert vistas by Mac Ahlberg who photographed dozens of Full Moon and Empire productions (MERIDIAN, 1990, CRASH AND BURN, 1990 and FROM BEYOND, 1986) as well as many bigger productions like DEEPSTAR SIX (1989), INNOCENT BLOOD (1992), BEVERLY HILLS COP III (1994), and A VERY BRADY SEQUEL (1996).  He’s lately returned to the Band family wagon with such unimpressive credits as PUPPET MASTER: THE LEGACY (2003) and KILLER BONG (2006).  He died this year, but he thankfully left us the sepia-toned and sunset-infused photography of GHOST TOWN.  He made this low-budget movie look like it cost twenty million bucks.  It raises the whole production from decent to quite respectable.

It’s really too bad GHOST TOWN is almost completely forgotten after a token VHS release from New World.  It’s a fun little B-movie, full of action, with contemptible villains, heroes to applaud, pretty women, and several great action sequences.

I give GHOST TOWN three zombified outlaws out of four.

© Copyright 2013 by William D. Carl

Suburban Grindhouse Memories # 60 – SEASON OF THE WITCH (1972)

Posted in 1970s Movies, 1980s Horror, 2013, Classic Films, George Romero, Indie Horror, Nick Cato Reviews, Suburban Grindhouse Memories, Witches with tags , , , , , , on January 31, 2013 by knifefighter

Suburban Grindhouse Memories No. 60:
Season of the Zzzzzzzzzzz…
By Nick Cato

SeasonWitchPoster In October of 1982, fans of the HALLOWEEN series were confused about the third film, which was titled HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH. While technically it had more to do with the actual holiday than the others in the series, the film didn’t feature infamous slasher Michael Myers or star Jamie Lee Curtis. In time, the film gained a cult following and a slick blu ray edition has recently been released. But when the film was originally released theatrically, someone thought it would be slick to simultaneously repackage a 1972 film titled HUNGRY WIVES under the title SEASON OF THE WITCH and put it out the same weekend as the third HALLOWEEN film to swipe some of the successful series’ revenue (got all that?). And while I couldn’t find any proof they were successful, I can testify that the theatre I saw George A. Romero’s SEASON OF THE WITCH in (the now defunct Amboy Twin) was packed to the rafters…and the second showing sold out as well.

Despite being a huge Romero fan, I had never heard of SEASON OF THE WITCH (or HUNGRY WIVES) until I opened my local paper that Friday afternoon and saw an ad for HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH and, right across from it, and ad for another film simply called SEASON OF THE WITCH with the tagline, “An early work from the master of horror, George A. Romero!” And seeing this, I knew where I’d be that night; HALLOWEEN III was going to have to wait a day or two. I also convinced two of my buddies to put off their HALLOWEEN III screening and, knowing we were doing it for a Romero film, they joined me. In the pre-Internet days, there was no Googling to see if something was worth it or not.

I still have the black and blue-marks on my upper arms from being punched for a few hours after SEASON OF THE WITCH ended. And I couldn’t blame my friends for their anger.

The film takes forever to get moving. And, even then, it moves like a horse being dragged to the glue mill at high noon. We meet a bored housewife named Joan (Jan White) who has a husband who’s always away on business and a college-aged daughter who has the personality of a handball. Joan spends her days as a bored housewife and her nights at her neighbor’s boring parties, as well as a ridiculous amount of time walking through the woods in artistically-shot, trippy sequences. I think this was the first time I heard an audience start yelling for the film to get going so early on…maybe after fifteen minutes? As a Romero fan, I was getting annoyed at all the noise, but by the middle of the movie I had joined them.

The boredom is broken up with dream sequences of Joan being attacked in her home by a masked assailant. She seeks therapy for her nightmares but it doesn’t help and the dreams continue…as did the audience’s cheers for the masked assailant to kill her. Joan eventually visits a woman who gives her a tarot reading, and she develops an interest in witchcraft after finding out the tarot woman is part of a coven.

In the only sequence I enjoyed, Joan goes to some kind of underground hippie-owned store to purchase witchcraft supplies. I couldn’t stop laughing over a sign on the wall that said “Take Some Trash” posted over several garbage cans right inside the store! Over the years I’ve wondered if this was some kind of comment on the end of the hippie era, but now think it was just Romero tossing some goofy fun into this dreadful mess that I recently read is the only film of his even he wishes he could remake.

One amazing thing here: I don’t recall a single person leaving the theater. The film, while slow and painfully boring, does tend to keep your interest in the wake of the nightmare scenes. I think most audiences had a crazed bloodlust by the final minutes, hoping this masked intruder would finally decapitate Joan and end this celluloid torture session.

But in the “shock” ending, Joan is having another nightmare when she wakes; someone is pulling on the front door handle, trying to break in the house. She grabs a shotgun. The crowd I was part of went nuts…and I’m talking scream-out loud nuts! Most cheered for the guy breaking in to kill Joan…a few even begged her to blow her own head off! (Yeah, we New Yorkers are a happy bunch). But neither request happens. Joan ends up shooting the intruder.

And the intruder ends up being her husband Jack, back early from yet another business trip.

Boos erupted to the point I was partially deaf for a good half hour.

I still can’t remember what happens after that, but I’m pretty sure Joan joins the tarot reader’s coven. Either way, some older woman next to me said, “Man, that was really for the birds!”

And despite being a George Romero fanatic, I had to agree. SEASON OF THE WITCH (a.k.a. HUNGRY WIVES, a.k.a. JACK’S WIFE) is a slow, tedious, boring-as-you-can get feature that even the most die-hard horror fan will have trouble getting through without a fast forward button. Being in a suburban grindhouse made it kind-of fun (and barely bearable), but I’d love to know how other audiences around the country reacted to this “early work from the Master of Horror.”

I’ll take another dozen of Romero’s …OF THE DEAD films before sitting through this thing again. Until next time, I’ll be putting ice packs on my upper-arm bruises…

© Copyright 2013 by Nick Cato

When the BEST part of a film is a slow-moving recurring nightmare sequence, you know you’re in trouble! The Masked Intruder from SEASON OF THE WITCH (1972).

When the BEST part of a film is a slow-moving recurring nightmare sequence, you know you’re in trouble! The Masked Intruder from SEASON OF THE WITCH (1972).

