Archive for the Gore! Category

KISS OF THE DAMNED (2013)

Posted in 2013, Art Movies, Gore!, Highly Stylized Films, Independent Cinema, Indie Horror, LL Soares Reviews, Vampire Movies, Vampires, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , on May 28, 2013 by knifefighter

KISS OF THE DAMNED (2013)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

kiss-of-the-damned-trailer-1

For fans of vampire movies, these have been trying times. The TWILIGHT movies have pretty much defanged undead bloodsuckers for the time being, and aside from a few indie flicks, there hasn’t been a lot of hope that vampires will regain their former glory.

The new independent film KISS THE DAMNED tries to correct this, but unfortunately it’s just not strong enough to do the heavy lifting required to save the genre. That said, it’s a pleasant enough film regardless.

Josephine de La Baume stars as Djuna (pronounced Juna—“The D is silent,” as Jamie Foxx would say), a modern-day lady of mystery who sleeps during the day and comes out at night. She seems a little too eager to avoid contact with other people, but this intrigues screenwriter Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia) when they first see each other in a video store. She immediately feels uncomfortable when he returns her gaze, and flees the store, but he follows her outside. After some heated make-out sessions get cut short (Djuna is determined not to let things go too far), Paolo refuses to just walk away and demands to know why she won’t let their relationship go any further. At this point, she relents, and draws him into her world. Unfortunately, this involves him getting a couple of fangs in his throat, and being “turned” into something not quite human.

But Paolo is cool with losing his humanity, and seems to be the perfect mate for Djuna, who has been lonely for decades and hasn’t had someone to share her “life” with for way too long. Their love affair seems to be going in a good direction, until Djuna’s sister Mimi (a very sexy Roxane Mesquida) shows up.

Where Djuna is mature and afraid to get too close to anyone, Mimi is more reckless and violent. Djuna has sworn off hunting humans to get the blood she needs and has turned to animals, something she tries to instill in Paolo as well, but Mimi just doesn’t consider it dinner unless it’s running on two legs.

Mimi has come to stay with her sister for a week, while her “new place” in Phoenix (some kind of vampire version of rehab) is being readied for  her. The house the three of them “live” in is owned by another vampire, the successful actress Xenia (Anna Mouglalis, another standout here) who seems determined to give the wild child Mimi a second chance. Djuna, on the other hand, wants nothing to do with her sister and finds the new arrangement completely unsatisfactory, especially since she’s trying to start a new relationship with newbie vampire Paolo and all.

Djuna (Josephine de La Baume) initiates Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia) into the world of the undead in KISS OF THE DAMNED.

Djuna (Josephine de La Baume) initiates Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia) into the world of the undead, after some strenuous sex, in KISS OF THE DAMNED.

Of course, Mimi shows that Xenia’s trust in her was misguided, and Djuna was right all along, but not before she turns all of their lives upside down. One scene, where Mimi even tricks the totally-in-control Xenia into breaking one of her rules, is especially riveting.

KISS OF THE DAMNED is clearly a homage to the kind of European vampire film that was prevalent in the 70s and 80s, by filmmakers like the French master Jean Rollin (who gave us such classics as 1971’s REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE and FASCINATION, 1979), Spanish director Jess Franco (who gave us the classic VAMPYROS LESBOS, 1971) and Harry Kumel (Belgian director of the unforgettable DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS, 1971). Most, if not all, of these kinds of movies focused on female vampires with European accents. From the stylized cinematography by Tobias Datum to the original score by Steven Hufsteter, KISS OF THE DAMNED clearly wears its influences on its sleeve and is intent on “bringing sexy back” to the vampire genre.

Director Xan Cassavetes (full name Alexandra Cassavetes, daughter of indie legend John Cassavetes) does a good job here, capturing the mood and the inherent claustrophobia of the nighttime blood-drinking set. Xan previously directed the documentary Z CHANNEL: A MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION, about one of the first pay cable stations to focus exclusively on art films in California and its many devoted followers, and acted in such films as ALPHA DOG (2006) and, when she was younger, some of her father’s films like A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE (1974) and MINNIE AND MOSKOWITZ (1971).

The cast emphasizes the European flavor of the proceedings. French actress Josephine de La Baume was previously in movies like ONE DAY (2011) and JOHNNY ENGLISH REBORN (also 2011). Roxane Mesquida, also from France, was previously in such diverse films as the Catherine Breillat films FAT GIRL (2001) and SEX IS A COMEDY (2002), as well as Greg Araki’s KABOOM (2010) and Quentin Dupieux’s RUBBER (also 2010).

American actor Milo Ventimiglia will probably be most familiar here to American audiences, mainly for playing Peter Petrelli in the TV series HEROES (2006 -2010). He’s also been in some interesting independent flicks since, like the horror film PATHOLOGY (2008), which I liked a lot. With a dark beard and smoldering eyes, Ventimiglia is a strong presence here, and holds his own quite well with the attractive women he plays opposite. There’s also a small turn by actor Michael Rappaport (COP LAND, 1997, and DEEP BLUE SEA, 1999) as Paolo’s clueless agent, Ben, who shows up unannounced at one point, wanting to see how Paolo’s latest screenplay is coming.

I’m a fan of the kinds of movies Xan Cassavetes is clearly trying to recapture here, and I think she does a pretty good job evoking the same sense of time and place, but I never had the feeling that KISS OF THE DAMNED was adding anything new to the genre. It all seemed like things we’ve seen before, and while it’s a stylish throwback to the days when vampire films were both sexy and chilling, it doesn’t have enough of an original voice to stand out.

Still, I’d rather see something as visually appetizing as KISS OF THE DAMNED than a hundred TWILIGHTs, so I don’t want to be too negative. I just wish it had been more ambitious and tried to do something different with this kind of storyline. As KISS OF THE DAMNED ended, I found myself wanting more of these characters, and at the same time realizing that they really didn’t have all that much to say.

I give KISS OF THE DAMNED, three knives. Not perfect, but it will still wash the foul taste of TWILIGHT out of your mouth.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

Kiss-of-the-Damned-Retro

LL Soares gives KISS OF THE DAMNED ~three knives.

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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.

TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D (2013)

Posted in 2013, 3-D, 70s Horror, Cannibals, Chainsaws!, Cinema Knife Fights, Gore!, Indie Horror, Sequels, Serial Killer flicks, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , , , on January 7, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D (2013)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

chainsaw3d

(THE SCENE: a meat packaging plant. MICHAEL ARRUDA and L.L. SOARES are seated at a table.  LEATHERFACE slams a slab of meat onto the table in front of them and promptly slices into it with his chainsaw, spraying both LS and MA with blood.  He places dripping chunks of meat onto two plates and slides them in front of LS and MA.)

LS (grinning):  Oh boy!  (begins to eat raw meat.)

