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Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Summer of Massacre (2012) Horror Slasher

The Summer of Massacre (2012)  When starting this film the first impression was that it was a student film, some aspiring computer effects artist experimenting with After Effects and trying different ways to layer and record the carnage that is on screen. It is really a poor film and one has to wonder if this film was done on a home computer in Joe Castro's spare time. There is no story structure in the wrap around that can be seen in the opening. As the film progresses and the wrap around is filled out and a theme comes through about serial killers who have escaped and are killing together in an LA warehouse, but the first visit is bizarre torture images police and bullets. Flashes of horrors in a semi animated layering of imagery which evokes feeling but does not really get one into a story. Then as I watched the film which is four stories one wrap around and three other stand alone it occurred that maybe this was an artistic surrealist take on the slasher anthology. An artistic collage that is designed to evoke emotion and leave the viewer to fill in the details of meaning. Where the computer effects were so equally bad and distributed through the film it makes you question that it was designed to be bad. Countered with some very effective practical effects you can see that there is some skill on the film. So to see such amateur computer graphic made it hard to believe that those cartoonish parts were anything but for some artistic purpose.  To sully out what was going on meant a second viewing with the director commentary turned on. Unfortunately that experience confirmed that there was no greater artistic merit to this film. The writers Joe Castro and the single named Schroeder and executive producer Steven J. Escobar really just wanted blood and guts. Castro learning the after Effects tool just did the best he could.
The first chapter after the opening is entitled "Rampage"and is the most puzzling of the set. A young muscular man, Chris (Tim A. Cooley) is assaulted while out jogging. Beaten and mutilated something goes wrong in his brain from the trauma which makes him get up and start killing. No explanations not plot about who or why just this beating turned him into a killing machine and we are subjected to at least a dozen kills each highlighted by some unique and poorly executed digital effects. Castro says in the commentary that he has always wanted to do a story that was just killing. Although there needs to be a reason to start he just wanted everything in the frame to be carnage. It is an interesting experience watching this film with the commentary on. The makers of this film really love what they have done. They believe the digital work to be good and laugh and congratulate Castro on it sincerely. You feel the love and enthusiasm come through as they discuss each kill and how they make it happen. It is a real counterpoint to the viewing experience of ridiculous kills and horribly unrealistic cartoon effects. It  goes to show that there is a wide gap between an the ideas and the journey of film making and the experiencing of the final project from the outside. Viewing this film it is hard to believe that there is an audience for it, and from the six IMDB reviews one could say there may not be. Of course such a small sampling should not make or break this film. It's 2.4 of 10 rating probably does not even phase the makers of the film. So you have to ask yourself, if you were part of creating something, really loved the process and the final product, how would you deal with it if it was panned when you presented it to the world? 
  The second chapter "Lump" is a complete tale about a hermaphrodite cripple Lori (Nick Principe) whose place in the family is despised by most of the members. A mother, Mrs Williams (Brinke Stevens) so tired of the constant care of the dying child that she hatches a plan to rid herself of the burden. Even though there is a new steroid treatment in effect she asks her daughter Beverley Ann (Lisa M. Garcia) to take the wheelchair bound sibling and dispose of her. She and her brother and a couple friends take Lori to a nearby park. When pushing her off a cliff  does not kill her there is a shift in the film as the steroid treatment changes the handicapped pariah into a being capable of seeking revenge. This is a very complete story probably the most coherent of the four.
Chapter three "Son of the Boogyman" is the story of Jesse (Jerry Angelo) who is telling the story of his Father the infamous murderer rapist the Boogyman (Scott Barrows) to his fiancee (Kimmarie Johnson) only to  find out during the telling that the killer is free and looking for him and his Mother (Tchia Casselle). What fallows is a superhuman or supernatural encounter with the hulking killer that can only end in death and destruction.
Chapter four "Burn" is a campfire tale come to life as firefighter lovers die together fighting a forest fire in the park the campers are holding there retreat. Sent to die by other firefighters in a hate crime that is hard to imaging the two are fused together from the heat and the curse created by their deaths has them wandering the woods looking for descendents and connected people to the crime so they can exact their revenge. Lisa (Lauren Boehm), Vinnie (Felipe Winslett), and Carmen (Justin Marchert) are the unfortunate campers who get to live out the curse.
The wrap around "The Warehouse" we cut too throughout the film as interviews with serial killers from prison, talking about the wonders of the kill and how much they love it. By coming back to this, filling in the pieces of who they are it changes the tone of the film. They, Richard Khan (Joe Manetti), George Vic (Bahram Khosraviani) and Dax (Dan Lovell) are the carnage creators in the beginning of the film and their outcome finishes the movie. Its a shame because their story is the least interesting and throws a pall over what are some inventive anthology entries. They are the least interesting but are the most built up. Who really cares what a serial killer is thinking or that they are destructing for the sake of destruction. Its boring and predicable as is the ending to their story with the obligatory naked female and no matter how beautiful her body it can not save this kind of story.
