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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Wild Riders (1971) - Bikers Psychopath

Wild Riders (1971) - So far my Biker films have been a real mixed bag, a couple decent ones and a couple real duds, so when Wild Riders arrived from Netflix to break the tie I immediately found the time to watch it. I have to say though that it did not really impress, it is less a biker movie and more of a home invasion film. The opening scenes set up our main character Pete (Arell Blanton) and Stick (Alex Rocco), a young woman (Linda Johanesen) is being abused by bikers who are all around and laughing and jeering, we don't see exactly what was done to her but the after affects as she appears to be dead bound to a tree. Next we have the bike gang leader Dirty Denny (his real name) telling Pete that all the old ladies in the gang are too uncomfortable with the murder of the woman in the beginning and want him and Stick to leave the gang. There will be heat from the police as well and the whole gang will not tolerate going down with the two. Pete tries to explain that when he saw the woman with the black member of the gang he flipped. He uses more colorful language but Dirty is not hearing it. He is not a racist and the decision is made, the two have to go their own way.
  It is something to see that the motorcycle gang finds the two too repulsive to allow in the gang. Also that the woman in the gang used their relationships with their men to move the two out. The first scene at first looks like an assault and the gang just laughing at the woman. We only learn afterwards that she died. Pete says things got out of hand so the viewer is left thinking that Pete is not necessarily a bad dude but maybe like he said things just went wrong. Next we get the required tracking shots of Pete and Stick riding across the country to California. They are desperate, low on cash and towards the end of the credits looking for food in trash bins. This is when Pete looking through a site seeing monocle sees the two woman in a house. Sitting by the pool in the plush California hills home. He and Stick make for the house.
  The two woman at the house are a lonely housewife named Rona (Elizabeth Knowles) and her college years friend Laure (Sherry Bain). Rona's musician husband (Ted Hayden) is traveling so the two women are having some girl time, enjoying the pool when the two bikers show up. Pete being the more handsome of the two talks his way into the house. Rona attracted to the handsome biker makes the poor decision to let the two in. Laure not inclined to socialized with the two dangerous looking guys is apprehensive. Rona is a woman bored with her life. A woman with a boring husband who is constantly on the road she is looking for any adventure to liven up her lonely life. Pete is just the answer for her, he easily seduces her. Unfortunately this leaves his less than stable friend Stick in another part of the house with Laure. Things go horribly wrong!
  Director Richard Kanter wrote the screenplay for this film from a story by Sal Comstock and I don't know if it was intended it but seems to be making a comment on biker society. They are a group outside the law, but  Pete and Stick are too bad for even the bikers. Is it because the bikers already are outsiders that they ever accepted the even crazier pair. Do the craziest in our gravitate to these groups? Well we soon realize that Stick is completely off his rocker. Angered by a frog statue he thinks Laure put in front of him, he loses his cool. He accuses her of making fun of him and starts man handling her, ripping her clothes and then he rapes her. Kanter cuts back and forth between this scene and one of Pete seducing and making love to Rona in a gentle caring way. This editing is quite fucking disturbing and editor Marco Meyer should get credit for screwing with the viewers brains.
  From this point forward the film moves to a real hostage situation where Pete tries to get them to let go of the act that Stick did. His charming nature is replaced by a hard edge as he bullies the women. They know although he is still coming across as the kind one that their is danger just behind his eyes. We learn more about Stick, obviously mentally ill he has no impulse control nor a sense of right and wrong. We learn that he is the one who lost it on the girl in the beginning of the film and staked her to the tree with metal spikes. So we have a picture that Pete who has been best friends with Stick since childhood is the guy who tries to keep him in line.
  Needing money before they can move on Pete takes stuff from the house to sell at a nearby fence. Each time he leaves the house is a frightening experience for Rona and Laure as they are left alone with the unstable Stick. Still it is also an opportunity to escape the situation and they do try. They fail a couple different times but still they give it an effort. This behavior only antagonizes Pete and Stick and they become more hostile as the film goes on. On the second trip out to the fence Rona convinces Stick that Pete has left him behind to take the fall for all that has happened (which included the murder of a neighbor) and get him to agree to take them on the road as he heads to Mexico. They figure they have a chance if they can get out of the isolation of the house. They almost make it too, if Pete didn't show up right at the moment they were getting in the car. He loses it and it is revealed that Pete is much more dangerous than thought too.
