Monday, 25 May 2015

May Sucks: What We Do In The Shadows (2014) Blu-ray Review

What We Do In The Shadows (2014)
Director: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi
Starring:  Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, and  Jonathan Brough

Running Time: 86 min

  Ever since the Flight of the Conchords, I've been a huge fan of Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi and when I heard that they had put a vampire mockumentary together, I was ecstatic.  Even awesomer was that the film was getting some incredible reviews around the world, so I couldn't wait to see it.  Unfortunately, when the film finally came to my small Canadian hamlet, twice, my schedule/life/underwater basket weaving courses conflicted with the showings, so I was unable to see it, until now! I finally have it here in my hands and I can finally find out what they do in the shadows!

  New Zealand vampires Viago, Vladislav, Deacon and Petyr are being filmed for a documentary on vampires.  The camera crew follows them around getting an inside look on what it is like to be an average creature of the night in Wellington.  Things like being eternal flatmates, doing chores around the house, how they get dressed to go out when they cannot use mirrors and how they catch victims to feed their eternal hunger in this day and age are all brought to light in this fun and humorous film.
  Also, they are not the only supernatural creatures who show up in the darkest and not so darkest of nights in this New Zealand town.  This group of vamps must traverse the streets and sometimes battle for blood with werewolves, witches and even zombies!  Can this documentary crew survive a night with all these maniacal monsters or will they fall victim to these bloodsuckers like so many others in the past?


  This movie is hilarious and it's basically "This is Spinal Tap" but with vampires and a lot of blood.  Writer/directors Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords, Tongan Ninja) and Taika Waititi (Eagle vs Shark, Boy) give these maleficent creatures of the night a marvelous send up by taking them out of their romantic Gothic era and leaving them smack dab in the present, struggling to adapt to everyday life.  Clement and Waititi brilliantly spoof many of the tropes that vampire films have given us over the years and turned them upside down and given us a look at some of the not so suave undead.
  The cast is fantastic and each character brings something new to the comedy table.  Waititi and Clement bring their talents on-camera as well and play two of the leads Viago and Vladislav.  These characters work well together because they are like a vampire odd couple.  Viago is a prissy 18th century dandy and Vladislav is a mock up of Vald the impaler, who has just started to mellow out and is trying to find himself.  Both skilfully play their roles and kept me laughing throughout the film.  Also, Jonathan Brough (Power Rangers, The Family Law), who plays Deacon is excellent as well.  He plays the youngest vampire of the group, at 144 years of age, and the only one with a human familiar, Jackie, who he has promised to make a vampire...someday.  Brough is fun to watch and brings a lot of silliness to the part. 
  In addition, this mockmentary has some of the best effects that I've seen in a while.  They crew use a combination of practical and CGI effects that make it spectacular and very realistic to watch, which is refreshing.  There is a lot of good blood jokes spraying everywhere, cool looking vampires floating around and there is even a werewolf(ves) transformation scene, which are all done really well.  Especially considering the budget constraints that they may or may not have had.  On top of that, the make-up for Ben Fransham (30 Days of Night, Heavenly Creatures), who plays the ancient vampire Petyr is amazing.  Petyr is a "Count Orlock", "Nosferatu" looking creature who is just hideous and evil looking with large fangs and blue skin.  The make-up team that did him up, did a stunning job and should be commended.  


  To be honest, there isn't really that much to complain about buuuuuut the one thing that got me was that these vampires were totally out of touch with the time period.  I understand, there lies the joke, but going so far as to say that these creatures who have lived for so many years have never come across a computer is a bit of a stretch.  However, the way that this technology angle gets worked in later in the film is interesting and does eventually lead to some good laughs.


  There are some excellent special features on the Blu-ray and is over two hours.  There are Deleted Scenes, Video Extras and Interviews (with the characters), which includes the short film by Waititi and Clement, that was the genesis of the film. These are all extra scenes that could have been used in the film, but were taken out, I'm guessing because of time constraints.  Also, there is a Photo Gallery, Poster Gallery and Promo Videos, which are kind of fun to watch as well.
  I was surprised that there wasn't an audio commentary on the film but you can't have everything, I guess. 


  Overall, this is an outstanding film and a must see for anyone, fan of the horror genre or not.  It is first-rate satire with just enough blood and guts to impress even the most jaded gore hound.  So, if your looking for something horrifyingly fun to watch and need a good laugh at the end of day from a job that is slowly draining you of your life, then grab a copy of this and watch some real bloodsuckers at work.

  

Thursday, 21 May 2015

May Sucks: Martin (1977)

Martin (1977)
Director: George A. Romero
Starring: John Amplas, Lincoln Maazel, and  Christine Forrest
Running Time: 95 min

  This is a lesser known film by George A. Romero (There's Always Vanilla, Bruiser) but in my opinion, this is truly one of his best works.  Now I haven't seen it in years, so maybe it really doesn't hold up that well by todays' standards but I'm willing to dig through my boxes of VHS tapes to find out if this really an underrated masterpiece or a Romero flop. C'mon masterpiece!

