Friday, October 31, 2014

#1,537. Creep (2004) - Spotlight on England

Directed By: Christopher Smith

Starring: Franka Potente, Sean Harris, Vas Blackwood

Tag line: "Your day ends here"

Trivia: Posters showing a bloody hand sliding down a train window were banned from the London Underground

While at a party, Kate (Franka Potente), a young German woman working in London, discovers that her friend Gemma, who previously promised to get her into another party that actor George Clooney was attending, has already left without her.

Hoping to catch up to Gemma, Kate rushes to the nearest Underground station, where she falls asleep on the platform while waiting for the next train.

By the time Kate wakes up, the entire station is empty and has been locked down for the night. Fortunately, one last train arrives, but when Kate hops on, she finds her co-worker Guy (Jeremy Sheffield), who put the moves on her earlier at the party, is already on-board. Realizing he has been following her, a frightened Kate tries to leave the train, only to be jumped by Guy, who then attempts to rape her.

Before anything can happen, Guy is pulled off of Kate by an unseen person and dragged away, kicking and screaming. Figuring a maniac is also loose in the station, Kate seeks help from homeless couple Jimmy (Paul Rattray) and Mandy (Kelly Scott), as well as a night watchman (Morgan Jones), only to find she will most likely have to face this unknown threat on her own.

Desperately searching for a way out, Kate crawls into the sewer system, only to be abducted and taken to an underground medical facility, where her captor "Craig" (Sean Harris), a deformed mental patient, resides. Will Kate free herself in time, or is she destined to be Craig's next victim?

Ever since the wildly energetic 1998 German movie Run Lola Run, I've been a fan of Franka Potente, and was thrilled she had landed the lead role in Creep. Sure enough, Potente doesn't disappoint, infusing her character with a strength that borders on arrogance (clearly evident in the opening party scene). Then, after being attacked by both a would-be rapist and a dangerous psychotic in the same night, Potente shows she's just as good playing a terrified victim as she is a self-assured young professional.

Along with its lead’s solid performance, Creep takes full advantage of its setting (there's something unnerving about a quiet, abandoned train station), and features a handful of creepy moments. The opening sequence, where two sewer workers (Ken Campbell and Vas Blackwood) encounter both the killer and one of his eventual victims, gets the film off to a spooky start. Most impressive of all, though, is the monster itself, menacingly portrayed by Sean Harris. As tense as the first half of Creep is, it pales in comparison to what transpires once the action shifts to the underground facility that Craig calls home, where Kate will be subjected to horrors beyond her wildest dreams.

All of these elements come together wonderfully, making Creep a nifty, sometimes gruesome monster movie that is sure to entertain.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

#1,536. Zombieland (2009)

Directed By: Ruben Fleischer

Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Woody Harrelson

Tag line: "This place is so dead"

Trivia: Woody Harrelson was arrested for marijuana possession during filming, which delayed shooting for a day

If I were to compile a list of my favorite zombie comedies, I can tell you without hesitation that Edgar Wright’s 2004 masterpiece Shaun of the Dead would be at the very top of it. And while there would definitely be some competition for the remaining slots (titles like Re-Animator, Return of the Living Dead, Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive, and Cemetery Man leap to mind), there's a good chance that 2009’s Zombieland would capture the second spot. 

A witty, occasionally frightening look at four people dealing with a zombie outbreak, Zombieland is a briskly paced motion picture that also features one of the best star cameos in recent memory.

The socially awkward Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), named after the town in Ohio from which he hails, has survived the zombie apocalypse, thanks in part to a handful of personal rules he always adheres to (such as “Never trust a bathroom” and “Always check the car’s back seat”). 

While traveling through Texas, Columbus meets up with Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), a foul tempered zombie hunter searching for the world’s last remaining Twinkies snack cake. Seeing as they’re going in the same direction, the two decide to keep each other company. 

Their luck takes a turn for the worse, howeveer, when they encounter sisters Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), a pair of con artists who steal the boys’ weapons as well as Tallahassee's car. But fate intervenes, and before long all four have join forces and head west, where they hope to find paradise in California (by way of the Pacific Playland Amusement Park, situated just outside Hollywood). 

But is that area truly “zombie free”, as Wichita claims, or will they be greeted by an army of undead the moment they get there?

Even though its primarily a comedy, Zombieland doesn’t shy away from the blood and gore that goes hand-in-hand with the subgenre; the opening title sequence shows us a number of violent encounters between the living and the undead (all played out in slow-motion), and the flashbacks that reveal the origins of some of Columbus’s “rules for survival” are surprisingly brutal (when discussing his second rule, “Double Tap”, he tells the story of a woman who shot a zombie rushing towards her, only to have her foot chewed off because she didn’t put another bullet in its head ). 

The movie’s real strength, however, is its characters. Jesse Eisenberg’s Columbus (who also acts as the film’s narrator) is a nebbish loser whose specialty is sarcasm, most of which is aimed at his abrasive cohort Tallahassee. Easily the funniest of the bunch, Harrelson's Tallahassee enjoys letting off steam once in a while (during their trek west, he convinces Columbus, Wichita, and Little Rock to help him trash a roadside store that sells Native American trinkets). 