 In the end I would say that the story Lump is the best of the set and although it speaks to the nature of bullying and how the lesser of humankind are often the most harmed. Still even though some of the stories are decent ideas the execution of the digital effects takes the viewer out every single time. Its a shame because there is so much of those effects you really do not go a minute or two without them interrupting the flow of the film. So there is no recommendation for this film but maybe I will look at another Joe Castro experience, one before he discovered the magic of after effects.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Assault of the Sasquatch (2009) Horror Bigfoot

Assault of the Sasquatch (2009) - When a heartless, callous bear poacher captures a Sasquatch with plans to sell it to a big game collector he is sidetracked by two things; Getting arrested for poaching and the beasts desire to get revenge on him. Terry Drake, played with piss and vinegar by Kevin Shea, can't believe his luck when poaching in the state park for bear, he tranquilizes a real life Bigfoot. Hopes of a big score are interrupted by game officers Krystle Morin (Christina Santiago) and Ryan Walker (Greg Nutcher). Arrested and his truck containing the sleeping creature confiscated all is brought to the run down police station in a even more run down part of the city. When the creature wakes and starts hunting for Drake no one in the police station or the city is safe.
   This low budget effort from the production company Synthetic Cinema International of Hartford CT. A small company that looks to be expanding beyond the horror markets from the look of their website. Written by John Doolan whose other films take a bit of a beating in the imdb ratings attempts to write a complete compelling story of a captured Sasquatch with a score to settle. This film, his second credit as writer fills in the characters and plot giving back story and depth but with some happenstance that is hard to believe. Still working and producing is what it is all about and although  a bit clunky the script gives the Director Andrew Gernhard something to start with. Both appear to be part of the Synthetic group and although the film we are discussing is not the best it is part of a growth process for the company.
  The cast of characters are attempted to be drawn with depth but some of the interconnected back stories are too clunky and amazing coincidences. Ryan who left the police force ten years earlier after he had a personal encounter with crime. His wife is killed in a robbery by one of the thugs, Talan Colletti (Alex Exum) but Ryan arrives in time to see Talans's brother holding the knife and shoots him dead. Ryan's daughter Jessica witnesses the events and both she and her father are damaged by the trauma. Giving up his life as a cop Ryan spend the next ten years hiding as a park ranger not wanting to ever expose his daughter to the horrors of police work again. Now this back story is all good as it is but unfortunately the fantastic coincidence of Talan being arrested the same night that Drake is makes for an unlikely opportunity for Ryan and talon to finish some business ten years in the making. For Talan its the opportunity to get revenge on the killer of his brother and for  Ryan a chance to get past the trauma that has racked his life for a decade also get some revenge.
  The film played more as a horror action film than straight up horror also takes a bit from its effectiveness. The creature suit filled by Jason Crisoulo is not very impressive and by showing it too much lessened the scary factor considerable. Often times it just seemed like a man in a guerrilla suit. It could have been a much more effective if the director had used less full shots of the creature, more shadow and tense build ups. When he did it was very effective but when the monster is not great looking the full shots did not work as well. In general it is probably a good idea, that when the Monster in a monster movie is not a kick ass example that the film maker should probably use less light and leave it to the audiences imagination to fill in the blanks.
  In some ways it seemed that the film was not sure what it wanted to be. Set up in some ways as a horror film in its lighting and some of the music it had the gore effects and a few scares. It was also though an action film, an "Assault on Precinct 13" with a Bigfoot. The characters are put in the position of having to fight off the creature and survive the night.  Then there was a comedy aspect particularly with the characters of Don (Shawn C. Phillips) and George (Hank Torrance) two Bigfoot hunters who happen upon the creature and capture some video. So the whole film seemed to lack a solid direction. Normally the character stories would drive the film forward but since the main one of Ryan and Talan has absolutely nothing to do with the Sasquatch somehow it is not that driving force.
So left with the Monster looking for Drake with a desire to kill him we have a film without a great main plot.
  The viewing experience of this film is that it lacks congruency. Whether the themes are not put together well enough or the transitions between scenes are too harsh, there is something not quite letting the film flow well. A discussion could be had about whether the dialog flows or are the actors failing. It is hard to say with this film, some of the acting is believable but there are many characters that are just caricatures, the silly Bigfoot hunters Don and Jameson are clowns, the salty poacher Drake, and the bad girl reformed by the cop Amy Steel (Andrea Sáenz) as well as the bad to the bone antagonist Talan. They serve their purposes but none are totally filled out and each has scenes that are not realistic. Amy has a great scene well played with a spark in her eye where she faces down Sasquatch with a riot shield and a switch blade. Although Amy through acting of Sáenz, displays a strong embrace of the scene it makes her more a super hero thus belittling her later emotional scene with the cop who adopted her.  It is a shame because some of these smaller characters seem to be the better actors. Although this writer is no expert these characters were easier to connect to than the main ones. It is still hard to say exactly why the connection is not there but it is not.
