Wednesday, September 29, 2010

'Before I Die' is a weak anthology

Before I Die (2003)
Starring: Dawn Murphy, David Lee, M. Catherine Holseybrook, Nancy Felciano, Phil Herman, Gusto Perez, and Brock Richards
Directors: Dave Castiglione and Dawn Murphy
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

I love anthology films because one can expect that some part of them is going to be good--if a particuarly segment is lame, that's okay, because it'll be short and there's promise of something better coming right up.

With "Before I Die", that promise is hinted at, but it never materializes. There's nothing in this film that rises above mediocre and boring.

"Before I Die" is a horror anthology film that consists of three stories and a framing sequence. The frame involves a short story writer (Herman) struggling to meet a deadline. As he comes up with ideas, and starts pounding his keyboard, the film relates the stories he write to us.

It's not a bad concept for a frame and it's a more natural-feeling way to present the stories than in many anthology films I've seen... heck, it's a better way than those used in some of my favorites, such as "The House that Dripped Blood". Unfortunately, the complete lack of energy that Phil Herman brings to the role of the writer manages to make the interludes a bit tedious, despite some interesting camerawork and smooth transitions.

The first story ("Time for Dessert") follows a woman (Holseybrook) and her chubby-chasing stalker (Perez) who is appalled that she seems be pick up every guy she meets but him. He finally gets his date with her, and uncovers her dark secret. While the attempt at presenting an overweight woman as sexy is something rarely seen, and I give the filmmakers a little consideration for that, there is virtually no story here, less tension, and long make-out scenes do not make for interesting viewing.

Next up, we have "The Last Resort", which is a tale of an average pair of newlyweds (Murphy and Lee) who find themselves as the only guests at a luxury resort that doesn't exist. This one had all the potential to be a fine ghost story, but it's potential is sapped by an overlong running that's padded with boring scenes of average honeymoon-couple lovemaking, bad camerawork, and even worse sound recording. My guess is the only microphone on-set was mounted on the Camcorder used to film the scenes, and ther are many times when it picks up so much ambient noise that the dialogue is nearly drowned out. The "shock ending" is also entirely too long in coming and is delivered in a painfully clumsy fashion. Still, there are a couple of moments when the potential that is hiding within this poorly done short manage to show themselves, and Murphy and Lee mostly do a decent job on the acting front.

Closing out "Before I Die", we have "Someone is Sleeping in My Bed." It's a confused mini-slasherflick where a maniac killer murders some trick-or-treaters, and then breaks into the house of a spicy dish (Feliciano). It's a weird little film, with dreams sequences, an odd phone call, and a strangulation murder that's done with as much style as can be expected from a film on this level. It might have actually been a worthwhile effort if someone had bothered writing a coherent script. I suppose they thought the bare skin would carry the day.

When "Before I Die" wrapped up (with a blending of the film's reality and fiction that is driven home so hard that I'm not sure if the filmmakers think their audience is stupid, of if they have no faith in their own abiliites to get their meaning across), I felt a mixture of disapointment and boredom. I doubt your reaction will be much different.



Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Wish I'd been there in time....

Took a look at my "Blogger Reading List" and saw this headline on a post:

HORROR SITES ARE SELL OUTS, LIARS AND SCREENER WHORES

The teaser text displayed was:

Im not only a site moderator but im a filmaker and i have a lot of experience sending screeners and id like to talk about what sites i believe are sell outs and full of crap, for one any site that tells yo...

But when I clicked to go read the post, it had been deleted. And I'm left in suspense over who the screener whores might be!

My guess someone lost their temper and then thought better of it. I've been there, if that's what happened.




I still wish I'd gotten to read the post, especially since the blog it appeared on has notices that solicit screeners.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Complete Night Stalker, Part One

Since horror movie reviews are nothing out of the ordinary here, I'm going to build up to Halloween by reviewing every episode in the classic Kolchak: The Night Stalker series. I already covered the two movies, so nothing seemed more appropriate than this.

(And if anyone out there would like write about that short-lived remake series from a few years back, I'm always open to guest posts!)

Kolchak: The Night Stalker
(The Complete Television Series Reviewed, Part One)

Episode One: The Ripper
Director: Allen Baron
Rating: Four Four of Ten Stars

A serial killer is stalking the women of Chicago and beating the tar out of police officers by the dozens. Kolchak (Darren McGavin), along with his long-suffering editor Tony Vincienzo (Simon Oakland), have landed at INS, a small-time wire-service. As Kolchak (over Tony's objections) investigates the killings, he comes to believe that that he is the original Jack the Ripper, and that unless Kolchak stops him before he claims his fifth victim, he will vanish and resuface in a different city where the pattern will repeat itself.


If the plot of the first episode of the series sounds familiar, then that's because it is. It's basically the same as that featured in "The Night Strangler."

This is a dissapointing start, made even more dissapointing by the fact that there is never any real sense of menace in the story. Yes, a serial killer is on the loose, but Kolchak is never in any danger. On the upside, McGavin and Oakland are both as good in their parts as they were in the films.



Episode Two: The Zombie
Director: Alex Grasshoff
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

Someone is murdering Chicago's gangsters and a chance conversation with one of his sources sets Kolchak on the trail of the culprit: A small-times numbers operator who has been called back from the grave to serve as the means to avenge his death.

I was as delighted by this episode as I was disappointed in the series' first installment. There wasn't a single element of the episode that wasn't an improvement over "The Ripper." The storyline was more original, the funny parts were funnier, and Kolchak's ability to survive the adventure intact felt as though it was in serious doubt on more than one occassion. While the threat of the mad slasher seemed distant and non-personal to Kolchak in "The Ripper", in this episode, Our Man at INS is under threat of sudden termination by illegal bookmaking operators, gangsters, corrupt cops, and, of course, the walking dead. In fact, Kolchak's confrontation with the zombie is so creepy that it tops what you see in many movies.


Episode Three: They Have Been, They Are, They Will Be...
Director: Allen Baron
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

After a string of bizarre animal deaths at a Chicago zoo are followed by some very similar murders, Kolchak becomes convinced that space aliens are threatening the city--who else could possibly be mutilating animals and then escalating to doing the same to people? Will he manage to prove the Truth Is Out There, or will the government agents dogging his heels stop him?