Me and Lil’ Stevie work the GRAVEYARD SHIFT (1990)

Posted in 1990s Horror, 2013, Animals Attack, Horror, Me and Lil' Stevie, Monsters, Peter Dudar Reviews, Rats, Stephen King Movies with tags , , , , , , on January 30, 2013 by knifefighter

ME AND LIL’ STEVIE

Sweat It Out On The

GRAVEYARD SHIFT (1990)

Graveyard Shift

(Interior/Night)  Establishing shot of the basement of a textile mill, where a hundred years of old furniture, debris, and other miscellany have been carelessly scattered about, forsaken and forgotten.  In the dank dinginess of the basement, we can hear the drip, drip, drip of water, and the hair-raising squealing of rats as they scamper about in the dark.  Somewhere in the distance, in the blackened heart of the basement, we begin to hear the snarl of something monstrous and menacing, and the camera begins to zoom in, trying to find the source of the sound.  There’s a light up ahead, and in the light we see the silhouette of a figure hunting our unseen monster.  The figure turns toward the camera, and we see that it is a man holding a ventriloquist dummy in the form of Master of Horror, Stephen King.

Lil’ Stevie:  Rats!

Peter:  Yeah, they’re everywhere.  Pretty creepy, huh?

Lil’ Stevie:  No, I meant “Rats, I just broke a fingernail!”

Peter:  (Sighing) Good evening, Constant Viewer.  Me and Lil’ Pansy, here, are going to be discussing Ralph S. Singleton’s 1990 adaptation of King’s GRAVEYARD SHIFT.  Now, this was Singleton’s film directorial debut, but he HAS worked extensively in the motion picture industry as a unit production manager and assistant director, so he does have some knowledge and credibility in the field.  Choosing to adapt a King story for filming seems like a logical choice in terms of career building and turning a quick buck.

Lil’ Stevie:  Nothing packs ‘em in like a good monster movie!

Peter:  Well, that remains to be seen.  The story itself was originally published in Cavalier magazine, and then republished in…you know, it seems like you published a lot of stories in spank magazines.  What’s up with that?

Lil’ Stevie:  You do what you have to do to keep food on the table, ya know?  Besides, GRAVEYARD SHIFT isn’t the most literary work I ever put out.  It’s pretty elementary.  It’s the classic “submarine story,” where the protagonist and antagonist are compressed into an escapeless microcosm together.  It’s also a nifty little campfire tale, inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s THE RATS IN THE WALLS (1923).

Peter:  Maybe, but screenwriter John Esposito (THE WALKING DEAD) deftly follows the trend of previous screenwriters by taking your elementary little story and expanding on it to fill 90 minutes of celluloid.  And based on previous films we’ve reviewed, that isn’t always a winning formula.

Lil’ Stevie:  (Rolling his eyes comically) Alas.  I hate it when they do that.  They always have to add a love story or a coming-of-age angle that muddies and detracts from the story’s original impact.  My original story was strictly protagonist, antagonist, and monster rats and bats.  There weren’t any female characters in it whatsoever!

Peter:  Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, okay?  The story begins inside this very building we’re standing in, just a few floors above us, where a hapless worker falls into a giant metal-toothed cotton separating machine after being bullied by a horde of rats.

Lil’ Stevie:  Didja notice the name of the mill?  It’s the Bachman Mill, named after my alter-ego.

Peter:  Quit interrupting!  Naturally, after the fiasco, there is a job vacancy to be filled.  Enter our protagonist, John Hall (David Andrews, HANNIBAL, 2001), a drifter who somehow has made his way up to Gates Falls, Maine after bumming around the country for a while.  Of course, the townies don’t really care too much for the new guy in town, and they don’t mind showing it as he shows up at the local café (just when their graveyard shift is ending) for a bite to eat.

Lil’ Stevie:  I really wanted to point something out here.  The town of Gates Falls, Maine is fictional, but it IS based on Lisbon Falls, Maine…the very town where WE live!  And right down the street from us is the Worumbo Mill, where I used to work when I was younger.  It’s where I got the idea for the story!

Peter:  You mean, where the REAL Stephen King used to work.  And that’s a huge bit of information to throw out there.  Got any proof?

Lil’ Stevie:  As a matter of fact, I do!  On page 23 of George Beahm’s biography, STEPHEN KING: America’s Best-Loved Boogeyman, it tells all about his experiences there during his high school years, and how he used to spend his downtime throwing cans at the rats that would watch him working.

Peter:  (Picking up the book and leafing through it) I’ll be darned.  It DOES say that.

Lil’ Stevie:  Why would I lie about ME?

Peter:  You’re NOT you.  Er…You know what I mean.  You’re just a puppet.  Anyway, Hall goes and talks to the foreman, Mr. Warwick (Stephen Macht, THE MONSTER SQUAD, 1987) about a job.  Warwick is obviously a sleazebag, with his anti-union bullying of the employees and “fishing off the company pier” with his secretary (Ilona Margolis, FLATLINERS, 1990).  Warwick has his hands full with the Bachman Mill, with goals and demands to meet from the mill owners, the misbehavior of the surly employees, and the growing rat problem.  Warwick has already employed an exterminator (Brad Dourif, CHILD’S PLAY, 1988) to flush out the varmints, a job that he seems to love and obsess over, but there’s just way too many for one man to deal with.

Lil’ Stevie:  Of course, there was no exterminator in my original story.

Peter:  Granted.  And Dourif’s character does seem a bit over-the-top.  He appears in several scenes where he goes off on his little soliloquies, but they seem contrived and unnecessary and do nothing to make his character remotely likeable.  As the story unfolds, and the Workplace Safety Inspector arrives at the mill threatening to close it down, Warwick HAS to do something to keep the mill operational.  So he pays off the inspector to come back in a few weeks, promising he’ll get the mill up to code and the basement cleaned out over the Fourth of July holiday.  More mysterious deaths ensue (led by the monstrous thing lurking in the basement), and when Warwick puts his cleanup team together, Hall and company have no idea what they’re in for.

Lil’ Stevie:  In the meantime, Hall starts getting a bit comfy with coworker Jane Wisconsky (Kelly Wolf, LESS THAN ZERO, 1987).  Jane regales him with her woe-is-me story about being a hometown girl stuck in her going-nowhere job after her divorce, and blah-blah-blah, yadda-yadda-yadda.  In my story, Wisconsky was a dude who whined a lot.  Why they turned her into a hot chick for the movie, I have no idea.

Peter:  Story building.  Plus, it adds the whole “date movie” element.