  A young looking man named Martin is traveling by train to Pittsburgh and on his way he gets a bit peckish, so he gets his needle kit ready and during the night, he breaks into a young womans' room on the train.  Fortunately, to Martins' surprise she is in the shower and so this gives him time to hide in the shadows until she comes out.  She does and Martin pounces on her and injects her with his needle.  Then they struggle until the drugs kick in and the whole time Martin tells her that he wants her to just go to sleep and he's not going to hurt her.  Once she is passed out, Martin takes off his clothing and caresses the defenseless woman and pulls her naked torso on top of him.  He pull out a razor, slits her wrist and drinks her warm blood.  When he's done, he washes up, gets dressed and makes this death look like a suicide.  He then leaves his poor victims compartment and heads back to his own to sleep the night away.
  The next morning, he reaches Pittsburgh and is picked up by his cousin Cuda, who refers to him as Nosferatu or "the family curse".  Cuda, who looks like he's in his 70's, tells his cousin that there will be no murders in the city, while Martin is staying with him and if he hears of anyone dying from mysterious causes, then he will stake Martin immediately with no questions asked.  Also, Cuda tells Martin that his granddaughter, Christina is staying with them and he is not to talk to her, ever.
  Later that day, while Cuda is at work, Christina arrives home or wakes up and meets Martin.  She tells Martin that she thinks that Cuda is crazy and that she doesn't believe this family curse bullshit.  She asks Martin how old he is and he simply responds, 84.  She shakes her head mentioning that this whole family needs psychological help and then realizes that she is late for work.  As she rushes out the door, she asks Martin if he would like a phone because she is getting a phone installed in the house, even though Cuda doesn't believe in them.  Martin doesn't agree but just stares blankly at her and she wishes him well and leaves. creepy.
  That night, there is banging on Martins' door and when he goes to see what the noise is, he finds Cuda hammering an alarm system of bells and chimes on his doors.  Cuda tells Martin that now he will now know where you are at all times, Nosferatu.  Frustrated, Martin tells his cousin that vampires are not real and that there is no magic, then he tells Christina that he would like a phone.  Trapped in the house and only allowed out to work as a delivery boy for his cousin, Martin feels his thirst for blood growing and growing but he knows that any mysterious deaths in the neighbourhood while cause him to die.  Can Martin sustain his lust for blood while staying at his cousins' home or is there a way that he can escape and feast on the flesh of others without Cuda finding out?


  This is still has to be one of my favourite films.  Writer/Director George A. Romero spins an fascinating vampire tale that throws the usual tropes right out the window.  Martin can walk in the daylight, isn't afraid of crosses, there are no fangs and at one point, he even goes to church with Cuda and Christina.   The character Martin tells us that there is no magic, but things are just as they are.  However, Martin does claims that he is 84 years old and he does drink blood, which he keeps to himself but is this insanity brought on by other members of the family, who believes in the old ways or is this a crazy truth that Christina and the audience (us) may not want to accept.  This is the push/pull of the movie that I think makes it so great because you never really know.
  Also, Romero makes this Martin character incredibly likeable, which is strange because he is the villain in the film.  Seriously, he is killing people but for some reason you feel bad for the character and want him to escape these perilous situations that would actually stop him from murdering people.  John Amplas (Day of the Dead, Creepshow) plays the role brilliantly and seems to have a lot of fun with the character at times.


  Besides the first murder on the train at the beginning, the rest of the film has a very slow burn feel to it.  This isn't an action packed, running around vampire flick but a more a thoughtful look at the sanity of this Martin character and the struggle with his addiction or need to drink blood.  There are some very memorable deaths scenes, Tom Savini does double duty as an actor and as a special effects artist on this film, but it is not the central focus of the film.  This may put genre fans off but once you get into it, then you might dig it.
 

  With that said, I think that this is probably one of the most underrated and least talked about horror films out there and it really shouldn't be.  This is a outstanding story of alienation, insanity and vampires, all rolled into one.  Romero is at the top of his game when he created this and this is a true hidden gem that will surprise and entrance any horror fan.  So, if you're looking for a vampire film that was ahead of it's time and extremely under appreciated, then find a copy of Martin, if you can, and put away your razor blades.


Sunday, 17 May 2015

May Sucks: Salem's Lot (1979)

Salem's Lot (1979)
Director: Tobe Hooper
Starring: David Soul, James Mason, and Lance Kerwin
Running Time: 184 min

  I just read this book a couple months back and thought that it was about time that I watched the movie.  I've seen most films based on Stephen King's work, but this one has continuously slipped by me, probably because it was TV movie.  Anyway, I'm pretty jazzed to check it out and take the long trip up to the evil Marsten house, luckily, I'll be doing it during the daylight, just in case.