This episode has a rushed feel to it. The story simply doesn't hang together, and has some pretty dumb elements, even by the standards of the Seventies (an alien who is off-course with his spaceship can find his way home using a planetarium's starmap?), and Kolchak makes some pretty far leaps of logic to keep the story going--because much of what he concludes isn't based in his investigation--and the fact that he manages to locate the alien craft using a very simple method; if finding the UFO is THAT easy, why hasn't the government got it surrounded already? The greatest flaw of the episode is that it's dull. It never manages to engage the viewers. In fact, the best part of it is Kolchak's voice-over at the end where he compares the murderous alien to just another traveler stopping at a roadside diner for a bite to eat. If only the rest of the show had been that amusing.


Episode Four: The Vampire
Director: Don Weis
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

After weaseling his way to being sent on assignment to write a puff piece about a Guru visiting Los Angeles (thus getting what he views as a paid vacation), Kolchak is distracted by the news of murders that seem eerily similar to ones that he investigated while living in Las Vegas. In fact, this episode is an unofficial sequel to "The Night Stalker" movie, as the vampire menacing Los Angeles is a spawn of the creature that first drew Kolchak into confrontation with the supernatural.


Kolchak's attempts to trap the vampire in this episode are pretty amusing, as is his attempt to use a real estate agent he meets as a ghost-writer to meet his deadline with INS. The climax with the vampire is interesting (even if I found myself wondering how he managed to set up the way he trapped her), and I think this is the first time where Kolchak isn't the victim of a far-reaching cover-up, or is left with no evidence that something bizarre happened . Just like in "The Night Stalker," the police arrest him for the murder of the vampire, but they have to let him go... for a very interesting and sensible reason. But, there's no hint that anyone is going out of their way to cover things up. (Of course, no one believes in vampires, even in Hollyweird.)

All in all, this was a pretty good episode. It was nice to see some tie-backs to the movie that started it all, and it was also nice to see a police officer portrayed like an intelligent person. The homicide luitenant in "The Vampire" is intelligent and dilligent enough to keep digging into his murder cases even after a couple of Satanists are locked up for them, because the clues aren't adding up. Virtually every other police officer that's appeared in the series up to this point would have called it a day with the first suspects.









Next week, I cover episodes 5 through 8, as I continue my way through the mixed bag that is "The Night Stalker" television series.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Saturday Scream Queen: Gina Ramsden

Gina Ramsden is a dancer-turned-actress who has appeared in two fine horror movies from director Marc Fratto, including her starring turn as the reluctant zombie revolutionary Angela in "Zombies Anonymous".

Ramsden focuses most of her efforts on theatre work, and last year she turned down the opportunity to appear in another Fratto's films because she felt the part wasn't right for her. However, she has stated in interviews that she is considering other horror film roles. One hopes that she takes them, because horror films need to feature more actresses who have talent beyond just looking good.

It's a zombie movie of a different sort

Zombies Anonymous (aka "Last Rites for the Dead") (2008)
Starring: Gina Ramsden, Joshua Nelson, Christa McNamee, and Mary Jo Verruto
Director: Marc Fratto
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

The recently dead are rising into a state of undeath with their full faculties intact and society is struggling to cope. When Angela (Ramsden) is murdered by her abusive boyfriend (Nelson), she too rises from the dead. She first tries to conceal the fact that she is now dead so she can quietly carry on the business of living. Ultimately, she is forced to join other zombies in the fight for social justice and equal rights, in the violent battle against the anti-zombie movement led by the vicious Commandant (McNamee), and even to struggle against a cult of zombies that have become the monsters the living fear they are.


"Zombies Anonymous" is a cut above the vast majority of zombie movies from the past and present. It's got a better script, it's got superior camera work and make-up effects, and it's got a cast of very talented actors. In fact, it belongs on a level approaching "Dawn of the Dead" as far as the performance delivered by the cast and its effectiveness is delivering social commentary and satire while still remaining a perfectly straight and deadly serious horror movie. The intense plot twists and turns in the third act and the blood-drenched, dramatic climax is also one of the best finales to any zombie movie, period.

Director/screenwriter Marc Fratto has created a film that not only stands apart from most of the output from his fellow indie filmmakers but that also puts recent horror movies from major studios to shame. There may not be hoards of mindless, flesh-eating zombies roaming the streets in this film... but the monstrosity the unfortunate zombies in this story cause to be revealed in the average person is far more frightening. Like the best horror films (and sci-fi flicks for that matter), the worst monsters in the "Zombies Anonymous" aren't the creatures in the title but rather the humans that "fight" them.

First and foremost, Fratto made sure that he maximized the quality of the one thing that every indie producer has total control over: The script.

With the exception of a couple very minor logical flaws (ones that could perhaps even be dismissed as artifacts of a society falling apart in the face of a completely unexpected development but which feel more like plot conveniences if one is being perfectly objective), the script here is honed to perfection. The film is virtually free of padding and every line of dialogue is vibrant and necessary. Each major character even has their own unique way of speaking, the true hallmark of a well-written, well-polished script. The mirror it holds up to society and the issues of tolerance and how quickly we might all give way to bigotry are also explored in very clever ways--the zombies here are not threatening anyone but are as harmless as they were when they were fully alive yet they are still hated and abused, sometimes by those who used to be their friends and loved ones. Finally, the film offers some of the commentary on the modern, brand-name and consumption-driven business world. (Interestingly, the marketers and mega-corporations might well be the most accepting of the new "living dead" segment of the population in the film, as they quickly jump on the opportunity to market products to them. I'm not sure if it was a message that Fratto intended, but it's true that the smart businessman is the least bigoted person of all... your money spends the same no matter who you are.)

Second, Fratto didn't try to create scenes and effects that were beyond what he, his actors and special effects crew could effectively handle. Fratto also has an eye for staging and filming action, with the result that all the action and fight scenes in the film are convincing and realistic. The splatter effects are also extremely well done. (Angela's death at the beginning of the film was particularly excruciating and shocking.)


Finally, "Zombies Anonymous" features a cast of excellent actors. Almost everyone appearing clearly understands the different techniques that need to be employed when acting for a camera instead of an audience in a theatre (something all-too-rare among actors featured in low-budget films like this), and every important part is filled by someone with a level of talent that makes me hope they'll go onto bigger films and bigger paychecks in the future.

