Sunday, 1 March 2015

March Monsters: Q: The Winged Serpent (1982)

Q: The Winged Serpent (1982)
Director: Larry Cohen
Starring: David Carradine, Michael Moriarty, and Candy Clark

Running Time: 93 min

  Ever since I saw "The Stuff" when I was a kid, I became a big fan of writer/director Larry Cohen.  He's directed some of the best sploitation & horror films from the 70's, like "Black Caesar", "Hell Up in Harlem" and the unforgettable "It's Alive!" trilogy, so this man knows how to make a B-movie.  I'm actually a little sad that I haven't seen this film up until now but here goes nothing.  

  Detective Shepard and Powell are investigating two cases right now for the NYPD.  One is series of murders and mutilations, where people are being skinned alive or having organs removed from them and the other is a weird case of people either being decapitated from high atop the buildings or disappearing from the roof tops all together.  The two detectives are baffled by these strange deaths, until some people start reporting that a giant winged lizard has been scene during these attacks.  So, Shepard goes to the university to find out if there are any mythical creatures that resemble this description, so they can stop at least one of the cases.
  Meanwhile former junkie and ex-con, Jimmy Quin is back on the streets and looking for work.  After getting his horrible piano playing & singing dissed and thrown out of a bar, Kimmy decides to go back into crime and become a wheel man for a group of thugs.  He does it on one condition, he just drives and he doesn't have to carry a gun.  So everything is good, until they get to the jewelery store and the gang forces him to help with the stick-up.  Like most robberies, everything goes wrong and Jimmy is the only guy to get out alive and with the jewels, cash, beanie babies, whatever.  Anyway, Jimmy's luck gets worse and he loses the briefcase with the dough and runs a through the streets of New York like a maniac.  He gets to an apartment building and goes all the way to the top floor to hide out and regroup, but when he gets up there he discovers a number of human carcasses and a giant egg.  Not knowing what is happening up there, Jimmy ducks out of there before he becomes a meal for whatever laid that giant egg but sadly he runs into the boss of the gang, who wants his money from the job.  Frightened, Jimmy brings him up to the top floor of the creepy building and his boss and henchman are eaten by a monster and Jimmy is safe for now.  Jimmy tries to think of a way that he can take this killer bird thing to his advantage and after he gets picked up by the cops, he figures out a way.
  Back to Shepard, who has discovered that an ancient Aztec god named Quetzacoatl bears a resemblance to the description but it's too crazy to think that this creature is hiding out in the Big Apple feeding on New Yorkers.  However, this does tie together with his and Powell's other case because these ritual killings may have been what has awoken this ancient monster, right, right.  Can Shepard and Powell stop this winged serpent from eating people in this town or will this beast reek havoc on everyone and make rooftops totally unsafe for everyone?

  This is truly one of the most quintessential B-movies that I have had the pleasure to see.  The story is all over the place and the acting is not quite up to par but it's a hell of a lot of fun to watch.  I don't know how writer/director Larry Cohen (God Told Me To, Full Moon High) does it, but he is able to cobble together these outrageous story ideas and turn them into these incredible B films.  If you are a young film maker looking to make B-movies, watch Larry Cohens' work.  Corman, Kaufman and Cohen, the holy trinity of low budget madness.
  What makes this film great is that the cast is selling it to the nines and playing it straight the whole time.  David Carradine (Death Race 2000, Deathsport), who plays Shepard knows that there is a giant winged lizard swooping down and eating New Yorkers and he has to convince his partner Powell, played by Richard Roundtree (Shaft, Se7en) and his bosses at the department of this.  And when he does, with surprising ease, there is no nod to the camera or any humour at all but just straight business.  This is the situation and how are they going to deal with it and that's what makes this film works.  We as an audience know how ludicrous this situation is but part of the fun is how this is going to be resolved.  Ridiculous problems equal ridiculous solutions.
  Also, the other part of the fun of this film is seeing a lot of people getting their head being bitten off and eaten by a well crafted stop animated Quetzacoatl.  Cohen does not shy away from leaving numerous bloody headless corpses laying all over your screen.  As well as a heart felt but blood bath moment with a baby Quetzacoatl, it almost brought a tear to my eye when that thing got blasted.  Additionaly, considering the budget and when this film came out, my hat goes off to visual effects masters Randall William Cook (Lord of the Rings trilogy, Subspecies) and David W. Allen (Demonic Toys, Dolls) for a very impressive creature. 