  Writer Ben Mears returns to his hometown of Salem's Lot to write a book about the Marsten house, a spooky depreciate old house that has more skeletons in its closet than any politician at the time.  When Ben arrives he approaches Larry Crockett, local real estate agent to see if he can rent the Marsten house to work on the novel, but to his surprised, Crockett tells him he just sold the place to two antique dealers, Straker and Barlow, who just arrived in town.  Crockett does recommend a boarding house that Ben can stay at while he works on his book.  Ben thanks Crockett and heads over to the boarding house to set up shop.  Just as Ben leaves, Crockett gets a phone call from Straker, who needs him to get two people to drive out to Portland and pick up a large crate that will arrive the next day for their business.  Crockett tells him that is no problem and he guarantees that it will be delivered the next night.  Then Crockett heads out to find two people to make the delivery.
  After getting settled in the boarding house, Ben wanders around Salem's Lot and sees a young woman relaxing in the park with a copy of his latest novel splayed open on the grass beside her.  He wanders over and jokingly tells her that the way she has the book is bad for the spine.  The woman recognizes Ben from the photo on the book and is completely charmed by him and witty book pick-up line.  The two spend the rest of the day together and end the day "chatting" by the lake.
  The next day, Ben goes over to the local junior high school to find his old English teacher, Jason Burke.  He finds him working with his students in the auditorium on a play written by one of his promising young writers, Mark Petrie.  Jason tells him that it is good to see him, but he's got to work on the play with the students but he'll have time to catch up and have dinner with him tonight.  On his way out of the school, Ben runs into Susan, who is also a teacher at the junior high school and they notice that her ex-boyfriend is spying on them from his creepy van.  Anyway, he also makes plans to see her after his catch up dinner with Jason for more dinner at her house.  That dude loves dinners!
  That night, the guys Crockett hired head out to Portland to pick up the mysterious large crate from Portland.  When they touch the giant crate, its cold and neither guy knows why.  They move the creepy crate into the van and drive it back to the Marsten house.  The two guys drag the crate into the cellar and get spooked by some strange noises upstairs.  They run out of the house, forgetting to lock the house up as asked by Crockett and Straker.  Meanwhile after two dinners and meeting Susan's parents, Ben and Susan head back to the secluded lake to "chat" some more.  Sadly, chatting is all that actually goes on because they hear the engines of some vehicles near them on the road.  They wander over and find Crockett dead in his car!  The police come and ruin a romantic evening for the two of them and then Ben drives Susan home.
  However, this wasn't the only odd occurrence that happened that night, the Glick brothers went missing after they left their friend, Mark Petrie's house.  Unfortunately, only the older boy returned home but in a very shaken up condition and can't remember what happened to his younger brother.  The next day, the older Glick boy and few other people in the town start coming down with odd symptoms and eventually, people start dying.  Ben knows this has something to do with the Marsten house but can't quite put his finger on it.  
Later that day, when Jason Burkes friend from the bar falls victim to this mysterious tiredness,  Jason offers him a room for the night, so Jason can watch over him.  Jason notices that there are strange bite marks on his neck and that night he thinks he hears voices coming from the room.  He investigates later on and finds his friend has passed away.  Good work Jason.  He then calls Ben, who rushes over immediately with a crucifix that Jason requested and Jason tells him what he suspects has happened, that vampires killed his friend and are slowly taking over their town.  Ben being an old friend and trusted confidant, of course thinks that what Jason is saying is crazy and they try to come up with another plan or a way to prove that it is vampires.  Eventually they do realize its the damn vampires and try to enlist help for other men in the town.  It was the 70's people!  Can Ben and Jason stop this crazy vampire plague and the evil master behind it all or will Salem's Lot fall prey to these bloodsucking beasts and have their souls siphoned from them for good?
        