Gina Ramsden is particularly good in her part, portraying a character that could easily have come across either as a whiner or as a cliched battered woman if someone of lesser talent had been cast. Instead, Ramsden infuses Angela with a humanity and depth that makes the viewer feel deeply for her and gives the film an emotional center all-too-rarely found in zombie movies. We're already rooting for the zombies in this picture, but it’s the sympathy and emotional attachment to Angela that Ramsden's performance generates that really makes us hate the villains in this picture.

The final word is that "Zombies Anonymous" is the best zombie picture I've seen in years. With enough gore and violence to keep fans of modern zombie movie happy, enough character development, soul-wrenching horror and tragedy to keep fans of classic horror movies entertained, and enough intelligent content and social commentary to keep all but the most snobbish "intellectuals" engaged, this is a film all horror fans can appreciate.

You can also gain more information about the movie and see production stills by visiting the official website.





Friday, September 24, 2010

It's a predictable view from 'Secret Window'

This review is being posted as part of Blog Cabins' 30 dAyS oF cRaZy blog-a-thon! The blogosphere is a tad more insane this month than usual!

Secret Window (2004)
Starring: Johnny Depp, John Turturro, and Maria Bello
Director: David Koepp
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

Mort Rainey (Depp) is a novelist on the verge of a burn-out when his life gets even worse: A maniac (Turturro) accuses him of plagiarising a story he wrote, and begins an ever-increasing campaign of violence and terror against Mort and those closest to him.


Based on a short story by Stephen King, "Secret Window" features a number of themes related to the darker side of the basically lonely professional life that every writer leads... and if one is familiar with those themes and how they've played out in King's works, where this movie ultimately goes is very predictable.

However, the cast is made up of competent actors--Depp once again shows what an excellent actor he is, and Turturro was downright frightening in most of his scenes--the script is well done, and the director clearly knows how to use all the tools in his bag of tricks to keep the suspense up.

Even if I realized early on that I was watching yet another movie about a crazy writer being stalked by himself, through a twisted part of his broken mind that has taken over, Koepp delivered a film that kept me watching due to nicely staged scenes and by managing to provide enough twists to keep me wondering if I was wrong about my assumptions. The script was also well enough written that I cared about the characters. I didn't want Johnny Depp's beleaguered writer to be a maniac, because
I liked him, and I certainly didn't want Maria Bello to end up in a shallow grave. It's one of those rare mystery movies where there really is no mystery if you've seen enough of them, but it is still well-crafted enough to make it worthwhile.

And it could be that this film was predictable to me because I've seen so many horror, mystery, and suspense films. Maybe viewers who haven't watched quite as many movies, or are as familiar with Stephen King's Package of Repeated Themes and Stereotypes would be taken aback by the "shocking twist ending."




A monster brings fractured family together

The Host (aka "Gwoemul" and "Monster") (2007)
Starring: Kang Ho, Hie-bong Byeon, Ah-Song Ko, Hae-il Park, and Du-na Bae
Director: Joon-ho Bong
Steve's Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

The Parks are a slightly dysfunctional family whose members never quite manage to acheive true success due to an everpresent combination of bad luck and various personality flaws. However, they must pull together and overcome their weaknesses when the baby of the family is abducted by a monster and only they can save her.


"The Host" is a monster movie that delivers equal amounts of suspense, humor and horror as it unfolds. In this, it is equal to other great monster movies from the original "Godzilla" to "Island of Terror", and through to "Slither". What sets this film apart from other monster movies is the Park family in this movie. The way NONE of them can ever quite manage to rise to whatever challenge is facing them is alternately funny, tragic, sad (sometimes all three at the same time), and so realistic that it gives this movie a totally unique quality. Although families drawing together to fight a monster threatening them--and ultimately triumphing exactly because they have drawn together-- is nothing new, I don't think there's ever been a movie family quite like the Parks before.

(Nowhere was the Park family trait of never quite crossing the threshold of success more clearly spelled out when the 7th-grader who the rest of the family is trying to rescue devises a way out of the monster's lair on her own... only to discover that all her work amounts to nothing when her rope made from the clothes of partially digested victims ends up being too short to be useful.)

This film is even more impressive because of the way the story resolves itself. The outcome of the climactic battle is in perfect keeping with everything we know about the Parks and their lives, but I still expected I very different ending than what was delivered.

With a good script, excellent special effects, decent acting, and some fantastic moments (the sequence where the monster attacks the crowds in the park along the Han River is one of the best monster attack scenes ever put on film,), the film could have rated a Nine or even Ten if not the way it starts to meander a bit as it closes in on its climax. Basically, the director and screenwriters felt the need to inject a nefarious conspiracy by the United States military into the film--probably so they wanted the International Community to know how kewl they are!--and it served no purpose other than to slow things down and detract from the film's center, the Park family. It's a testament to how strong everything else is that it stays on track and manages to pull together for its climax.

Aside from a single misstep motivated by the director's desire to be invited to cocaine-fueled orgies at Hugo Chavez's presidential palace (or maybe just to get a fan letter from Kim Jong-Ill), "The Host" is a spectacular monster movie with a unique flaire. Every horror fan should check it out, particularly if you enjoyed "Tremors" or "Slither".

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

'Johnny Sunshine' is full of violent sex

Johnny Sunshine: Maximum Violence (2008)
Starring: Shey Bland, Eric Halsell, John Patrick McCauley and Josh Winkerbean
Director: Matt Yaeger
Rating: Four of Ten

In a dark future world overrun with zombies, Johnny Sunshine (Bland) is the hottest star in the snuff porn/zombie porn business. the film followers her through a couple of typical blood-soaked, drug-addled workdays while the producer and distributor of her films, Max (Halsell), plots to sell her boyd and soul to a corrupt cop named Stein (McCauley) so he can secure his entry into a walled city as a full citizen.


"Johnny Sunshine" is a film that mixes the cyberpunk and zombie movie genres quite effectively. It's a natural mix, as heartless societies are the mainstay of both (at least in the "after the fall" mode). It's a film that I sat down to watch, expecting to love, despite its obvious low budget.