 Of course, there are some bad elements in this film, if you are looking at it really critically.  So many elements of this story just seemed hacked together and get lost, then brought back again.  It's really crazy to watch.  Like the whole subplot of the ritual killings, that gets buried for most of the film because of the Jimmy Quinn subplot.  Something that one would think should be a central focus, who is killing and feeding this creature gets left behind, then tacked on at the end.  Also, the relationship between Detective Shepard and Jimmy Quinn, played by Michael Moriarty (Troll, Pale Rider) is so bizarre and doesn't make sense to me in the end.  It is a mostly hate relationship but at the end they're buddy buddy, but there is nothing that happens to create that change.  There is no reason or build up to why that should happen.  So, it's  completely beyond me why they should have a moment at the end.  But there are tons of weird moments like this throughout the film and one of the slowest police chases ever.  However, that's part of what makes this film so amusing.
  Additionally seeing Michael Moriarty's performance in this, it amazes me that he got work after this movie at all.  His singing and playing the piano in this film is equally on par with his dancing scene from the movie "Troll".  I know that Roger Ebert praised his great method performance but I don't see it.  To me, he was just off the wall and amusingly bad to watch through out the picture. 

  However it's moments like that, that makes this such a fantastic B-Movie and a must see for any fan of low budget cinema.  The effects are pretty good, there is lots of blood and there are a number of things that will give you a chuckle.  So, if you're looking for a good creature feature from the 80's, put your talons into this one and fly it home baby!

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Horrors of 2014: Life After Beth (2014)

Life After Beth (2014)
Director: Jeff Baena
Starring:Aubrey Plaza, Dane DeHaan, and John C. Reilly
Running Time: 89 min

  This is a horror/comedy by writer/directer Jeff Baena, who co-wrote "I Heart Huckabees" with David O. Russell (American Hustle, Silver Linings Playbook).  This is Baena's first project in ten years and his first time directing which makes me a little nervous but he seems to have wrangled some good talent like John C. Reilly, Dane DeHann and Aubrey Plaza, for the film, so how bad can it be right?

  Zach's girlfriend Beth has just died from a snakebite and after the funeral, Zach starts spending time with Beth's grieving parents, Maury and Geenie Slocum.  While playing chess and getting high with Maury, Zach admits to him that he think that Beth wanted to break up with him but Maury comforts him and says that he's sure that Beth loved him and to hold on to the moments that were special to him.  Zach ends up losing track of time and comes home at three in the morning to his parents disapproval, but he doesn't care because he misses the love of his life.
 The next morning, Zach's parents try and get Zach to cheer up and try to set him up with one of his mother's friends daughters, Erica Wexler.  Angry that his parents could be so cold, Zach marches out of the house and heads over to Beth's parents place.  Unfortunately, they don't seem to be answering the door, nor are they answering or returning any of his phone calls.  After a day of being ignored, Zach goes into the backyard and peaks through the Slocum's window and to his astonishment the sees Beth walking in the hallway.  He runs to the door and starts banging on it and yelling for the Slocums' to answer the door but they call security instead.  Zach's douchebag security brother comes and removes him from the premises.
  Zach returns that night to the Slocums to find out what the hell is going on.  Zach breaks in and finds Beth alive in the house!  Her parent's are furious with Zach but try to explain that Beth just showed up in the morning after they had their chess game.  Zach thinks that the Slocum's Haitian maid had something to do with Beth coming back from the grave but the Slocums don't think she had anything to do with it and think that she has been resurrected, like Jesus.  Anyway, Beth is back but she doesn't know that she is dead and Zach is told by the Slocums not to tell her.  She also doesn't remember wanting to break up with Zach, so everything is great.
  Not really because she is not the only person who has been "resurrected" and as the days go by, other people start returning from the grave.  Beth and the others hunger, for something they can't put their fingers on, is rising and their ability to control their rage is getting worse.  Has a zombiegeddon manifested itself in Zach's neighbourhood and how can he stop it without hurting the ghoul he loves? 