   I really like this and I think that director Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Lifeforce) and writer Paul Monash did a great job adapting this book to a television mini-series.  There are so many integral characters and things going on that it must have been extremely difficult to decide what stays and what parts of the story gets axed.  I watched the three hour unedited version and I couldn't imagine what they had to do to get in under two hours for a theatrical or video release, but I am really interest now to see it.  Anyhow, Monash and Hooper cut the time the old fashioned way, by giving certain characters double duty & axing some other very cool but not so much relevant scenes from the novel, which I'll touch on later.
  This picture also has an amazing cast, with David Soul (Starsky & Hutch, Johnny Got His Gun)  taking on the lead as Ben Mears.  Honestly when reading the book, I didn't picture Mears to look anything like David Soul but after my initial grumbling, Soul's version of the character grew on me and he really becomes the Mears character for me.  Also a great performance by James Mason (North by Northwest, Yellowbeard) who plays the villainous vampire henchman Richard K. Straker.  He gives the character a devilish charm that makes him likeable even though you know how evil he is.  Additionally, there a ton of great minor players like Elisha Cook Jr, George Dzundza, Fred Willard and Geoffrey Lewis who put their talents and terrified gazes into this film.
  For a TV movie, Tobe Hooper has created some exceptionally creepy moments in this film, I think my favourite being the scenes when the vampire children come to the windows at night.  These are gorgeous sets, with billowing smoke and the actors usually harnessed, I hope (?), dangling on the other side of the window, which creates a marvelous looking and haunting image for the audience.  Even looking at the picture below sends shivers down my spine.  Also, I love the look of the Kurt Barlow character, who is the head vampire.  Hooper totally nailed it.  Like in the novel, King made this creature similar to the vampire in Nosferatu and Hooper followed suit and developed a hideous looking creature that would probably scare anyone during 70's prime time or even today.  Last but not least, I love what Hooper did with the Marsten house and how he was able to make the house just as much a terrifying character has Barlow, Straker or any townie vampire.  Hooper, like in the "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" gives this house such an evil look and feel that even seeing it from afar gives you the chills.  It's like Hooper watched all the haunted house movies available and chose all the best spooky stuff out of them.  Which is probably what he did.  Anyway, I loved it and think that this house of horror is totally underrated when people talk about films with spooky houses.     
 

  So what's not great about it?  Well like I mentioned earlier, this is a TV movie, made in the 70's, so the networks back then were probably a little gunshy about producing this film and there isn't a whole mess of blood in it.  Which doesn't mean there isn't some good scares, but a lot of the time the horror shots get faded to black or the gruesome stuff is done off camera.
  Also, as mentioned before there are some really cool stuff in the book that doesn't show up in the film.  Like the vampire baby attacking it's abusive parents or school children getting their revenge on a jackass bus driver.  These things would have been awesome to see but I'm sure there wasn't time or budget for them.  Additionally, the priest character in the story doesn't get as much time and isn't as developed here as he is in the book, which I think is a shame.  In the novel, KIng gives this character a interesting arc but in the film, he is only a given a few moments and his showdown with the creature is very brief.  This is a little disappointing because the religion ascpect is monumental in defeating these creatures and what happens to the priest is really neat and twisted, so I'm just sad that it got dropped. 


  With that said, this is still a fantastic TV movie and a must see for any fans of horror or vampire films.  Not quite a perfect adaption of Stephen King's novel but director Tobe Hooper comes pretty damn close and brings enough chills and thrills that will satisfy anyone's taste for the genre.  Amazing cast and fantastic look and feel to the film that only a true master of genre can bring.  So, if you are looking for a terrifying PG film for you and your family on a dark and stormy night, then pop this in and have a crucifix or wooden stake close at hand.


Friday, 15 May 2015

May Sucks: Vampyr (1932)

Vampyr (1932)
Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer
Starring: Julian West, Maurice Schutz, and Rena Mandel
Running Time: 75 min

  I remember watching this last year, but for the life of me, I can't remember any of it, so it gets to be new to me again.  I've only seen one other film by Danish director Carl Theodor Dreyer and it was his "Passion of Joan of Arc" which was brilliant and I would recommend seeing it if you are a fan of silent films or films in general.  Anyway, I'm sure this time around will be more memorable and if not, than at least I'll know why I've blocked this film from my memory.

  Occultist Allan Grey arrives late one night to an inn, just outside of the small village of Courtempierre.  He heads up to this room and goes to bed, but shortly after he falls asleep, he is awakened by an old man tottering around his room.  The old man leaves a package on Allans' night stand, which reads, "To be opened upon my death" and then leaves Allan room.  Allan takes the package, wanders out of the inn and into a depreciate old building, where he sees shadows of people on the walls dancing and wandering on their own.  As he continues on, he sees a peculiar looking doctor tending to an old woman, who slips him a vile of poison, which the doctor puts on his shelf for later.  Allan continues on, following the sounds of dogs and the cries of child in the night.  Eventually Allan runs into the doctor, who dismisses his claims that there are any such sounds because there are no dogs or children in this building.  The doctor then asks Allan to leave, which he does.
  Allan then follows some of the strange night shadows down to a manor, where the finds the old man who was in his room with his two daughters.  Sadly, the one daughter is recovering from a mysterious illness, which was brought on by a bite on her neck.  However, she seems to be on the mend now and the old man has sent for the doctor again.  Suddenly, the old man is shot in back and killed while Allan is peeping in on the family!  Allan rushes inside to help but it's two late.  The family is devastated but ask Allan to stay the night, as thanks for him trying to help.  Allan wanders over to a desk to open the package that the old man left in his room and it's a book....on vampires!  Can Allan survive the night in this crazy village filled with superstitions and murder or will he fall prey to the creatures of the night or something less supernatural, like a bullet in the back?

