Archive for February, 2013

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou visits THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE (1976)

Posted in 1970s Movies, 2013, 70s Horror, Animals Attack, Bigfoot!, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Drive-in Movies, Swamp Movies, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , , , on February 28, 2013 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

William D. Carl

This week’s feature presentation:

THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE (1976)bbbcreature

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.

Howco International Pictures was a small, independent film production company that was established in 1951 by Joy Newton Houck, Sr.  Based out of New Orleans, they produced little movies for the Southern Drive-In circuits, usually double features like Lash Larue Westerns or the John Agar wonder THE BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS (1957).  After releasing everything from Roger Corman to Ed Wood to Ron Ormand movies, they really hit the big time with a giant hit, THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK (1972), which effectively combined documentary footage with the story of a Bigfoot-like creature called the skunk-ape.  The movie made millions and was a hit world-wide.  Hoping to play on the success of that film, Joy Houck, Jr. directed a script by his pal Jim McCullough, Jr. entitled THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE (1976) and created the creepiest Bigfoot movie ever made.

The film begins with Joe Canton and a fellow trapper tranquilly boating through the swamps around Black Lake, checking their traps.  Suddenly, a hairy arm emerges from the water and snatches the buddy from the boat, leaving Joe Canton (played by stalwart Western veteran Jack Elam—ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, 1968 and RIO LOBO, 1970) screaming for help.  Nobody believes the old drunk except for two cryptozoology students in Chicago who read about the experience in the papers.  The two men take off in their van for Louisiana on a hunt for the monster.  Pahoo (what the hell kind of name is that for a Yankee?) is a Vietnam Vet who jokes about everything, hates chicken with a passion usually reserved for despots, and is played by Dennis Fimple (KING KONG, 1976, the MATT HOUSTON TV series, 1982, and he was Grampa Hugo in HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES (2003).  Rives is more serious and good-looking and a draft dodger, and he is played by ex-model John David Carson, who appeared in such diverse movies as EMPIRE OF THE ANTS (1977), PRETTY WOMAN (1990), and THE DAY OF THE DOLPHIN (1973).  Together, they encounter a hostile sheriff, who warns them to get out of town, locals who proclaim the creature a myth, a practical joke-playing waitress, and more yokel southern-fired, hee-haw stereotypes than you can shake a Confederate Flag at.

Jack Elam swears he wasn't drunk when he saw THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE,

Joe Canton (Jack Elam) swears he wasn’t drunk when he saw THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE,

Pahoo accidentally finds Joe Canton, but he loses him, but not before Rives encounters a young man named Orville Bridges, played by hawk-nosed screenwriter Jim McCullough, Jr. (the multi-talented guy also wrote and sang the songs for the movie).  Orville informs them he saw the creature when he was a toddler in a car crash that killed his parents.  Now he lives with his grandparents, and he’ll show them around if they don’t talk about Bigfoot.  They go home to a big country dinner.  Grandpa is played by Dub Taylor, from THE WILD BUNCH (1969), BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967), and BACK TO THE FUTURE III (1990).  The old man is a walking advertisement for hick Southern trash, wheezing and making jokes nobody finds amusing.  During dinner, a mule brays loudly, and Pahoo shouts out, “Is that him?  Is that the creature?”  Grandma goes into a PTSD inspired sobbing fit, and Grandpa kicks the two Yankees (who, by the way, both possess southern twangs) to the barn for the evening.  While getting ready for bed, they hear the howling, haunting cry of Bigfoot closer than is comfortable.  They are terrified, but not so much that they don’t pick up two pretty southern belles in the local hamburger joint and invite them to their camp for the evening.

Dennis Fimple, Jim McCullough and John David Carson commiserate in THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE.

Dennis Fimple, Jim McCullough and John David Carson commiserate in THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE.

The girls show up, and they all party a bit, playing over the recording of the Bigfoot cry.  Soon, they discover one of the girls has a father who is the sheriff – the same one who warned the boys out of town on the first day.  He hauls them into jail, where they stay the night with stinky Joe Canton, who is in the tank for getting drunk and chasing the creature with a shotgun.  Instead of heeding the sheriff’s warning, the two boys head for the woods to track the beast, which leads to a night of harrowing horror as the Bigfoot stalks them, separates them, and brutally attacks them.  These scenes are incredibly intense for a PG-rated film, never gory, but always scary and suspenseful.

The acting is good enough – nothing to shout over, but tolerable for this sort of yee-haw Southern horror tale.  Jack Elam chews the scenery with gusto, camping his drunken role up to the tenth degree.  Dennis Fimple and John David Carson make for likable heroes, and their interactions are natural and believable.  The extras and small roles are filled with people who obviously live in the town where this was filmed.  Their non-acting abilities actually lend an air of documentary-like verisimilitude to the proceedings, and the accents are to die for!

THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE benefits most, however, from the wonderful cinematography of Dean Cundy.  Cundy started his career with the exploitation circuit, lensing such films as BLACK SHAMPOO (1976), the amazing THE WITCH WHO CAME FROM THE SEA (1976), HALLOWEEN (1978), WITHOUT WARNING (1980) and ROCK N ROLL HIGH SCHOOL (1979).  He moved on to larger pictures like THE THING (1982), WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT? (1988), JURASSIC PARK (1993), APOLLO 13 (1995), and THE HOLIDAY (2006).  THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE is filmed in a gritty, sun-fried style, much like THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974), and this lends a feeling of you-are-there realness to the action.  The scenery is beautiful, but never intrusive, and the Bigfoot creature is wisely kept mostly in the shadows, so the movie is about suspense and the threat of violence more than the actual acts of violence.  This may be what makes that final fifteen minutes so disturbing and exciting.  We do care about these two men by this point, and it appears as if we are watching documentary footage of their stalking and possible killing by his monster.  The suspension of disbelief is suspended way up in the sky somewhere, never interfering with our nerve-wracking enjoyment of the movie.

