Posts Tagged ‘horror’

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When Bad Times Get Worse — The Strangers

January 11, 2009

THE STRANGERS (2008)
d. Bryan Bertino

A very effective thriller/horror movie in the vein of Straw Dogs about a couple terrorized by three masked individuals in an isolated summer home that starts really strong, but a number of missteps on the way and the film goes off the rails that by the conclusion I was left feeling empty and sour.

The One On The Right Is The Cutest

The One On The Right Is The Cutest

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Dead On Arrival: Resident Evil: Degeneration

January 2, 2009

RESIDENT EVIL: DEGENERATION (2008)
d. Makoto Kamiya

In this direct to DVD computer-animated feature, the world of Resident Evil is expanded slightly, but the main thrill is seeing Leon Kennedy and Claire Redfield reunited since their first pairing in the videogame, Resident Evil 2.

The storyline is what one expects from Resident Evil: an outbreak of zombie-ism perpetrated by a mysterious person behind the scenes. The location this time is an airport terminal where Claire must protect a little girl and a slimy Senator, and Leon is sent in to rescue survivors. However, this only takes up the first act.

The rest of the story has Leon and Claire splitting up. Leon teams with an SRT member, Angela (who bears a striking resemblance to Angelina Jolie) to track down a suspected bio-terrorist, who turns out to be her brother, Curtis. Claire, meanwhile, travels with a doctor to the WilPharma institute where she discovers that they have a cure for the T-virus, but they house the G-virus as well. Danger!

The two threads draw together when Angela’s brother attacks the WilPharma institute and injects himself with the G-virus, transforming himself into a deadly creature.

While the narrative, on the whole, is clunky and peppered with leaden dialogue typical for this series, the animation is crisp and detailed; I found myself admiring the rendered dust motes more often than paying attention to the story.

For plot-hounds, this story takes place after Resident Evil 4 as there are mentions of Leon’s involvement with Ganados and the President’s daughter; I have a sneaky suspicion that there is the most tenuous of connections to RE5 with the appearance of the TriCell members toward the end as they sift through the rubble for remnants of the G-virus.

In any case, the story is so-so, and the animation is top-notch — though the people are somewhat stiffer than the zombies.

** stars.

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“Don’t Drink The Milk!” — Lucky McKee’s The Woods

December 18, 2008

THE WOODS (2005)
d. Lucky McKee

Lucky McKee first caught my attention with his quirky horror film May, about a psyche-damaged, lazy-eyed loner that was at parts romantic and disturbing, usually in the same scene. In his feature follow-up, The Woods, Mr. McKee continues exploring the theme of the female outsider swept up in forces beyond her control when an attempt, either internal or external, to fit in ends in disaster.

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When Magic Goes Black, It Never Goes Back: The Shaw Brothers’ Seeding of a Ghost

December 3, 2008

SEEDING OF A GHOST (1983)
d. Chuan Yang 

After surviving the visual onslaught of Boxer’s Omen, I expected the notorious Seeding of a Ghost to fulfill the same promises of black magic insanity. On some levels it does live up to my expectations, but on most levels it mainly fails.

Classy Love Scenes Like This Make It Worthwhile

Classy Love Scenes Like This Make It Worthwhile

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Something Is Happening And You Don’t Know What It Is… : M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening

November 20, 2008

THE HAPPENING (2008)
d. M. Night Shyamalan

Not the turkey I was led to expect by all the negative reviews, The Happening is a slow-burning, moody eco-thriller with many memorable and visceral scenes and some decent performances all around.

One of Many Memorable Images

One of Many Memorable Images

The movie tells the story of an unexplained rash of suicides in the North Eastern region of the U.S., and as the survivors, including an elementary science teacher (Mark Wahlberg) and his wife (Zooey Deschanel), make their way out of the infected zone, the possibility of the deaths being the result of a terrorist action become less and less likely.

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When There’s No Room Left In Hell, The Dead Will Walk The Earth… To Vote! — Masters of Horror: Homecoming

November 17, 2008

MASTERS OF HORROR: HOMECOMING (2005)
d. Joe Dante 

Not as bad as most of the episodes of this Showtime series, Homecoming manages to get a few good laughs with its broad satirical swipe at the Bush administration and its failing War on Terror.

Set on the eve of the 2004 Presidential Election, David Murch, a republican spin doctor inadvertently pulls a page out of the Liar, Liar book and makes a wish that goes horribly wrong. He wishes that the soldiers stationed abroad could come home, and come home they do despite having been killed in battle. And in a great twist on the zombie genre, instead of coming home to feast on brains, the undead have returned to vote against the reigning administration.

Joe Dante, known for The Howling and his segment from Twilight Zone: The Movie does a good job of keeping the satire broad and brisk, even staging scenes like horror films from the 50s to pay homage to its b-movie roots. The script is a little flat-footed with a lot of narration filling in for ellipses in time and feeding us explanations of what’s happening, but it offers some good scenes (between Murch and his mom at the cemetary) and some schmaltzy ones that are actually touching if corny (the undead soldier being sheltered in the cafe by the kindly couple).

And look for the names of movie directors of the undead in Arlington Cemetery when zombies erupt from their graves. Nice touch!

At an hour, it works fine, even if the gag is given away early in the game and there are few surprises at the end.

**1/2

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No Life In This Dead Dog: Masters of Horror: Haeckel’s Tale

November 14, 2008

MASTERS OF HORROR: HAECKEL’S TALE (2006)
d. John McNaughton 

This short is another Masters of Horror episode that starts strong and ends weakly, and I blame the 1-hour limit. It’s fairly typical for all of the episodes in this Showtime series to follow this trend where the ending is not entirely surprising and feels rushed.

