Archive for the Evil Spirits Category

THE CONJURING (2013)

Posted in 2013, Based on a True Story, Cinema Knife Fights, Demonic Possession, Demons, ESP, Evil Spirits, Haunted Houses, LL Soares Reviews, Paranormal with tags , , , , , on July 22, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THE CONJURING (2013)
By L.L. Soares

246460id1c_Conjuring_INTL_27x40_1Sheet.indd(THE SCENE: A house that has been plagued with paranormal disturbances. The doorbell rings and the family’s FATHER opens the door to see L.L. SOARES standing on the front steps)

L.L. SOARES: You called for a demon specialist?

FATHER: Yes, I did. You sure got here fast.

LS: Yes, I hopped on my broomstick, er, I mean I hurried right over.

FATHER: Don’t you have a partner you do these paranormal investigations with?

LS: Professor Arruda? He’s busy right now on the astral plane. But fear not, I will have the situation under control in no time. What happens to be the problem?

FATHER (pulls out a list): Well, there’s a whole bunch of things. People having their feet grabbed late at night; we’re hearing spooky voices; there are birds slamming themselves into the windows; ugly faces keep popping up in mirrors; mothers are being possessed by demons so that they can kill their children…

LS: Hold up! Not so fast. You sound like you’re reading off a list of haunted house clichés. Are you sure this has all happened to you?

FATHER: I swear it. This is based on a true story.

LS: Very well. Let’s deal with these things one at a time, shall we? But let me move around the house first and see if I feel the presence of any spirits.

(LS stands in the middle of the room and closes his eyes)

LS: I feel it! I feel it!

FATHER: You sense the ghosts?

LS: No, I feel my hay fever coming on (sneezes)

You know, this dilemma of yours sounds an awful lot like a movie I just saw called THE CONJURING. Have you seen it yet, by any chance.

FATHER: Err, no, I’ve never heard of it.

LS: I can tell you’re lying, but no matter. I will pretend as if I believe you and I’ll tell you a little about it.

FATHER (looks around): Okay, I guess.

LS: THE CONJURING is the latest movie about a family that moves into a house that is haunted by ghosts. Except, it’s not ghosts. It’s demons! And if they move somewhere else, the demons will follow them. We saw pretty much the same exact plot in everything from the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies (which began in 2007) to INSIDIOUS (2010) to every other recent haunted house movie.

THE CONJURING begins with an interesting scene where two women talk about a doll in their house that was possessed by a demon. The doll is actually pretty friggin weird looking, and they keep showing its face in close-up. The women’s story is pretty good, too. But then we learn this movie isn’t about them. They’re just part of a film that paranormal investigators Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson) and his wife Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) are showing a class full of eager students of the supernatural.

Instead of this cool story about a crazy-looking doll, we have to sit through yet another normal American family moving into a house where things start getting weird. One girl wakes up every night when someone grabs her foot and tries to pull her off her bed. Another girl has an imaginary friend who just might be a spooky demonic creature. The family’s mother is on the verge of being possessed by an evil spirit. This would all be interesting, if we hadn’t seen this exact same thing a hundred times before.

Sure, THE CONJURING has a few nice, original moments. I really liked the part about the clapping game, where the kids, five girls of various ages, run around their spooky new house playing a game of hide and seek, where one of them is blindfolded and can demand that the others clap their hands when she gets near. The fact that a spooky supernatural creature decides to play along is actually pretty effective.

I liked that one of the kids finds a strange music box where, if you wind it up, it plays music and a swirling hypno-wheel mirror spins around. If you stare at it long enough, you’re supposed to be able to see a spirit over your shoulder. It’s a fun prop. There’s also a very cool room in the Warrens’ house where they keep supernatural souvenirs from all of their case studies, including that creepy doll I mentioned earlier that sits on a chair in an air-tight glass case. I wanted to know more about this room, and explore its contents more. But we only get to see it a few times briefly. I was much more interested in that room than I was about what was going on in the Perron family’s house.

I also like a lot of the people in this movie. Like Lili Taylor. Over the years, she’s been in a lot ofgood movies like SAY ANYTHING (1989) and DOGFIGHT (1991) and Abel Ferrara’s THE ADDICTION (1995). She was Valerie Solanas in I SHOT ANDY WARHOL (1996) and was in John Waters’ PECKER (1998). She’s been in tons of good independent movies, and it’s good to see her in this movie, too, in a role that’s more than just another supporting character. Except, despite this one having a little more meat than her usual Hollywood roles, she’s really just…another supporting character. The movie isn’t really about her. It’s about Ed and Lorraine Warren, who are supposedly real-life demonologists. This movie is “Based on a True Story” after all.

FATHER: That always scares me when a movie is “Based on a True Story.” That means it’s real, right?

LS: Actually, it doesn’t mean anything. It’s just a trick to scare dumb people.

Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson are really good as the Warrens. I’ll give them that. Wilson has been in some good movies like HARD CANDY (2005). LITTLE CHILDREN (2006) and was even Nite Owl in WATCHMEN (2009). As for horror films, he was also in the previously mentioned INSIDIOUS, which a lot of people seemed to like. INSIDIOUS was also another movie about a house haunted by demons that was directed by James Wan, who also directed THE CONJURING. Wilson is also going to be in INSIDIOUS 2 later this year.

Ron Livingston is also here as the family’s father, Roger Perron; I’ve liked Livingston ever since he was in OFFICE SPACE in 1999, even though he’s not given a lot to do in this movie.

As for Farmiga, she first got noticed in dramas like THE DEPARTED (2006) and UP IN THE AIR (2009), but has been doing a lot of horror-related stuff lately as well, like ORPHAN (2009) and she’s been great as Norma Bates, Norman’s mother, in the new TV series BATES MOTEL. Farmiga, as the clairvoyant Lorraine Warren, is the best thing in this movie. Like the kid in THE SIXTH SENSE, Lorraine “sees dead people” and once she gets to the house where the Perron family lives, she starts to see spooky dead kids and witches hanging from trees and lots of other things no one else sees. I really liked her character, and wished the movie was even more about her. Why do we need this family that’s being tormented anyway? Why not have Lorraine Warren go head to head with that spooky doll from the beginning of the movie?

Well, the main reason is because if they don’t introduce the family and the haunted house, then they can’t go through the checklist of haunted house clichés that are recycled yet again in this movie. If you’ve seen any of the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies, you’ll know them all by heart. The ugly, ghostly creatures that pop up out of nowhere, the tons of fake scares to keep you hopping until the real ones arrive, the speech about how “it’s not ghosts that are haunting the house, it’s demons that are haunting you!” The thing is, despite the fact that there are some interesting characters here, THE CONJURING really offers nothing new to the latest paranormal troubles trend. We’ve seen it all before.

Vera Farmiga is the best thing in THE CONJURING, but even she can't save this movie from the mountain of cliches.

Vera Farmiga is the best thing in THE CONJURING, but even she can’t save this movie from the mountain of cliches.

I would have loved to see the Warrens in a story that was more original, that wasn’t so damn predictable. There was a woman behind me in the theater who screamed at the top of her lungs every time something “scary” happened in THE CONJURING, even though we all knew it was going to happen before it even did. I felt like asking her “Haven’t you ever seen a PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movie before, lady?” Or, better yet, “Shut the hell up, you big mouth.”

THE CONJURING is directed by James Wan, as I mentioned before. He directed the similarly-plotted INSIDIOUS, but you might also remember him as the guy who directed the first SAW movie back in 2003. Wan also directed DEAD SILENCE about creepy ventriloquist dummies and the vigilante movie DEATH SENTENCE, both in 2007. I like a lot of these movies, and I likeWan. I don’t have a problem with him, really. Except that he seems to be in a rut lately. He keeps trying to cash in with these movies that take the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies and remove the “found footage” aspect and just present things in a straightforward movie way. But it seems like he’s making the same movie over and over. His next one, INSIDIOUS 2, which will be about yet another house haunted by a demonic presence, comes out later this year. Enough! Come up with something new already!

It irritated me that they couldn’t come up with a new spin on this material. Even the scene where Lili Taylor is possessed by the demon witch and has to have an exorcism, is business as usual. She spits up blood, she levitates, she throws people across the room. Ho hum. It’s just the same old thing.

So I didn’t really love this one. I felt like the script was by the numbers, even if it did have some characters that were more interesting than usual. The movie pretty much squanders any chance it has to do something new with this subgenre. Even if there is a mention of another “haunted” house in Long Island toward the end (can you say Amityville?).

THE CONJURING could have been great, but instead it’s just so-so. I give it two and a half knives.

FATHER: Well, that’s all nice. But I thought you were here to get rid my demon!

LS: Yeah, yeah. I’m done with my review, so you can stop badgering me. Just show me where the evil sucker is.

