Tuesday, October 21, 2014

#1,527. 100 Feet (2008)


Directed By: Eric Red

Starring: Famke Janssen, Bobby Cannavale, Ed Westwick



Tag line: "Accused of Killing Her Husband, Confined To The Home He Now Haunts"

Trivia: In Brazil, this film was released as Hostage Spirit







After several years in prison for murdering her abusive husband (who also happened to be a cop), Marnie (Famke Janssen) finally heads home, where she’s to spend the next 12 months under house arrest. Thanks to the electronic tracking device attached to her leg, Marnie is restricted to a 100-foot radius (if she moves beyond that point, she risks being returned to jail), yet despite the limitations, she does her best to try and lead a normal life. Unfortunately, she’s not alone in the house; the ghost of her dead husband Mike (played by Michael Paré) resides there as well, and needless to say, he’s pretty pissed off. In fact, he picks up right where he left off, and begins beating his wife regularly. With the abuse starting all over again, Marnie turns to Shanks (Bobby Cannavale), her husband’s former partner; as well as Joey (Ed Westwick), the delivery boy for the local supermarket, for help. But will anyone believe her story, or is she doomed to spend the next year being victimized all over again?

What I found most impressive about director Eric Red's 100 Feet was the performance delivered by Famke Janssen, who plays Marnie, the once-battered wife who continues to suffer at the hands of a deranged ghost. Yet what makes her character so fascinating isn’t that she’s living with a spirit, but the manner in which she approaches the entire ordeal. As portrayed by Janssen, Marnie is tough-as-nails, a no-nonsense woman who refuses to allow the ghostly presence to drive her from her home. There are even times when she has a few choice words for her late husband (after being attacked in the kitchen, Marnie defiantly shouts “You had it coming”, and reminds Mike that it’s his own fault he’s dead). From start to finish, Janssen coveys her character’s inner strength, and does so is a way that’s entirely convincing.

Horror-wise, 100 Feet is a bit more hit and miss. Mixed in with its effective shocks (the sequence where Mike first makes his presence known to Marnie is abundantly creepy) are a few cheap ones (yet again, we get a screeching cat, a time-honored jump scare that’s been done to death), but the real problem is the ghost itself, which is somewhat inconsistent (while it usually appears in full form, there are times when we can’t see it at all). There’s even a scene in which Marnie takes a swing at it that actually connects, something that had me scratching my head when, later on, she tries knocking it down with a baseball bat, which simply passes through it). These issues aside, 100 Feet is a movie I’d recommend (Famke Janssen really is that good). But if it’s wall-to-wall scares you’re looking for, you might want to look elsewhere.







Monday, October 20, 2014

#1,526. Amusement (2008)


Directed By: John Simpson

Starring: Katheryn Winnick, Laura Breckenridge, Jessica Lucas



Tag line: "Your fear. His amusement"

Trivia: This was was the last film to be distributed by Picturehouse Entertainment before their closure in 2008 and relaunch in 2013







After being mercilessly teased as a child by three girls in his class, a mentally disturbed man (Kier O’Donnell) who spent many years locked away in a psychiatric ward comes looking for revenge. To this end, he stalks the three friends individually (none of the young ladies have seen each other in years) and abducts them, dragging the trio off to an abandoned underground facility where he sets up elaborate pranks designed to frighten and confuse them. Can these former childhood friends band together to escape their psychotic kidnapper, or will he finish what he started?

Amusement, a 2009 direct-to-video movie, kicks off strong, giving us three segments, each named after one of the girls, which reveal how the lunatic (the credits refer to him as “The Laugh") managed to kidnap them. The first segment, “Shelby” (a character played by Laura Breckenridge) is set on the open road, with Shelby and her boyfriend Rob (Tad Hilgenbrink) heading down the highway late at night. The trouble begins when Rob joins a small convoy, leading to a series of events that result in a tense chase and a plot twist I didn’t see coming. Next up is “Tabitha” (Katheryn Winnick), who’s just arrived at the home of her aunt and uncle (who are out of town), finding her young cousins all alone (the babysitter apparently left early). This segment, a home invasion-style tale, is easily the movie’s best, and is sure to frighten anyone with an aversion to clowns. Finally, there’s “Lisa” (Jessica Lucas), who, with the help of boyfriend Dan (Reid Scott) tries to determine the whereabouts of her roommate Cat (Fernanda Dorogi), who failed to come home the night before. Their search leads them to a dilapidated hotel, where the kidnapper lies in wait.

Each of the above segments is presented with their own look and feel, making the first half of the movie a sort of “mini-anthology”, an approach that works to the film’s advantage. Performance-wise, Kier O’Donnell shines as the deranged kidnapper, whose distinctive laugh will send a shiver up your spine, and Katheryn Winnick (whose Tabitha seems to be the focal point of it all) is also quite good, playing a basically strong character who, on occasion, is scared out of her wits. The final segment, where “The Laugh” has assembled his victims together, has its moments as well (the best of which sees two of the girls tied up, one on each side of the room, as the third looks on in horror at what’s been done to them).