  Things seem really gloomy for the women, and when the husband returns in a cab the final sequence plays out in a violent fashion. What I liked about this film was the slow development that showed the relationship between Pete and Stick one way, and then flipped it on its head. As the film goes on and it is revealed that both are really sick individuals changing how we as viewers approach them. Actor and fellow Bostonian Alex Rocco is great as Stick capturing the schizophrenic behavior of the character and being both simple and complex. Still not sure this can necessarily be called a biker film. It is certainly a lesson about not letting strangers into your house. I would have to say though that the bad films now out number the good in this little exercise. This film although not horrible is really not very nice. Women are mistreated and there is rape and bullying and murder and although the ending was acceptable for all the behaviors presented, I am left with a negative feeling in the end. Available on dvd at Netflix.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

All Things Horror Night

  Want to see a zombie buddy movie made for about six thousand dollars? Okay normally hearing the will make the average movie goer roll there eyes and the drop their $13 on the latest romcom that features the exact character development and situations of the three hundred such movies they have see before. What I am saying is America is trained to see a small slither of commercially produced film and very seldom will waiver from their programming. Sure around Oscar time the thinking man drivel will be rolled out to be displayed with it's broken character so Philip Seymore Hoffman or can wow the public with his prowess as an actor who lives his characters. In general though they will go see the epic which remarkable also end up getting awards. They happily go an watch Daniel Day Lewis turn Lincoln into a shuffling old grandpa who can't seem to stop talking in stories. So much so that the screenwriters had to make an inside joke about it in the fucking movie. Yet the awards and millions of dollars in budgets go to these films and the people flock to see them. Ask an average movie goer to see a small independent film and level of contempt is shown because it is not in the training to even see these films. America you are missing out! Thousands of small films are released each year and most are seen by too few eyes. Luckily for horror fans in eastern Massachusetts have the wonderful horror buffs at All Things Horror Online who seek out and bring us those movies we would normally miss. They can also be contacted as most groups through their Facebook page. All Things Horror try to have a screening at the Somerville Theater the third Saturday of each month presenting shorts and usually a new horror feature from independent film makers. This is what I was out  doing Saturday night and would love to see all of you too in the future.
 We had a zombie movie the The Battery (2012) written and directed by and acted in by Jeremy Gardner who came to the event and did a Q&A after the feature was shown. The film a character driven story about two former minor league baseball players making there way through western Connecticut after the zombie apocalypse. Gardner plays Ben a former minor league catcher, a survivor and realist in an unbelievable situation. He is traveling with his former teammate and battery mate pitcher, Mickey (Adam Cronheim) not so much going anywhere but more keeping on the move to avoid being trapped in any one place. It is alluded to that at one point they had been trapped in a house in Pittsfield MA. for several months and only when completely desperate had tried a ploy to escape that luckily for them had worked. Since then they had roamed the back roads of New England making the best of the end of civilization.
  Budget limited this film severely but what you get is a solid character based film about too guys in an impossible situation. Ben is all business in the end of the world. Moving place to place, staying out of populated areas and surviving. He is Mickey's protector and does all the killing of the pair. Ben doesn't seem to mind the constant travel and kills because it needs to be done not because there is any joy in it. Mickey travels with him in a state of denial, wearing headphones he can't even bring himself to say the word zombie even though the evidence is all around him that it is indeed the fate of most people to be zombies. So for Mickey there is a pretty clear story arc. He must come out of his denial and start defending himself to be able to survive the situation if ever anything should happen to Ben. Early in the film I was reminded of parts of the film Stake Land (2010) where there is also a character who has a story arc that takes him from dependent to competent.
 Overall the film does a very good storytelling the adventures two travelers but there are some structural flaws that work against the story. Now before I get started here I want to be clear I really enjoyed the film. There are some pretty inspired ideas in it and I would watch it again. I's important to note this film was made for almost nothing and is very well executed. But feedback is a gift, and you know that sometimes the gift you get was not the gift you wanted, so onward...
  First the trivial missed opportunities, we have a character who is constantly wearing headphone and putting batteries in the player. Going against expectation this never came back put this character in harms way, well not in a significant way. I wondered what if, what if he didn't hear the zombies coming up from behind? What if he the batteries died and he suddenly had to put himself at risk to get more? What if the player stopped working altogether? In the end the player and the incredible risk of wearing headphone did not play a part in the characters outcome at the climax, I wished it did since it was such an intricate  part of his personality.
  More than that though was a really tough structural choice, somewhere just about or a bit over halfway the film sort of moves Mickey's arc along. He and Ben come to a house and Mickey wants to stay the night instead of sleeping on the road in the car. He is very insistent and Ben consents but only after reminding him that he does not want another Pittsfield situation. When Ben puts a captured zombie into the bedroom with Mickey, forcing him to make his first kill we see Mickey change. He becomes the more complete survivor and is now more on equal terms with Ben. Still he is looking for stability and hearing a women's voice on a walkie-talkie is all it takes to get him obsessing about who and where she is. The early completion of his person arc left too much time between the middle of the film and the end of the third act where his development pays off.  I think I would have liked if the arc complete a bit later, the third act where the situation calls for him to stand up and be the leader in the situation at hand.
  Also is the really incomplete mysterious voices on the airwaves. Yes they were kept a mystery so the ending could play out the way it did. An ending of I'm coming for you but one we never get to see. Nor do we learn anything about these people other than their insistence that they are not what the guys think they are. The setup of these characters, Mickey's obsession with Annie (Alana O'Brien) is never satisfactorily paid off. She ends up just being the reason Mickey has to step up. Also the reason they end up in their final scenerio which I have to say is the biggest problem for me with this film.