 
  This was a very interesting film and has some compelling story telling from director Carl Theodor Dreyer.  What is most fascinating is that this was supposed to be his first "sound" film and like Chaplin's "Modern Times", uses little to no talking because, unlike Chaplin's,  it needed to be recorded in three languages.  So, Dreyer decided that the would stick with title cards like in his other silent films to tell the most of the story.   However, there is some talking throughout with good performances given by Julian West, who plays Allan Grey and Jan Hieronimko, who plays the doctor.
  I liked how Dreyer uses the shadows to guide Allan towards the manor, these dark shadowy souls dancing and running from wall to wall gives a extraordinarily creepy feel to the film.  Also, I really enjoyed Dreyer's use of the skeleton because it gives a wonderfully eerie sense of foreshading and I think skeletons are cool in films. 
  Also, I like the people who he chose to play the villagers in this.  There are some very different looking faces, I hate to be rude but are reminiscent to a certain film by Tod Browning.  This gives the film another dimension and contributes to the idea that this village is cursed in someway and really adds to the tone of the film.   


  This film may have some issues that may or may not be Dreyers' fault.  Like a lot of these older films, the original print was damaged because of bad storage but luckily there were a couple of copies/versions/prints available of the film that could be stitched together for this version.  The version I watched was a recent Janos/Criterion which looked pretty good and the story was mostly intact.
  However, my issue with the film is that if a film is called "Vampyr", I want more vampire stuff in it.  The story alludes a lot to vampirism but the suspected vampire is never seen attacking anyone or even in the vicinity when things go down.  The ending clears it up a bit but I just didn't find anything that terrifying with the vampire itself.
  Also, Dreyer has the Allan character in a weird dream state for most of the film and uses some strange steps in the story telling that could be found confusing.  For instance at one point, Allan falls asleep on a bench and his spirit goes off to do more searching but ends up finding his dead body in a casket but his body is still on the bench?  I don't get that, but maybe I'm thinking to much or that is a huge stretch.  There are couple other minor things like that, which might turn some people off the film.


  This is a good movie but it's not really a horror horror per se,  nonetheless it is an very captivating supernatural story.  There is a neat arthouse feel to this film with a different take on the vampire mythos that some people may find entertaining.  There isn't any gore and the murders are pretty tame, compared to today's standard, but it does have a great ending that is thrilling and just.  So, if you're a fan of silent or near silent films and are scavenging the tombs for a vampire flick, then sink your teeth into this vintage film because although it doesn't have a lot of bodies, it has still aged quite well.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

May Sucks: Ganja & Hess (1973)

Ganja & Hess (1973)
Director: Bill Gunn
Starring: Duane Jones, Marlene Clark, and Bill Gunn
Running Time: 97 min

  Director Spike Lee (Do The Right Thing, School Daze) recently remade this film and I thought I'd check out the original before I watched the remake.  I'm really excited to see this because it was chosen as one of the ten best American Films of the Decade at Cannes Film Festival in 1973 and it's not suppose to be the usual sploitation film that was being churned out in the 70's.  On top of that, Duane Jones (Night of the Living Dead, Beat Street) is also in this, so this should be awesome!

  Dr. Hess Green invites a George Meda to his lavish estate for the weekend.  George has been having mental issues and has been suicidal for a while now.  The two have dinner and chat and then head off to bed.  In the middle of the night, George attacks Hess while he's sleeping and stabs him with a cursed knife containing ancient germs.  George heads to the bathroom, finds his revolver and then shoots himself in the chest.  He collapses on the bathroom floor and bleed out til he is dead.  This guy is the worst house guest ever.  However shortly after all the violence, Hess awakens from the dead, his wounds healed and he wanders into the bathroom to find a dead naked George Meda lying on the floor.  Confused, shocked and a little hungry, Hess wallows in this sorry by licking up the tasty blood that George has left on his bathroom floor. Ewww!
  Hess is now a vampire, kind of, he can got out during the day but he needs to drink human blood.  He tries at first to rob blood banks but his hungry deepens and eventually he ends up preying on the impoverished and  the criminal element of the city.  Eventually, he gets an interesting call from George Medas' wife, Ganja Meda, wondering what has happened to her husband.  Hess lies and tells her that he ran away and has no idea where he is, so Ganja invites herself to stay at Hess's house until he comes back.
  When Ganja arrives, she is rude to Hesss' butler, Archie and well everybody.  She demands to know what happened to her husband and knows that Hess is not telling her the whole story.  She stays for a few weeks, maybe days, I can't tell, and her and Hess start having an affair.  One day, while Hess is getting his blood thang on, Ganja wanders down to the wine room, aka the cellar, and finds the body of her dead husband frozen in a closet.  This scares the hell out of Ganja so much that afterwards, she marries Hess.  Makes sense.
  The couple is so happy, Hess wants to turn Ganja into a vampire so they can live together forever.  Soooooo, he kills her with the same ancient dagger with the cursed germs.  She returns for the dead but they find now that their relationship just isn't the same.  Can this vampire couple make it in this mixed up world or will days of feeding on the hot blood of humanity end quickly and just?