Rounding out the group are Wichita and Little Rock, expertly portrayed by two of the best young actresses working today: Emma Stone (Easy A, The Amazing Spider Man) and Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine, Haunter). The give-and-take between the four main characters is often hilarious, and in the film’s quieter moments we even learn a thing or two about them (including why Tallahassee lives life as if he has nothing left to lose).

All this, plus a touching romantic subplot involving Columbus and Wichita and a brilliant cameo by Bill Murray (playing himself... I dare not say more), helps make Zombieland the most entertaining “zomedy” of the post-Shaun of the Dead era.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

#1,535. Eden Lake (2008)

Directed By: James Watkins

Starring: Kelly Reilly, Michael Fassbender, Tara Ellis

Tag line: "A weekend by the lake, with views to die for"

Trivia: Won a 2009 Empire Award for Best Horror Film

On the surface, writer / director James Watkins’ Eden Lake may look like an ultra-violent tale of survival in the vein of Deliverance and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, with a middle-class couple fighting for their lives against a gang of ruthless young punks. But don’t let that fool you; this is a straight-up monster movie. Only in this case, the “monster” is a teenage kid.

Schoolteacher Jenny (Kelly Reilly) and her boyfriend Steve (Michael Fassbender) head to Eden Lake, a beautiful spot in the middle of nowhere, for what they hope will be a relaxing weekend. Shortly after they arrive, however, the two have a run-in with teenage hoodlum Brett (Jack O’Connell) and his friends, who do everything they can to make the couples stay an unpleasant one. Things escalate quickly when Brett and the others steal Steve’s car and take it for a joyride, leading to a confrontation that ends in bloodshed. Thus begins a game of cat and mouse, with Jenny and Steve on the run from Brett and his pals, who are ready to take this fight to the next level. But exactly how far are the teens willing to go?

Reilly and Fassbender are impressive as the two lead characters, who, despite a few horribly bad decisions (one in particular, where Steve walks into a house to confront the hoodlums, had me scratching my head, wondering what he was thinking), remain likable throughout the film. The standout performance, however, is delivered by Jack O’Connell, whose Brett is a rabid dog, a psychopath who fears nothing and treats violence as if it were a game. In what is arguably the movie’s most shocking scene, Steve is captured and tied him to a tree. Goaded on by Brett, the other kids take turns stabbing their prisoner while Paige (Finn Atkins), the only female of the group, records it with her phone. This senseless brutality clearly disturbs many of the teens (one vomits after stabbing Steve), but not Brett. In fact, he gets a charge out of it, and even taunts Steve by telling him they’ll do the same to Jenny once they catch her. An inherently violent kid with no redeeming qualities, Brett remains, at all times, the film’s most dangerous character, and O’Connell ensures by way of his bravado performance that there’s not a moment where we like the son of a bitch.

A tense, unsettling movie with an ending that’s guaranteed to stay with you for some time, Eden Lake is a truly horrifying motion picture, made doubly so by the fact that there are dozens of real-life Bretts in this world.

Here’s hoping I never meet a single one of them.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

#1,534. Rogue (2007)

Directed By: Greg Mclean

Starring: Michael Vartan, Radha Mitchell, Sam Worthington

Tag line: "How Fast Can You Swim?"

Trivia: Filmed partly at Kakadu National Park and Nitmiluk National Park in Australia's Northern Territory

Rogue, a 2007 film directed by Greg McLean, has a lot in common with Black Water, another horror flick released the very same year. Aside from sharing the same basic premise (a group of people find themselves at the mercy of a killer crocodile), both are set in Australia, and shot (at least in part) in the continent’s Northern Territory. 

Admittedly, there are some differences between the two (Black Water features only three characters, two of whom are related, while Rogue centers on a group of strangers on a sightseeing tour), but in the end, both are tense as hell, and keep us on pins and needles throughout.

American reporter Pete McKell (Michael Vartan) is doing research for an upcoming article on Australia. Having just arrived in the Northern Territory, he buys a ticket for a boat tour of the area, one that promises to take him deep into crocodile territory. 

Piloted by Kate Ryan (Radha Mitchell), the boat, loaded with passengers, makes its way down the river, but just as the trip is about to end, one of the group (played by Robert Taylor) spots a distress flare. Obligated to check it out, Kate guides the vessel into unchartered waters, where it’s rammed and nearly destroyed by an enormous crocodile! 

Forced to abandon the boat, Kate, Pete and the others make their way to a small patch of land, only to discover that the tide is coming in, which means soon after the sun goes down, they’ll be completely underwater. And with a pissed-off croc lurking somewhere nearby, getting to dry land isn’t going to be easy.

