Archive for the Psycho killer Category

REMOTE OUTPOST looks at 3 NEW SHOWS WORTH YOUR TIME

Posted in 2013, Aliens, Based on Classic Films, Clones!, Dystopian Futures, Mark Onspaugh Columns, Psycho killer, Remote Outpost, Science Fiction, TV Shows with tags , , , , , , on July 25, 2013 by knifefighter

REMOTE OUTPOST
By Mark Onspaugh

RemoteOutpostHello from the Outpost, located on a small planetoid that is actually a dead generation starship which is hurtling out toward the edge of the galaxy… And we’re all out of Poptarts™ and peanut butter!

(Note: Some of you may have noticed—and been relieved—that the Remote Outpost went “dark” for a while… We have a lot of sophisticated equipment and prototype AI stuff here to make sure we cover all the best in genre TV.  Sometimes, the equipment achieves sentience and decides we “meat puppets” have to go… It was a long and bloody campaign, but good old Terran humanity triumphed again. Hopefully it will be a long time before something goes worng again.)

3 SHOWS WORTH YOUR TIME

These series have now gone into hiatus, which means you’ll have time to catch up on their first seasons before the second one debuts.  Don’t be like me… (I had to binge-watch three seasons of LOST before getting on that bandwagon!)

BATES MOTEL (A&E)

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A great writer, a great screenwriter, a great director, a great actor—Robert Bloch, Joseph Stefano (THE OUTER LIMITS, 1963-64), Alfred Hitchcock and Anthony Perkins—all worked together to create one of the most memorable and nuanced psychotic murderers of all time, Norman Bates in the classic film PSYCHO (1960). Now this new series seeks to show us what made Norman “go a little mad, sometimes.”  Creator Anthony Cipriano has reverse-engineered Norman, showing us his high school days, and the series is just terrific.

First up is the cast, with Freddie Highmore as the boy who loves his mother.  Highmore has been with us since he was seven, appearing in films like FINDING NEVERLAND (2004), CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (2005) and AUGUST RUSH (2007).  In BATES he channels Anthony Perkins just enough so that we see the man the boy will become… But this Norman hasn’t killed and mummified his mother, yet.  (Norman’s first foray into taxidermy is both poignant and creepy.) And we’re not sure just how crazy Norman is.  True, he does have fugues, but some of his more outlandish experiences (finding a captive Asian girl in a neighbor’s basement) turn out to be true.  You wonder just how much is Norman, how much is his crazy mother, and how much she (or someone else) may be gaslighting him.

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Speaking of mom, that would be Vera Farmiga (JOSHUA, 2007, ORPHAN, 2009, UP IN THE AIR, 2009 and THE CONJURING, 2013).  She’s Norma Bates, and that first name is not one I am crazy about… a little too “on the nose” for my taste.  But she is wonderful—one minute shrewish and shrill, the next loving and nurturing, the next wheedling and cajoling.  This is a woman desperate to protect her favorite son, even though there are those in town who believe Norman is in serious need of counseling.

And yes, I said favorite son.  Norman has a half brother, Dylan, played by Max Thieriot (MY SOUL TO TAKE, 2010 and THE HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET, 2012).  Dylan’s bad boy with a heart is a fine foil to Norman. At first, Dylan wants to little to do with Norman or their mother—then he wants to move Norman out of the house and away from their mother… But events conspire to draw the three of them even closer together.  (And that friendly little town has a lot of secrets—like the basis of its economy.)  The fact that Dylan is never mentioned in any of the PSYCHO films leads one to believe things will not end well for him.

People are dying to stay at the BATES MOTEL.

People are dying to stay at the BATES MOTEL.

One of the things I love best about the show is the (PSYCHO) house and the eponymous motel.  Like Amityville, the Overlook and the House of Usher), both of these places seem cursed.  One new conceit is that the Bates move there after Norman’s father dies.  So the house is aged and creepy, and the motel is… waiting.  Much of the first season is concerned with getting the place ready for guests.  My guess is that things will get even weirder and darker once it starts booking lots of guests – giving an opportunity for an almost anthology style of storytelling.

 DEFIANCE (SyFy)

defiance_posterNow that there are no (new) Star Trek series running, I am hungry for good SF on TV.  The last shows I truly loved were BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (2004-2009), CAPRICA (2009-2010) and SGU STARGATE UNIVERSE (2009-2011).  While DEFIANCE is not as good as GALACTICA or SGU, it has the potential to become some really good SF TV.

The premise is ingenious—seven alien races collectively known as the Votan flee their system, where the sun is going nova.  They come to Earth in huge arks, somehow thinking our planet is uninhabited.  The citizens of Earth regard them with suspicion and hostility, but allow them to establish some modest colonies while most of the Votan remain in suspended animation aboard the arks.  All is proceeding well until the Votan ambassador is assassinated, and the Pale Wars break out.  Many lives are lost and the war goes on for years… until the ark fleet is blown up! Huge pieces of technology rain down on the Earth, and terraforming devices begin haphazardly remaking the planet and mutating the animals, as well as introducing alien flora and fauna (I hate it when that happens).  Humans and Votan realize they cannot survive this new world, which is now alien to both groups.  Because of debris sometimes falling as “razor rain,” long-range air travel is impossible, and going into orbit is too costly – so both groups are earthbound. An uneasy peace is declared.  The new Earth is deadly and pieces of space debris still fall, bringing death…  but also opportunity for scavengers.