Watched in two parts, the first with my 22 year old daughter, she asked me to turn it off saying it was "terrible". Raised in a generation of glossy big budget features she seldom can get into low budget films. A different experience for this writer who grew up in the VHS revolution where DIY horror was readily available and appreciated. This movie does not get a recommendation from this blog. Not horror enough, not big budget enough to be a true action film, and not totally embracing the humor it payed at. Still  Soreport Movies does like to view these low budget films and although not recommended for you we do not mind this fair.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Abominable (2006) Horror Bigfoot

Abominable (2006) - Looking at the IMDB its hard to believe that this wonderful little film is only rated 5.1 stars of 10. This film although not perfect but a great example of how to do a small budget BBB (Blood, Breasts and Beasts, as Joe Bob Briggs says) film. One part Rear Window, one part monster movie it is a great little adventure with cool creature and a couple really great death scenes.  It is a story of Preston Rogers (Matt McCoy) broken both physically and emotionally by a climbing accident. Forced by a unhelpful therapist back to the scene of the trauma to reconcile his feelings. Traveling with a drunkard male nurse, Otis (Christien Tinsley) Preston confined to a wheel chair is pretty sure it is a bad idea to return to the place his wife died. Otis not supportive or even nice is more of a hindrance to recovery than a help. When an outside unexpected danger arrives he finds the courage to overcome his limitations and survive. Writer/director Ryan Schifrin does a good job creating a claustrophobic and scary film where the hero fights the powerless feelings, to fight back and ultimately reconcile his past as well as his physical limitations to survive.
  The setup as in Rear Window is a handicapped man sees danger from his window and has to figure out a way to intervene. Preston soon after arriving is left alone and while checking out the five newly arrived women next door spies what seems like a creature in the woods. Too far away to easily interact with the bachelorette party Preston find creative ways to get their attention. Too many stairs to get down to them he is stuck watching from afar while the danger closes in. The women Amanda (Haley Joel), C.J.(Karin Anna Cheung), Michelle (Natalie Compagno), Karen (Ashley Hartman) and Tracy (Tiffany Shepis) are soon to be the focus of what is described as larger than a Bigfoot, more like a abominable snowman but more fierce. Certainly looking like a Bigfoot the man in the suit, Michael Deak is a towering six foot six with animatronic head was well over seven feet. Preston is somewhat but not completely helpless saving them.
Early in the film Karen while outside trying to make a phone call is taken by the beast and Preston tries to find a way to tell the police in a way they will believe. Preston trapped in his chair sees through his binoculars the events and threat next door and must figure out a way to intervene. Otis a selfish and unhelpful man acts as a obstacle to Preston adding more conflict and issues to deal with.

 Film maker Schifrin recognized the limitations of the rear window approach and made the decision to expand from the one site to include a couple other scenes that add depth to the film. First is farmer Hoss (Rex Linn) and his wife Ethel (Dee Wallace) having a frightening experience with the creature when it kills an animal on their farm. A good opening to the film that could have been a body count enhancer but surprisingly it isn't. Later there is talking to store owner Clerk (Jeffrey Combs) who adds context to the accident Preston and his wife experienced. The purposefully quirky performance adds one of those small town characters needed round out the location.  The final a wonderfully scary attack scene where Clerk, Hoss and hunter friend Zeigler (Lance Henriksen) is really fun and we get not one but two people dragged off into darkness. Some other scenes at the local police station with Sheriff  Halderman (Paul Gleason) and Deputy McBride (Phil Morris) round  out a fine crew of character actors in this film.  Hiring these great horror icons and solid small part actors makes the film have a gravitas that it would otherwise be lacking.
  The music is excellent by renowned Lalo Schifrin it is great from beginning to end. A couple of excellent kills make this film worth the watching all by themselves. The first an amazing bathroom scene as seen from Preston's POV is wonderful and surprising. The second in the climax of the film is a gruesome practical effect, amazing in its bloody sloppiness. There are some things though that are draw backs stopping this film from hitting real highs and instead just making it a solid horror film. The sound is sometimes a bit off with dialog that seems unattached to the person saying it. It could be this is a dvd issue. It could be that it was added later but either way it was at time distracting. Some work arounds that allow Preston to be less passive are silly like the mobile phone white pages he uses on the internet to get Karen's phone number was lame as well as the gimmick of having the internet on the satellite while the phones are hard wired. Somehow too the wireless service is shitty, a way to get Karen off away from the house and in sights of the monster.
Odds and Ends
 -  Christien Tinsley who plays Otis is an Academy Award Nominated makeup artist earning that nomination for his work on The Passion of the Christ (2004).
  - Director Ryan Schifrin was thrilled with the opportunity to have two crane shots in the film, one at the beginining and one at the end. He felt it was important that such a small budget film get a bit of scope to make it seem larger.