One of the things that immediately struck me about Rogue was how gorgeous the movie is; from start to finish, director McLean manages to capture the natural beauty of Australia’s Northern Territory, presenting images so picturesque that they could have been lifted straight out of a BBC Earth documentary (the aerial shots are particularly stunning). What’s more, Rogue features an all-star cast. Aside from Vartan and Mitchell, both of whom are excellent, there’s Sam Worthington as the somewhat arrogant local, Neil, who, when the chips are down, comes up with a plan to save them all; and John Jarrett (Mick Taylor in Wolf Creek) as one of the passengers trying his best to cope with a terrible situation. As for the crocodile, it remains off-screen for most of the film (the first two attacks happen so quickly that we never see the creature), but when we finally catch a glimpse of it, we realize how humongous - and very intimidating - this animal is (it rivals the croc in 1999’s Lake Placid).

Despite their similarities in story and setting, both Rogue and Black Water offer audiences a unique viewing experience. In fact, I'd go so far as to say they’d make an awesome double feature.

Monday, October 27, 2014

#1,533. Land of the Dead (2005)

Directed By: George A. Romero

Starring: John Leguizamo, Asia Argento, Simon Baker

Tag line: "The dead shall inherit the Earth"

Trivia: George Romero's daughter appears in the film (she's the soldier who shoots a zombie that walks into an electric fence)

Released almost 20 years after Day of the Dead, George Romero’s Land of the Dead, the fourth entry in his Living Dead series (which also included Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead) picks up where Day left off, with the world overrun by flesh-eating zombies. Yet despite the chaos all around them, the rich and powerful still have a place to call home; Fiddler’s Green, a high-rise building situated in downtown Pittsburgh, allows those with means to live in luxury. Under the watchful eye of capitalist Paul Kaufman (Dennis Hopper), the facility serves as a safe haven from the outside world, protected by two rivers and a long fence that keeps the dead at bay. To ensure Fiddler’s Green continues to thrive, a team of mercenaries, led by Riley Denbo (Simon Baker) and Cholo De Mora (John Leguizamo), climbs into their armored vehicle lovingly nicknamed Dead Reckoning and ventures into the surrounding area on a regular basis to gather up supplies.

But unbeknownst to Kaufman and the many residents who call Fiddler’s Green their home, a change is coming that threatens to destroy their world of privilege. It all begins when Riley and his pal Charlie (Robert Joy) save a prostitute named Slack (Asia Argento), who, on Kaufman’s orders, was about to be executed. On top of that, Cholo’s application for a luxury apartment in Fiddler’s Green has been denied, causing him to steal Dead Reckoning and, with a few of his crew, head out into the great unknown, never to return. Worst of all, the zombies, led by former gas station attendant Big Daddy (Eugene Clark), are starting to gather, and have set their sights on overtaking Fiddler’s Green!

As it was with his previous Living Dead films, Romero fills Land of the Dead with its share of socially relevant subtext (i.e. the class struggle between rich and poor), and manages to sneak in a few jabs at the then-current George W. Bush administration (Hopper claims his main inspiration for the soulless Kaufman was Bush’s longtime Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld). Politics aside, Land of the Dead boasts a couple of excellent action sequences (courtesy of the crew of Dead Reckoning) as well as some of the most gruesome zombies ever to grace a Romero flick (thanks in large part to special makeup effects supervisor Greg Nicotero). While not quite at the level of Day of the Dead, Land of the Dead also has plenty of gore (one scene in particular, which features an undead clown, gets pretty messy before it’s over), and even gives us a “hero” zombie in Big Daddy, who, along with figuring out how to fire an assault rifle, leads the attack on Fiddler’s Green. All of these elements mesh together wonderfully, making Land of the Dead a worthy successor to the series’ previous entries.

While Romero’s later efforts to continue the franchise would fall short of the mark (2007’s Diary of the Dead was an absolute mess), Land of the Dead stood as proof positive that the man who created the modern zombie movie still has a few blood-soaked tricks up his sleeve.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

#1,532. Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (2010)

Directed By: Troy Nixey

Starring: Katie Holmes, Guy Pearce, Bailee Madison

Trivia: Co-writer Guillermo Del Toro makes a cameo appearance in this film, playing a passenger on board an airplane

Say the word “remake” to a film fan, and odds are they’ll break out in a cold sweat, especially if the one being remade is a time-honored classic. While I wouldn’t go so far as to call the 1973 television movie Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark a “classic” of the horror genre, it definitely has its supporters, the most famous of which is Guillermo Del Toro. 

A fan of the film ever since he was a kid, Del Toro once told USA Today that Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark was “Something close to my heart for a very long time”. With that in mind, I went into 2010’s Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark not with trepidation, but extreme curiosity. Produced by Del Toro from a script he co-wrote with Matthew Robbins, I was anxious to see how the filmmaker would update the story. As it turns out, the material couldn’t have been in better hands; Del Toro’s Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is a terrifically entertaining movie.