  This wasn't bad but it was very confusing at times.  However there are a couple of reasons for this, the main being that after the film was completed, it was re-edited without writer/director Billy Gunn's (Stop, Personal Problems) approval from 113 minutes to 78 minutes, destroying the original negative but luckily the fine folks at Kino were able to find some available 35mm prints of the original film and they were able to piece together an extended version of this film.  Which is really sad because I'm sure that this film would have made a lot more sense at times and film fans could see Gunns' intended vision of this story.
  Still, it was not really what I was expecting either but in a good way.  It doesn't really fall into cliches of most 'sploitation films and it's not just a rip off of a classic horror monster.  Like William Marshall in "Blacula", Duane Jones, who plays Hess, gives his vampire character a certain class and elegance to the creature that is reminiscent to original story.  Also, even though the relationship between Ganja, played by Marlene Clark (Enter the Dragon, Beware! The Blob) and Hess is a little fast and strange, their love does come across on the screen and you feel sorry for these two doomed lovers by the end.  On a side note, there are some very amusing scenes with Clark playfully giving Leonard Jackson (Brother From Another Planet, The Color Purple) who plays the butler Archie, a hard time.  The two play well off each other comically and because it such a dark, weird arthouse film, this breaks a little bit of the tension.


  The beginning is very confusing and the film starts with a preacher narrating, who you think is going to be the main character but he disappears until the near end of the film.  Maybe this was a portion that was miss cut, as previously mentioned before but it is pretty jarring and a disconcerting way to start a film.
  Also, they're not very clear about what Hess does or his relationship with George Meda or even why there is a cursed dagger in the house.  Their is no, "You know Hess, After our last Anthropological dig, I cut myself with this cursed dagger with some crazy ancient germs and I've been feeling funny and drinking blood, y'know." or stuff like that.  There is no lead up to it and the attack is very unexpected.  Also, the editing doesn't help because a lot of the time you don't know if this is happening in the present, past or what is really going on.  Time and a more of a linear feel to the film, only really begins once Ganja enters the film.  Then there is a much better flow, still a little jerky but we're on the train to horrorville.
  Finally, the ending is very weird and I may not understand the vampire mythos and rules that Mr. Gunn is adhering too but they don't follow any normal ones that I can recall.  Which is okay because it's his story and he can create whatever he wants, it's called artistic expression.  However, some people may think that it is a little too far out there.  So be aware going into the film.


  Although this film has a very rough start at the beginning, for whatever reason, it does pull itself together a third of the way in.  There is a classic story of love, romance and horror that comes across here but sometimes it does get muddled by strange edits and bizarre cuts.  There is some good acting when the director/editor allows for these talents to share the screen and some terrifying imagery to boot.  So, if you're looking for a different kind of 'sploitation film that has an unusual twist on the vampire story, than look no further than this. (I couldn't find a trailer for this film, so, I've included a clip)

 

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Sandy Terror and an Ancient Shaft! Review of The Pyramid (2014)

The Pyramid (2014)
Director: Grégory Levasseur
Starring: Ashley Hinshaw, James Buckley, and  Denis O'Hare
Running Time: 89 min

  It's funny but I secretly have been looking forward to seeing this movie.  There aren't enough mummy movies out there, ever since that film with Brandon Fraser, what was it called..., "Encino Man".   Anyway since then the Mummy character has become like dust in the wind and vanished from the horror scene.  And although, I get burned almost every time with these Fox horror movies, I have faith that this is going to be the one that is going to turn it around.  Plus it was produced by Alexandre Aja (Haute Tension, Piranha 3D), whose directorial style I enjoy, so what could go wrong?