One of the CREATURE's victims floats to the surface.

One of the CREATURE’s victims floats to the surface.

The movie isn’t perfect.  There’s a bit too much of the folksy humor, especially around Dub Taylor’s character, who seems like he should be plucking a banjo and attacking Ned Beatty any second.  It slows down the momentum of suspense in the film and the characters strains credibility as much as he strains his overalls.  Plus, the epilogue of the movie seems tacked on in order to pacify an audience that wanted a happy ending.  After the sheer terror of the previous night, the sun is shining and everything is just hunky-dory.  In the real world, this would have ended very differently.

But why quibble?  On the whole, THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE is a wonderfully spooky Bigfoot movie, possibly the best one out there.  The scares at the end are earned, and the photography is fantastic.

I give THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE three trespassing Yankees out of four.

© Copyright 2013 by William D. Carl

Pickin’ the Carcass Visits THE RIG (2010)

Posted in 2013, B-Movies, Just Plain Fun, Michael Arruda Reviews, Monsters, Pickin' the Carcass with tags , , , , , on February 27, 2013 by knifefighter

PICKIN’ THE CARCASS:  THE RIG (2010)
By Michel Arruda

 The Rig movie poster

I’ve said it many times before but it’s true:  I’m a sucker for monster movies, and so today’s PICKIN’ THE CARCASS feature, THE RIG (2010), in spite of the fact that it’s a clear rip-off of the ALIEN formula, won me over.  It’s actually a pretty fun movie, worth checking out as long as you’re not expecting something original.

THE RIG takes place on an oil rig—so that’s where they got the title! —that’s suddenly in the path of a raging hurricane.  The head of the crew, Jim Fleming (William Forsythe) orders the bulk of the crew to evacuate temporarily, leaving just a skeleton crew on board until after the dangerous storm passes.

Hmm.  A hurricane raging all around, a few crew members trapped on a hulking oil rig in the middle of the ocean, I wonder what would happen if a man-eating monster showed up and decided to prey upon the unsuspecting crew?  Sounds like the formula for a good old-fashioned monster movie, which, in effect, is exactly what THE RIG is, a throwback to monster movies like ALIEN (1979) and THE THING (1982).

Is it as good as those movies? No way!  But it remains true to its traditions, and on this level, it succeeds.

So, yes, a monster does show up to wreak havoc amongst the skeleton crew.  That’s because the film opens with an undersea camera poking around the depths of the ocean, only to be destroyed by some unknown aquatic presence.  This thing later climbs on board the rig, a la the Creature from the Black Lagoon.  It’s obviously not happy with the results of its photo shoot and is seeking a re-take. Actually, it’s just a hungry beast that likes to eat humans.

On the rig, we have our cliché-ridden cast of characters, but what makes these folks enjoyable is the actors who play them actually do a decent job.  The head of the rig, Jim Fleming is busy contending not only with the storm but with his adult daughter Carey (Serah D’Laine) who’s in love with one of the oil men, Kyle Dobbs (Scott Martin).  Jim just doesn’t want his daughter involved with an oil man.  He wants more for his little girl.  Gag.  Yep, you can see this storyline coming a mile away, and it’s something we’ve seen a million times before, but luckily the movie doesn’t spend too much time on this plot point.  The bulk of the time is fortunately spent on the monster story.

Then there’s Freddy Brewer (Stacey Hinnen), the tough-as-nails rig worker who’s enjoying a fling of his own, with his hot co-worker, Rodriguez (Carmen Perez).  Freddy is also dealing with his younger brother who has requested to get off the rig because he’s tired of living in his older brother’s shadow.

Fortunately, all these stories go away once the monster shows up and starts feasting on human flesh. Once that happens, the remainder of the crew bands together and fights for survival, hoping to survive long enough for the storm to pass, so they can either get off the rig or have help arrive.

As I said, THE RIG isn’t going to earn any points for originality.  Its best scenes we’ve seen before in films like ALIEN and THE THING, but because it handles these scenes well, it still manages to entertain.

Probably my favorite part of THE RIG is that director Peter Atencio chose not to use CGI effects for the monster.  Instead, he uses an old-fashioned man in a suit, which once seen isn’t anything to brag about, but for the bulk of the film, director Atencio goes with the “less seen the better” philosophy, and it works.

Most of the creature scenes feature quick snippets of the monster, and so for the majority of the movie, you don’t see the creature, and this style works.  It’s scarier wondering just what exactly is around that dark corner, as opposed to seeing some fake-looking CGI creation that imbues no reality whatsoever.  So, for the most part, the creature scenes in this movie are effective.  Sure, towards the end, when we see more of the beast, it’s a bit of a disappointment, but it’s still better than a cartoony CGI beasty.

The cast also acquits itself well.  William Forsythe is solid as oil boss Jim Fleming.  Sure, he must have been fighting not to throw up as he delivered some of his cliché-ridden lines, but he really makes for a believable oil rig chief.

Forsythe is a veteran actor who’s been in a ton of movies.  I remember him most from way back when, with his performance in ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA (1984) where he co-starred with Robert De Niro.  He was also memorable more recently in the awful HALLOWEEN (2007) remake.

Stacey Hinnen is also very good as Freddy, the tough guy, who becomes the “go to” guy once the creature shows up.  Serah D’Laine is okay as Jim’s daughter Carey.  She runs hot and cold, and she’s certainly no Sigourney Weaver.  Carmen Peres fares better as Rodriguez, in a supporting role.

