Saturday, September 29, 2012

Saturday Scream Queen: Erica Leerhsen

The daughter of a gossip sheet editor, Erica Leerhsen was born and raised in New York City. In 1998, she graduated summa cum laude from the Boston University College of Fine Arts with a BFA in Acting..

Leerhsen's first major film role was in "Blair Witch 2: The Book of Shadows" (2000), a valiant, but misbegotten, attempt at blazing a new path following the runaway success of the "found footage film" that launched a thousand imitators "The Blair Witch Project".

For the past decade, Leerhsen has remained busy with occasional guest-shots or ongoing supporting roles on various television dramas, and most her her big-screen time being divided between appearing in horror films, such as the remake of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (2003), "Living Hell", "Wrong Turn 2: Dead End" (2007); "Living Hell" (2008), and "Lonely Joe" (2009); and Woody Allen films, such as  "Hollywood Ending" (2002) and "Anything Else" (2003).

Leehrsen has also made inroads into the theatre, appearing in stage productions such as Woody Allen's "A Second Hand Memory" in 2005. However,. she remains a front-and-center scream queen--with a heavy emphasis on scream, as there is no question that Leehrsen has one of the best set of shrieking pipes in the business today--and this past year she starred in the psychological thriller "The Message" and appeared as part of an all-star cast in "The Butterfly Room".

Leehrsen recently completed work on "Phobia", a Victorian-period horror film in which she plays a doctor treating a patient who may or may not be a vampire. It was screened for cast and crew earlier this month, but no release date has been announced as of yet.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

If you end up watching 'Wrong Turn',
you may have chosen badly.

Welcome to the first Wrong Turn Wednesday... even if I'm already starting to regret the decision to watch and reveiw these flicks as part of the build-up to Halloween..

Wrong Way (2002)
Starring: Desmond Herrington, Eliza Dushku, Emmanuelle Chriqui, and Jeremy Sisto
Director: Rob Schmidt
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

A group of twenty-something beautiful people are stalked and brutally murdered by mutant cannibal hicks in the deep woods of West Virginia.

If you've seen even one killer redneck movie, you've already seen everything "Wrong Way" has to offer. They may do it better here--depending on what film you watched--but it brings nothing new to this slasher film sub-genre. The characters you expect to survive do so, and the characters you expect to get killed fall in predictable order. The film feels like the writers and director were working form a list of check boxes of genre tropes and once they got them all included, they felt their work was done.

There is nothing all that good about this film, but there is also nothing outright awful. The scene in and around the old observation tower is the high point of the movie (hurh-hurh... I made a pun), but it is nowhere enough to elevate this cookie-cutter, lazy genre film above its mediocre status.

What's more, the good will that scene earns this picture evaporates during the its climax where the filmmakers show us that not only are they not terribly original, they don't know when enough is enough and subsequently manage to transform the final fight stand of the Beautiful People against the Hideous Hicks from thrilling to ludicrous.

(By the way, filmmakers... if you want to make a movie about mutant cannibal hicks who have murdered so many people that they have a whole glade full of cars, you might want to NOT have them start killing cops and forest rangers. I can kinda-sorta accept that everyday people might be written off... but when it's law enforcement that starts going down, my ability to suspend disbelief goes down, too.

Unless you simply can't get enough of malformed cannibals haunting the back-country of West Virginia, or are a founding member of the Eliza Dushku or Jeremy Sisto fan clubs, "Wrong Turn" is a film you can safely skip.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Saturday Scream Queen: Jessica Whitaker

Jessica Whitaker is an up-and-coming young actress who was born and raised in Ohio, but who has studied  acting and music at schools in both New York City and Los Angeles, She has had bit parts on half-a-dozen television shows, including "Heroes" and "House", but it's her horror roles that interest us here.

Aside from a minor role in Bryan Ryan's off-center horror short "The Guest", Whitaker has starred in "Killjoy 3: Killjoy's Revenge" and "Killjoy Goes to Hell", both directed by John Lechago for Charles Band's Full Moon Features. Whitaker shows a great deal of charisma in these horror comedies, and I hope she'll become a Full Moon go-to brunette like Megan Ward and Charlie Spradling as she builds her career toward bigger and better things. She certainly has both talent and looks.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

'Carny' is a decent monster flick

Carny (2009)
Starring: Lou Diamond Phillips, Simone-Elise Girad and A.C. Petersen
Director: Sheldon Wilson
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

When a honest-to-God monster escapes from the carnival freak show where it has been on display, a small-town sheriff (Phillips) faces danger not just from the monster itself but from those around him and their hidden agendas.