Cast of the series DEFIANCE.

Cast of the series DEFIANCE.

All of this is backstory and told wordlessly (and briefly) in the title sequence.  The series opens with Nolan, a former soldier turned scavenger who combs the frontier with his adopted daughter Irisa, an Irathient girl he rescued in the war.  The Irathient people are orange with white markings—whether these marks are pigmentation, paint or tattoos is not quite clear, but they seem permanent.  Nolan and Irisa are trying to get enough money to get to Anarctica, which is rumored to be an oasis on the hostile planet.  Their pursuit of an “arkfall” leads them to Defiance, a settlement of human and Votan built on the ruins of St. Louis (the arch, somewhat the worse for wear, still stands).  The town is a wild and wooly frontier town, a bit like Mos Eisley in STAR WARS (1977), but with only a handful of alien species.

Nolan is jacked (robbed) by some of Irisa’s people, and is forced to become the peacekeeper of Defiance.  Irisa becomes his deputy, along with Tommy, a human African-American who develops a sexy but tempestuous relation with Irisa.  Defiance is run by newly-elected mayor Amanda Rosewater, whose sister runs the local brothel/bar/gambling hall.  Two more races are most fully represented by power-hungry Datak Tarr and his wife Stahma, both Castithans. Castithans are albino, sophisticated, scheming, fierce and their families all bathe together—their dwellings are white on white, making them nearly the opposite of the Irathients, and these races despise one another—united only in their disdain for humans.  Stahma is a great character, sensuous but crafty, deadly while being vulnerable. The town doctor is an Indogene, a people with pale, reptilian skin and dark eyes and lips (very goth/Cenobite) —they are brilliant scientists and have done both brilliant and terrible things during the Pale Wars—this is true of Dr. Yewl, who follows in the tradition of other great TV sci-fi doctors as being brilliant, crusty and not afraid to speak her mind.

Stahma from DEFIANCE.

Stahma from DEFIANCE.

The town and its people (human and Votan) are rife with secrets and intrigue.  Datak and Stahma’s son, Alak, is a DJ who plays alien covers of old Earth standards from the Arch.  He is in love with the daughter of the richest human in Defiance, Rafe MacCawley, who owns a huge mine that yields both precious minerals and alien tech.

The other races get somewhat short shrift (so far) – one looks vaguely birdlike (the Liberata), another quite apelike (the Sensoth).  There are also Biomen, huge blue warriors who are virtually unbeatable, and the Volge, a warlike race humans and Votans alike fear.  Who smuggled the Volge onto the arks is still a mystery.

Much SF TV is usually confined to a single ship or locale to utilize standing sets.  Green screen has freed up filmmakers to some degree, and Defiance doesn’t feel too claustrophobic.  The principals are all quite good.  Nolan is played by Grant Bowler, a Kiwi whose had roles in LOST (2004-2010) and TRUE BLOOD (2008 -). His daughter Irisa is played by Stephanie Leonidas, who played Mina in a TV version of DRACULA (2006).  Mayor Rosewater is genre fave Julie Benz (BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, 1997-2003, ANGEL, 1999-2004, and she played Rita on DEXTER) and her sister Kenya is Mia Kirshner (THE VAMPIRE DIARIES on the CW, and was on the Showtime series THE L WORD).  Mine owner Rafe MacCawley is played by Graham Greene (DANCES WITH WOLVES, 1990, TWILIGHT: NEW MOON, 2009).  Datak Tarr is Tony Curran (THE 13TH WARRIOR, 1999, THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN, 2003, BEOWULF & GRENDEL, 2005, THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN, 2008) and his wife Stahma is played by Jaime Murray (HU$TLE, 2004-, WAREHOUSE 13, 2009). And crusty Doc Yewl is Trenna Keating, who doesn’t have a lot of credits, but is one of my favorite characters.

Meet Doc Yewl.

Meet Doc Yewl.

It’s a fairly complex mythology, which is why they are fleshing out the alien characters slowly—Star Trek had many years and several series to refine the Klingons, and I imagine this show could be just as rich, if it stays on the air.  As with many new ventures, this is a cross-platform show, so you can find out more about the characters and their races from the website, or from playing the MMORPG online.

ORPHAN BLACK (BBC America)

orphan-black-featureI do love BBC America.  Once in a while you find a real gem there, like BEING HUMAN (2008-) a show with a mismatched trio of supernaturals (vampire, werewolf, ghost) trying to survive both the human race and their more hostile counterparts.  The original British version is far, far superior to the American one and I urge you to check it out.  Lest you think I am a snob for Brit-TV, I will confess I gave up on COPPER (2012-) during its first season… It was meh (despite my loyalty to my Irish kinsmen), and not half as good as RIPPER STREET (2012-) when it comes to period police procedurals.  Also, LUTHER (2010-) with Idris Elba is amazing.

Which brings us to ORPHAN BLACK—more grounded in everyday reality than BATES or DEFIANCE, it still has a cool, science fiction premise: a young woman unhappy with her life of violence and estrangement from her young daughter is terrified to witness a woman commit suicide by jumping in front of a subway train… a woman who is her exact double.

Sarah and Felix in ORPHAN BLACK.

Sarah (Tatiana Maslany) and Felix (Jordan Gavaris) in ORPHAN BLACK.

