Archive for the Madness Category

Pickin’ the Carcass: THE HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET (2012)

Posted in 2013, Bad Situations, Madness, Michael Arruda Reviews, Pickin' the Carcass, Thrillers with tags , , , on July 12, 2013 by knifefighter

PICKIN’ THE CARCASS:  THE HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET (2012)
By Michael Arruda

House-At-The-End-Of-The-Street-Poster-Jennifer-Lawrence

Because word-of-mouth on THE HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET (2012) was so bad, I kept away from this one upon its initial release.  But like all true horror movie fans, I want to see everything, good or bad, and so I caught up with THE HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET on streaming video the other night.

While I didn’t love it, there were a few things about it that I found pleasantly surprising. 

Teenager Elissa (Jennifer Lawrence) and her single mom Sarah (Elisabeth Shue) move into a new home to start a fresh chapter in their lives.  No, no!  This is a horror movie!  Don’t move in!  Go somewhere else!  Actually, their house isn’t the titled house at the end of the street, nor is this really a horror movie, but still, they’re in for some trouble in their new home, as if we couldn’t figure this out. 

They learn that the entire neighborhood shuns the house at the end of their street because years before a young girl had murdered her parents there.  After the murder, the girl disappeared, and legend has it she still lives in the woods.  Ooohh!!   Creepy!  Strangely, the brother, Ryan (Max Thieriot), now in college, remains in the house. 

Elissa is a rather rebellious teenager, and she and her mom don’t really get along.  Against her mom’s wishes, Elissa strikes up a friendship with Ryan, which isn’t hard for her to do, since Ryan comes off as a really nice guy, a bit quiet and introspective, but nice all the same, and the rest of the people her own age she meets are pretty much complete jerks.

Sarah relays her fears about Ryan to the town sheriff, Weaver (Gil Bellows), the one sensible person living in the community.  Weaver tells Sarah that Ryan is all right, that the folks in town have given him a hard time, and that he hasn’t given the police any trouble since he’s lived in the house.

But this is a thriller after all, and so it turns out that Ryan isn’t what he seems. Just what has weird-boy Ryan been up to, you ask?  It seems he’s keeping his sister Carrie Anne prisoner in the basement of his house, or at the very least he’s giving her food and shelter and keeping her hidden from the authorities.  Nah, that sounds too good.  It’s actually much more sinister than that.  You see, his sister suffered a brain injury as a child, and so she’s mentally challenged, which means in order for Ryan to keep her there, he really does have to treat her like a prisoner.  She’s locked in a basement. She’s not exactly hiding out in a plush bedroom with all the amenities.

And yes, everyone once in a while, Carrie Anne escapes, and Ryan has to pursue her into the woods to bring her back.

Now, this revelation comes early in the movie, and so this isn’t exactly a plot spoiler, especially when there are more twists to come.  As Elissa grows closer to Ryan, against her mother’s wishes, things get complicated because THE HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET isn’t finished with its twists and plot revelations yet.   Elissa, you might want rethink those dating plans with Ryan.  He’s got some issues.

THE HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET is a well-acted thriller that tells a solid story until the very end when it loses its way with some revelations that aren’t as shocking as they’re intended to be.  But for the most part, I enjoyed this movie, especially since I expected little from it.

Jennifer Lawrence is very good as Elissa.  While her portrayal a of moody teen isn’t anything we haven’t seen before, I like Lawrence a lot, and at this point pretty much enjoy anything she’s in. 

Elisabeth Shue is just as good as Sarah, and she delivers a very sincere performance as a single mom trying to make things work with her rebellious teenage daughter.  Her frustrations over the challenging process of connecting with her teen daughter come off as genuine.

One problem I did have however with Shue and Lawrence was I had trouble seeing these two as mother and daughter. They don’t resemble each other at all, nor did they share similar personalities.  I didn’t really buy them as mother and daughter.

Max Thieriot turns in a decent performance as Ryan.  He’s sufficiently odd and quirky, yet he also comes off as sincere and likable.  I believed that Elissa would be attracted to him.  Likewise, Gil Bellows is agreeable as Weaver, the sheriff, who represents the voice of reason inside a community where reasonable people don’t seem to live. 

As a drama, THE HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET works, and for 2/3 of this movie, I was really into it.  Where it stumbles is as a thriller.  Director Mark Tonderai forgot to give this one an edge.  The expected thrills and chills don’t come until late in the game, and they’re not very effective as they’re rather shallow and superficial.

THE HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET is not much of a scary movie.  It’s certainly not a horror movie.

The screenplay by David Loucka is mediocre.  It does a nice job creating affable characters, it presents a somewhat intriguing story, but it all becomes rather routine towards the end.  Had the story been darker and more sinister throughout, then perhaps the twists at the end would have worked better.  As it stands, they don’t seem to fit with the rest of the movie.