Probably the weakest link of the main cast is Scott Martin as Serah’s boyfriend Kyle.  When it comes to tough guy heroes, he’s more Michael Biehn than Kurt Russell.  I’d rather have Kurt Russell.

The weakest part of the movie, no doubt, is the screenplay by Scott Martin—yep, the same guy who also plays Kyle in this one—Mariliee A. Benson, Lori Chavez, and C.W. Fallin, which is full of one cliché after another, some really bad dialogue, and characters so familiar they seem like family members.  Yet, in a strange way, it works, because it gets the monster stuff right, and since this is a monster movie after all, if you’re going to get something right, it might as well be the monster story.

When you come right down to it, THE RIG plays like a 1950s B movie, and for those of us who love monster movies, this isn’t a bad thing.

THE RIG offers some good old-fashioned monster movie fun, which as long as you’re not expecting anything new, provides a decent enough diversion for 90 minutes to make it worthwhile.

I give it two and a half knives.

—END—

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda

Michael Arruda gives THE RIG ~ two and a half knives!

The Distracted Critic Enters THE TUNNEL (2011)

Posted in 2013, Australian Horror, Faux Documentaries, Horror, Indie Horror, Paul McMahon Columns, Suspense, The Distracted Critic with tags , , , , , , , on February 26, 2013 by knifefighter

THE TUNNEL (2011)
Review by Paul McMahon – The Distracted Critic

The Tunnel

THE TUNNEL is an Australian film written by Enzo Tedeschi and Julian Harvey, who have stepped beyond the “found The ” angle by concocting a faux documentary complete with interviews and enhanced screen shots, which reveal images the original crew didn’t realize they’d caught. They’ve crafted a decent story, giving their characters the kind of solid motivations that are rarely found in Hollywood releases. Another way it differs from Hollywood films is that they cast age-appropriate actors who you can believe hold the jobs of their characters, rather than casting pretty-looking twenty-somethings obviously too immature and inexperienced to hold the jobs they portray.

The movie opens with a spin on the “Sleight of Hand Start” (which is when the director reveals a scene from the ending to create tension right off the bat)—a 911 call, complete with subtitles, on a black screen. It tells us very little while it conveys panic and desperation. It’s a popular opening sequence for many documentaries, so it didn’t feel out of place here.

Next, we get a montage of news reports detailing a water shortage in Sydney. The reports cover a government plan to convert an abandoned subway station into a water reclamation facility. This will allow the use of water from a huge underground lake deep beneath the train tunnels. Further reports outline opposition to the plan, including worries that the evicted homeless will flood the streets. Finally, there’s a dismissive report that the plan has been shelved, though no one will explain why.

Now we meet Steve and Tangles, having drinks at their executive producer’s birthday party. Someone is filming the festivities for the hell of it, and Steve is happy to narrate the inter-office politics, while making fun of everyone the camera pans across. We see Pete and Natalie in an intense discussion, and Steve insinuates that Pete is hitting on her. When Natalie moves away warily, Steve and Tangles laugh.

In an interview segment, Steve describes Natalie as: “Just another young person coming in, getting paid too much money, hadn’t really proved herself, but you know, she was ‘the next big thing.'”

Natalie latches onto the abandoned water reclamation project, and when her investigation uncovers stories of people disappearing in the tunnels, Pete is yanked from a story that will take him to China so he can help Nat with her project. It’s a decision that Pete is painfully unhappy with.  He tells Steve and Tangles that Natalie’s: “…treading on thin ice. That’s why John put me onto this, to make sure she doesn’t f___ up again.”

Eventually, Natalie coerces Pete, Steve and Tangles to accompany her into the tunnels, insisting that John knows where they are. They break in through a maintenance gate and wander about using an outdated map. In an interview segment, Natalie confesses that she could not get the necessary permits to film in the tunnel, and she believed that without them the station would cancel her story. “…I put a lot of work into my career and I think it was all basically hanging on this one story. I didn’t really have a choice.”

Eventually, the team makes their way to the underground lake. Here, Natalie tries to record a sequence for her report, but Tangles keeps cutting her off to tell Pete and Steve to quit whispering. They deny doing it, but Tangles doesn’t believe them and accuses them of “punking” him.

Later on they find the “Bell Room,” where we learn that the tunnels were used as a public air raid shelter during WWII. The bell used to alert citizens to a bombing raid is still intact. Tangles complains that it’s too loud when Nat rings the bell, so he takes his microphones into the next room to try and dull the sound. Steve dons Tangles’ headphones and watches the gauges while Pete takes over the camera. The instant Nat rings the bell, Steve screams Tangles’ name and runs into the next room. Tangles has disappeared. They return to the bell room and discover their gear has disappeared as well….

They do manage to locate Tangles' flashlight, however.

They do manage to locate Tangles’ flashlight, however.

Director Carlo Ledesma has experience with real documentaries, having directed both FOOD MATTERS [2008] and HUNGRY FOR CHANGE [2012]. With THE TUNNEL, he has put together a “horror documentary” with a true-to-life feel. We see reporters like this all the time in real life, self-important gung-ho types who believe that their cameras and microphones will magically protect them from danger and keep them separate from anything that happens around them.

The acting is very good. Bel Deliá (THE LOVE OF MY LIFE, scheduled for 2014– I’ll be looking for it), as Natalie, conveys the desperation of someone on a last chance to save her job while trying to conceal her own self-doubt. She is believable throughout. Andy Rodoreda (BLACK WATER, 2007) plays Pete, who is increasingly relied upon to lead the group as Natalie’s composure begins to fracture. Steve Davis (the Australian TV series EVENT ZERO, 2012) plays Steve, the cameraman. It was a surprise to learn that his primary filmmaking experience is with cinematography and camera work, because his acting was fantastic.

Steve Davis plays Steve, a surprisingly good actor for a cameraman.