Ten-Year-Old Sally (Bailee Madison) is sent to live with her father Alex (Guy Pearce), an architect who, along with his new girlfriend, interior designer Kim (Katie Holmes), is renovating an old mansion that once belonged to a reclusive artist. One day, while in the basement with her father, young Sally notices an ash pit that’s been bolted shut, and after hearing mysterious voices coming from the other side she grabs a wrench and opens it up. 

By doing so, Sally inadvertently frees a number of tiny creatures, which had been locked up by the previous owner many years earlier. Once released, the creatures (which have an aversion to light) dart into the shadows, and follow Sally around. Before long, the little girl realizes her new “visitors” aren’t as friendly as they first appeared, and that her life, and everyone else's, is suddenly in the greatest of danger.

One of the best updates Del Toro made to the story was changing its overall focus from a housewife (like in the original) to a little girl who, because of the situation she’s in (shuttled from one parent to the other), feels abandoned and unloved, making her the perfect target for the deceitful monsters’ manipulating lies (playing on Sally’s insecurity, they tell her she’s unwanted, and promise to play with her if she releases them from their basement prison). Bailee Madison gives a phenomenal performance as Sally, perfectly capturing her character’s heartbreak and, eventually, the intense fear she experiences when the monsters’ true motives are revealed. The scene where Sally first catches a glimpse of one of the creatures is a very effective jump scare, and a later sequence in which she’s in the bathtub is positively nerve-racking. Yet it’s what the young actress does with the story’s more dramatic elements that’s truly impressive (at one point, she sobs uncontrollably when accused of ruining one of Kim’s dresses, mostly because she knows it was the work of the creatures she herself released). Guy Pearce and Katie Holmes are also strong, but in the end it’s Bailee Madison who steals the show.

Then we have the monsters themselves, which scamper along the ground as if they were dozens of nervous mice, tormenting Sally every chance they get. At first, their hi-jinks are innocent enough; after breaking into her room, two of the creatures hide behind Sally’s talking teddy bear, playfully manipulating it as if it were a puppet. It isn’t long,though, before the monster’s tricks become much more sinister (when Alex peers through a keyhole, several creatures on the other side of the door try to puncture his eyeball with a needle). Though small in stature, these monsters are plenty dangerous when they work together. In one very intense scene, they seriously injure Harris (Jack Thompson), who, because his grandfather had worked on the estate years earlier, knew of their existence (grabbing any sharp object they could get their hands on, the creatures descend upon Harris, slicing up his entire body). Brought to life with near-flawless CGI, the monsters look damn creepy, but it’s their actions that make Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark such an intensely disturbing motion picture.

Forget all the negative connotations you normally associate with the word “remake”: Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is one “update” that actually improves upon the original.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

#1,531. Final Destination 3 (2006)

Directed By: James Wong

Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ryan Merriman, Kris Lemche

Tag line: "This Ride Will Be The Death Of You"

Trivia: Cast members had to ride the rollercoaster 26 times in one night to shoot the main premonition scene

Final Destination 3 follows the same basic formula as both Final Destination and its 2003 sequel. Fortunately for director James Wong and his team, that formula still works.

McKinley High’s class of 2005 is enjoying a night at the local carnival, and fellow senior Wendy Christensen (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is snapping digital photos of everyone, some of which will appear in the upcoming yearbook. Spurred on by her boyfriend Jason (Jesse Moss), Wendy agrees to ride the carnival’s main attraction, the “Devil’s Flight” rollercoaster. Joined by their friends Carrie (Gina Holden) and Kevin (Ryan Merriman), Wendy and Jason hop aboard the ride, but before it begins Wendy has a premonition that the coaster is going to break apart. After begging to be let off, she, along with Kevin and a handful of others, climb out of the coaster and head for safety. Sure enough, the disaster that Wendy predicted comes true, killing those who stayed on board (including Jason and Carrie).

Several days later, two of the girls who left the rollercoaster early, Ashley (Chelan Simmons) and Ashlyn (Crystal Lowe), die in a freak accident. It’s at this point Wendy starts to suspect that everyone who got off the ride early cheated death, which has now come back to settle the score. Armed with the photos taken that fateful evening (many of which seem to predict how the "survivors" are going to die), Wendy and Kevin set out to warn the others. But as the fatalities mount, they realize their time is running out.

As with the series’ previous outings, the kill scenes in Final Destination 3 are amazingly creative, starting with the rollercoaster tragedy that kicks everything off (at one point, the heavily damaged coaster stalls while going through a loop, leaving everybody hanging upside-down. A few people try to escape by undoing their safety belts, only to fall hundreds of feet to their doom). But that’s just the beginning; over the course of the movie, we watch as a number of everyday items, including tanning booths and weight benches, are transformed into killing machines. And while questionable CGI sometimes takes the edge off of them, the deaths in Final Destination 3 are pretty spectacular.

A third movie that’s as entertaining as the first two, Final Destination 3 proves you can never get too much of a good thing.