Amusement does have several plot holes that never get filled in (the most blatant of which occurs in the “Shelby” segment, and involves a truck driver and his female companion), and the final abduction (aka the “Lisa” segment) feels rushed, and isn’t nearly as good as the first two. And for those of you expecting a creepy clown movie (which is what the poster art and trailer seem to be promising), you’ll be sorely disappointed (the clown only figures into a small portion of the overall film). Perhaps most frustrating of all is the fact the filmmakers don’t show us the supposed teasing and ridicule “The Laugh” suffered at the hands of the 3 girls, making his motives seem entirely random, and ensuring our sympathies are with the victims at all times (whether they deserve to be or not).

Even with the above problems, Amusement offers enough thrills and chills (as well as a few surprises) to make it worth your time. It’s not a perfect horror flick, but it’s definitely a good one, and has a moment or two where you get the feeling it could have been great.






Sunday, October 19, 2014

#1,525. The Loved Ones (2009)


Directed By: Sean Byrne

Starring: Xavier Samuel, Robin McLeavy, Victoria Thaine




Tag line: "You don't have to die to go to hell"

Trivia: Robin McLeavy prepared for the role of Lola by researching the serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer







I usually have a high threshold for violence in movies, but there was a point in 2009’s The Loved Ones where I’d had enough. Don’t get me wrong: it’s a tremendous motion picture; a tense, often unsettling film that had me poised at the edge of my seat. Still, the brutality is so relentless, so extreme, that I often had to look away. I admire the hell out of The Loved Ones, but I’m not sure I like it.

It’s the last day of school, and Lola Stone (Robin McLeavy) asks classmate Brent (Xavier Samuel) to accompany her to the end-of-year dance. Unfortunately, Brent already has a date: his girlfriend Holly (Victoria Thaine). But Lola isn’t about to take “no” for an answer. Knocked unconscious by Lola’s doting father (John Brumpton), Brent is dragged off to the Stone homestead, which has been decorated to look like a dance hall. It seems that Lola’s father, who’ll do anything to make his little girl happy, is hosting his own shindig, and Brent is there to serve as Lola’s “date”. Continuously tortured and beaten by his captors, Brent tries his damnedest to escape, but the more he struggles to free himself, the harsher his “punishment” gets.

The violence in The Loved Ones is tough to watch, mostly because it’s inflicted upon someone who hasn’t done anything to deserve it. Not only is Brent an innocent (he wasn’t the least bit nasty or condescending when he told Lola he couldn’t go with her to the dance), but is something of a victim himself (as the film opens, Brent and his father are out driving. Suddenly, a bloodied young man appears out of nowhere, causing Brent to lose control of the car and crash it into a tree, killing his father instantly). This makes what happens to him all the more tragic, and the torture he’s subjected to is, at times, quite awful (at one point, Brent manages to escape, only to be chased down and captured again. To ensure he stays put, Lola’s father nails Brent’s feet to the floor with a couple of steak knives).

Robin McLeavy turns in a remarkable performance as Lola, a psychotic teen with an adolescent’s mentality who’s always gotten her way. Also strong is John Brumpton as Lola’s dad, an emasculated figure who’s nonetheless capable of doing terrible things. The dynamic between these two characters, complete with an underlying sexual tension, is as fascinating as it is grotesque. Equally as impressive is how writer / director Sean Byrne ties everything together before the movie’s over; a seemingly unrelated side story in which Brent’s pal Jamie (Richard Wilson) , accompanies the distant and strange Mia (Jessica McNamee) to the school dance isn’t as random as it first appears. All of these elements blend wonderfully, making The Loved Ones a movie I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend. Odds are, I’ll probably watch it again myself.

But not right away.







Saturday, October 18, 2014

#1,524. The Echo (2008)


Directed By: Yam Laranas

Starring: Jesse Bradford, Amelia Warner, Carlos Leon




Tag line: "Do you hear it?"

Trivia: This is a remake of a 2004 Filipino horror movie of the same name







If movies like Ju-On and The Ring have taught me anything, it’s that kids can sometimes be creepy as hell. The Echo, a 2008 film directed by Yam Laranas, has its own little demon urchin, and while its story is nothing new, the movie features a handful of scenes that are sure to get your pulse pounding.

Bobby (Jesse Bradford), who’s just been released on parole after serving time for manslaughter, moves into the apartment of his recently deceased mother. Before he has a chance to settle in, however, he begins hearing strange noises coming from the apartment next door, which is occupied by a policeman (Kevin Durant) who spends his evenings beating up his wife (Iza Calzado) and child (Jamie Bloch). Hoping to put his own life back in order, Bobby gets a job with a local garage and even contacts his old girlfriend Alyssa (Amelia Warner), but when the noises continue, he finds himself drawn into a perplexing mystery that grows more horrifying with each passing day.