Lil’ Stevie:  Well, I don’t like it!  Nosiree Bob, this is supposed to be a horror story, not a cuddle-fest!

Peter:  Look at the size of that rat over there…

Lil’ Stevie:  (Gasping) Hold me close.  I’m scared!

Peter:  (Chuckling) You big sissy.  Well, Warwick manages to bribe some of the non-union workers into the cleanup detail with double pay.  Other workers get bullied into it.  And come evening of the Fourth of July, the crew meets at the mill and proceeds down into the basement to begin cleanup detail.  It goes smoothly at first, with most of the conflict shifting between pain-in-the-ass coworkers who get into a scuffle as debris is removed and the intruding horde of rats get blown away by a high-pressure fire hose.

Lil’ Stevie:  Again, most of these shenanigans never even happen in the story.  No love interests, no employee brawls, just workers who go down into the basement to clean it out.  But there IS one conflict that transitions from my story to the movie, and that’s the conflict that occurs between Hall and Warwick.  There is enormous mistrust between these two characters, stemming from a notion of right and just authority.  Warwick is clearly a villainous tool.  Hall counters this with a kind of stand-off of wills and wits, pushing his antagonist deeper down into the basement to find the source of the rats’ nest.

Peter:  That’s good stuff.  Back to our movie…The cleanup crew does proceed deeper into the basement, and when the nimrod with the fire hose accidentally blasts debris off a trap door, they discover a sub-basement that leads them down deeper into the darkness, into a world that seems almost ancient and long abandoned.  And here we feel that sense of Lovecraft’s ghost playing in.  By this point of the film, we’ve already been introduced to the weird giant bat that has been roosting in the bowels of the mill (and feasting on hapless victims), and here is its domain.

Lil’ Stevie:  In my story, we don’t meet the monster until we get to its lair.  What I DO treat the Constant Reader to is rats the size of puppies and mutant bats, which are plenty disturbing if you ask my opinion.

Peter:  The conflict between Hall and Warwick escalates the further they go into this sub-basement.  One of the hired hands will fall through the floor into ANOTHER sub-basement where the river flows.  Other workers are attacked and killed by the monster bat.  And ultimately, Warwick will turn on Hall and Wisconsky in order to try and save himself.  I don’t want to give too much more of what happens away, in case you were planning on seeing the movie, but I can tell you this much, the monster bat is cool as hell to look at.  He’s a show-stealer!

The monster bat in GRAVEYARD SHIFT is a scene stealer.

The monster bat in GRAVEYARD SHIFT is a show stealer.

Lil’ Stevie:  (Sighing) And, of course, the ending is NOTHING like the ending of my story.  My tale is a dread-inducing denouement that puts this ending to shame.

Peter:  I think that’s a matter of opinion.  This ending works for the treatment they rewrote in the screenplay.  Overall, though, this movie is a bit of a throwaway.  In more capable hands, this could have been infinitely more unsettling than just a “date-movie” horror flick.  From the starting gate, I disliked Dourif’s exterminator character immensely, I found Macht’s Mainer accent to be absolutely ridiculous (for a much better Maine accent, see Fred Gwynne’s Jud Crandall in PET SEMETERY, 1989), and most of the other characters involved seemed cartoonish and stereotypical.  But giving Singleton his due, the scenery is authentic (it was filmed in Harmony, Maine), and the mill with its labyrinth of tunnels and caverns is brilliantly designed and filmed.

Lil’ Stevie:  And rats are always creepy.  Especially in big hordes like in this film.

Peter:  Agreed.  The monster-bat is just gorgeous.  As a fan of horror, I would die to have this thing perched outside my house on Halloween night.  It reminded me of the monster from ALIEN (1979), and had that “submarine-movie” concept you brought up earlier.  The horror of this tale doesn’t happen in OUR world as much as it does in the world of the Monster-Bat, in the labyrinth under the mill.  And sadly, that horror is muddied by supplying the film with characters we care very little about.  Aboard the Nostromo, we see a crew that is fairly unified and happen to need and rely upon each other.  In the Bachman Mill, we see a group of macho idiots who  hardly get along, and almost deserve it whenever one of them bites the dust.  Which group would YOU be rooting for?

Lil’ Stevie:  I’d be rooting for the RATS!

Peter:  This story would have been much better suited for adaptation as a segment for CREEPSHOW.   The King short story has the same ambiance as the old E.C. Comics stories.  That would have been a much better vehicle to capture the same dread and creepiness.  I’d have loved to see how Romero would have treated this one.

Lil’ Stevie:  He’d have turned the victims into zombies.  You’d have hated it.

Peter:  RATFOODSAYSWHAT!

Lil’ Stevie:  What?

(Peter tosses Lil’ Stevie onto the ground and a horde of rats race over to begin feasting on him.)

Lil’ Stevie:  Arrrgghhh!  I’ll get you for this!

Peter:  (Laughing) Be sure and let me know when you get passed!  Goodbye, folks.  See you next month.

-THE END-

© Copyright 2013 by Peter N. Dudar

graveyard_shift_ver3

MOVIE 43 (2013)

Posted in 2013, All-Star Casts, Anthology Films, Bad Situations, Controverisal Films, Dark Comedies, LL Soares Reviews, R-Rated Comedy, Raunchy Fun, Sex Comedies, Sleaze with tags , , , , , , , , on January 29, 2013 by knifefighter

MOVIE 43
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

Movie-43-Poster

I’ve always been a fan of anthology movies, and they’ve been making a comeback lately. Most of them have been showing up in the horror genre—in fact, the anthology horror flick V/H/S  was one of my favorite movies of last year. So I was really interested in seeing MOVIE 43 as soon as I heard about it. There hasn’t been a good comedy anthology movie in a long time. The most famous was probably 1977’s THE KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE. There were also 1974’s THE GROOVE TUBE and 1987’s AMAZON WOMEN ON THE MOON. In a way, the fake trailers that accompanied the main movies in the Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino collaboration, GRINDHOUSE (2007), were also a variation on this concept too, since most of them were pretty funny. The basic idea is that a bunch of different directors and casts get together to make a bunch of short films, usually with a wrap-around storyline to tie them all together.

No matter how much fun these kinds of movies are, one thing that almost always happens is that the short films in question turn out to be a mixed bag. Rarely are they all equally good (or bad). And MOVIE 43 is no different. Made over the course of three years (as directors and stars had time), MOVIE 43 is at least a fresh idea compared to most of the comedies that have been in theaters lately. So how do the short films measure up? Let’s take a look. (I’ll give each one its own “grade” and then an overall rating at the end.)