MA (frowning at plate in front of him):  I’ll pass, thank you.

(LEATHERFACE grunts and points towards plate.)

MA: Nothing against your cooking—(aside) what cooking?—but I ate before we got here.  Anyway, we’re here to review your new movie, so why don’t you let us do that, and maybe I’ll work up an appetite.  (LEATHERFACE nods).  Since L.L. is busy filling his face, I’ll start things off.

LS (wipes blood of his chin): Gee, thanks, buddy!

MA: TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D (2013) is the latest movie in the TEXAS CHAINSAW franchise, a series that started with Tobe Hooper’s original THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (1974), a classic of the horror genre, but a movie that I just have never been able to get into or appreciate.  In short, I’ve just never liked it.

LS (spits out his food in shock):  What kind of a horror fan are you?  How can you not like THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE? It might just be the best horror movie of all time.

MA:  If we were reviewing that one, I’d tell you, but right now we’re reviewing TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D.  Anyway, along the way, there’s been various remakes and sequels, including THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (2003) and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE:  THE BEGINNING (2006).  None of these movies did anything for me, but if you’d care to comment more on them, to give the folks a little history, be my guest.

LS:  Not really. As is usual with these kinds of things, the various sequels and remakes run the gamut of various levels of bad (or at least inferiority) compared to the original film. I thought the recent remake and its sequel were incredibly bland and sterile compared to the visceral power of the original film. The nominal sequels have been a mixed bag of wasted celluloid, with only the sequel Hooper made himself, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 (1986) worth checking out at all, and that one is a train wreck of another kind, which is sad, considering the great cast involved. I think the one I hate most is TEXAS CHAINSAW: THE NEXT GENERATION (1994) which is like a really wimpy retelling of the original film with a younger cast that includes Matthew McConaughey and Rene Zellweger in early roles (let’s just say, they’re wasted) and a skinny Leatherface! Just pathetic! Nope, there’s not much to recommend about the franchise aside from the first movie. Unfortunately, Tobe Hooper’s career hasn’t been especially awe-inspiring since his first film either, he never did recapture the pure gut-punching adrenaline of TCM ever again, although he’s made a few okay films. I wish he had something to do with this new one, other than a “Characters created by” credit, though.

MA:  Which brings us to today’s movie, TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D.

The film opens with events from the original film

LS: In 3D no less! Looked….kinda goofy.

MA: …and then adds new footage showing the locals forming a lynch mob, surrounding the home of Leatherface and his family, and burning it to the ground, killing everyone inside.  Well, almost everybody.  A couple rescues a baby from the home, although you wouldn’t want these folks working as your local paramedics, as the man, once he takes the baby from its mom’s arms, kicks the mom in the head, killing her.  And of course, we never do see Leatherface perish in the fire.

LS: This first scene really set the wrong mood right from the start for me. The first film is so dark, almost subterranean in its spookiness, that a shootout in broad daylight seemed like a real letdown. This holed-up-in-a-house-with-the-police-outside scene also reminded me of a similar scene that started off another, much superior horror film – Rob Zombie’s classic, THE DEVIL’S REJECTS (2005)– which makes this one look pretty awful in comparison.

And we don’t really get to see any of the original characters in the shootout scene– Chop Top (Edwin Neal in the original and Bill Moseley in Hooper’s 1986 sequel) was hit by a truck before this, Leatherface is in hiding, and the Cook, maybe my favorite character in the original, isn’t shown at all (actor Jim Siedow died in 2003, but they couldn’t have had someone else play his character?). The only character from the original movie we see in the shootout scene is old, zombie-like Grandpa, sitting in a chair with his deathly white face (anyone could be behind that old man makeup). It turns out a bunch of relatives showed up at the house before the police, to defend their kin (including Drayton Sawyer, played by the previously mentioned Bill Moseley in a different role here). There are so many new faces, it doesn’t even seem like the same family or the same story, although it was cool to see Gunnar Hansen (the original Leatherface) as “Boss Sawyer.” But something about this whole opening shootout seemed too normal, too bland right from the start. The original cast and house made us feel like we were traveling through Hell itself. Here, it’s just another shootout with the police…

(A man holding a chainsaw and wearing a severed pig’s head over his own head enters the room)

LS: It’s Farmer Vincent from the movie MOTEL HELL (1980)

FARMER VINCENT: That’s right, boys. I’m here to make sure old leatherbutt here made the meat correctly. Did you use my special recipe?

(LEATHERFACE grunts and nods his head no)

FARMER VINCENT: The hell you say! How could you prepare these people a decent meal of meat and not prepare it correctly! DAMN YOU!

(FARMER VINCENT revs up his chainsaw, and LEATHERFACE revs his up in turn)

MA: Now gentlemen, there’s no reason for violence here.

FARMER VINCENT: Like hell there’s not!

LS (grin): Let ‘em fight, this might be fun.

(Suddenly the Sawyer family member known as THE COOK enters the room, flapping his arms)

COOK: Dang nab it! Don’t go making a mess in here.

FARMER VINCENT: I thought you was dead!

COOK: Well, I ain’t. And I prepared the meat. So you bet damn well it’s done right.

(FARMER VINCENT grabs a chunk, lifts his pig mask and tries it)

FARMER VINCENT: Mmmm. Pretty good.

COOK: Now get yer ass out of here before I kick it across the state of Texas!

FARMER VINCENT: I’m going, I’m going.

COOK: Now look what you done! (he slaps LEATHERFACE). Causing all this commotion. And me in the middle of my cooking! (LEATHERFACE cowers before him)

(COOK stops and turns to LS and MA)

COOK: Sorry, gents. I didn’t mean no harm here. Just go about enjoyin’ your meals.

(COOK goes back to the kitchen. LEATHERFACE is still whimpering in a corner)

Texas-Chainsaw-3D-2012-Movie-Poster

LS: That was fun! It’s like dinner theater!

MA: Can we get back to our review…finally?

LS: Sure!

MA: After the shoot-out, where the Sawyer home gets burned to the ground, the story then jumps ahead to present day where beautiful young Heather Miller (Alexandra Daddario) receives a letter informing her that her grandmother has died, and that the woman left a home in Texas for Heather in her will.  Now, Heather wasn’t even aware that this grandmother existed, and so she also learns at this point that she was adopted, and that her true blood line lived in Texas.  Yep, Heather’s the grown up baby that was rescued from Leatherface’s home, making her Leatherface’s cousin.

LS: Woo-hoo! That sure is some looker, you’ve got for a cousin, Leatherboy!

(LEATHERFACE grins and nods his head)

MA: Heather and her hip friends decide to take a road trip to Texas to check out the new home.  Along the way they pick up a hitchhiker (an event which mirrors the original story) and once in Texas, they find that the home left for Heather is an elegant mansion.