Loucka also wrote the screenplay to another “haunted house” thriller DREAM HOUSE (2011) starring Daniel Craig, which was pretty bad.  Like THE HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET, DREAM HOUSE also had a dark revelation midway through the movie, and then added more twists later.  THE HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET is a step up in terms of drama, but the horror elements in both movies are very weak.

As a result, THE HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET is a mixed bag.  On the one hand, actors Jennifer Lawrence and Elisabeth Shue deliver compelling likeable performances, leading a decent cast that does the same, and they’re taking part in a story that isn’t half bad.  But on the other hand, the expected thrills don’t really come until the end of the movie, and for the most part, they run hollow and superficial, because really, I never really felt that the Jennifer Lawrence character was in true danger.  Why not?  Because the threat in this one is never clearly defined.  Just what exactly should these characters be afraid of?  You don’t really find out until the very end.  That’s way too late in my book.

THE HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET plays like a dark drama, and as such, is somewhat likeable.  But it’s not a horror movie, and even to call it a thriller is a reach. 

I give it two and a half knives.

—END—

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda

Transmissions to Earth: BAD DREAMS (1988)

Posted in 1980s Movies, 2013, 80s Horror, Cult Leaders, Evil Doctors!, Ghosts!, Horror, LL Soares Reviews, Madness, Religious Cults, Slasher Movies, Trasmissions to Earth with tags , , , , on May 2, 2013 by knifefighter

TRANSMISSIONS TO EARTH presents:

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BAD DREAMS (1988)
Movie review by L.L. Soares

 BadDreams_Poster

Like a lot of horror films from the 1980s, 1988’s BAD DREAMS feels like a missed opportunity. The first film by director Andrew Fleming (who went on to give us THE CRAFT, 1996, the Steve Coogan vehicle HAMLET 2, 2008, and episodes of TV shows like ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT and FRANKLIN & BASH), it’s kind of a take on cults like the Manson Family and Jonestown. You would think with a name like BAD DREAMS it might venture a bit into Freddy Krueger territory, especially since Wes Craven’s A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984) had been a horror movie hit just a few years before and was still fresh on everyone’s minds. But strangely, the title is misleading, since the killer here does not kill people in their dreams.

The leader of this particular cult is simply called Harris, and is played by the great Richard Lynch, who was in tons of movies since the 1970s, including such memorable ones as SCARECROW (1973), Larry Cohen’s classic GOD TOLD ME TO (1976), and his last appearance, in a small flashback as Reverend Hawthorne in Rob Zombie’s latest film THE LORDS OF SALEM (2013). (Sadly, Mr. Lynch died in 2012.)

We see Harris gathering his faithful in an old house on a hill, baptizing each member with gasoline before setting the house on fire. This is kind of (painfully) ironic, since actor Lynch really had set himself on fire in Central Park in 1967 during a bad LSD trip, and, after he became scarred during the accident, he was many directors’ go-to-guy to play various villains in horror films and in TV shows.

But back to the movie. Everyone in the cult dies in the fire, except for Cynthia (Jennifer Rubin, the striking actress who was also Edie Segewick in Oliver Stone’s THE DOORS, 1991, and whose first movie was A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS, 1987, strangely enough) who gets saved from the flaming house, but spends the next 13 years in a coma.  When she wakes up, it’s a media circus. Not only is it a big deal she woke up after such a long time, but everyone wants to know what happened inside the cult house the night it exploded in flames. Unfortunately, poor Cynthia doesn’t remember anything about that night.

Her doctor, Dr. Berrisford (character actor Harris Yulin, who has been in over 100 movies including SCARFACE, 1983 and TRAINING DAY, 2001), tells Cynthia that she should see a psychitatrist, because after such a long coma, not only does she need physical therapy to get her motor skills back, she also needs to “heal her mind” and learn how to cope with life 13 years later (she was just a teenager when that fateful fire happened). So Cynthia is turned over to Dr.Berrisford’s assistant, Dr. Alex Karmen (Bruce Abbott, who you might remember as Dan in the Stuart Gordon classic RE-ANIMATOR, 1985), and becomes part of his group therapy sessions. Of course, this being the 80s, the therapy group is made up of various quirky oddballs, some of which are clearly meant to be funny – and aren’t. These include wisecracking Ralph (Dean Cameron, also in SUMMER SCHOOL, 1987, ROCKULA, 1990, where he also played a character named Ralph, and lots of TV shows, including ALF, 1989 – 1990); shy Lana (Elizabeth Daily, who was also in THE DEVIL’S REJECTS, 2005 and has done tons of voices for cartoons); a tough-talking lady reporter who’s always smoking; a middle-aged couple that is obviously having an affair; and an annoying teenage black girl named Gilda (Damita Jo Freeman) who keeps saying cryptic things that make you wonder if she has a direct line to Harris. Sometimes, these people seem a little too over-the-top (it’s not like this movie was striving for realism, sadly).