But, then the torture porn started. I'm not talking "torture porn' in the "Saw" sense here... I mean literal torture porn. Long sequences of it. Sequences where our "heroine" rips a man's tongue out with a pair of pliers while having sex with him, and another where she rapes a young woman to death with a crowbar.

It was horrible stuff, and it was beyond my tolerance limit. I'm already a little squeamish when it comes to movie violence, but throw in sex at the same time and you've made a movie that isn't for me.

The on-screen snuff porn aspect aside, there's an interesting storyline unfolding in the film that details the complete and total corruption of society, and it presents a healthy dose of George Romero-esque social satire on the whole reality TV movement that's been taking every media segment by storm. The story would have been a little stronger if there had been something likable about Johnny, but it's hard to care about the fate of a character after you've watched her rape a girl to death with a crowbar. The ending is in keeping with the tone of the film and Johnny's personality and it actually made me revise my overall opinion of the film upward. it's actually one of those rare perfect endings and it shows that screenwriter Sean-Michael Argo has a keen sense of story (crowbar-rape scenes aside).

The acting in the film is a better than average for what is usually found in this kind of movie made with this kind of budget and Shey Bland is an attractive and charismatic actress (which gives the Johnny Sunshine character more appeal that she might otherwise have had given the repulsive things she does). The make-up effects and fight scenes are average, which means they fight choreography leaves something to be desired and more than once it's obvious that blows don't connect due either to bad camera placement or actors not hitting their marks properly.

If you can stomach the repulsive sexual violence in this film, it is actually a nice little hybrid genre picture. It makes me wonder what director Matt Yaeger and writer Argo might come up with if they do a second movie. I see talent here, and I'm interested in seeing how it develops with experience. I likewise hope to see Shey Bland again in the future--this is her first and, so far, only film credit--as she appears to be an interesting and talented actress.




Monday, September 20, 2010

'Biting the hand that feeds you' has another meaning when cannibalism is involved

The Severed Arm (1973)
Starring: David G. Cannon, Paul Carr, Marvin Kaplan, and Deborah Wally
Director: Thomas S. Alderman
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

Trapped by a cave-in in a remote, abandoned mine, five men cut the arm off of another companion in order to ward off starvation. Five years later, the man they mutilated seemingly returns to seek bloody revenge on them. Viewer boredom and an utterly predictable "twist" follow.


"The Severed Arm" is a low-budget film that's too slow-moving to be a real thriller and nowhere near intense or violent enough to even approach the status of slasher-flick. With its bland, badly acted characters, dippy electronic score (that sounds at times like someone is just pushing random keys on a Moog synthesizer), and its multitude of plot holes and characters behaving stupidly for no reason other than to advance the plot, there really isn't much to recommend this film aside from the occassional glimmer of creative camera work and some nice lighting of night scenes and dark rooms. The final few minutes do finally manage to bring a little bit of horror sensibility to the film, but it's really too little, too late. (In addition to being pretty much be exactly where I was expecting the movie to head all along.)

In fact, I think the only reason to see this film is to look at those nicely done lighting set-ups. On a couple of occassions, they manage to evoke some drama in this otherwise dull movie. (On the flipside of that, there's also an extended night sequence that's so badly lit it's hard to figure out what the heck is happening.)



Saturday, September 18, 2010

Saturday Scream Queen: Irene Ware


Irene Ware is among one of the most under-appreciated actresses of the 1930s, both in her own time and now. She might not have had Fay Wray's pipes in the screaming department, but few damsels in distress have ever had the ability to light up the screen whenever they appeared... not to mention elevate entire movies by just being in them.

Irene Ware used $1,000 won in a 1926 beauty contest to move to Hollywood in search of show-business stardom. Like many actresses her day, she appeared in movies of every possible genre, but in almost every role she showed amazing grace and poise. These qualities shined especially brightly during her starring turns in "The Dark Hour", the "Return of Chandu" serial and "The Raven," one of the best films that Bela Lugosi appeared in.

As the 1930s wore on, Ware found herself getting smaller and smaller parts, rather than moving up the starlet food chain. In 1940, Irene Ware retired permanently from screen acting after marrying writer John Meehan. She passed away in 1993.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

'God of Vampires' is okay fusion of genres

God of Vampires (2010)
Starring: Dharma Lim, Ben Wang, Morris Chung, Evan Lam, Shy Theerakulstit, and Jason Argento
Director: Rob Fitz
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

Hit man Frank Ng (Lim) knows that in his line of work one kills first and asks questions later. But when a contract brings him into direct conflict with a powerful Chinese vampire lord, Frank discovers that he probably should have asked some questions. With undead stalking and killing everyone around him--even those he happens to pass on the street--Frank turns to an underground doctor and specialist in the occult (Wang) for help. But can even ancient Chinese secrets stop the wrathful onslaught of the undead?


"God of Vampires" is one of those movies that was a labor of undying love and the product of unyielding dedication. Director/co-writer Rob Fitz and his cast of actors have been spending weekends for ten years working on this film. Interviews with cast members and one of the directors of photography, as well as behind-the-scenes documentary footage included on the recently released DVD chronicle the often-times difficult, more-often-than-not stressful process of part-time filmmaking on a tiny budget. These extras are worth the price of the DVD by themselves if you're thinking about making a movie with your buddies, or perhaps even trying to move it up a step and actually get real talent to work with you on it. They are also interesting viewing and far more useful than the usual promotional crap masquerading as documentary material one usually finds on DVDs.

But, from a horror movie viewer's perspective, did the ten years of blood (both real and fake), sweat, and tears pay off?

For the most part, yes. The film is an interesting fusion of the horror and action genres that has at its center a Chinese spin on vampires and undead that many of us who consume a steady diet of coffin-sleeping emos with vaguely eastern European-sounding names will find fresh and usual. The action is generally well-staged--even if there are a couple of points where creative camera placement is used in attempts to hide a few budget short-falls and the limits to what could be done stunt-wise and location-wise--with the fights scenes being exceptionally well-staged for a film at this level of production. The acting is also superior to what I've come to expect from low-budget films. Finally, Fitz and his cinematographers had a great sense for dramatic visuals, and they picked great locations and then maximized them with some excellent camera-work. All in all, I don't think I've come across a more enjoyable fusion of vampire lore since the first time it was done with "The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires."

