Archive for the Distracted Critic Category

The Distracted Critic: SCARCE (2008)

Posted in 2013, Cannibalism, Cannibals, Distracted Critic, Horror, Paul McMahon Columns with tags , , , on July 24, 2013 by knifefighter

SCARCE (2008)
A review by Paul McMahon– the Distracted Critic

S-POSTERSCARCE (2008) was written by Jesse T. Cook, who brought us MONSTER BRAWL in 2011, and John Geddes, who brought us EXIT HUMANITY, which I reviewed a few weeks ago. SCARCE has been in my queue for a while, and I had no idea the brains behind EXIT HUMANITY had such a big hand in this one. It looked like a cool “chased by monsters through the snowy woods” movie, and I’m always good for a monster movie. Turns out, though, that SCARCE is a story about cannibal rednecks. It’s written by-the-numbers, incorporating all the “cannibal redneck rules” during its running time.

“How will anyone find you when you have been eaten?” asks the tagline, and it seems like there’s a pretty straightforward answer to that if you’re not too… rhypophobic. Rule Eight: Cannibal rednecks love referring to their own poop.

The first thing we see in this movie is a naked bloodied man running through the woods. It catches our attention right quick. Within a few moments, he runs out of sight and screams, and we know he came to a bad end. Rule Thirteen: With cannibal rednecks, everyone comes to a bad end.

Next up, we meet three snowboarding buddies. (Aside: They’re in their cabin watching a horror movie called EXIT HUMANITY. One of them shuts it off and says “Who watches this shit?” To which I am forced to respond: “Me. Me is who watches this shit.”) The buddies go to a party where they indulge in gallons of alcohol and pages of stilted dialogue. The next morning they leave Colorado to drive home to New Jersey. They are forced off the interstate in Pennsylvania due to a snowstorm. A greasy fat guy in a huge neck brace gives them directions back to the highway. Rule One: One Cannibal redneck always waits a few miles from the property to give the lost and confused bogus directions.

Trevor, Dustin and Owen are the secret ingredients in SCARCE.

Trevor, Dustin and Owen are the secret ingredients in SCARCE.

In no time the three friends get lost and crash. Trevor suffers a compound fracture of the shin that tears his jeans. Owen and Dustin leave him and walk for help. They see a cabin up on a hill and veer toward the front door. When no one answers, they walk around the house. Dustin gets interested in all the weird redneck paraphernalia in the back yard, while Owen is surprised that the back door of the house is open. Predictably, they walk inside. Rule Three: The cannibal redneck diet consists of idiots who make idiotic decisions.

The owner of the house finds them inside, but– surprise, surprise– he’s a nice guy and drives them back to the wreck, where they find that Trevor is gone. Ivan thinks it was Wade, who’s “always been the helping kind.” With no other options, Dustin and Owen agree to spend the night with Ivan, who will drive them to town in the morning, after the storm runs its course. Rule Six: Cannibal rednecks can be nice, until it’s time to not be nice.

Ivan has only meat for supper, and offers them some. Dustin is a vegetarian, but he tries some so he doesn’t offend Ivan. Rule Seven: Cannibal rednecks will always feed your friends to you.

The next morning, Owen wakes alone. He starts to panic, but then Dustin shows up with Ivan and a list of chores. The snow has tapered off, but Ivan insists they can’t leave because the storm isn’t finished. Dustin wants to help Ivan out instead of sitting around worrying. Owen wanders off to search for cell phone reception. Rule Four: Cannibal rednecks always live where there’s no cell service.

Owen returns from his fruitless trek to find the cabin empty. He wanders upstairs and finds a cassette tape of the blizzard report they’ve been hearing. Then someone in a huge black mask is behind him. Rule Eleven: Cannibal rednecks wear masks to look scary.

Ivan and Wade play their own version of Iron Chef in SCARCE.

Ivan and Wade play their own version of Iron Chef in SCARCE.

Owen wakes bound and gagged in a dark cellar next to Dustin and in plain view of Trevor, who’s being held upright in a medieval crow’s cage. Owen now has time to ponder more of the cannibal redneck rules, such as:

  • Rule Five: Cannibal rednecks have unsettling facial deformities
  • Rule Nine: Cannibal rednecks are constantly sharpening meat cleavers
  • Rule Two: Cannibal rednecks have already eaten their wives and daughters
  • Rule Twelve: Cannibal rednecks will set their victims free and hunt them down because it makes them “taste better”
  • And we can’t forget Rule Ten: Cannibal rednecks lack table manners, chew with their mouths open, and never, under any circumstances, use napkins.