  This is a very different kind of zombie movie and it focuses more on the romantic comedy aspect than it does on the horror.  Like "Warm Bodies", writer/director Jeff Baena has an interesting rom/com/zom movie but it has an added twist that these people were in love before the the dead started returning from their graves.  The heart of the story is the relationship between Zach, played by Dane DeHaan (Chronicle, Lawless) and Beth, played by Aubrey Plaza (Safety Not Guaranteed, Scott Pilgrim vs The World) and howthese bonds can change, grow and at some times die.  The film does have a certain charm to it and there are definitely some amusing moments peppered throughout the film.
  The best parts of this film are with Aubrey Plaza and her characters' development throughout the picture.  She is fantastic in this and she absolutely nails every scene.  Whether it be the loving girlfriend, the innocent daughter, jealous girlfriend or the viscous zombie, she hits her marks every time.  Also, she has an excellent sense for comedic timing and gets most of the laughs as the film progresses.

 Although there are some good parts of the film, there are some issues that I found with the film. For one, Zach's family don't seem very realistic at all.  Paul Reiser (Aliens, Whiplash) and Cheryl Hines (Waitress, Curb Your Enthusiasm), who play the parents, sadly aren't developed at all and are given these one note characters to portray.  Which is such a waste because both are such talented comedians and if used in a better way, could have made the film so much funnier.  Additionally,  Zach's brother Kyle, played Matthew Gray Gruber (Excision, How To Be A Serial Killer) is a mean douchebag for no reason at all.  There is no explanation throughout the film and isn't held accountable by the parents for his douchebaggery.  Again, it's another talented person being wasted with a one note character.   
  Also, some horror fans may be disappointed with the lack of blood or gore in this film.  For a zombie movie, there isn't very much zombie stuff going on until the end of the film and even then, it's all done off camera.  However, they do show zombies being killed but if you're looking for any real carnage, then this may not be for you.

  With that film, this movie was pretty good, unless you're expecting a full out zombie film.  There is an interesting story, about two young people trying to work out their relationship as things change,  there is some alright jokes, again mostly Plaza but John C. Reilly has a couple of moments as well,  and the ending is somewhat satisfying.  So, if you're looking for a zom/rom/com but without the nasty blood, then this will give you something to gnaw on.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Horrors of 2014: The Town That Dreaded Sundown (2014)

The Town That Dreaded Sundown (2014)
Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Starring: Addison Timlin, Veronica Cartwright, and Anthony Anderson
Running Time: 86 min

  I'm not usually that crazy about seeing remakes of films but I enjoyed the original film, so I thought I'd giver a shot.  Also, the director has worked on a number of episodes of "American Horror Story", so he must have some idea on how to tell a scary story.

  It's Halloween and Jami and Corey are on a date at the drive in watching the annual viewing of the 1976 classic horror film, "The Town That Dreaded Sundown".  The film was based on a series of murders that happened in their small town of Texarkana in 1946, by a mysterious killer named the Phantom, who has never been caught to this day.  Sadly, Jami is not that into horror movies and suggests that her and Corey skip the movie and go for a ride.  Corey is smart enough to not have to be asked twice and the teens head out to lover lane.  When they get there, Jami ends up talking and eventually they start making out a little bit, but they are interrupted by a man in the bushes, who resembles "The Phantom" killer.  Corey and Jami lock the doors and try to leave but the man dressed as the "Phantom" smashes Corey's window and forces them out of the car with a gun.  He tells Jami to turn around and not to look, then gets incredibly stabby with Corey.  Jami looks, freaks out and runs away with this new "Phantom' hot on her heels.  Sadly, the "Phantom" catches her but inside of killing her, he leaves her with a message for the town.  He tells her that "This is for Mary. Make them remember" and lets her go.  She ends up crawling back to the drive in, where people help her out and call the police.
  The town is shocked that there could be a new "Phantom" and the police think that this might be just some nut, who has seen the movie too many times.  However Jami is still stunned, puts on her Nancy Drew hat and begins investigating the "Phantom" case to see if she can crack this 60 + year old case.  Sadly, only a few weeks later, the "Phantom" strikes again and brutally murders a couple at a crummy motel.  Now the "Phantom" has the attention of the Texas Police force as well as the Arkansas Police force, who ban together to stop this monster from killing again.  Also, Jami is still getting text messages from the "Phantom", who is telling her that she must tell the press that "This is for Mary".  Will this sleepy little town be afraid to walk the streets at night again or will the police and a scrappy young woman be able to outwit the"Phantom"?