(FATHER takes them through a living room full of kids, all sitting around a TV set watching old reruns of THE BRADY BUNCH and leads LS to a door that leads down to the cellar)

LS: Yet another story where a demon is down in the basement. I bet something really bad happened down there once.

FATHER: Yup. A murder.

(CUE DRAMATIC MUSIC)

(They go down the stairs, where a demonic presence awaits them, rocking back and forth on a rocking chair, with its back toward them)

FATHER: Can’t you help us?

LS: Certainly I can.

Turn and face me, oh demon. Turn and meet your master!

(MICHAEL ARRUDA turns around in the chair, wearing a shawl)

MA: There you are! I’ve been waiting forever for you to show up. And it’s really damp down here!

LS: I thought you said you were going to practice astral projection. Who knew you were the demon haunting this house.

MA: Demon, schmemon. I’m just scaring this family because I was bored.

LS: Fair enough. And they are pretty stupid.

MA: Let’s get out of here and get a pitcher of beer. I’m buying.

LS: Sounds good to me.

FATHER: Hey, where are you going?

LS: I’m done here. Oh, and by the way, I’ll send you my bill in the mail. I guarantee, when you see my fee, it will scare the living hell out of you.

MA: Then maybe you should pay for the pitcher.

LS: Be quiet and get up those stairs!

-END-

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives THE CONJURING  ~two and a half knives.

 

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou Takes On NINJA III: THE DOMINATION (1984)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 1980s Movies, 2013, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Campy Movies, Evil Spirits, Kung Fu!, Ninjas, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , , on June 20, 2013 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

By William D. Carl

This week’s feature presentation:

NINJA III: THE DOMINATION (1984)

bbbninjaposter

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.

It is summertime, and a young(ish) film critic’s thoughts turn to summer movies.  I don’t need authentic period atmosphere, beautifully written scripts, believable characters, or somber drama; I need explosions, monsters, muscular men with huge guns, explosions, beautiful women partially clothed, crazy action scenes, and explosions.  When I was growing up, one studio really embodied the world of summer entertainment.  Even most of their fall and winter movies seemed like displaced summer features.  Join me as I enter the world of Cannon, as owned by Golan and Globus.

Cannon Films, aka The Cannon Group, had been around since 1967.  Owned by Chris Dewey and Dennis Friedland, they produced and distributed many films, both artistic and exploitative over a twelve year period, including JOE (1970), FANDO AND LIS (1970), and NORTHVILLE CEMETERY MASSACRE (1976).  In 1979, facing heavy debt, the two men sold Cannon to a pair of Israeli cousins, Menahem Golan (who had already directed the horrifying disco musical THE APPLE – 1979, as well as the Israeli version of AMERICAN GRAFFITI, LEMON POPSICLE – 1978) and Yoram Globus who had served as producer for Golan’s films.  During the 1980s, the team managed to tap into the zeitgeist, releasing a massive amount of B-pictures.  In 1986 alone, they released 43 movies to a film-hungry public.  And, yes, most of them contained some form of explosions, monsters, or other exploitable/marketable production facet.  The two cousins were notorious for attending Cannes and selling pictures to the money men with nothing but a one-sheet poster or a concept or a billboard for a movie yet to be written.  This is how the world discovered such gems as ENTER THE NINJA (1981), THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN (1982), TREASURE OF THE FOUR CROWNS (1983), BREAKIN’ (1984) and BREAKIN’ 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO (1984), MISSING IN ACTION (1984), RAPPIN’ (1985), LIFEFORCE (1985), DEATH WISH 3 (1985), THE DELTA FORCE (1986), THE NAKED CAGE (1986), COBRA (1986), INVADERS FROM MARS (1986), THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 (1986), MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE (1987), and CYBORG (1989).  Interestingly, they were also known for their distribution of art films, releasing many of the 1980s best quality films.  For every Sylvester Stallone arm-wrestling opus, we got John Cassavetes’ LOVE STREAMS (1984), Andrei Konchalovsky’s RUNAWAY TRAIN (1985) and SHY PEOPLE (1987), Neil Jordan’s THE COMPANY OF WOLVES (1985), or THE ASSAULT (1987 – winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film).  By 1989, the cousins had spent themselves into a very large hole.  Following several box office flops, Cannon was taken over by Pathe’, an arm of the MGM Studios, and Cannon changed forever.  Interestingly, for a brief time, Cannon was the low budget arm of Pathe’ and was run by Italian horror maestro Ovidio G. Assonitis (BEYOND THE DOOR – 1974, TENTACLES – 1977).  The end of the 1980s brought the end of Cannon Films as a Golan and Globus production.  Still, they left a legacy of outrageously whacky summer movies.  I will be writing about many of them during this summer, reliving those days at the drive-in when Chuck Norris blasted away hundreds of Vietnamese without a trace of irony, when ninjas raced across American rooftops, when monsters invaded the earth in new and wicked ways.  Welcome to the world of Cannon Films.

We begin our look at Cannon with NINJA III: THE DOMINATION (1984).  Why should we start with part three, you may ask?  The answer is simple.  Not only does this movie have ninjas running rampant in America, but it also has ghosts, exorcisms, and medicinal Jazzercising.  Cannon had already released the hit films ENTER THE NINJA (1981) and REVENGE OF THE NINJA (1983), tapping into a public’s undiscovered love of a great ninja movie.  Both starred Sho Kosugi, an All Japan Karate Champion and character actor.  Strangely, in ENTER THE NINJA, Kosugi was the bad guy, facing off against an aging Franco Nero.  After the amazing success of the first film, Kosugi became the good guy for the second movie, whooping ass in Salt Lake City and putting evil drug dealers in their place.  Despite his problematic English, Kosugi had the martial arts skills, and the ninja was scheduled to be brought back a third time.  In the meanwhile, however, POLTERGEIST (1982) had been a huge hit, and the country was also in the throes of aerobic-exercise fever.  What better way to bring back a master ninja than to have him battle a demonically possessed Jazzercise instructor?  Umm…

NINJA III: THE DOMINATION begins with a ninja in a Bronson Canyon cave, rolling back a big fake rock to reveal a cache of ninja weaponry, beautifully lit from below.  How the electric light was rigged in a cave in the middle of nowhere is a matter for others to ponder.  We are already off to the next scene…Ninjas stalk the golf course!  A rich white guy who is playing golf with his six bodyguards is attacked by the evil ninja.  Within a few minutes, the rich guy, his girlfriend, and all bodyguards are dead.  The police arrive in force, but despite being shot more than twenty five times, the ninja manages to kill at least thirty cops (I lost count) and escape into the desert.  He even manages to bring down a police helicopter using ninja stars, a hilarious scene that was obviously shot on the ground!  Lucky for him, a sexy telephone line repair woman, Christie (Lucinda Dickey, en ex-Solid Gold dancer and star of the forthcoming BREAKIN’ and BREAKIN’ 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO—both 1984—and possibly the worst actress to ever headline a motion picture) is in the neighborhood.  When she tries to help him (who doesn’t want to help a bleeding guy with a sword wearing ninja gear?), she is possessed by the evil ninja’s spirit and takes the sword back home with her.

Ninja Shokosugi vs. Black NInja

Ninja Sho Kosugi vs. Black NInja

When she is interrogated by the police, one of them comes on to her as if they are in a sleazy singles bar.  This is Officer Billy Secord, who was at the blasting of the evil ninja along with several other cops who managed to survive the massacre, played by the smug, hirsute Jordan Bennet.  He stalks Christie, calling her home (which is uber-Eighties cool, complete with actual arcade games, a dance floor, neon signs on the walls, and a Nagle print).  Christie, it turns out, doesn’t only fix the phone lines, but she is a Jazzercise instructor as well!  Billy follows her to one of her classes, and she shuns him again.  On her way out of the gym, she prevents a bunch of guys from raping a woman from her class, ripping a metal beam from a fire escape and beating the crap out of them.  Billy, turned on by this display of martial artistry, drives her home, where she seduces him in the unsexiest seduction of all film history.  By utilizing one gruesome bit of product placement, she covers her chest in V-8 Juice, which the lucky cop slurps up.  Then, Billy removes his shirt, exposing shoulders and a back so hairy he appears to be wearing a sweater.  Later, while Billy sleeps, Christie wanders to her closet, which glows.  She watches as the ninja sword she took from the evil black ninja floats on a visible string all over the room.  When Billy awakens, he proves his detective skills by telling her how beautiful her sword is . . . forgetting that the sword is evidence in a multiple murder of a few dozen policemen!

Take that yuppy scum!

Take that yuppy scum!