"Carny" is one of those rare films that showed up on TV under the "A SyFy Original Movie" banner that is a great monster flick. The special effects are a little dodgy at times, but the acting is decent all around, the dialogue is solid, the characters are well enough drawn that the viewer comes to care about them, and the story is well-paced. The final showdown between hero Lou Diamond Phillips and the escaped creature is one of the better monster fights to grace a first-run film on the SyFy Channel.

I wouldn't be surprised if it shows up again this October--it should... it's one of their better films. Check it out if it does.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Saturday Scream Queen: Aryana Engineer

This Saturday's Scream Queen is more a Scream Princess at this point. Aryana Engineer is an a Candadian child actress of Iranian/Scottish descent. She was born partially deaf and can use sign language as effectively as she speaks English.

Her skill with sign language led to her gaining her first film role at the age of six, appearing as a young deaf girl in the 2009 horror film "The Orphan". She  most recently appeared in the just released "Resident Evil: Retribution", basically playing herself... as she might be if she was in a world where the T-Virus started turning people into murderous zombies.

In addition to her film roles, Engineer has appeared in television ads. She will hopefully continue to develop as an actress and in a decade or so, she will appear here as a full-fledged Scream Queen.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Did they leave out the story?

Resident Evil: Retribution (2012)
Starring: Milla Jovovich, Sienna Guillory, Michelle Rodriguez, Bingbing Lee, Aryana Engineer, Boris Kodjoe, Johann Urb, Shawn Roberts, and Oded Fehr
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

After years of opposing the monster-creating Umbrella Corp, Alice (Jovovich) is finally captured with no hope of escape... that is until she receives help from an unexpected source. But between her and freedom are clones of her old allies... and her old friend Jill Valentine (Guillory), now a remote-controlled slave to the Red Queen--the artificial intelligence who has now taken complete control of the compajny and all its bases.

After the two most recent installments in this series, I had cautious high hopes for this one, hoping that it would would continue the upwards trajectory in story quality and innovative action that we saw in those two films.

Unfortunately, it was not to be so. This installment in the series returns the "Resident Evil" film series to its computer gaming roots by (to borrow a phrase from Joe Bob Briggs) not featuring much story to get in the way of the plot, and by featuring even less character development.

Instead of being called "Resident Evil: Retribution", it should have been titled "Resident Evil: Run Away!" because all we really have here is Alice and/or other characters running from one zombie fight to another zombie fight, and ultimately to the film's conclusion which sets up another sequel. Basically, this feels like an interlude between "Resident Evil: Afterlife" and the next movie in the series instead of a movie that was made to enjoy on its own.

That isn't to say there aren't some good scares and plenty of the zombie-killing action in the flick... I would just like to have a little more story along with the mayhem. Jovovich once again shows herself to be the Queen of Green-screen Fu--and the final showdown in frozen northern Russia is quite exciting, but the film really needed more of a story that four lines written on the back of one of Paul W.S. Anderson's business cards.

Big-time Jovovich fans like me may enjoy this film and not mind the outrageous ticket prices that you have to pay even at matinees now. Big-time fans of the computer games might enjoy this film and likewise not feel like they could have spent their money better--I don't know, as I've never played the computer game.. Anbd if you simply can't get enough of 3D movies, perhaps you'll find it worth the money as well. Those who have come to this film series through the previous films, or who are fans of zombie flicks, can safely wait until it's a cheap home rental, or until it shows up in second-run theaters... or even skip it entirely.

Bonus Scream Queen: Milla Jovovich

The Bonus Scream Queen... not just for Independence Day anymore!

Milla Jovovich makes a special Friday appearance as she returns for a third time to the Saturday Scream Queen series in celebration of today's release of "Resident Evil: Retribution".

Born in the Ukraine, Jovovich moved with her parents to the United States at a young age and she was an internationally renowned model by the time she was 13. She soon found even greater success as an actress, emerging as an equally familiar face to fans of action films, horror films, and quirky indie pictures alike.