At first, Cynthia only remembers the peace and love platitudes that cult leader Harris laid on them back in the day, but then she slowly remembers how the man eventually lost his mind and set fire to all his followers, and suddenly, she’s traumatized all over again. Even more traumatic is the fact that Harris keeps popping up when Cynthia least expects it (as she remembers him, and later as a burned-up version), first showing up in a crowded elevator (this makes her go bonkers), and then slowly killing off every member of the therapy group (by drowning, tossing one person out of a window, and throwing the middle-aged lovebirds into a giant fan). Cynthia tries to tell Dr. Karmen and anyone else who will listen that Harris is doing all these things, but no one believes her. There’s also a cop, Detective Wasserman (Sy Richardson, who might be best known as Lite in the cult classic, REPO MAN, 1984) who is very suspicious of Cynthia’s cult member past and is sure she is somehow responsible for the deaths.

Cult leader Harris appears to Cynthia both as she remembered him alive, and as this burned up version post-fire.

Cult leader Harris appears to Cynthia both as she remembered him alive, and as this burned up version post-fire.

The twist ending in this one is very disappointing, and doesn’t make a lot of sense, considering past events. But hell, at least it doesn’t end with Cynthia waking up from her coma at the end, and it being all a “bad dream” – which I was dreading from the get-go, considering the title. When we do get to the surprise revelation (which I won’t spoil here), we find out that this is a movie is kind of a letdown. If only they had just delved more into Harris and his cult, and given it more resonance, this could have been the beginning of a franchise of its own. But no such luck. Instead, things get wrapped up in a tidy (and completely underwhelming) bow by the end.

Rubin is good here as Cynthia. Abbott is a little stilted sometimes, but has a few good scenes as Dr. Karmen (especially a great scene where he imagines running over Dr. Berrisford with his car!) and Lynch is perfectly cast as the Jim Jones/Manson-esque Harris (but he needed more screen time!). The direction by first timer Fleming is okay, but nothing amazing, and the screenplay by Fleming and Steve E. de Souza (based on a story by Fleming, Michael Dick, P.J. Pettiette and Yuri Zeltser) has some good ideas, but never fully delivers on them (and imagine, it took all those guys to come up with this one!)

Not one of the 80s best horror films by any stretch, BAD DREAMS at least has some good moments. But man, it could have been so much better!

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

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CRITERION AFTER DARK: THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY (1961)

Posted in 2013, 60s Movies, Art Movies, Classic Films, Criterion After Dark, Enigmatic Films, Family Secrets, Foreign Films, Garrett Cook Articles, Lovecraftian Horror, Madness with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 24, 2013 by knifefighter

CRITERION AFTER DARK
THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY: ELDER GODS WHERE YOU LEAST EXPECT THEM
By Garrett Cook

throughaglassdarkly

It’s been forever since I’ve written one of these columns. People and cities and ideas and lives change and mine did in several big ways in the last year. I missed writing for Cinema Knife Fight, and now I’m gonna do it again. I thought maybe I would start by finding a weird, shocking, filthy, perverse Criterion film. Something that would blow your mind and take you to the very edge of perception. And I did. Did I ever.

Cronenberg? Bunuel? Malle? Nope. Asian horror? Nope. Some kind of Swedish erotic art film? A little warmer. Imagine if Tennessee Williams and H.P. Lovecraft collaborated on a family drama set on an isolated island, a place tinged with madness, with the stench of malevolent cosmology hanging in the air. And there’s sin and sexual dysfunction and a sinister play with a dark truth at its core. So let’s add a little Robert “The King in Yellow” Chambers to the mix. Moody black and white cosmic horror. Yeah, that’s the stuff. So, who pray tell is the twisted mind behind this?

The man whose work inspired Wes Craven’s THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972) and who had a knight in plague-stricken medieval Europe confront the grim reaper himself. A true master of the horror genre. Who knows terror like…Ingmar Bergman? That can’t be right. But it is. Bergman is the genius behind THE VIRGIN SPRING (1960), which was later remade (reimagined?) as THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, and pitted a knight in a chess game against death in THE SEVENTH SEAL (1957). His film THE MAGICIAN (1958) had all of the elements of one of Val Lewton’s classics of psychological horror: from a man terrorized by doubts in his psyche to a murder that may or may not have been in the province of the supernatural. THE MAGICIAN is, as well as being a period piece and an excellent story about the power of art, a masterpiece of quiet horror.