As their vegetable-juice based romance blossoms, Christie sees Billy’s partner and recognizes him as one of the men who shot the ninja who possesses her.  That evening, her arcade game goes all TRON on her, zapping her with lasers as wind blows through her room, and maniacal laughter rings through the place.  Her hair gets much bigger, making her resemble Adam Lambert with less make-up.  She heads for the Bronson Canyon Cave, retrieves some ninja weapons, and kills Billy’s partner.  Christie knows something is terribly wrong, although Billy remains blissfully unaware.  When she starts losing larger amounts of time, she decides to work out, doing hours of aerobics in her apartment to heal herself.  Jazzercise as alternative medicine doesn’t work, so Billy takes her to a doctor first, who tells her that, “Medically, you’re a very fit young woman. No evidence of any abnormality in the brain, no tumor, you have a strong heart, your diet is better than average. You are under severe stress, of course, but otherwise Doctor Bowen, the psychiatrist you saw, says there’s nothing out of the ordinary. Aside from your exceptional extrasensory perception and your preoccupation with Japanese culture. No harm in that!”  He then consults a cop in the “Asiatic Division” who recommends a healer, played by James Hong (BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA – 1986, THE VINEYARD – 1989).  He ties her up, and her hair grows bigger than ever, really making her look like Adam Lambert!  He tries to exorcise her, but he isn’t strong enough.  Fire erupts, lightning and thunder resound in the room, and Christies does some amazing gymnastics while being chained up.  “You fools!  You cannot stop me!  I am ninja!”  The Asian Max Von Sydow informs Billy that “Only a ninja can destroy a ninja.”

Finally, Sho Kosugi shows up, called by several elders in the Chinese community.  He wears a stylish eye-patch, and he follows the various crime scenes of the evil ninja/Christie picking up on clues we, the viewers, don’t get to peruse.  The ways of the ninja are, indeed, inscrutable.  Through a flashback, we find out that Kosugi has been hunting the black ninja since he killed Kosugi’s family and threw a ninja star into his eye.

Christie doesn’t recall the exorcism, but she finds two more of the cops who had shot the black ninja during the slaughter of half the police department.  When our heroine returns to her home, she faces all kinds of poltergeist activity in her apartment.  “No, you don’t,” she shouts.  “Not again!”  While things blow up around her, fog and evil laughter flood the apartment, plates float around along with the sword.  She does what anyone would do when confronted by the occult.  Yes, she’s back to trying to Jazzercise the demon from within her, working out to loud, dreadful disco music and ignoring the chaos around her.  It doesn’t work, and the forces pull her into the closet a la Tobe Hooper’s POLTERGEIST (1982).  When she emerges, she is in full-on ninja mode.

Ninja Possesses Lucinda Dickey!

Ninja Possesses Lucinda Dickey…or is it Adam Lambert?

At Billy’s partner’s funeral, she climbs some tall trees and shoots several cops with arrows, killing the two she recognized.  It’s another police massacre, with at least ten dead officers by the end of the chase scene.  There are some pretty cool stunts here, with Christie (or her stunt double under all that ninja gear) pulling men off the back of motorcycles and fighting her way through the cemetery, swinging from tree to tree.  Luckily, Sho Kosugi appears and pursues the rogue ninja.  There’s a good fight between them in a half-finished abandoned house with ninjas hanging from beams and bursting through floors.

The cops, thinking Kosugi is the bad guy, take him into custody, while Billy finally figures out his girlfriend is killing every cop in the county, returns to her apartment.  He confronts an amnesiac Christie and marches her at gunpoint to a Japanese Temple above the town (what?!) where orange-robed monks practice kendo and where the final confrontation will occur.  Thus begins the final battle, which is over-the-top crazy, filled with great stunts and shoulder pads on Christie that have to be seen to be believed.

Ninja Adam Lambert Lives!

Ninja Adam Lambert Lives!

Will Christie kill Billy, the last police officer left alive who shot the black ninja?  Will Kosugi smack the evil out of Christie?  Will I ever be able to drink another V-8 Juice again?

NINJA III: THE DOMINATION is certainly not a good film, but it’s a fabulous sort of time capsule for the Eighties.  Full of blaring disco music (Body Shop by Dave Powell is especially atrocious), martial arts, aerobics montage scenes, video game references, and more bad acting than you can shake a Japanese sword at, it is never boring!  The hair, the tight jeans, the sheer number of leg warmers – combining ninja action and supernatural horror into one huge laughable concoction, NINJA III never fails to entertain.

I give it three V-8 Juices out of four.

© Copyright 2013 by William D. Carl

 

Me and Lil’ Stevie have finally found IT (1990)

Posted in 1990s Horror, 2013, All-Star Casts, Based on a Classic Novel, Demons, evil clowns, Evil Spirits, Horror, Me and Lil' Stevie, Peter Dudar Reviews, Stephen King Movies, TV Miniseries with tags , , , , , , , on May 7, 2013 by knifefighter

ME AND LIL’ STEVIE

Have Finally Found

IT (1990)

IT

(INTERIOR/NIGHT.  Establishing shot of the Derry, Maine standpipe…a central hub for the town’s main sewage line.  There are channels dug into the floor where gray water travels to and fro, leading off into different paths and corridors.  Somewhere in the darkness, we can hear an evil laugh echoing just over the incessant plop-plops of dripping water.  Camera makes quick pan toward one channel, where a paper boat is sailing along with the current.  It whisks through the channel swiftly, and when it passes off into one of the darkened chambers, a figure emerges.  It is a man holding a ventriloquist dummy in the form of Master of Horror, Stephen King.)

Peter:  Greetings, Constant Viewer, and welcome to another chapter of our beloved column.

Lil’ Stevie:  That’s right, folks.  Twenty films reviewed so far and ZERO “Cease and Desist” letters!

Peter:  If you’ve been watching the Cinema Knife Fight page on Facebook, you already know that we’ve been…ahem, dying to review today’s film.  But our DVD has been missing for a long, long, time now, so we were going to once again skip Tommy Lee Wallace’s 1990 adaptation of Stephen King’s IT.  That is, until the boss intervened on our behalf.

Lil’ Stevie:  You mean L.L. Soares actually bought us a NEW copy?

Peter:  Oh, hell no!  I was talking about Mrs. Dudar.   Thanks, Hon!

Lil’ Stevie:  Who’s the REAL dummy around here…?

(In the background, we hear the sound of a toilet flushing.)

Lil’ Stevie:  (pointing at something floating by in the sewage) Heh heh…Look, they all FLOAT down here!

Peter:  How did I know that was coming?  Let’s get started.  This film was a two-part miniseries that originally aired back in 1990.  It concerns an ancient evil that has inflicted itself on Derry, Maine…King’s second most infamous fictitious town right after Castle Rock.  This ancient evil can manifest itself in the form of whatever nightmares the children of Derry are afraid of, but it mostly takes on the form of Pennywise the Clown (Tim Curry, THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, 1975).  IT uses the standpipe and its sewage lines throughout the town to lure in and kill children to feed upon.  The monster has been doing this on a cycle of every 30 years or so.  Of course, the town itself is poisoned and turns a blind eye over and over again until 1960, when…

Lil’ Stevie:  You’re already getting the movie’s chronology all wrong.  The movie begins in 1990, when another tricycle-riding tot is lured in and murdered by Pennywise.  And as the police investigate, the town’s librarian Mike Hanlon (Tim Reid, Television’s Venus Flytrap from WKRP in Cincinnati) shows up to make his own inquiries.  Mike remembers the summer of 1960, when his friend Bill Denbrough (Richard Thomas, Television’s Jon-Boy Walton from THE WALTONS) lost his little brother Georgie to the town’s malefic horror.

Peter:  Pretty good so far.  Mike Hanlon is the cornerstone of the film.  He’s the movie’s narrator; the one member of the “Loser’s Club” they formed as kids that remained behind in Derry after his childhood friends all moved far, far away.  Likewise, he’s the beacon that draws the other members back.  After this latest murder, Mike begins a string of phone calls that interrupt the successful lives of all the other members, reawakening the childhood terror that has remained dormant in their minds ever since leaving their hometown behind.  Bill Denbrough is a beloved horror novelist (big surprise, huh?) who has temporarily moved abroad to do some screenwriting for his beautiful wife Audra’s new film.  Getting the call whisks him away to the memory of him being deathly sick as a child, and sending his kid brother Georgie out to play in the rain with a paper boat he’d made.  And, of course, that was the last time Bill saw George.

Lil’ Stevie:  The other members of the Losers Club all follow suit.  The first part of the miniseries is all setup.  It’s all about introducing the individual characters, sharing their own childhood terrors at the hands of IT, and getting them on track for a reunion.  Only, they aren’t returning to reminisce and see how each other’s lives are going, they’re returning on a childhood oath that if IT ever came back, they would all come back to fight it and kill it.