Our protagonist, Sarah, takes the place of the suicide victim, using the death of a double to fake her own and get out of an abusive relationship (with a drug dealer from whom she has stolen a lot of money).  Unfortunately, the woman she has chosen to impersonate is a homicide detective with secrets… lots of secrets.

And, it gets worse.  One double? How about several?  Turns out Sarah is just one of several clones.  We don’t know how many, nor who the original is.  But someone is eliminating them, and so Sarah is trying to maintain her false identity, evade the clone killer, win custody of and protect her daughter, and solve the mystery of her own existence.

ORPHAN BLACK works largely due to its star, Tatiana Maslany.  Tatiana was in such fare as DIARY OF THE DEAD, THE MESSENGERS and the TV movie STIR OF ECHOES 2: THE HOMECOMING – all from 2007. But whatever you thought of her in those roles, this is her breakout.  Whether neurotic housewife, crazed Russian, lesbian science geek, French goth or our hero Sarah, she inhabits each role effortlessly and really seems to become someone beyond just a different hairstyle or fashion sense.

Send in the Clones! Tatiana Maslany plays several convincing characters in ORPHAN BLACK.

Send in the Clones! Tatiana Maslany plays several convincing characters in ORPHAN BLACK.

Kudos also go to Jordan Gavaris, who plays Sarah’s foster brother Felix.  Gavaris manages to take the character of outlandish but sensible gay man and make it seem fresh and funny.  Felix goes beyond caricature and is a very real ally to Sarah and her daughter…

ORPHAN BLACK is a mystery and a science fiction thriller.  Like good science fiction, it makes us look at larger issues of identity, individuality, the rights of “manufactured” beings and what it means to be human.  It also has one of the coolest title sequences and theme music (by Two Fingers) of any show currently on.

FINAL NOTE:  While I love science fiction, I can’t stand it if it’s boring.  Those who have read this column before know I gave up on TERRA NOVA.  The same may soon be said of CONTINUUM, the SyFy series about a revolutionary group from the future transported to our time, and the cop who is accidentally sent back with them.  Engaging at first, the show is becoming the same song played over and over.  Unless it turns a corner soon, I will toss it into the metaphorical dust bin.

OUTPOST… out.

© Copyright 2013 by Mark Onspaugh

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MANIAC (2012)

Posted in 2013, Art Movies, Based on Classic Films, Cult Movies, Disturbing Cinema, Exploitation Films, Grindhouse, Indie Horror, Intense Movies, Joe Spinell Films, Kinky Killers, LL Soares Reviews, Psycho killer, Remakes, Serial Killer flicks, Sleaze with tags , , , , , , , on July 16, 2013 by knifefighter

MANIAC (2012)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

 Maniac

Yet another in a long list of  movies that do not need to remakes, William Lustig’s original MANIAC (1980) featured the amazing Joe Spinell (who also provided the story and co-wrote the screenplay) as Frank Zito, a violent psychotic who kills women and then scalps them, so he can attach their hair to mannequins that surround his bed like lovers. Visceral stuff, made all the more effective by the teaming of Lustig, Spinell, and effects maestro Tom Savini at the peak of his powers. This was one movie that lived up to its title, and yet there were tender moments as well, focusing mostly on the friendship (and blossoming romance?) between Spinell’s Zito and Caroline Munro’s photographer, Anna D’Antoni. It didn’t hurt that Munro was one of the most beautiful women to grace celluloid at the time. But Spinell somehow, through this relationship, made you sympathize with a man who is otherwise a deranged animal. You somehow cared about Zito and wanted to see him redeemed. Of course, in these kinds of movies, redemption eventually gives up and steps aside, so that punishment can take control of matters.

In the new version of MANIAC (2012), Franck Khalfoun gives us a strange recreation of the original film, with just enough quirks and differences to make it enjoyable on its own terms. Even if it comes nowhere near the gut punch of the original. This time, the script is co-written by Alexandre Aja, the director who has given us such recent horrors as the HILLS HAVE EYES remake (2006), MIRRORS (2008) and who is currently adaptating Joe Hill’s HORNS for the big screen. As for Khalfoun, he previously directed the murder in an underground parking garage flick, P2 (2007) and has acted in Aja films like HIGH TENSION (2003) and PIRANHA (2010).

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The new MANIAC stars Elijah Wood, oddly enough, perhaps the exact physical opposite of Joe Spinell. Where Spinell was genuinely creepy and yet always had a strange vulnerability to him, Wood seems slight and wimpy, but has a kind of strangeness to him that could easily be perceived as a capacity for violence. This aspect of Wood has been exploited previously in SIN CITY (2005), where he played an intense and merciless hit man with a penchant for eating human flesh. So this is hardly the first time someone saw Elijah Wood and thought “Hey, he might actually be an effective psycho.”

In MANIAC, however, Wood’s appearance and attributes are given only a small chance to shine, since the movie also adopts the rather odd gimmick of giving us the story from the killer’s point of view. What this means is that, throughout most of the film, we see everything through Frank Zito’s eyes. So whether or not Wood looks the part, we only see him occasionally, when he happens to look at himself in a mirror, for example.

Elijah Wood is actually quite good in the remake of MANIAC. I just wish he was onscreen more.

Elijah Wood is actually quite good in the remake of MANIAC. I just wish he was onscreen more.

