Archive for the Historical Horror Category

The Distracted Critic: EXIT HUMANITY (2011)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But she’s a witch,” Isaac says.

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Copyright 2013 by Paul McMahon

eh - dvd cover

Advertisements

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

SolomonKane

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.

solomon-kane-concept-poster

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.

SolomonKanePoster2

Quick Cuts Presents: THE SECRET LIVES OF PRESIDENTS

Posted in 2012, 3-D, Aliens, Daniel Keohane Reviews, Gangsters!, Historical Horror, LL Soares Reviews, Michael Arruda Reviews, Monsters, Paul McMahon Columns, Quick Cuts, Real Life Frights! with tags , , , , , , on June 29, 2012 by knifefighter

QUICK CUTS:  ABRAHAM LINCOLN:  VAMPIRE HUNTER, or The Secret Lives of U.S. Presidents
Featuring: Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Dan Keohane, and Paul McMahon

****

With ABRAHAM LINCOLN:  VAMPIRE HUNTER now in theaters, we asked our panel of Cinema Knife Fighters to investigate the secret lives of some of our other U.S. Presidents.

What they discovered is that good old Honest Abe wasn’t the only U.S. President with clandestine abilities. That’s right, the men who have led our country have been one talented lot.  Our panel of Cinema Knife Fighters dug deep to uncover the secret genre lives of our past Commanders-in-Chief.  This is what they came up with:

(It turns out some of our Presidents had multiple covert talents!   Read on!)

****

Shocking Relevations Revealed!

L.L. SOARES: Here are a few presidential secrets I have uncovered..

 **

GEORGE WASHINGTON:  THE FIRST VAMPIRE HUNTER

Almost a full century before Abraham Lincoln took up the cause, George Washington was the first human to wield an axe against the onslaught of vampires. Cherry trees were just for practice, before George went on to chop down many a vampire, striking fear into the hearts of bloodsuckers everywhere. Plus, his wooden teeth could turn into tiny stakes at a moment’s notice!

“I cannot tell a lie,” said George. “I want all vampires dead.”

**

WILLIAM HOWARD TAFT:  HOBBIT EATER

It is a little known fact that William Taft, our 27th President, was fond of eating hobbits. He “accidentally” stumbled upon the fact that the creatures are delicious and went on a culinary rampage, intent on broiling, frying and grilling as many of the little bastards as he could. As Taft stated (in private) to a group of fellow gourmets “They are just far enough removed from human kind, so that their consumption shall not considered cannibalism. Which is good, because, once you get a taste of them, they are really quite addictive.”

Hobbit feet, stuffed and preserved, were considered prize trophies for Hobbit gourmands. Taft had a steamer trunk full of them.

WILLIAM HOWARD TAFT – did our 27th president really get his enormous girth from consuming too many broiled hobbits?

**

JFK:  ALIEN BUSTER

When John F. Kennedy uncovers a far-reaching extraterrestrial conspiracy to take over the planet, he has to do whatever it takes to stop them. In desperation, the aliens send their queen, Marilyn Monroe, to seduce him, but that fails. So, unfortunately, they send another alien monster posing as a human, Lee Harvey Oswald, to get the job done.

**

JOHN ADAMS, HOT DOG VENDOR!!

Our second president, John Adams, finds a time machine and comes to modern times, but no one will believe who he is. Unable to get back to his own time, he is forced to sell hot dogs in Central Park to earn a living!

JOHN ADAMS…would you like mustard with that?

****

DAN KEOHANE: Did you know about….

MILLARD FILLMORE: BUFFALO HUNTER.

The man who would be our thirteenth president—obsessed with destroying the white buffalo terrorizing his beloved kin in the Finger Lakes Region—teams up with young artist George Bingham to track the beast to the ends of the new world.

MILLARD FILLMORE – this president hunted the White Buffalo, when he wasn’t studying the Necronomicon.

 ****

PAUL MCMAHON: Believe it or not! Here’s my revelation:

MILLARD FILLMORE:  DABBLER IN THE NECRONOMICON
While teaching himself to read in a public library, he discovered—and stole—a copy of the Necronomicon by “The Mad Arab” Abdul Alhazred.