Friday, October 24, 2014

#1,530. The Barrens (2012)

Directed By: Darren Lynn Bousman

Starring: Stephen Moyer, Mia Kirshner, Allie MacDonald

Tag line: "The terrifying legend of the Jersey Devil is alive"

Trivia: A majority of the scenes were done in a single take

Every summer, I take the family to the Jersey Shore for a week's vacation. To get there, we first have to drive through a sizable portion of the Pine Barrens, a heavily wooded area that covers well over a million acres of Southern New Jersey. Along with its endless supply of fresh water, the Pine Barrens is also the alleged home of a creature known as the Jersey Devil, a monstrous being that has been sighted in the area time and again since 1735, the year it was supposedly "born".

The Barrens, a 2012 horror film, introduces us to Richard (Stephen Moyer), who believes that, as a child, he had a run-in with the Jersey Devil during one of his many fishing trips to the area. Returning to the Barrens for a weekend of camping with his wife Cynthia (Mia Kirshner), daughter Sadie (Allie MacDonald) and young son Danny (Peter DaCunha), Richard becomes increasingly convinced that the creature is back, and is stalking his family.

But has the beast actually returned, or is something else clouding Richard's mind?

Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman, The Barrens is as much a psychological thriller as it is a horror film, focusing on its main character as he struggles to figure out what’s really going on around him. Stephen Moyer delivers an excellent performance as the patriarch who, though growing sicker by the day, is doing everything he can to keep his family safe, never quite realizing that he himself may be the very monster threatening their well-being.

Over the course of the movie, Richard deteriorates before our eyes, both physically (we learn he suffered an injury several weeks earlier that, if not treated soon, could prove fatal) and emotionally (his jealousy often gets the better of him. At one point, he catches Cynthia on her cell phone. Accusing her of talking with a male friend he had forbidden her to contact, Richard grabs the phone and, in a fit of rage, tosses it into the surrounding woods). Moyer successfully conveys these changes in his character’s personality, taking what at first had been a loving husband and nurturing parent and turning him into something much more terrifying.

Yet, through it all, Bousman continually reminds us there may, in fact, be more going on here than meets the eye. Starting with an early scene around a fire, where fellow camper Ryan (Erik Knudson) and his pals relate the legend of the Jersey Devil, we are never quite sure if the events that follow are, indeed, the work of a mentally unstable Richard, or if someone - or something -  much more sinister is at play.

There are times when we catch a glimpse of the creature (which, for a low-budget film, looks pretty good), but seeing as Richard is the only one who encounters it, we don’t know if its real or a figment of his imagination. The tension increases as Richard, hoping to escape the crowded campsite, leads his family deeper into the woods, where they come across an abandoned tent (which  has been torn to shreds) and a dead dog tied to a tree. Clearly, something very bad happened here, and it’s to director Bousman’s credit that he manages to keep us guessing even when we think we have it all figured out.

An edgy, frightening motion picture, The Barrens has me looking at the Pine Barrens in a way I never had before. It's guaranteed that the next time I’m driving through South Jersey, I’ll be keeping an eye out for more than State Troopers!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

#1,529. From Within (2008)

Directed By: Phedon Papamichael

Starring: Elizabeth Rice, Thomas Dekker, Kelly Blatz

Tag line: " If you believe in the light, you've got to believe in the dark"

Trivia: This movie was nominated for a 2010 Fangoria Chainsaw Award for Best Screenplay

Angry over the death of his mother (who was killed by religious fanatics because she dabbled in witchcraft), Sean (Shiloh Fernandez) shoots himself in the head, which, unbeknownst to everyone, releases a curse on the small community of Grovetown, one that causes otherwise normal people to do exactly what Sean did: commit suicide. As the death toll rises, Dylan (Kelly Blatz), the son of the town’s most respected preacher, confronts Aidan (Thomas Dekker), Sean’s brother, and demands that he answer for what his family has unleashed. While most of the town is against him, Aidan is befriended by Lindsey (Elizabeth Rice), who objects to the way her boyfriend (Dylan) is acting. But when it looks as if Lindsey herself will be the curse’s next victim, Aidan makes a startling confession, then promises to do everything he can to protect her.

For me, one of the most fascinating aspects of From Within is its premise. Launched by black magic, the curse (which spreads one person at a time) invades the psyche of its potential victim, convincing him or her that their doppelganger is out to get them. In an early scene, young Molly (Amanda Babin) comes face-to-face with an entity that's a mirror image of herself (confused and frightened, she attempts to run, but to no avail). The look of these “duplicates” is also one of the film’s strong points (they’re exact replicas in every way except the eyes, which are lifeless), and some of the scenes where they’re facing off against their human counterparts are exceptionally tense (being supernatural in nature, these entities aren’t bound by physical laws, and can appear anywhere, at any given time).