The twentysomethings prepare to celebrate, but their plans are short-lived when it turns out that Leatherface still lives in the basement, and he’s none too happy about new folks moving into his home.

Further complicating matters is that the mayor of the town, Burt Hartman (Paul Rae), is the leader of the lynch mob who burned Leatherface’s home to the ground.  He hates Leatherface’s family, and he’s not above lynching Leatherface a second time, or his young cousin Heather.

It seems lovely Heather has more to worry about than just Leatherface.  In fact, Leatherface might even become her ally.  Aww, a kinder gentler Leatherface!  Just what we need.

(LEATHERFACE nods at first, then pauses as if thinking, then vigorously shakes his head “no.”)

MA:  I didn’t think so.  Honestly, I’ve seen worst movies than TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D, and I didn’t hate this one by any means, but that being said, boy, what a lame movie!  In short, this one’s awful.

The worst part of TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D, and why I called this one lame, is its story.  Its premise generates absolutely no suspense—Heather and her friends arrive at her new home—does anyone in the theater (and there were three other people there besides me, by the way) not expect Leatherface to be living somewhere inside that mansion?  A creative story would have taken us in a different direction, one that we didn’t expect.  Not so here.  You can see every move happening long before it does.  It’s standard horror storytelling all the way.

LS: Unfortunately, yes.

MA: And nice job, Grandma!  Way to go, caring for your long lost granddaughter by giving her a house with a homicidal maniac living in the basement!  Yup, as they say in the movie, blood is thicker than water.  What a boneheaded move!  I’m supposed to believe that a woman who cares for her family would bequeath a home with Leatherface living in it to her unsuspecting granddaughter?

LS: Yeah, Leatherface almost kills her a bunch of times, until he realizes who she is. But you can’t completely blame Grandma! She did leave Heather a letter.

MA: Yeah, she says in her letter to Heather that all Leatherface needs is a little loving and caring, and he’ll protect her.  How sweet.  Leatherface is a regular hero.  I don’t think Heather’s friends, all butchered by Leatherface, would agree.

LS: This is one major plot point that bothered me. Leatherface kills some of her friends (I’m not saying who) and suddenly it’s like it never happened and Heather has to make some choices about who she’s going to stand by and who’s the enemy. And suddenly, she’s able to forgive the murders of people she cares about without a second thought. It didn’t seem genuine to me.

MA:  I agree.

LS:  Although, they’re not the best friends. Her boyfriend Ryan (Trey Songz, who is okay here, but not very developed as a character) is cheating on her with her best friend, Nikki. (Tania Raymonde).  But Heather doesn’t know that.

MA: Adam Marcus, Debra Sullivan, and Kirsten Elms wrote the screenplay for this one. You’d think three writers would have come up with a better story.

LS: Maybe they should have gone with Arruda and Soares instead?

MA: I like the sound of that!

LS: Seriously, they have some good ideas. The script just wasn’t good about following through with them.

MA: Director John Luessenhop does an okay job at the helm.  The film looks fine and includes the expected gore, which I found both tasteless and fake-looking, not a good combination.  One guy gets his body sawed in half by a chainsaw, grisly and pointless, but expected, and yet it didn’t disturb all that much because it looked fake.  That CGI culprit again!

LS: I didn’t mind the stuff you’re calling tasteless. But some of the fake-looking stuff I could do without.

MA: But anything resembling genuine suspense is absent here, as are any real shocks.  And as you already know by its title, it’s in 3D, and no, I wasn’t impressed.

LS: I don’t know. It wasn’t worth the extra price, I’ll give you that. But there were some cool moments where chainsaws come right out of the screen at you, that I enjoyed. But it was just a gimmick. Over all, it wasn’t really worth seeing it in 3D.

MA: I did like Leatherface’s mask, as it was sufficiently gruesome.  But that being said, Leatherface himself didn’t make for the scariest villain.  I mean, he comes off as this overweight lump of a man barely able to run—I was half surprised he didn’t keel over and die from a heart attack.  His cholesterol level must be off the charts!

LS: Another big problem I have with the movie is that you’re right, Leatherface isn’t scary here. In the original, he was this big killing machine. Intimidatingly huge, and vicious. Here, he’s kind of like the smaller, less scary version. Sure, he’s supposed to be 20 years older, but not once did I feel like he was a force to be reckoned with. Not once did I think he could scare the hell out of anyone. The chainsaw—sure, that’s scary. Leatherface here, not so much. Gunnar Hansen in the original movie was SCARY AS HELL.

MA: For the most part, the acting was okay.  Alexandra Daddario holds her own in the lead role as Heather Miller.  She’s beautiful and she can act, so that’s nice combination to have.

LS: You’re right. She’s very stunning. Between those eyes of hers, and everything else (she wears shirts exposing her belly in almost every scene of the movie), my eyes were just drawn to her like a magnet. And she’s okay here as an actress. Nothing amazing, but she pulls it off.

MA: Her friends were fine, but reminded me of the same types of characters I’ve seen in countless other horror movies of this type.  I recognized Tania Raymonde from LOST, as Heather’s friend Nikki, who likes to flaunt lots of skin and cleavage in this one.

Also in the cast as a young police officer is Scott Eastwood, Clint Eastwood’s son.  He’s okay.

LS: Scott Eastwood as Carl is really wasted here. He’s actually really good in every scene he’s in. But then, toward the end, once the action shifts to the inside of a slaughterhouse, he is completely forgotten and we don’t see him again, which doesn’t make a lot of sense.

MA: Paul Rae as Burt Hartman makes a nice villain, and he’s actually the main baddie in this one, as he’s one big pain in the ass.  He seems to want to lynch everyone he meets. One other thing I’ll say is that this movie doesn’t paint a very nice picture of small town Texas either.  These folks aren’t friendly.

LS: Hartman is good, even if he never does seem like that big of a threat. He’s the leader of a lynch mob who became a crooked mayor in a small town. Somehow it seems like the enemy here should have been more formidable.

MA: And of course there’s Dan Yeager as Leatherface, wowing us with his multidimensional performance.  Yeah, right.  Sorry, Leatherface, but you’re about as multidimensional as a loaf of white bread.  In fact, at times in this movie, you resemble a loaf of bread.  A big fat loaf.

LS: He’s supposed to be Leatherface as an old man, so sometimes it worked for me. But as I stated before, he’s simply not intimidating or scary. They needed to get a bigger, scarier actor in this role. Yeager just seems like a mini version of the real thing.

MA: Sorry TEXAS CHAINSAW fans, but I can’t really find anything good to say about this movie, the latest silly chapter in a series that I just can’t warm up to.

I give it one knife.