  All the build up of the first two acts is thwarted by the long car scene of the third act. Where we should have been building to something exciting and grand instead we have a ten minute scene of two people trapped in a car. There was some good energy and development but all of it is lost in the third act. I know that the setup is there but boy was that the hardest part of the film to watch. When all was said and done though the film holds up. Now if you are a horror fan and think you are getting a big budget film, remove that idea from your head. Because of the small independent source this is not full of special effect and really has very few zombies in it also. It really is based in the world but specifically in looking at these two men. Still The Battery is an solid film with a good story and is worth a watch. It is soon to be distributed through steaming services so keep an eye out for it.

Angels Hard as They Come (1971) - Bikers

Angels Hard as They Come (1971) - Now this is what I imagined a biker film to be all about, no bullshit kick you in the teeth violence and revenge for wrongs done. Its a simple but complex story about ego and courage that leaves the viewer knowing that bad guys get theirs and the good guys come out on top. Again like in Angel Unchained there is a duality here that goes beyond simple plot. The mix of hippie, peace and love and biker bad ass combine to talk about the duel nature of man and show that there is a need for both parts to be a compete person.
  Written by Jonathan Demme, the director of such films as Rachel Getting Married, Philadelphia, and The Silence of the Lambs, I had no idea he had an early career in  genre movie writing. He penned several of these films in the early seventies, including this film as well as Black Mama, White Mama (1973) and Caged Heat (1974). In this film Demme takes the ideas of the outsider and tunes it to possible comment on the duality of man. In this film we have three basic groups, The Biker heroes are the Angels, who because they are bikers are not great people. They are drug dealing lowlifes, no doubt,  but there is a code of honor. They are outsiders to society and law but have an internal structure about how outsiders interact with each other. You have a group of hippies who are all about acceptance and love. Nonviolent they are outsiders to society. Because they are not aggressive are victims to other outsiders who are more violent. Then we have the Dragons who are representation of chaos, they are the ultimate outsiders the part of man that can be moved to evil deeds just because no one can stop them. The three group come together at an old west ghost town to pay out a drama of good versus evil.
   Long John (Scott Glenn) is in the  Angels biker gang. A group of criminal bikers doing drug deals in the desert. The group is careful and able to avoid the police at every turn and tough. To establish this we see the buyer in the fancy care call John Long "kid" and receive the reply. "Call me kid again and I'm going to kick your balls up to your ears.".  After working at his own crimes runs into a couple bikers from another biker gang, the Dragons, Magic (Steve Slauson) and Brain (Brendan Kelly) who are partying out at a ghost town with a small group of hippies. They invite Long John, Monk (James Iglehart) and Juicer (Don Carerra) out to the town for a bit of partying, wine women and weed as Brain says. Since the trio has a couple days before they are supposed to meet the rest of their gang they agree and head out. There is a seeming brotherhood among the bad in this world.
  Now there are three kinds of outsiders in this film, the hippies which include Henry (a young Gary Busey), Vicki (Janet Wood) and Astrid (Glinda Texter) who are free love peace lovers. They represent the higher ideal that people strive for. There are several conversations they have where they try to get the bikers to talk about their feelings. To encapsulate in words what it means to be a biker, free in a world of rules. They are non-conformist in society to but would be very willing to live and let live. Unfortunately for them the Dragons happened upon them living in the ghost town. Taking a key part of the van they are driving they are to be the night's entertainment. They unfortunately are victims in this film.
  The Angels are tough guys who are confident in their abilities. They are hard asses no doubt but see the biker gangs as a community that can have different outfit coexist. John Long is a not only tough as nails but can ride his bike too. He proves this shortly after arriving in the town when the leader of the Dragons. They race their choppers and John wins, the leaders of the dragons does not take losing well. John Long takes an interest in Astrid and when that night a couple Dragons, including their leader decide she will be there sex play thing the higher functioning Angels come to the rescue with dire consequences. Astrid is killed in the fight and the Angels are the ones who are blamed even though none of them carry a knife. They have the honor enough to defend a woman from rape even though they are not the nicest guys in the world.
  The Dragons are encapsulated by there leader, the General (Charles Dierkop). An egomaniac who is a biker to feel bigger and stronger and leader because he is nothing but spit and vinegar. He is the bully who has found that niche where his bullying can flourish. He is the base evil men can move to when they are not mature enough to handle internal feeling but instead have to act everything out in violent cruel ways. When the girl is killed the General sees this as a way to show his power. He has a mock trial and the Angels are convicted easily as the mob of the Dragons bike gang is judge and jury.
  Most of the rest of the movie is the torture of the Angels and their attempts to escape. The General wants his fun, to show what a big guy he is. He wants to humiliate the Angels and then in the end to kill them. When one of the three doomed bikers does get away it is just a matter of time before the full Angels games make it back to save their friends. The tension comes from the timing, will they get there in time to save their friends?