As Vice President to Zachary Taylor, he left it unattended one night and President Taylor discovered it and read a passage aloud. Immediately, deep purple eyes grew all over the President’s body as something tried to push through the veil. Vice President Fillmore acted quickly and was able to close the portal, but not before President Taylor’s body withered away.

Fillmore instructed that the public be told Taylor died from Typhus Fever. He also refused to appoint a Vice President out of fear that the Necronomicon would be discovered again.

Fillmore and his wife, Abigail Powers, hid the volume somewhere in the library they built within the White House, where it is believed to remain, hidden to this day!!

****

 MICHAEL ARRUDA: More shocking secrets!

Did GEORGE WASHINGTON really have the time to kill vampires, smash trolls, fight the Red Coats and serve as the first President of the United States? Talk about multi-tasking!!


GEORGE WASHINGTON:  TROLL SMASHER.  When he wasn’t fighting off British Red Coats, he was running into the woods using his wooden mallet to crush the heads of trolls who were trying to invade the colonies.

 **

THOMAS JEFFERSON:  ALIEN INVESTIGATOR.  Fresh back from his trip to a faraway galaxy where he was taught ideas on freedom and liberty which he used to write the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson understands we are not alone and that not all the aliens on Earth are friendly.  He sets out with his weapons of choice, special pens that fire a deadly heat laser, a gift to him from the people of the planet Monticello (so that’s where he got the name!) to destroy all the dangerous space aliens who are secretly living among Earth’s citizens.

**

TEDDY ROOSEVELT:  DRAGONSLAYER.   Little do people realize that the true mission of the Rough Riders was to hunt dragons.

**

JFK kept the world safe from aliens and sea monsters, when he wasn’t fighting the Cold War.

JOHN F. KENNEDY: SEA MONSTER DEMOLISHER:  During World War II, the Axis powers unleashed a secret weapon to destroy the Allies’ Navies:  deadly sea serpents which could crush both submarines and ships as if they were toys.  Young JFK and his slick super ship PT109 secretly fought the serpents in naval battles across the Pacific using futuristic weaponry created by technologies known only to the U.S. government since the days of Thomas Jefferson.

**

RICHARD NIXON…..criminal mastermind??

RICHARD NIXON:  CRIME BOSS!  Joining the ranks of THE PUNISHER, Richard Nixon decides to take the law into his own hands.  As the head of a secret crime organization, Nixon covertly directs a group of highly skilled criminals “Mission Impossible” style, leading them on missions which involve spying, espionage, and—wait a minute, this one really happened.  Oops!

—END—

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares, Daniel G. Keohane, Paul McMahon and Michael Arruda

ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER (2012)

Posted in 2012, 3-D, Action Movies, Cinema Knife Fights, Historical Horror, Martial Arts, Period Pieces, Revenge!, Vampire Hunters, Vampires with tags , , , , , , , on June 25, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER (2012)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(THE SCENE: The battlefield at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Present Day. MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES walk through the area.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA: This has got to be one of the most somber places I’ve ever visited. You can almost feel death all around you. (turns to LS) Or maybe that’s just you.

L.L. SOARES: No, I know what you mean. I was surprised you chose this place to do our review. Not the usual locale for Cinema Knife Fight shenanigans.

MA: I just thought this location would be the perfect setting to make my point, that today’s movie, ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER (2012), in spite of its ridiculous title, is not a comedy. It plays it straight throughout.

LS: It may not be an intentional comedy, but it’s not a reverential piece of historical filmmaking, either. It’s a silly vampire movie! Hardly worth this location!

MA: Perhaps, but it just felt right. The hero of this movie is, after all….Abraham Lincoln!

(Orchestral music plays in the background)

LS (grimaces): What’s with all the seriousness? Man, are you a buzzkill!

MA: Anyway, I hadn’t planned to stay here. Let’s take advantage of the magic of Cinema Knife Fight Land and go to a more appropriate place. (Snaps his fingers, and suddenly they’re in a crowded pub surrounded by folks in 19th century garb.)

LS: Now that’s more like it! But why is everybody dressed so funny?