LS: I actually liked this one more than you. But in the end, it is a disappointment. First off, I think the people who made this film had their hearts in the right place. You could tell they really wanted to pay respect to the original film. TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D states its goal early on with the footage from the original film. It’s meant to be a direct sequel to the 1974 movie. It simply dismisses all those bad sequels and boring remakes. In the remakes, by the way, the family’s name was changed to Hewitt for some inexplicable reason. Here, in this movie, we are told right off the bat that the murderers are the Sawyer family—the correct name—and that immediately got points from me early on.

I really think the people who made this film liked the original and wanted to do it justice, but  they just didn’t have the imagination to do it well. That said, there were scenes I liked, and things about the movie that worked for me. I just didn’t think it was scary, and I don’t think it’s very logical (especially toward the end). The fact that Leatherface is able to walk away without being arrested, after killing Heather’s friends, other people, and running through a local carnival with a chainsaw, completely puzzled me. It just wasn’t believable.

MA:  Not only that, but in a key scene, the sheriff just stands and watches a main character get murdered in front of his eyes without offering assistance.

LS: Well, he does kind of deserve it! Strangely, I liked this movie. I thought its flaws outweighed what was good about it, but I saw this as kind of a labor of love, and I can appreciate that. The original CHAINSAW deserves to be revered in the horror genre. And for once, this didn’t feel (completely) like a movie that simply wanted to cash in on a name brand and make some quick money.

I give it two and a half knives. Not a great score, but not a dismal one. And it’s at least as good as some of the movies I’ve given that score to in the past. This one has its problems, but it has just enough heart to come close to winning me over.

(LEATHERFACE pushes plate of meat back in front of MA and grunts.)

LS:  That’s right.  You said you’d build up an appetite.

MA:  I meant, like next week.

LS:  I think he wants you to eat it.

MA:  Oh well.  (grabs a fork and digs in).  (chewing).  Not bad. Rather spicy.  What kind of flavoring did you use?

(LEATHERFACE reaches into his pocket and removes what looks like squished guts and organs.  MA stops chewing.)

LS (laughs):  Sorry you asked?

MA:  I was thinking steak sauce and paprika.  Anyway, isn’t it time we move on?

LS:  What?  And skip dessert? He made us blood pudding!

(LEATHERFACE nods eagerly)

MA:  Well, folks, at least you get to leave now.  Thanks for joining us, and we’ll see you next time.

—END—

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

Michael Arruda gives TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D ~one knife!

LL Soares gives TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D~ two and a half knives!

THE COLLECTION (2012)

Posted in 2012, Cinema Knife Fights, Disturbing Cinema, Elaborate Murders, Extreme Movies, Gore!, Killers, LL Soares Reviews, Madness, Medical Experiments!, Mutilation, Psychos, Sequels, Torture with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 10, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT Presents:
THE COLLECTION (2012)
Review by L.L. Soares

The Collection (2012) Movie Poster

(THE SCENE: an abandoned hotel full of cobwebs. L.L. SOARES is climbing the stairs using a flashlight)

LS: I’m starting to think MICHAEL ARRUDA isn’t here at all. I’m sure this is all a prank.

(His cell phone rings, playing Bernard Herrmann’s music from the shower scene of PSYCHO)

LS: Hello?

MA: LL, is that you? I’ve been waiting for an hour now.

LS: What are you talking about? I’m here now, at the Argento Hotel, just like you told me. I can’t find you anywhere.

MA: Oops, I meant the Argento Steak House. My bad.

LS: That explains a lot.

MA: Well, while I have you on the phone, how was that new movie, THE COLLECTION?

LS: I was just going to start the review. I guess I have to do this one solo.

(SWITCH to Michael Arruda in a restaurant. A waiter brings a delicious meal to his table)

MA (making noises with his mouth): Oh no, I’m having phone problems. LL are you there? I can’t hear you?

LS: Yes, I’m still here.

MA (makes more noises): Oh no, you’re breaking up. I’m going to lose you. (MA shuts off his phone)

LS: Dammit! I hate bad connections. And it always happens when I’m in spooky places like this.

So where was I? Oh yes, I was going to review the new movie THE COLLECTION. I guess I’ve got nothing better to do.

(LS sits down on a comfy chair in the hallway of the old hotel. He brings the flashlight up to his face, turning it on, making himself look spooky)

LS: Gather round the fire, kiddies, and I’ll tell you the spooky story of THE COLLECTION. First off, it’s the sequel to the 2009 movie THE COLLECTOR, which was also directed by Marcus Dunstan.  He also co-wrote the screenplays for SAW IV (2007), SAW V (2008) , SAW VI (2009) and SAW 3D: THE FINAL CHAPTER (2010) as well as FEAST (2005) and its sequels, with his writing partner, Patrick Melton. This is a busy guy.

Anyway, in case you didn’t see the first one, it was a about a thief named Arkin (Josh Stewart) who breaks into a house to steal some money and valuables, and instead finds a house of horrors. Someone else has gotten there first, and has turned it into a booby-trapped filled torture chamber, and the family (who was supposed to be on vacation) suffers horribly at the hands of a masked murderer known only as The Collector. They call him that because, whenever he attacks someplace, he kills everyone except one person, who he kidnaps for his “collection.”

The first movie ended on a suspenseful note, as Arkin was captured by the Collector, and then the end credits rolled.

The new movie, THE COLLECTION, continues where the last one left off. Sort of. This time around, we find out that the Collector has been up to lots of mischief since the last time we saw him. Not only is he making random home invasions, now the number of people he’s killed is off the charts, and the police have no clue how to stop him. The city is in a panic. So what does teenager Elena  (Emma Fitzpatrick) do? She goes to a rave of course, in an abandoned building that no adults know about. When she finds out that her boyfriend is cheating on her, she runs away from the dance floor to an empty room, with a trunk in the middle of it.  She’s crying when suddenly the trunk moves and starts to make noise! There’s someone inside it. As we know from the previous movie, this is the Collector’s calling card, and if you open a trunk, it puts all kinds of horrible things in motion. So of course, she opens it, letting out Arkin (Josh Stewart again), our hero from the first movie. Only this time he is bloody from having been tortured for weeks.

His being set free sets all kinds of weird traps and pullies in motion, and a giant wheat shredding blade descends on the partiers, chopping them all to mulch. Another group of people, including Elena’s friend, Missy (Johanna Braddy) get locked up in a cage where the ceiling is crushing down on them.

Somehow Arkin escapes, and Elena gets nabbed by the Collector before he can save her. She is the only survivor of the massacre, and, as we know, the Collector always takes one victim away from the crime scene alive.

(LS gets up from the chair, just as a huge metal spike drops down from the ceiling and stabs where he was just sitting)

LS: Arkin wakes up in the hospital, where he is interrogated by a guy named Lucello (Lee Tergesen), who appears to be a cop, but isn’t. He works for Elena’s rich father (Christopher McDonald) and will stop at nothing to find Elena and bring her back to her father. Even if that means forcing Arkin to retrace his steps to find where Elena is being held (he has marks carved in his arm to determine where he was taken to last time).