The movie begins with its wrap-around story, in this case called “The Pitch,” and starring Dennis Quaid as Charlie Wessler (the name of one of the movie’s producers, by the way), a deranged guy who forces his way into the office of a movie studio head named Griffin Schraeder (Greg Kinnear) in order to pitch his movie ideas. We then get the various pitches, which make up the other short films in the movie. Get it? This wraparound segment was directed by Peter Farrelly of the Farrelly Brothers (who gave us THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY (1998) and, more recently, THE THREE STOOGES, 2012)

The Catch” is the first short. It features Kate Winslet as a businesswoman named Beth, who going on a blind date. Her date is Davis (Hugh Jackman), a famous, successful lawyer and philanthropist, and she’s amazed that he is still single. When they go on their date, all seems to go well, until they go to a restaurant and Davis reveals that he has a very strange physical condition she was not expecting. I will not reveal what it is, but, despite the A-list cast, I thought this was one of the weaker entries. While it is funny when Davis’s deformity is revealed, and Winslet is great at playing it completely uncomfortable, it’s soon obvious that this is going to be a one-joke sketch and after a few minutes, I was already eager to see the next one. This one has good acting, great production values and prosthetics, but doesn’t have much of a pay-off. This segment was also directed by Peter Farrelly and is at least better than “The Pitch.” (I give this one a C, since there’s no real payoff.)

Homeschooled” is one of the better entries. This one features Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber as parents who are homeschooling their high school-age son, Kevin (Jeremy Allen White, who is also really good on the Showtime series, SHAMELESS). Things get out of hand when it’s revealed that they not only teach Kevin at home, but also want to give him the “whole high school experience,” including bullying and..er..dating. (I give this one a B)

The Proposition” stars Anna Faris and Chris Pratt as couple who are celebrating their first year of being together. To commemorate the special occasion, Vanessa (Faris) wants Jason (Pratt) to do something extra special in the bedroom. What she wants might surprise you, and chances are good it may repulse you as well. Kind of funny, depending on your sense of humor. (I give this one a B-)

Veronica” might be the weakest of the bunch. Neil (Kieran Culkin), a cashier at a grocery store, is having an increasingly explicit conversation with his girlfriend, Veronica (Emma Stone), but he left the microphone on that he uses to announce specials over the intercom in the grocery store – so all of the customers get to hear the most intimate details. The customers look like a bunch of homeless people, and this is another one that pretty much is one-joke that goes on too long, except, unlike “The Catch,” this one isn’t funny at all. I thought it was a waste of Emma Stone, who is usually pretty good. Director: Griffin Dunne. (I give this one an F, since it’s pretty pointless).

movie-43-poster03

iBabe” is a parody of iPod commercials, where people listen to an MP3 player that just happens to look like an attractive, naked woman. When it turns out that there has been a rash of accidents where adolescent boys have been hurting themselves trying to get intimate with the iBabe, the company that makes it (headed by Richard Gere) has a meeting to try to determine what the problem is. This one was okay – but nothing great – although nudity is always a plus in my book. (I give this one a C)

Superhero Speed Dating” features a lonely Robin (Justin Long) trying to get a date in a Gotham City bar on “speed dating” night. Unfortunately, a mean-spirited Batman (Jason Sudekis) shows up to torment him and ruin his chances at finding a girlfriend. Featuring Leslie Bibb as Wonder Woman, Uma Thurman as Lois Lane, and Kristen Bell as Supergirl, with a very funny appearance by Bobby Cannavale as a thuggish Superman. For some reason I always find superheroes indulging in bad behavior funny, so I liked this one. The performances are also spot on, especially Sudekis, who is pretty sadistic as a real jerk of a Batman. (I give this one a B)

Middle School Date,” features Chloe Grace Moretz (Hit Girl from KICK-ASS, 2010) as a girl who is spending time at her boyfriend’s house when she has her first period. Unfortunately, everyone in the house is completely clueless, and her young boyfriend thinks she is bleeding to death. Not as funny as it could have been, but it foreshadows Moretz’s upcoming role in the remake of Stephen King’s CARRIE. Directed by Elizabeth Banks. (I give this one a C-)

Happy Birthday,” is probably my favorite of the shorts. Pete (Johnny Knoxville) gets his buddy Brian (Seann William Scott) a special birthday gift – he’s kidnapped a leprechaun (Gerard Butler shrunk down by CGI) and demands the sprite give them his pot of gold, with hilarious results. The last line of this particular short is killer. Directed by Brett Ratner. (I give this one an A)

Truth or Dare” is another good one. This one features Stephen Merchant (a familiar face from the British version of THE OFFICE and cable series like HBO’s EXTRAS with Ricky Gervais) on a first date with Halle Berry. To break the ice, they indulge in a game of Truth or Date that starts out innocently enough and gets more and more deranged as it goes on, and they dare each other to do more and more outrageous acts. Could have been a lot crazier than it is, though.  (I give this one an B+)

Victory’s Glory,” is set in the early 1960s and features Terrence Howard as the coach of a black basketball team giving his kids a pep talk before a big game against an all-white team. This is one of the sketches that was hurt the most by the trailer for the movie, which gives the joke away, but in the movie itself, with more R-rated dialogue, it’s actually somewhat funny, even if it is another one-joke bit. Directed by Rusty Cundieff. (I give this one a B-)

When the end credits begin, you may not want to get up and rush out the door too fast, because there’s one more short to come, “Beezel” features an “adorable” cartoon cat that is actually pretty vicious (and perverted) when his master (Josh Duhamel) isn’t looking. The object of the cat’s ire is Duhamel’s new girlfriend (Elizabeth Banks), who threatens the very close (too close?) master/pet relationship. We’ve seen this plot before (most recently in the far superior TED), and it’s actually one of the weaker entries in the movie. I just didn’t find it that funny. Directed by James Gunn, a director I normally like a lot. (I give this one a D.)

Meanwhile, the wraparound story (“The Pitch”) escalates, popping up between the shorts, as Quaid’s character grows more and more demented, eventually pulling out a gun and demanding the studio buy his movie treatments. For the most part,  the wraparound story works to tie things together, but isn’t  funny, a fact that the cast seems to realize themselves, as everyone kind of gives up toward the end and the actors break character. (I give this one an F)

There are also a couple of fake commercials that are actually pretty good. One is called “Machine Children” and the other, which is better,  is a very clever short short commercial for Tampax, of all things.