  - Thinking of Rear Window Schifrin has a Hitchcock moment in the film appearing as the outside gas station attendant for a couple seconds.
  - Lead Matt McCoy is shown in photos on the mantle with his real life wife Mary McCoy.
  Overall this film is recommended by this blog, even with its flaws it is a decent well plotted monster movie. Not glossy and expensive the filmmaker makes due with what he has. The addition of the supporting cast brings it from a more pedestrian to a fun and fulfilling experience. The crazy ending shouts for a part two that should pick up right where the first ends. So if you are in the mood for a smaller budget well done Bigfoot film try this one out.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Sleepaway Camp (1983) Horror Slasher

Sleepaway Camp (1983) -There are a lot of things to like about this film, the horror geek loved film is a wonderful example of eighties slasher horror. Probably loved more now than when released Sleepaway Camp with it's shocking twist ending is something out of a time with practical effects, implied violence and inappropriate characterizations it stands up well as an example of how sanitized and yet how violence accepting films have become today. Striking in its simplicity the film is also a twisted little flick of  the effects of abuse on the psyche.
 Opening with scenes of Camp Arawak abandoned and closed, the autumn leaves changing the camera moves around the buildings while the audio echos of the events of the past are heard with the fine score by Edward Bilous building in and then winding down as we transition to the past. When we see the camp alive with campers in summer as writer /director Robert Hiltzik gives us the back story of the tragedy that forced Angela (Felissa Rose) to live with her aunt for the next eight years. Sad but necessary with just enough revealed to bring us into the present of the film timeline.
  Aunt Martha played with an insane vigor by Desiree Gould is sending Angela to camp for the first time. He son Ricky (Jonathan Tiersten) will be there to look out for her, a task he will take seriously. A bit off kilter the Martha may not be cruel but more oblivious to the trauma suffered by Angela. This is just another abuse sending her to the Camp where her Father and sibling were killed. The presentation of these scenes as almost an unreal dream like set dark all around the characters, the energy and slightly stilted and odd delivery of lines by Martha revealing her inability to empathize or be aware of the feeling of others. She is more looking for approval that will never come.
  Camp Arawak is presented with its dark side in view with pushy or apathetic counselors, pedophile staff and unstable management allows the viewer to see the brochures of play and bonding will be hard to achieve in this place. Kids arrive bonding and seeing where the relationships they had the summer before now stand a year later. We see the settling in and the beginnings of the pecking order kids will create. In a healthy environment this is where the counselors step up to smooth the distances between campers but this is presented as a dysfunctional setting and some counselor seem to just aggravate the situations.
  Angela a quiet girl who has to deal with her traumatic past is withdrawn and not wanting to participate in most activities. Older meaner kids use this as an opportunity to make fun and be mean to her. Ricky is there to keep an eye on her but her silent stare agitates the  other girls as much as her failure to participate in camp activities. In particular Judy (Karen Fields), Ricky's ex from last summer and counselor Meg (Katherine Kamhi) seem to have it out for the girl, being cruel in there harsh manner with Angela. I loved how Angela with her silence completely makes the other girls flip out. Those big doe eyes just staring directly back at the frustrated girls as they try to provoke a response in her. This is a very smart move by Hiltzik is how power is exercised in a relationship.
  Even when trying to help the camp fails in its duties, counselors bring Angela into the kitchen to see if they can find her food she will like. Concerned that she is not eating they have the right idea. Unfortunately the leave her in a back room with the perverted cook Artie (). A man who commented while watching the kids arrive "Look at all that fresh young chicken. Where I come from we call them baldies, makes your mouth water doesn't it." So leaving Angela with him spurs the peddie to  to say to Angela while undoing his belt, "You sure are a sweet little cupcake ain't ya. ... I got you gonna like real good." This is a pretty messed up setting and it makes sense that the bad guys start dying in this movie. This is not your typical character in a horror movie.
I think it is pretty obvious who the killer is, but also it is a story of how Angela begins to open up and the dangers of that opening up. Things escalate more and more both the personal risk she is in but the deaths around her. The film pulls punches around the kills not too graphic but instead the editing cutting to show the effects of the kills with some good practical effects. Still there are things in this film  you will not see in many films. Like a man beating the shit out of a kid because he thinks the kid is the killer. When things start heating up and the killer is shown the giant reveal this film is known for is so wonderfully done it is worth all the time spent getting to it. This viewer still finds the final scenes exciting and just excellently revealed. So enjoyable that of course this movie gets a recommendation. If you have not seen this flick then you are in for a great surprise and there will be no spoilers here even after 30 years. So don't go read anything just enjoy the ride. If you have seen it you know and should just go back and revisit this wonderful slasher film.