MA: I dunno. Maybe this is the cast party for the movie. Or maybe we went backwards in time. You can never tell around here.

LS: So why don’t you start the review? I’m going to grab a couple of cold ones from the bar.

MA: Thanks!

LS: Why are you thanking me? Get your own!

MA: Sometimes you make the Grinch seem generous.

LS: The Grinch is a wuss!

MA: Anyway, in today’s movie, ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER, based on the novel by Seth Grahame-Smith, who also penned the screenplay, young Abe Lincoln witnesses his mother attacked by a vampire. Years later, as an adult, Abe Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) seeks revenge against the vampire who killed his mother, but not knowing anything about vampires, his attempt at retribution is a complete fail. He is nearly killed, but a stranger (Dominic Cooper) comes to his aid and saves him from the vampire.

The stranger’s name is Henry Sturgess, and he actually had met Lincoln earlier in a bar, a lot like this one, and it turns out Sturgess knows a lot about vampires. He’s a vampire hunter, and Abe Lincoln agrees to be his protégé and learn all there is to know about hunting vampires, with his eventual goal being to avenge his mother’s death.

LS: Excuse me, was I snoring? Must have dozed off for a second.

MA: Aren’t you supposed to be getting yourself those cold ones?

LS: Oh yeah.

MA: Lincoln moves to Springfield, Illinois, where he finds a job working in a general store for an amiable young man named Joshua Speed (Jimmi Simpson), who quickly becomes one of Lincoln’s best friends. It is also here where Lincoln meets Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), the woman he eventually falls in love with and marries.

When he’s not working or studying to be a lawyer, Lincoln’s busy as a vampire hunter, using his weapon of choice, an axe, to destroy the multitude of vampires living in Springfield. Lincoln learns about these vampires through letters sent to him by Henry Sturgess, who sort of acts as Lincoln’s “mission impossible” contact. You almost expect the letters to self-destruct into puffs of smoke after Lincoln has read them.

LS: Don’t forget, it’s not just a normal axe. It’s blade is coated in silver! The dreaded enemy of vampires. Or was silver the one that werewolves don’t like? I’m not sure. It gets so confusing sometimes. Everyone has their own rules. But in this movie, vampires can go out in sunlight and can do all kinds of cool things you wouldn’t think they could do. But they hate silver. Oh, and they can turn invisible! How convenient!

MA: Yeah, the invisible part was silly, but the hating of silver can be traced back to several of the Hammer Films. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) stabs Dracula (Christopher Lee) with a silver knife in DRACULA A.D. 1972 (1972), and in THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA (1973) Van Helsing attempts to shoot Dracula with a silver bullet. In both those movies, silver was fatal to a vampire.

LS: In the trailer, when they poured liquid over Abe’s blade, I thought it was holy water, not melted silver. But it’s been a long time since anything religious hurt a vampire in the movies, so I should have known better.

MA: Lincoln and Sturgess eventually cross paths with the vampire leader, Adam (Rufus Sewell, in a deliciously evil performance) who’s been in existence for 5,000 years! He makes Dracula seem like a baby! Lincoln also learns that Adam is using the black slave trade to his advantage, using the slaves as food for his vampires. So, Adam is definitely a proponent of the slave trade and aligns himself politically with the folks in the south.

LS: Rufus Sewell is “deliciously evil” here? Man, you have no clue what evil is all about, do you? He’s a cartoon. And he’s not scary for one instant. I thought Sewell was completely miscast as the king vampire here. But more on that later.

MA: No idea was evil is all about? Pardon me, Mr. Evil Know-it-all!

Lincoln has a personal investment in the welfare of the slaves, because one of his best friends is a free black man, Will Johnson (Anthony Mackie), who becomes one of Lincoln’s closest advisors.

LS: Just to play Devil’s Advocate here—a role I enjoy, by the way—I wasn’t sure whether having slavery and the Civil War tie into the vampire agenda was clever or kind of offensive. It kind of trivializes the real horrors of slavery, doesn’t it?

MA: Not really. Slavery is still horrible. The vampires were simply using it to satisfy their own needs.