  This was an interesting film because it wasn't so much a remake as it was sequel to the original.  I like that director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (American Horror Story, Glee) created this reality that incorporated not only the actual case of the "Phantom" but the movie as well.  The back story was able to be told a little quicker and the film was able to get into the new story right away.  Additionally, I like that the new "Phantom" mimics the original killer and uses some of the same M.O's.   Especially, the scene where he kills someone with a trombone, that just slays me.
  Also, this film comes from one of the survivors eyes.  In the original film, which I really enjoy, it's focused on the police and their investigation into the case.  Coming from Jami's perspective makes the film less cut and dry and gives it a real human element.
 Furthermore, I like that the producers put some thought and money into this film.  There is some good talent in this film like Gary Cole (Office Space, American Gothic), Edward Herrmann (The Lost Boys, The Shaft) and Ed Lauter (Cujo, Leaving Las Vegas). As well as Addison Timlin (Odd Thomas, That Awkward Moment), who gives a great performance as the lead Jami.  As well as the production on the film looks great and there a number of ferocious slasher scenes that are really terrific and shouldn't be missed.

  With that said there were still some issues that made me scratch my head, like it's pretty fortuitous that some of the murders worked out the way they did.  The most obvious is that two teens are going to go make out and one of them will have a trombone with them.  I love this scene but it's such a stretch.  No killer is that lucky.  Anyway, there are moments in the film like that, where you may have let your imagination stretch a little further and just let it go.
  Also, the cell phone that keeps calling Jamie, why don't the police just track it?  And why is the killer still using her dead dates phone? Is he putting minutes on it? It's a minor thing but it did bug me, especially near the end of the film.
  Which brings us to the ending, which isn't horrible but I'm really not that impressed with.  It just seemed a little tacked on and there are things that really don't ring true.  Again, it's a real stretch for any sort of logic.

 However, the film was surprisingly pleasurable and it's worth checking out if your into slasher films.  This wasn't quite what I was expecting but there is an interesting story here, with some excellent talent and some good bloody scenes.  So, if your dreading sundown & searching through another pile of horror remakes to watch, give this a shot and you may be pleasantly surprised.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Horrors of 2014: The Canal (2014)

The Canal (2014)
Director: Ivan Kavanagh
Starring: Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Rupert Evans, and Hannah Hoekstra
Running Time: 92 min

  Over the years of doing this, I've discovered that Ireland has put out a number of fantastic films that are pleasantly terrifying, so I when I heard that this was from the isle, I was very excited to see it.  Although, the director and the cast are not new, I'm not familiar with most of their work, so this should be a fantastic introduction and I'm looking forward to it.

  Film archivist, David and his wife, Alice are a happy young couple with a bun in the oven and are looking for a house to buy for their budding family.  The house that they are looking at is perfect but David thinks he sees another person walking into the backward, so he tries to catch up but this leads him into a empty backyard and a open sewer grate.  He closes the gate and dismisses what he saw, then heads back inside to see if Alice loves the place as much as he does.  Which she does and the young couple buy the house and live happily ever after. Not.
  Five years later, real life has set in for David and Alice and the strains of their relationship, work and having a child have really tuckered them out.  They're still in love, as far as David knows but it's hard to find time these days to be affectionate.  Luckily they're going out for the evening to Alice's work party and this should be fun.  But it isn't.  David is pushed aside to the bar by Alice's boss to discuss business with clients and while he's at the bar, David notices a man acting very familiar with his wife.  Touching her arm, caressing her shoulder and other harmless but intimate gestures while they chat.  After the party, David talks to Alice about this gentleman but she says that he is just another one of her clients and they leaves it at that.
  Meanwhile at work, David is watching some interesting footage from a 1902 murder case, which to his surprise, involves his house.  Apparently, the previous, previous, previous owner murdered his cheating wife by stabbing her an ungodly amount of times and then he killed their two children.  After seeing this footage, David starts having terrible nightmares about the house, the crime & his family and starts seeing and hearing strange things around his house.  However, these things do not detour his investigation on his wife and her "client".  He spends an afternoon following his wife around and eventually follows her and her gentleman friend back to his place.  Upset but determined to find out what is going on, David sneaks inside the house and finds them having sex on the floor.  David quietly picks up a hammer... but leaves right away, throwing the hammer into the canal.  Luckily there is a public washroom on that street, which he gets into quickly and starts to vomit.  While vomiting he is approached by what looks like the spirit of the man who killed his family in 1902 and David is told that "the Master wants to see you", then he blacks out.
  David is awoken by his son, Billy's school wondering when is he going to pick his son, cause it's really really late.  David rushes over to the school and David brings Billy home, puts him to bed and waits for Alice to show up but she never does.  So, David goes down to the police station and reports her missing.  The police officer lets him know that he is a suspect and they go through the usual police investigation.  The officer asks him if he knew about his wife having an affair, but David denies it and eventually they find Alice's body in the canal.  Fortunately to the medical examiner, it look like an accident, she tripped and drowned, so David is not kept for any more questioning.  Unfortunately, as time passes David starts seeing more and more ghostly figures and he starts believing that they want to kill him and Billy!  Can David escape the terrifyingly ghostly figures that torment him and his family or are they just figments of his deranged imagination?