This POV seems very artificial, making us very aware that this is not a gritty tour of the gutter like the original film, but something different. The new MANIAC strives toward art, towards being something more than just another killer on the loose flick. And yet, considering the subject matter, this arty direction doesn’t always work. We’re not watching a MANIAC film for artistic merit. We want to see a psychotic on the verge of complete madness, and the POV actually distances us from the meat of the film, even as it thinks that it is bringing us closer to the madman, by showing the film from his eyes.

The POV works some of the time. It’s not a bad thing, per se. There are some scenes that use this to nice effect. But in a movie like this, it doesn’t really elevate the story in any way. It’s just a fancy trick that tells us “No, you don’t have to really see Frank get his hands dirty.”

I actually like Elijah Wood. I’m not really a fan of projects like the LORD OF THE RINGS movies (or the HOBBIT films), but he’s been in plenty of other things that have impressed me. I think I first noticed him in Ang Lee’s THE ICE STORM (1997), and he has a kind of intensity that gives him a lot of range. I even enjoy him in the odd FX TV series WILFRED, where he plays a man whose best friend is a man in a dog suit (the rest of the world sees it as an actual dog). But the point is, Wood is kind of fearless and open to playing a wide variety of roles, however offbeat, and for what he does in MANIAC, I think he does a decent job. In a way, though, I would have preferred to see the whole “from the maniac’s eyes” viewpoint ditched, so that we could have really enjoyed Wood’s performance to the fullest.

In the new movie, Anna is played by Nora Amezeder as a French photographer who is drawn to Frank via his strange little shop where he carries on his family’s business of restoring antique mannequins. She uses mannequins in her photographs for artistic effect, and his equally artistic display of actual mannequins might just be the perfect complement to her photos in her upcoming gallery show. Can she borrow some of his work? He catches her taking pictures of his shop’s display window and invites her inside. The fact that she sees beauty in the same objects he does creates an immediate connection. And the groundwork is there for the one normal relationship in Frank Zito’s life.  Sadly, whatever normality there is between them won’t last for long. There’s no way it could.

Unfortunately, no matter how good Elijah Wood is as Frank Zito, he can never come close to Joe Spinell's performance in the original film.

Unfortunately, no matter how good Elijah Wood is as Frank Zito, he can never come close to Joe Spinell’s performance in the original film.

Wood’s Frank Zito has mother issues, after all, that go as deep as Norman Bates’s. We see flashbacks to Frank as a child, forced to watch as his mother has sex with all comers, whether its two sailors at once in her bedroom as he peers out from between the slats of a closet door, to a late night assignation in a parking garage, Frank wants his mother as much as he is repelled by her, and it is only a matter of time before relationships he has with other women dovetail into his feelings for his mother—even the one he has with poor Anna.

Feeling a possessive jealousy for whatever woman he comes across that he finds attractive, that same need to have them always turns into a stronger need to punish them. And therefore, he can’t really have any enjoyment with them while they are alive. He can only truly possess them (and come close to “loving” them) when they have been recreated, with their bloody scalps stapled onto the heads of his mannequins. In the darkness of his apartment, he convinces himself that the mannequins are the real women, and that they are now in an environment he can control. It is only then that he can show them that he cares.

So he drives around the city late at night, picking victims at random based on how they elicit lust in him, and making quick work of them. He tries to break the cycle, even joining an online dating service and meeting Lucie (Megan Duffy), a tattooed beauty who actually seems to act motherly towards him (uh oh!) when he complains of a migraine at the restaurant they agree to meet at, and who takes him back to her place afterwards for some almost-successful seduction. You really think Frank might finally loosen up and enjoy himself, but in the end, we know that’s impossible.

There are some interesting set pieces, including Frank hunting down Anna’s agent, Rita (Jan Broberg), breaking into her glorious Manhattan apartment to kill her in her bath tub. This sequence is done quite well

I liked this new version of MANIAC. It’s a good film, despite its flaws. It’s just easier to judge it as a stand-alone film about a psycho played by Elijah Wood. To compare it to Lustig’s original is to its detriment. There is no way this movie could deliver the goods like the original movie did.

I give it three knives.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives the 2012 version of  MANIAC ~three  knives.

 

(Despite being made in 2012, the new version of MANIAC is only now getting limited release in theaters in some cities. It is available on cable OnDemand in some markets as well.)

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The Distracted Critic visits MADISON COUNTY (2011)

Posted in 2013, DVD Review, Horror, Indie Horror, Paul McMahon Columns, Psycho killer, Serial Killer flicks, Slasher Movies, The Distracted Critic with tags , , , , on February 15, 2013 by knifefighter

MADISON COUNTY (2011)
Review by Paul McMahon – The Distracted Critic

Madison-County

Oh, how I miss video stores. I miss popping in with an evening to kill and browsing the shelves of cover art, trying to determine from an artist’s rendering whether a film would be worth a rental or not. When the “box art” for MADISON COUNTY(2011) appeared on my Netflix Instant Watch menu, I immediately knew it was something I would’ve snagged off the VHS shelf back in the day.

The movie was written and directed by 22-year old Eric England, who starts out the film with a bold choice for an opening—a bloodied, scantily clad blonde in the bed of a blue pickup truck, her face distorted with terror. It reminds you instantly of the ending of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974), giving you the subconscious impression that all the terror of that classic film has come before this. The driver of the truck brakes, and immediately the blonde climbs out and tries to escape. She calls for help to someone off-camera while the driver comes up behind her, knocks her out with a shovel, and throws her in the cab of the truck. As he drives off, the camera pans to a run-down house a few feet off the road, where a grinning old man sits on his rocker, enjoying the show as all this goes down.