Lucello and his team of Black Ops agents then invade the Hotel Argento (get the funny homage to horror director Dario Argento?) where the Collector rules over victims driven insane by their horrible treatment and who have been turned into crazed zombie-like creatures. Oh, and there are tons of booby traps and mazes and bear traps and time bombs. Let’s just say that Lucello has no idea what he’s in for, and poor Arkin is forced to go along for the ride, even though he’s endured these particular horrors before.

There are also lots of “collections” throughout the hotel. From the usual butterflies and insects in frames, to giant tanks full of bizarre sculptures made from human body parts.

There are bizarre sculptures made from human body parts throughout the hotel, like this one.

There are bizarre sculptures made from human body parts throughout the hotel, like this one.

(LS continues walking down the hallway. Hatchets are hurled at him and keep missing him.)

LS: THE COLLECTION is in limited release and its official release date was December 1st, except that week it was only playing in obscure movie theaters out in the ‘burbs, so I couldn’t see it. This weekend, it got a slightly wider release and made its way into the city. Because I enjoyed the first movie, I was looking forward to seeing this one, so I made sure to check it out before it disappeared.

Let me state something for the record. I like “torture porn.” That might be the first time you have ever seen a critic say this out loud in public, but the truth is, when the genre is done right, it can be pretty compelling. I think the first two HOSTEL movies, for example, are terrific. I was less-than-enthusiastic about all the SAW movies, because I had a problem with the Jigsaw character.

You see, our old friend Jigsaw had this agenda where his elaborate murder scenarios were meant to give the  bad people who survived them a second chance. He was  trying to change their lives. He was trying to redeem them, by making them thankful to be alive. This was all a bit hard to swallow, and I’m sure you found this all to be as much bullshit as I did. Also, Jigsaw didn’t like to get his hands dirty and watched the violence from a control room. His “victims” had to make decisions about which door to open, or which lever to pull, while he watched from safety.

The Collector isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. He is more than happy to resort to hand-to-hand combat when his more elaborate methods don’t finish everyone off. He’s a skilled fighter, knows his way around a knife fight, and is lethal as hell. And there’s no pontificating about changing people’s lives. The Collector simply thirsts for blood and uses his weird,  elaborate killing methods to quench that thirst. Plus, he wears a cool, black Mexican wrestler’s mask to keep his identity a secret. Let’s just say that the Collector would kick Jigsaw’s ass in a fight.

THE COLLECTION is gory as hell. It pushes its R-rating to the limit. And it’s very suspenseful. You never know what is going to happen next, and who will die. Which is just the way a good horror movie should  be. Sure, not all of it makes sense, and you really start to wonder how anyone can set up as many crazy booby traps as this guy does throughout  the hotel—it just doesn’t seem possible—and then you realize, “hell, it’s just a movie.” And there are lots of blockbuster action movies that make even less sense.

And the cast is top-rate for this kind of thing. Josh Stewart, who was so good in the first movie, does an equally good job here, reprising his role as petty thief  and “Collector expert” Arkin. Emma Fitzpatrick is tough and unflinching as Elena (she reminded me a bit of Natalie Portman). Lee Tergeson (who you might remember as Beecher from the HBO series OZ) is solid here as Lucello, and his team of mercenaries includes Andre Royo, who was so great as the homeless guy Bubbles on another excellent HBO series, THE WIRE (it seems like more great actors have come out of OZ and THE WIRE than any other TV shows put together). Believe me, the actors involved are above-average for this kind of thing.

And the ending is actually pretty satisfying this time around. So make sure you stay in your seat until those end credits roll, because there’s a kick-ass epilogue to the story.

(LS stops in front of a doorway, and a pie hurtles at him, hitting him in the face)

Beware! The Collector wants to add you to his COLLECTION.

Beware! The Collector just might want to add you to his COLLECTION.

LS (wipes cream off his face and licks): Mmmm, banana cream!

Sure there’s horrible violence. Sure, people get tortured. There’s blood and body parts galore. But it works. There’s this incredibly sadistic bastard trying to kill as many people as possible, and a group of people trying their best to stop him. If it’s “torture porn,” and it certainly fits the bill,  then it’s one of the better examples of the genre. Unfortunately, the genre itself is in decline, no doubt thanks to all of those SAW movies that amounted to a great big example of overkill. They milked that cash cow as long as they could. So there’s a good chance THE COLLECTION might be the end of this particular franchise.

I am not expecting THE COLLECTION to be a big hit. In fact, I’m sure it won’t do very well at all, especially since it’s in such limited release. But I’m telling you, if you’re not squeamish about this kind of stuff, you might just enjoy the hell out of it. I know I did.

I give THE COLLECTION ~ four bloody knives.

(LS dials his cell phone, and Michael Arruda picks up on the other end, enjoying his steak dinner)

MA: Hello?

LS: I know you gave me the wrong info on purpose. I hope you’re enjoying your dinner.

MA: Er…I am.

LS: And I hope you enjoyed the ground up glass in the mashed potatoes.

MA (touches his mouth and coughs up blood): NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

LS: What? I can’t hear you. We have a bad connection.

(FADE TO BLACK)

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives THE COLLECTION ~ four knives!

JUAN OF THE DEAD (2011)

Posted in 2012, Apocalyptic Films, Comedies, Dark Comedies, Exotic Locales, Foreign Films, Gore!, Horror, Just Plain Fun, LL Soares Reviews, Zombie Movies, Zombies with tags , , , , , on November 26, 2012 by knifefighter

JUAN OF THE DEAD (2011)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

In 2004, SHAUN OF THE DEAD gave us a horror comedy that hit all the right notes. Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost gave us a “dead on” comedy firmly planted in the world of the zombies created by George A. Romero in such classic films as NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968), DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978), and DAY OF THE DEAD (1985). The reason why it was so brilliant is because it was so well-versed in the world Romero created and played off that smartly.

SHAUN opened the floodgates for other zombie comedies. Some of them have been pretty forgettable, others like 2009’s ZOMBIELAND, have given us clever riffs on similar material. And now, along comes JUAN OF THE DEAD (aka JUAN DE LOS MUERTOS),  a zombie comedy that comes from (and is set in) modern day Cuba. How does it stack up to its predecessors? Quite well, actually.

Directed by Alejandro Brugues, JUAN OF THE DEAD begins with Juan (Alexis Diaz de Villegas) and his buddy Lazaro (Jorge Molina) floating on a raft, fishing. They catch a strange-looking fish that turns out to be a dead body. But it suddenly lifts its horrific head and tries to bite them! Lazaro shoots a harpoon through its skull, and the friends agree to keep this a secret.

But not long afterward, they find themselves in the middle of a full-blown zombie infestation in Havana!