Steve Davis plays Steve, a surprisingly good actor for a cameraman.

Lastly, Luke Arnold (BROKEN HILL, 2009 and a lot of TV work down under) is excellent as Tangles, who, wearing the sound man’s headphones, gives most of the early tension to the film. There are a handful of moments when Steve focuses on him staring intently into the blackness as if he expects to see someone or something out there.

THE TUNNEL has some frightening moments and above-average suspense, though it does contains one eye-rolling sequence where you have to question the director’s judgement. (It involves the re-appearance of a minor character in a place he has no business being.)

In the end, the documentary format is not a new idea. It was used in the Australian film LAKE MUNGO in 2008, and there have undoubtedly been others. THE TUNNEL is more reminiscent of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999), the Spanish film [REC] (2007), and even CLOVERFIELD (2008). While it differs from these movies by coming at you like a legitimate documentary instead of a VHS cassette filmed by dead people, you don’t walk away from the movie feeling that difference on any meaningful level. It comes off, all told, like another entry into the ‘found footage’ pantheon. A good entry, but still.

I give THE TUNNEL two and a half stars with a single time out.

© Copyright 2013 by Paul McMahon

The-Tunnel-Movie-Poster

DARK SKIES (2013)

Posted in 2013, Aliens, Cinema Knife Fights, Conspiracy Theories, Enigmatic Films, Medical Experiments!, Paranormal, Scares!, UFOs with tags , , , , , , , on February 25, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: DARK SKIES (2013)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

dark_skies_0

(THE SCENE: The back yard of a small, unassuming house in the middle of a suburban neighborhood. MICHAEL ARRUDA is standing in front of a grill, with an apron that says “Kiss the Chef!” He is flipping burgers, while L.L. SOARES is drinking a beer and talking to some of the guys. We realize they are the only two humans at the cookout, as the rest of the guests are tall, gray alien beings. Oh yeah, and it’s the middle of winter, and there’s snow on the ground.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA (his teeth chattering): This cookout idea really seems to be a success.

L.L. SOARES: I hardly notice the snow at all.

MA: And there’s another big storm coming.

LS: When is winter going to be over already?

ALIEN 1: Hi guys, we’re having a lot of fun. Can I have another hot dog?

MA: Sure! (puts a hot dog in a bun and hands the paper plate to the alien). Here you go.

LS: So I guess we should get started on the review?

MA: I need to get more burgers to cook, and throw on another winter coat. Can you start this one?

LS: Sure.

(MA goes back into the house. LS looks around at all the creepy aliens, who have suddenly turned in his direction)

LS: The movie this week is DARK SKIES.

ALIEN 1: I was wondering if that was any good.

ALIEN 2: Yeah, my kids really want to see that one. How was it?

ALIEN 1: Yeah, tell us more.

LS: Well, this one is brought to us by some of the same producers who gave us the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies and INSIDIOUS (2010), so right off the bat, you can kind of tell what you’re in for. Yet another movie where people in suburbia are tormented by unseen forces. Except this time, instead of the house being haunted by ghosts or demons, the creatures involved are…aliens from outer space!

(ALIENS hoot and holler, pumping their fists in the air)

MA (returns from house and puts more burgers on the grill.): And that’s one of the bigger drawbacks of this one, that we’ve seen this all before The style of filmmaking, quiet scenes in a dark house in the middle of the night, where the audience is just waiting for something unexpected or creepy to happen, is already getting old and repetitive.

LS: The family this time around consists of dad Daniel Barrett (Josh Hamilton, who was previously in the TV series THIRD WATCH and was in Clint Eastwood’s film, J. EDGAR, 2011), an architect who has been out of work for a while, and the pressure is starting to build. He’s gone on a few job interviews, but hasn’t had any luck so far, and the bills keep coming in (but he hides them from his wife). His wife, Lacy (Keri Russell, who most people will remember from the TV series FELICITY, from 1998 to 2002, which pretty much made her a star, and she’s currently on the new and interesting Cold War drama THE AMERICANS on the FX Channel, where’s she’s been really good), is a real estate agent. She tries to remain cheery and supportive throughout this crisis. They have two kids, Jesse (Dakota Goyo), who is 13, feels completely misunderstood, and is discovering girls, and Sam (Kadan Rockett), who is half his brother’s age, and very sensitive to everything going on around him.

MA: Dakota Goyo is the same kid that was in REAL STEEL (2011), the silly robot movie starring Hugh Jackman, which played like ROCKY meets the TRANSFORMERS.

LS: I thought he looked familiar! But I seriously didn’t remember him from REAL STEEL while I was watching DARK SKIES, which might be a good thing, because I thought Goyo played it wincingly, overly cute in that one. Nice to see him turn in a more low-key, believable performance here. Maybe the kid is actually growing as an actor.

Anyway, when things start getting weird, it’s Lacy who finds the signs. First, when she wakes up in the middle of the night to find the kitchen a mess, food strewn all over the floor.

(MA looks down at the ground to see discarded burgers, hot dogs, paper plates, and napkins all over the place.)

MA:  It’s easy to see how that happened.   I guess these gray aliens never heard of garbage cans.

Dark-Skies

LS: A few nights later, she wakes up, goes downstairs, and finds the kitchen in some kind of “ritualistic” state, with all of the appliances and other objects stacked in huge, intricate columns, forming geometric shadows on the ceiling. It appears that someone is breaking into their house late at night to do these things.