Now we meet James and Will, excited about embarking on a trip once they pick up “the girls.” They’re off to Madison County to interview the author of a book about Damien Ewells, a serial killer who murdered 33 people. James has been corresponding with the author and is planning his school thesis on the case. Will is going along to take pictures. Presumably, “the girls” are going so “the boys” don’t get lonely. They arrive at Brooke’s house, and since Will is her boyfriend, he knocks. Brooke’s brother Kyle answers the door, glaring. He’s a coiled spring who we realize is ready to rip Will limb from limb. Brooke and Jenna finally come out of the house, and while they greet James and Will, Kyle climbs into James’s truck. Apparently, he’s decided he’s going with.

“Are you freakin’ kidding?” Will asks Brooke. “He hates me!”

Once within Madison County, they stop at a diner with gas pumps out front. The diner is jammed with creepy-looking townsfolk who stare at the newcomers. It’s a real TWILIGHT ZONE moment, as we realize that James’s car was the only one outside, so how did all these people get here? James manages to get directions to author David Randall’s place. After ignoring the POSTED: KEEP OUT sign and climbing over a gate at the end of the drive, they find the author’s home deserted. Confused, they try to decide what to do next. Kyle drives back to the diner, alone, to get further advice. James and Jenna stay at the house to wait while Will and Brooke set off down the path to check out the barn on the property.

With our heroes thus split up, it’s time to introduce Big Pig Head, so he can start shedding blood.

In this corner... weighing 190 pounds... Big Pig Head!

In this corner… weighing 190 pounds… Big Pig Head!

The actors do exactly as well as expected for a movie like this, with no one really standing out above the rest. They’re all relative newcomers, though Ace Marrero, who plays Kyle, has a role in England’s movie ROADSIDE (2012) while Matt Mercer, who plays Will, is appearing in England’s upcoming CONTRACTED (2013). Colley Bailey, who plays James, appeared in last year’s DONNER PASS. The girls, Joanna Sotomura as Brooke and Natalie Scheetz as Jenna are making their first feature film appearance.

Eric England’s direction is pretty advanced for a young person making his first feature film. He’s creative and chooses interesting shots, at one point framing the car in a bright red dust mote, sort of like a bull’s eye. At another point, Kyle is glaring at Will and a flash of light looks like a knife in Kyle’s hand. Possibly most interesting of all is how, except for one brief scene, he films the entire movie in broad daylight. Artistically, Eric might be a director to keep an eye on, especially with the two more films already on the way, ROADSIDE and CONTRACTED. As far as his writing, though, MADISON COUNTY ends up losing points.

Director Eric England is a newcomer to watch. Writer Eric England... he can only get better from here.

Director Eric England is a newcomer to watch. Writer Eric England… he can only get better from here.

There are at least three moments in the film where minor characters assure James, and therefore us, that “he’ll understand before it’s all over.” This is a point that’s made and re-made throughout the first three quarters of the movie, usually after a weird swerve in the plot that leaves us scratching our heads. When it’s all said and done, though, there are no answers to be found. There is no final revelation that makes the movie come together in a flash of understanding. The credits roll abruptly and leave us wondering what in the hell was going on, which really drained my enjoyment of the film.

It’s not that I don’t like movies that leave us with unanswered questions. I recently reviewed LOVELY MOLLY, which left more than a few. In that film, though, Eduardo Sanchez never promised that we would understand everything. In MADISON COUNTY, England goes out of his way to foreshadow that answers will be coming, but then he ignores these promises and leaves us feeling cheated. I’m going to chalk it up to a rookie mistake and hunt down ROADSIDE as soon as I can, to see if this was a fluke. In the end, though, I find it difficult to recommend MADISON COUNTY overall.

I give MADISON COUNTY one and a half stars, with no timeouts.

© Copyright 2013 by Paul McMahon

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Transmissions to Earth Presents: LAID TO REST (2009)

Posted in 2013, Horror, Horror DVDs, Killers, LL Soares Reviews, Psycho killer, Serial Killer flicks, Trasmissions to Earth with tags , , , , , , , on February 7, 2013 by knifefighter

TRANSMISSIONS TO EARTH PRESENTS:

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LAID TO REST (2009)

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Movie Review by L.L. Soares

Look out! Here comes ChromeSkull!

Yet another in the “Unstoppable Killer Who Keeps Coming” Sweepstakes, ChromeSkull is the antagonist of the 2009 movie LAID TO REST, directed by Robert Hall, who is probably better known as a special effects makeup artist who has worked on everything from television series like THE X-FILES to BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and ANGEL to recent movies like THE COLLECTION and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 (both 2012).

To say there’s a plot to LAID TO REST is a bit of an exaggeration. But here goes:

A girl (Bobbi Sue Luther, who was also in the 2009 remake of NIGHT OF THE DEMONS) —we never learn her real name, and she’s simply called “The Girl” in the credits—wakes up inside a coffin and struggles to get out, knocking the casket to the floor. The mortician (Richard Lynch), freaks out and runs away. The girl runs around, trying to determine where she is (how hard is it to figure out you’re in a funeral home?) and at one point, she sees the mortician killed by a psycho who wears a chrome mask that looks like a skull. The guy also has a video camera he attaches to his shoulder, so he can tape all his murders. We learn later he’s sent some of his “home movies” to the police to taunt them. So he’s been doing this for a while.