Aside from acting and directing, Jesse T. Cook plays Trevor and John Geddes plays Owen. Most of the other actors have only this movie on their resumes, except for Steve Warren, who plays Ivan. You might have seen him in 2007’s THE SIGNAL.

It doesn’t take long for this movie to fall apart completely. There are lapses of logic that would make even Ed Wood Jr. contemplate a re-shoot. The holes of ridicule include people running through three feet of snow on various leg injuries (yes, even a compound fracture), a job two men can barely succeed at is later accomplished six-times-over by one man who’s too fat to put his own socks on, and there are a handful of injuries that were apparently applied with disappearing/ reappearing latex. There was also a handgun that fired sixteen rounds (I went back and counted), but upon further research I learned that there is at least one handgun that can hold a sixteen-clip magazine. Whether the weapon in the movie was one of these, I can’t verify, but I suspect it’s possible since they listed Chris Warrilow, who had a role in the movie as a “gun wrangler,” in the credits.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t anything to make me want to recommend this picture. They got the sound of snow squeaking in sub-zero temperatures exactly right. They got the random scatter of lightweight snow whipping around exactly right, which is impressive because I think it was CGI’ed, since not a single flake ever landed on anyone’s black jacket.

As far as I’m concerned, this movie is strike two for John Geddes. His next film, HELLMOUTH, is based on Tony Burgess novel THE HELLMOUTHS OF BEWDLEY (Mr. Burgess also wrote PONTYPOOL CHANGES EVERYTHING, on which the movie PONTYPOOL, 2009 was based). I’ll check HELLMOUTH out when it’s released later this year.

For now, I am forced to give SCARCE half a star, with two time-outs.

© Copyright 2013 by Paul McMahon

The Distracted Critic: EXIT HUMANITY (2011)

Posted in 2013, Distracted Critic, Historical Horror, Horror, Paul McMahon Columns, Zombies with tags , , , , , on June 26, 2013 by knifefighter

EXIT HUMANITY (2011)
Review by Paul McMahon – The Distracted Critic

eh - drawnShow of hands—who’s sick and tired of zombie movies? I know, I know… most of you. I keep trying them, though, searching for that one that will re-energize and re-vitalize the genre and get them on a creative and exciting basis again. EXIT HUMANITY showed more promise than most, being tied in with the Civil War. Choosing that setting seemed like a bold decision, and the trailer’s clips of Confederate- and Union-attired zombies caught my interest. But like most trailers these days, those clips were misleading.

The movie opens with the voiceover of Malcom Young (Brian Cox, TRICK ‘R TREAT 2007, RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, 2011) who possesses “a sacred journal passed down through generations of my family, dating back to the American Civil War.” It’s a grim story, filled with drawings and writings that “recount a fateful tale of the living dead.” He’ll read it to us now. “As a warning.” Drawings appear on a blank page, a Confederate flag and an armed soldier, along with the words: Prologue The War. The whole thing is meant to demonstrate that they’re creating a literary-style movie, which makes it “important.”

The story opens with armed Confederates resting and somehow surprised by a contingent of Union soldiers tromping through brushy woods. During their battle, a bloodied Union soldier with a vacuous expression stumbles through the brush and falls on our hero, who screams and screams and wakes in a cabin covered with blood. The body of his wife is sprawled on the floor in front of him, a hole blasted in her head.

We learn that it is now six years after the war, and Edward Young has returned from a two-day hunting trip to find his wife a zombie and his son, Adam, missing. After mourning and burying his wife, he takes his aptly named horse Shiloh and goes off in search of Adam. As he heads out, you cannot help but think of his cabin as if it’s sitting at the center of a clock face. Edward leaves in a random direction in search of a boy who also presumably left in a random direction and has at least a two-day head start. With the help of Movie Magic, though, Edward comes across the boy in no time.

'"I have become a fury of death killing death," Edward Young says.

‘”I have become a fury of death killing death,” Edward Young says.

After burning his son’s body, he remembers a time when Adam watched him draw a waterfall. Adam asks where it is.  “It’s many miles from here,” Edward says. Adam makes him promise that someday they will travel together so he can see the waterfall firsthand. Now, Edward decides that this waterfall is where he’ll bring his son’s ashes before taking his own life.