Rosewater (2014) Drama

Rosewater (2014) This is a bit of a quick hit of my impressions of the film after just finishing the film. The synopsis below was found on the interwebs and is not mine. "In June 2009, BBC journalist Maziar Bahari, an Iranian-born Canadian citizen, returned to his native country to interview Mir-Hossein Moussavi, the prime challenger to incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. When Moussavi's supporters protested Ahmadinejad's declaration of victory, Bahari smuggled footage of the riots to the BBC. He was soon arrested by the Revolutionary Guard and -- led by a man known only as "Rosewater" -- was interrogated and tortured for 118 days."
  Outside factors contributed to my being a bit more critical at the start of the film. The fact that is was a Friday night and I hate going out on Friday nights. The crowds and the traffic always make me just a bit too grumpy to enjoy myself. Then on the way I learn that we are driving back into the town I just drove home from in rush hour traffic, this was mitigated by my wife doing the driving. Still I was hoping to stay close to home and not to be driving 40 minutes into Waltham. Next the dinner we were going to have at a favorite Indian restaurant on Moody street was stopped by the fact the place has closed not for the night but for good, so instead we went to the tapas restaurant Solea. Not a favorite place although it turned out to be uncrowded and the food tasty. The switch to Waltham also meant that instead of seeing a film on a large theater screen we would be in the broom closet theaters of the Embassy. What a waste of money to pay full price for a movie ticket and not have the appropriate scope.  So really what ending up sucking is the size of the screen so why should I be so upset? All these things make me unhappy while I am getting ready to see a true life tail of incarceration and torture. Nice life here in the US isn't it we may just be a bit privileged in this world.
 This kind of film, real life , based on a true story, this shitty thing happened to someone, fucking politically motivated propaganda geared to leave the audience uplifted, and too fucking current. I am already one angry motherfucker about the state of the United States and the world we are all mostly powerlessness in. I don't find it entertaining to share in the captivity and torture of anyone and definitely when it just happened five years ago. I am not a person who wants to be entertained by reality, fuck reality I see movies to escape that. Now I am not saying it is not an important story that people should hear, what I am saying is that this is not a good night out with my wife because this shit makes me angry.  Oh is it because I didn't get to pick the movie? Is that part of the problem? Here I am in a country where we jail more people per capita than any other country in the world watching a film about a country unjustly jailing a man and I am upset because I didn't choose the movie?  I am a selfish man with flawed priorities.
  That all aside the film tells a complete story of a reporter not really paying attention to how the innocent can be swept up in events they are covering. Gael Garcia Bernal is very good in his role as the Newsweek reporter Maziar Bahari bringing to the role the panic and fear of the unknown that Bahari must have had. Equally well acted was Kim Bodnia as Rosewater (Named for the scent he wore), the "specialist" assigned to get confession from the reporter.  He plays a frustrated bureaucrat thug who wishes to be doing something else but is constantly under pressure from his boss to get results that fit the administration's narrative. (Wow in writing that last sentence I realize I could have been writing about the Bush administration.) Sweeping up everyone in a wide net. Torturing and threatening and stealing hope from their captives until they say the things that fit their narrative. 
  The events in the film center around the 2009 Iranian elections where the opposition was first convinced that the election was fixed and second the demonstrations from the opposition was violently put down by the state. Bahari caught up in the crackdown is at first confused and isolated being accused at being a spy for the west. As the pressure is upped on him we share his personal story of trying to find the strength to resist but ultimately confessing to whatever his torturers wanted him to. When the results of that confession do not earn him freedom we see the turn of the film where learns to use his internal fortitude and imagination ease the abuse. When he learns that there are people including the United States government and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton working hard to get him freed his spirit is renewed. The message of hope is evident in the knowledge that someone is working on your behalf.
  Screenplay written by (from a book on the events) and directed by Jon Stewart the film has a political tilt mixed in with the personal story. Iran as the harsh and brutal dictatorship who is struggling to hold power through brutal force and religious zealotry. The one government official we get to know Rosewater is a frustrated operative with little hope of advancement and belittled and bullied by his boss. Later in the film he is made out to be a buffoon unable to finish the job he was asked to do, more interested in the sexualized stories of the west that Bahari is sharing than doing his job. Bernal in the role plays the empowered Bahari for what turned out to be laughs in the audience of gray hairs in the theater with us which at least for me took away from the seriousness of all the action the Iranians had show up to that point. Iran is shown as a backwards society with a government of cruel operatives more repressed than dedicated to their way of life. This approach ignores the threats to the Iranian government at the time. At the same time as the unrest at the election in 2009 there were also reports of the CIA sowing unrest in southern villages in the country. It was also the time were the hikers captured in mountains along the Iraq border. The US illegal invasion of Iraq had been on going for years putting a long time threat right on their borders. It does make a point to share the idea that in the 50's the Shah of Iran was inserted into power after a CIA sponsored coup, but fails to mention any of the more recent interventions including multiple decades of sanctions and threats. This one sided approach is somewhat appropriate for the story being told but continues the ignoring of  recent American imperialistic foreign policy. Since the film is told from the western point of view this makes sense for the film. Criticism of other governments like I did here of my own could very possibly get you jailed, again highlighting the privileged life we lead in the west.