They try several different ways to solve what’s happening. First, they call the police, but the cop (Josh Stamberg) who arrives seems dead set on the idea that the kids must be behind it, acting out any “issues” they might have with their parents. He suggests they reactivate their burglar alarm (which they let lapse, due to the bills), and they do, but it just adds to the confusion, going off at all hours of the night, with no clear reason. Daniel eventually installs some video cameras throughout the house. And that’s when the movie really gets into PARANORMAL ACTVITY mode. Every day he checks the film, and he starts noticing that certain times at night, around 3:00AM to be exact, the cameras start to malfunction for a few minutes. He’s finally able to get some kind of handle on what’s going on, and it looks like someone might be getting into the house (although the images are blurry and hard to decipher).

MA: I had to laugh during these scenes because he camps out in front of the computer monitor to watch the footage.  Why? He falls asleep anyway and plays back the footage in the morning Why not just go to bed? Why does he have to sit in front of the computer? It’s not like he’s standing guard.

LS: You’re right! It’s just an excuse for him to sit there, in front of a bank of video screens, all night. What’s the point, when he falls asleep anyway?

But there are other manifestations as well. Members of the family are found in weird trances. They have blackouts where they don’t know what happened for large chunks of time. The kids have weird bruises on their bodies (which other people assume the parents are responsible for). Birds fly into the windows of their house, killing themselves for no apparent reason. Lacy does some research online and they find a supposed expert on the subject, Edwin Pollard (J.K. Simmons who was so great as Schillinger on the HBO series OZ, and has since appeared in tons of things, most notably as J. Jonah Jameson in the Sam Raimi SPIDER-MAN movies). Pollard tells them he knows exactly what they’re going through, because it happened to him as well….

For some inexplicable reason, aliens have randomly chosen them, and they are making their lives a living hell. The Barrett family decides to take matters into their own hands and fight back.

ALIEN 1: Tell us that the aliens win!

ALIEN 2: Yeah, I bet we kick those humans’ butts!

(ALIENS shout and pump their fists again)

LS: While DARK SKIES did seem to follow a similar pattern to the multiple “ghost/demon in the house” kinds of movies we’ve been seeing lately, it was still pretty engrossing, and the pacing for this one is pretty good.

MA (laughing): I often wonder if we see the same movies some times. While I generally enjoyed this movie, I didn’t enjoy the pacing. I thought it dragged towards the end, when it should have been building up steam towards an exciting conclusion I thought the ending was blah.

LS: I didn’t think the ending was that bad. DARK SKIES grabs you pretty early on and you’re in suspense throughout, wondering what is going to happen next.

MA: I was interested throughout, but I didn’t find it all that suspenseful. I rarely felt on the edge of my seat.

LS: Director Scott Stewart, who also wrote the screenplay, was also responsible for the movies LEGION (2009), which I thought had an interesting idea, but which kind of fell apart as it went along; and PRIEST (2011), which seemed like just another UNDERWORLD rehash, and which I didn’t like at all; two films I really didn’t enjoy all that much. Stewart acquits himself nicely in DARK SKIES. I thought this one was a big improvement.

MA: I’ll agree with you there. I liked DARK SKIES better than LEGION and PRIEST.

LS: The family is fleshed out nicely. Because of the tensions within the family, mostly due to unemployment, I was able to sympathize with them right away, and grow to care about what happens to them.

MA: I’ll agree with you here, too. I thought the family was fleshed out nicely too, and I definitely bought into their tensions over money and over the dad being out of work. I loved the brief scene where his job interview goes sour. You can just see the pain in his face.

LS: I think most people these days can relate.

MA: The set up to this story works, because as you said, you find yourself caring for these people.

LS: I’ve always been a fan of Keri Russell (she was also great in a little indie movie called WAITRESS, 2007), and it was great to see her in a movie again (while it feels like she dropped off the map for a while after FELICITY was canceled, IMBD.com shows that she’s been working pretty steadily since, mostly in smaller roles, but it’s nice to have her back as a lead.

MA: Yep, Russell is very good here.

Dark-skies-a23426534

LS: The kids are believable as well, and while Kadan Rockett as Sam was bit too “cutesy” for my tastes, with his lisp and big eyes, I thought Dakota Goyo was really good as teenager Jesse. In this kind of the movies, the casting of the kids is very important, and for the most part, it works here.

The script progression is believable. The family takes an understandable amount of time to come to grips with what they are dealing with (something most people would have a hard time believing for a while, before finally breaking down). There’s some good suspense. I also liked the score by Joseph Bishara, who was recently interviewed in Barry Dejasu’s SCORING HORROR column.

MA:  Yes, there were some scary bits in the soundtrack, a low undercurrent of menacing notes in just the right places.

LS:  And the acting by everyone involved, including those who play friends and neighbors, is pretty good.

MA: I dunno. That’s one problem I had with the story. I thought the dad took forever to buy into what was going on. There’s one key scene where he and his wife are arguing about it, and she’s telling him what she believes, and he tells her he refuses to go there, because the idea that aliens are involved is crazy, and I was just waiting for her to ask him the obvious question: if not aliens, what? What’s your take on all this? And of course, she doesn’t ask.

I also found the scenes with the police officer frustrating. He tells them it’s their kids, and again, I was waiting for some obvious questions, like after the scene where all their photographs disappear, and the officer again blames their kids. The frames are all still in perfect order, none of them askew, none of them looking as if they’ve even been touched- what kid is that particular when removing pictures? Wouldn’t you expect some of them to be moved this way or that, or knocked over? I just expected the parents to push a little harder with their concerns. I mean, there’s some pretty freakish stuff going on, and they let a police officer tell them it’s just their kids. I didn’t buy it.

LS: There are some good creepy moments here. And we really feel what this family is up against. Even when they get a guard dog and some guns, determined to defend their home, we know it’s not going to be an easy fight.

I give DARK SKIES, three knives. What did you think of it, Michael?

(ALIENS cheer)

ALIEN 1: Well, you could have given it a better score, but glad you didn’t trash it.

ALIEN 2: I was a creative consultant on this one!