  The strength of the film is the contrast between the groups although the outcome is really inevitable. Still I think this is a good representation of the genre and deserves a look. Its a shame the print I saw on Amazon Prime instant watch was such poor quality. Many of the night and indoor scenes were just too dark.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Werewolves on Wheels (1971) Biker Werewolves

Werewolves on Wheels (1971) - Biker flicks were big in the late 60's and early 70's and because of that many ideas were quickly thrown together to capture some of the market. Writer/Director Michel Levesque and fellow writer David Kaufman threw together a script and had 16 days to make this low budget attempt to merge the biker film with horror. Levesque does a decent job setting up the biker gang, the Devil's Advocates in the opening credits with the standard tracking shots and the guys goofing off doing tricks on their bikes. Like in the American classic easy rider we have locals hassling them on the road and as the credit ends the bikers get their revenge when the locals in a pickup have to stop at a gas station. The driver is given a good beaten and sent off on his way. It sets the tone that these bikers won't take any shit.
   The group established we waste no time betting into the plot. The driving force of which is that one of the guys in the gang Tarot (Gene Shane), reads Tarot cards and the leader of the gang Adam (Steve Oliver) hassles him about it. He is a nonbeliever and his woman Helen (The lovely Donna Anders) having her cards read makes him a bit pissy.  Tarot is very much a hippie as well a a biker and is off put by the razzing. In response he takes the gang to a temple out near the desert where supposedly things are "heavy". The guys and a few biker Mamas are all drinking beer, rolling around wrestling when a group of monks comes down from the temple bearing bread and wine. Whats a dusty biker to do but partake, and they all get into drinking and eating the gifts from the mute monks. The Speaker for the One a monk babbles for the group of mute monks, We see that the wine was drugged and all the bikers one by one start passing out one by one until the group is in a pile in the courtyard..
  This is a story about evil, the bikers even with their limited toughness on screen think they are as bad as it gets in the world. We see them scaring cows, beating up a cowboy eight against one and hassling a poor little gas station attendant but nothing that makes them look like the killer rapists of some of this genre's worst characters. They roam the desert thinking that they are the bad asses of the world and can't be beat but really they are just guys hanging out thinking they are free. Of course with names like Pill (Billy Gray), Movie, because he always does imitations of movie stars (Gray Johnson), Scarf, and Mouse (Owen Orr) When Tarot leads them to the temple they are up against something beyond their scope. The supernatural beliefs of the satanist are more then they have come up against. After thinking they are the ones in control they find themselves all passed out while the satanists perform a Black Mass.
  Waking from her drugged stupor Helen is entranced into the temple by the chanting monks. There she does one awesome nude snake dance as the monks chant and march about. Is there power to be had through this exercise? Are the monks doing anything more than pretending that they are about to receive some insight form the devil? No pretty much there is a sacrifice of a cat and the chanting but then the bikers wake and break up the whole thing and kick all the monks asses. It seems the monks are looking for a bride for the devil and Helen is the chosen bride of Satan. Or at least that is what they think.
 This starts a trip that is profoundly changes the fate of the bikers. Having broken up the unholy mass they head out on the road but something has changed. There is a pall hanging over the group that just can't be lifted by putting miles between them and the temple. Out into the desert to clear their heads but something is wrong. In the dark as the group parties and unwinds after their ordeal. Shirley and one of the bikers sneak off for a bit of fucking. The night goes wrong though when they are attacked by a werewolf. At around the same time a traumatized Helen runs off into the  brush with Adam in pursuit, there is this whole scene were she bites him in the neck like a vampire, weird shit man. Oh yes did I mention that two people were attacked by not one but two werewolves. Yeah I held that back but in the morning it looks like the two fell off the rocks and broke their necks side by side. A sad start to clearing heads if you ask me. As the trip continues there are more deaths, the whole time  Tarot is warning them that something just is not right. Adam although a fie leader for what it is worth is reluctant to accept it. He thinks Tarot is getting in the heads of the other bikers. Still he has a friendship with tarot and still wants him to just come out of his funk.
  This is not a good movie, some of it is dark shadows of horror and other parts is hippie bikers hanging out. In the end though the these guys who think they are so bad ass believe the only way to break their curse is to head back to the temple and kill some monks. Along the way though is death and destruction. You could say that the are "On the Eve of Destruction" a popular tune sung in real life by Barry McGuire, who plays Scarf in the film. Unfortunately we don't even get to hear that song in this low budget effort. We do get some decent music though from Don Gere which is a mix of country and folk.