I’ve listed the directors who I know worked on specific shorts, but it is very difficult to track down a list of who directed what (without going to see the movie a second time). Maybe this is on purpose, but other directors who worked on the movie include: Steven Brill, Steve Carr, James Duffy, Patrik Forsberg, Bob Odenkirk and Jonathan van Tulleken.

The big draw of this one is the cast—which is made up of some very big names who actually worked for scale (there is no way the budget could have covered them all otherwise) —doing outrageous things. Unfortunately, not all of the material is good enough to appear in (most isn’t), and over all, this movie seems to think it is much more shocking than it really is. In fact, in several cases, I don’t think it went far enough to be truly daring, although MOVIE 43 does earn its R rating.

From what I can tell, most critics have given this movie dismal reviews, but I didn’t think it was all bad. MOVIE 43 is a very mixed bag, with some shorts delivering laughs, and others not. If you like anthology films as much as I do, you might want to check it out, but go to a matinee showing (don’t pay full price). I give it two knives, and that’s probably being generous.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives MOVIE 43~two knives.

HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS (2013)

Posted in 2013, 3-D, Adult Fairy Tales, CGI, Cinema Knife Fights, Gimmicks, Magic, Trolls, Witches with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 28, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS (2013)
By Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

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(THE SCENE: The middle of the woods, outside a house made of candy. MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES approach house.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA: A house made of candy! Oh boy!

L.L. SOARES: I can think of better things for a house to be made of. Besides, I’m on a diet.

MA: Well, if you’re going to nitpick, I suppose I’d prefer a house made completely of chocolate. In fact, that looks like a chocolate doorbell. (starts to eat chocolate doorbell, which rings).

LS: Haven’t you read enough fairy tales to know you’re not supposed to eat the candy?

MA: I don’t care.

LS: Hey, this tile is made of Swedish fish. I think I’ll have a nibble.

(Door opens and nasty looking witch peers outside.)

WITCH: Welcome! Come on in, childr—-. (Looks at MA & LS, and frowns). Aren’t you two a little old for this?

LS: Speak for yourself, grandma. We’re just here to review a movie. We’re not here for the candy—at least I’m not! (elbows MA).

MA (wiping chocolate from his mouth): Sorry about that. I couldn’t resist. Hey this window is a giant lollipop! (starts licking)

WITCH: Hope you’re enjoying yourself. (adds on her fingers) That’ll be $15.00.

MA: Seriously?

WITCH: Yeah! What do you think this is, a fairy tale? Pay up!

(MA pays her.)

WITCH: You, too. At a penny a piece, you must have eaten 30 cents worth of Swedish fish.

(LS pays her)

WITCH: Thanks. Have fun reviewing your movie. Make sure I receive some compensation. You are using the exterior of my home for your review, after all. Plus, I’m making a cameo…and it’s a speaking part! (waves at camera).

LS: And that’s your compensation: exposure. Now leave us alone, you old bag, so we can review today’s movie!

WITCH: Well, I never!

LS: That doesn’t surprise me.

(WITCH slams door).

LS (to MA): Would you like to start today’s review? I’m going to look around to see if there are any houses around here made from better stuff than candy.

MA: Sure. In fact, I’ll come with you. Let’s walk and talk. Welcome, everyone, to today’s edition of CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT. Today we’re reviewing the new action fantasy horror movie, HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS (2013), the movie that asks the question: Can you turn a fairy tale into a hard hitting R-rated movie? The answer is—yeah, sure, but does it work? That’s the better question.

HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS opens with the traditional take on the fairy tale, with young Hansel and Gretel deposited in the deep woods alone by their seemingly evil parents, only to make their way to a house made of candy, in which lives a witch who eats little children. Of course, this time around, little Hansel and Gretel kill the witch and grow up to become witch hunters.

LS: They’ve been given a mission in life!

MA: Years later, Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) are hired by the Mayor (Rainer Bock) of a small village to find and kill the witches who have been abducting the children of the village, much to the chagrin of Sheriff Berringer (Peter Stormare), a lawman who’d rather burn witches first, ask questions later. Plus, Berringer is still steaming over the fact that Hansel and Gretel prevented him from burning a woman named Mina (Pihla Viitala), who he believed to be a witch but who Hansel believed otherwise, a situation which ended when Berringer received a nasty head butt from Gretel.

LS: Mmmm…Gretel…

MA: Hansel and Gretel’s investigation leads them to the main witch baddie lurking in the woods, a witch named Muriel (Famke Janssen). With the help of a young witch-hunter wannabe, Ben (Thomas Mann), and a CGI-created troll named Edward (Derek Mears), who has a soft spot for Gretel, Hansel and Gretel go after Muriel and uncover some truths about their parents along the way.

LS: You probably should mention that Edward originally works for the bad witches and keeps the abducted children the witches steal in cages. It’s not until later that he “turns” good.

MA: When all is said and done, you already know which side is left standing and which side goes down.

One thing I’ll say for the folks who made HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS, they took their jobs seriously, and they tried like hell to make this one succeed. And you know what? For a movie I wasn’t interested in seeing at all, I actually liked this one. Well, a little bit anyway. I’m not going to lie. I didn’t love this movie by any means, and I never really was able to get past the fact that I was watching a story about Hansel and Gretel, but there were a lot of things I liked.

First off, the screenplay by director Tommy Wirkola and Dante Harper has a lot of things going for it. For one thing, even though this takes place in fairy tale land, people speak in modern day language, which means there are plenty of F-bombs flying around.

LS: I always hated that term: F-bombs.

MA: Well, this is a family-friendly site. Sort of. So we can’t exactly go on a cursing rant.

LS: Okay.

MA: At first, I didn’t think this worked, and I’m still not convinced that it did, but let’s put it this way: it made for some lively dialogue. This is a step up from the video game movies, like last year’s RESIDENT EVIL: RETRIBUTION (2012), which really isn’t a movie at all, but an extended video game. HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS, as silly as it is, is several notches above those awful movie wannabes.

I also liked how the story returned to Hansel and Gretel’s parents, offering an explanation as to why they did what they did, abandoning their children in the middle of the woods. Some thought went into this screenplay, which is always a good thing.

LS: I actually thought the explanation of why their parents abandoned them didn’t make total sense, since leaving them alone in the woods wasn’t really all that safe, especially with an evil witch’s candy house right nearby. But the screenwriters tried.