MA: I liked it slightly less than you. In terms of characterization and set up, it worked for me. I was definitely on board with these folks.

But that’s about it. I didn’t find this one that creepy or suspenseful at all. I think part of it is what I said at the beginning of the column, that this style of filmmaking is already becoming repetitive. It didn’t do anything with the material I hadn’t seen before. To me, it played like PARANORMAL ACTIVITY “lite.”

That’s not to say I didn’t find a lot of what was going on interesting, because I did. There’s a lot going on in this story, and most of it I liked. The strange goings on at night, the birds flying into the house, the weird behaviors and marks on the family’s bodies, all of it caught my attention and held my interest. It just didn’t blow me away, mostly because it never really jumped to the next level, where I was on the edge of my seat or truly scared.

And I thought the ending was kind of dumb, the whole bit where they’re going to defend their family against the aliens, so they buy a gun, a dog, and board up their home. Who does that?

LS: How about people who are being hounded by aliens!

But really, the neighbors must think they’re bonkers!

MA:  I thought they were bonkers at this point!

LS:  Which makes me wonder about something. These people are not living in the middle of nowhere. They live in a densely populated neighborhood. Yet no one else sees these aliens attacking their house? You’d think someone would be curious about what’s going on over there, or someone would at least have insomnia and look at their house late at night. All these crazy things are happening to them, inside and outside their house, and NO ONE ELSE NOTICES?

MA: Especially after that bird scene.  I mean, it’s like a scene out of THE BIRDS (1963), and there are bird carcasses all over the place, and yet, we never see any neighbors come over and ask what’s going on or even offer words of concern or support!  What a tough neighborhood!

LS: Yeah, the neighbors only seem interested when the hazmat crew comes to collect the carcasses. They don’t even seem to be aware towards the end when aliens force their way into the house and shotguns start firing.

It’s kind of laughable, if you think about it too much. Somehow, despite this, I still enjoyed the movie.

MA: It just didn’t ring true to me.  And getting back to my point about the ending, this family has already seen what the aliens can do, and they think a gun is going to make a difference? A dog? I half expected a dark ending where their efforts would backfire and they would inadvertently hurt each other, but DARK SKIES, in spite of its title, isn’t that dark.

And could J.K. Simmons’s alien expert Edwin Pollard have been any more relaxed? He nearly put me to sleep! It’s one of the most important scenes in the movie, when they finally seek out the help of an expert, and Pollard speaks to them in such a soothing laid back voice I felt my eyelids drooping.

LS: I thought he played a guy who was just tired of fighting all the time. Someone who was weary and defeated and felt like there wasn’t a lot he could do anymore. I liked Simmons here.

MA: Don’t get me wrong.  I always like Simmons, but in this case he’s in his tiny low lit apartment sipping tea, I half expected him to start singing a lullaby.

And his help was about as effective as putting a band aid on a bullet wound!  “Aliens are studying you. Beware!” Whatever, dude. I mean, he doesn’t even offer to go to their house with them.

DARK SKIES grabbed me on an intellectual level, but it didn’t win me over on an emotional level. While I was interested throughout, I never felt all that into it. I felt like I was watching a drama about alien possession, not a thriller.

Maybe this one will play on Lifetime. I’m joking. It has more teeth than that, but barely.

I give it two and a half knives.

ALIENS: BOOOO!

MA: Quit complaining!  Two and a half knives is not much different from the rating LL gave it!

ALIEN 1: You clearly didn’t like it. You’re a jerk.

MA: I come out here in the middle of winter and cook you all up some burgers and hot dogs, and you call me a jerk?

ALIEN 2: Jerky jerk!

(The rest of the aliens start chanting “Jerky jerk” over and over)

MA: SHUT UP! That’s it. We’re done here And now that the aliens have had their fill of burgers and hot dogs, maybe we can finally eat something.

LS: Good luck with that There’s nothing left.

MA: Yeah, it’s all over the yard (turning to aliens) What’s up with you folks? Don’t you know how to eat?

ALIEN 1: Oh, we don’t eat burgers and hot dogs We just like to throw them around.

ALIEN 2: Yeah, for us, food is like toys.

ALIEN 1: Look I made a replica of the Death Star from STAR WARS out of buns!

ALIEN 2: Cool!

MA: Thanks for telling us! What a waste of food!

ALIEN 2: But it’s so much fun!

ALIEN 1: And you know what’s even more fun than throwing food around? Stomping on it!

(Aliens jump and down, stomping, hooting, and howling, as MA & LS walk away shaking their heads.)

—END—

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda & L.L Soares

Michael Arruda gives DARK SKIES ~ two and a half knives!

LL Soares gives DARK SKIES ~three knives.

Film Book Review: HOUSE OF PSYCHOTIC WOMEN by Kier-La Janisse

Posted in 2013, Book Review, Books About Movies, Cult Movies, Film History, Horror, Nick Cato Reviews, Women in Horror with tags , , , , , , , on February 24, 2013 by knifefighter

HOUSE OF PSYCHOTIC WOMEN: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL TOPOGRAPHY OF FEMALE NEUROSIS IN HORROR AND EXPLOITATION FILMS by Kier-La Janisse (2012 Fab Press / 360 pp / tp and limited edition hc)
Book Review by Nick Cato

HouseofPsyWomen

I usually devour film books quickly. There’s just something about them that makes me want to read, to learn, to study films I’ve both seen and have on my viewing agenda. But when I cracked open this beautiful trade edition of HOUSE OF PSYCHOTIC WOMEN, I was a bit annoyed at how small the font was, and figured I’d have to take things slow as not to develop migraines. But by the time I finished the second chapter, the author had me completely captivated and I ended up getting through this lengthy volume in a only a few neurotic sittings.