As zombies fill the streets, Juan and Lazaro decide it’s time to take a stand—they start a service where they hire themselves out to kill zombies. They are joined by Lazaro’s son, Vladi California (Andros Perugorria), a young hippie lady’s man, as well as a transvestite named La China (Jazz Vila) and her hulking boyfriend, El Primo (Eliecer Ramirez). They all have their special weapons: Juan uses paddles from his raft, Lazaro has machetes, El China has a slingshot and El Primo uses his fists—and, because he faints at the sight of blood—El China blindfolds him and has to lead him around.

There’s also Juan’s daughter, Camila (Andrea Duro) who is visiting from Miami where she lives with her mother. She hasn’t seen Juan in years and picks the worst possible time to come visiting. Of course, as the movie progresses, we find out that Camila, who Juan is always trying to protect, is as tough as he is.

The name of their enterprise becomes “Juan of the Dead” quite by accident (it’s the way Vladi answers their ancient-looking telephone the first time they get a job). They are soon being hired to go to rich people’s houses to exterminate their loved ones, and hotels to get rid of occupants who are no longer breathing.

Juan and friends look for work during a zombie apocalypse in JUAN OF THE DEAD.

There are lots of scenes of Juan and his friends getting in bloody brawls with zombies, so there’s lots of gore. They also meet some interesting characters along the way, including a gun-toting preacher who only speaks English (albeit with a thick Cuban accent) and who no one else can communicate with (they only know Spanish). And, at one point, the gang is apprehended by soldiers who order them to take their clothes off and they are chained together in the back of a transport vehicle. Unfortunately, one of the other prisoners turns out to be a zombie, which leads to chaos.

The movie has its share of laughs. One scene came toward the end involves Lazaro telling Juan he has been bitten by a zombie and won’t make it to morning. It sounds pretty intense, but it turns out to be pretty funny.

It’s also interesting to get to see Havana, which was obviously a beautiful city once, but is now rundown and crumbling. We don’t get to see real Cuban locales on film very often, but I hope JUAN OF THE DEAD won’t be the last movie we get from Cuba anytime soon.

It’s a good cast, and Alexis Diaz de Villegas has a lot of heart in the lead role. While I didn’t think it was as funny as SHAUN OF THE DEAD, I thought it was a fresh take on the whole zombie apocalypse thing, and it’s worth checking out.

I give JUAN OF THE DEAD ~ three knives.

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives JUAN OF THE DEAD ~three knives.

THE BAY (2012)

Posted in 2012, Conspiracy Theories, Disease!, Faux Documentaries, Found Footage Movies, Gore!, Horror, LL Soares Reviews, Parasites! with tags , , , , , , on November 15, 2012 by knifefighter

THE BAY (2012)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

This one sounded interesting to me. A “found footage” horror movie by Barry Levinson, the director who gave us such memorable films through the years as DINER (1982), THE NATURAL (1984), RAIN MAN (1988), BUGSY (1991), SLEEPERS (1996) , WAG THE DOG (1997) and lots more. That’s one hell of a resume.

And I’ve actually enjoyed most of the “found footage” movies that have been coming out lately, even though the genre gets a bad rap. I was definitely interested in seeing what Levinson would do with the concept.

THE BAY (2012) got a limited release in a few cities across the country, and is also currently on cable OnDemand. Watching this movie, I found myself wondering why it didn’t get a wider release.

The “bay” in question here is Chesapeake Bay, which I read is “the largest estuary in the United States” surrounded by Maryland and Virginia. The movie THE BAY takes place mostly in a small town called Claridge, Maryland. It relies mostly on tourism for its income. But there are also lots of chicken farms in the area, made possible thanks to a big desalination plant that makes enough water available to support the industry. But there’s the problem of animal waste and rumors that there might have been a nuclear waste leak years back, or so the movie tells us. And that chicken waste has a lot of chemicals in it like steroids and other stuff to increase the birds’ growth and meat production.

It’s the Fourth of July, and there’s a big celebration in Claridge, including a crab-eating contest and sailing and fireworks. But this year, something goes wrong. People start getting sick. They starts to erupt with boils and throw up blood, and develop wounds that look as if their flesh is being eaten away from the inside. People start to panic, and bodies start piling up in the streets.

What is causing this pandemic? We have clues as to the conditions that bred such a disease, but the actual culprit might surprise you.

Meanwhile, the movie is made up of footage that was being suppressed. A chunk of it is from the point of view of Donna Thompson (Kether Donohue), a young news reporter who got her “big break” that Fourth of July, when she thought she was just covering another small town holiday, but instead stumbled on something horrible. She just wants to get this footage out to the world before it happens again.

Not all of the footage is of Donna and what she witnesses, however. There’s also video of two researchers who were testing the bay’s toxicity;  a family (wife, husband and baby) who film themselves taking their boat to Claridge to meet the wife’s parents; and footage of Dr. Jack Abrams (Stephen Kunken), who first sees an emergency room waiting area with about 30 people who are infected with strange symptoms. Then he sees that number rise to 60 people, and more and more. His frantic Skypes to the Center for Disease Control don’t seem to be taken seriously at first, and by the time the authorities start to worry, it’s clear they want to cover this up and avoid a mass panic. We also see a few Claridge police officers making their rounds in COPS-like footage, and we see a girl on Facebook making videos, unable to get help, and afraid she might die alone. As the movie progresses, the symptoms of the people infected get more gory and disturbing.

Somehow, all this various footage meshes well together, and tells a compelling story about a horrible flesh-eating disease, and puts a human face on that disease.

Levinson does a fine job with the material. No matter how much I want to get sick of the found footage genre, movies like this pop up that keep it viable. I was pretty riveted throughout, wondering what was behind all this, and if it could be stopped in time. Levinson does a great job here building suspense. And the performances help him to sell the story. The acting here is all very good and the people are believable.

Keather Donohue plays reporter Donna Thompson, who is trying to get word out about what seems to be a killer disease in THE BAY.

There has been some hype about the fact that Oren Peli is one of the producers. He’s the guy who gave us the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY franchise and the short-lived ABC series THE RIVER. And sure, Peli is the king of this kind of stuff. But THE BAY stands or falls on the work of a director named Barry Levinson, and while it might seem that he’s working with material that is beneath him, he pulls it off really well.

I enjoyed this movie, and it kept me glued to the screen throughout. I give it three knives.

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives THE BAY ~three  knives.

THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS (2012)

Posted in 2012, Based on Classic Films, Campy Movies, Cinema Knife Fights, Exotic Locales, Fantasy, Gore!, Kung Fu!, Martial Arts with tags , , , , , , , on November 5, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS (2012)
By Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

(The Scene: A Chinese village.  On one side of the street stand warriors dressed as lions, and on the opposite side are warriors dressed like wolves.  Between them is a bordello, with beautiful Chinese women dancing in the windows.  On the bright red roof of the building, stand MICHAEL ARRUDA and L.L. SOARES.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  It looks like a good battle tonight, between the heavily favored lions and the underdog wolves.