  Set in 2013 during the Egyptian protests, an archaeological father and daughter team, Dr. Miles and Nora Holden, discover a ancient pyramid that has been buried for centuries.  Reporter Sunni Marsh and her trusty camera man, Fitzie are there to do a story on this brilliant find amongst all this political turmoil.  During interviews, Miles and Nora explain that they used "technology" to locate and figure out the depth and size of the pyramid, which is almost begrudging to Miles, who is an old school archeologist and likes to dig in the sand.  Anyway, they find out that the some of the workers have discovered the front door to this pyramid and everyone rushes over to see what happens when they crack this baby open.  Standing unusually close, the team watches has a man pries the door open and gets hit in the face with a blast of ancient dust!  Everybody gets hit with this rank blue soot but fortunately no one gets hurt, except for the guy opening the door, which the team thinks is terrible, I guess, but the door is open now, so who cares.
  That night while everybody is celebrating the great door opening,  Sunni and Fitzie are introduced to Shorty, the robot cam who costs 3 million dollars and was borrowed from NASA to survey the tomb by Nora's love interest Michael.  Sadly though Shorty may never complete his mission because they all find out that the protests have become too violent and it is unsafe for them to be here right now.  Everyone has been given 24hrs to evacuate the site or else.  Frustrated and angry, Dr. Holdens decide that they are going to use Shorty to do a quick survey of the pyramid then they'll leave.  They must know what's inside, it can't just be stinky dust.
  The next morning, the team is in awe of Shorty's finding, not just stinky dust but empty hallways and darkness.  Then, Shorty is attacked by something, they think a wild dog may have gotten into the pyramid, and signal and video gets completely disabled.  Just then a soldier comes into remind them that they need to leave, however Michael is having a hissy fit about how much the robot costs and how Shorty needs to be retrieved.  Somehow, Miles is able to convince the soldier that they will be out of there soon and the Holdens and Michael go into the pyramid to save their robot friend with Sunnie and Fitzie right behind to get all the action on tape.  Before going in though, Miles tethers himself to a stake outside and ties some heavy duty long string to himself so they all can find their way back out of the pyramid.  It's like a labyrinth but without David Bowie.
  Once inside, everyone is amazed at now awesome and ancient the place is and they find some hieroglyphics that they kind of glaze over, tomb, curse, mumbo jumbo, whatever! Then after going through some an apex, they discover a bunch of ancient weapons and one even has archaic blood crusted on it. eeeww!  But that's not the only revelation in the apex, Miles soon learns that his tether has been cut and they have no way of knowing how to get out of the pyramid.
  They climb down and play eenie meenie and head in a direction which leads them to the partial carcass of Shorty the robot.  Almost in tears, Michael vows to get revenge for his 3 million dollar robot buddy but they have bigger problems than that right now, because the floor is collapsing.  They plummet down further into the pyramid and just when everybody miraculously seems to be ok from this massive fall, an enormous block falls directly on Michael.  Somehow, it doesn't kill him but it does pin his leg and everyone, except Sunni, tries to pull the stone off but no dice.  The rest of the team try to find a way out and Sunni finds a shaft that she thinks she can climb on to escape.  Unfortunately while climbing this ancient shaft, she is attacked by a creature in the dark and it scratches up her pretty face.  The decide to go through a blocked door, that nobody noticed early somehow and promise Michael that they will bring back help before he bleeds out.  Sadly just after they leave, Michael starts howling in terror and pain!  Miles and Nora race back to see what is happening and discover that Michael is gone and all that is left a bloody trail into the darkness!  Can this team of explorers escape whatever creature is inside this horrible pyramid or are they destined to become relics themselves in time worn tomb?

    
  Well, this wasn't that bad all things considered.  First time director GrĂ©gory Levasseur brings a pretty straight forward found footage hybrid film that relies to heavily on CGI scares.  The most disappointing thing is..., SPOILER ALERT... that its not a mummy in the tomb but "something else".
The "something else" is kind of interesting but it never fully pans out or gives a larger scale view of why this "something else" is here and now it will eventually affect everybody else on planet Earth/The Universe/Rigel 7.  It just kind of gives you a bit of a scare, then falls into a predictable horror pattern.  So meh.
  Also, I was surprised at how bad the "archaeologists" were at their jobs.  They were missing really obvious and vital key information on the walls and anyone, including Admiral Ackbar, who has seen any of the Indiana Jones movies knows that these ancient pyramids have traps. Unfortunately, none of the characters went through "Archaeologist 101" and were touching things left right and center, so when they are being pummeled by things was really inevitable and deserving.
  Furthermore the CGI for the most part wasn't that great.  The stone that fell DIRECTLY on the Michael character standing up and then only moments later, it's just his leg that is pinned by the stone.  This doesn't make sense and it looks bad.  I blame this shot on the director not the effects person, because Michael should have been pinned when the floor caved in and not by having something drop on him.  As well as the CGI tomb cats are done decently but I wasn't crazy about the scenes where they were feeding on the flesh of these adventures.  It just looked really fake and it took me out of the story at times.  The "something else" isn't bad either and for the most part it's a good looking "something else" but it does look like a CGI monster/person/sock puppet/jar of syrup and not something real. 


  With that said, I think that the performances of Denis O'Hare (Tru Blood, American Horror Story) who plays Dr. Miles Holden and James Buckley (The Inbetweeners), who plays Fitzie is probably the saving grace for the film.  They play there characters as well as the script allows them to and Buckley has some funny moments. 