Realizing that the problems in the world are too big for just one man, Lincoln throws his hat into politics, hoping to become part of a system that can make a difference in the world. He marries Mary Todd, wins the presidential election, and eventually finds himself fighting vampires on the battlefield, as Adam and his vampires have aligned themselves with the Confederate army.

(LS returns with two beautiful women, one on each arm.)

MA: Aren’t you married?

LS: Not in Cinema Knife Fight Land!

MA: I thought you were getting some cold ones?

LS: I changed my mind and went for hot ones.

(Women bare their fangs to reveal they are vampires)

LS: Oh well, I guess they are cold ones, after all. Care to take a nibble, ladies? I’m sure I’m quite delicious.

(Vampire women each sink their teeth in a side of LS’s neck)

MA: Aren’t you worried they’ll suck you dry?

LS: Not really. This is Cinema Knife Fight Land, and here I’ve got unlimited blood.

(LS smiles and raises a mug of ale and drinks along with the vampires)

MA (shaking his head): The things we do for this column. Anyway, back to our movie.

I fully expected this movie to be a complete turkey, but I have to admit, I liked it.

(LS makes turkey noises in the background)

MA: That said, I still don’t get the concept. Why choose Abraham Lincoln to be a vampire hunter? It still seems almost like a random thing to do. Hmm, who should I choose to be my hero in this alternate history tale about vampires? Stick my hand into a hat and pull out Abe Lincoln!

LS: Makes as much sense as using any other historical figure, I guess.

MA: Of course, Abe Lincoln is one of our most beloved U.S. presidents of all time, and so it’s certainly not a random act, and this affection for Lincoln is one of the things that works to the film’s advantage, but even so, I’m still not ready to concede and call this combination of history and horror a stroke of genius. But I do have to admit, in a strange way, it works!

LS: I dunno, it didn’t really work for me. I thought the title was clever for about two seconds. The concept is mediocre at best. “Let’s take a famous historical figure and turn him into another BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER.” Whatever…. (Yawns)

MA: First and foremost, ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER looks terrific. I saw it in 3D, and it pains me to admit it—again because I expected this one to be awful— it’s one of the better 3D movies I’ve seen. The visuals were almost as good as what we saw in HUGO last year.

LS: I saw it in 3D, too. Not intentionally – it was just the best show time for my schedule. But you’re right, the 3D effects were better than we normally see in these kinds of movies. But I wouldn’t go so far as to compare them with HUGO. The 3D here isn’t that good.

MA: I don’t know if it’s because Civil War America is more picturesque than alien worlds or haunted forests, but I enjoyed the look of ABRAHAM LINCOLN better than the look of other movies we’ve seen recently, like PROMETHEUS and SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN. I think director Timur Bekmambetov did a great job at the helm.

LS: The setting was okay, I guess. I could take it or leave it. No way is it as visually rich as PROMETHEUS or SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN. It’s all rather drab—which is fine in a vampire movie—but nothing I’d single out as a plus. As for the direction, that’s another kettle of fish entirely.

MA: ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER is also helped by its R rating. While the film isn’t scary, there are lots of bloody killings. There’s even some nudity and language. I was surprised, but ABE LINCOLN kinda earns its R rating.

LS: Barely. I actually went into it thinking it was PG-13, and it was a little while before I realized it wasn’t. The nudity happens in brief snippets for the most part. Some of the killings (of vampires) are graphic enough to make me realize it was an R movie. But I wouldn’t go so far as to say it earns its rating.

MA: The look and feel of this movie reminded me of a Disney film for adults. It had that look, that attention to detail, that made it look almost like a richly animated movie. The movie looks like what would happen if you put both Disney and Hammer Films inside one of THE FLY’s machines and had their respective filmmaking genes spliced together.

LS: Yeah, it actually reminded me of a Tim Burton movie, like SLEEPY HOLLOW (1999) maybe. Except SLEEPY HOLLOW is a much better movie. This is no coincidence, though, because Burton produced ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER. Hell, it might have been a better movie if he actually directed it, since he’s comfortable with this kind of stuff.