L.L. SOARES:  This sounds suspiciously like a sporting event.  I think I’ll pass.  (Starts climbing down the side of the building.)

MA:  Hey!  Where are you going?

LS:  Where do you think I’m going? (Below him, an attractive woman waves at LS, and he winks back).

MA:  You can’t leave!  We have a movie to review.

LS:  Well, let’s get started then.  I was ready before, but you started watching that skirmish down there.

MA:  It looks like a good contest, as long as the wolves don’t go taking their shirts off, that is.

LS (climbing back onto the roof):  That’ll happen in two weeks.  When we review the final TWILIGHT movie.

MA:  Don’t remind me!  (He shudders).  All right, let’s start this week’s review.

Today, we’re reviewing THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS (2012) a stylish action yarn directed by hip hopper RZA, who also co-wrote the script with Eli Roth, and stars in the lead role as well.

The story is narrated by the Blacksmith (RZA) who tells us he makes weapons for warriors so he can save enough money to run away from Jungle Village with the love of his life, Lady Silk (Jamie Chung).

When a warrior, Gold Lion (Kuan Tai Chen), leader of the Lion Clan, is betrayed and murdered by his right hand man Silver Lion (Byron Mann), Gold Lion’s son X-Blade (Rick Yune) vows to avenge his father’s death.  In killing Gold Lion, Silver Lion and his warriors also steal a treasure in gold, which Gold Lion had been protecting.  The Emperor wants his gold back, and dispatches an army to wipe out the Chinese village unless he gets it back.

LS: That’s actually a pretty good synopsis.

MA: Wait. I’m not done yet.  There’s more.

Meanwhile, the Wolf Clan wants the gold as well, and vows to defeat Silver Lion and his men.  All of this is good for business for Blacksmith, as he makes weapons for everyone and his grandmother.

LS: Kind of like how Toshiro Mifune worked for both sides of a gang war in old Japan in YOJIMBO (1961). But he had a much more devious plan in mind…

MA: A mysterious British soldier named Jack Knife (Russell Crowe), also descends on Jungle Village, and he may or not be working as an agent for the Emperor.  And when people come to this village, they all seem to stay at Madame Blossom’s (Lucy Liu) place, a brothel where the girls are more than just prostitutes.  You guessed it.  They’re warriors, too!

Silver Lion and his fellow felines seem to have the upper hand, as they have a secret weapon, a warrior known as Brass Body (Dave Bautista), a seemingly unstoppable killer who can cover his body with brass at will, and when he does so, he looks like a polished cousin of The Thing from the FANTASTIC FOUR.

LS (laughs): Yeah, he did kind of.

MA: Which warrior will win?  Who gets the gold?  And will Blacksmith survive all the fighting around him in order to escape with the girl of his dreams?  To find out, you’ll have to see the movie, but I can save you the trouble and tell you that the answers really aren’t all that compelling. You see, surprisingly, I found THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS to be a disappointment.

LS: You forgot to mention that at one point The Blacksmith gets half of his arms hacked off by the Lion Clan and he replaces them with iron hands. Don’t worry, it’s not a spoiler. It’s in the title! Man, those giant iron hands of his look kind of cool and goofy at the same time.

MA: I just couldn’t get into this movie.  While it did have a story to tell, unlike last week’s disaster SILENT HILL: REVELATION 3D, I found it to be a mediocre one at best, and while it was chock full of colorful characters with wild sounding names, these guys really didn’t do a whole lot.  As a result, I didn’t really know the characters all that well, and I would have to say that was my biggest disappointment with this one.

For example, Jack Knife (Russell Crowe) enjoys a very memorable and very cool introductory scene, where he tangles with a guy named Crazy Hippo.  I love that name, Crazy Hippo.  But then, that’s about it.  Jack Knife doesn’t really stand out in any other scenes.  He becomes, like the rest of the cast, just a character in a fight scene.  He’s not really a person.

LS: Yeah, Crazy Hippo is pretty funny. And I agree about Jack Knife. He has a terrific entrance, but nothing else he does lives up to it. Russell Crowe actually disturbed me a little in this movie. He looks bloated and old, nothing like the guy we enjoyed in movies like GLADIATOR (2000) and CINDERELLA MAN (2005). He used to be a buff tough-guy! Man, did he age quickly!

MA: We don’t know what motivates him, where he’s come from, or where he’s going.  He’s just there to fight.  When I first saw him, I thought of Clint Eastwood’s A Man With No Name, but he becomes the Man With No Storyline.

LS: Good point.

(A group of warriors suddenly comes up on the roof with them. They are dressed like wolves. The leader looks an awful lot like TAYLOR LAUTNER)

LAUTNER: So you guys love to make fun of me in your reviews of the TWILIGHT movies, huh? Well, here’s where you get yours.

LS: Don’t forget to take your shirt off, first. Wouldn’t want to get that thing dirty.

LAUTNER (takes off his shirt): Thanks for reminding me.

(Warriors attack, and MA and LS continue with their review as they fight them off)

MA: Similarly, X-Blade vows to avenge his father’s death, but then he disappears for the bulk of the movie.

Blacksmith (RZA) should be the driving force of this story, but he really isn’t.  He shares no chemistry with the love of his life, Lady Silk, and he’s missing any kind of passion as things grow more difficult for him.  The more he becomes involved with this deadly group of warriors and assassins, the worse things get for him and his plan to whisk his woman away, but you wouldn’t know it by watching him. He expresses about as much urgency to escape his troubles as a nail.  We don’t really see any emotion in him until the end, and that emotion— no surprise here— is anger, as he seeks vengeance against those who maimed him.

LS: Well, I think I can solve that particular mystery. RZA is a really talented guy, but acting isn’t one of his talents. As for his chemistry with Lady Silk, it’s nothing to do with her. He doesn’t really have chemistry with anyone.

MA:  Good point.

LS:  Look, with THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS, he shows us that he’s a director with potential. He just isn’t as promising as an actor. There are a few scenes, especially when he has his big showdown with Brass Body, when you just know he had a blast filming this stuff.  It’s like he finally gets the chance to be a superhero. But we don’t get to have as much fun, because his acting is pretty bad. He has one emotion throughout, which sometimes seems like solemn seriousness, but in the end just seems like he didn’t know what else to do with the character. His performance says “this is a serious guy,” but then, he’s got nothing else to say. I know it must have felt terrific to get to star in your first big movie as a director, but for the audience, we needed a lead actor with more dimension.

MA:  Maybe he should have hired Denzel Washington, although Denzel might be a little old for the role, I guess.

LS: Are you kidding? Denzel can do anything!