Also along the way they stop at this gas station where they are given such a hard time by the guy who owns the place. It was a funny story where the director Michel Levesque tells how the owner was not an actor, he was a local who agreed to be in the film. The scene was completely ab-libbed and is one of the better scenes in the film. Still just deciding to head back to the temple is not as easy as it looks and the group one minute is powering down the road and in the next are buried half way up there wheels  in the dunes of the California desert. It is all so a bad head trip as well as a bad road trip and the tensions come to a head when Adam has had enough of the sour attitude of Tarot. They end up in a big asssed fight is the dirt. When that night both Adam and Helen turn into werewolves all shit hits the fan and the bikers knowing life to be more important than the lives of their leader do what is necessary. The fianl fight is too dark on this poor print but when the werewolves die in flames there is only one thing left to do.
  The bikers are in for one last surprise at the temple and so it ends with the question. Did any of this actually take place. From the time of the temple visit to the return did any of the events actually happen or was it all just some kind of purgatory? Sometimes just because you think that you are the most evil person in the world does not mean you will not run up against something more evil. As much as this was a really poor film I have a like feeling for it. It never takes itself to be a work of art but just a biker horror movie and that is alright with me.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Angel Unchained (1970) Action Bikers

Angel Unchained (1970)  - As I prepare for watching and reviewing the film "Dear God No!" which is self reported as the closest thing to the seventies grind house biker flicks of old out now. I am first in need of a bit of an education by watching some of those films so I understand what the new film is paying homage too. So with that is mind here is the first in a series of 70s biker films I am going to cover this month. Now if you know me, you know I can't just do the straight up biker movies, I will try to find the more unusual ones. On tap are biker werewolves, versus zombies and even Bigfoot. Who is to say whether any of this will get me ready for but it should be an interesting ride.
 Angel Unchained is a strange mix of bikers and hippies joining together to stop the local cowboys from ruining the hippie commune. More than that the film looks at the effects of violence as a solution to problems. By bringing together the peace loving hippies who just want to grow there own food and live communally with the biker who take what they want when they want and live for the excitement of the fight. We see the approaches to life contrasted in a very interesting way. Add to this the outside threat of the local cowboys who disdain the commune because it challenges there rigid belief structure of what life should be and you have the formula for trouble. The commune is there so the hippies can move outside society and live on their own, they want to be outsiders but still within the confines of American society. The locals can't accept outsiders and are determined to hassle them until they leave. Enter the bikers who are really outsiders, not only to the locals and the law but to the hippies too. They are wildcards selfish and violent with the only agenda to do what they want. They represent the extreme that edge of society which can not be tamed.
  This all comes together through the story of Angel, (veteran actor Don Stroud) who after leaving his biker club he travels to a small desert town. Angel decides to intervene when the local cowboys hassle a couple hippies, Merrilee (Tyne Daly long before she was in Cagney and Lacey or Judging Amy) and Hood (T.C. Ryan) he is invited back to the commune. Bonding quickly with Merrilee Angel sees how the commune works. People working together to grow their own food and make a life worth living. He starts to question his own life up until this point. When the locals come buzzing in riding there dune buggies, the pacifist hippies are ill equipped to stop them from destroying their crops and damaging their buildings. This is not the case for Angel who arms himself with a pitchfork and wounds the local's leader Dave. (Peter Lawrence) Of course these guy promise to come back in a week and destroy the commune and creates a crisis for the community.
  Commune leader Tremaine (Luke Askew) asks if Angel can get his biker club to come by to help deal with the cowboys. Angel knows this is a bad idea but can't convince the commune members to choose a different path. Feeling responsible for the current crisis he decides to go talk to the locals and try to smooth things out. Fighting his nature he tries to reason with them but his apology is ignored and he has to fight his way back to the commune. Finally he can see no good way to deal with the locals other than approaching his former club. They are at first cool to the idea but the president of the club Pilot (Larry Bishop) and he are close and they reluctantly agree to hang out there for a week. Of course Angel tries repeatedly to warn the commune out of this course of action but in the end leads his former brothers into the place.
  The film shifts at this point to a contrast between the bikers and the hippies. It is very clear that this relationship is a delicate balance and many differences come up that could cause the bikers to take off leaving the place unprotected. Still they prepare including amusing scenes where the bikers are hoping to teach the commune members to fight back, but they don't seem capable. There are a couple of side stories also, Jackie the former "old lady" to Angel is now with biker Shotgun and he really mistreats her as well as having some testosterone driven issues with Angel. Also is the drug situation at the commune when the bikers get hold of some peyote cookies baked up by Injun and really want to score a larger quantity of the drug. In the end all of the storylines are resolved except the main one.
  Sure there is the big showdown between the commune and the cowboys, but the message the film leaves is that there is no clean way to resolve conflicts by using violence. The commune and the biker seem to triumph in the fight but it is pretty obvious they have lost the war. The commune will never be the same. The Story arc of Angel is well played out and at the end of the film the viewer has to be pleased to be left with quality questions about the use of violence. This I think was a very goods introduction to the biker film. It was not too crazy and had a well thought out plot. The execution by director Lee Madden was capable but the music, oh boy the music. It was that sickly sweet style of sixties music where it seemed a 50 year old guy wrote to sound like hippie music but contains none of the spirit. Still I think this is a worthy entry into my new education and since it is streaming on both Netflix and Amazon Prime should be easy for most of you to access.


Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Tunnel (2011) Horror Monster

The Tunnel Movie (2011) - There has to be a threshold where the found footage film is totally played out for a viewer. I am wondering if I have met that threshold after watching the tunnel. The first of these films that I remember seeing has to be The Blair Witch Project (1999) and I got the freedom the medium gave the film maker. If you are skilled enough you can turn a very small budget into a movie good enough to be presentable to a larger audience. That film made for sixty thousand dollars grossed over 14 million as a surprise hit. I don't think I am wrong to give it credit for starting the craze that has only grown the last few years. Still when you run across a movie that fails to capture the magic of the hand held footage variety of film it is really discouraging.
   To be fair The Tunnel is not the garden variety found footage film, instead it is done in the style of celebrity ghost stories TV show. The survivors of the ordeal retell their story in interviews and the footage they shot is used to supplement that telling. One could question the wisdom of using the structure of bad cable television to structure a film but lets be honest the sub genre has to look for new ways to do it as most people are already tired of the camcorder, security camera, shaking as they run footage found in almost every one of these films. At least there was some quality stationary camera work mixed in. Then when they mix in the cameraman's shots, security cameras they past and the night vision of the camcorder they were able to break the look and feel up making it more tolerable.
Similar to The Blair Witch Project, The Tunnel tells a tale of the unseen and the reactions of the characters are the focus of the horror. Hoping to slowly build from their lighthearted start to apprehensive to terrified in the third act is a very difficult trick to pull off. This film tries to use the office politics of the crew as well as their personal motivations as a base for the reason they end up in the situation they encounter. Exploring there motivations and relationships through the mock interview give a decent enough depth to the character but in the end it is secondary reason the film ultimately fails to impress.
  In the end it is that the story is not particularly interesting or scary that makes it tiresome to get through. Everyone at this point has seen this "style" of story somewhere. We have through camcorders followed characters around in the dark and watched them reacted when something goes bump in the darkness. It is a known quantity and all the window dressing about climate change and water recycling can't change that fact. Blurry snatches of glowing eyes are just not going to get our juices flowing at this point, and the fact that two thirds of the film are done when you get that bit does not help the cause. Then have we not already done this story in C.H.U.D. (1984) of course if they had just remade that movie I would probably be bitching about how the new actor can't hold a candle to Daniel Stern who killed it in that film.
  It is not that there was anything offensive about this film. The actors were all capable consisting of  four main roles on the film crew, Producer Peter (Andy Rodoreda), Journalist Natasha (Bel Delia), Cameraman Steven (Steve Davis) and sound guy Tangles (Luke Arnold). They play the confused apprehensive, scare and terrified role well enough. There was enough internal conflict and competing motivation to carry a reasonable story along. What didn't work the most was it was just not very frightening. The special effects were close to nonexistent and when they were employed the shots were way too short. Director Carlo Ledesma shot them from too far away and without enough light to make the creatures scary. It could be the limited budget meant the effects would look to back up close and well lit. Unfortunately this made the shot less impressive.
  When the story played out it really seemed too many possibilities were left behind in the tunnels and the interpersonal story was just not what a horror fan is looking for. I would recommend not going down into the depths of this attempt.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Entrance (2006) Horror Demon

The Entrance (2006) - "In the year 1612, renowned exorcist Father Sebastian Michaelis wrote about a possessed nun, Sister Madeleine at Aix-en Province, France. The demon possessing Sister Madeleine revealed itself as a fallen Angel." These premise certainly has something to do with the plot of this movie but only to explain the cause of the events. The protagonist is caught up in the craziness of the demon is Detective Porhowski (Sarah-Jane Redmond) a female cop working the night shift. Dragging her into the events is antagonist Ryan (Michael Eklund) a drug dealer who has a life full of sin and a survival instinct to rival any final girl. Unfortunately for him he was neither a girl or the last one alive in this subpar effort.
   Writer / director Damon Vignale makes an effort here with a promising idea but without the execution nor the budget to follow through in a satisfying way. Drug dealer Ryan brings our detective heroine Porhowski into a freaky world when he shows up at her police station and tells her a wild tale of being kidnapped and then forced to play games of chance for his life. She is not buying what he is selling so when he skips out she goes on with her life until he shows up in the back seat of her car and forces her into the isolated parking garage where she will be tested.

  It is less straight forward than this linear description. For what appear to be reasons of holding back information for twists and turns in the plot, the director and editor Daryl Bennet cut this film up into pieces and mixed them around so the over arching plot is really hidden until the last act.  Ryan's story is that he was kidnapped and wakes in a room with several other men, it plays like a supernatural game of Russian roulette. If you lose a game some unseen force removes you from the room and somehow you die a horrible death. The character names in the credits show these sinner are in a sick game to punish their sins. The Pedophile (C. Ernst Harth), 1st Sinner (Zoltan Barabas), The Rapist (Jerry Wasserman), The Devil (Frank Cassini). Oh and of course there was the janitor Joe (Ron Suave) who helps Ryan get out after he loses but with a condition.