  Overall the film is a decently told story of a terrifying ordeal for this reporter. It reminds us that not all countries are as free as Europe and that normal citizens must be careful about countries that feel threatened by terrorists. those countries become desperate to protect themselves in the name of their people and act against many in trying to find the few threats. This film is also a cautionary tales that in security based countries freedom is precarious when you are in the media. These places do not always act in a measured rational way.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

V/H/S : Viral (2014) Horror Anthology

V/H/S : Viral (2014) - Building on two somewhat successful films and expanding the nontraditional filming techniques that have become so popular in recent years, V/H/S : Viral may be a bit of a step back from its earlier entries by leaving behind the premise of the VHS tape. The first two films in the series were all about these VHS tapes and the collectors of them. Through that premise stories were about the seekers of the tapes as well as the stories the tapes told. Neither great films but certainly passable entertainment. In this new film it is all about POV, Go Pro and people recording each other not about found tapes. Attempting to make a statement about the desire of people to have the drivel they are recording go viral the wrap around story takes the title seriously. Director Marcel Sarmiento who directed Deadgirl (2008) which was not one of my favorites that year does an reasonable job trying to capture the idea. The breaks in the the recording, bars and static etc. were probably intended to give the VHS effect like the shots were found and reconstructed but it never is presented that way. Instead the effect just makes the viewing experience worse and not adding anything to the stories. Still Sarmiento's segment "Vicious Circles" is the most true to the concept telling the story of a young man Kev (Patrick Lawrie) who records everything. In fact he is on a quest of sorts wanting the popularity that comes with having something you record becoming a sensation. Set in Los Angeles it is about a police chase of a strange Ice Cream truck that passes by his house. Not wanting to miss an opportunity he runs out to see it and to record the passing. Residents see the chase as an event and there are groups of  "spectators" filming on their phones at every overpass on the chase route. The messaging about the spectacle and societies ability to record everything is front and center.
  A secondary video  connected to this hits the web and has a strange effect on those who view it. Suddenly the spectacle is bringing watchers into the web of the chase. We see the symptom as a bloody nose and a dazed look but the implication that the recording and viewing of those recordings, effects the viewer deepens the message of the piece.  Kev is one of those filming residents and when his girlfriend Iris (Emilia Zoryan) is swept up in the chase he is on a mission to rescue her. Some cool gore effects as well as some silly one add and detract to the short about societies craze with recording. It speaks to the idea of the spectacle and societies need for a selfie around them.Not completely coherent with imagery that seems out of place for the idea of VHS, sure the motions are made to show the viewer tracking displays and the such but the devices used are now far smaller and more effective that it seemed the need to connect to the original title V/H/S was a yoke around the films neck.
  The second story, "Dante The Great" is about a nobody magician wanna be Dante (Justin Welborn) who comes into possession of a cape that allows him to do real magic. Suddenly he is thrust from obscurity into the hottest show on the planet. The problem of course is the price one has to pay for magic and in this case the appetite of the magic cape is for life. Shot is a strange mix of faux-documentary with found footage, police interview, and swat team helmet cam footage as well as hand held video it is a real confusion of styles. Certainly an interesting story but like with many of these films the gimmick of how they came to be get in the way of giving viewers a well shot coherent looking piece of art. Instead we get this paint splattered mess that has a decent theme but shitty execution. We see the story almost like a made for TV documentary if they had access to every possible camera in Dante's life. Scarlett (Emmy Argo) his magicians assistant is the primary teller of the story, interviewed by police after the fact and then cut in of footage Dante filmed himself used to visually show what she is telling. We get a complete story of Dante getting the cape, to figuring out it has magic, then the frustration of it not working. When he discovers it must be fed, people, we see his need for fame out weigh his morals. Well to be honest he was never shown as anything but a loser hoping for fame so the depths of his fall are muted.
  Someone who is going to do bad things should never obsessively film them but Dante seems to ignore this and it is his downfall. The tapes he collect and hide in a secret compartment are the very evidence and footage the police and the film need. Showing the man as he sets the cape on people so it can eat and his fame can continue to grow. The not completely surprising climax where Scarlett confronts Dante a decent finish to the story. Writer/Director Gregg Bishop should get credit for writing a decent story. Known for directing the entertaining, if a bit cliche Dance of the Dead (2008) he is showing his ability more as a writer in this instead of a director. That last comment might not be too fair. I think the biggest problem for most of the stories here is the artificial formatting of alternate source footage. If they had just made a traditionally filmed movie of these stories it would probably be a better anthology than it is in this format.