And so is THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY (1961).

THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY is one of those movies that defines in people’s mind what an art film is, or what a drama is. It looks on the surface to just be a story about a disintegrating family. The setup is not particularly horrific: a novelist takes his son, his daughter and her husband on vacation. His daughter is schizophrenic. She finds out his novel is about her and gets upset. Why is this of interest to a column on horror culture and filth in the Criterion Collection?

Because as I said, there are traces of cosmic horror and weird fiction here that are hard to ignore, but enjoyable to savor, as they seem to be in the wrong place. Near the beginning of the film, the son puts on a play starring the daughter, involving a knight’s strange relationship with a ghost. It’s cool that it calls back to the questing knight facing death in THE SEVENTH SEAL, but fans of vintage weird fiction might see another connection, another great “Death and the Maiden” play, embedded in a narrative: Robert W. Chambers’ The King in Yellow centers around an ominous play where the heroine’s sad song freezes the heart of the viewer. This play hints at love and death interweaving on a cosmic level, and at there being something deeply wrong in this family and on this island. The King in Yellow terrorizes you with evil in the walls of a metanarrative, and THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY does the same. Something is wrong with this play. Something is wrong with reality. Something is loose in the theater.

Karin comes to a realization in Bergman's THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY.

Karin (Harriet Andersson) comes to a realization in Ingmar Bergman’s THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY.

Although her father feels Karin is incurable, Karin’s husband is trying to remain optimistic. He does not believe her condition will have to eat away her life. And it doesn’t seem to, until Karin finds her father’s manuscript. In her father’s manuscript, the heroine is an incurable schizophrenic, in her father’s manuscript, Karin his hopeless. When Karin reads this, she is naturally upset, but it seems to go beyond that and once again into the realm of weird fiction and magic. The fictional Karin is sick, so the real Karin becomes sick. The fictional Karin is too crazy to heal, so the real one must be as well. It works like a voodoo doll and warps the world like the sinister play in Chambers’ story. It has even, in some ways, turned into a grimoire like the Necronomicon from Lovecraft’s books.

Karin begins describing her hallucinations about people behind the walls watching her, judging her. She seems to have a strange sixth sense that she’s not just the protagonist of a novel, but that of a movie as well. She seems to see the framework and that there’s no difference between life and art and reality and fantasy. She faces the realization of the protagonist of Lovecraft’s story Pickman’s Model, who discovers that the hideous paintings of his friend Pickman were modeled after a photograph from life. So the movie returns to the Pickman’s Model/King in Yellow delusion, the stuff that Lucio Fulci’s A CAT IN THE BRAIN (1990) and John Carpenter’s IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS (1994) deal with, along with Stephen King’s THE DARK HALF (made into a film by George Romero in 1993). The reality-warping power of madness shines in Karin’s dialogue, because Bergman has isolated the movie from the rest of reality. On this little island, all we have are people’s opinions on Karin’s madness, and Karin’s madness itself. Like Shakespeare’s power to conjure images, Karin’s makes things happen in your head, turning words into imagery, and therefore turning her words into reality.

Karin succumbs not just to insanity, but to her worst urges, performing an act of incest. Her behavior has gone from simply crazy to truly aberrant, committing on of the worst sins imaginable. This is a pretty sordid world Bergman has created, one without hope or moral high ground or a chance to gain rectitude, a world ruled over by a force that is less than benevolent. Without a single tentacle, we have the feelings Lovecraft sought to convey of smallness, depravity, insanity and isolation. And the feeling that Karin’s visions are right. There are people outside the screen watching and judging her and waiting for her to fall apart on both sides of these realities. And she is under the power of a man behind a camera who is frankly not going to be very nice to her.

As Karin finally cracks, she does so in fine Lovecraftian form, terrified by confronting the image of God. Creatures like Nyarlathotep and Cthulhu appear before the eyes of Lovecraft’s heroes to shatter their minds or prove that the minds of the hero have been shattered.

“God is a spider,” Karin says.

And while Bergman does not show the spider, we have now gotten the idea in our imagination that Karin has seen some dark god. Does it matter that she is crazy? Has this god driven her crazy? We can’t say definitively that Lovecraft’s protagonists have seen the Elder Gods, and we can’t say with any certainty that Karin doesn’t know something in this Swedish art-house gothic that shows no monster at all, THROUGH THE GLASS DARKLY has as much in common with Val Lewton’s deep psychological thrillers for RKO in the 40s, in fact sharing a lot of themes with CAT PEOPLE (1942), THE SEVENTH VICTIM (1943),. and other films of their ilk. And all leave you with the same horrendous impression that something is out there and that mad and malformed as the human mind can get, there is a grain of truth to all of the hallucinations and all of the cosmic horror.