  The myth surrounding the plot and what is hinted with the quote at the start of the film is that the demon Baal-Berith likes to take sinner and force them just into this situation. The corrupted are toyed with and killed by this fallen angel. Why? Well who the fuck knows just to entertain himself is the most likely reason. Still if there is one thing better than killing a sinner for his sins, it is corrupting someone pure of heart. Unfortunately for Porhowski she is that pure heart and the price for Ryan's freedom. Although without being a heavy sinner she is one of the poorest cops I have ever seen. Ryan easily gets the drop on her and thus she ends up mixed up with the demon just like all the sinners.
  Ultimately she is presented with a choice, brought together with the man who dragged her into a car and raped her when she was a teenager. She is given the opportunity for vengeance. Will she break her oath to serve and protect and cross the line to get revenge. Will she in fact fall from grace kill her rapist joining him as a sinner in Baal-Berith's game? Still getting to that point means a lot of edits of the games and back into following the cop and back and forth. Each cut revealing a bit more of the overall story. The problem is it really lacks a narrative flow.
  Worse yet because the story of the demon is the backstory that the plot hinges on there is no good was to get that information to the audience. So Vignale uses a cop researching the interview with Ryan to figure out that whole story. It feels clumsy and doesn't really fit with the film. Every now and get we break from the main story to listen to the young cop explain to the older cop what he has learned about the demon and how it fits with Ryans recorded story. The exposition is needed to fill out the story but how it was does just does not work.
  Then to further the supernatural periodically we see black and white scenes of Father Sebastian writing of the possessed nun and her tied to the bed acting all demon like. This really is not needed as it adds absolutely nothing to the story while only serving to remind us of the quote at the beginning of the film. When all is said and done we get know real answers about Porhowski and whether she can extradite herself from the situation. Ultimately the film did not work on too many level for a recommendation so this one may be better to skip.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Madison County (2011) - Horror Serial Killer

Madison County (2011) - Here in America where close to 80% of the population lives in urban areas the idea of the isolated communities is something most of us don't experience. Most people have never lived in a community where the hundred or so inhabitants all know each other.  We see ads glorifying God and country and they are always some tired looking farmer leaning on his pickup truck. His rough hands shown in close up to let us know he works hard with them. We hear politician somehow trying to qualify small town America as "Real Americans" not even thinking that they are really just insulting eighty percent of the population with their idealistic banter. Lack of exposure though has another side, the isolation that closes those communities to us also create a breeding ground in our heads. We are the outsider when we head to a small town in rural America. We are the one everyone looks at skeptically questioning our motives. We get ideas about what those communities are hiding, why do they stay so alone with a whole world surrounding them? It is a attractive area that has been thoroughly mined by the horror genre. Madison County written and directed by Eric England take another stab into this territory.
   The story is the classic formula, get a small group of victims go out into the country so they can inexplicably separate and be killed by the local psychopath. Ah but it is not quite that simple and England should be given credit for the gimmick he sets up. James (Colley Bailey) is working on his thesis about a serial killer named Damien (Nick Principe) he read about in a book by writer David Randall (Dayton Knoll). Randall has been in touch with James only through letters and it spurs James to plan a trip out to Madison County where the killer roamed to interview locals about him and Randall's book. In the book Damian (Yule?) kills 33 people and the story goes that the townspeople did not turn him in. The contrivance actually works on a couple levels. It gets the trip together with James, his friend Will (Matt Mercer) with Brooke (Joanna Sotomura) secretly dating James and Jenna (Natalie Scheetz) with an interest in Will, and Brooke's brother Kyle (Ace Marrero) along for the ride as chaperone heading out on this adventure. Given the back story about the town and killer as well as the fact that David Randall had no internet also creates a tension that the trip will be one where help will be hard to get and communication difficult. I was glad that never did any of the characters reach for a cell phone to let us know they had no signal, that trope has long become cliche.
  The story sort of plays out as you would expect once they are on the road. Internal tension comes from brother Kyle not liking James and not knowing the two are already dating. Also from the inevitable struggle of what they should do when things start seeming really wrong with the place. External tension comes from creepy people, first a man in a dark blue pickup who after being a bit too interested in what the kids are doing tries to give them directions to "shorten" there trip. A blue truck is seen again as a sign that our victims may not be alone. Some catches of someone walking in the woods also heightens the feeling that the group is being watched. Then there is the diner they stop at where the patrons all stare and the little old lady behind the counter is just a bit strange. It all give a very satisfying setup. The director does a pretty good job creating that belly feeling you get when you know something is not right in a horror movie. It would have been more effective without the music loudly giving away moments as they built.