 This was a very solid ghost thriller with some very delightful displays of deadly dementia.  Writer/Director Ivan Kavanagh (The Fading Light, Tin Can Man) skillfully puts together a fascinating spooky tale about a man fighting to save himself and his son from what he believes are supernatural causes.  As the film progresses, the specters seem relentless and to the outside world, David seems to be hanging on to his sanity by a thread.
  Rupert Evans (Hellboy, Asylum Blackout), who plays David is excellent and carries the film well as the lead.  Evans's character seems to be spiraling with a variety of demanding emotions and with Evans expertise, he is able to project these emotions exceptionally across on the screen without any issue.  He makes the character believable and therefore the film more enjoyable.  
  The ending is twisted and visceral and epilogue doesn't pull any punches.  I have seen a number of scary films over the years, so I love it if a film make me flinch.  There is a scene during the end of this film, that made me wince and turn away, so bravo to you Mr. Kavanagh! Also, the epilogue is one of the most chilling and creepy endings I've seen for a while and I could easily see a sequel for this.

  There are a few minor things that didn't sit right with me, like that the film starts to drag a bit in the third act because the focus shifts from the ghost story to David and Billy's relationship.  I understand that this is necessary and important piece of the overall story, the dynamic between them, but the story really seems to slow down just before the third act.  However it's not for too long and once the the final act begins then it's full steam ahead.
  Also like most horror movies, the police are always so many steps behind and in this film it's no different.  Don't get me wrong, Steve Oram (Sightseers, The World's End) is great as detective McNamara but it would have been nice to see him or have more a of police presence around the David character after he was cleared by the medical examiner, to let him know that they are unconvinced of the accidental death theory.  Still the police eventually get on the right track, but something like this could have created a little more tension.

  However, those are just very minor things in an overall really good movie and definitely something to check out if you like really violent ghost mysteries.  The story is very strong, there are some great bloody moments and the the ending will make your skin crawl & it might make you turn away from the screen.  So, if you're looking for a film with spooky specters and demented dads, then this should be at the top of yer list.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Indie Horror: Cut! (2014)

Cut! (2014)
Director: David Rountree
Starring: Sam Scarber, Dahlia Salem, and  David Banks
Running Time: 104 min

  So, I'm excited to watch this movie because it has some killer credentials.  This film has won four awards at the 2014 Independent Film & Television Festival, including Best Director, Best Leading Actor and Best Film overall, which is pretty awesome.  Also, it was one of the top 5 horror movies of 2014 according to Movie Rankings, which is another feather in it's cap.  So, I'm going to sit down and see what all the hub bub is about, bub.

  Lane Hayes is a young ex-con with a bad habit of beating up hookers.  Luckily, his buddy Travis was able to get him a job at the film equipment rental place where he is the manager.  Lane rolls in late again from another night of sex, drugs and violence and is unbelievably obnoxious to his co-workers and the customers but Lane doesn't give a fuck because this business is closing it's doors at the end of the month and he'll be out of job anyway.  However, Lane's shitty attitude inspires Travis, who is an aspiring film maker and suggests to Lane that before the business goes under that they borrow and use the film equipment during the night to make their own low budget horror film.  Lane loves the idea and suggests that they scare the bevy of hookers that he likes to use as punching bags.  So, Travis writes up a loose script and they decide to head out to shoot their masterpiece.
  Unfortunately, they run into some complications with their "Talent", with one lady of the night getting pissed off because she didn't know she was being taped and an then later an encounter with an angry pimp.  However at the end of the night, they meet a sexy German call girl and hire her for a scene the next night.  That night Travis realizes that the need a menacing villain to make their picture good and asks Lane to see if he can find any scary dudes hanging around the lot, looking for some extra work, while he sets up the camera.  Frustrated Lane goes out and brings back the only dude he can find, which is a larger, crazy looking black homeless guy.  Travis says that he'll have to do and leaves Lane at the monitor outside the studio with the homeless dude, while he goes in with the camera to shoot his scene with the hooker.
  While Travis is getting all sexy, Lane is trying his hardest to explain to the homeless man what they want him to do.  Over and over Lane tells him to go in and just scare the girl, but when he sends him in for the scene, the homeless man goes crazy and the camera cuts out and Lane can hear screams coming from the studio.  He runs down the hall and finds that the homeless man has gone crazy and killed the hooker.  Damn it!  So, Travis and Lane calmly ask the homeless man to leave and Travis cleans up the body while Lane waits in the truck.  Travis dumps the body in his truck and then they  dispose of the body in the ocean.  However, this incident gives Lane a new idea and suggests to Travis that they just kill people on camera for their movie because it will make it look more authentic.  Has Lane gone off the deep end and will he start murdering people for their art and bring back the "snuff" genre or will one of them come to their senses in time to realize how distrubed they have gotten?

  This was a good movie and it had some really good twists that I didn't see coming.  Director/Co-writer David Rountree and co-writer David Banks create a very smart, dark and twisted film that will keep you glued to the screen.  I don't want to give anything away but they have created a very thrilling conclusion that will put depraved grin on your face.
  Also, David Rountree tempers the violence through out the picture and creates excellent collection violent vignettes, which grows and gets more sadistic as the films goes on.  And although, it's not excessively gory at times, there are plenty of scenes that will send shivers down your spine.

  However, there are a few things that I wasn't that crazy about.  I wish David Banks (Coffin, Halloween Party), who plays Lane would have toned it down in a couple of scenes at the beginning.  Most of the film, he nails the character but some of the initial scenes in the equipment rental place were just so over the top that I think it was too much.  I understand, where they were going with it but if they were going to have that, then I think David Rountree character, Travis should have been tougher on the Lane character for his actions because it was a little too unbelievable.
  Also I found the ending too tight.  I like the ending but I just found that things happened a little too quickly and it leaves the viewer feeling a little overwhelmed.  If they would have stretched it out a little bit, then it would have added a more to an already good film. 

  Even with that said, I really enjoyed the film and thought that the story that David Rountree and
David Banks created really translated well into film.  This is a different twist on a horror film and there are some interesting elements that even people outside of horror genre can appreciate.  So, if you're looking for a good independent film that have some devious twists and turns, then this will etch a terrifying memory for years to come.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Horrors of 2014: As Above, So Below (2014)

As Above, So Below (2014)
Director: John Erick Dowdle
Starring:  Perdita Weeks, Ben Feldman, and Edwin Hodge
Running Time: 93 min

  I've heard a lot of mixed reviews about this film, some people think it's really great and others find it be tedious & dull.  This is another "found footage" film from director John Erick Dowdle, who brought us a "The Poughkeepsie Tapes", which was okay, "Quarantine", which was the American remake of (REC) & surprisingly enjoyable and of course "Devil", which was... well it just was.  Anyway four years after "Devil", Dowdle is back and he's under the streets of Paris with his hand held cams looking for more scares.  I hope nobody gets trapped in an elevator in this one.

  Scarlett is this young professor who is trying to complete her deceased father's work and find the philosopher stone, a legendary alchemical substance that has the abilities to turn lead into gold and grant eternal life and was to have been discovered by Nicholas Flamel, a long long time ago.  She is like a female version of Indiana Jones and has smuggled herself into Iran to find the fabled "Rose Key", which is the Rosetta stone for all things alchemy.  She easily finds it after smashing through an ancient wall with priceless text on it and she has just enough time to film all the sacred writing before the building collapses and she barely squeaks out alive.  She then heads to Paris with her cameraman, Benji, to search of her not so old friend, George because Aramaic seems to be the only language that she doesn't speak.
  Anyway, they find George illegally fixing an old bell of a church and Scarlett begs him to help her but he is reluctant to help her because they last time they were together, she left him rotting in a Turkish prison.  However after some eye batting, George says that he will help but only with translating and nothing more.  So, he sneaks Scarlett and Benji into a museum during the night to try and translate the tombstone of Nicholas Flamel.  After some Nancy Drew riddle figuring out and finding a secret note on the back of the tombstone, they group realizes that they have to go into the catacombs of Paris to find the philosopher stone.
  After a guided tour that gets them nowhere, a local suggests finding a guy called Papillon, which means butterfly, to help them get access to the closed off areas of the catacombs.  They find him in a french bar and convince him and his friends to join there expedition for half of the treasure that Scarlett promises should be there.  The next day, they gear up and head into the catacombs but George is reluctant to go, fortunately a police raid on the entrance forces George into the caverns with the rest of the crew and after they evade the police, their real adventure begins.
  They end up wandering around the tunnels and end up going through a hole in the wall that Papillon believes is cursed.  Once inside this cursed tunnel, they find Papillon's not so old friend, The Mole, who was never seen again after going into the cursed tunnel.  Amusingly he asks why no one came to look for him?  Anyway,  he leads them through the underground labyrinth and eventually they find a chamber of secrets and Scarlett discovers the philosopher stone, it was right next to the goblet of fire.  However, when Papillon and his team try and unlock their treasures, it causes the ceiling to collapse on them and most of their party is injured and there doesn't seem to be any way to go but deeper and deeper into the deadly tunnels.  Can Scarlett and her team escape this complex network of tunnels and free themselves of this tumultuous predicament or as they delve deeper into this godforsaken maze will they find a fiery plane only thought to be a myth?

  This is a very slow movie and things don't really pick up until like an hour into it.  I think that the story that co-writer and director John Erick Dowdle is telling here is very interesting and there is a ton of cool historical/myth fact stuff that is blended into this story but it just doesn't work for me.  They spend so much time building the suspense wandering through those sewers/catacombs that it gets boring and repetitive.  Also there is no real payoff at the end of the film, there is no retributive justice for tampering with things beyond their earthly world and costing the lives of people on their team.  It's just another day for some of these characters at the end of the film.
  Also, I think these characters seem to be too young to be doing what there doing and it doesn't seem authentic.  I'm sure that there are some brilliant young adults out there but the motivations and the way these characters interact with each other seem years past the way of the people playing them.  It just doesn't feel real to me.
  Finally, there is a stock creepy girl that shows up in places that is never explained or ends up really have an overall impact on the whole story.  It's like she is/was the girlfriend of either the producer or director and she put in the movie because she wants to be in it.  There is no development of this character or explanation and therefore a waste of everyone's viewing time.  I don't blame the actress but the writer to think that throwing in a creepy girl would make the film better.

  What I did like about the movie is the research that John Erick Dowdle and his co-writer Drew Dowdle put into the film.  I find the topics about Nicholas Flamel, alchemy and hell in general, fascinating.  They did some good research and tried to put together what could have really fascinating story about a lost treasure and a earthly doorway to hell.
  Also, it was awesome that they were able to film in the actual catacombs in Paris and to be able to convince the government to sign off on that is commendable and may have opened a doorway for other young filmmakers to use in their productions in the future.

  I was expecting more or something better from director John Erick Dowdle, like Bigfoot movies, there are a whole slew of these underground tunnel films that have been popping up recently and you really have to something in it to make the film pop.  The story is a good idea but the people they have here to portray the characters don't seem right and I think they might be to young for these roles that they are trying to portray.  Also, there isn't a sign of any immediate danger until like an hour in and then there are some spooky stuff but most of it has been done before and lacks originality.  Furthermore, the ending is really blah and there is no real justice for the characters that created the situation, which is frustrating because it's sad to see really bad decisions go unpunished.  If you're really really into found footage films and enjoy watching people traverse the tunnels of underground Paris then maybe give this a shot but if you're looking for a terrifying thriller that has some real scares then I would leave this film unfounded.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Horrors of 2014: 13 Sins (2014)

13 Sins (2014)
Director: Daniel Stamm
Starring:  Mark Webber, Devon Graye, and Tom Bower
Running Time: 93 min

  I'm going into this movie blind, all I know is that it is directed by Daniel Stamm, who directed "The Last Exorcist" which I thought was a decent enough film.  The poster looks interesting, very Illuminati-esque and menacing, so how bad can it be?

  Elliot Brindle is a nice guy but that is his biggest fault.  He is too nice and lets people push him around and as a sales person, this is a terrible quality to have, according to his company.  After refusing to upsell to an elderly customer, Elliot is fired from his job, which was the only peg left holding everything together.  He has a handicapped brother, Michael who needs his insurance to stay in the nicer care facility, than the state's mental institution.  He also has a racist father, who he has to take care of, even though he disapproves of Elliot marrying a black woman.  As well as his fiance, Shelby who he is marrying and paying for the wedding, the reception and they also have a baby on the way.  So when Elliot loses his job, he's not sure what the hell he's going to do.
  Suddenly while he is waiting at a stop light, Elliot receives a mysterious phone call asking him to kill a fly for 1,000.  Elliot thinks that somebody is playing a trick on him until the caller lets him know about a number of personal facts about him.  Elliot kills the fly and gets a message that a thousand dollars has been put into his account.  He then get another phone call that asks him to eat the fly for another 5 grand, which he does and another 5 grand is put into Elliot's bank account.  He then gets another call and the caller explains that this is a game and Elliot has now completed 2 of the 13 tasks that need to be completed to win the grand prize of millions of dollars and a new life.  The caller tells Elliot that if he fails to complete a task, reveals the game to anyone or interferes in any way during the game, he will lose everything that he has already earned.  Elliot agrees to play and the caller says that he will be in touch tomorrow.
  The next day while picnicking with Shelby's family, Elliot gets a call and he is asked to make a child cry.  Elliot reluctantly finds a little girl and tells her that she is adopted and her parents don't love her.  She starts crying and runs away and so does Elliot!  He runs back to Shelby and tells everyone that he's got to get going.  Elliot rushes Shelby to the car and an irate mother starts banging on the passenger side window, screaming at him.  Elliot floors it and Shelby has no idea what's going on.  Then Elliot gets another phone call and pulls the car over, he tells Shelby that he has to do some stuff, like a surprise for her and the wedding and runs off after a homeless man.  As the tasks progress, they become more and more disturbing, which includes arson, desecrating a corpse and chopping someone's arm off, and Elliot feels that he has no choice to complete these tasks because the police are now looking for him and if he doesn't win, he'll be going to jail for a very long time.  Can Elliot complete the twisted tasks and win the grand prize to help his family or has he already lost more than he already knows?

  I'm not usually to big on remakes but I thought this one was pretty fun.  This was based on the Thai film called "13: Game of Death", which I saw when it came out but not since, so I can't really compare how close to the original it is because I can't remember.  However, I did think that this version was pretty enjoyable and director Daniel Stamm blends a good mix of dark humour and horror violence into it.
  I like the Elliot's character, played by Mark Webber (Jessabelle, Scott Pilgrim vs the World) and how he goes from this nice guy push over to someone who can finally stand up for himself when it's necessary.  His character arc is good and Webber has some excellent comedy chops for some of the sillier parts of the film.  Also, I think that Ron Pearlman (HellBoy, Drive) is excellent in this as well.  He plays a cop, who may or may not be working for the mystery voice on the phone and is searching for Elliot to find out what's really going on.  Pearlman's character holds his cards to his chest the whole film and his reveal is pretty decent at the end.  
  There are also some deliciously depraved scenes in the film, like Elliot having to pull a "Weekend at Bernie's" while sitting in a diner surrounded by cops or an terrific arm chopping off scene that is reminiscent to something from "Hostel".  The effects are top notch and they even made me wince and chuckle at times.

  However, there are some issues with the story that I found, like the ending.  Not so much the ending but the epilogue.  For such a dark film the epilogue is rather cheerful and some people survive that maybe shouldn't have.  For me, there needs to be a karmic balance and some sort of retribution for actions taken in the film and I don't think justice is properly dealt out here in the end.
  Also a one point, Elliot breaks out of a police station by kidnapping a police captain and that story disappears like in the next scene, after he busts out a window and onto the street.  Seriously, Elliot runs a block, then the police chase is over and the story moves on.  I can accept the ostrich element, the arm cutting off and even the smashing of the ballroom but this is where the film jumps the shark a bit for me.  It's one block people, I'm sure even the police force in New Orleans can run a couple of blocks.

  With that said, this is still an okay film.  It's not the greatest movie you'll ever see in your life but it's an amusing movie that will keep you on your toes and give you a giggle.  The story is decent, even though it goes a little of the rails near the end, there is some good violence and it's nice to see Ron Pearlman not wearing a dress in an smaller budgeted film.  So, if you're looking for an interesting film about a pushover playing a bizarre and terrifying game for big cash and prizes, than you have hit the jackpot with this one! (ding ding ding ding)