The discriminating viewer is not just one who finds meaning in the depraved and the weird and the horrific, but also one who finds the depraved, the weird and the horrific in the things that academics and squares and stuffed shirts say are meaningful and THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY has that stuff in spades. So, if you like Lovecraft, Hitchcock or Lewton—or just an uncomfortable chill and a lump in your throat—Ingmar Bergman might be the scare you need.

© Copyright 2013 by Garrett Cook

Transmissions to Earth Intercepts THE LAST BROADCAST (1998)

Posted in 1990s Horror, 2013, ESP, Faux Documentaries, Horror, Indie Horror, LL Soares Reviews, Madness, Murder!, Mystery, Plot Twists, Secrets, Trasmissions to Earth with tags , , , , , , , on February 21, 2013 by knifefighter

Transmissions to Earth:

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THE LAST BROADCAST (1998)

LastBroadcast_DVDcover

Review by L.L. Soares

With the recent boom of fake documentaries (otherwise known as “found footage” movies), especially in the horror genre (the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies, CLOVERFIELD, THE LAST EXORCISM, etc.), THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999) constantly pops up in conversation as the influential flick that started this all. And it deserves the attention. The flurry of excitement that surrounded BLAIR WITCH when it first came out was sure to inspire a lot of would-be filmmakers. But a year before BLAIR WITCH, we got THE LAST BROADCAST (1998), which dabbled in this style first, and also shares a lot of similarities with a certain Blair Witch.

Directed and written by Stefan Avalos and Lance Weiler, THE LAST BROADCAST begins with filmmaker David Leigh (David Beard) introducing himself and his movie, which is made up of footage from several sources, starting with a cable access show called “Fact or Fiction,” starring Steven Avkast (Stefan Avalos), who also goes by “Johnny,” and Locus Wheeler (Lance Weiler). Their show explores paranormal phenomenon, but it didn’t really get much in the way of viewers until they decided to hook up a voice response system to their computer, so people could type questions and the voice would speak them aloud on the show. This little bit of audience response is enhanced by the fact that the computerized voice that reads the questions sounds rather spooky. One of the viewers, through this system, suggests they investigate the legend of the Jersey Devil.

Steven and Locus get the idea to film a live show in the middle of the New Jersey Pine Barrens; their plan being to exploit the Jersey Devil legend for big ratings that will maybe get the show out of cable access and into the big time. To help them out on their little camping trip into the middle of nowhere, the hosts bring along sound man Rein (pronounced “Ryan”) Clackin (Rein Clabbers), and a “psychic” that Rein knows named Jim Suerd (Jim Seward), who is sensitive to the “spirits” of the woods.

We learn early on that Jim Suerd has recently died in prison when THE LAST BROADCAST begins, where he was serving two life sentences for murder. We also learn that he was a bit of a loner who was obsessed with the Internet and magic tricks. The implication being that his “psychic” powers were fake, perpetrated by someone with a rudimentary knowledge of magic, and that Suerd was a bit unbalanced to begin with.

Fake "psychic" Jim Suerd. Did he commit the murders in the woods?

Fake “psychic” Jim Suerd. Did he commit the murders in the woods?

Suerd finds the other guys the “right spot” in the middle of the barrens, and they set up camp. There’s a disagreement at one point, when Rein is picking on Jim about his “psychic powers,” which turns into a shoving match (which becomes important later). Then the guys broadcast their show from deep in the woods.

But something goes wrong. Rein and Locus are murdered. Steven Avkast disappears (but they find his hat and a lot of his blood), and Jim Suerd calls the police (his 9-1-1 call begins the movie) to report that something has gone horribly wrong in the woods.

A year or so after the events in the woods, and right after Jim Suerd has died in prison under mysterious circumstances, David Leigh receives a strange package in the mail. Inside is a mostly destroyed VHS cassette, and a lot of loose tape. Leigh brings it to a data retrieval expert , Michelle Monarch (Michele Pulaski) to analyze. Through painstaking work on her computer, Michelle is able to isolate sections of the tape and recover the images, which turns out to be previously lost footage of Steven and Locus’s final broadcast in the woods. The more she deciphers, the closer she gets to revealing the true identity of the murderer.

Things go bad int he barrens in THE LAST BROADCAST.

Things go bad int he barrens in THE LAST BROADCAST.