Peter:  To expedite things a bit, Ben “Haystack” Hanscom (John Ritter, Television’s Jack Tripper from THREE’S COMPANY) is a successful architect.  Beverly Marsh (Annette O’Toole, Television’s Martha Kent from SMALLVILLE) is a successful clothing magnate.  Richie Tozier (Harry Anderson, Television’s Judge Harold T. Stone from NIGHT COURT) is a successful comedian, Eddie Kaspbrak (Dennis Christopher, Television’s Bellegard from DEADWOOD) owns a successful limousine service, and Stan Uris (Richard Masur, Clark the creepy dog-handler from THE THING, 1982) is a successful…um, did they ever say what his occupation was?

Lil’ Stevie:  Holy cow.  He was a real-estate mogul.

Peter:  Oh, yeah.  Thanks.  I have to confess, it’s been about 20 years since I’ve read this novel.  I should hope you’d cut me some slack.

Lil’ Stevie:  Yeah, no!  If you’ve forgotten, you should have reread it.

Peter:  Thanks, Dad.  Anyway, like we were saying, the first part of the film is all setup, laced with flashbacks to each character’s respective trauma and how that summer drew them together.  For Ben Hanscom, it was about dealing with himself and his mom being forced to move in with his aunt after his father’s death in Korea.  His relocation to Derry was difficult enough, but upon his first day at school he found himself at odds with town bully, Henry Bowers, and his buddies.  Ben is instantly smitten with Bev Marsh, who is the unfortunate daughter of the school’s drunken and abusive school janitor.  They make friends quickly, but it’s obvious that Bev has her heart set on “Stuttering Bill” Denbrough.  Bill is cute and brave, and looks super cool on his boss bicycle that he calls “Silver” after the Lone Ranger’s horse.  In a serendipitous chain of events, Ben meets up with Bill and Eddie down in the barrens, where the two are trying to flood the creek.  Being a bit of an engineering whiz, Ben will show them (along with the rest of the gang, who conveniently show up all at once) how to build a real honest-to-goodness dam.

Lil’ Stevie:  The rest of the gang, except for Mike.  He’s the town’s other new kid.  Only Mike is African-American, and immediately meets with intolerance from bigoted Henry and his buddies.

Peter:  The Loser’s Club end up rescuing Mike from Henry and the bullies in a rock war inside the old quarry.

Lil’ Stevie:  You mean they had a battle of the bands?

(Peter tips Lil’ Stevie upside down and dangles him over the filthy water.)

Peter:  Do you have any more stupid questions?

Lil’ Stevie:  I’m sorry!  I’ll be good!

Peter:  (fixes Lil’ Stevie upright again) That’s better.  To answer your question, the Loser’s Club has had enough of Henry and his shenanigans.  They’re dealing with a child-eating monster, after all.  So when they see Mike getting chased, they immediately “Dummy Up” with heavy rocks and begin an assault on Bowers and his hoods.  And they win their first real victory, thus cementing their kinship of “Lucky Seven.”

Lil’ Stevie:  Did ya catch that?  That’s important, y’all…

Peter:  It is, because Stan Uris, the non-believer in anything “empirically impossible” is also a huge coward.  By the end of part one, Ol’ Stanny is in his bathtub slitting his wrists rather than jumping the next available transit back home to Derry.  Their “Lucky Seven” dies with him.

(In the background we hear the sound of an evil clown laughing).

Pennywise:  He Floats Down Here…and soon, YOU’LL FLOAT, TOO!

Peter:  Part two begins with the Loser’s Club all returning to Maine, and each member dealing with their childhood horrors on an adult level.  Being away from Derry for so long has robbed their memories of a lot of stuff, and there are a lot of blanks to fill in.  Each member returns to their respective homes and hangouts, only to discover that Pennywise is constantly trying to turn them back and scare them away.  Fortunately, they brave these terrors and eventually reunite over a dinner of Chinese food, where Mike helps them remember the rest of what happened that summer, and how they eventually beat IT the first time.  Only, they didn’t kill IT completely, so now it’s back to feed again.

Lil’ Stevie:  So the Loser’s Club have to convince themselves and each other to fulfill that promise they made so many summers ago, and destroy IT once and for all.

Peter:  With the scope and length of this story, we seemed to sum it up pretty handily, wouldn’t you say?

Lil’ Stevie:  That’s a good thing.  It took me forever to write IT.

Peter:  Har har.  Let’s get a bit more in-depth about the good stuff and the bad stuff.  Let me begin by saying that time has NOT been good to this film.  The teleplay by King, Wallace, and Lawrence Cohen does leave a lot of stuff from the novel out of the movie, but that serves as utilitarian in keeping the movie at a reasonable length without being mired down by dull moments or unnecessary exposition.  Gone is that whole bit about the Edge of the World and the story of the Turtle which I, for one, never understood.

Lil’ Stevie:  You really ARE a dope.

Peter:  What’s left is a nifty little fright flick that elevates a lot of made-for-television actors into a very dark and creepy world.  Everybody turns in a rock-solid performance (although I must admit, Harry Anderson comes off as very whiny and self-absorbed).  And Tim Curry as Pennywise is absolutely perfect.  He’s just terrifying with his murderous antics and that lecherous scowl that turns into the mouthful of razor-sharp teeth at any given moment.

Lil’ Stevie:  Either you are the world’s biggest hypocrite or you have a really bad memory!

Peter:  Why do you say that?

Lil’ Stevie:  Because you just lambasted King’s STORM OF THE CENTURY a few episodes ago over Andre Linoge suddenly sprouting a mouthful of fangs.  In fact, you blamed that movie for being too Mick Garris-ish because Garris did the same thing in SLEEPWALKERS.  How easily we forget…

Peter:  Are you ready for that swim?

(Lil’ Stevie pulls his head down so that his mouth is hiding beneath the collar of his shirt).

Peter:  No more warnings.  And in fairness, this movie preceded those other two, so it gets rightful props.  This movie is beautifully shot and it does deliver the chills, all the way up to the end where Wallace drops the ball. Everything that happens once the adult version of the Loser’s Club enters the standpipe falls apart.  The monster finally appears in its true form as a gargantuan spider with “Deadlights” in its belly.  The spider looks so ridiculously fake that it kills any credible suspense the movie had been building up to.  It’s a massive letdown.  But not enough that I’d advise fans not to watch it.  It really is a beautiful movie that captures the love of childhood friendship and the paranoia of small-town living, where grown-ups would rather mind their own business and not get involved when bad things happen.  And if you look at how the internet has changed our society, it almost feels prophetic.  I loved the book because I felt like I belonged in the Loser’s Club.  Most of us do.  The film captures a huge part of that, and it really is wonderful to watch.  There’s a scene where adult Mike takes adult Bill out to the shed where Mike has been keeping Bill’s old bicycle.  Reid and Thomas act the scene out wonderfully, with the two fixing the flat tire and Bill is suddenly reunited with not just his bicycle but with his childhood.  It plays out with the two grown men speeding back and forth on the bike to some old Smokey Robinson tune, and it feels absolutely bittersweet.  The entire cast brings that magic to the film, making it a very pleasant experience.

Lil’ Stevie:  What the film DOESN’T capture is the depth of the children’s loss of innocence in order to combat the evil they face.  In my book, Bev actually winds up having sex with each of them as a ritual of preparation.  In the movie, they all take a tug off Eddie’s asthma inhaler.  Totally lame!

Peter:  What do you expect from prime-time television?  Besides, knot-head…you didn’t write it!

(More laughter from the corridor ahead)

Peter:  I think Pennywise is coming to pay a visit!

(Another figure steps out of corridor, only it’s L.L. Soares).

L.L.:  Hey, your column is LATE!   What’s taking so long?

Peter:  You came all the way down here just to harass us?

L.L.:  Actually, someone clogged the toilet.  You don’t have a plunger, do you?

Peter:  Here…use this!

(Peter takes Lil’ Stevie off his arm and tosses him over).

L.L.:  Thanks.  I’ll make sure he doesn’t get cleaned before I send him back.

Lil’ Stevie:  No!  NOOOOO!  Not the swirlies again!!! Please!

Peter:  Thanks for spending your time with us once again.  See you next month!

-END-

© Copyright 2013 by Peter N. Dudar

Pennywise (Tim Curry) is coming for you in IT!

Pennywise (Tim Curry) is coming for you in IT!

The Distracted Critic: SEVENTH MOON (2008)

Posted in 2013, Asian Horror, Demons, Doomed Tourists, Enigmatic Films, Evil Spirits, Paul McMahon Columns, Supernatural, The Distracted Critic with tags , , , , on May 1, 2013 by knifefighter

SEVENTH MOON (2008)
Review by Paul McMahon, The Distracted Critic

SeventhMoonb

SEVENTH MOON is a movie that slipped past me back in 2008. It was part of the Ghost House Underground series released by Lionsgate. If memory serves, that specialized line of movies was the main gist of its advertising, so I’m not surprised I never realized Eduardo Sanchez (THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, 1999, and ALTERED, 2006) directed it. I was excited to learn of the film’s existence while I researched his film LOVELY MOLLY (2011) last November, and have looked forward to checking it out.