MA: Another reason I liked the action sequences in this movie—and again I’ll give credit to director Bekmambetov—is that they were quick. So often in today’s movies, because directors have the technology to do so, the action scenes go on forever, and this becomes boring as the movies play out like extended video games. Not so here in ABE LINCOLN. The action scenes are quick and bloody, and they’re supported by lots of scenes where we get to know the characters.

LS: Quick? Ninety percent of the time they played out in slow motion! It got incredibly tedious after a while. All of the action sequences have the same “by-the-numbers” feel to them. Once you see one, you know what to expect. And the alternating between fast movements and irritating slo-mo ones just bored the hell out of me. And you know what, the action scenes did have a kind of video game look to them! They were so stylized, they certainly didn’t look realistic.

MA: But they didn’t go on and on and on. That’s what I meant by quick.

LS: Not quick enough for me.

MA: There’s also a strong sense of story, and you can tell this movie was based on a novel. Screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith does a nice job here adapting his own novel, and he achieves better results than his last screenplay, for the muddled DARK SHADOWS.

LS: Really? You thought this was a big improvement over DARK SHADOWS? Well, I’ll agree that at least it doesn’t constantly go for cheap laughs. I really think Grahame-Smith’s screenplay for DARK SHADOWS was the main reason that movie was so disappointing. Here, his script does come off a little better, but I wasn’t all that amazed by it. I’m glad everyone plays things straight, at least. But I didn’t find this movie very exciting.

MA: DARK SHADOWS was horrible compared to this movie.

LS: Let’s face it. DARK SHADOWS was horrible. Period.

MA: I liked that this was a serious vampire story. It wasn’t tongue-in-cheek. We didn’t have to suffer through Abe Lincoln delivering one-liners after every vampire kill. ABE LINCOLN is not VAN HELSING (2004), thankfully. This could have been a very silly movie, but it isn’t. Then again, maybe I just have a soft spot for vampires.

LS: If this movie has anything going for it, it’s that it plays things straight. Unfortunately, that’s not enough to make for a great flick – vampire movie or otherwise.

MA: Speaking of which, I wasn’t too crazy about the look of the vampires in this movie, and their movements were way too fast and very fake-looking. They weren’t bad, but they were just a little too exaggerated for my liking. And like the rest of the movie, they weren’t scary.

LS: No, the vampires didn’t look very good at all, and they weren’t scary. In fact, to go back to a previous point, I found Rufus Sewell as Adam (he’s called that because he’s the vampire all the others come from – oooh! how frightening!) to be a major flaw in the tension. I like Sewell enough as an actor—he was great as the lead in 1998’s DARK CITY, for example—but he’s completely miscast here. He is not intimidating, he doesn’t seem dangerous at all, and he is NOT scary in the slightest. There are so many better actors they could have chosen to play this role. This is the big bad villain, and the character should have real presence. Sewell just doesn’t cut it.

MA: Really? I thought Sewell oozed evil.

LS: Well, he might have oozed something, but it wasn’t evil.

The funny thing is, I found Marton Csokas as Jack Barts— a flunky of Sewell’s Adam—to be much more convincing as a dangerous vampire, and there were times where he even seemed a tad scary. He should have been the lead vampire! I also liked Erin Wasson as Vadoma, Adam’s right-hand woman vampire, who was also more formidable than her “master.” I really hated Sewell in this role, because he was such a damned weak bad guy!

MA: I liked the characters and the performances throughout.

Abraham Lincoln as your main character—how can you not like him? Well, if the lead actor stunk, that’s one way, but Benjamin Walker doesn’t stink at all. He brings Lincoln to life and makes him a very likeable person.

LS: I thought Walker was okay in the lead role. He actually reminded me of a young Liam Neesom at times. He has a similar face. But overall, I wasn’t all that impressed by him. He was okay in the role, but nothing special. Kinda bland, actually.

And as for that fateful trip to the theater at the end—hell, any kid who has read a history book knows what happens then, so it’s not a spoiler—does that mean that John Wilkes Booth was part of the vampire conspiracy? Was he a VAMPIRE HUNTER HUNTER? Something to ponder, perhaps.

MA: Henry Sturgess is an interesting character. As the vampire hunter who trains Lincoln, he’s a multi-dimensional character with a curious back story, which hearkens back to this being based on a novel. Dominic Cooper, who played Howard Stark in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011) does a nice job here as Sturgess.