The first section of the book is part autobiography, part intense film study, focusing on features with female characters who are either losing their minds or going through some form of psychological struggle. Author Kier-La Janisse relates a certain film to events in her own life, much of which happened during her teen and pre-teen years. Janisse’s look at director Andrezj Zulawski’s 1981 POSSESSION is the highlight here as she sheds some much-needed light on this often dismissed and overlooked film. She tackles each film from a seriously unique angle, and despite the dark nature of most of them (1977’s MAN, WOMAN, AND BEAST is one I had never heard of but am now on a hunt for), we’re left with a respect for some films we may not have thought too much about upon our initial viewing; I now have a whole new view on Abel Ferrara’s rape/revenge film MS. 45, which I originally saw as part of a double feature and wrote off as just another cheap thrill. It truly is much more.

We’re then treated to over 30 pages of gore-geous rare film ads and posters. Fab Press should take a bow for how attractive this tome is (but again, I’d gladly have paid another ten or twenty bucks for some more pages and a larger font).

HOUSE concludes with almost 150 pages of Janisse’s scholarly film reviews, with capsule reviews of films covered in the first section and extended ones here. Of note are great looks at 2010’s WOUND, 2001’s TROUBLE EVERY DAY, 1971’s SLAUGHTER HOTEL (finally someone who agrees with me on this stinker), and a wonderful mini-expose of Mario Bava’s SHOCK (1977). I was particularly happy with the wide-range of films covered, from mainstream and underground horror to rape/revenge, to arthouse, and even TV movies. The author has collected a vast array of genres and never once falls away from the book’s theme (no small feat considering it took her ten years to complete this).

Regardless that it’s part memoir, HOUSE OF PSYCHOTIC WOMEN deserves a place on the shelf of any serious film fan. It’s a volume anyone can learn from, and it also works well as a reference guide. I’ll surely be going back to it many times, and already have a list of almost a dozen films I need to see … PRONTO. This is fantastic, well written material from a fresh voice.

© Copyright 2013 by Nick Cato

Quick Cuts: Fun With the Oscars

Posted in 2013, Best Of Lists, Oscar-Worthy, Quick Cuts, Special Columns with tags , , , , , , , , on February 23, 2013 by knifefighter

QUICK CUTS:  Fun with the Oscars
With Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  It’s Academy Awards time.  I thought we’d have some fun and do our own Cinema Knife Fight version of the Oscars, picking from familiar Academy Award categories, but staying within specific genres.

Here’s my take on the Best of 2012 Horror movies and the Best of 2012 Action movies:

CabinintheWoods.jpg

Best of HORROR movies 2012:

-Best Supporting Actress- Alice Eve, THE RAVEN

-Best Supporting Actor- Richard Jenkins, CABIN IN THE WOODS

-Best Actor- Ethan Hawke, SINISTER

-Best Actress –Kathryn Newton, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4

-Best Screenplay- Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard, CABIN IN THE WOODS

-Best Director- Timur Bekmambetov, ABRAHAM LINCOLN:  VAMPIRE HUNTER

-Best Picture – CABIN IN THE WOODS

 *****

TheAvengers.jpg

Best of ACTION movies 2012:

-Best Supporting Actress-Kate Beckinsale, CONTRABAND

-Best Supporting Actor- Leonardo DiCaprio, DJANGO UNCHAINED

-Best Actor – Tom Cruise, JACK REACHER

-Best Actress- Scarlett Johansson, THE AVENGERS

-Best Screenplay- Joss Whedon, THE AVENGERS

-Best Director- Quentin Tarantino, DJANGO UNCHAINED

-Best Picture- THE AVENGERS

*****

L.L. SOARES: And I’ve decided to do three list, for Horror, Action/Drama and Science Fiction.

Kill-list-poster

Best of HORROR movies 2012:

-Best Supporting Actress- Hannah Fierman, V/H/S (segment “Amateur Night”)

-Best Supporting Actor- Fran Kranz, CABIN IN THE WOODS

-Best Actor- Neil Maskell, KILL LIST/Ethan Hawke, SINISTER (tie)

-Best Actress –Sarah Bolger, THE MOTH DIARIES

-Best Screenplay- Amy Jump and Bean Wheatley, KILL LIST

-Best Director- Ben Wheatley, KILL LIST

-Best Picture –KILL LIST

 ****

Django-unchained-131112

Best of ACTION movies 2012:

Is  DJANGO UNCHAINED really an action movie? If so:

-Best Supporting Actress-Salma Hayek, SAVAGES

-Best Supporting Actor- Leonardo DiCaprio/Samuel L. Jackson (tie) DJANGO UNCHAINED

-Best Actor – Christoph Waltz/Jamie Foxx (tie) DJANGO UNCHAINED

-Best Actress- Anne Hathaway, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES

-Best Screenplay- Quentin Tarantino, DJANGO UNCHAINED

-Best Director- Quentin Tarantino, DJANGO UNCHAINED

-Best Picture- DJANGO UNCHAINED

-Best Fight Choreography – THE RAID

*****

John Carter

Best of SCIENCE FICTION movies of 2012:

-Best Supporting Actress- Emily Blunt, LOOPER/ Charlize Theron, PROMETHEUS (tie)

-Best Supporting Actor- Pierce Gagnon, LOOPER

-Best Actor – Taylor Kitsch, JOHN CARTER

-Best Actress-Noomi Rapace, PROMETHEUS

-Best Screenplay- Andrew Stanton, Mark Andrews and Michael Chabon, JOHN CARTER /Rian Johnson, LOOPER (tie)

-Best Director- Andrew Stanton, JOHN CARTER

-Best Picture- JOHN CARTER

*****

ARRUDA:    Have fun this weekend watching the real thing!  Thanks for joining us!