Eduardo Sanchez is becoming a favorite director of mine. He knows how to develop scary situations and is good at creating characters you can care about. He does that here, too… at least for a little while. The action starts in late afternoon and lasts until dawn. The instant the sun set on screen, though, the most frustrating movie experience I’ve had in a very long time began. But, before I get ahead of myself…

The film opens with a quote, as all Sanchez’s movies have so far. “On the full moon of the seventh lunar month, the gates of hell open and the spirits of the dead are freed to roam among the living.”—Chinese myth.

We meet Yul (Tim Chiou) and Melissa (Amy Smart, MIRRORS, 2008, and both CRANK movies, 2006 & 2009), an American couple on their honeymoon in China. They are wandering a crowded street during the festivities of The Hungry Ghost Festival, marveling at the actions of the locals who are burning papers in the street. The papers signify sacrifice (in order to have the wish written on the paper granted, they have to sacrifice it). After Yul has a debilitating share of wine, they leave the area and meet up with Ping (Dennis Chan, THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS, 2012), their chauffer.

Ping starts to drive them to Anxian, where Yul’s family lives. Yul falls asleep almost immediately. The sun sets. Melissa falls asleep, too. Ping stops at the top of a hill and Melissa wakes up. He apologizes for getting lost. “These roads are tricky,” he says. He points to a small village down the hill and says he will go and ask for directions. An hour later, Melissa wakes Yul and tells him what’s going on. He, of course, decides they should leave the car and go look for Ping.

At first they think the village must be deserted. Then they find a crowd of animals tied up in the center of town. They knock on doors and shout questions about Ping. In response, the hidden residents yell out the same words over and over. Melissa asks what they’re saying, but Yul’s Cantonese isn’t very good and all he can say for sure is that they’re calling something to join them. Mel and Yul return to Ping’s car and find that he left the keys, so they start it up and try to drive back to civilization.

It isn’t long before Yul swerves to avoid a naked man running across the road. The car bogs down in mud. He climbs out to push while Mel drives. It takes the added motivation of a ghostly shriek from the dark woods to get him to shove the car free. As she drives, Melissa blames Yul for everything that’s happening because he’d been the one that wanted to come to China.

Mel tries to swerve as another man, this one clothed, runs into the road. She strikes him, and then insists on getting out of the car to help. He is more wounded than the car can account for, but he is conscious and says in Cantonese that the Moon Demons are coming. Mel and Yul get the injured man into Ping’s car, but as soon as Yul climbs behind the wheel, four naked men jump on the car and start pounding on it.

One of the better lit images in the film, a shot of what is called in the credits: 'Pale Men.' Yup. That's what they're called.

One of the better lit images in the film, a shot of what is called in the credits: ‘Pale Men.’ Yup. That’s what they’re called.

Yul guns the engine and drives in reverse because the road is too narrow to turn around. Predictably, he drives off the road and crashes.

Mel immediately realizes that the naked men will follow the car’s path through the brush so she leads Yul and the injured man away from it. The three of them freeze and listen to the Moon Demons thumping on the car, and after a while, the injured man tells them they must find something alive to leave behind for the Moon Demons to kill. That way, they will leave them alone. He might have given Yul a sidelong glance, but it was impossible to be sure, because the thing was so ridiculously dark.

Apparently, these things glow when caught in headlights. This is the clearest nighttime image I could get from the nighttime sequence of the film.

Apparently, these things glow when caught in headlights. This is the clearest nighttime image I could get from the nighttime sequence of the film.

I’ve enjoyed Sanchez’s work before, as I said, but this film is plagued by shockingly poor decisions. The first is his choice of lighting the film…or should I say, his choice of NOT lighting the film. While I realize the majority of the film’s action transpired in a remote area of China that was without streetlights or any other kind of electricity, the night this all happened was supposedly a full moon. Surely the lighting could have been fudged just a little bit? As it was, the majority of the film was nothing but a mass of dark shadows offset by squiggles and blotches of darker shadows. It was literally impossible to make out what was happening on screen. With a make-up effects man as experienced as Mike Elzalde (DREAMCATCHER, 2003, PAUL, 2011, ATTACK THE BLOCK, 2011 and the upcoming NOTHING LEFT TO FEAR), I’d think you’d want to showcase the work you paid for. Apparently not so much.

The second poor decision is the use of a hand-held camera for the entire movie. There is no reason for this at all. The shaky camera work was an important part of the story in THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT because it was supposed to be shot by an amateur film crew (i.e., the main characters did the work). There is no such situation in SEVENTH MOON. Not only is the shaky camera dizzying and hard to follow (especially since nothing is lit properly), it doesn’t stay with one point of view. It jumps all over the place, inside and outside of the car. There are far-off establishing shots and other shots so dark and undecipherable, it seems as if they might have kicked the camera under the car seat.

I’d like to comment on the actors performances, but I have to be honest and admit that I couldn’t see much. There was a bit of screaming and a LOT of heavy breathing, though, and I’ll assume it was all done in the right places. The story, or what I could discern of it, wasn’t memorable. It lacked the element of humanity that’s been present in Sanchez’s other works. Instead of working through problems and confronting personal fears as in BLAIR WITCH, ALTERED and LOVELY MOLLY, in this one it’s just a couple of characters who aren’t very well developed trying to survive the night. It seemed that these characters continually made foolish choices because that’s what they were created to do.

It disappoints me to have to recommend that you ignore a film by Eduardo Sanchez, but truth be told, there’s nothing to see here. At all.

I’m giving this one 0 stars, and although it’s misleading, I’m giving it 0 time outs, as well. Truthfully, I itched to walk away from it for most of the running time, but I knew that if I did I would never go back.

© Copyright 2013 by Paul McMahon

EVIL DEAD (2013)

Posted in 2013, Based on Classic Films, Chainsaws!, Cinema Knife Fights, Cult Movies, Demons, Evil Spirits, Gore!, Possessed By Demons, Remakes with tags , , , , , , , on April 7, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: EVIL DEAD (2013)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Evil Dead poster #2

(The Scene: A cabin in the woods. L.L. SOARES is sitting at a desk, reading an ancient book. MICHAEL ARRUDA looks over his shoulder)

MA: You know you shouldn’t be doing that. It always ends badly.

LS: I know. But I feel compelled to do it.

MA: Whatever you do, don’t read aloud from it.

LS: ATA HEMPTO KEEPAP

MA: I told you not to read from it.

(The leprechaun from LUCKY CHARMS cereal appears)

LUCKY: You’ll be after me lucky charms!

MA:  I beg your pardon?  I don’t think so!

LS: We summoned you by accident.

LUCKY: Accident? And me in the middle of me breakfast.

LS: Go play with Toucan Sam or something.

(LUCKY turns MA into a monkey and disappears)

LS: Well, that’s an improvement.

(Monkey MA starts screeching and running around the cabin)

LS: I might as well start this week’s review.

(Monkey morphs back into MA)

MA: Nice try.  What?  Is the leprechaun on your payroll?  Don’t answer that. Just get on with the review.

LS:  EVIL DEAD is a remake of Sam Raimi’s 1981 cult classic (the difference in titles is that the original had a “THE” in front of it).  That was the movie that put Raimi on the map—and just look how his career turned out? Now he’s directing stuff like OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL. But back then, Raimi was just some unknown kid trying to make it in the movie biz. Strangely, even though all this time has gone by, THE EVIL DEAD is still my favorite of Raimi’s movies.

MA:  Things work out that way sometimes.  Often the first thing an artist does—or at least the first hit—remains the best.

LS:  So when I heard they were giving it the remake treatment, I wasn’t surprised, but I wasn’t hopeful either. Raimi’s movie was low-budget, but incredibly resourceful. Despite the money limitations, the original EVIL DEAD introduced Raimi’s signature “stalking cam” where the camera shows the point of view of a creature running through the woods. Well, not exactly running. Sweeping through the woods at high speed is more the feel of it. And THE EVIL DEAD made a star of the very cool Bruce Campbell, who was Ash in the original and its sequels.

The trailer for the new version looked hopeful, and it started this ad campaign where it declared this to be “The most terrifying film you will ever experience!” Then the buzz started—a lot of it coming from the South By Southwest Film Festival earlier this year in Austin, Texas, where audiences loved this movie. So I started to get excited about it and really looked forward to seeing it.