Haeckel’s Tale, based on a Clive Barker short story, tells about a young man visiting a necromancer with the petition to raise his just-died beloved from the grave. The necromancer warns him against this, initially refusing his request; however, he is persistent. Relenting, she agrees to do his bidding if he listens to her cautionary tale, and if he still desires his loved one, then she will perform the resurrection.

In the tale she tells, Haeckel is a physician who is skeptical of religion and the mystic arts and boasts that he can reanimate dead flesh. When he attempts to recreate Frankenstein’s experiment and fails, he stumbles across a peasant’s vouching of a Dr. Montesquino (Jon Polito, always fun to watch) and his ability to resurrect the dead. Intrigued but still doubtful, Haeckel watches the Dr. reanimate a dead dog, but still doesn’t believe it. He tries to learn the method, but cannot persuade the doctor to give up his secrets. Haeckel then receives word that his father’s health has turned for the worse and must return home.

On his way home, he is given shelter by a kindly middle-aged man and his gorgeous young wife, Elise. Unable to keep his eyes of Elise, Haeckel notices her weird behavior — always glancing out the window longingly, and feeling herself up. While trying to catch some sleep, he sees the husband pay Dr. Montesquino and Elise leaves the hovel for the nearby necropolis for an illicit rendezvous with her 1st husband who is a decaying zombie where they engage in some naughty love-making whilst other zombies watch.

Needless to say, this reveal is hardly surprising, as it is telegraphed early. And while the writing is fairly strong and compelling in the first act, it steadily falls off and ends with a final twist that is unsuccessful. The only thing to look for is the lead actress’s topless zombie love-making scenes, and the husband being fed upon and torn apart by zombies.

I have been disappointed with most of the Masters of Horror episodes, feeling that it is more hype than substance despite some good actors in roles and some good premises. Anyway, ** stars.

Next up, either another Masters of Horror episode, Joe Dante’s Homecoming, or Aeon Flux.

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Spirals Out of Control: Uzumaki

November 9, 2008

UZUMAKI (2000)
d.  Akiro Higuchi

A strange J-horror movie that approaches Lynchian excess and almost captures Lynchian success, but just falls short. Strong visuals cross-breed with over-the-top characters to create a memorable film that leaves more questions than answers.

Basically, this movie tells the story of small town overcome by a strange obsession with spirals, uzumaki. High schoolers Kirie and her childhood friend, Shuichi, experience the weirdness first hand through Shuichi’s father’s growing obsession with the shape. His obsession ultimately leads to his doom, but not before it infects his wife, Kirie’s father and several classmates.

Ah-hah! ... No I Still Don't Get It

Eyeball, Spiral... Whatever!

As the spiral shape slowly overwhelms the psyche of the townsfolk, we soon discover that it is transforming them as well. Hope arrives in the guise of an out-of-town journalist, who may have discovered a reason behind the strangeness (somehow involving a Japanese play on the word Kagami, meaning both “mirror” and “serpent”). Unfortunately, this never plays out and the town’s fate is sealed.

I describe this film as Lynchian because characters with broader-than-life personalities populate this town as weirdness erupts in violent spasms; the more strange the world becomes, the more strange the people become in reaction. Also, the editing and acting help create a dream-like atmosphere typical of Lynch’s films. However, the tone created by these clashing elements only disrupts and undermines the effectiveness of the horror. Don’t get me wrong, it is still creepy as hell watching this film, but without any rationale, it falls apart. My guess is that this is based on a manga.

Still, it is worth it to see the human snails climbing the walls of the school building, even if it is only brief.

** stars.

Next week, I hope to have the live-action Aeon Flux as well as a couple of Masters of Horror episodes.

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One Extreme, One Strong, One So-So: Three… Extremes

November 8, 2008

THREE… EXTREMES (2005)
d. Fruit Chan, Park Chan-Wook, Takashi Miike 

First of all I would like to make a correction. I have been erroneously labeling this horror anthology as J-Horror, when really it is one-third J-Horror, one-third K-Horror, and one-third HK-Horror.

The horror omnibus is nothing new, but here we get three Asian directors, known for their far-out takes on genre, presenting three short segments exploring the depths of horror that human desire leads towards. And make no mistake, this is horror in its real sense, not horror in the gory roller-coaster sense to which American audiences have grown accustomed and expect.

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The Pit Has Some Depth, Some Flaws

November 6, 2008

THE PIT (1981)
d.  Lew Lehman

A B-Movie at its core, The Pit belongs less to the Monsters From Hell genre than to the Kids From Hell genre, along the lines of The Bad Seed or The Good Son. It tells the story of an adolescent loner, Jamie (Sammy Snyders), whose only friend is his teddy bear, Teddy, and who crushes big time on his new house/babysitter (Jeannie Elias) all while harboring a secret about a pit in the middle of the forest, and the creatures that reside within (he calls them “Trollogs” but in the credits they are “The Trogs”).

He Grows Up To Be Sylar

He Grows Up To Be Sylar

The movie is at its most successful when negotiating the painful pangs of adolescence that Jamie experiences. He borrows books about art nudes from the library, keeps a skin mag under his mattress, and likes to blackmail the Librarian into taking her clothes off so he can take Polaroids. He also has a difficult time fitting in and making friends either at school or with his neighbors, mainly because he lacks a number of social skills. Even the elderly find him distasteful.

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