However, the film does have its flaws. The biggest of these is the fact that when it should be building to a frenetic climax, it seems instead to slow down. From the point where our group of in-over-their-head vampire killers walk up to the vampire lord's lair in cool-looking slow-motion, what had been a fast-moving film suddenly feels like it is dragging, despite all the violence and mayhem that is unfolding. Even the final battle between Frank and the vampire lord seems like it goes on for a little too long, despite the fact that it features some nice stunt-fighting and sword-play. Part of the problem is that for the first time in the film there are times when characters stop to deliver lines or jokes at times that are completely out of step with the overall flow of events, but a bigger problem is that it's difficult to follow what's going on because many of the scenes during these important climactic battles were either underlit or the film was over-exposed. While one problem could have been fixed with some re-evaluation of the final cut, the other one was probably insurmountable with a movie made by part-timers over the span of a decade.

All in all, though, the good outweighs the bad, and this DVD is worth a look by both lovers of vampire movies and those contemplating making films themselves.





(Oh... and all the gore and gun-play effects are done the old-fashioned way, with squibs and blood-packs and real firearms loaded with blanks. None of this digital nonsense that is showing up everywhere. "God of Vampires" is Exhibit #1 in the case that the old ways are still the best ways when it comes to movie violence.)

Words from the biggest of Terror Titans:
Osama bin Laden's Twitter Feed

When I heard that Osama bin Laden had taken to spreading the world about Jihad, Islam, and Life In General on Twitter, I knew I had to add his semi-daily words and insights to this blog. After all, if there is a terror titan, I'm sure we can all agree that it's Osama bin Laden.

Click here to access Osama bin Laden's Twitter postings, or check out the sidebar on the right where I've got a syndication feed.

(Pictured are Osama bin Laden and his long-time gay lover Ayman al-Zawahiri. Don't ask what they're doing with their right hands.)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Press Release:
Attention filmmakers and horror fans!


Scary or Die Entertainment is proud to announce the launch of their new website dedicated to supporting fellow filmmakers and their fans in the horror community. They are launching scaryordie.com on September 28th with their 1st annual HORROR SHORT FILM FESTIVAL.

Just go to scaryordie.com to register and submit your short horror film. There is no registration fee for the festival this year.

Eligible films must be 30 minutes or less in length, and it is okay to submit films that have already been shown at other film festivals or that are currently under consideration at other festivals. They must also be submitted before mid

All movies submitted BEFORE midnight September 21st would be eligible. Then, for the next two weeks, votes will be counted and the top three vote getters will receive the POPULAR VOTE AWARD. All filmed *submitted will be judged by the fans. The most votes, wins! It’s that simple.

Additionally, a panel of known industry vets will be voting for their top three video selections for a SPECIAL JURY AWARD. Hosted by Ivonna Cadaver and Spooky Dan Walker, the award ceremony will be held in Los Angeles in mid October and will be streamed around the world LIVE on scaryordie.com. All winning videos will screen at the ceremony.

Prizes will include, a FREE WEEKEND at a world famous HORROR FILM BOOT CAMP in Los Angeles and other prizes from well known manufacturers that every filmmaker will love, plus your video will première online at THE destination horror website in world!

Additionally all winning videos will be screened live during the SCARY OR DIE launch party in Los Angeles, CA

About the Site
In addition to up to the minute horror news, live streaming events, social network and contests, this site is a place where independent filmmakers can upload their horror shorts, have them rated by viewers and get international exposure from fans around the world.

Immediately after the initial launch, SCARY OR DIE ENTERTAINMENT will be streaming original content both in episodic series form and feature films…ALL WITHOUT A STUDIO AGENDA!

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

'The Expedition' is a decent
'faux documentary'


The Expedition (2006)
Starring: Anthony Cortese, Norman McIsaac, Nigel Hartwell, Bill Lucas, Jessica Brant, and Tom Kring
Director: Nigel Hartwell
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

Five young filmmakers (Brant, Cortese, Hartwell, Kring and Lucas) sneak into a massive decaying structure that once housed an asylum in Saratoga County on October 31, 2004, with the intent of getting footage for a documentary. One of their number never emerged.

"The Expedition" is one of several films I've seen that tries to capture that one-time fluke that was "The Blair Witch Project" and it's one of the best attempts so far. The acting is very naturalistic and believable--better perhaps than it was even in "Blair Witch" as the characters here are a less prone to go straight for the hystrionics--and the whole set-up from beginning to end is very believable.

Unfortunately, the film suffers from some serious pacing issues. Entirely too much time is spent showing the characters wandering from decaying room to decaying room and meandering up stair wells and down hallways without much happening except idle chatter. Whenever something DOES happen, it's well done and often subtle... but then it's followed by more meandering, because the characters don't notice the strange thing that happened. (The camera catches it but they don't.)

The upshot is that the ends up being realistic on another level: It captures the real feeling of being on a film shoot... insofaras if you're not invovled in something that's going on at the time, it's almost as boring as watching paint dry.

There's the further problem that director Hartwell has a massive building to play with as far as staging his film, but he seems to only use the same few rooms and hallways as the film unfolds. If there had been a little more variation in the environment, the film might have been a little more exciting, although the biggest problem really is the pace. With a running time approaching two hours, "The Expedition" is in need of some serious trimming, perhaps losing as much as 10 or 15 minutes of running time.



Monday, September 13, 2010

'Dead Dudes in the House' should stay there

Dead Dudes in the House (1991)
Starring: Mark Zobian and Naomi Kooker
Directors: J. Rifflel and Edgar Lewis
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

A group of 20-something men and women set out to restore a decaying mansion that one of them have bought for an amazingly low price. As they get ready for work, one of them maliciously breaks a tombstone in the backyard, and, in doing so, awakens a pair of malevolent spirits that inhabit the house. What follows is a night of terror as our protagonists are stalked and killed one by one. They don't stay dead for long, though...

"Dead Dudes in the House" is a so-so low-budget effort that's a cross between a slasher flick and a haunted house movie. While I have the sense that the filmmakers never been within three miles of anyone involved with renovating a house, they did create a film that distinguishes itself with having a rare set of horror movie main characters that generally behaved as though they actually had brains in their heads.

As a "killer in the house" slasher movie, "Dead Dudes" works pretty well. The victims even try to keep in a group rather than splitting up! As a ghost film, it is somewhat lacking.