LS: Dominic Cooper is one of the best things about this movie. I liked his performance here very much, even more than Walker’s Lincoln. But this brings up a big complaint of mine. In the movie, we find out how Henry Sturgess was able to acquire his skills and amazing strength—there’s a legitimate reason why he’s so affective as a vampire hunter—but we never once get an explanation as to how Abe Lincoln is so good at it. He does these amazing martial arts moves; he’s able to cut down trees with one mighty swing of his axe (once he gets the hang of it); and he can take on several vampires at once. How? Is he a superhero? Is he from another planet? Not once does the movie explain his “powers,” and for that reason I didn’t buy them for a second. There is no way a normal man can do this stuff. And if vampires are supposed to be much stronger than humans, then Lincoln’s entire story here is actually kind of stupid.

MA: You know, I can’t argue with you on that point, and I’d go so far as to agree with you that Lincoln possessing these powers is stupid, but again, for me, in spite of this, somehow it worked.

LS: For you, maybe. Not for me.

And hell, even if he is superhuman (and he clearly is), his fighting style is impossible for the time period. Asian martial arts just were not taught to Westerners in those days. It was forbidden. But ever since BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (1992), ever single vampire fighter is an expert in martial arts. It’s kind of embarrassing. And isn’t there any other way to fight except showing off with all kinds of karate/kung-fu moves and fancy kicks? This has become a very annoying cliché at this point. How about making Abe a super-powerful boxer, instead? It would make more sense for his time.

(LS and MA are now sitting at a table, drinking ale, when a shirtless BRUCE LEE suddenly approaches them)

BRUCE LEE: I find this movie offensive. Here I go and revolutionize martial arts in American movies during my lifetime, and now, ANYONE can do what I did. All they have to do is call themselves a VAMPIRE HUNTER.

LS: I can’t disagree with you there.

MA: Come on, it’s only a movie. It’s silly entertainment.

BRUCE LEE: It completely trivializes the years of work and skill that goes into being a true martial artist.

LS: (nods) I dunno, Michael, he has a point. Plus, give me something like ENTER THE DRAGON (1973) over ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER any day of the week. It’s a helluva lot more entertaining.

(BRUCE LEE goes to start a brawl at the back of the room)

MA: I don’t know why he was so upset. It’s just a movie.

Ever since I saw Mary Elizabeth Winstead in SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD (2010) I’ve been a big fan. She does an excellent job here as Mary Todd Lincoln, a female character who gets to do more than just be rescued by a male lead. She grows with the story and becomes integral to the plot as the movie goes on.

LS: I like her as well. I don’t think she’s amazing as Mary Todd, and I certainly don’t find her convincing as the former first lady—this is clearly a completely different person than the real Mary Todd—but she’s enjoyable enough when she’s onscreen. She certainly doesn’t contribute to the more annoying aspects of the movie.

MA: Jimmi Simpson as Joshua Speed, and Anthony Mackie as Will Johnson, do nice jobs in their respective roles as friends of Lincoln. These characters are multi-dimensional as well, and they are much more than just your average token buddies.

LS: I liked Joshua Speed. He was okay. It’s funny that Jimmi Simpson’s career is actually rooted firmly in comedy, with a recurring role as “Lyle the Intern” on the LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN (from 2008 -2009) and as a semi-regular on the hilarious show IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA, as the weirdo Liam McPoyle. It’s good to see him playing a serious role here, and his character was likable enough. As for Anthony Mackie as Will Johnson, I found him rather bland. They don’t really give him an awful lot to do, except hang around with Abe and seem earnest.

MA: I also really liked Rufus Sewell as the main baddie in this movie. His vampire Adam is an imposing adversary for Abe Lincoln and company. Sometimes a movie is only as good as its villain. In this case, Adam is a powerful foe, and Sewell delivers a commanding performance as the deadly vampire who’s been alive since the days of ancient Egypt. He’s one of the movie’s strengths.

LS: If a movie is only as good as its villain, then ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER isn’t good at all. As I’ve already said, Sewell is a very lame villain.