While almost every film fan knows her as Leelu from "The Fifth Element" (1997), she is most famous for starring as the supercharged zombie killer Alice in the "Resident Evil" series. Click here to see reviews of the entire series, as well as all of Jovovich's past Saturday Scream Queen appearances.

You can see more of Jovovich in Shades of Gray's "The Milla Jovovich Quarterly" series, and in posts at Cinema Steve. (In case you can't tell, I'm quite a fan.)

Other horror films or thrillers starring Jovovich are "Ultraviolet" (2006), "A Perfect Getaway" and "The Fourth Kind" (both in 2009), and "Faces in the Crowd" (2011).

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Chuck Norris Fact: 'Hellbound' is blah

Hellbound (1994)
Starring: Chuck Norris, Calvin Levels, Sheree J. Wilson, and Christopher Neame
Director: Aaron Norris
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

A bizarre murder sets a pair of renegade Chicago police detectives (Levels and Norris) on the path to stopping the herald of Satan himself (Neame) from creating Hell on Earth.

As a concept, "Hellbound" must have seemed like a winner--Chuck Norris taking on then left hand of Satan and spin-kicking him right back to Hell. Unfortunately, the execution is severely lacking in Chuck Norris's only horror film.

For a mid-1990s buddy cop picture crossed with a horror film, this is a surprisingly sedate and predictable affair. It's almost as if the filmmakers couldn't bring themselves to embrace the wild potential of what was here and what they delivered is a collection of half-baked buddy cop cliches, a romantic interest for Norris to ill defined that the viewer barely cares that she is going to be sacrificed to Satan.

The film's cast doesn't help matters any. They were working with a mediocre script and they did not rise above the material. Calvin Levels, as the smart-mouthed comic relief sidekick to Norris's man of action, is so annoying you will find yourself wishing that he will be whacked, Sheree J. Wilson is once again a damsel-in-distress, but she phones in the performance of an already weakly defined character. Christopher Neame is sufficiently creepy as the demon walking the Earth, but he is under-utilized. And star Chuck Norris is... well, he's Chuck Norris. He is actually better here than in other films, although even he is let down by the half-hearted nature of the film with a less-than-apocalyptic final showdown between him and demons.

Unless you are a huge Chuck Norris fan, or haven't seen more than one or two buddy cop-style pictures, you won't be missing much if you take a pass on this movie.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Saturday Scream Queen: Michelle Rodriguez

Born in Texas, but raised in the Dominican Republic and New Jersey, Michelle Rodriguez has made a career out of playing tough women who might just as well kick your ass as say hello. She is perhaps best known for her recurring role as Letty in the "The Fast and the Furious" film series (which she returns to next year, despite her character being killed off in the fifth entry"Fast & Furious"... maybe they're adding street-racing zombies to the mix?

Speaking of zombies, Rodriquez has racked up a few horror credits since her film debut in 2000. Her second major role came as a zombie-killing cop in the original "Resident Evil" film in 2002, she traded punches with vampires in 2005's "Bloodrayne" while fearsome beasts sought to devour her in 2006's "The Breed".

Rodriguez returns to kill more zombies in "Resident Evil: Retribution", the latest installment in the videogame-inspired zombie action movie series which will be in theaters this coming Friday, September 14.

Friday, September 7, 2012

'Slices of Life' is interesting but flawed

Slices of Life (2011)
Starring: Kaylee Williams, Jack Guasta, Toya Turner, Thurston Hill, Deneen Melody, Galen Schloming, Helen Alter-Dyche, and Judith Lesser
Director: Anthony G. Sumner
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I love anthology films. There's a sense of fun about them that you don't get with other kinds of films--each segment is like a new movie and you never know what you're in for... and in the best of them, the framing sequence offers a little bonus story that may or may not tie in the others. Anthology films are like Forrest Gump's box of chocolate in every way.

Which brings me to "Slices of Life", a film I first watched early last year but never finished writing the review of for some reason. The initial notes and my memory both indicated that the film started weak and finished strong.

And sure enough, I my notes and memory were correct. The film is uneven in quality, but, ultimately the good outweighs the bad, making it a fun viewing experience if you can look past the sections where the ambitions of the director and special effects crew overreaches their budget and forgive some of the weaker actors for their transgressions.