Somehow, the girl escapes and flags down a guy named Tucker (Kevin Gage, who some people might recognize as the title character from the LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT rip-off, CHAOS, in 2005), who takes her back to his house. For some strange reason, nobody in this movie has a working phone, and Tucker and his wife Cindy (Lena Headley) are no exceptions. They tell the girl they can’t call the police, but they’ll bring her to the sheriff’s office in the morning, and that she’s safe for the time being. Of course, she’s not. ChromeSkull followed them there and is soon going on another killing spree. Tucker and the Girl escape and drive away, but Cindy isn’t so lucky. Soon after they escape, Cindy’s brother Johnny (Johnathon Scheach) and his girlfriend show up, and are promptly murdered by ChromeSkull as an appetizer, before he goes after the ones that got away.

Look out! Chromeskull's on the rampage in LAID TO REST.

Look out! ChromeSkull’s on the rampage in LAID TO REST.

Tucker and the Girl show up at the house of Steven (Sean Whalen, who’s been in everything from HANNAH MONTANA to LOST and movies like MEN IN BLACK, 1997), a goofy-looking guy who reminded me of  a young Steve Buscemi. Steven tells them he doesn’t have a phone (of course), but he does have a computer and can email the police for them (WTF?). It doesn’t take ChromeSkull long to track them down and they get away, heading back to the funeral home (where Steven’s mother is, since she just died the day before).

The rest of the movie involves everyone trying to stay one step ahead of ChromeSkull, who kills other people who get in his way as he tries to get these guys, and most specifically, the Girl.

All the big names here (big for indie horror movies, I guess) don’t last very long. As previously mentioned, they include Richard Lynch (who just died last year and whose long career included everything from Larry Cohen’s GOD TOLD ME TO, 1976,  to the upcoming Rob Zombie movie THE LORDS OF SALEM); Lena Headley (who was Queen Gorgo in 300, 2006, Sarah Connor in THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES TV series, and is probably best known as Cersei Lannister in the HBO series GAME OF THRONES); and Johnathon Schaech (who we saw as the killer in the PROM NIGHT remake in 2008, and in movies like THE POKER CLUB , 2008, and “The Washingtonians” episode of the Showtime series MASTERS OF HORROR, 2007).

There’s not all that much to LAID TO REST. It’s just people trying to stay one step ahead of a maniac who wears a mask. It must have been successful, because it spawned a sequel (2011’s CHROMESKULL: LAID TO REST 2). But I didn’t find it to be particularly memorable, aside from that shiny mask of his (it does look pretty cool, but it  keeps slipping off, and he keeps gluing it back on, so it’s not very practical). We learn that he has tons of videotapes of his victims from cities and towns all over America, that he likes to use super-sharp hunting knives and that he kept lots of bodies in caskets in a house back behind the funeral home (it’s not really clear what his relationship with that mortician was, but they knew each other). We never get a good look at ChromeSkull’s real face, and it’s hard to see him as anything more than just another one-dimensional boogeyman.

As I said before, nobody seems to have a phone, every car seems on the verge of running out of gas, and nobody seems to have any brains, which means that LAID TO REST isn’t the most satisfying horror movie you will ever see. But I’d be lying if I said it didn’t have its moments. Director Hall is able to generate some suspense, and he keeps the pace brisk enough, but by the end, it’s hard to really care about what happens, since the characters make so many dumb decisions.

Overall, there’s not a lot about LAID TO REST to distinguish it from other movies of its ilk.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

A cool foreign poster for LAID TO REST.

A cool foreign poster for LAID TO REST.

Meals for Monsters (Christmas Edition): SILENT NIGHT, BLOODY NIGHT (1972)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 2012, 70s Horror, B-Movies, Evil Santas, Family Secrets, Grindhouse Goodies, HOLIDAY CHEER, Jenny Orosel Columns, Low Budget Movies, Meals for Monsters, Psycho killer with tags , , , , , , , , on December 25, 2012 by knifefighter

MEALS FOR MONSTERS: SILENT NIGHT, BLOODY NIGHT (1972)
Special Christmas Review and recipes by Jenny Orosel

SilentNightBloodyNight1974USposterThere are a ton of Christmas horror movies to liven up the season. For every disgustingly sweet animated special with singing toys and perky reindeer, there is a psychopath in a Santa suit screaming about “garbage day,” or a homicidal, wise-cracking snowman. But a truly scary horror film, those are harder to come by. Recently, though, I discovered SILENT NIGHT, BLOODY NIGHT (1972), and it saved my sanity from the season’s twentieth bad cover of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”.

Something happened in the Butler mansion on Christmas Eve, 1935. Little is known, other than the mansion had been converted into an asylum in order to provide treatment for Wilfred Butler’s teenage daughter. Neither of them survived, and the asylum was shut down. Fast forward three decades and Butler’s grandson is trying to sell the old house. The city’s elite want it destroyed. And people connected to the house are dying at the hands of a masked killer. Who is it, why are they massacring the town one by one, and what does it have to do with that fateful Christmas Eve?

SILENT NIGHT, BLOODY NIGHT could have easily been a horrible movie. Let’s face it, a psychotic killer and a mental hospital setting are hardly original. Yet somehow writer/director Theodore Gershuny manages to make it as realistic as it can be, consistently suspenseful, and rather unpredictable. The performances were pretty good as well, especially from genre favorites John Carradine and Mary Woronov. There wasn’t much of a budget, but BLOODY NIGHT didn’t need it. The scares came from the great pacing not fancy special effects, so I rarely noticed. It might be that I expected so little going into it but I was pleasantly surprised at how much fun I had with BLOODY NIGHT.  So much fun, in fact, that I made it the Christmas Meals for Monsters column.