MA: I also loved the climactic battle aboard the train between Lincoln and friends and Adam and his vampires, as this sequence on a burning trestle was very cinematic. Again, a nice job by director Bekmambetov.

LS: I found the climactic battle aboard the train really boring in parts. It went on way too long, and I just didn’t care about any of the characters enough to be emotionally invested in it.

MA: Had this movie been scary, it would have been great.

LS: Well, it would have been an improvement. We’re in agreement that this movie is not scary.

MA: I expected it to be horrible, and so I’m shocked to say that while ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER is not a great movie, it is a very good movie.

It’s better than both the TWILIGHT series and the UNDERWORLD movies because it has something that both those series lack: an imagination. And some good old-fashioned bloody oomph!

(EDWARD CULLEN, the vampire from the TWILIGHT series, approaches their table)

EDWARD: Vampires that don’t sparkle? You’ve got to be kidding me. Who would believe that?

MA: There were tons of vampires before you that didn’t sparkle!

EDWARD: That’s ancient history, old man. I am what today’s generation wants in a vampire. If you want to be cool, then you gotta sparkle. Abraham Lincoln would never be able to stop me.

LS: He may have a point. The sparkly vampires are kind of strong…even if they look like they were caught in an explosion in a glitter factory.

EDWARD: And vampires are more civilized today. I would invite Mr. Lincoln to sit down for a cup of tea. We wouldn’t have to fight at all. Instead, I could spend the time bemoaning how sad I am.

MA: And where is the excitement in that?

(LS snores loudly)

EDWARD: Oh, you’ll never understand me! You don’t even try to!

(EDWARD leaves in a huff)

MA: Wake up! (nudges LS). Where was I? Oh yeah, I was going to give this movie my rating. I give ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER, three knives.

LS: I think this movie thinks it is a lot cleverer than it really is. But writer Seth Grahame-Smith is clearly the “flavor of the month” with his DARK SHADOWS script and now this. I can only hope he disappears as quickly as he showed up in Hollywood. This is the same guy who gave us the novel PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES, which started the whole horror/history mash-up genre, and it’s gotten incredibly tired in a very short amount of time. It’s like a flimsy joke – it may work once, but it won’t have any staying power. Neither does this one-joke genre.

And I think writing should be as limitless as one’s imagination, so it’s not like I don’t think anyone should be allowed to play around with actual history. I think a really talented writer could take this concept and do something interesting with it. But that writer was nowhere to be found when they were making ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER.

And I wasn’t all that impressed with the direction by Timur Bekmambetov here. This is the talented Russian director who gave us the really enjoyable movies NIGHT WATCH (2004) and DAY WATCH (2006). I suggest people check out those movies on video instead, because they are works of art compared to ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER. I give it one and a half knives.

MA: Well, we disagree on this one. I thought it was a handsome production, and I for one got caught up in the look and feel of this movie, and so I happily went along for the ride.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to get a couple of cold ones of my own.

LS: Be careful. They bite.

MA: Not those kinds of cold ones. I’m talking the kind that comes in a mug with a frothy head.

LS: Like that one? (points)

(MA looks over his shoulder to see a severed head floating on top of a huge mug of beer on the bar.)

MA: (throws up his arms) I give up! (Exits)

(LS goes over and lifts the big mug and brings it to his lips)

LS: Head for the mountains!

—END—

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

Michael Arruda gives ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER ~ three knives!

LL Soares gives ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER ~one and a half knives.

BURKE AND HARE (2010)

Posted in 2012, British Horror, Grave Robbers!, Historical Horror, Indie Horror, Paul McMahon Columns, The Distracted Critic with tags , , , , , on February 22, 2012 by knifefighter

BURKE AND HARE (2010)
Review by Paul McMahon– The Distracted Critic

BURKE AND HARE (2010) opens with the line “This is a true story, except for the parts that are not.” It’s a taste of John Landis humor, and an excellent launching pad for this dark comedy, the first horror-themed feature film Landis (best known for AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, 1981) has directed since 1992’s INNOCENT BLOOD.