  The third story written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo called Parallel Monsters was my favorite and probably because it included the science fiction genre. Short comparatively it is a story about a man who has built a doorway to another universe to find a version of himself staring back having done the exact same thing. Each with a handheld video recorder the film cuts between the two men when they switch places for fifteen minutes. The story gets dark very quickly and the viewer discovers with the lead characters Alfonso (Gustavo Salmerón) that each world is quite different from the one they are from. Sure each has a wife named Marta (Marian Álvarez) but we quickly learn the sexual appetites of one universe are quite different from the other. The consequences of crossing over are far harsher than the characters could have expected. Some cool effects that reminded me of "The World End", a shocking display of male sexual anatomy and a nasty ending made this a surprising watch.  Vigalondo who made the wonderful Time Crimes (2007) a time traveling mystery that should have made him and even bigger name than he is. This writer is looking forward to his upcoming technological thriller Open Windows (2014) starring Frodo Baggins um, I mean Elijah Woods.
  The final story Bonestorm is about a group of Skateboard riding twenty-somethings who are trying to film enough material to finish their skating video. Deciding the current location is not good enough the take a trip to Tijuana Mexico to find a rumored "good" place to finish the video. When they arrive in the drainage ditch they fail to notice the large pentagram marking a ceremonial site. Skating is going well until one kid falls and cuts himself. The blood on this sacred ground calls a pack of skeletal acolytes out of thin air. Then it is a fight for survival but unfortunately for the young men the more blood they spill the more skeletons appear. Shot with a lot of Go Pro cameras there is a sense of chaos in the story. Even though at the end we get this we also get a variety of different sources none being the more traditional form of filming but at the same time stretching the believability of alternative source filming. Still the effects seem a bit lower budget are well hidden in the jarring cuts between cameras. A drawback to this story is that the young people are unlikable. This could be my age showing but boy these are listless unfocus people. The actors sell it though so I suppose there is a positive there. Written and directed by Aaron Moorhead noted for his recent film Resolution (2012) manages the story well enough.
  Overall I think that I was not particularly impressed by this set of stories but appreciate that anthologies are hot again. Like in literature the short story format can be very effective when done well. Although I did not connect with all the stories in this set it is pretty competently done. More the drawback is that I'm tired of this alternative source gimmick. Just make the same story traditionally without all the shaky cam and pretend interruptions to the film. The premise is a stretch to begin with but then the filmmakers add the excellent editing and fake errors to it just to fit the gimmick is annoying. If the stories are good enough to be told just make the film look and sound good. This film is very borderline for a recommendation. It gets it but really you could go either way on that decision. Since I like the directors involved I give it a luke warm recommendation.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Dead of Night (1945) Horror Anthology

Dead of Night (1945) - Long before V/H/S there was Trilogy of Terror and long before that was this collection Dead of Night. It is a wonderfully paced, supernatural thriller perfect family entertainment that holds up after more than 60 years. Like many anthologies of today its structure is that of a wrap around story that gives the characters in it the opportunity to share their own scary tales. In this case the story of a group of people brought together for an evening party, one of whom is Mr. Walter Craig (Mervyn Johns) who is having a fierce case of deja vu.  He arrives at the party hosted by Eliot Foley (Roland Culver) Craig has the horrible realization that the events of the evening are the same as his repetitive nightmare that has been plaguing him. When he shares this with the others in the room it is the basis for not only a lively conversation about proof versus belief, but also an instigating event for others to share their stories. When one of the party guests says "We are nothing but characters in Mr Craig's dream." and that is quite apt and as the wrap around story plays out it more correct than known at the time.
  The stories are a mix of ghost and strange happenings all culminating with the Craig story to finish the film out. First up is Hugh Grainger (Anthony Baird) a race car driver who tells the story of two near death experiences as well as how he met his wife Joyce (Judy Kelly). After an accident on the racetrack she is the nurse for his recovery, with a high fever and hallucinations his condition is difficult for the doctors to explain. One night after Joyce leaves for the night Hugh opens the window to find it is daylight. A horse drawn hearse sits outside and the driver says to him there is only room for one more. Suddenly the spell broken Hugh sees it is night again.This sticks with the man as he recovers, falls in love with Joyce and attempts to get on with his new life with her. Psychiatry does some good in helping him deal with that strange fever dream but one day while traveling on public transit, he finds the dream revisiting him. The bus driver seems to be the same man as the hearse driver, Hugh panic and avoids the bus altogether only to see it crash off a bridge moments later.
  A second story by Sally O'Hara (Sally Ann Howes) who attends a Christmas party and while playing hide and seek finds herself comforting the ghost of a small boy. Some of this story is a bit annoying but that could just be the child actors. I did find that the version of hide and seek was interesting. In the game one person hides and everyone else counts, when someone finds the hider they stay with them quietly and so on until the last seeker finds the group.
 Joan Cortland (Googie Withers) tells a tale of buying her fiance a mirror only for it to nearly break up their engagement.  Her fiance Peter starts seeing another room in the reflection in the mirror, It takes hold of him eventually to be revealed that the spirit in the mirror has possessed Peter. This section was a bit long and drawn out but still it was an interesting little story.