A remake of the 2004 Filipino film Sigaw, The Echo is a well-shot, strongly acted horror movie that, despite taking things slowly, is unsettling from the word “go”. By way of a series of deliberate tracking shots (most showing off the apartment and the surrounding complex), director Laranas (who also helmed the 2004 original) introduces a sense of menace early on, which only gets stronger as the story unfolds. Shortly after moving in, Bobby makes the startling discovery that his mother spent a great deal of time in her bedroom closet (aside from the empty cans of food scattered throughout, he finds the closet door has been equipped with a latch, which allowed her to lock it from the inside). From that moment on, things get downright spooky (Bobby experiences several visions, including one of his dead mother asking for his help), culminating in a finale that, at times, is absolutely terrifying.

Many of the standard features found in Asian-style horror in recent years are there for the taking in The Echo (a high dosage of jump scares, a haunting as the result of a tragic backstory, etc.). Yet they’re presented with enough skill to make them effective nonetheless. The Echo may ultimately travel familiar territory, but it’s a journey that’s well worth making.







Friday, October 17, 2014

#1,523. Final Destination 2 (2003)


Directed By: David R. Ellis

Starring: A.J. Cook, Ali Larter, Tony Todd




Tag line: "For every beginning there is an end"

Trivia: All of the news anchors featured in the movie are actual news anchors at local Vancouver-area stations (the film was shot in Vancouver)







I wasn’t all that impressed the first time I saw Final Destination 2. Not the second time, either. For some reason, the movie didn’t click with me like Final Destination did, and while it had its moments (i.e. the kill scenes), Final Destination 2 felt like an inferior follow-up to the entertaining original.

Well, I guess it’s true what they say: “The third time’s the charm”. I had more fun watching Final Destination 2 tonight than I’d ever had before.

It’s the one-year anniversary of the Flight 180 disaster, and Kimberly Corman (A.J. Cook) is driving to Daytona for Spring Break with a few of her closest friends. While waiting to get onto the expressway, she has a premonition that a terrible crash is about to occur, and blocks the on-ramp in an effort to save the lives of those lined up behind her. The accident does, indeed, happen, and many who were supposed to die are saved. But as the survivors of Flight 180 quickly learned, fate has a way of catching up with you. Before long, the people that Kimberly “rescued” start dying off. Hoping to make some sense of it all, Kimberly pays a visit to Clear Rivers (Ali Larter), the last remaining survivor of Flight 180, who agrees to help her and the others find a way to cheat death. But how long can they keep the Grim Reaper at bay?

One of the main problems I had with Final Destination 2 prior to this most recent viewing was the way it tossed Clear Rivers back into the mix. In an effort to stay alive, Clear checked herself in to a mental institution, not because she thought she was crazy, but because it was the safest place to be (she was living in a padded room). Having taken every precaution, she decides, rather abruptly, to risk life and limb yet again in order to help a group of people she’d never met before! It didn’t make any sense to me. This, coupled with the fact that those who survived the highway pile-up, all of whom were strangers to one another, suddenly became inseparable throughout the remainder of the film, was all a little too forced for my tastes. This time around, though, I kinda liked the mix of characters, and felt Ali Larter’s Clear complimented them perfectly. Don’t ask me why I had this change of heart, because, frankly, I’m not 100% sure myself!

One aspect of Final Destination 2 that I always enjoyed was its various kill scenes, some of which are truly horrific. Kimberly’s “vision” of the pile-up kicks the movie off in brutal fashion, and is followed by a handful of very memorable deaths (one of the most elaborate involves a magnet in the microwave and a plateful of discarded spaghetti). We even get a few “fake-outs” along the way, where fate seems to be setting up a character or two to take the fall, only to pull back at the last minute (at times, these “mock” deaths are just as exciting as the real thing).

All in all, I’m happy to report that Final Destination 2 is a solid sequel to the original film, even if it did take me a while to figure that out!







Thursday, October 16, 2014

#1,522. Pelts (2006)


Directed By: Dario Argento

Starring: Meat Loaf, Link Baker, Emilio Salituro




Trivia: This movie was originally released as a 2nd-season episode of the Masters of Horror TV series









In the ‘70s and ‘80s, Italian director Dario Argento was at the top of his game, turning out such classics as Bird with the Crystal Plumage (one of the earliest Giallos, and still very effective), Suspiria (a visual feast, considered by most to be his masterpiece), Deep Red, Opera, and Phenomena. Alas, many of his recent movies have fallen well short of the mark. Do You Like Hitchcock?, a 2005 made-for-television film, is utterly forgettable, and I wish to hell I could forget 2007’s Mother of Tears (the last entry in his “Three Mothers” trilogy, after Suspiria and 1980’s Inferno). Though not perfect, 2006’s Pelts, originally released as a season two episode of the Masters of Horror cable TV series, is nonetheless one of the better pictures he’s turned out in quite a while.