The story of BURKE AND HARE is one every self-respecting horror fan knows—a tale of grave robbers who murdered undesirables to sell their bodies to science, rather than do any actual grave digging. Burke is played by Simon Pegg (SHAUN OF THE DEAD, 2004 and PAUL, 2011) and Hare is Andy Serkis, best known as the motion-capture model for Gollum in THE LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY (2001-2003) and for Kong in KING KONG (2005).

The story takes place in 1828, a time before Gray’s Anatomy (the textbook, not the TV show), a time when the internal organs of the body weren’t understood. In Edinburgh, Scotland, two schools of medicine compete over freshly executed bodies to study. At the start of the tale, Doctor Monro (Tim Curry—Pennywise the Clown in IT, 1990, and of course Dr. Frank-N-Furter in the 1975 midnight classic, THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW), head of Scotland’s Royal College of Surgeons, has used his political influence to pass a new city by-law stating that all executed bodies are to be turned over to his school, free of charge. This leaves Doctor Robert Knox (Tom Wilkinson—THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE, 2005), head of Barclay School of Anatomy, to rely on grave robbers to supply his cadavers. Trouble is, Captain Tam McLintock (Ronnie Corbett), head of the Royal Guard, has declared war on grave robbery and has men patrolling every graveyard every night.

Enter Burke and Hare, two con men desperately in need of money. After spending their last coin on beer, they return to Hare’s place, where his wife Lucky, played by Jessica Hynes (SHAUN OF THE DEAD, 2004) informs them that Old Donald, their tenant, hasn’t paid his rent because he’s dead. She instructs them to get rid of the body before he starts to smell as bad as them. They fold him in half and stuff him into a barrel, intending to hide him at a construction site.

Being the lazy bastards they are, they stop for a pint on the way, and it is here they learn about Doctor Knox’s problem. A quick change of plans later, they’ve got five pounds in hand and a promise of five more for every “fresh” corpse they bring in.

With graveyards too well guarded to obtain bodies in the usual way, Burke and Hare try hanging around in unsavory places, hoping to luck into freshly deceased bodies to swipe. When they come up empty, they hatch a plan to help some of the old and unsavory citizens of the city off this mortal coil.

Success, of course, breeds only the need for more money.

Burke falls for Ginny Hawkins (Isla Fisher, WEDDING CRASHERS, 2005), a dreamer who wants to put on an all-female performance of Macbeth, and is hunting for a financial backer who shares her vision. Burke takes the job, and soon one thing after another goes wrong, leaving him desperate for more and more money. Hare’s wife Lucky deduces what her husband is up to and demands a cut to keep quiet. “Call it a tax between a man and wife.” As more and more people disappear, Captain Tam McLintoch of the Royal Guard strives to solve the mysteries and bring the perpetrators to the gallows.

Simon Pegg is making a career out of playing the loveable bum who remains affable while everything around him falls apart. It’s a role he’s good at, and he’s chosen movies that keep him in that realm of performance. As Burke, he excels at playing a character who realizes that his situation has him on a dangerous slope, yet is unwilling to stop until he gets what he wants—Ginny’s adoration, preferably in the form of sex.

Andy Serkis is so well-known for playing motion-capture creatures that his performance surprised me. He positively shines as Hare, a lazy bum and all-around lout who likes life a whole lot better when he’s making money, and is astonished to discover that he really does love his wife.

Isla Fisher is wonderful as Ginny Hawkins, a peasant girl with delusions of class, who is determined to better herself in a time when women are seen as servants, slaves or whores. The entire supporting cast is excellent, each of them playing their part straight, leaving the laughs to come from the situations and the storyline, rather than from actors winking at the camera.

The script by Piers Ashworth and Nick Moorcroft is spot-on, as is Landis’s direction. The movie was so well-constructed, that it was over before the first jolt of wander-bug hit me.  It’s a shame the film hasn’t become wildly popular, because there’s nothing lacking here. Landis has knocked another one out of the park, and his passion is obvious.

If I absolutely had to find a fault with the movie it would be that Tim Curry doesn’t have a lot to do. Still, his part is memorable and necessary, and missing him isn’t a good enough reason to knock points off. I give BURKE AND HARE five stars, with no time outs at all.

© Copyright 2012 by Paul McMahon