Before long, Edward’s wanderings take him to town decorated with the spiked heads of zombies. As other zombies start to close in on him, he takes refuge in a church, where he meets another traveler. They are wary of each other, but soon the shared peril of encroaching zombies melds them in a grudging trust. That is, until the new traveler sucker-punches Edward, knocking him out. When Edward awakens, he is alone with this man, Isaac, who immediately gives Edward his stuff back and apologizes, replacing the tension created by his betrayal with confusion about what the hell the point was. Did Isaac get off on lugging his own stuff, Edward’s unconscious body, and all of Edward’s stuff to another room in the church? Why not just ask Edward to follow him? This was nothing more than a poor writing decision, which was then ignored in favor of Isaac asking Edward for help.

 '"I kill lots of men who are already dead," Isaac says.

‘”I kill lots of men who are already dead,” Isaac says.

“They” have taken his sister, Emma. With a little prodding, Edward learns that “They” is headed up by General Williams (Bill Moseley, THE DEVIL’S REJECTS, 2005 and DEAD AIR, 2009), who believes that someone in the area is immune to the bite of the undead. There is no explanation of why he thinks this (nor, as we learn later on, is there any way he could have even suspected it), but he believes that if he can find this immune person, then a cure to the plague can be fashioned by his good friend, Medic Johnson (Stephen McHattie, A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, 2005, PONTYPOOL, 2008). Edward hears all this information from Isaac, but still refuses to help. He’s got to bring his son to his final resting place and keep his date with a pistol, after all. It takes only a few schoolyard-level insults to his manhood before Edward screws up his face in an “I’ll-show-you-I’m-not-a-namby-pamby!” look and agrees to help.Right away, Edward is captured by General Williams’ regiment and thrown into a prison cell underground. Williams was a Confederate, which means he fought for the South, which means he lost– and yet here he is, six years later, still wandering the countryside with his men. The soldiers under Williams are taking one healthy prisoner a week and letting zombies bite them. If the victim turns into a zombie, he or she is thrown into the cage of zombies to bite the next victim. Isaac infiltrates this bunker and rescues Edward and Emma, thereby achieving alone what he insisted he had to have help to accomplish. As the three make their escape, Edward is shot. With no shelter and no place to hide, Emma leads them into the woods, reminding Isaac of the cabin deep in the darkest forest-—the cabin of the old lady they teased as children.

“But she’s a witch,” Isaac says.

They find the cabin and Emma knocks on the door. As Isaac tends to Edward, the cabin door opens, Emma is pulled inside, and the door slams shut again, leaving Isaac to panic and scream outside.

In between scenes, we are treated to more chapter headings and pencil drawings of zombie kills. This gives the movie a very calculated “quirkiness,” because “quirkiness” is far easier to achieve than writing something meaningful and haunting and relevant and thought-provoking. The makers of EXIT HUMANITY have put a quick wrap-up to Edward’s stereotypical “zombie-plot” of hunting for a missing loved one, switching instead to a poorly plotted man-versus-man tale with zombies in the background. This is the most significant decision they’ve made.

Newcomer Mark Gibson plays Edward Young. His work here is very good, hopefully enough to assure him more work down the line. Adam Seybold, another newcomer, plays Isaac. The poor guy is hamstringed by a character that was not thought out sufficiently. Dee Wallace plays Eve, the ‘witch.’ Dee is recognizable from decades of horror movies, from CUJO (1983) and THE FRIGHTENERS (1966) to THE LOST (2006)  and this year’s THE LORDS OF SALEM. Stephen McHattie, a fantastic actor who gave us one of the best horror performances of 2008 in PONTYPOOL, plays Medic Johnson. Why would they cast someone of his caliber and then give him nothing to do? He’s barely in the film at all, and when he is, he’s drunk and confused and apologizing to General Williams. Speaking of which, Bill Moseley plays the loony General, turning in the best performance possible with the most poorly written character in the whole film. Williams is written as a raw nerve, screaming and hollering and throwing things in situations where it would be far more effective to have him become still and thoughtful and… threatening. The more I think about the General and his soldiers and that entire situation, the sillier the whole thing seems.

'"Watch EXIT HUMANITY only if someone is insisting upon it this intensely," I say.

‘”Watch EXIT HUMANITY only if someone is insisting upon it this intensely,” I say.

If you, too, are looking for the zombie film that will re-energize and re-vitalize the genre, you’ll have to look elsewhere. I give EXIT HUMANITY half a star and four time outs.

© Copyright 2013 by Paul McMahon

eh - dvd cover