   Not horrible butI wish this was better, because I would love to see a really good Mummy or Egyptian type horror.  So many great and terrifying stories to work with and this film just seems to fall short in every aspect.  The concept is interesting but doesn't seem researched enough & doesn't have a clear idea of where it wants to go or even end.  The CGI is good but it doesn't look real enough to make it that scary, but if your good if that, then there are some gory scenes.  So, if your digging through a treasure trove of new horror movies, this may not be find of the century but it shouldn't be completely buried in the sand.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

It's not a Tumor, it's a Zombie! Review of Maggie (2015)

Maggie (2015)
Director: Henry Hobson
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Abigail Breslin, and Joely Richardson
Running Time: 95 min

  I believe that it is one of the signs of the upcoming apocalypse that Arnold Schwarzenegger (Junior, Twins) is in a zombie movie.  And from the look of the trailer, he has traded in all the artillery in the world to spend the last moments with his undead infected daughter.  Can this 80's action star put away the one liners and bring enough real emotion to the big screen? I guess we'll have to see, I'll be back.

  After weeks of searching for Maggie, his daughter, Wade find her at an outbreak center in one of the inner city hospitals.  There has been an outbreak of a disease that turns people into zombies, bringing the world we know to a grinding halt and Wade's daughter has been bitten by one of these creatures.  Luckily, Wades' friend and family doctor, Vern has vouched for Wade and he is able to bring Maggie home before her infection gets into the later stages and has to be quarantined like many of the others.  He signs her out and the two of them quietly drive back to the farm.
  When they arrive, Maggie is excitedly greeted by her much younger siblings and her step mom, Caroline, who is apprehensive of this situation but understands that Wade needs be with his daughter before she becomes a flesh starved, cannibal zombie.  However, Wade and Caroline are sending their other children to live with a relative while Maggie is "changing" just to be on the safe side.  The police also come to visit and are keen to let Wade know that they think he should have Maggie sent to a quarantined area but Wade assures them that he will do the right thing when its time.
  While Maggie is there, her infection of course gets worse and worse and while she is slowly deteriorating, Wade and Caroline get more concerned about their safety.  However like any dad, Wade has a hard time letting go of his little girl and seeing that she is becoming a monster.  Will Wade be able to do "what is right" when the time comes or will he let her and his emotions eat away at him in the end?


  This is a very different kind of zombie movie and its interesting because it explores a different side of zombie culture, which is the people dealing with the grief and loss of their loved ones to this flesh eating disease.  Most zombie films are either action pack horrors or comedy/horror but writer John Scott 3 (Maggie) and director Henry Hobson (Maggie) focus on the more dramatic aspect and give a grueling look on how a family may cope with this kind of loss.  Unlike "The Walking Dead", where we see people constantly losing friends and family but have to keep running to survive, here the world is finally pulling itself together and it has the infection somewhat under control, at least enough to allow time for people to reflect and try to take care of their sick family members.
  Abigail Breslin (Nim's Island, Haunter) does a decent job as Maggie but she is no stranger to either aspect of this film's concept.  In "My Sister's Keeper", she was the one who had a dying sister and forced by her parents to go through countless operations to save her and of course, "Zombieland", where she plays a young rough and tumble zombie hunter.  So she's been to a similar dances and has some touching scenes with the character Maggies' friends, one who is also infected and the others trying to bear seeing their friends dying.
  I was most surprised to see Arnold Schwarzenegger (Hercules of New York, Red Sonja) step up to the plate and work in a character driven film.  Again, it is not what someone would expect from an Arnold movie, there are not funny one liners but he does get to kill a few zombies.  This is a very serious Dromie (drama/zombie) movie but it does allow Schwarzenegger to open up and give one of his most touching and best performances. 


  There are a few things that people should know going into this film.  For instance, it's not "Dawn of the Dead' meets "Terminator", nor is it "Shaun of the Dead" meets "Jingle All the Way".  There is not a lot of your typical zombie cliches.  There is nothing in the closet and there are no hordes of zombies scouring the streets looking for people to feast on.  However, there are a few "tasteful" scenes, I can't believe I wrote that, that accent the plight and sorrow of what this family is going through.
  Also, it is a little slow moving.  I don't know why the writer gave Maggie so much time to transform, 6 to 8 weeks, it just seems a little much and for what was happening in the film, it could have easily been tightened to a week.  This would have offered a little more drama, because like waiting for a package, 6 to 8 weeks seems like forever in a horror/drama film.


  Altogether though, I think that this is a very solid first film from two very talented people.  I like that in a world plagued with similar zombie stories cannibalizing from each other that something original can pull itself out of the ground.  Also, I think this film gives audiences a chance to see Schwarzenegger actually act, instead of just watching him blow things up, which is an interesting change.  So, if you are looking for a very different kind of zombie movie, that focuses on the emotional impact of a family struggling to deal with their infected family memebers, then this may be for you.