Monday, April 30, 2018

The Final Destination (2009)

More turkeys for November

Time for another of my Public Service Announcements...

Let me first give you a timeline about where I stand with the "Final Destination" films.

Final Destination has a very special place in my heart because it was one of the very few films that actually got me to jump in an impact moment. The out-of-the-blue bus hit that has since been overdone and parodied to death by films. But I'm not ashamed to admit that it gave me a jolt when I first saw it, and I'm the type of person that people sitting next to are tempted to check for a pulse during a horror film. (Well, at least until I start chuckling at inappropriate moments.)

Final Destination 2 also gets major kudos from me for having what I consider one of the best multi-car crash sequences onscreen. When I first saw this one, I knew how to look for clues on how the characters were going to bite the dust and had a grand time trying to figure them out before it happened.

Final Destination 3 disappointed me after the obligatory disaster opening, this time on a roller coaster. When they brought in a camera that takes premonition photos (The Omen, anyone?) I disliked it because the photos gave way too much information for me to play my game of figuring out the spin on the deaths. Maybe I got a little jaded with the FD formula, but they did at least try to put in some misdirection.

And now... there's this fourth film. Honestly, the only thing that prompted me to want to see it in the cinema is because it was in 3D and I've never been disappointed with the opening disaster sequence in a Final Destination film.

That is, until now.

I'd like to strangle whoever decided to go with a race car accident. After such a beautiful job they did with FD2, I was concerned that they'd not be able to top that kind of multiple-death-by-vehicles. Sadly, I was right.

But even more upsetting, it's not even a challenge for me anymore. They gave the lead character a sort of psychic ability to give clues on the deaths. To be frank, the only way it could have been worse is if they stopped the action and then have some bloke with a chalkboard explain to the audience exactly what was going to happen before each scene. (Well, either that or just passing out copies of the script along with the 3D glasses.)

If I can take one look at a character's surroundings and then turn to Garith and say "pasta maker" a few minutes before anything nasty happens...than the Final Destination team is really dropping the ball. The film was so dumbed down that I was having a hard time getting through it.

Could the 3D have saved it? Maybe, if they would have utilized the technology. Instead, a good 95% of it was things coming straight at you... which meant you could literally see death coming a mile away. I wasn't terribly impressed with it at all, and thought there was a lot that could have been done to invoke the element of surprise that the first couple films did so well in 2D.

Oh, and you could create a drinking game with all the references to "180".

I can't recommend this film with a good conscience. Not even in 3D.

Info on IMDB: The Final Destination

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Monday, April 23, 2018

Martyrs (2008)

Martyrs is billed as being "One of the most ferocious horror films ever made" with good reason. It's pretty damned ferocious.

Once you understand how they define a martyr, that being someone who has gone through such an unthinkable amount of pain and suffering that they literally release their souls and see God, you know to expect that a film about making martyrs is going to be downright horrifying.

The story is told primarily in the victim's point of view, although once in a while we get some snippet of useful information when the tormentors chat amongst themselves. The emotions of confusion, haplessness, helplessness, and yes, even rage, are translated beautifully to the screen and it is almost painful to watch what the candidates for martyrdom endure.

The F/X team on this one really pulled out the stops, as did the prop people and set designers. The actors... entirely believable. Overall, I found it to be an amazing, if greatly disturbing, film.

It is a French film with English subtitles. I'm sure that much was lost in translation as the story can be a little confusing through the first hour or so.

However, once things begin to reveal themselves, it comes together nicely. Being a European film, the pacing is very different from standard American horror fare, so it does seem slow, even lagging, at times between the brutal bits. but with a little patience, it's all worthwhile in the end.

This film is most definitely not for the squeamish though.

Film Information: Martyrs

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Monday, April 9, 2018

Vacancy 2 (2008)

The last of the turkeys for November!

To sum this film up in just one word, I would have to say “confusing”.

Vacancy 2 is the prequel to the original Vacancy, which was a film about a hotel that doubles as a snuff film factory where unsuspecting travelers check in and are videotaped while being murdered. It’s sort of like Hostel without all the fun toys and pretty people.

Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but the very word “prequel” denotes that the film is about what happened before what was shown in the previous film. Given the nature of the story, that would also imply that the black hats come out on top and everything you may have been wondering about the first film is brought to light, right?

Yeah, I thought so too. Unfortunately, I don’t think the writers got the memo.

In the beginning, the story is plausible enough. A couple of blokes in charge of running a hotel in a remote location make a few bucks by videotaping honeymooners in action and then find themselves catching some very different antics on tape when a serial killer checks in for the night. After being advised that snuff outsells voyeuristic porn, they bring Mr. Killer in as a business partner and wait for the next batch of travelers to arrive.