MA: True, but I think the parents expected to retrieve them after a short time, but that being said, they certainly didn’t have a contingency plan if things went bad, as they ultimately did. So, you’re right, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

LS: Thank you.

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MA: HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS also looks good, and director Tommy Wirkola made some good use of the 3D effects in some of the battle scenes. There’s plenty of blood and gore here—yes, it’s CGI— and even some nudity, and so this is definitely an R-rated pic.

LS: I didn’t see this one in 3D. I was getting sick of paying extra for 3D effects I didn’t care about. That said, this one was just fine in 2D. I didn’t feel cheated at all.

But there could have been a bit more of that nudity you mentioned. We never get to see the fetching Gretel nude. Or Famke Janssen’s evil witch….but Mina is quite nice.

(THE WICKED WITCH OF THE WEST, as played by Margaret Hamilton in green makeup, suddenly appears in a burst of red smoke)

WICKED WITCH (laughing): How about me! Would you like to see me nude as well?

LS: Not really. (thinks) Then again, I’ve always liked sideshows.

WICKED WITCH: Well, the witches in HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS are pathetic wannabes. I’M the real thing. Do these witches have flying monkeys? Do they have soldiers with big furry hats? NO! All they have is one simple-minded troll who turns against them. I’m the real deal, baby.

MA: No one is denying that.

WICKED WITCH: Well you better not! If I hear you talking smack about me, I’ll turn you into toads – and ugly ones at that. Mark my words, dammit!

(Suddenly, a house falls from the sky and crushes the WICKED WITCH)

MA: Oh, that was unfortunate.

LS: Ding dong, the witch is dead. Let’s go on with our review.

MA: Okay. I wonder how HANSEL & GRETEL would do against her.

(The WICKED WITCH’s feet wiggle beneath the house)

WICKED WITCH’s VOICE: I’d eat them for breakfast.

LS: She might be right.

MA: Anyway, Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton make for a very watchable Hansel and Gretel. The characters they’re playing are strictly one-dimensional, but they make the most of it and get as much out of Hansel and Gretel as possible. I can’t say that I liked either character, but I did enjoy watching both Renner and Arterton.

LS: I think the casting is probably the biggest reason to see this one. Jeremy Renner has just been getting bigger and bigger since he starred in THE HURT LOCKER in 2008, and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor (sadly, he didn’t win). Since then, he’s been in high-profile roles in movies like THE TOWN (2010), THE BOURNE LEGACY (2012) and, of course, as Hawkeye in THE AVENGERS (also 2012), even if he was a poorly developed supporting character in that one (and where the hell was Hawkeye’s mask from the comics?). He’s become an A-list actor and it’s surprising to see him in something like this.

MA: I agree.

LS: I also thought it was interesting how they made it so Hansel has to inject himself with something every once in a while to keep going. At first, you think he’s a drug addict, but it’s later revealed that they’re insulin shots—as he explains, he got very sick after eating all that candy in the witch’s house in the beginning when they were kids. I thought that was a cool touch.

As for Gemma Arterton, she’s a hottie I’ve had my eye on for a while. Before she played Gretel here, she was also Strawberry Fields in 2008’s THE QUANTUM OF SOLACE, played Io in 2010’s CLASH OF THE TITANS (and was one of the few things I liked about that movie), and has been in lots of small indie films like 2010’s TAMARA DREWE. I’m a fan, and she’s always memorable in everything she’s in, and she’s good here as well, even if she joins a long line of hot actresses who have been in action movies that require them to dress in leather and act tough and one-dimensional, including Kate Becksindale in the UNDERWORLD movies and VAN HELSING (2004) and Milla Jovovich in the RESIDENT EVIL movies. But I like HANSEL & GRETEL more than any of those.

While Renner is a respected actor now, he’s still waiting for that breakout role to make him a household name. So is Arterton. Unfortunately, despite their talent, HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS isn’t it. But it was a lot more fun than I expected it to be.

There’s something about HANSEL & GRETEL that feels like a movie that was on the shelf for a while, and was dusted off when Jeremy Renner started getting some buzz. And it was originally scheduled to be in theaters back in March of 2012.

MA: On the other hand, I was disappointed with Famke Janssen as evil witch Muriel. She spends too much time in the movie as a CGI creation, and I thought she was much more effective without all the CGI effects and makeup.

LS: I’ve always liked Janssen, but yeah, this is a thankless role. But she does as well as she can with it. And you’re right, she’s actually just as effective (if not more so) as a baddie when she’s not in the monster makeup.

MA: My favorite performance in the film, other than Renner’s and Arterton’s, belonged to Pihla Viitala as Mina, the woman who Hansel and Gretel save from being burned as a witch. Turns out, Mina has a secret of her own, and she and Hansel develop a relationship that is one of the more interesting in the film. Viitala is very sexy in this role, and I wished she had been in the movie even more.

LS: Yeah, I want to see more of her. I hope this leads to bigger roles.

(A disgruntled WICCAN emerges from the woods, holding a picket sign that reads “Down With Hansel & Gretel!”)

WICCAN: How dare you give this movie a proper review! After hundreds of years of persecution, the last thing we need is a throwback to the idea of witches as ugly old monsters who eat children. Real witches are nothing like that!

LS: You’re absolutely right. Real witches are nothing like this. But this is a fantasy movie. It’s not supposed to be reality. No one takes it seriously. Just like nobody believes that real-life dwarves have magical powers.

MA: Yeah, it’s just silly horror movie witches. It’s not supposed to be a realistic representation of witches.

WICCAN: Well, it still makes me angry.

LS: That’s okay. You’re entitled to your opinion. Don’t sweat it.

WICCAN: Thanks, I just wanted to say my peace. (leaves)

MA: Shall I continue?

LS: Be my guest.

MA: The rest of the cast is fine. Peter Stormare (who we just saw as an effective villain in last week’s THE LAST STAND) is effective again here as the villainous Sheriff Berringer. As he did in THE LAST STAND, Stormare outshines the main villain in the film, as I found his Sheriff Berringer here to be more dastardly than the bad witch Muriel.

LS: He’s certainly not as much fun to look at as Muriel. But I’ve always like Stormare. He’s been a character actor for a long time, and was great in movies like FARGO (1996), 8MM (1999), and George Romero’s BRUISER (2000), as well as TV shows like PRISON BREAK. He mostly plays bad guys, but he’s good at it.