Evil-Dead-Poster

But there was always the chance it could be a complete disappointment.

MA:  I don’t believe ad campaigns for one minute.  The most horrifying movie you will ever see? Yeah, right.  Anyway, like any ad, I didn’t give this one much credence, and I put it out of my mind since I didn’t want to have this movie hindered by too high expectations.

LS:  So let’s start off with the obvious question. Is this the most horrifying movie you will ever see? Nope. That’s a pretty big claim, and it’s just about guaranteed to fall short.

MA (laughing):  It sounds like an ad campaigns for a movie back in the 50s.  SEE the most terrifying monster ever to set foot on the earth!  An ungodly horror not meant for human eyes!  Too hideous!  Too horrifying!

Too much!

It’s a dumb add for a decent movie.

LS:  There was a lot of that kind of stuff in the 70s too. I remember MARK OF THE DEVIL (1970) had the ad campaign “Positively the most horrifying film ever made.” And I’m sure there were plenty of ads that copied that one.

But I’ll give the new EVIL DEAD this much credit: it sure tries hard to live up to that tag line.

MA:  It gets an A for effort.

(LS again reads from the ancient book.)

LS: OOGIE TOOFIE LOOFIE

(This time CAPTAIN CRUNCH appears.)

CAPTAIN CRUNCH:  Hey kids, how about helping your captain eat a healthy breakfast by—hey, wait a minute.  You two aren’t kids.

MA:  How observant you are.

CAPTAIN CRUNCH: Are there any kids around?

LS (rubs his stomach):  Not alive, anyway.

CAPTAIN CRUNCH:  In that case, how about helping this captain fill his flask, if you know what I mean?  (Holds out an empty flask).

LS (pointing):  The bar’s that way, in the next room. Fully stocked.

CAPTAIN CRUNCH:  Mrs. Crunch is going to have a good time tonight!  (Exits with a skip in his step.)

MA:  He always seemed so innocent on those TV commercials.

LS:  Maybe, but I never did trust that Crunchberry Beast.

Do you remember back when we were kids and Captain Crunch had an enemy in those cartoon commercials named Jean LaFoot?  There was this whole storyline going on. They just don’t make commercials like that anymore.

evil_dead_2013_by_myrmorko-d5jai2t

Anyway, back to the movie.  This one begins promisingly enough. A bunch of college-age kids meet at a cabin in the woods. In the original, it was more for a fun weekend. Here, it has a more serious motivation. Mia (Jane Levy, also the star of the current ABC comedy SUBURGATORY) is trying to get off drugs for the second time in her life, after a recent overdose that almost killed her (actually, we’re told, she did technically “die” for a moment during it). Her friends Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), a cynical guy with long hair, and Olivia (the very stunning Jessica Lucas, who was also in CLOVERFIELD, 2008) are there, as well as the older brother Mia hasn’t seen in years, David (Shiloh Fernandez, who was also Peter in 2011’S RED RIDING HOOD) and his girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore). They’re all there to give Mia support during her attempt to kick drugs via the “cold turkey” approach. They’re there in that cabin in the middle of nowhere to see her through the rough times, keep her there, and make sure this time the “cure” takes.

MA:  I liked this premise a lot.  It really worked for me and made things more interesting in that these folks actually had a real reason not only for being there, but for staying there, in that they wanted to see things through to the end and truly help Mia kick her habit.

LS: Exactly. In these kinds of movies, there’s always a point where you say “Why the hell do they stay there? Why not leave?” It happens in this movie too—it’s inevitable in these kinds of horror movies—but for a little while there, everyone staying put actually makes sense. And that’s unusual.

Right away, Mia and David have issues. Mia is happy to see him, but also resents him for taking off on her when she was a kid, leaving her alone with their crazy mother, who died in a mental hospital a few years before this reunion. David clearly didn’t come back because he was trying to save his own sanity, but he’s trying to make up for his choices now, by giving Mia the support she needs.

So they go in the cabin, intent on seeing this through to the end. The friends make a pact to stay strong and not give in when Mia wants to leave. They’re going to make sure it works this time.

But the cabin has other plans.

MA:  I’ll say.

LS:  First off, they find a roomful of dead cats hanging from the ceiling in a secret room below the cabin (the reason the cats are there is explained in the creepy opening sequence of the film, which takes place in the past). They also find a book wrapped in barbed wire, which of course ends up upstairs with them, and of course one of them, namely Eric, has to cut the wires and open the book, and even read from it.

MA:  Gee, that sounds familiar.  (points his thumb at LS).

LS: As soon as he does that, he sets the demons in motion.

From here, EVIL DEAD takes on a relentless pace, as each member of the group takes turns being possessed by demonic forces. It begins with Mia, who has the main demon “attached” to her soul in the middle of the woods (with a special appearance by the ghost of the book’s previous victim), after trying to flee the cabin. When she goes back, Mia attacks the others, and then the fireworks begin.

I loved the pacing of this one. It doesn’t let up for a moment after the horror begins, and I really enjoyed that. There’s plenty of violence and gore and self-mutilation which is what you would expect from an EVIL DEAD movie. I am so glad they didn’t go the PG-13 route with this one. In fact, there are a couple of scenes that are downright amazing, including Mia using a razor to cut her tongue in half, the messy results of a shotgun blast, several people cutting off offending limbs in horrible ways, and an amazing “chainsaw to the head” moment that paints the entire screen red. So, if you happen to be a gorehound, this one is definitely for you.

In a lot of ways, this movie is almost perfect. It has a more serious tone than the first one —Raimi was famous for injecting funny moments to relieve tension, but this one is simply grim and vicious—which is in no way a bad thing. It’s also fairly faithful to the original, especially the key horrific/gross-out moments. Director Fede Alvarez (this is his first feature film, his previous movies were all short films) does a stunning job bringing this one to the screen. But there are a couple of minor gripes.

First off, the movie completely pushes its R-rating to the line, and past it, as far as the gore goes. This is not a movie for the squeamish. And yet it seemed to have a puritanical streak a mile long. From a character taking a shower in her clothes early on, to other key moments that would have had a lot more impact if there was some nudity involved. And I’m not talking gratuitous nudity—I’m talking logical stuff (do YOU take a shower with your clothes on?) This odd repression didn’t ruin the movie, but it did feel like it was holding back, and EVIL DEAD should be the kind of movie that is no-holds-barred. It just continues to amaze me that violence and gore is becoming more and more mainstream, but sex and nudity are still taboos that are to be avoided at all costs.

MA:  This didn’t bother me.  The movie’s pacing is so intense I didn’t have time to think about the fact that there wasn’t any nudity.  But something else bothered me about this one.

I agree with you that it pushes the envelope in the gore department, and I’ll even go so far to say that it’s nearly perfect with its handling of these horrific moments, in that in spite of the fact that it was in your face most of the time, it somehow didn’t go overboard.  Now, all this being said, for some reason, and this is the problem I had with it, it wasn’t all that scary.  I’m not sure why, because there were certainly scenes of suspense, and while I was enjoying these scenes, they really weren’t getting to me.  I think it’s because there was just a familiarity about the whole thing, as a reimagining of an old movie, that it somehow lacked freshness.

Also, and I’m not sure I can properly explain this, but it didn’t really hit me in the gut.  I was more entertained by this one than disturbed, which surprised me, because it is such a bloodbath throughout.  Another possibility I have to consider is perhaps the characters weren’t as fleshed out as they could have been, and I didn’t care as much if they had their arms lopped off.  I don’t know.  I enjoyed this one, but it didn’t really have me on the edge of my seat.

LS: I think it’s a mix of two things. First, we’re jaded old guys who have seen this kind of thing a thousand times before. Extreme gore just doesn’t shock us anymore. Secondly, because this is a remake, we’re familiar with the story for the most part, so there aren’t a lot of surprises—although, Alvarez does diverge from the original story a few times. Between these two things, it’s going to be pretty hard to scare us. But for some kid who never saw the original, this might really rock their world.

MA:  I guess that explains why the rest of the theater audience was screaming, while I wasn’t.  At least I wasn’t laughing, which says a lot for how good this one was.

(LS looks down at the Book of the Dead)

I just can’t help myself.  (Again reads from the evil book.  Toucan Sam appears.)

TOUCAN SAM:  I follow my nose.  Wherever it goes.

LS (points):  The bar’s that way.  (TOUCAN SAM exits.)

MA: What’s with all the breakfast cereal characters?  What is that you’re reading from, anyway?  The Book of Dead Breakfast Cereal Icons?

LS (his mouth full of cereal):  That’s a mouthful.

(CAPTAIN CRUNCH sticks his head back into the room.)

CAPTAIN CRUNCH:  That’s what she said!  (He burps).

MA:  He’s bad.

LS:  He’s drunk.