You would think the outcome would be easy enough to predict, given that this is a prequel and all.

My best guess is that the writers and/or filmmakers decided that sticking to the tried-and-true formula of bad guys get their just desserts and at least one heroic good-guy needs to ride off into the sunset. The result being a lot of huge gaping plot holes that leave the viewer wondering how in the world the action of the first film ever got a chance to happen.

By the end of the film, I was left with the distinct impression that right before they wrapped up shooting someone on the set remembered that the film was supposed to be a prequel. That would certainly explain the quickly slapped-together ending to try to plug up some of those aforementioned plot holes.

If they do a “Vacancy 3”, it had damned well better include a few job fair scenes to show us exactly how the murderous hotel restocked itself with employees (especially after what I can only imagine would be a whopper of a lawsuit brought on by surviving guests). I’d also like to see a scene where the local police station is shut down for gross incompetence.

Oh, and one more thing… I almost fell asleep while watching it. To be honest, the only thing keeping my eyes open was my curiosity as to how they would possibly “fix” the ending.

Film information: Vacancy 2

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Monday, April 2, 2018

Dark Ride (2006)

A psycho-killer wrecks havoc within the walls of an old scary amusement park ride… no, we’ve never seen this before!

Of all the Horrorfest 2006 films I’ve seen so far, this is hands-down my least favorite of the series. Strangely enough, this was the film in the series on the top of my must-see list. Too bad the bloke who wrote the promotional synopsis was more convincing than the actual scriptwriter!

Asides from being terribly predictable, in the I-Can-Name-That-Ending-In-Three-Scenes sort of way, it is also poorly executed. There are only two good things I really have to say about this film.

First of all, the sets are pretty interesting, if not scary in a dark kind of way but rather scary in a ha-ha way. Not the typical cart ride in a box like you’d find at Coney Island. The “Dark Ride” here reminds me of a few haunted attractions that I've been through at over the years and at one point in the film it mentions having twenty-five rooms (although I only counted about eight.) But I can appreciate the d├ęcor of a horror attraction with a budget.

Secondly, however unrealistic and improbable, there is a decapitation scene that seems to literally play off as a pun about “giving head”, for which I’ll give kudos for creativity.

Otherwise it’s no different than your regular garden-variety slasher flick, complete with hulking masked killer, over-sexed boys, and those ever-present annoying bitchy girls that you cheer for as soon as they buy the farm.

Film information: Dark Ride

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Monday, March 19, 2018

Aaah! Zombies! (2007)

More November turkeys!

The general idea for this film is cute. Four longtime friends turn into zombies and the survival story is told from their point of view. They meet up with a soldier who is also infected and can give them a little insight about their new condition. As their merry band grows, they strike out for a land of their own. It's not a bad idea.

Unfortunately, the execution of the story doesn't quite work.

The idea that the zombies can't see themselves is a little corny, but pair with constant flashing between what they see and what everyone else sees... well, it gets a bit annoying. Add to that the fact that the living apparently speak faster than the dead, and the only people who can't see the zombies for what they are are people who have had too much to drink... it makes sense, but it doesn't really play well on screen. The film isn't meant to be taken seriously, but the constant jumping back and forth makes it downright silly.

This film also presents a wonderful example on how sometimes CG is not the way to go. I understand that the zombie-inducing liquid glows lime green, but it just seems too cartoonish...especially when the "living vision" scenes are done in black and white.

On the plus side, the zombie makeup was fun and did work well in the black-and-white scenery.

Is it a funny movie? Well, it did have its moments, but it wasn't on par with other zombie comedies like Shaun of the Dead or Fido.

Overall, I was disappointed with it. It had the potential, but in my opinion just didn't work out well in the presentation.

Film information: Aaah! Zombies (aka Wasting Away)

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Monday, March 12, 2018

The Hamiltons (2006)

I really liked the premise of this story. It was a sort of cross between the vampire movie Near Dark and the television drama Party of Five. Hey, your chocolate got into my peanut butter...

The Hamilton household consists of four siblings who lost both their parents in a never-really-explained accident who are trying to make it as a normal family on their own. Of course, they are also the type of people whose main source of sustenance is human blood, so it’s not as easy as one might think to maintain appearances.

The bulk of the story is told from the point-of-view of Francis (Cory Knauf), the teenage boy of the house who not only has to worry about his school grades and family secrets, but also the frequent visits from the friendly social worker. It’s a beautiful coming-of-age story as our young hero begins to develop a bond with one of the freshly-stocked pantry items in the basement.