With the concept of a group of people in the woods, filming themselves, and the exploration of a local legend, you can see the parallels between this movie and THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. And THE LAST BROADCAST is just as compelling. In fact, I found myself getting pretty engrossed in the story, wanting to know more as it went along. The acting here is all believable (and I wonder how many cast members were actually professional actors), and the central mystery is very compelling. I really liked the cast of this one, which includes a bunch of other “talking heads,” people who knew the film crew, including the psychologist who met with Jim Suerd as a child (Dale Worstall), a film editor for the prosecution in Suerd’s trial (Mark Rublee) and a director who was hired by the “Fact or Fiction” team, who formerly directed soap operas and who looks a lot like Phil Spector, named Sam Woods (Sam Wells). All of the “witnesses” who talk on camera are interesting and help move the story toward its creepy conclusion.

In a time when the Internet’s domination of us all wasn’t as profound, THE LAST BROADCAST is notable for having both the Internet and videotaped footage play major roles in the film. For the most part, the videotaped footage works very well.

My only complaint is that there’s a coda at the end of the film that feels tacked on. For the most part, the points of view in the film make sense, and are believable. The movie should have ended at a scene where two characters come “face to face” (if you see the movie, you’ll understand what I mean). But instead, there’s a last segment that suddenly breaks the rules of the “point of view” format that was used up to this point, and this final part almost ruined the movie for me. Almost. It’s not completely disastrous, but I found it unnecessary (and who is filming it?) In trying to creep the audience out, it goes a little too far to explain everything (instead of trusting the audience to “get it” at the scene where I think it should have ended).

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THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT might get all the credit for starting the “found footage” genre, but THE LAST BROADCAST, a film that isn’t as well known, clearly got there first. In a lot of ways (especially because of its amazing marketing campaign at the time), BLAIR WITCH is the more memorable movie, the one that influenced so many other filmmakers to follow in its footsteps, but THE LAST BROADCAST is just as effective, and deserves more credit than it gets.

Also, at several points, when the “Fact or Fiction” guys discussed tracking down the Jersey Devil, I kept wondering, “Why don’t they explain what the legend of the Jersey Devil is all about.” Well, this is not addressed in detail in the movie, but after the end credits, there is a short, related film that does just that – explaining the Jersey Devil myth pretty well.

I liked this movie a lot, and recommend it to anyone who is a fan of the “found footage” genre.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L.  Soares

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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!

LOVELY MOLLY (2011)

Posted in 2012, Enigmatic Films, Horror, Madness, Paul McMahon Columns, Possession, Supernatural, Suspense with tags , , , , , , on November 14, 2012 by knifefighter

LOVELY MOLLY (2011)
Movie Review by Paul McMahon– The Distracted Critic

Eduardo Sanchez, co-director of the THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999) and writer/director of ALTERED (2006), has a new film out called LOVELY MOLLY (2011). It’s an interesting Frankenstein’s monster, incorporating both the hand-held camera work used in BLAIR WITCH and the traditional narrative film style used in ALTERED. The film opens, in fact, with an extreme close-up of Molly, which echoes Heather’s now iconic videotaped confession in BLAIR WITCH.

Molly looks panicked and strung out, or panicked and exhausted, and she says: “Whatever happened, it wasn’t me.” She holds a knife to her own throat for a few tense seconds, before bringing it down and saying “It won’t let me do it.”

Now we’re at Molly and Tim’s wedding, another hand-held shot, and the camera picks up a young boy who looks stuffed into a suit. He walks directly at the camera with a smile completely juxtaposed after the clip we just saw, and as the camera zooms in on the kid’s mouth he whispers “I’m hungry.” We watch snippets of a wedding, picking up little bits here and there. Tim is dissed by one of Molly’s young relatives. One of Molly’s uncles offers a toast to his brother Ben and and his wife Tammy (Molly’s parents): “Who I know are looking down on us right now, and watching their little girl start her new life with her new husband.” You also see the maid of honor giving a tearful apology for any times she let the bride down, while Molly dismisses her apology with a smile and a shake of her head. This last is such a quick exchange you just know it’s going to be important later.

After the credits roll, we put the hand-held away. It’s late at night and shadows are used very well to portray a house in isolation, surrounded by forest without a streetlight to be seen. The security alarm goes off. Molly and Tim jolt out of bed. Tim fiddles with the alarm and it takes him a few tries to get the thing to shut off. There’s a problem at the kitchen door. They creep out to the head of the stairs, hearing something bumping around downstairs. They freak and bolt themselves in their bedroom to await the cops. After a walk through reveals nothing, we rejoin them the next morning, Molly’s birthday. Tim, who drives a truck, is leaving on a job. He’ll be back in a few days. Molly is not at all happy about this. We watch her locking up the house that night, and when she reaches the kitchen door that set the alarm off, it crashes in its frame as if it’s been kicked by a horse. Molly calls the police again and is assured that the house had been vacant long enough that kids must be using the property as a place to hang out. “They’ll stop coming around after a while,” is the most comfort he offers her.