CAPTAIN CRUNCH:  I dare say.  That’s a Peanut Butter Elephant standing by the bar!  (Hiccups and exits).

MA: This is weird.  Let’s get on with the review.

LS:  The acting is mostly good, especially Jane Levy as Mia and Lou Taylor Pucci as Eric.

MA:  I thought Jane Levy was excellent as Mia.  She nailed this role.  She made for a very strong lead, and I liked that she has to fight to overcome her drug addiction, a fight that strangely disappears at one point when she’s fighting the main demon face-to-face.  Could this be a case where she was—scared straight?

LS:  My one acting complaint, however, is Shiloh Fernandez as Mia’s brother David. He’s ostensibly the hero of this movie, and thus the equivalent of Bruce Campbell’s Ash in the original film. But let me tell you, David is no Ash. Not even close. Campbell may have given an over-the-top performance in the original, but it was riveting, and fun as hell. In comparison, Fernandez is kind of a dud. He’s kind of one-dimensional for most of the movie, and isn’t very interesting. He just reacts to everything that is thrown at him, but doesn’t have much of a personality of his own. I just thought his performance was a letdown for such a crucial role, and that someone with more charisma could have knocked this movie out of the park.

MA:  I thought he was okay.

LS: My point exactly. Bruce Campbell wasn’t just okay in the original movie. He kicked ass!

MA: You’re right.  He’s kind of low key, but he didn’t really bother me.  However, I do agree with you that the movie would have been better with someone more charismatic, although I’m not sure if that’s simply Fernandez’ fault or a lack of good writing. The way the story plays out, the character of David doesn’t turn out to be the most effective hero, and I didn’t really like this all that much.  I would have preferred a stronger hero.

LS: I also had a few issues with the ending. There’s a kind of loophole that provided a glimmer of hope toward the end of the film, that didn’t make complete sense to me. I don’t necessarily have a problem with glimmers of hope, but this one seemed forced, and that, again, goes against the whole “no-holds-barred” ethic of an EVIL DEAD movie.

Despite these complaints, I liked this movie a lot, and thought it was pretty amazing. It may not be the scariest movie ever made, but it was one of the best horror movies I have seen in a long time, and I completely recommend it to fans of the genre. You’re going to have a lot of fun with this one, even if the basic plot (guy reads book and summons demons) still seems a little silly (and, sadly, cliché, since so many people ripped Raimi off after the first EVIL DEAD).

I give it three and a half knives.

Also, if you stay until the very end (after the end credits), you’ll see a final “surprise” scene that is strictly for fans of the original film (kids with no knowledge of the original film may completely not get it). So stick around, hardcore fans.

MA:  I didn’t stick around to the end, so I missed the final surprise.  I liked this one a lot too, although not as much as you.  And while I thought it was a very good horror movie, I wouldn’t put it above other very good horror movies of recent years. For example, I thought last year’s CABIN IN THE WOODS (2012) was about the same in quality.

LS: CABIN IN THE WOODS had a completely different agenda, and Joss Whedon’s script had a lot of fun with the tropes and clichés of the genre. It was smart and funny. The new EVIL DEAD is trying to do something completely different.

MA: But in terms of quality I thought they were about the same.  Both very good horror movies.

LS: By the way, the script here was by director Fede Alvarez, as well as Diablo Cody (who, you may remember, won an Oscar for her screenplay for 2005’s JUNO, and also wrote JENNIFER’S BODY (2009) and 2011’s YOUNG ADULT, the last one being a movie I liked a lot), and Rado Sayagues.

MA: I liked the acting, the pacing, and the intensity of the in-your-face gore, but something about this one lacked freshness, perhaps because it was a reimagining.  I also didn’t find the characters all that exciting or even likeable, with the exception of Jane Levy as Mia.  Horror fans will love it. Non-horror fans won’t.

I give it three knives.

LS: Just three? You must be smoking wacky tobacky or somethin’.

(MA looks around the cabin) I guess we’re done here.  So, just what is the connection between the book you’re reading and the breakfast cereal characters?

LS:  I dunno.  I just started reading it and the characters showed up.

MA:  Well, what’s the name of the book?

LS (looks at cover and reads):  THE BOOK OF THE DEAD: A REIMAGINING. BROUGHT TO YOU BY KELLOGG’S.

MA:  A reimagining?

(The door bursts open and CAPTAIN CRUNCH, TOUCAN SAM, THE LUCKY CHARMS LEPRECHAUN, TONY THE TIGER and SNAP, CRACKLE AND POP, and a bunch of other cereal characters stand there bloodied and crazed, holding knives, chainsaws, and various other brutal instruments.)

TOUCAN SAM:  We’ll cut off your nose!  Wherever blood flows!

MA:  I think breakfast is over.  Let’s get out of here.

LS:  I’m sticking to corn flakes from now on.

(TONY THE TIGER roars, his face full of blood,”THEEEEY”RE GREAT!”)

(MA & LS flee while the demented cereal characters pursue them through the woods.)

—END—

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

Michael Arruda gives EVIL DEAD ~ three knives!

LL Soares gives EVIL DEAD ~three and a half knives.

Transmissions to Earth Intercepts SOLOMON KANE (2009)

Posted in 2013, Action Movies, Evil Spirits, Exotic Locales, Heroic Fantasy, Heroic Warriors, Historical Horror, LL Soares Reviews, Robert E. Howard Characters, Sword & Sorcery, Trasmissions to Earth with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 21, 2013 by knifefighter

TRANSMISSIONS TO EARTH
Presents

zontar_sage_2

SOLOMON KANE (2009)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

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Almost everyone has heard of Conan the Barbarian, but few people, aside from fans of heroic fantasy literature, know that the great Robert E. Howard created several other interesting heroes and anti-heroes in his (regrettably short but rather prolific) career. These even included  sailors and Texas gunfighters. One of his most enduring creations was Solomon Kane, a 17th century Puritan who could fight with a sword, but who also used flintlock pistols when they came in handy. I was surprised when I first heard they were making a film based on the character.

That film, SOLOMON KANE (2009), features James Purefoy as the title hero. As the movie opens, he is the leader of a gang of mercenaries, plundering “heathens” in the name of God. While invading an Arabian palace, Kane comes face-to-face with a creature claiming to be the Devil’s Reaper, and it wants his soul to bring back to Hell. Kane escapes, and ends up in a monastery, desperately seeking solitude away from civilization. The monks tell him after a long stay, however, that it is time for him to move on.

He heads back to the land where he grew up, and is accosted by some bandits who beat him mercilessly when they learn he has sworn off violence (don’t’ worry, they’ll meet again later, with different results). He is taken in by a family of pilgrims who find him, led by patriarch William Crowthorn (Pete Postlethwaite). Kane appreciates their kindness but is convinced his soul is damned, based on what the Reaper told him. Even though he has changed his life and is no longer a plunderer and a murderer, he thinks it is too late to redeem himself.

Meanwhile, an army loyal to a sorcerer named Malachi (Jason Flemyng) is roaming the land, killing or enslaving everyone in their path. The army is led by the masked Overlord (Samuel Roukin), who appears to be some kind of killing machine. When the army adds more (unwilling) soldiers to their ranks, the men are transformed into half-human, half-demonic creatures that live only to carry out the vile wishes of their new master.

Some of these creatures attack the Crowthorn family while they are setting up camp for the night. At first, Kane is reluctant to fight back, because of his vow of non-violence, but he decides that this vow is meaningless in a filthy, violent world and springs into action. Sadly, his change of heart happens too late. The Crowthorn family is mostly slaughtered and the young daughter Meredith (Rachel Hurd-Wood), who clearly had a crush on Kane, is kidnapped.

William Crowthorn, with his dying breath, makes Kane promise to find Meredith and rescue her. In return, Crowthorn vows that God will take mercy on Kane and his soul will find its way to heaven.

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Eager to save Meredith, and be free of damnation, Solomon Kane hunts down the soldiers who took her away, pursuing them across the continent. Along the way he is beaten, brutalized and even crucified, but he is determined to right the wrongs he committed earlier in his life.

His journey will lead him back to the castle where he grew up, and to a reunion of sorts with the father than banished him, Josiah Kane (Max von Sydow) and his brother Marcus, the eldest and his father’s heir, now transformed into a monster.

With his proficiency with a blade, and his pursuit of supernatural creatures (a few are pursuing him as well), there are obvious similarities between Solomon Kane and other Robert E. Howard heroes. Kane is interesting because he is a man of God, out to vanquish the world’s evil, wearing a cloak and a pilgrim’s slouch hat. Howard always had a knack for mixing fantasy and adventure with interesting historical eras, and Solomon Kane is no exception.