  Mr Foley tells a story of George and Larry, golfing buddies competing for the love of a woman. When they decide to play a round for her George wins and Larry depressed by his loss commits suicide in the lake at the golf course. The unexpected hi-jinx that ensues when Larry returns as a ghost to haunt his former friend is amusing. Knowing that George cheated in the match, knowledge obtained in the after life Larry decides on the haunt but even after forgiving his friend he somehow forgets how to disappear. Amusing with a surprising ending it is a strange interlude in the film.
  The final story about a ventriloquist who is controlled by his dummy is a second slightly long and drawn out story but still interesting enough for what it was. A tortured soul on the verge of a breakdown it is a sad tale of split personality.
All surrounded by the story of Mr Craig the film is a fine example of the anthology. I don't know if there are many examples of this format prior to 1945 but this one certainly holds up. Watched on VHS and I am pretty sure this is not released on DVD although there are probably some privately ripped versions out there. This film definitely gets a recommendation with the knowledge that this is G rated fun and you should not expect to be frightened hardly at all.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Jack-O (1995) Horror Curse

Jack-O (1995) - Hallowe'en is upon us and so it's time to view a film with the holiday in mind. The setting of a small Florida neighborhood on Hallowe'en night is not necessarily the creepiest of settings but it will do for this story of a cursed family and a pumpkin headed demon seeking them out. Steve Latshaw made this unique attempt of a film with some skill but also some obvious money issues. Some unprofessional actors including I think his son as the lead child as well as a script that leaves even the professionals sounding flat; reducing this film from what could have been an entertaining independent horror film into a clunky attempt. Still somehow he managed to get some great horror actors like John Carradine, Linnea Quigley and Brinke Stevens to appear in the film. It is true the nature of Carradine and Stevens is unclear to me. Where they are featured in a film within the film it could be borrowed footage?Of course I over rate these actors because I do love me some low budget films and they are staples in those films. Quigley though playing the protective babysitter can't save this film. As stated above this film is not hapless. Latshaw creates a clear well defined mythology for the curse and even though I am pretty sure some of the logic of is it flawed; this writer is not willing to watch a second time to find the flaws. Still it was impressive that some of the actors in the film were bigger horror name people.Because the film is less than top quality it is even more impressive.
  The story goes as we see through some flashbacks that there was a wizard in the small town who was found out and killed. He cursed the town and in particularly the Kelly family. A monster called Jack-O terrorized the town in the early 1900s. Arthur Kelly managed to trap the beast in a shallow grave with a magical cross through the creature's heart. Then there is some stuff about the sixth son of Arthur could do the demon in for good and stop the curse but that seemed tacked on later in the film. So the Monster trapped under the ground for six generations is accidentally freed by a few partying teens and the killing starts anew. The Kelly family, the Dad, David (Gary Doles) a Halloween crazed fellow with a corny haunted garage knows the legend. As does his wife, Linda (Maddisen K. Krown) and son, Sean (Ryan Latshaw) In fact the whole town has the mythology down. It is part of what makes the film a bit interesting. Like the chant we hear in A nightmare on Elm St. this film does a nice job making the legend believable. It gave the film probably more potential than it may deserve. Everyone can recite the sayings around the pumpkin man and do somewhat regularly.
  The Monster a larger pumpkin headed fellow with a scythe as a killing tool is certainly menacing enough to fit the myth. Add to this the character of Vivian (Catherine Walsh) a descendant of the wizard who has come around to help end the curse. It all plays out as expected, derivative of other horror films and in the end just a routine film with low production values.
  The plot of the film after the killer is raised from the dead is a hunt and slash variety. Jack-O is drawn to young Sean Kelly the sixth generation Kelly. On the way he slices and dices his way through town folk with the intent to kill the kid that can extinguish the curse. A boy of about 10, Sean is going out trick or treating with his babysitter Carolyn (Linnea Quigley). As the killer moves through the town looking for Sean he is out walking, trick or treating. Eventually the family and Vivian realized the truth about the curse being alive and well and go out hunting for the kid also. There is not a lot more than that, run, hide, almost die, repeat. The kills are not very impressive with practical effects and stretegic cutting so not to show too much happening but more the effects of the violence. You see the scythe swing, then cut to it in the gut of the victim, then the face close upwith a blood spit. This is really where the low budget of the film shows itself. Latshaw knows how to shoot these scenes but the nature of the lower budget just does not make it the most satisfying scenes.What it does have is what seems a required Quigley shower scene and also a flash of breasts by the actress player her sister Rachel Carter. This writer would be the last person to say that these scenes add anything to the film.
  When we finally get to the the climax and we have the slowest burying alive scene in the history of film, it is an underwhelming and quick finish. Overall this film is not really up to par and can not get a recommendation from this blog. Too many flaws and lacking the biting satire or depth that could get a low budget film a recommendation. It really does not even have any humor except the unintended kind. So you can probably skip this film unless you are punishing yourself for something.