MA: THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS boasts three main characters—Blacksmith, Jack Knife, and X-Blade—who should be strong enough to carry an entire movie on their own, but they can’t even do it together.  These guys should be cool, but it turns out they’re too superficial for this to be the case.

Ultimately, then, the script by RZA and Eli Roth does this movie in.  It presents a somewhat interesting premise, a tale of warriors and assassins and a treasure of gold, but it isn’t fleshed out to the degree that it’s a solid, entertaining story.  I expected the gold to be fought over by a group of strong characters, but we hardly know these folks.  It makes their efforts that less interesting.

LS: Yep, the script isn’t very good. Of course, you can’t put all the blame on RZA for that. Eli Roth is a veteran at this stuff, and should have provided more pizazz to the proceedings. Roth knows how to write a good script, so the fact that he couldn’t beef this one up makes him look like the weak link here. He should have been able to enhance RZA’s ideas and concepts and turn this into a really kick-ass movie. As is, he kind of lets the guy down.

(LS and MA stop for a moment, to see that they have defeated all of the wolf warriors, who lay unmoving on the roof)

LS: That was easy.

MA: Yeah, I haven’t even worked up a sweat.

LS: As you were saying?

MA: There really aren’t any memorable lines either.  This one should have been better.

I did like the slick style of the action scenes here, and I thought RZA’s directorial effort was a good one.  If anything, THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS is fun to look at.  But without compelling characters, this one feels like one long music video, with lots of colorful characters putting on their moves for some polished choreographed fight sequences, but no one really saying or doing anything of interest.

LS: And that, ultimately, is the problem with the movie. RZA shows visual flare as a director. His action scenes are great. There’s a lot of interesting use of color. The fighting and the gore scenes look good. The non-action scenes aren’t as strong, but that feels more like the weakness of the script than RZA’s directing. It’s like he took on all of the responsibilities he could, and in the end, it just shows us what his strengths are, and what they aren’t.  But since his name is all over this movie, in the end, he’s the one who’s going to get most of the criticsm.

As a director, he’s got some promise. But he needs someone with a surer hand to write the scripts (clearly not Eli Roth, who I normally like a lot!), and he needs to leave the acting to the professionals.

But in the end, what is the goal here? In some ways, I felt like THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS was just trying to be a stylish homage to the old chop-socky grindhouse films of yore. The kinds of movies RZA grew up on and that clearly have influenced him throughout his career (the group of rappers he belongs to is called the Wu-Tang Clan, after all, after an old martial arts film), and as a homage to old school kung-fu movies, it kind of works. The thing is, it doesn’t strive to be anything more. Sure there are some fun scenes here, some great action, and a goofy, if tired, plot. But the fact that RZA shows potential as a director means he should have been able to give us a lot more than what’s on the screen, and it feels like he held back.

Ultimately, the biggest disappointment about THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS is that its director didn’t cut loose and give us something really spectacular. Hopefully, if he gets a chance to direct another movie, he’ll be more confident and really blow our minds.

(Suddenly, TAYLOR LAUTNER stirs and wakes up)

LAUTNER (raising his fist to the sky): Damn you critics! This was to be my moment of victory. Of revenge. And you robbed me of even that. Once again you have humiliated me and my pack…

(LS pushes him off the edge of the roof, and he falls onto the Lion Clan below. Who then take turns beating the crap out of him)

MA (looking down): Well, at least he didn’t get his shirt dirty.

Anyway, as you mentioned, THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS is not really an actor’s movie either.  The actors are here to fight, not to act, and as a result no one in this movie really stands out.  RZA certainly didn’t wow me as Blacksmith.  He seemed too reserved throughout this movie for a guy in his predicament.  Russell Crowe enjoyed a couple of good moments early on as Jack Knife, but later he too is reduced to a music video/video game persona.

Dave Bautista is somewhat memorable as Brass Body, but only because of the way he looks and the neat special effects which turn him into a shiny brass fighting machine, not because of his acting performance.

LS: I liked Brass Body a lot. But you’re right, he has just one emotion, like The Blacksmith. In a bad grindhouse movie, that’s fine. But this movie could have transcended that.

Brass Body (Dave Bautista) and the Blacksmith (RZA) battle it out in one of the movie’s highlights in THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS.

As for the women, their roles are pretty thankless, but I did like Lucy Liu as the bordello’s Madam Blossom. I almost always like her in these kinds of things. She’s pretty reliable. And she seems to be having fun. Jamie Chung is beautiful as Lady Silk, but she doesn’t have hardly anything to do. There are lots of other very pretty women in the bordello, but their just reduced to eye candy. The scene where the bunch of them fight back is a highlight, though.

MA: Yeah, but over all, this movie surprisingly lacked in the “cool” department.  I expected it to be cool with an edge, with either a bawdy sense of humor or in-your-face action sequences to drive it along, but the film has neither.  It’s nowhere near as hard-hitting as I expected.  Sure, there are a couple of gory scenes, but most of the violence is of the superficial variety, not all that realistic looking, and somewhat diminished by fake looking CGI blood.

LS: I am so tired of CGI blood! I want the texture and ooziness of old-fashioned Karo syrup! I’m sure the CGI stuff is so much easier to clean up, but man, does it look fake!

MA:  It really looks fake!  It either needs to be improved, or filmmakers should seriously consider not using it as an effect.

THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS is a stylish piece of eye candy that unfortunately has very little else to offer, other than its slick visuals.  Its story is mediocre, and its characters aren’t fleshed out, as they come off like music video characters, not movie characters, and as result, they aren’t there to back up the colorful shenanigans director RZA so smoothly splashes onto the screen.

I give it two knives.

LS: I pretty much agree on every level. This is a hopeful debut by director RZA, I just wish that the movie hadn’t played it safe and cranked up the volume.

I give it two knives as well. It’s not a horrible movie. But it’s not the balls-to-the-wall martial arts flick I was hoping for, either. It’s just kind of blah.

MA:  And blah is the right word, which for a movie like this, I find unbelievable.  How can a movie with characters named Jack Knife, X-Blade, and Crazy Hippo be blah?  Yet, it is.

LS:  In our Coming Attractions column, I said that the trailer made this movie look like a stylish martial arts flick like Tarantino’s KILL BILL movies. But that’s silly. The KILL BILL movies are so amazing, because Tarantino is one of the best directors alive, and he can make any genre of movie into something fantastic. RZA has got a real sense of style, but he’s no Tarantino.

Oh well, I had high hopes for this one, but the honest fact is, it’s a movie by a first-time director who needs more experience before he can give us something really worthwhile. But at least he’s on the right track. Hopefully, he can only get better.

(We can hear TAYLOR LAUTNER crying below as he gets the stuffing kicked out of him. His wails and sobbing get louder as we FADE TO BLACK)

-end-

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS ~ two knives!

LL Soares gives THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS ~two knives.