The next night, sounds of a crying child come from inside the house. Molly searches, finally opening the closet in a spare bedroom. She stares. Smiles. Reaches inside.

Next morning, Tim returns. It’s daylight. He calls, and Molly doesn’t answer. He searches the house, and is shocked to find her sitting in the spare room, facing the closet, absolutely naked. He talks to her as he creeps closer and finally sits beside her, and she seems oblivious to his presence, until finally her eyes focus and she turns to him.

“He’s alive,” she says.

Not at all the ‘Welcome home!”Tim was expecting.

LOVELY MOLLY is a horror movie of the “Is she crazy, is she possessed, or is she truly haunted?” trope. There are a lot of possible answers presented here. Molly has a history of mental illness and drug use. She’s spending much of her time alone in the house she grew up in; a house where horrible things happened to her. There are images of horses, and at one point you can hear horse hooves clopping outside the bedroom door late at night. There’s a co-worker of Molly’s who lives with her two small children in a house through the woods, and Molly occasionally sneaks over to film them on her hand-held video camera—that is, when she’s not using the camera to film empty corners as she screams for something, or someone, to show itself. There are hints that she’s possessed by an evil spirit. Through it all, you wonder how all these strands will tie together into a cohesive whole.

Eduardo Sanchez has a firm grasp of what keeps viewers on the edge of their seats. He uses our fears of the dark, of death, of solitude, of other people, to masterful effect here. Most importantly, he capitalizes on what Stephen King calls our natural “fear FOR someone else” because Molly is truly likeable. Newcomer Gretchen Lodge puts forth a tremendous performance here, inhabiting Molly completely in all her permutations of emotion. If the right Hollywood people see this film, we’ll be seeing a lot more of Gretchen in years to come.

Gretchen Lodge as LOVELY MOLLY.

In fact, all the performers have come with their A-games. Alexandra Holden (Maggie in 2006’s SPECIAL) plays Molly’s sister, Hannah. From her tearful confession in the wedding video at the start of the film, you can see Hannah’s concern grow even as she becomes more and more concerned for her own safety. Field Blauvelt (THE INVASION,  2007) plays Pastor Bobby perfectly, nailing that character with every move, every smile, every downcast eye.

The late Johnny Lewis (“Half Sack” in SONS OF ANARCHY) shines as Tim, deeply in love with Molly but without a clue as to how to help her. It’s mentioned that they don’t have the health insurance to get her the attention she really needs. I wish I was comfortable saying this is the reason he and Hannah make such piss-poor decisions, but honestly it felt like the decisions they made were the ones the writers needed them to make to have the story move the way they wanted.

The late Johnny Lewis (“Half Sack” on SONS OF ANARCHY) plays Tim in LOVELY MOLLY.

There are simply too many questions brought up during the course of the movie to answer all of them in a way that feels satisfying. It felt like Eduardo Sanchez and Jamie Nash wrote the screenplay while keeping their shooting budget in the forefront of their minds. It seemed like any aspect that threatened to exceed what they could pay for was dropped without another glance. The movie could’ve used a far less restrictive writing process. I think it would’ve been better for them to just cut loose and write whatever the story dictated, and then edit it down to meet the budget later. There are a couple of instances where the plot felt out-of-control, as if even the director didn’t understand why things were happening.

These drawbacks were relatively small, though. In all, LOVELY MOLLY is a very tense film that keeps you guessing throughout. It’s the kind of movie you don’t finish and forget about. This one will keep you thinking long after your media center powers down. It may even draw you back to watch it again.

I give it three stars with two time-outs.

© Copyright 2012 by Paul McMahon

The Reassessment Files: MALEVOLENCE (2004)

Posted in 2012, Indie Horror, Killers, Madness, Paul McMahon Columns, Psychos, Reassessment Files, Serial Killer flicks with tags , , , , , on October 17, 2012 by knifefighter

The Reassessment Files:
MALEVOLENCE (2004)
Paul McMahon – The Distracted Critic

To be perfectly transparent, the first time I saw MALEVOLENCE was at the premiere in Worcester Mass, at the Bijou theater. Today, the Bijou exists as a deep pit of rubble right in the heart of New England’s second-largest city. I miss the hell out of that theater. Anyway, that night was great fun. I went alone, as I often do when attending horror-themed events, and the place was packed with horror freaks. I felt so at home. I arrived early and was met at the door by R. Brandon Johnson, who plays Julien in the movie. He was a great guy and obviously as excited to be there as everyone else. He introduced me to Stevan Mena, who wrote and directed MALEVOLENCE, who in turn introduced me to Gunnar Hanson (the original Leatherface in THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, 1974), who wasn’t in the movie but came to draw fans.