Although the characters try to be deep and diverse, Darlene (Mackenzie Firgens), the lone female of the clan really brings the whole family down by way of giving the appearance of a typical All-American family. While we can chuckle at the clean-cut eldest who has assumed the role of family leader, takes on all the responsibilities, and has the occasional guilty pleasure of a man in his bed; and we can forgive the middle brother who has that charming “bad boy” attitude that no horror film blood-drinking family seems to be able to do without, the girl needs a serious character makeover. After all, nothing screams “Nope, no vampires here” like a pale woman with black hair, gussied up with black lipstick and heavy eyeliner, clad in outfits that are all the rage in certain Goth clubs.

But if you can excuse Little Miss Death On Heels, the story is actually very enjoyable and even endearing.

Film information: The Hamiltons

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Monday, March 5, 2018

Road Kill (2010)

I had an awful lot of trouble getting through this movie. It wasn't that it didn't cut it as a horror film or that the acting was so wretched that I couldn't stand to be in the same room as my television set after a few minutes, for that isn't the case here. It is a nasty little ditty about a group of young people who clash horns with a demonic truck and the performances were plausible.

What bothered me was how much it was spoon-fed to me. There are few things that will get my goat more than repeatedly reminding me that something (in this case, the hood ornament) represents evil... especially when it really doesn't. It would have been just fine, however inaccurate, if one of the characters would have pointed out the ornament to his friends and delivered a short monologue about how the three-headed dog is the most evil thing in Hell and wonder aloud why anyone would decorate their truck with that image.

But no, instead we are treated to several random shots throughout the film of a "live" tri-headed dog with evil glowing red eyes snarling and barking for no apparent reason. In my opinion, they should have put the money they spent on an Cerberus puppet and hired a second screenwriter to fill in the holes in the plot. Believe me, our crumbling highways have nothing on the script when it came to damaging holes.

I'm still not sure if the truck was actually fueled on souls or if it just preferred blood to high-octane petro.

So it took me three tries to get through this film, which is never a good thing to have happen when I'm looking for new review material. Another one of our reviewers was with me on the third try and judging on how many times he rolled his eyes... I'm fairly certain his review wouldn't have been much better than mine.

One good point, if you are into this sort of thing, is that it is gorehound candy. As we've seen in films such as Wolf Creek, a lot of nasty things can happen to teenagers who vacation down under.

But overall, I found it both tedious and even boring. The basic idea for the story had some potential, but something derailed in the writing. (Or perhaps it was butchered during production, as scripts can be cut to ribbons during the early stages.)

On IMDB: Road Kill - Road Train

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Monday, February 26, 2018

The Other Boleyn Girl (2008)

Being the history buff that I am, it took me a few viewings of this film to get myself past all the historical inaccuracies and start to appreciate it as a work of fiction based on historical events. I put it in the same category as Gladiator,  being that it's nice to look at but about as factual as Mary Poppins.

The plot revolves around two sisters, Mary and Anne, and how they were used by their father and uncle as instruments to improve the family standing in the court of Henry VIII. Knowing that Queen Catherine of Aragon can not provide the king with the son he so desires, the scheme is to toss either Mary or Anne into the King's bed in hopes that one or the other of them can fill that need of his.

Mary is portrayed as the sweeter and more innocent of the two, which seems odd that she is also the one who is very quick to hop into the royal bed. After she conceives and is shut away in a room to wait out the pregnancy, the more conniving Anne is sent to court in order to keep the King focused on Mary instead of chasing after some new maiden. Anne, bitter about her sister ratting her out about some of her misdeeds in order to protect the family reputation, lures the king away from her but holds off on jumping into bed with him until he's divorced his wife, spurned Mary and his newborn son, and crowned her as queen.

Henry soon grows tired of his marriage to Anne when she also fails to provide him with a son, and begins taking steps to get her out of his life. Permanently.

The main focus of the film is the love-hate relationship between the two sisters, but the story seems stray from this at times and drag on a bit slowly. Once Henry marries Anne, the pace picks up to break-neck speed and seems very rushed to get all the pertinent information out to explain how Anne ended up on the scaffold. This imbalance between the time before and after Anne's coronation seems to really throw off the overall flow of the story.

While the visuals are very pretty, the performances tend to fall a little flat on delivery. Some of the dialog seems to be a bit too proper and rehearsed, even for an English royal court. When Catherine of Aragon speaks, you can imagine her practicing every word in a mirror prior to her appearance. Anne's clever zingers often lose their zip, Mary's dialogue often sounds like a Harlequin novel, and the male characters seem to all be in the same Shakespeare study group.