The film never gives us any good reason for WHY the ghosts are bent on killing everyone who enters the house, including a couple of teen boys who get added late in the film. (Okay, so they oogle the ghost of the daughter, but that's hardly a reason since she invites them to do so.) The reason might be "because they're insane"--terrible things did happen to the women who haunt the house--but I'm not sure that reason holds up. In any case, there's no explanation for why their victims reanimate as homicidal killers themselves. (Although... I suppose this means "Dead Dudes" was ahead of its time, because the ghosts in the Japanese and American sequels to "The Grudge" seem to be likewise poorly motivated.)

Maybe I'm just thinking too hard, but I would probably have given this film another Star if it had given me a satisfactory answer to those questions.





(This is one of the movies featured in 150 Movies You Should (Die Before You) See. It's one of better efforts spotlighted in the "Terrible Monster Movies" chapter.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

'The Hitcher' is a nightmare on the open road

The Hitcher (1986)
Starring: C. Thomas Howell, Rutger Hauer, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jeffrey DeMunn
Director: Robert Harmon
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

A young man (Howell) driving through a lonely stretch of desert escapes death at the hands of a self-destructive homicidal maniac (Hauer), only to find himself hunted both by the killer and the police.


The original 1986 "The Hitcher" is a movie that wastes no time in getting started--barely five minutes in, our hero, Jim Halsey, picks up the insane hitchhiker John Ryder, setting of a terrying chain of ever-intensifying and expanding mayhem that don't stop until the end credits start to roll. And if you haven't heard much about the film, its one that will surprise you at every plot twist--it really IS as clever and unexpected as the filmakers believed it to be.

In fact, "The Hitcher" is one of those movies that a reviewer can ruin by writing too much about, so I'm just going to say that the film moves at a pace faster than the cars involved in the numerous chases in the film, it's intense and scary witha minimum of on-screen gore, and every actor featured gives excellent performances. In fact, Rutger Hauer creates one of the greatest villains to ever grace the silver screen in this picture.

If you've never seen "The Hitcher" and you are a fan of thrillers and horror movies, you MUST see this film. (If you've seen the remake, some of the surprises may be ruined--based on stills I've seen, some of the "iconic" moments repeat between the two versions--so I'm not sure if it's a must-see in that case. I haven't seen the remake, so I don't actually know how the two compare. But, given how few of the modern remakes are any good, I suspect the original will still blow your socks off.)




Saturday, September 11, 2010

Saturday Scream Queen: Helga Liné


Born in 1939, German actress Helga Liné spent her teenage years primarily as a circus acrobat and photo model, but when she moved to Spain at the age of 21, her acting career took off.

Between the years of 1960 and 1980, Liné appeared in over 100 movies, most of the horror films, but her acting talent, not to mention her great beauty and flame-red hair also graced thrillers, westerns, fantasy films, and sci-fi pictures.

All-aboard 'The Horror Express'!

Horror Express (1973)
Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Sylvia Totorsa, Telly Savalas, and Helga Line
Director: Eugenio Martin
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

A British explorer (Lee) finds what he believes to be proof of Darwin's theory of evolution high in a frozen mountain glacier on a mountain in northern China. As he is transporting the frozen carcas back to the West on the Trans-Siberian express, a weasely collegue/competitor (Cushing) decides to get a look at the find, and inadvertently unleashes a horror that has lain dormant for tens of thousands of years. It quickly becomes apparent that no-one onboard the train is safe as it makes its way across the frozen wilderness....


"Horror Express" is another one of those movies I remember being scared by as a kid. Specifically, the scene where the Kozak leader (played by Telly Savalas(!)) and his men are battling the monster in a darkened traincar. This is one of those films that is exactly as scary as I remember it!

A bit slow-moving at times, "Horror Express" still provides plenty of chills and shocks... and even a couple of unexpected plot-twists. The lighting, camera-work, and special effects all help underscore the growing tension in the film--even if some of the FXs are a bit cheesy--and the actors are all very good, despite the fact that this is one of those international European production where a dozen different languages were being spoken on the set. Lee and Cushing in particular shine; I think this movie features some of the better performances given by either one of them.

I think this is a must-see if you're a fan of Cushing, Lee, or the Hammer Films-style of movies.


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Friday, September 10, 2010

'Resident Evil: Afterlife' is best since original

Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010)
Starring: Milla Jovovich, Ali Larter, Boris Kodjoe, Wentworth Miller, and Shawn Roberts
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

After destroying Umbrella Corp's headquarters with an army of clones, the sole surviving Alice (Jovovich) goes in search of Arcadia, the one place in the world where the zombies don't prey on the living. But Arcadia won't give up its secrets easily.


"Resident Evil: Afterlife" is, as some critics might say, a spectacular thrill-ride. The quiet moments in this film are few and far between, and even when they happen, they are pregnant with the promise that violence, mayhem, and bloodshed is about to erupt all over again. It works both as a video-game adaptation--like in previous installments of the series, you can feel the story progressing through "the levels" and this one even has obvious "boss encounters" along the way--and as an over-the-top action film.

Although I think this is the best film in the series since the original, it's not a horror movie; that's one aspect the first film had that this one doesn't. This is an exciting action film that's full of zombies... and even has a few scary moments here and there.

While I was entertained and engaged throughout the whole movie, nothing in it quite topped the opening sequence with all the Alices storming Umbrella HQ... for once, a "Resident Evil" film not only acknowledged but also lived up to the promise of the sequel hook at the end of the previous film. Some of the sequences came close--like Alice and Claire's fight against an axe-wielding super-zombie, and Alice's running battle with a hoard of zombies consisting of half the population of Los Angeles--but Anderson really gave the best the film had to offer in the first few minutes. (Or maybe I just feel that way because I've been hoping for that sequence for the past three years.)

Character-wise, there isn't much to say. Milla Jovovich is really the only person who has an opportunity to act in the film, even if it generally just consists of being a bad-ass. She is in nearly every scene, however, so it says quite a bit about her charisma and presence that she can carry an entire movie like she does here.