The Christmas Eve of 1935 included a huge feast with champagne flowing freely. In honor of one of the stars, I’ve named the cocktail:

THE GINGER WORONOV:

drink1 part ginger ale
4 parts sparkling wine
1 splash bitters
serve cold

You can’t have a feast–especially a Christmas Eve feast–without a roast. The traditional beef rib roast or Chateaubriand can get pricey VERY fast, and would hardly fit the budget of BLOODY NIGHT. An eye of round is a relatively inexpensive beef roast, and can still be delicious if done right.

CHRISTMAS EVE ROAST BEEF:

dinner3-pound eye of round roast
1 bunch fresh sage
1 bunch fresh tarragon
salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS: Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Soak the herbs in water while the oven heats. When the oven is ready, put the herbs in the roasting pan underneath the rack. Salt and pepper to taste. Put the roast in the hot oven for a half hour. Turn off the oven but DO NOT open the door. Leave the roast in the oven for an hour and a half. This will make it medium doneness. If you prefer your beef more cooked through, increase the initial cooking time. Serve sliced thin.

The Christmas Eve scene included a cameo by Candy Darling, one of my favorite “superstars” from Andy Warhol’s stable of actors. Her role was small and added very little to the overall plot, but she was memorable and a nice little addition to the flick. As a nod to her and her inclusion:

CHRISTMAS CANDY DARLING (aka Peppermint Bark)

dessert1 pound dark chocolate (NOT chips)
1 pound white chocolate (not chips, either)
6 candy canes

Smash the unwrapped candy canes until well pulverized. Line a 9×9 square cake pan with wax paper. In the microwave, heat the dark chocolate in 30 second intervals, stirring in between each, until completely melted (you will be tempted to heat it for longer increments. DON’T DO IT! Trust me.) Pour melted chocolate into the pan, spread evenly, and refrigerate until solid. Heat the white chocolate in the same manner. Pour over the cooled dark chocolate and, before setting in the fridge, sprinkle evenly with the candy cane pieces. Once the candy has hardened, break apart into wedges. Will stay good for weeks, as long as it isn’t stored on a radiator.

SILENT NIGHT, BLOODY NIGHT is in the public domain and easy to get a hold of. Getting a hold of a decent copy, though, is much more difficult. The copy I watched was from Alpha Video and, while grainy, was not unwatchable. And there’s something fun about it, amid the Martha Stewart level of neatness and precision abounding during the holidays, to watch something with flaws and scratches. So relax, let your hair down, and blow off all that holiday season steam with some good, old-fashioned lunatics.

© Copyright 2012 by Jenny Orosel

noite-de-sombras-noite-de-sangue-theodore-gershuny-silent-night-bloody-night-1974

The Ghost of Christmas Past Presents: BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974)

Posted in 2010, 70s Horror, HOLIDAY CHEER, Horror DVDs, LL Soares Reviews, Psycho killer with tags , , , , , , on December 21, 2012 by knifefighter

BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974)
Review by L.L. Soares


Who would have guessed that the guy who gave us PORKY’S back in 1982 would also be the guy to give us two Christmas classics. Yes, TWO. The first one that comes to mind for most people is the movie Bob Clark made in 1983, and which has gone on to become a Christmastime juggernaut – A CHRISTMAS STORY. The story of Little Ralphie and his BB gun seems to be playing in a constant loop in the latter part of December. It’s become as much of a holiday staple as IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE and A CHRISTMAS CAROL. And I’ll admit, it’s a fun movie, as long as you don’t sit in front of the television for days on end watching it 150 times in a row.

But Clark also gave us 1974’s BLACK CHRISTMAS (also known as SILENT NIGHT, EVIL NIGHT), one of the first of the Christmas slasher films. And one of the best.

It may be the most famous of Clark’s early horror movies, probably because it was remade (badly) in 2006.

In BLACK CHRISTMAS, a deranged killer breaks into a sorority house, hides in the attic, and takes his time killing some of the girls who are left behind during the holiday (most of the girls have gone home to see their families). The killer has contacted them before this— by way of obscene phone calls that have plagued the house for a while. The killer says his name is “Billy” and his phone calls are pretty damn weird: he speaks in different voices and seems to be totally wacko.

One of the girls, Claire (Lynne Griffin) disappears, just before her father (James Edmond) comes to the college to pick her up, so he goes to the police, who are at first not very helpful, but grow more concerned as other murders pile up.

The other “girls” include Jessica (Olivia Hussey), the sensible lead; Barbie (a young Margot Kidder—most famous as later being Louis Lane in the Christopher Reeve SUPERMAN movies—and I have to admit she’s pretty hot in this movie!), who likes to drink too much and tell dirty stories; Phyllis (known as “Phil” and played by Andrea Martin of SCTV, in a rare dramatic role) who is the nerdy one; and house mother Mrs. Mac (Marian Waldman), who’s always sneaking drinks and shouting for her cat. And the cop who investigates the case, Lt. Fuller,  is played by genre icon John Saxon.