However, with the slew of Tudor Period themed films that have been coming out lately, this is by no means the worst I've seen. It's certainly more of a chick flick than a history lesson, but worth a watch if English history is your cup of tea.

Info on IMDB: The Other Boleyn Girl

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Monday, February 19, 2018

Day of the Dead (2008)

First, a little backstory on a personal level. The original Day of the Dead is one of my all-time favorite zombie films. It wasn't that it had a particularly strong plot or intriguing characters, but rather because of the tender loving care that was put into the practical special effects by Tom Savini and his team*. The original film really didn't have a high body count when compared to other living dead films, but it really made its kills count.

This new remake of "Day of the Dead" seemed to make it a point to have a higher body count than all of the original Romero zombie flicks combined. The problem is, when you replace a few well thought-out and spectacular deaths with hundreds of fast and sloppy computer-generated deaths, you end up with a bloody mess…and not in the good way.

Yes, I'm rather disappointed with this remake. To be frank, there were a few points during the film where I wondered if I had accidentally rented another 28 Days Later rip-off. This remake decided to do away with the classic unexplained zombie uprising in favor of a high-tech, fast-acting zombie plague that had the strong scent of the Rage Virus.

Don't get me wrong, I do appreciate updated zombie films giving their undead characters the gift of speed. However, granting them with the ability to also defy gravity is going a bit far. I knew the film was on the fast-track down the drain when a hyper zombie scuttled across the ceiling like some creature from Aliens . This was shortly followed by what amounted to the undead version of Cirque du Soleil with all sorts of silly acrobatics going on. I was waiting for them to just sprout wings.

I'm not a big fan of computer-generated FX to begin with, although recently I have developed an appreciation towards CG touch-ups on practical FX as a time-saver when executing difficult gags**. In my humble opinion, CG should be garnish, not the main course when it comes to horror FX. This movie was nothing but an all-you-can-eat CG buffet.

All this would have been forgivable if the film was not trying to be serious and gone along the path as such cheesy gems like Dead Alive or Evil Dead 2. Unfortunately, it carried the scent of a director trying very hard to scare the socks off its audience by way of timing and gore. The few and far between attempts at humor were mediocre at best.

My advice: Don't waste the 90 minutes unless you're a hardcore fan of games like House of the Dead, because this film has the exact same look and feel to it.

* If you want some truly horrifying stories, find Tom Savini's interview where he talks about the making of the original "Day of the Dead". Five words to gag by: "The refrigerator has been unplugged."

** I was a bit worried about a short film I recently worked on when I learned the editor was also looking to do some CG-FX work after I'd busted my tail on plotting out the practical effects. I can't tell you how relieved I was to learn that his philosophy was that good CG work doesn't look like there was any CG involved at all.

Film information: Day of the Dead

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Monday, February 12, 2018

Wicked Little Things (2006)

Wicked Little Things begins with a bunch of small children being buried alive in a tragic but intentional coal mining incident. It then cuts to many years later where a mother (Lori Heuring) and her two daughters (Scout Taylor-Compton and Clhoe Moretz) are going to reclaim the old family house of her late husband, where there are lots of newspaper articles laying around the cellar about the terrible coal mining incident that killed many children.

Soon the older daughter meets the local teenagers who tell her about a terrible coal mining incident that killed many children. Then the woman starts talking to some locals who tell her about the terrible coal mining incident that killed many children.

Have you gotten the point that this film’s plot revolves around the terrible coal mining incident that killed many children?

Apparently the film-makers took to heart the reports that a third of the population suffers from Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and thought it best to give us all a hand by reminding us about the simple plot point every ten minutes or so.

But this particular installment of the After Dark Horrorfest Films is a heart-warming tale of a struggling single mother trying to start a brand new life for her children in the middle of a nice wooded area that is infested with vengeful flesh-eating zombie children. Oh, and did I mention that there was a terrible coal mining incident that killed many children?

Good points to this film include a lovely setting, interesting story idea, a few grisly scenes that were executed nicely, and some pretty creepy kids armed with pickaxes that give Village of the Damned a run for its money.

Bad points include limited acting skills on the part of the cast, goofy script lines that makes me think the writer is still living in the 1980s, and the constant reminders about the terrible coal mining incident that killed many children.

Is it worth the watch? Sure, but don’t expect it to be something so overly scary that you should monitor your heart rate while viewing it. Like most of the films from this series, I can’t figure out what the big “couldn’t be shown in theatres” hype was all about. This certainly isn’t the first time American movie-goers have seen sweet little kids doing terrible things with sharp pointy objects. 

Film information: Wicked Little Things

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