Of course, the gimmick of 3D also helps, and it's a gimmick that's put to full and complete use in virtually every frame of the film. Some uses are subtle, some are funny, and some make the film's couple of "boo!-gotcha!" moments even more startling, but they are all very effective. I still don't like 3D--I had to move to another seat because the runner lights on the theater steps were reflecting off the glasses, and I once again ended up with a mild headache at the end--but I have to say that this is probably the best 3D movie I've yet to see, and it has managed to weaken my hostility ever-so-slightly.

If you liked other "Resident Evil" movies, if you like Milla Jovovich in her bad-ass comic-book warrior chick mode, and if you like the 3D gimmickery, I'm certain you'll love this movie.


Thursday, September 9, 2010

Fear-filled Phantasms: Closed Beaches

Why do some beaches "close" after Labor Day?

Because it's the start of Monster Mating Season.




'Urban Flesh: Rebirth Edition' brings underground classic to DVD, new century

Urban Flesh: Rebirth Edition (2007)
Starring: Martin Dubreuil, Mireille Leveque, Marie-Eve Petit, K.M Lavigne, Anthony Pereira, and Marc Vaillancourt
Director: Alexandre Michaud
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

Four thrill-killers (Dubreuil, Petit, Pereira, and Vaillancourt) prowl a the night of a Canadian city in search of victims to kill... and to then eat raw. As a homicide detective (Lavigne) closes in on them, he and his wife (Leveque) are added to their menu.

"Urban Flesh" is something of an underground legend among fans of gore movies. It was made on a shoestring budget by Canadian filmmaker Alexandre Michaud with the intention of selling it through mail-order catalogues. However, it ended up banned in England, Germany, and the director's homeland of Canada... and I'm sure this has helped its cult status along greatly.

I've never seen the original version of the film, but I was recently supplied with a copy of the "Rebirth Edition" by director and co-writer Alexandre Michaud. This will mark the film's debut on DVD, and, as it will be distributed by Sub-Rosa Studios, it may even find its way to a wider audience than ever before.

The recut version of "Urban Flesh" was produced from digitized versions of the original videotapes, and there are a couple of places where the now ten-year-old tapes are showing that they were starting to decay. These are only minor flaws, however, and in general, the film looks pretty good for a shot-on-video film from that period. In fact, I'm very impressed with the overall quality of the movie, given that this was Michaud's first feature. It's a better work than some directors mount on their fourth or fifth tries.

In an interview that's included on the DVD, Michaud mentions that the recut "Rebirth Edition" has been shortened from its original run-time of 100 minutes. I have no sense of what was in the original, but I can say that this is one of those films that I had to take a step back from and acknowledge that I am not its target audience, because if I'd been doing the editing, I may have been tempted to shorten the film even further. Unfortunately, I'd probably have been cutting material that is the very thing that appeals to those who would seek this movie out.

The main point of this movie is its shocking gore, and I think "gorehounds" will get a tremendous kick out of it. As for myself, I found the extended scenes of our modern cannibals munching on entrails somewhat dull. I also found myself wondering if they'd ever heard of blood-born diseases, and if they were big fans of sushi before they took to eating the citizens of Montreal.

If you watch movies for gore, I think you'll enjoy this one quite a bit. If you watch movies for shocks and horror, I think you'll enjoy it as well. The film contains one of the most shockingly repulsive scenes I've ever come across in a movie, and all the way up to the point where it happens, I kept thinking Michaud would back off from it. But then, this IS a movie that was banned in three countries. (It's a scene that involves a pregnant woman and four cannibalistic psychopaths looking for "something different". Think of the absolutely most horrible implication of that, and you'll know what's in this movie.)

However, if you're picky about plot and structure, you might enjoy this movie a little less. It delivers the gore, it delivers horrific moments, and it even delivers some decent performances on the part of the actors, (who, for the most part are excellent at the absolute hardest kind of acting there is: They manage to come across as perfectly natural and as if they aren't acting), but it is very weak in the script department.

The climactic murder and killing session with the cop and his wife come about through coincidence rather than design on the part of the killers... and a coincidence that monumental is harder for me to suspend my disbelief over than that four gore-covered, bloodspattered murderers could wander city streets without attracting police attention, or leaving a trail of witnesses. Adn then there's the problem that the movie ends before it even seems close to being over. Our heroine (Mireille Leveque as the police detective's wife who is tortured and captured by the cannibals) is fighting back... and then the movie just ends. We don't learn her final fate, we don't learn what happens to all the killers... the movie's just over and way too many threads hanging for my tastes. (It DOES end on a very creepy image... but I still would have liked something that came close to approximating an ending.)

For all my complaining, however, I think this is a decent movie. In fact, it may even be a good movie, as it did leave me feeling creeped-out and just a little sickened. I'm certain it's a work that should appeal to its "gorehound" target audience, and it will even have an impact on those who aren't neccesarily big fans of gore (like me).



Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Xtro: One of the creepiest monster flicks

Xtro (1983)
Starring: Bernice Steger, Phillip Seyer, Maryam D'Abo, and Simon Nash
Director: Harry Bromley Davenport
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

Three years after being abducted by aliens, Sam (Seyer) returns a very different man, and he passes his gooey, gory alien powers onto his young son (Nash).



When I first saw this movie as a kid, it freaked the heck out of me. The father coming back and spreading alien corruption throughout the household, the way the son was transformed, and the way he in turn went after the horny au-paire (D'Abo)... even the creepy way he made deadly things appear with his mental powers. It all seemed very, very scary.

I suspect someone watching the film with less jaded eyes than mine could still find "Xtro" scary. At this point, I find still find some of the movie quite disturbing--Sam's method of returning to human form was not something I recalled, and it is definately creepy; the alien egg-laying scene; and the final scene with the mother... well, up to a point with that one--but in general, I now view this film mostly with a sense of frustration because there are two fundamental things that spoil it for me.

First, there's the fact that there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of rhyme or reason to what the characters do, alien or otherwise. In fact, some of the things that happen are pure "Stupid Character Syndrom"--a character does something just to make sure the plot doesn't come to screeching halt, even if a vaguely intelligent person would take any one of numerous different options.

Second, the director and/or scriptwriter simply doesn't know when enough is enough, and this spoils a number of what otherwise would have been excellent, very scary moments. The movie's ending is the ultimate example of this. I won't go into details, because I would spoil it, but suffice to say, the filmmakers ruin a perfectly good ending. If they had been smart, the film would be about 5-10 seconds shorter.