As for the film version, it isn’t perfect, but it does have a few things going for it. First off, James Purefoy is excellent in the lead role. Many people will remember him as Mark Antony is HBO’s excellent series ROME (which ended before its time). Even more people may know him now as the psychopathic cult leader Joe Carroll in the new FOX series THE FOLLOWING. Here, the charismatic Purefoy makes SOLOMON KANE his own, with his mixture of brooding nobleman, ruthless warrior and conflicted man of God. It is easy to  see why other people follow him into battle, and Purefoy’s performance in the single most effective aspect of the movie version.

The rest of the cast is quite good as well, even if many of them do not stand out as boldly. It’s always good to see Pete Postlethwaite’s grinning mug, even if he’s in a small supporting role like this one. Genre mainstay Alice Krige plays Postlethwaite’s wife, Katherine. The legendary von Sydow is also a treat here, even if he doesn’t get much screen time as the big daddy Kane (sorry, I couldn’t help myself). And Rachel Hurd-Wood is quite good as the virginal Meredith, as well. But it’s Purefoy’s show, and he is more than up to the job.

The land Kane travels is kind of a character by itself, too, a sprawling, filthy countryside, that makes you feel like you need a shower when it’s done. With its mud and constant rain, the world of SOLOMON KANE is not a cheerful one.

Director Michael J. Bassett (who also wrote the script) does a good job here bringing Robert E. Howard’s world to life, although it’s not perfect. There are aspects of the plot that are a bit muddled, and some parts of the movie drag a bit (there is a stretch in the middle where it just seems to be Kane following the caravan of bad guys over filthy terrains forever). But overall, it has the look and feel of an epic, and it’s enjoyable enough.

Not a great film, but a pretty good one. SOLOMON KANE is just what the doctor ordered if you’re a fan of heroic fantasy that has a bit more blood and grit in it, and don’t care much for hobbits, like me. I don’t normally give knife ratings to movies in the Transmissions to Earth column, but for this one I’ll make an exception and give it three knives out of 5.

The film’s theatrical run in America has been choppy at best, with a limited release only happening in 2012. However, it is currently available on Cable OnDemand, and surely other venues.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives SOLOMON KANE ~three knives.

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The Geisha of Gore Reviews: SHUTTER (2004)

Posted in 2013, Asian Horror, Colleen Wanglund Reviews, Evil Spirits, Geisha of Gore Reviews, Ghosts!, Supernatural, Vengeance! with tags , , , , on March 19, 2013 by knifefighter

SHUTTER (2004)
A Review by Colleen Wanglund, the Geisha of Gore

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Written and directed by Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom, SHUTTER is a 2004 horror film from Thailand that was remade as an American film with the same title in 2008 (which they are uncredited for).

The film opens with Tun (Ananda Everingham), a photographer and his girlfriend, Jane (Natthaweeranuch Thongmee), celebrating the wedding of Tun’s friend from college, and they are among the last few left at the celebration.  On the ride home, with Jane driving, the couple hit a girl who seemingly appears out of nowhere.  In a panic, Tun tells Jane to drive away, and they do.  Jane is feeling guilt and anguish over their decision to leave the girl lying in the road and we discover Tun has had pain in his neck since the accident.  She goes to see Tun but he doesn’t do much to console her.  Tun is developing photos he had taken of his sister’s college graduation, but discovers they were all ruined by a weird shadow that Tun cannot explain.  The shadow is a face in some of the photos and Jane believes they are being haunted by the girl they hit and left to die.   The couple drives to the spot of the accident, but the only evidence that anything happened is a damaged billboard.  Tun’s friend calls local police stations and hospitals but there is no record of an accident ever happening.

While Tun finally goes to see a doctor about the pain in his neck, Jane finds a magazine about ghost photography.  Convinced of the haunting, Jane and Tun go see the magazine’s publisher who tells them that most of the photos are manipulated fakes, but that some photos are real.  He tells the couple that he believes there are ghosts, because the dead feel there is unfinished business or a message to be passed on.  He also says that sometimes the dead cannot leave their loved ones.

Next we see that Tun’s friend has committed suicide by jumping off of the building he lives in.  Tun and Jane are then told of two other college friends who have died in the same manner.  In the car, Jane confronts Tun with photos from Tun’s days in school, including one of a young woman.  Tun tells Jane that the girl is Natre (AchitaSikamana), his girlfriend in school but he kept it a secret because all of his friends thought she was weird.  He tells Jane that Natre was really in love with him and she took their breakup very hard.  Tun told his friends, who assured him they would take care of her.  Jane believes it is Natre who is haunting them.  They drive out to Natre’s home and are shocked to be told by Natre’s mother that the girl is home but not feeling well.  While the mother is busy Tun and Jane search the house and find Natre’s corpse in an upstairs bedroom.  They convince Natre’s mother to finally hold a funeral and have her cremated.  At the funeral, Tun and Jane are told that Natre had returned from school depressed but wouldn’t say why.  Natre tried to kill herself by taking pills but she was found and brought to the hospital in time to save her life.  She then jumped off the hospital’s roof and died.   Jane believes that once Natre is cremated the haunting will end—that she is restless because her body was not given a proper burial.

Jane later finds time-lapse photographs that Tun had taken of the apartment and sees the ghost.  Putting the photos in order and using them as a flip-book, Jane sees the ghost near the shelves where Tun keeps all of his work.  She finds a stack of negatives hidden behind the shelves and develops them in Tun’s darkroom.  What the photos show is something horrific that occurred while Tun and his friends were in school.  It seems that Natre’s haunting is far more than just a restless spirit needing a proper funeral.  Natre is seeking revenge.

Thailand has a strict code for movies, so you won’t see much gore and blood—some, but not a lot.  As a result, horror films have to rely on a good story and the right atmosphere.  SHUTTER has both.  The story is a bit more complex than it first seems and there are a few strange twists that make the movie that much more enjoyable.  While you may see a typical ghost story, there is also betrayal and the fact that people are not always what they initially seem.  The story is a solid one and the acting and directing are great.  Thongmee does a fantastic job as Jane, conveying her fears and her cultural beliefs in the case of the dead.  We believe that Jane believes they are being haunted for a reason, but because she does not know the whole story surrounding Natre’s death and Tun’s involvement with the girl, she is also somewhat naïve.  However, Jane is the film’s real protagonist, a strong and determined female doing what she can to protect the person she loves, while at the same time showing true concern and empathy for Natre.

Everingham is very good at portraying Tun as a good guy, and then showing the eventual cracks in the surface.  He is a likeable guy who may or may not have made the wrong decisions where his friends and girlfriend Natre were concerned.  Even his decision to drive away from the accident is understandable because he was scared.  Wrong, but still understandable.  Was that fear for himself or for Jane, who was driving?  Does he deserve what is happening to him?  You, the viewer must decide.  Both Tun and Jane are sympathetic and real.  Natre is also a sympathetic character for me.  It seems she has good reason to haunt Tun and his friends.  The friends turn out to be selfish, brutal and callous; and Tun, at the very least, stood by and did nothing.

Natre the ghost, from SHUTTER

Natre the ghost, from SHUTTER

Unlike some ghost stories out of Southeast Asia, SHUTTER is fairly linear and coherent in its telling.  Yes there are flashbacks, but they work to advance the plot and to bring the true cruelty of the film to light.  SHUTTER is also classically Asian, in that the ghost has lost her identity and has only her revenge left to her.  It is grim with an almost vague ending that is typical of Asian ghost stories, regardless of their country of origin.  Natre is a frightening antagonist and I doubt even Jane would have survived if she were among the ghost’s targets.  Natre was sadistically and savagely victimized in life, but she became powerful in death and able to punish the men responsible in the only way she could.  This, again, is a major cultural aspect of Asian horror films and is clearly demonstrated by Jane’s belief that the haunting would end when Natre received proper funerary rites.  What I did find odd is that Natre’s ghost was dressed in her old school uniform, as opposed to the usual white gown.  Even if she died jumping from the hospital’s roof, she would probably be in a hospital gown.  Then when we see her later in the film, the uniform is gone, replaced by something I couldn’t quite identify.

While not an exceptionally great film in the genre, SHUTTER is still above-average and I did enjoy it quite a bit.  It has an angry ghost, a strong female lead, an insensitive guy, and a decidedly unhappy and not-too-predictable ending.  It’s dark and chilling and worth your time.  And it’s only 90 minutes long.

Interestingly, while remade as an American film in 2008, it has also been remade at least a half-dozen times in other countries in Southeast Asia, including two different times in India.  While I have not seen the American remake (I’m generally not a fan of remakes) I can tell you that it was directed by Masayuki Ochiai whose Japanese horror titles include PARASITE EVE (1997), HYPNOSIS (1999), and INFECTION (2004).  Yes, an American remake of a Thai film by a Japanese director.

© Copyright 2013 by Colleen Wanglund