  It seemed quite a bit of effort was put into making the victims accept that nothing too strange was going on. There were lead in, with the Blue truck and Will thinking he saw a leg hiding behind a tree in one of his photo's. After the diner scene where a local pulls a knife on Will and only Kyle's hard stare ended the situation, they should have all been a lot more on edge. Still though they make a trip out to the supposed house of the writer  and then the film falls into some tried and true routines that leave fans of horror films yawning.
  As the characters climb the posted no trespassing fence we as an audience know things are about to go horribly wrong. Even though there was much writing effort put into keeping the character attitude nonchalant as they decide to split up and ultimately set up the final act. It is very frustrating to the viewer to watch. It leads me to wonder whether there is a good way to perform the necessary separation without pissing off the audience. It is a trope of horror films particularly slasher films that is necessary but way to expected after 40 years of the sub genre.
  The last act pays off with the group being whittled away by Damian trying hard to be iconic in his pig head mask. We have the hope for survivors but really with a small cast this could have ended as a everyone dies story. The twists are solid with David Randall coming into play before the end. The editing in this section is also really well done and may have been more praise worthy if not for the overdone musical accompaniment. Still in the end though this is a slasher and slashers are inevitible for most of the characters in the story. This leads to one more piece of film making that was very effective. Throughout the film the use of foreground focus and background blurry movement was very effective. It was so cool to see the face of the prey while the killer moved up into focus from behind, or scurried in the bushes of the background. Then the final time this is used when Brooke gets to the road and in the background we see her salvation in the background and know she chose to walk the wrong direction on that road. Very well done Mr. England.
  In the end I think there is something to be seen in Madison County. It carries the baggage of a genre well explored but there is some engaging and interesting film making while exploring that well trodden path. There is always something for city folk to fear in rural America and in this case its wearing a pigs head.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Silk (2006) - Horror Ghost

Silk (2006) - "Do you believe in ghosts?" Says the believer to his American skeptic. The reply by the soon to be deceased man is, "If there really are ghosts why do they always have clothes on?" Set in Taipei the film opens with an American ghost hunter entering a big creepy apartment building. He has a special film with Menger Sponge which supposedly captures the ghost energy in it. He does not believe all the hoopla but money is money and if the government wants to pay him to shoot photos in an old building it is a job he will take. This of course is just the setup for what is a ghost story about why spirits stay around and whether this form of immortality is worth going after.
  Our American only has the one scene because for some reason ghosts do not like to have their photos taken. It establishes the idea of ghost and their ability to kill the living and that this apartment building has one. Now the film can move onto the meat of the story and our protagonists can be introduced. There is a team of scientists? or researchers might be a better definition lead by Hashimoto (Yosuke Eguchi). Now knowing a ghost haunts the apartment they set up there equipment and move into the next room to observe through glass, His team, the anti-gravity team, Su (Barbie Hsu) Ren (Bo-lin Chen) and Mei (Chun-Ning Chang)are fodder in the end but are joined by Det. Tung (Chen Chang) an agent struggling with his own demons about death.
  The film takes a lot of time to set up his back story as a man unwilling to let go of his dying mother. It fits well in the premise of the film which really asks what holds a spirit in this world. His place on the team though is not such a nice fit. He is there to find out who the ghost was in life, a role really below his elite special ops training. He also has a love interest in Wei (Kar Yan Lam),who must at some point be at risk if the arc is to go anywhere. The film is a strange mix, pretend science of the Menger Sponge which takes several forms, a cube which a spirit can be trapped, a film that can capture images of ghosts and a eye drop spray that allows people to see ghosts. The cube is the most interesting if least explored of the technologies. It absorbs the spirit energies and can defy gravity if enough is absorbed. Thinking about the ramifications of this and the uses for an anti gravity device could have been a primary story.
  Silk instead uses the idea to move the motivations of the research team forward but never really gets into the meat of what the ideas could mean in the future. It travels down a road that is in large part about Detective Tung's and his personal story with his dying mother and connects with the ghost boy's own story on a parallel track. The film asks the question what is it that binds us together, can the emotions of one hold the spirit of another in this world after they have died. There are some side things that more distract from this, Su is not so happy to have an outsider working in the group. She never really has her role fully developed so is really a nonfactor when all is said and done.
  Hashimoto has his own motivations, for him ghosts are a form of immortality. He is striving for how to harness that ability. How can one die and still stay in the world? Even better how can they keep their consciousness when they do it. He is looking to be eternal and that is his motivation for researching the ghosts. If he can find out how and what holds the spirit in place he will surely make is own life end with the desire to be a spirit for eternity. Unfortunately the film does not stay focused on the bigger questions it meanders along slowly filling in the information but then the third act becomes a taunt thriller.
   All the set up in the beginning is wasted on a race to save this person or that with Tung and most of the rest of the cast victims of the ghost. Still there is something I liked about this film. It has depth and fully explores Tung's story. The idea of silk threads as a connecting link between the spirit world and this was cool if a bit gimmicky. So in the end I would recommend this film. It may not be the best example of a J-horror ghost movie but it is decent and engaging throughout. Check this one out.