MA: Derek Mears, as Edward the CGI troll, is also a decent character, but Edward is certainly more of a CGI creation than just an actor giving a strong acting performance.

I also enjoyed the music score by Atli Orvarsson. It’s lively, like the rest of the film.

There was also plenty that I didn’t like about HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS. As I already said, the characters of Hansel and Gretel are strictly one-dimensional, and so as much as I enjoyed Renner and Arterton in the roles, I didn’t like either character all that much, and so it’s not like I’d be looking forward to watching more movies about these folks. It’s my hope that this is a one and done deal.

LS: Agreed. This was a case of good actors doing the best with roles that were beneath them. And while I thought this movie was fun, I really don’t think we need any sequels.

MA: I hope not! The same goes for the rest of the characters in this one, with the possible exception of Mina. For a while, you’re not really sure about her, whether she’s good or bad, and I found her a little more interesting than the other characters in this film; of course, it helps that Pihla Vitaala is so damned sexy!

The plot is pretty standard, and didn’t excite me one iota, but since there are some movies out there that don’t even bother to give you a plot, having even an average plot is a good thing. There’s definitely a story here, even if it’s not a very good one.

LS: I think the story was kind of cliché. It really felt like we’d seen stuff like this before, many times before. But the interesting stuff came with the little details. There were things the filmmakers got right. HANSEL & GRETEL is above-average for this kind of thing, but it’s still not a great movie by any stretch.

I agree with you, Michael, that I was dreading going to see this one. I’d seen the trailer like 50 times and felt it pretty much gave away the entire story, and it kind of did. But it surprised me, too. I think the acting transcended the script, and it was a little better written than I was expecting. It also didn’t hurt that this movie tried to earn its R rating. By doing so, it had a little more edge (and flavor) to it than the heap of other, similar movies, that are usually PG-13 and sanitized to the point of pablum.

MA: I appreciated this one’s efforts to be a hard hitting adult fantasy tale, but I wish it had been even more successful. I wish the characters had been developed further and that the evil witch in this one had more to do than what she ultimately does. Then again, in a movie about Hansel and Gretel, maybe that’s too much to ask for.

LS: Probably. But as we’ve said before. Great writing can turn any lackluster idea into something exceptional.

MA: I didn’t love HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS by any means, but it was certainly better than I expected it to be, and I can’t deny that it’s entertaining in a silly sort of way. Ultimately it’s is a fairly successful bloody gory fantasy.

I give it two and a half knives.

LS: Strangely, I give it the same score. Better than expected. Worth going to see if you want a fun night at the movies. But don’t go in expecting a movie you can really love.

(They come to a clearing and see another house, this time made of pizza and giant kegs of beer. Girls dressed as sexy beer maids beckon them forward)

LS: Now that’s a house that tempts me.

MA: I know we should go the other way, but what the hell.

(They run toward the house)

-END-

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS ~ two and a half knives!

LL Soares gives HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS~two and a half knives, as well.

DREAD (2010)

Posted in 2013, After Dark Horrorfest Movies, Clive Barker Movies, Family Secrets, Indie Horror, Paul McMahon Columns, Psychos, The Distracted Critic with tags , , , , , , , on January 25, 2013 by knifefighter

DREAD
Review by Paul McMahon- The Distracted Critic

“There is no delight the equal of dread. As long as it’s someone else’s.” –Clive Barker, from his novella DREAD

dreadusdvd

DREAD was one of the films in the 2010 After Dark Horror Fest. Since I found no entries for an ADHF 5, I imagine this outlet for independent horror has washed up. It’s a shame. In their four festivals, they did promote a fair amount of crap, but their selections were peppered with filmmakers trying new things and attempting to be different. Since this isn’t a review of After Dark‘s successes and failures, let’s get right to the movie in question.

DREAD opens on a tall, ivy-league college building. A professor’s monotone is dubbed over, droning about philosophy. Inside the classroom, we focus on Stephen, who’s obviously not into this lecture at all. The next frame, Stephen is outside the building, smoking hard. A shadowy figure a few feet away bums a cigarette and asks him what he’s doing in the class. Stephen grins and says it fulfills requirements for his film major. The stranger’s name is Quaid, and he insists that philosophy is crap unless you flirt with the only worthwhile subject—the things we fear.

“I lead a pretty dull life,” Stephen says. “Fear doesn’t cross my path very often.”

They go for drinks and Quaid proposes a thesis interviewing students about their fears, the things they dread. Before long, Stephen is telling Quaid about losing his brother in a drunk driving accident—an accident Stephen very easily could’ve been in the car for. We don’t know why, but we feel uncomfortable with Quaid having this information.

Next, we see Quaid alone in a big empty house. He opens a medicine cabinet full of prescription bottles and slips into a flashback. A young Quaid is at home with his parents late at night. A stranger appears on the steps and kills Quaid’s father with an axe. As the child watches, his mother is murdered as well. The killer starts up the stairs, clumping the head of the axe against each stair riser as he ascends. The man holds the bloody blade in front of young Quaid and tells him: “This is your mother… your father….” before the axe swings.

Stephen invites a classmate, his would-be girlfriend Cheryl, to participate in the study, and at first it seems they’re getting good stuff. People are forthcoming about why they fear the things they do. Some of them even describe childhood traumas and how those events formed fears they suffered from for the rest of their lives. Quaid, however, is not at all happy with the material they’re getting. One night after a particularly long session, we see him slip into his bathroom and methodically pour his meds down the sink.

Stephen and Cheryl conduct interviews about what people fear.

Stephen and Cheryl conduct interviews about what people fear.

Soon after, Quaid attacks a woman they’re interviewing, accusing her of making her stories up. She confesses and says she thought appearing in their thesis tape would look good in her portfolio. When things finally settle down, Quaid tells Stephen and Cheryl: “I want us to take our study to the next level.”

When Stephen insists they’re done and they have only to edit the film, Quaid reacts badly. It’s obvious that Quaid is going to go ahead with whatever experiment he’s been planning, with or without their help.

A short time later, Cheryl disappears….

Using a title like DREAD makes a very bold promise to the viewer. It says: “Before this movie is over, you will feel your nerves frost over, you will draw breath as if a python is squeezing your chest, you will feel the whisper of death brush the hairs along the rim of your ear.” The title gives you permission to ignore the film if the cold grip of fear is not your thing. Indeed, many of those who seek out horror films will have a moment’s hesitation before selecting this movie. Such is the power of the concept of dread.