Unfortunately, the payoff of each encounter is far less satisfying than what precedes it. Take, for example, the sequence I mentioned above, where young Molly is on the run from her doppelganger. After a nerve-racking chase, the duplicate corners Molly and cuts her wrists by running them along the broken glass of a windowpane. Yes, it’s a violent end, but it’s also not a very creative one. In fact, none of the deaths that result from the curse are anywhere near as interesting as the encounters themselves, taking the edge off each one at the precise moment they should have been at their strongest. I also didn’t much care for the movie's religious angle, where stereotypical Christian zealots spew hate and sanction violence, all in the name of God. Characters such as these have become a tired cliché, and in my opinion From Within would have been just as good without them.

The above weaknesses aside, From Within is a decent, well-made horror film with thrills, chills, and a surprise or two to keep you on your toes.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

#1,528. Beyond the Wall of Sleep (2006)

Directed By: Barrett J. Leigh, Thom Maurer

Starring: George Peroulas, Fountain Yount, Gregory Fawcett

Tag line: "I wake with bad things"

Trivia: This movie was based on a 1919 magazine article

After the impressive The Call of Cthulhu, I wanted to check out another indie movie inspired by the writings of H.P. Lovecraft, which led me to Beyond the Wall of Sleep, a 2006 motion picture co-directed by Barrett J. Leigh and Thom Maurer. Unfortunately, this film was a major disappointment. 

In every way imaginable.

Based on Lovecraft’s 1919 short story of the same name, Beyond the Wall of Sleep introduces us to Edward Eischel (Fountain Yount), a medical intern at the Ulster County Psychiatric Asylum who’s been conducting experiments designed to tap the full potential of the human brain. His curiosity is piqued by the arrival of a new patient; a backwoods murderer from the Catskill Mountains named Joe Slaader (William Sanderson). His simplistic nature aside, Joe has a deformity on his back that fascinates Eischel, who longs to make Slaader his next test subject. But when the arrogant Dr. Wardlow (Kurt Hargen) interferes with his work, Eischel is forced to take extreme measures to see his project through.

Beyond the Wall of Sleep fails on just about every level, including the acting (which ranges from inept to over-the-top), the sound (whenever a character in the background speaks, his or her dialogue is inaudible), the special effects (when they’re shown in close-up, the “growths” on Joe Slaader’s back look as if they’ve been taped on), and even basic storytelling (there are entire sequences that have nothing whatsoever to do with the main story, and were created solely to pad out the running time). Perhaps most frustrating of all is the film’s visual style; early on, we’re treated to sequences featuring multiple images and rapid-fire editing, designed to give the viewer the impression they’ve wandered into a nightmare world of insanity. Far from sending a shiver up my spine, these erratic scenes only managed to give me a headache.

Clearly, with Beyond the Wall of Sleep, directors Leigh and Maurer thought they were making an art house movie, but in the end, all they’d managed to produce was a jumbled, incoherent, and flat-out dull motion picture.

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 a stint in in prison for murdering her abusive husband (who also happened to be a cop), Marnie (Famke Janssen) is finally heading home, where she will be under house arrest for the next 12 months. With an electronic tracking device attached to her leg, Marnie is restricted to a 100-foot radius; if she wanders beyond that point, she will be back in jail before she knows it.

Despite these limitations, Marnie does her best to lead a normal life. But as she will soon discover, 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 that she killed him!

Mike picks up right where he left off, beating Marnie on a regular basis. For help, Marnie turns to Shanks (Bobby Cannavale), her husband’s former partner, as well as Joey (Ed Westwick), the delivery boy for the local supermarket. But will either of them believe she's being tormented by a ghost?

Famke Janssen delivers an electrifying performance in Eric Red's 100 Feet, playing a once-battered housewife who continues to suffer at the hands of a deranged ghost. Yet what makes her character so fascinating isn't that she is being tormented by a spirit, but the manner in which she handles the entire ordeal. As portrayed by Janssen, Marnie is a tough-as-nails woman who refuses to let a ghostly presence get the better of her. 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”, reminding Mike that it’s his own fault he’s dead. From start to finish, Janssen coveys an inner strength that is entirely convincing.

That said, when it comes to its horror elements, 100 Feet is hit and miss; Mixed in with the effective shocks (the sequence where Mike first makes his presence known to Marnie is abundantly creepy) are a few cheap thrills (there's a screeching cat, a time-honored jump scare that has been done to death). But the real problem is the ghost itself, which is inconsistent. Sometimes it appears in full form, while at other times we can’t see it at all. There’s even a scene where Marnie takes a swing at Mike and actually connects, something that had me scratching my head when, later on, she tries knocking him down with a baseball bat and it simply passes through him.

These issues aside, 100 Feet is a movie I’d recommend. Famke Janssen is stellar as the lead, and alone makes it worth your time. 

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 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) - Spotlight on Australia

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 gory violence, but there was a point in 2009’s The Loved Ones where I had enough. Don’t get me wrong: it’s a tremendous motion picture; a tense, often unsettling film that had me poised on the edge of my seat. Still, the brutality is so relentless, so extreme, that I occasionally had to look away.