Like he has many times before, poacher Jeb Jameson (John Saxon) has just trapped a number of raccoons. With the help of his son Larry (Michael Suchanek), he carries them back to his workshop and skins them. It’s at this point Jeb realizes this most recent round of pelts are the most beautiful he’s ever seen. Hoping to cash in, he calls sleazy furrier Jake Feldman (rock star Meat Loaf), who’s in dire need of some primo furs to help turn his business around. The next day, Jake and his partner Lou (Link Baker) arrive at the Jameson house, only to find Jeb and Larry dead (Jeb was beaten to death, while Larry’s face was shorn off when he “fell” into a bear trap). But Jake is too preoccupied with the gorgeous pelts to take any notice. Figuring they’d make a coat beautiful enough to win the heart of Shanna (Ellen Ewusie), a stripper he’s fallen in love with, Jake loads the pelts into his car and drives them back to his factory. Sure enough, the resulting coat is stunning, but when more people turn up dead, it becomes apparent to everyone except Jake that the pelts are cursed, and are somehow causing people to take their own lives.

The film’s central message, that the fur industry sanctions cruelty to animals for the sake of high fashion, is certainly nothing new, and the manner in which the movie depicts this cruelty is far from subtle (both Jeb Jameson and Jake Feldman are portrayed as loathsome characters willing to do whatever it takes to get what they want out of life). Yet despite its heavy-handedness, Pelts features a number of unforgettably brutal sequences, all designed by a team of effects artists that included Greg Nicotero (Day of the Dead, Wishmaster) and Howard Berger (The Mist). The scene in which Jeb Jameson meets his end is powerful enough (enchanted by the furs, his son Larry walks into Jeb’s bedroom and bludgeons him to death), but many of the deaths that follow (all suicides) are even more grotesque (in a bit of irony, each character dies in a manner fitting their respective professions, i.e. a sewing lady stitches her nose, mouth and eyes shut, thus suffocating herself to death).

Along with its ham-fisted approach to the story, the final sequence in Pelts, while undoubtedly gruesome, is far too over-the-top, and might elicit more laughter from an audience than it does screams. In the final scheme of things, however, Pelts is an entertaining movie, marking a definite improvement over the films Dario Argento has turned out in recent years.







Wednesday, October 15, 2014

#1,521. Black Water (2007)


Directed By: David Nerlich, Andrew Traucki

Starring: Diana Glenn, Maeve Dermody, Andy Rodoreda




Tag line: "What You Can't See Can Hurt You"

Trivia: The crocodile in this film is real, and not CGI








In 1999’s Lake Placid, there’s a scene where Hector (played by Oliver Platt) is showing Sheriff Keough (Brendan Gleeson) an online video of a crocodile, submerged under water, sneaking up on its prey (an animal drinking by the side of the river). In a split second, it leaps out of the river and drags its poor victim in. That, for me, is what makes crocodiles so damn spooky: the fact that they might be nearby, waiting for the right moment to attack, and you have no idea they’ve locked on to you. Black Water, a 2007 Australian film about three people stalked by a killer crocodile, plays on these fears by barely showing us the croc, yet letting us know that it’s always nearby, and has no intention of leaving until it’s had its fill.

While on vacation in the Northern Territory, Adam (Andy Rodoreda) and his girlfriend Grace (Diana Glenn), along with Grace’s sister Lee (Maeve Dermody), take a day trip to a mangrove swamp to do a little fishing. While out on the water, their boat is attacked and capsized by a crocodile. Their tour guide Jim (Ben Oxenbould) is killed, leaving Adam, Grace and Lee to fend for themselves in the middle of nowhere. But can the trio find a way out of this predicament before they, too, fall victim to the very hungry croc lurking nearby?

A suspenseful film, Black Water manages to accomplish quite a bit with its limited resources (the movie was made for around $1 million). Despite the fact we seldom see the crocodile, the filmmakers remind us, every chance they get, that it’s still there. Following the attack on their boat, the three leads scamper up a nearby tree, hoping it will keep them safe. The problem, of course, is that they’re all alone in the middle of the swamp, meaning if they want to escape this dangerous situation, they’re going to have to do it themselves. Of course, every solution they come up with has the same glitch: they have to get closer to the river (sometimes in it) to pull it off. Whenever they attempt to do so, the camera follows along, floating over the water's surface as if to remind us all there’s a killer somewhere underneath, and, like the main characters, we have no idea where it is.

Using real crocodiles instead of CGI, Black Water is an often-thrilling motion picture that, from start to finish, will have you squirming uncomfortably in your seat