The movie is based on a novella of the same name written by Clive Barker, easily one of the best horror writers out there. It’s an exceptional work of terror that makes good on the promise of that simple five-word title. Frankly, I was surprised that Clive Barker’s name wasn’t featured more prominently on the advertising, but so it goes.

Writer/ director Anthony DeBlasi (CASSADAGA, 2011) does not take the title’s promise lightly. It’s a tricky thing to translate the written word to the screen, even more tricky if the source material is literary and philosophical in nature, which Barker’s most assuredly is. DeBlasi makes a lot of right decisions here. He manages to keep some of the literary feel of the story. Maybe a little too much, as the stakes in the first hour of the film don’t amount to all that much and therefore aren’t as compelling as they could be. Still, he gets more right than he gets wrong.

Jackson Rathbone (who played Jasper Hale in the TWILIGHT series from 2008-2012) plays Stephen Grace. He seems a little out of his depth, but mostly hits his stride emotionally with a very challenging role. The rest of the cast is far more recognizable to British audiences. Shaun Evans (CASHBACK, 2006 and WRECKERS, 2011) plays Quaid with an intensity that is apparent even when he has no lines. Hanne Steen (IDEAL, TV series, 2011) plays Cheryl and does a fair job keeping balance between Stephen and Quaid, keeping her own secrets from both of them.

The clear standout in this film is Laura Donnelly (MISSING, TV series, 2012, and THE FALL, TV series, 2012). She plays Abby, a close friend and co-worker of Stephen’s who has a very intense crush on him. Revealing this is a huge risk for her character, since a Port-Wine Birthmark shadows half of her face and stretches all the way along her body to her right ankle. Laura makes it impossible for us not to feel for Abby as the movie progresses.

Laura Donnelly as Abby is the film's true standout.

Laura Donnelly as Abby is the film’s true standout.

The end result is an unusual horror movie that looks different than much of the work out there today. Though it starts out slowly, the intensity picks up as we roll along. It may not be a perfect film, but it’s definitely one you won’t regret—or soon forget.

I give DREAD two and a half stars, with two timeouts.

© Copyright 2012 by Paul McMahon

The UK DVD cover for DREAD.

The UK DVD cover for DREAD.

For Rats’ Eyes Only: THE RATS (2002)

Posted in 2012, Animals Attack, Disease!, For Rats' Eyes Only, LL Soares Reviews, Rats, TV-Movies with tags , , , , on January 24, 2013 by knifefighter

FOR RATS’ EYES ONLY: Reviews of Movies About Rats


Presents:

THE RATS (2002)

Review by L.L. Soares

TheRats_2002_PosterJust when you thought it was safe to sit on the toilet! Up come the rats from the sewer!

That’s the thing about these pesky rodents. Once they start popping up, they seem to be everywhere, as Madchen Amick finds out in THE RATS (2002), which plays on the fears people who live in big cities have about rat infestations. It all begins simply enough in a Manhattan department store called Garsons, where a customer in a dressing room is bitten by something under a pile of clothes. The store manager, Susan Costello (Madchen Amick, probably best known as Shelly Johnson on TWIN PEAKS from 1990 -1991, although she’s been in a ton of television shows and movies since), tells the girl that she must have cut her finger on a floor tack, but she should have it checked out. Not long afterwards, Susan gets a call from the hospital, and when she goes to visit the woman, she finds out that it’s clear that it’s a bite and the woman is dying from a disease that is spread by rats.

Susan’s boss, Ms. Page (Sheila Mccarthy), is in a panic when she thinks about how such publicity could affect their department store. She tells Susan to fire the store’s exterminators and hire the best in the city, and in comes Jack Carver (Vincent Spano), a handsome rat specialist who knows how to play the game with the Health Department (he’s friends with the guy in charge) and is well-versed in keeping things discreet. Except, the rat problem turns out to be much bigger than anyone expected.

Meanwhile, Susan and her daughter Amy (Daveigh Chase) see a rat outside their apartment window, and soon afterwards, the local swimming pool where Amy goes to swim has a rat attack (they come out of the air vents), revealing that the problem extends to several city blocks.

Beware, THE RATS are coming!

Beware, THE RATS are coming!

As Susan and Jack find themselves getting increasingly attracted to each other, they also team up to investigate how bad the infestation is. This involves such interesting scenes as Jack and his partner Ty (Shawn Michael Howard) using ultra-violet light to uncover where rat droppings are throughout the store after hours, when the lights are out. As they discover false walls and secret passageways that were long covered up, the three of them eventually end up in the basement, which is a breeding ground for the vicious vermin, who have started attacking people (just ask the superintendent of Susan’s apartment building, who gets gobbled up by the rats). And there’s also the use of a cool bomb-defusing robot that is used to explore the subterranean lair of the rats, and uses it camera eyes to send back visuals to the people above.

We learn lots of interesting things, like rats are constantly chewing hard things to keep their teeth from growing too big for their mouths (their “chew toys” include metal and concrete) and that they’re constantly incontinent (thus the droppings everywhere). By the time Jack, Ty and Susan have tracked the rats’ origins down to a deserted lab that was doing medical experiments on them (that made them stronger and more aggressive), it looks like the entire city might be in danger.

If rats make you squeamish, you might not like the scene where a rat tries to push its way up out of a toilet while Amy gets ready for her bath. Or thousands of rats plummeting onto a subway train, bringing it to a stop and pouring inside the open windows. Or the big finale that involves a huge, drained swimming pool full of what looks like millions of rodents.

Machen Amick takes a swim in a pool full of rats in THE RATS.

Machen Amick takes a swim in a pool full of rats in THE RATS.

THE RATS was originally a TV-movie, but there’s some nudity early on that was obviously added for the European market, which isn’t as uptight as America is. The acting is decent for this kind of throwaway movie, and the rats look scary enough (it’s a mix of real rats and CGI effects, with enough real ones to make it convincing). The script is simple enough— rats are discovered and exterminator tracks them down, with a love story added— but it works. Director John Lafia keeps things suspenseful, and there are some good moments toward the end when you might feel a shiver or two as the rats pile up.

Not a great rat movie, or a great movie in general, but above-average for what started as a TV-movie. I liked it for what it was, and I’ve always liked Madchen Amick, so it was good to see her in a lead role here.

I give it two and a half out of five rats.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares