Wednesday, December 29, 2010

'Sabbath' is full of good concepts but still fails

While straightening up my office, I found some movies I'd misfiled. For who-knows-what-reason, I'd put about half a dozen DVDs in my "Watched" drawer when I had done nothing of the sort!

I'll be trying to get to those movies as soon as possible, but by way of setting the stage for one of those upcoming reviews, here's an Oldie But a Goodie that originally appeared at

Sabbath (2008)
Starring: Ashley Gallo, Bobby Williams, David Crawford, Rob Holmes, Cory Wisberger, and Cheyenne Stewart
Director: William Victor Schotten
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

Geller (Gallo), Mack, (Williams), and a trio of oddball misfits (Crawford, Holmes, and Wisberger) struggle to join forces and stay alive as the dead rise from their graves. They are, literally, the last five living beings on Earth, as it is Judgement Day and angelic beings and shadowy demons are prowling around them, waiting and watching for one final event to occur.

"Sabbath" is a low-budget zombie picture that shows every indication of being made with dedication and heart. The best part is that there was a fair degree of talent at work in the cinematography department. It even has a number of appealing aspects as far as the story goes. Unfortunately, it's simply not very good. It is a tie between this film and "Revolt of the Zombies" for the Dullest Zombie Movie I've Ever Seen Award.

Basically, the film suffers from all the usual flaws that are often found in horror movies at this level. Establishing shots go on forever. Lots of scenes of characters running, walking, or standing in forests with nothing else really going on. Lame fight scenes that might have been less lame if a) the director had attempted less of them, and b) more rehearsal time had gone into staging them--the climactic battle in the churchyard wold have been so much better if it had been concentrated into about half or one-third of the time it takes in the existing film. The actors mostly seem lethargic, as if they are at a rehearsal instead of actually making the movie. Almost every scene continues well past the point where it should have ended. There's also the sloppiness and shortcuts taken where just a little extra effort or investment would have improved things immensely--like giving the Angel of Death a scythe that looked like it might actually cut something, and dressing the demons in black tights instead of black jeans and sneakers.

In fact, "Sabbath" would have been far less boring if the director had recognized that he was stretching about 45 minutes of movie to nearly twice that length. It also would have been less boring if the script had seen a couple more revisions and if it had ended up with a little more sound logic to underpin the fact that the five main characters in the film aren't the
final five living beings on Earth by accident.

Late in the film (VERY late) we learn that all five characters had some part to play in the accidental death of Geller's daughter. The Angel of Death and some other angel (the Angel of Mercy? Archangel Michael? It's never named, but it's played by Cheyenne Stewart) are waiting to judge let just one of them into Heaven as the last soul before the gates close forever. However, the timing of the little girl's death as given in the film makes no sense, as she supposedly died two full weeks prior to the events of the film. We are to believe that on the ENTIRE planet Earth, no other events of that nature occurred for two weeks? The film would have been far stronger if the death of the little girl had occurred the day before the Judgement Day instead of weeks prior, as the notion of these five people needing to be judged "after the fact" would have made more sense.

I really wish I could like this movie more, because it has some aspects to it I really enjoyed.

I liked mystery of the grim reaper, the angel, and the evil spirits (or demons, whatever they were) creeping about or even assisting the film's main characters unseen by them; that's something I've never seen in a zombie picture before. One of the film's best moments happens when the Grim Reaper smites a zombie just as it was about to attack Bobby Williams, and he is then left trying to figure out why the zombie just keeled over. I also liked the way the film overtly got into the the mystical Judgement Day aspects of mass-zombie attacks instead of presenting it as one character's superstition and then dismissing it with a scientific explanation. I also liked the very end of the movie, even if I 'm a bit unsure of what exactly the director was trying to convey.

The best thing I can say about "Sabbath" is that it kept me watching. The bit with the angels, demons, and a mystical Judgement Day unfolding around the characters gave this zombie flick an unusual dimension. In fact, that whole aspect of the film may make it worth checking out for experienced watchers of the zombie genre.

Monday, December 27, 2010

'Ghost Ship' should be set adrift at sea

Ghost Ship (2002)
Starring: Gabriel Byrne, Julianna Margulies, and Desmond Harrington
Director: Steve Beck
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

A veteran salvage-tug crew is tempted by the promise of great riches when a weather service pilot (Harrington) gives them a lead on a passenger liner adrift in international waters. Once they reach the ship, they find that it is not totally abandoned: An evil presence lurks aboard, and it wants to add the newcomers to its compliment of ghostly crew and passengers.

Take every element you typically find be in a haunted house movie, change the setting to a decaying cruise ship, bring in actors who looooove to overact, add large amounts of gore, and you have "Ghost Ship". The only additional about the movie not listed above is the lazily written script, which is a prime example of one of those stories that will grind to a complete halt if just ONE character would behave intelligently.

The most creepy and disturbing part of the film are the first few minutes. Just about everything else past that opening scene of horror and brutal mass-murder is a downhill slide, with an occasional bump.

(Interestingly, the lower-budget, direct-to-DVD haunted ship movie "Lost Voyage" is actually a little bit scarier at points and it has better acting overall. It's almost as rotten as "Ghost Ship", though, but not quite.)

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Saturday Scream Queen: Joan Collins

Born in 1933, British actress Joan Collins gained imfamy during the 1950s and 1960s for leading a wild and "liberated" life style, a reputation she enhanced by starring in soft core porn films based on the steamy romance novels penned by her sister Jackie Collins during the 1970s.

During the early 1970s, Joan also starred in half a dozen horror films and thrillers, such as "Dark Places", "Tales That Witness Madness", and the classics "Fear in the Night" and "Tales from the Crypt".

As the '70s decade gave way to the 1980s, Collins' career shifted increasingly toward television, and she eventually joined the cast of night-time soap opera "Dynasty", the role she most famous for today.

No need to be bugged by 'Empire of the Ants'

Empire of the Ants (1977)
Starring: John David Carson, Joan Collins, Pamela Susan Shoop, and Robert Lansing
Director: Bert I. Gordon
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

A group of would-be investors and a con artist (Collins) trying to sell worthless swamp land become intended prey for giants ants.

"Empire of the Ants" is perhaps one of the more ridiculous "giant animals on a rampage" movies. If you're a ten-year-old who likes monster movies, you're probably going to find this film exciting and scary. However, if you're any older than that, you're going to be annoyed at the bad creature effects, even worse trick photography, and the stupendous degree to which every cast member over-acts. Either that, or you're going to be so amused at how awful everything about this movie is that you're going to so amused that you'll want to gather some friends together and make the movie the centerpiece of a Bad Movie Night.

The special effects are so sloppily made that it's plain to see that the actors supposedly fighting the giant ants during trick photography sequences are just poking at thin air... and the ants are just being ants. Similarly, there are several scenes of giant ants climbing buildings that are plainly regular-sized ants crawling across photographs of buildings. This is not something little kids are likely to catch, but adults will notice fairly quickly. It's amazing that this film is so ineptly made, given that its director had about half a dozen other creature features focused around giant creatures or people shrunk to tiny sizes where he used tricks similar to the ones he used here. Perhaps there simply wasn't enough time or money to do this right, or maybe he was starting to lose his touch.

The only thing that saves this movie from a Two Rating and being fodder for the Movies You Should (Die Before You) See blog is the fact that it's paced fairly well and the abundance of unintentional hilarity makes it even more watchable if you have a taste for movies so bad they are good.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Fear-filled Phantasms: Christmas Horror

I'm not a big fan of Christmas-oriented horror, even the well-done movies and stories. I like the whole good will, happy-sappy, ho-ho-ho'ing Santa Claus aspect of it all. And the decorated trees and pretty lights. I especially like visiting with friends.

Some feel differently, and that's where the following images of Christmas horror comes in.

Your guess is as good as mine. But it's pretty awful!
Joan Collins pays for being naughty in "Tales from the Crypt"
Perhaps the most iconic Christmas horror image of them all
from "Silent Night, Deadly Night"

But the real Santa were to mix it up with monsters and killers, he'd kick their asses.
Assuming he couldn't fill them with Christmas cheer and get them to change their wicked ways.
(From "Paul Dini's Santa Claus vs. Frankenstein")

'Tales from the Crypt' is a classy, classic anthology film

Tales from the Crypt (1972)
Starring: Joan Collins, Peter Cushing, Nigel Patrick, and Ralph Richardson
Director: Freddie Francis
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

This anthology film from British horror company Amicus is the original screen adaptation of the "Tales from the Crypt" comic book. And it's a fabulous one--with a fine cast of actors, great camera work, and mostly tight scripting.

From the framing sequence--which features a group of tourists that find themselves stranded inside an ancient tomb where they encounter a mysterious crypt keeper (Richardson)--we know we're in for a treat. The crypt keeper's interaction with the lost tourists is the conceit that brings us into the stories.

The first tale in the film is "All Through the House", in which an evil, scheming wife (Collins) murders her husband on Christmas Eve... only to discover what Father Christmas does to those who have been naughty. There are some great visuals and fabulous contrasts of colors here, not to mention great acting by all featured (even the child actor, which is a rare occurance!)

Next up is "Reflection of Death", perhaps the weakest tale of the bunch, because it feels like it's been padded. It's the tale of a man who gets in a horrible car-wreck but finds that no-one will help him or his mistress after he's crawled from the wreckage. There's a nice, chilling twist in this one, but it takes entirely too long getting there.

The third story, "Poetic Justice", is my favorite of the bunch, and it features horror great Peter Cushing in his most touching (and probably deeply emotional) performance ever. He portrays a lonely widower who is driven to suicide after a pair of cruel businessmen cause him to believe that the neighborhood children, who have been his only joy since the death of his wife, have come to hate him. The poor old man gets his revenge, however, in a way that's fitting of "Tales from the Crypt". (In real life, Cushing himself lost his wife shortly before working on this film. I'm of the opinion that Cushing largely plays himself in this sequence.)

The fourth tale, "Wish You Were Here", is a pretty straight-forward spin on the classic "The Monkey's Paw" story. It is based around the standard of a string of badly worded wishes that backfire tragically and horrifically, but the climax of the story is so terrifying and skin-crawling that it literally had me squirming in my chair. Both as a kid and as an adult, the finale of this story is the one that hits me hardest.

Finally (aside from the creepy wrap-up to the framing sequence), we have "Blind Alley", the tale of a vicious administrator of a home for the blind, who is given a fitting punishment by his charges when they've finally had enough. This one also feels a bit padded and it drags a bit, but there are enough chills and scary moments--not to mention fine acting by Nigel Patrick as the hateful, gluttonous administrator.

"Tales from the Crypt" is a little-seen gem, and I recommend it highly to anyone who thinks fondly of British horror films from the Sixties and Seventies.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

'Trailer Park of Terror' is trashy, gory fun

Trailer Park of Terror (2008)
Starring: Nichole Hiltz, Jeanette Brox, Brock Chuchna, Stefanie Black, Matthew Del Negro, and Trace Adkins
Director: Steven Goldman
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

When a bus-load of troubled teens on a church retreat crash during a rain-storm, the passengers and their chaparone (Del Negro) take refuge at a nearby trailer park. Unfortunately for them, the trailer park is merely the ghostly reflection of a murderous den of hillbilly criminals that died in a gory, revenge-fueled massacre decades earlier. They now re-inact their brutal ways on hapless travelers, under the command of Norma (Hiltz), one of their victims who has turned victimizer thanks to a deal with the devil (Adkins).

"Trailer Park of Terror" has something for just about every horror fan. It takes nearly every disgusting thing you've seen in a Killer Hicks movie from the 1970s forward and combines them with a sadistic sense of humor that will put you in mind films like "Spider Baby" and "Re-Animator", as well as slightly more modern off-kilter horror features like "From Dusk 'Til Dawn". Further, the ghosts mostly manifest themselves as disgusting walking corpses, so lovers of zombie films will have something to sink their metaphorical teeth into, while admirers of Torture Porn flicks will get to watch one victim get her arm sawed off while tripping so high she doesn't notice until after the fact, and another victim is turned into jerky meat while still alive. And then there's the horny teens that are forced to be the stars of a snuff flick.

I'm not a big fan of mean-spirited and sadistic horror films, so there was quite a bit about "Trailer Park of Terror" I didn't care for. I also like my gory ghost movies and slasher flicks to have a "morality tale" aspect to them, and when they don't--or it's a weak part of the film, as it is here--the film invariably loses me, so that was another reason for me not to like this flick.

However, this thing is so well-written and so finely acted by everyone involved that I couldn't help but like it. Virtually all the characters are so purely one-note and cliched with the hillbilly ghosts  that combining them all in one place manages to breath a form of demented freshness into the film--the writers didn't even try to expand the victims beyond horny teen, asshole teen, druggie teen, and so on; nor to give the ghosts more definition than rapist redneck, robber redneck, cannibal redneck, and so on.

The only character with even the slightest depth to her is Norma, who in life was the only non-psychotic inhabitant of the trailer park... at least until she decided she had enough of them and gunned them all down and killed herself. But the facets to the Norma character never manifests itself quite in the way one expects as the film unfolds, something which becomes which is highlighted and becomes even more interesting due to the plethora of one-note stereotypes that otherwise inhabit the film. It also helps, of course, that Hiltz is a better actress than her repeated casting as a white-trash bimbo (here, and in the television series "The Riches" and "In Plain Sight") warrants. I'd like to see in more horror movies, and in different roles than what she seems to be playing over and over.

The only real down-side that I saw to this film is its somewhat disorganized structure. It starts with an extended sequence in the past and then interrupts the present with a couple of extended flashbacks that both fill in back story but also stand alone to some extent, giving the film the fell of a half-baked anthology. Given the film is based on the anthology comic book series "Trailer Park of Terror", I understand why the filmmakers wanted to make a nod in the direction of their source, but I just wish they had done it in a less choppy fashion.

In the final analysis, though, "Trailer Park of Terror" is well worth watching.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Herbert West is back in 'Bride of Re-Animator'

Bride of Re-Animator (1990)
Starring: Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, Claude Earl Jones, Fabiana Udenio, Mel Stewart, David Gale, and Kathleen Kinmont
Director: Brian Yunza
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

Dr. Herbert West (Combs) and his reluctant assistant Dr. Dan Cain (Abbott) set out to create a new person from the best pieces of the deceased, using West's reformulated and improved Re-Agent. But a homicide detective (Jones) is investigating West... and is that the re-animated head of Dr. Hill (Gale) that just showed up at the pathology lab?

"Bride of Re-Animator" sees Herbert West go in a Frankenstein direction with his latest projects, in this follow-up to one of the craziest mad scientist vs. zombies movies ever made.

This sequel doesn't quite have the humor of the original, nor is the script quite as witty. There's is also a sense that the filmmakers here are trying to recapture what they did in the first film, as much of the twisted gross-out humor feels forced, and you can see it coming a mile away in nearly every case, where in the first film is felt natural and was almost always unexpected. (The one exception to this is the shocking development and end to the "bride" that Herbert West creates for Dan, something that also gives rise to the funniest line in the film, delivered by Jeffrey Combs and his lab is being overrun by re-animated monsters.)

One thing I did appreciate about the film is that Herbert West is shown to develop here as he did in the original Lovecraft stories. The unnamed narrator in those tales says at one point that West started out wanting to extend life and engage in scientific exploration but that he later went completely mad and was doing morbid and twisted experiments for no reason other than to do them. That's the West we see in this film... and the experiments he engages in are completely depraved and utterly pointless. (Although the critter made from an eyeball and four fingers for legs is kinda cute.... :) )

Although the script is a little weaker than the original film, the cast is once again excellent, and another excellent performance by Combs makes this film well worth checking out. (Just don't expect to have much of an appetite after the film's final scenes.)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Saturday Scream Queen: Alison Lohman

Born in Palm Springs, California, Alison Lohman caught the showbusiness bug at an early age. A naturally talented singer and actress, by the time she was in high school, she had appeared in over a dozen musicals and other stage productions. The jump to film was a quick one, and her short stature and slender build meant she was often called on to play characters younger than her actual age, such as when she at 22 played a 14-year-old in Ridley Scott's "Matchstick Men".

Lohman has mostly appeared in dramas and comedies, but her very first film appearance was in Charles Band's kid-oriented creature feature, "Kraa! The Sea Monster!", which she followed up with a part in the dark sci-fi thriller "The 13th Floor". More recently, she starred in Sam Raimi's 2009 spectacular return to horror "Drag Me to Hell," which was highlighted in the Chiller Channel's documentary "Chiller 13: The Decade's Scariest Movie Moments". (The show aired yesterday, but check your local listings; there are several rebroadcasts coming up.)

For reviews of a couple of Alison Lohman's non-horror films, click here to visit Watching the Detectives. To read my review of "Kraa!", click this link to visit The Charles Band Collection.

Friday, December 17, 2010

'Drag Me to Hell' is a spectacular spook show

Drag Me to Hell (2009)
Starring: Alison Lohman, Justin Long, Dileep Rao, Lorna Raver, David Paymer, and Reggie Lee
Director: Sam Raimi
Rating: Nine of Ten Stars

When a loan officer hoping for a promotion at the bank (Lohman) forecloses on an old gypsy woman's house, she is put under a terrible curse: She has three days to find a way to reverse it, or a powerful demon will drag her bodily to Hell.

Christine (Alison Lohman) learns the hard way that ticking off old gypsy women can be bad for your health.
"Drag Me to Hell" is the sort of horor movie that most filmmakers seem incapable of making these days. It's a got a to-the-point script with a well-constructed story, it's got characters the audience can root for (despite their flaws) and, most importantly, it's got plenty of scares. It's a horror movie the likes of which we haven't seen on the big screen since... well, "Cursed" came close, but it was moreof a classic monster movie than a horror fim. This one is a throwback to a time when horror movies were actually good!

In fact, the film even acknowledges it's a reminder of a lost time for horror fillms by starting with the Universal logo from the 1970s and 1980s. And what follows is a film with the spirit of those days but in a thoroughly modern body. Whether you love the movies from back then--like me--or whether you're a kid who has only been exposed to the garbage and crappy remakes that are being passed off as horror movies today, this is a movie you'll get a kick out of.

With its well-mounted scares and finely crafted script, this is a movie that was made with care from the very beginning. It's enhanced even further by excellent performances by every featured actor, with star Alison Lohman earning every dime she was paid to be in this film.

Fans of Raimi's first big hit, "The Evil Dead", are also well-served by this film. It is, literally, the first time that Raimi returns to a movie of that kind. Like the "The Evil Dead", the film starts as a fairly standard horror flick, but then goes crazily over the top as it reaches its climax. But, with 30 years of experience under his belt, this return to the style of that first outing is far more effective than he's ever done it before. (He sort of did it with "Evil Dead 2", but that was a horror-comedy from the outset and was actually very different from both what he did in the original film and what he does here.)

If you're one of those people who habitually turn their nose up at PG-13 horror movies because their not intense enough for you, and therefore haven't seen this film yet, you need to get over your bad self, or at least check out the "unrated director's cut". This is one of the very best big studio horror releases in the past decade, and it gives me hope that maybe there is still a future for the horror film on the big screen. (But don't just take my word for it. The people who put together the countdown show "Chiller 13: The Scariest Movie Moments of the Decade" include several scenes from the film on their list. The show premieres tonight, Friday, on the Chiller cable channel. Check your local listings.)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

'Screaming Dead': When Misty Mundae
started keeping her clothes on

Screaming Dead (2003)
Starring: Rob Monkiewicz, Rachael Robbins, Joseph Farrell, Misty Mundae, and Heidi Kristoffer
Director: Brett Piper
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

A sadistic photographer (Farrell) isolates a trio of young models in a house and proceeds to subject them to abuse and psychological torture. His evil manages to awaken the ghost of the madman who built the house, who then picks up where he left off and sets about torturing the women to death slowly.

Although that summary may make "Screaming Dead" sound like yet another piece of offal floating in the stream of torture porn movies--and with Misty Mundae starring, one might think the film to be literal torture porn--but it's more of a " sexy girls in a haunted house" movie in the mode of the cheap and sleazy European horror films from the 1960s and 1970s. Unfortunately, like the worst of those, it spends too long on the wind-up, not getting interesting until the movie is half over, and not getting to the reason most of us would be watching this film: the haunted house stuff. (The rest are going to be even more disappointed; the nudity quotient in the film is very, very low for a Misty Mundae movie and the lesbian nookie is even lower. One of the films better moments even makes playful fun of the lesbian softcore scenes that are a staple of the horror-themed sex comedies that Mundae and the producers behind "Screaming Dead" initially made their reputation on.)

The greatest flaw of the film is the unbelievable nature of its lead villain, the abusive photographer played by Joseph Farrell. A misogynistic, sexual sadist like this character might have been believable in a film made and/or set 40-50 years ago, but no matter how supposedly famous and well-respected he is as an artist, he would have been sued into the poor house or sent to prison long ago. Unless he paid his regular employees many hundreds of thousands of dollars in hush money--and with the repeated insistence that his models were working for free that seems unlikely--and his models even more, someone would have put a stop to his real-life "torture porn" long before the film started. No one could get away with abusing a model in this day and age of scandal-hungry, ever-present tabloid media the way he does in the film's opening scene, where a busty young lady is strapped to a table as a spike descends to impale her. Roman Polanski's celebrity and time lets him obscure the fact that he's a pedophile rapist, but if he had behaved that way in 2003, especially if he had beaten the girl instead of "just" drugging her, he'd be as reviled as Michael Jackson. (Of course, if he disposes of the models in a permanent way when he's done, the problem is lessened, but there is no indication that he is an out-and-out murderer, just a sadistic sociopath.)

The film's hero, the real estate company employee played by Rob Monkiewicz, also comes with his own unbelievable qualities to make the plot work. A rough-around-the-edges tough-guy with a chivalrous attitude, he is present at the photo-shoot by order of his employer to make sure the location the photographer has rented isn't damaged, and that the photographer isn't doing things that will expose the real estate company to liability. Within fairly short order, he witnesses several acts on the part of the photographer that his failure to report the photographer to the authorities exposes no only himself but his employers to lawsuits of mind-boggling size, especially when he points out to anyone who will listen how dangerous and illegal locking people in their rooms or chaining them to beds is to anyone within ear-shot. It is not believable on any level that a character drawn as a man of action like this one wouldn't do something to stop the abuses he sees long before he does, even if it means calling the police. While he is set up as a shady character, I also have the impression that he wouldn't be above using either the law or some of his unsavory contacts to shut down someone he finds as disgusting as the photographer. But for the character to try this, the film would either have needed a bigger budget--as it would require more cast and possibly additional locations--or a script that had been better thought out and which got to the point faster.

These problems with the hero and main villain of the film arise from a combination of a desire on co-screenwriter and director Brett Piper is giving us characters with a little depth to them, and the fact that he spends too much time dithering why trying to draw that depth. It takes entirely too long for the real ghosts to arrive on the scene and for the characters to be trapped inside the house. If Piper had move more quickly with introducing his torture-obsessed ghost, none of the problems with the reality of the film would have been an issue, because reality would have been suspended much sooner. And the fact that the film is really clever in the way in mixes the supernatural and hi-tech once, not to mention that it gets pretty scary in its final 15-20 minutes, shows that Piper is capable of delivering the goods... when he finally puts his mind to it. I really wish the first 3/4ths, because the horror that eventually comes deserved a better lead-in.

As for the cast, cinematography, and special effects, everything here is about what you might expect from a Shock-O-Rama/Seduction Cinema film. No one is going to win any awards for their work on the film, but no one needs to hang their shame over their efforts, either.

Farrell and Monkiewicz, as the evil photographer and heroic rental agency rep respectively. Both are as excellent in their roles as can be expected given the dialogue they are called on to deliver and the flabbiness and badly structured script they are performing. Farrell in particular shines in the one truly horrific scene in the movie where Misty Mudae's character is slashed to ribbons by an invisible force as he takes pictures. That same scene is where Mundae has one of several opportunities to show that she actually has a great deal of talent for acting.

But, in the end, "Screaming Dead" neither has enough screaming, nor enough dead, to make it worth checking out. It's of interest to big fans of Misty Mundae as it marks the beginning of her ascension from softcore porn and ultra-low budget movies to more serious-minded horror flicks, as well as the dawn of Pop Cinema as a multi-faceted, modern-day exploitation film production company, but most will be underwhelmed this film. As well done and horrific as the scene of Mundae's character being violated and mutilated is, what leads up to is simply too weak to be worth bothering with.

Monday, December 13, 2010

'Dreamcatcher' suffers from a lack of relationships

Dreamcatcher (2003)
Starring: Morgan Freeman, Thomas Jane, Jason Lee, Damian Lewis, Timothy Olyphant, and Tom Sizemore
Director: Lawrence Kasdan
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

"Dreamcatcher" is the story of four friends who, in childhood, devopled a psychic bond after befriending a retarded boy. That bond has kept them together into adulthood, and on their 20th annual retreat to a remote cabin of drinking, hunting, and male bonding, a horrific terror from another world tests both their friendship and psychic abilities.

Although very intense at times--there is a scene that flips swiftly from bathroom humor to bathroom horror, and it is definately one of the scariest bits of film ever made--the movie suffers greatly from the fact that the viewers never really feel a connection with the four friends at the heart of the tale. They are good, brave people, but beyond that there isn't much of an opportunity to get to know and care about them. Therefore, when they die (and I don't think I'm spoiling anything but mentioning that several of the friends don't make it back to civilization alive, given that this is a horror movie), there is no real emotional response from viewers.

If the director or screenwriter had found a way to make us feel the bond between the friends, this could have been one scary movie, because the monster is darn scary and Morgan Freeman does an excellent job as a villainous military officer--even if anyone who actually knows American military men, they'l be shaking their heads at this character and the whole portrayal of a military operation in the film. But it's the lack of viewers properly feeling the bond between the heroes that is the film's fatal flaw, one that certainly generated by the filmmakers, because one of Stephen King's strengths when writing about life-long friends facing danger and death together, he is always very adept at making us feel almost as though we are part of their fellowship as the story unfolds.

And that's too bad, because without us feeling the connection between the main characters and sharing their pain as they watch their friends die, "Dreamcatcher" never rises above the level of a bad slasher-film merged with a mediocre science fiction monster movie.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Holy Terror of Mohammed

This weekend, another Muslim reminded the world that Islam is a Religion of Peace... the peace of the grave that is. You can read about his glorious expression of devotion to the Prophet Mohammed (may peans be upon him) in "Car Bomb: Christmas Jihad in Stockholm."

And for good measure, here are some celebratory images of the Allah's Prophet, and the faithful worshipers of Allah's Prophet, death cultists who are alternately referred to as Jihadists, Shaheedists, and Mo-Rons.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Saturday Scream Queen: Suzi Lorraine

Actress and model Suzi Lorraine has for the past decade been one of the best thing about numerous low-budget horror and sci-fi movies, whether appearing under the name of Kelli Summers in soft-core port spoofs like "Lord of the G-Strings" or "The Erotic Time Machine", or under her own name in chillers like "Torment" or "She-Demons of the Black Sun".

Born in 1978, Lorraine is one of a handful of actresses who has emerged from a New Jersey-based hub of low-budget genre film producers who has both the talent and looks to be destined for bigger and better films. A couple of years ago, she co-hosted MonsterFest on AMC, and she has parts in six movies in varying stages of production, ranging from early pre-production to just-about released. She is a talent to watch for many reasons, including the obvious ones.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

'Re-Animator' is a gory trip into movie madness

Re-Animator (1985)
Starring: Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton, David Gale and Robert Sampson
Director: Stuart Gordon
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

Dan's new roommate and fellow third-year med student, Herbert West (Combs) draws him into his bizarre (and successful) experiments with re-animating dead bodies.

"Re-Animator" is one of the craziest movies ever made, and it ranks up there with "Dead Alive" as one of the funniest creepy movies ever made. While it is nowhere near as gory as "Dead Alive" and the slapstick isn't quite as sharp, it features a cleverer script and a superior cast.

Jeffrey Combs is particularly excellent as Herbert West. We get the sense that he's a bit weird early in the film and highly strung; Combs performance puts the viewer in mind of Peter Cushing's Victor Frankenstein in the first couple of Hammer Frankenstein films... coldblooded, arrogant and probably sociopathic but not necessarily completely bonkers. When West calmly a bone saw through the chest of a zombie and then immediately sets about reanimating its recently deceased victim, it's clear not just from his actions but from Combs performance that he more than a little off. And when he later animates the severed head of an obnoxious rival (likewise brilliantly played by David Gale), it's clear that he is completely unhinged.