Like the best anthology films, this one features a "bonus story" by way of a framing sequence that connects the other segments. A young woman (Kaylee Williams) wakes up on a lawn in front of a motel, not remembering who she is. The creepy owners insist she works there and that a trio of sketchbooks filled with elaborate drawings are hers. The girl paging through the sketchbooks are what leads us into the three stories within the framing story. These bridging sequences get creepier as the movie unfolds, and together they earn Six Stars.

First up is "Work Life: W.O.R.M.", the weakest of the three tales. In it, an unpleasant and isolated office worker (Jack Guasta) unleashes a nanite computer virus that turns all his co-workers into murderous zombies. He spends the rest of the segment trying to fend them off as he is chased through the building. While this could possibly have been an interesting and amusing cross between the cyberpunk and zombie genres, it ends up falling flat because writer/director Andrew Sumner chose to replace clever storytelling and characterization with a string of meta-references. Just like merely referencing other movies doesn't make a comedy like "Disaster Movie" funny, neither do wink-wink references to oher sci-fi and horror flicks make "Work Life" scary. It rates a generous Four Stars.

Things look up after that false start, however. With "Home Life: Amber Alert" Sumner delivers a tale of a very pregnant cop's wife (Toya Turner) who finds herself haunted by the ghosts of children who have been murdered by an elusive serial killer.  The way the hauntings are presented is quite scary and this could have been the best segment in the film, and certainly better than what is featured, if Sumner perhaps had trusted in the fact he had a powerful story here and refrained from engaging in cheap and predictable tricks as it built toward it's finale. What he probably thought was improving the segment actually undermines it, dispelling the atmosphere of dread that had been building with clumsy melodrama and unneeded gore. The segment also suffers from the fact that Thurston Hill gives a terrible performance that is made to look worse by the fact that Toya Turner is rather good in her part. This segment rates a low Six Stars, because of the way Sumner drops that ball toward the end.

The best episode of the film, "Sex Life: Pink Snapper", is the third and final story. It's a cleverly constructed tale that interweaves seemingly unrelated events involving a couple on the run (Deneen Melody and Galen Schloming). It's a story where the characters who are ostensibly the heroes of the piece are not exactly conventional and the villains are not at all what they seem to be. The segment draws its plot threads into a clever payoff that is just as creepy as it is satisfying due to the mixed feelings that viewers will have about the sort of poetic justice that is embodied by the fate of the various main characters.  The acting here is also more solid, with the entire cast giving a good accounting of themselves, and Deneen Melody being especially excellent as a heroine that's intentionally hard to like. This could easily have been a Seven Star segment if not for the fact that Sumner once again either didn't have faith in his story, or wanted to show off his horror geek-cred by tossing unrelated horror tropes into the segment. Yes... we all known Countess Bathory was a horrible, evil person, but did throwing references to her into this story doesn't add as much as it detracts because of its unnecessary randomness, and it drags the segment down to a rating of Six Stars.

When those ratings are averaged out, and Sumner's habit of mistaking horror cliches and references to other horror movies as story telling is taken into account, the entire package ends up rating a solid Five of Ten Stars.

"Slices of Life" is one of the better low-budget horror anthologies of the direct-to-DVD set. If you like the genre and the anthology format, I think you'll enjoy it. Sumner might also be a talent to look out for; if he had a little more faith in his material, I think he could deliver some excellent horror movies.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Saturday Scream Queen: Sienna Guillory

Sienna Guillory's parents encouraged her to express herself artistically as she was growing up and this lead to her decision to become an actor. Her mother had been a model, and Guilllory supplemented her acting income with modeling jobs, gracing many magazine covers and working for such high-profile brands as Armani.

Guillory's acting career has consisted of a mix of television and film projects, most of them historical dramas. However, she's also appeared in a number of horror films, such as "Superstition" in 2001, "Perfect Life" in 2010, and the slated-to-be-in-theaters on October 3 "The Wicked Within".

And, of course, Sienna Guillory has also portrayed the character Jill Valentine in the zombie-action films "Resident Evil: Apocalypse", "Resident Evil: Afterlife", and "Resident Evil: Retribution".

"Resident Evil: Retribution" will be in theaters on September 14.