—END—

Screaming Streaming Hires THE COURIER (2012)

Posted in 2013, Action Movies, Crime Films, Gangsters!, Killers, Michael Arruda Reviews, Screaming Streaming with tags , , , , , on February 22, 2013 by knifefighter

SCREAMING STREAMING!
Streaming Video Movie Review:  THE COURIER (2012)
By Michael Arruda

The Courier poster

I decided to check out the action thriller THE COURIER (2012), now available on streaming video, because it starred Jeffrey Dean Morgan, an actor whose performances I’ve enjoyed of late in such films as WATCHMEN (2009) and THE POSSESSION (2012).

Well, the first thing I’ll tell you right now is I enjoyed Morgan much better in WATCHMEN and THE POSSESSION than in THE COURIER.   Sadly, his performance in this one is uninspiring.  And that’s just the beginning of what’s wrong with this clinker.

The movie starts off well.  In fact, its best scene and most memorable image might be its opening one.  It opens at an abandoned (or, at the very least, closed) amusement park, with two thugs holding a woman hostage at the top of a roller coaster track.  The Courier (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) races through the park to reach her, climbing all the way to the top of the tracks to hand deliver the package of money to the thugs for her release.  He makes it in time, but not before the kidnappers push her off the top track, but the Courier leaps to her rescue (I guess he doesn’t get paid unless the victim is returned safely) and somehow, miraculously, manages to grab onto the line tied to her and pull her to safety.

No, this Courier doesn’t work for UPS.   He’s self-employed, a man hired to find people and to deliver ransom packages.  Nice job.  You wouldn’t think he’d be all that busy, though.  How many ransom packages need to be delivered on a regular basis?

But, because he’s the best there is (of course), the Courier is sought out by a man (Til Schweiger), who forces him to find a mysterious person named Evil Sivle.  If not, this man and the people he works for will kill the daughter and grandchild of the Courier’s best friend, Stitch (Mark Margolis).

The Courier searches New Orleans for Evil Sivle with the help of a young woman Anna (Josie Ho), a friend of Stitch’s, who it seems Stitch would like to set up romantically with the Courier.  Nice matchmaker.  Why don’t the two of you go to New Orleans on the trail of a bloodthirsty killer and go out for a couple of drinks afterwards, it might be the start of a beautiful relationship.

It seems, however, according to the information that the Courier uncovers, that Evil Sivle is dead, but that doesn’t stop a guy named Maxwell (Mickey Rourke) from trying to kill the Courier.  Why?  It’s all part of the mystery, I guess.

The Courier is eventually captured and tortured by a pair of married assassins, Mr. Capo (Miguel Ferrer) and Mrs. Capo (Lili Taylor).  But being the best there is, the Courier escapes from their clutches to continue his quest to find Evil Sivle.

To confuse matters even more, it turns out that the man who forced the Courier to take this job is really an FBI agent.  It seems the FBI are the ones who want Evil Sivle found.  Why?  I wish I could tell you.

In the end, the Courier proves he’s the best by finding the reclusive Evil Sivle, whose identity is revealed in one of the more ridiculous plot twists I’ve seen in a long time.

Hands down, the biggest problem I have with THE COURIER is its story stinks.  It plays like a movie that started with a clever concept—a courier who gets involved with a seedy underworld full of undesirables—but couldn’t come up with a decent storyline that made any sense.  And that’s the bottom line with this one, folks.  It doesn’t make sense.

The Courier is forced to take this job, and it’s questionable why he would accept the job when the threat— we’ll abduct your best friend’s daughter and her child—hasn’t even happened yet.  I just didn’t buy the plot point that a guy like the Courier would simply roll over and do what these guys wanted.  He would have fought back.  He accepts their terms way too easily.

Then there’s Evil Sivle.  Nice name, but just who the hell is he?  Why is he so sought after?  The film never really makes its case that this guy is a legendary villain, someone the FBI would kill for just to find.

Other characters aren’t fleshed out either.  The FBI agent who coerces the Courier in the first place disappears half way through the film.  And Maxwell, played by Mickey Rourke in a wasted role, shows up so fleetingly that his presence in the movie is nothing more than an afterthought.

And the final plot twist is embarrassingly bad.  Screenwriters Pete Dris and Brannon Coombs should have gone back to the shop with this one for a long time before calling it a final product.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan, so memorable as the Comedian in WATCHMEN doesn’t impress here as the Courier.  Perhaps for his next role he’ll consider a character whose name doesn’t begin with “the.”  His performance as the Courier simply lacks the necessary intensity needed for the character.  I didn’t really buy him in this role.  He seemed too clunky to be the efficient swift-footed Courier.

Mickey Rourke is on screen so briefly as Maxwell I almost forgot he was in the movie.  I did enjoy Miguel Ferrer and Lili Taylor as Mr. and Mrs. Capo, the torture couple, but they’re not in the movie much either.  The other actor who stood out was Mark Margolis as Stitch.  Margolis has been in a lot of movies and TV shows and always adds a sense of realism to the proceedings. His Stitch was a convincing guy in a movie full of unconvincing characters and plot points.

COURIER01

THE COURIER does have some interesting ideas and some curious characters, but they’re never developed to any degree of satisfaction.

Director Hany Abu-Assad seems to have handled this one with an eye on something else.  It’s as if he were driving while texting or something.  The action scenes, fight scenes, shoot- out scenes, all seemed rushed.  None of it comes off as convincing because there isn’t much attention given to detail here.  In fact, there’s something rushed about this whole production, including the script.  Perhaps they were trying to make a same-day delivery.

Anyway, THE COURIER is a disappointing thriller that is too muddled to be effective.  It’s about as intense as a trip to the post office.

It gets one knife.

—END—

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda

Michael Arruda gives THE COURIER ~ one knife!