Speaking of the severed head, it gives rise to some of the most unnerving moments in the film, as well some of the funniest. I don't want to go into too much details, because I'd ruin the shock value. Suffice to say, it's something that needs to be seen.

Credit also needs to be go to Bruce Abbott and Barbara Crampton. While Combs and Gale are giving performances that seem like they just teleported in from a Hammer Films set in 1960, they play their characters mostly low-key. This, combined with the fact that their characters are nice and normal people, give the audience someone to identify with as the film unfolds and provide an island of calm in the middle of the evermore turbulent sea of madness that is this movie.

"Re-Animator" elevates Herbert West among the great movie mad doctors, even if, according to the very informative interview included on the Achor Bay edition of the film, he was actually a minor character in the script and through most of the filming. It wasn't until "Re-Animator" was crafted into a releasable movie that the emphasis shifted to Herbert. (Comments in the interviews on the DVD even make me wonder if the filmmakers knew they were making a comedy until late in the process....)

Whether intentional or accidental art, this is one of those movies that gets everything right, from the mood-setting prologue, through its score (which spoofs Bernard Hermann's famous music for "Psycho") to its chilling end. It's also feels as fresh as when it first released in 1985. This is one of those very rare horror movies that actually deserves the label "classic."

If you are inclined to add this film to your personal library, make sure you get the limited edition "unrated" version from Anchor Bay. The cut presented there may be shorter than the R-rated version, but the humor and shocks are more outrageous than its tamer and slightly bloated counterpart. The disc full of extras is also something that you'll find extremely interesting if you have any interest at all in the filmmaking process. (The same is true of the commentary tracks.)

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Saturday Scream Queen: Ingrid Pitt

As a girl, Ingrid Pitt struggled through the real-world horrors of Nazi concentration camps and East German secret police before eventually emerging as one of the most famous fanged faces to hiss at viewers from Hammer horror flicks.

Pitt's first film was the 1964 Spanish film about marauding invisible dinosaurs, "Sound of Horror", and although she played a variety of characters in a range of movies over her 20+ year career, it is her horror roles she is most celebrated for. While most fans remember her best for her role as the psychopathic "Countess Dracula" or as the vampiric corrupter Carmilla in "The Vampire Lovers (both made for Hammer in the early 1970s), I always think of her as the ill-fated diva in "The House That Dripped Blood" and as the evil queen of Atlantis in "Doctor Who: The Time Monster".

Pitt appeared steadily in films through the late 1980s, but she mostly retired acting at the end of the decade. She focused on writing, penning several books and numerous columns about the horror genre, and taking on only the occasional film role. Her final screen appearance was in the 2008 horror film "Sea of Dust".

Pitt passed away in 2010.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

'Popcorn' is a slasher film worth checking out

Popcorn (aka "Skinner" and "Phantom of the Cinema") (1991)
Starring: Jill Schoelen, Tom Villard, Dee Wallace Stone, and Ray Walston
Directors: Mark Herrier and Alan Ormsby
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

A group of film students stage a horror B-movie marathon at an old movie theater that's about to be torn down. The horror leaps from the screen when a mysterious murderer starts stalking and killing them.

"Popcorn" is a low-budget horror movie that pays homage to the William Castle school of filmmaking and promotion, while delivering loving jabs at the horror genre, its fans, and those who create material for it. It's a self-referential slasher movie that pre-dates "Scream" by a number of years and which is actually more subtle in many places.

The downside to the film is that its main characters are very, very annoying. They are so annoying that I almost quit the movie 20 minutes in. I'm sure the filmmakers were trying to present them as hip and playful, but I these film geeks came across as just a little too geeky. The characters did grow on me, and once the action moved to the movie theater for the horror film festival, I was enjoying myself thoroughly. This is one of those movies it's worth sticking with, despite a rocky start.

Although it was a complete bomb on its original release, "Popcorn" actually a pretty good movie. It's worth seeking out for fans of the slasher genre--except if you're looking for lots of gore. There's very little gore here, but there are several tense and creative murder scenes.