On the upside, we do get to see D'Abo prance around in absolutely nothing, and the acting is uniformly bland (not quite bad... just flat) so no one stands out as good or bad. Gorehounds might also be impressed with a number of scenes in film. The "Return of Sam" scene is a standout in that sense. "Xtro" also features a well-done electronic score, and those are few and far between.

Nonethless, this is a film that clocks in at the low end of average... although I admit my reaction may partially be due to it not living up to my memories of it. (Maybe I'll get the courage to watch "The Exorcist" again. It's the only movie I walked out because it scared me too badly.)





Saturday, September 4, 2010

Saturday Scream Queen: Ali Larter



Ali Larter began her modeling career at the age of 13 and made her first mark on horror films at the age of 23 with a starring turn in the remake of "House on Haunted Hill" in 1999. The following year, she helped kick off the most inexplicably popular horror series of all, "Final Destination", and she has also become a fixture of the "Resident Evil" series. In between, she starred in the television series "Heroes".

Larter splits her acting roles between comedies and horror films, and she still takes on the occassional modeling assignment.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Third 'Resident Evil' fun but forgettable

Resident Evil: Extinction (2007)
Starring: Milla Jovovich, Ali Larder, Iain Glen, Mike Epps, Oded Fehr, Spencer Locke, and Christopher Egan
Director: Russell Mulcahy
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

Five years after an accident in a top secret lab unleashed a virus that turns dead bodies into flesh-hungry, violent zombies, the world is overrun with undead. Pockets of survivors still exist, and Claire Redfern (Larder) leads a convey from place to plance, attempting to gather them and form strength in numbers. She eventually crosses paths with Alice (Jovovich), who is on the run from the creators of the virus. They consider her their property, and they want to back. Will Alice be the salvation of Claire and her mobile community, or will she bring doom to them all?


After getting over the dissapointment of the fact that "Resident Evil: Extinction" does NOT follow up on what seemed to be an obvious and very cool sequel set-up at the end of "Resident Evil: Apocalypse"--except with an brief exchange between Carlos (Fehr, the only returning castmember from the other film aside from Jovovich) and Alice--I came to appreciate this supposedly final film in the series for its "The Road Warrior Meets George Romero's Day of the Dead" vibe.

I can't praise the film for its script... it unfolds as though it was based on someone's "All Flesh Must Be Eaten" or "Dark Conspiracy" roleplaying campaign, as the fillm moves from horror-flavored, action-oriented horror encounter area to horror-flavored action-oriented encounter area. While the main story-thrust of the film is resolved and the main villain within reach gets his by the end of the film--and please say that's a spoiler... you KNOW that even before he shows up in the movie that the mad scientist is going to bite the dust during the final reel!--the film leaves so many dangling plot-threads that it feels more like the middle of a film series instead of the end. Just like a supposedly "climactic" session of a well-run (and continuing) roleplaying game session.

I also can't really praise the acting in this film, because I don't think there was any. (I know that's not true... the apparently lack of acting is acting in and of itself, as anyone who's seen more than two or three low-budget indie horror movies will confirm). But, the film is so devoid of anything but action that there's no need for the actors to do anything but run around and shoot off blanks and beat on extras in zombie make-up. Jovovich does a little acting when she first wakes up at what seems to be the beginning of first "Resident Evil" movie, and then later when she comes upon the cornerstone of Umbrella Corporation's latest project, but she isn't exactly required to stretch herself.

I am, however, impressed with movie's breakneck pace and how it kept me entertained... and even how it shocked and startled me with violent zombie attacks. The zombie crow sequence was also expertly staged and executed, and it was one of the scariest sequences I've seen in recent cinema. Yes, it was remincent of both "The Birds" and "Night of the Living Dead"... but I wouldn't have thought that borrowing from two such different classics could result in something so nifty.

There isn't a scrap of padding in the film. It promises to deliver zombies and lots of gory violence, and it delivers on that in spades. While part of me would have liked a slightly more structured plot, the overall film still worked for me. I also didn't mind the fact that the end of the film really isn't all that much of an ending--instead, it opens up branches to two possible sequels. Maybe that's because I've been running running roleplaying game campaigns for some 30 years now, and that's exactly how I like to "end" my campaigns. I want to always keep openings so the fun can continue, if the players are willing.

"Resident Evil: Extinction" is not a masterpiece. In fact, it's probably downright forgettable, and I am certain that in a week, my memories of it will be as vague as those I have of the first two, but while in the theater, I enjoyed myself immensely.



Thursday, September 2, 2010

Writer is targeted by a mysterious killer
(Think you can guess the surprise ending?)

Serial Killer (2002)
Starring: Adam Berasi and Vic Badger
Director: Ryan Cavalline
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

The family of a non-fiction writer specializing in serial killers (Berasi) is targeted by a mysterious murderer who is upset over being left out of his latest book.


"Serial Killer" is a no-budget picture that features terrible acting, worse camerawork, and some very ugly abusese of women. However, it does manage to invoke a consistent sense of dread (at least when you aren't marveling at the non-acting of the film's star, Berasi. There are also some elements that seem painfully amatuerish--like the scene where I was wondering if anyone had a clue as to how to properly light a set--that might be intentional when viewed in context of the Big Reveal at the end.

(The Big Reveal twist ending isn't really much of a twist, but it did make me feel more forgiving toward the sloppy plotting of the movie. It isn't enough to save this mess, and it is clumsily executed, but it does shed light on what I think Cavalline was trying to accomplish at other points in the film. I can't go into more detail without spoiling the plot... although if you seen one or two other "writer is stalked by mysterious killer" flicks, you may know what the "shock ending" reveals.)

This fillm is better than director Ryan Cavalline's "Day of the Ax"--which I reviewed at Movies You Should (Die Before You) See--but it's still not quite worth the time it'll take you to watch it...unless you're the world's biggest fan of "torture porn" flicks. You might find this one mildly entertaining. There are lots of scenes of tied-up naked women talking about how they were captured.

And, while I don't recommend the movie, I want to reiterate the fact that I was impressed with Cavalline's ability to permeate the entire fillm with a mood or horror and dread, despite his limited means. If only more horror films that have budgets bigger than $1.45 could master this, maybe a few horror movies would do better at the box office.