On the last day of school, 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 to the Stone homestead, which has been decorated to look like a dance hall. It seems that Lola’s father - who will do anything to make his little girl happy - is hosting his own shindig, and Brent is Lola’s “date”. Continuously tortured and beaten by his captors throughout the evening, Brent tries his damnedest to escape, but the more he struggles to free himself, the harsher his “punishment”.

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 informed Lola he couldn’t go with her to the dance), but is something of a victim himself. As the film opens, Brent is learning how to drive, and his dad is the passenger. Suddenly, a bloodied young man darts into the street, causing Brent to lose control of the car and crash into a tree, killing his father instantly. 

This makes what happens to Brent over the course of The Loved Ones 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 re-captured. 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, the psychotic teen with an adolescent’s mentality who always gets her way. Also strong is John Brumpton as Lola’s dad, an emasculated figure who is 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 ends; 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 watch it again myself.

But not for a while.

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 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 eventually 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, she 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, felt a little too forced for my tastes. This time around, though, I kinda liked the mix of characters, and Ali Larter’s Clear complimented them perfectly.

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's done 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 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 and Larry’s face was sliced off when he “fell” onto 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 with a baseball bat), 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 evoke 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, the croc 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 creature, 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. Will 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 is 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 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

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

#1,520. The Call of Cthulhu (2005)

Directed By: Andrew Leman

Starring: Matt Foyer, John Bolen, Ralph Lucas

Tag Line: "This Spring, the Stars Will at Last Be Right"

Trivia: Named an official selection of the feature competition at the 2006 Slamdance Film Festival

Based on the H.P. Lovecraft story of the same name, The Call of Cthulhu is an oddity in that it is a black and white silent film produced in 2005, yet designed to look as if it was released in the 1920’s. More than a novelty, this approach also proves the most effective way to relate its unusual story.

While browsing through the papers of his recently deceased great-uncle (Ralph Lucas), a man (Matt Foyer), whose name is never revealed, stumbles upon information about a strange cult centering on a mythical creature named Cthulhu. The deeper he delves into the cult, the more confused he becomes, realizing all the while that his attempts to piece this mystery together could cost him his sanity.

Stylistically, The Call of Cthulhu is an impressive film, successfully capturing the look and feel of a silent-era motion picture. With a bombastic score composed by, among others, Chad Fifer and Ben Holbrook, the movie pays homage to (among others) The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, notably in the scenes that recreate the disturbing nightmares of Henry Wilcox (Chad Fifer), a man the lead’s great uncle had interviewed years earlier. With their sharp angles and surreal atmosphere, these dream sequences are among the movie's most creative. Yet as strong as these moments are, it’s the grand finale, in which sailors are attacked by Cthulhu himself, that will stay with you.

To be honest, I have very little experience with the writings of H.P. Lovecraft, and never read the short story on which The Call of Cthulhu was based. Being a horror fan, I know at some point I'll check out his work, and if it’s anywhere near as intriguing as this movie, I’m now looking forward to it!

Monday, October 13, 2014

#1,519. The Theatre Bizarre (2011)

Directed By: Douglas Buck, Buddy Giovinazzo, et al

Starring: Udo Kier, Virginia Newcomb, Amanda Marquardt

Trivia: A concrete company based in Connecticut was one of the financial investors for this film

Inspired by France’s Grand Guignol, a Paris theater that specialized in dark, twisted productions, The Theatre Bizarre presents six individual short films (each helmed by a different director) telling six unique stories. Like any horror anthology, some of the movies that make up The Theatre Bizarre are better than others, but truth be told, there isn’t a stinker in the bunch.

A young woman named Enola Penny (Virginia Newcomb) is mesmerized by the abandoned theater across the street from her apartment. One night, she pays a it a visit, and is treated to six tales of the macabre presented by a clockwork mannequin (the great Udo Kier). Serving as the film’s wraparound story, this segment, titled Theatre Guignol, was directed by Jeremy Kasten. With its dark setting and life-size marionettes, Theatre Guignol is visually stunning, yet the main thrust of this sequence is to move us from one short to the next and on that level, it gets the job done.

First up is The Mother of Toads (directed by Richard Stanley), in which Martin (Shane Woodward), a student researching the occult, visits France with his girlfriend Karina (Victoria Maurette). While there, he encounters an old Gypsy woman (Catriona MacColl) who, after selling Karina a pair of earrings inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s "Necronomicon", invites the couple to visit her at her home. Karina decides not to go, but Martin, fascinated by the woman’s knowledge of the occult, can’t pass up the opportunity. Once there, though, he realizes there’s more to his host than meets the eye. Next up is I Love You (directed by Buddy Giovinazzo), the tale of an overbearing husband (Andre M. Hennicke) who learns that his wife (Suzan Anben) is not the woman he thought she was. While these two are undoubtedly the lesser of the six shorts, both The Mother of Toads and I Love You are nonetheless well-acted, and intriguing enough to keep an audience’s attention (I Love You is especially engaging, and features a disturbing final scene). Though a bit light on horror, The Accident (directed by Douglas Buck) is a wonderful film about a young girl (Melodie Summard) who, after witnessing the aftermath of a fatal motorcycle accident, asks her mother (Lena Kleine) about the nature of death, and why people must die (part of what makes The Accident so effective is its haunting score, provided by composer Pierre Marchand). The Darkly comic Sweets (directed by David Gregory) is the stomach-turning story of Estelle (Lindsey Goranson) who, after seducing Greg (Guildford Adams) with a variety of sweets (from cotton candy to cake and everything in between), abruptly announces their relationship is over. But she and Greg will meet again, under very strange circumstances. A fetishistic look at the excesses of gluttony, Sweets is an entertaining, yet at the same time unusually disgusting short you won’t want to watch while eating dinner.