I admit that the venue might have had something to do with me granting the movie three enthusiastic stars at the time. I’ve been told that rating was a result of my being caught up in the excitement. There are elements of the film, however, that have stuck with me long enough that I don’t believe all my love for it was tied up in the experience of that night.

The first thing we see on screen is a title card of missing children statistics. Next we get: “In 1989, Martin Bristol disappeared while playing on his backyard swing in Minersville, Pennsylvania. He was six years old.” We then see a girl hanging by her wrists in a dark cellar while a shadowy figure carries in a burlap sack, which he opens to free a young boy– Martin Bristol. It’s the same opening as in the film BEREAVEMENT (2010) (see my previous review), only shot with different actors. The action plays out the same way, and then we’re treated to a scene card that says: “September, 1999.” Martin is now sixteen.

Link to Paul’s review of  BEREAVEMENT.

We look up a hill in a beautiful cemetery, a great cinematic view, while two shady-looking characters meet at the top. They talk in riddles for a few moments, giving us a clear idea that they’re planning some kind of heist and will meet up afterward at a house that’s been “vacant for years.”  Max, an evil-looking character with a mean facial scar, promises Kurt, a mullet-wearing, goofy-grinning, itchy-way-down-deep-in-his-pants type, that there’ll be “no loose ends.”  If you’ve seen more than one movie featuring a crime, you know what that means.

Now we meet two more characters, Marylin and Julien. Marylin is Max’s baby sister. Julien is her boyfriend and he doesn’t want to go along with this, but they owe money to “those people” and he really doesn’t see another option. “I’m not spending the rest of my life scratching off lottery tickets hoping for a miracle,” Marylin says.

We cut to a girl’s softball game. A blonde, skinny mother watches the game excitedly, waving to the pitcher. The pitcher’s name is Courtney. The mother’s is Samantha.

There’s a bank robbery. Max, Marylin and Julien arrive. Max gives Julien a gun. Julien doesn’t want it, but is forced to pocket it anyway. They don Halloween masks. Kurt must have missed that memo because he shows up wearing a pillowcase with eye slits cut in it. The bank robbery goes badly, and Max is shot. Kurt runs with two bags of money down one alley. Marylin and Julien return to their car, stuff a bloody Max into the back seat, and drive away.

Kurt lost his Frankenstein mask, so he improvised with stolen motel pillowcase. He’s such a criminal.

By now, Courtney’s team has lost the ball game. Courtney feels it’s her fault. Samantha, being one of the world’s greatest Moms, pulls into a gas station for a curative highly processed ice cream snack. Courtney digs around behind the seat for her mitt.

Meanwhile, Kurt celebrates getting away and has a blowout. He grabs the money and the mask and abandons his car, running across a field to a highway, where he finds a gas station and an apparently vacant minivan, still running. Kurt leaps in, surprising Courtney and then overpowering her. With his mask back in place and his gun to the girl’s head, he makes Samantha drive them to the house in the middle of nowhere. The one that’s been “vacant for years.”

Once there, Courtney escapes and runs through the forest to a nearby abandoned meat packing plant. At that point, things start to go really wrong for everyone.

Samantha (Samantha Dark) and Julien (R. Brandon Johnson) search an abandoned house for the explanation to everything.

There are enough parts to the story that it stays interesting throughout. It’s the first full-length effort of Stevan Mena, but his being an amateur isn’t apparent. MALEVOLENCE was shot on a miniscule budget, and that much is apparent here and there. Even so, Mena’s found a foreboding and formidable location to shoot the movie. The natural growth of the forest gives the same hide-and-seek shadow trickery that is a staple of the FRIDAY THE 13TH franchise, and the deserted abattoir is rife with creepy, dirty hallways sporting jagged shadows from the junk piled everywhere.

There are no well-known actors involved. R. Brandon Johnson, who played Julien, has appeared in the soap opera ONE LIFE TO LIVE and, more recently, in the TV series SHAKE IT UP! Samantha Dark, who plays Samantha, does some pretty convincing work here. She’s appeared in ULTRACHRIST (2003) and Mena’s horror-comedy BRUTAL MASSACRE (2007). A shout out should go to John Richard Ingram, who played Sheriff Riley here and then reprised his role in BEREAVEMENT.

Watching the movie again, I came away with the same sense of satisfaction that I had the last time. There are definite glimpses of a director who knows how to tell an effective story, and who is only going to get better. My rating for the film fell, but only from “three enthusiastic stars” to a simpler “three stars.”

First viewing: 3!!! out of 5 stars
Reassessment: 3 out of 5 stars

© Copyright 2012 by Paul McMahon