The movie is unique for its camera work (the killer is never shown, and the camera is often from his point of view in his scenes) and weird sound effects (the killer’s phone calls are downright weird and unsettling). This is one case where the killer actually seems frightening and totally unhinged. The fact that not much is explained actually works to the story’s benefit, building suspense. The identity of the killer is also a source of much suspense. Is it Jessica’s boyfriend Peter (Keir Dullea), who seems a bit unstable after a piano recital that fails to impress his professors, and who is angry that Jessica plans to abort their unplanned baby? Or is there going to be a twist as the story develops?

Bob Clark had a real talent for simple little horror flicks that were also very effective. It’s too bad he didn’t seem to be a big horror fan (he treated these early films more as a way to build his film resume). His biggest successes were  comedies like the PORKY’S movies and A CHRISTMAST STORY. Then, later in his career, he turned out, almost exclusively, family films like BABY GENIUSES (1999) and KARATE DOG (2004).

BLACK CHRISTMAS is a classic of its kind and a real pioneer, since it pre-dates another “mysterious killer” movie, John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN. Also, its famous “the phone calls are coming from inside the house” storyline was ripped off years later in 1979’s WHEN A STRANGER CALLS (which Bob Clark seems to feel both flattered and annoyed about in a Q&A session that’s one of the extras on the DVD).

The 70s horror films Clark made (especially this one,1974’s DEATHDREAM and CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS from 1973) are all worth checking out. They’re all entertaining and suitably creepy. Clark had a very unique vision for these kinds of things, and I wish he’d made more horror films.

I think DEATHDREAM is the best of the bunch, but BLACK CHRISTMAS probably has the biggest profile of his horror work. Watch it this Christmas with someone you love (and who scares easily!).

© Copyright 2010 by L.L. Soares

SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS (2012)

Posted in 2012, Crime Films, Gangsters!, Hit Men, Nick Cato Reviews, Psycho killer with tags , , , , , , on October 20, 2012 by knifefighter

SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS (2012)
Movie Review by Nick Cato

Martin McDonagh, who directed Colin Farrell in 2008’s IN BRUGES, returns to the director’s chair to once again guide Farrell through another dark comedy that’s also more violent than most horror and action films; by the crowd’s reaction (at least where I attended a screening), they seemed to love it or hate it. Or in this case, SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS apparently left some viewers undecided.

Farrell plays Marty, a struggling screenwriter. His best friend Billy (played by the wonderfully demented Sam Rockwell) attempts to help him write his current project (titled SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS) and keeps coming up with some really “out-there” ideas. But Farrell takes them, and before long his screenplay begins to take shape.

Unknown to Marty, Billy is involved with an unusual money making scheme with his senior citizen friend Hans (played by Christopher Walken in one of his funniest—and most heartfelt—performances in years). Hans and Billy kidnap dogs from wealthy-looking people and then wait for “missing dog” signs to appear, and then return the mutts for reward money. Hans is using his share to help pay medical bills for his cancer-stricken wife, Myra (and although she only appears for a short time, actress Linda Bright Clay does a fantastic job portraying Hans’s better half).

Things take a wicked and funny turn when Billy kidnaps a Shih Tzu that belongs to a gangster (Charlie, played with anarchic abandon by Woody Harrelson). Before long Charlie has his goons ripping L.A. apart looking for the pooch, and when they discover Hans’s operation, Charlie decides the best way to get to Hans (who he can’t find) is to get to his wife.

Fans of singer Tom Waits are in for a real treat; his performance as psychopath Zachariah shows he can act as well as pen a solid tune. And one of his scenes is arguably the funniest in the film.

SEVEN PSYCHOPATH’s plot is simple, but thanks to writer/director McDonagh, there’s plenty of depth to each character, and the story reveals levels not common to mainstream Hollywood comedies. What I liked best was how we see the struggle of a writer; Marty is at wit’s end and is just desperate enough to accept Billy’s crazy ideas to get his screenplay moving (an early scene featuring an unforgettable cameo by Harry Dean Stanton, as a psychopathic Quaker, had me in stitches). And as the film moves along, Billy’s psyche is unraveled one funny layer at a time, in the end turning him into something I think few people will have expected.

I’m sure the violence level will turn some people off: there’s graphic throat slashings, countless bullets-to-the-head, and in one dream sequence, a head explosion that rivals anything in David Cronenberg’s SCANNERS (1981). SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS does a good job going from laugh-out-loud funny to halting the viewer with a grim kill scene…and thanks to the aforementioned part by Linda Bright Clay, a few serious, tension-filled moments worthy of any blockbuster thriller.

Most of the second half takes place in the desert, as Marty, Billy, and Hans both hide and wait for Charlie to find them. During this sequence, Hans takes a tape recorder and explains his idea for Marty’s screenplay. What he says is shown at the end of the film, and it’s classic Walken all around. I’m a major Walken fan (I even sat through his 1995 turd-bucket SEARCH AND DESTROY), and am thrilled he has taken this role that will surely go down as one of his all-time best. Or at least all-time funniest.

If your sense of humor leans toward the dark side, check out SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS. It’s as grim as it is funny, and unlike the majority of junk coming out of Hollywood, features a textured story that will surely hold up well to repeat viewings.

4 out of 5 bloody Knives.

© Copyright 2012 by Nick Cato

Marty (Colin Farrell) attempts to understand suggestions for his screenplay given by Billy (Sam Rockwell) and Hans (Christopher Walken).

 

Nick Cat gives SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS  ~FOUR knives.