All four of the movies listed above are good in their own right, but the two remaining films are the standouts. Wet Dreams (directed by Tom Savini) is the sometimes sexy, often violent tale of a man (James Gill) who, every night, dreams that his penis has been cut off. Also featuring Debbie Rochon as the oft-abused wife and Savini himself as a therapist, the picture focuses on the power of dreams, and, as you’d expect from a Tom Savini flick, has its share of gore. Finally, we have the very creative Vision Stains (directed by Karim Hussain), in which a young girl (Kaniehtiio Horn), who’s discovered a way to preserve the memories of others, murders a series of drug addicts and vagrants (all female). Before finishing them off, however, she injects a needle into her victim’s eye. Then, just before the moment of death, she withdraws liquid from said eye and injects it into her own, thus passing the victim’s memories on to her, which she jots down in a notebook. Believing she’s doing a public service by preserving the life experiences of these lost young women, the girl attempts a new sort of transfusion when she encounters a pregnant prostitute (Imogen Haworth), one that threatens to destroy both her and her life’s work. A smart, crisply-paced picture, Vision Stains is, in my opinion, the finest in what is a strong collection of films.

One of the best horror anthologies in recent memory, The Theatre Bizarre features seven (the six shorts and the wraparound) distinctive stories that together make for a very satisfying motion picture experience.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

#1,518. The Mist (2007)

Directed By: Frank Darabont

Starring: Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, Laurie Holden

Tag line: "Belief divides them, mystery surrounds them, but fear changes everything"

Trivia: Director Frank Darabont originally wanted the shoot the film in black and white

When a thunderstorm damages his house, artist David Drayton (Thomas Jane) heads into the nearby town of Bridgton, Maine, for supplies. Joined by his young son Billy (Nathan Gamble) and neighbor Brent Norton (Andre Braugher), Drayton swings by the supermarket, arriving just ahead of a thick mist, which is quickly rolling into the area. 

Suddenly, a tornado alarm sounds, at which point Dan Miller (Jeffrey DeMunn) rushes into the store. His nose bleeding, Dan tells everyone that there’s something in the mist, which, he claims, carried off one of his friends. As a precaution, supermarket employee Ollie Weeks (Toby Jones) immediately locks the doors, just as the mist envelops the entire store. 

With dozens of frightened and confused customers wondering what they should do next, Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden), the local religious zealot, begins shouting that Armageddon has arrived, and that everyone should make their peace with God before it’s too late. 

Having left his wife Stephanie (Kelly Collins Lintz) at home, Drayton is anxious to get to her, but will the unknown creatures lurking in the mist allow him to leave, or is it truly, as Mrs. Carmody believes, the end of days?

Based on a novel by Stephen King and directed by Frank Darabont (who also helmed two other King adaptations, The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile), The Mist is an intense horror film that, at the outset, plays on our fears of the unknown. At first, the thick, fog-like mist offers up no clues, leaving some to wonder if the danger is real, or a figment of Dan Miller’s imagination. That question is answered when Drayton notices the entire back room is filling up with fumes, which seem to be coming from the generator. Joined by Ollie Weeks and several others, including Norm (Chris Owen), the store’s bag boy, they determine that something is clogging the generator’s exhaust vent. Ignoring Drayton’s protests, the group sends Norm outside to clear the blockage. Alas, poor Norm doesn’t get far; shortly after venturing outside, he’s grabbed by a huge, octopus-like tentacle, which proceeds to drag him off. It’s at this point The Mist changes gears, transforming itself into an old-fashioned monster movie, complete with sequences in which the unfortunate few trapped inside the store face off against creatures that, in the end, may be too powerful to defeat.

Yet as terrifying as these monsters can be, they sometimes pale in comparison to the fanatical Mrs. Carmody, who, as the situation drags on, convinces people the outside threat is the work of God. As she gains followers, her rhetoric becomes even more "fire and brimstone", and at one point claims that God is demanding a sacrifice of blood. It isn’t long before Drayton and a few others realize its just as dangerous to stay as it is to leave. By placing its characters in such extreme conditions, The Mist shows us how easy it is to erase the fine line that separates order from chaos.

All of these dynamics come together brilliantly, working in unison to make The Mist an unsettling experience from start to finish.