Friday, March 25, 2011

The Strangers (2008)

***(out of four stars)

"You can poison my cat
Baby I don't care
But if you talk in the movies
I'll kill you right there"

Excerpt from an Alice Cooper song.

Yeah so I was sitting in a movie theatre right in front of a bunch of loud mouth young kids. It's bad enough tickets are $10.75, not to mention by the time you get yourself some popcorn and a large drink (for just a quarter more) you've spent over $20. Yeah, twenty bucks to listen to a bunch of kids talking about how gay the movie is. It seems as though maybe your mommy is paying for your tickets or maybe you just don't have common decency for others, but goddamn shut the fuck up. The usher was called in twice, interrupted the film and warned these pompous little assholes. They finally shut up and for the rest of the time the chattering was minimal. So for all you movie goers who want to hold a conversation while others are trying to enjoy a film you get a solid kick in the butt hole.

That aside, here's a review for THE STRANGERS.

Director Bryan Bertino has called this style of film not a horror but a terror film. I can't agree more.

The film starts out in a car waiting at a red light. Inside, are Kristen McKay (Liv Tyler) and her boyfriend James Hoyt (Scott Speedman). The two are coming from a friends wedding and they seem to be distant from each other. They eventually end up at James father's secluded getaway home. Once inside the home we see the makings of a romantic getaway. All is pretty quiet for the first 15 minutes of the film. We eventually learn from flashbacks that James attempted to ask his lovely lady for her hand in marriage. Well, we also learn by the somber tone of the relationship that she had declined his offer. The two act as though this is the end of the world and possibly their relationship.

At one point they are talking of splitting up, while moments later James is pulling her panties down and well, you know the rest.

Then just as they start the loving making process they get a knock on the front door. Both are startled, realizing it's four in the morning. When the haunting voice of a women asks if "Tamara" is home things begin to pick up.

Kristen runs out of cigarettes and James decides it's best that he gets out of the house for a while. Once he's out of the house, leaving Kristen alone, the knocking starts again. This follows a long process of three masks intruders stalking the couple for the rest of the film.

I liked this film for a number of reasons. The acting was on point and the total feel of the film is isolated. I like the fact that we spend the most time with two characters who try to evade the clutches of the strangers. The film takes you to a place not only of entertainment but the knowledge that this situation can happen to anyone.

The three strangers in this film have numerous opportunities to strike. It's a psychological thriller in the fact that we know eventually they will get their victims, but we don't really know when or how. It's a simple cat and mouse game where our villains have total control the entire time.

Obviously this film was somewhat inspired by the Manson murders of the late 60's. If you're looking for a happy ending you won't find one in this film. In fact, we know by the end of the film that the strangers plan on striking again. And is it safe to say that they actually have fun doing it? I guess it is.

Starring: Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman

Dir: Bryan Bertino


Runtime: 88 mins

Duel (1971)

***(out of four stars)

This 1971 made for television film was written by Richard Matheson and directed by Steven Spielberg. It is a simple, yet edge-of-your-seat film that really pulls you in from start to finish.

David Mann is alone and on his way to a very important business appointment. He's delayed behind a slow moving 18 wheeler going up a mountain. He becomes agitated and passes the truck. From there on out he's terrorized by the truck driver. Though we never get a good glimpse of the driver it's not all that important anyway.

The real scare tactic here is the menacing image of the truck. Speilberg does a superb job of making the 18 wheeler a terrifying villain. When watching this film you get a sense of, I guess, road rage, yet we never really understand the reason for the truck's vengeful presence.

The truck itself was personally chosen by Spielberg, who, initially had the vision of the truck already in his head. This story goes along the lines of Jaws, in which, a terrifying force is causing havoc to seemingly helpless victims. In Jaws you fear the water, but with the great suspense of "DUEL" you don't ever want to piss off another truck driver.

The film ends with the truck driving over a cliff, thus, blowing the truck to pieces. The last scene was filmed in only one take with multiple camera angles.

On a final note. I really liked the fact that we are left in the dark about who the driver is and what his intentions really are. The truck has a presence all its own that we really don't need any other explanations. It seems to me that films in the seventies worked more with the atmosphere, rather than actually diving into back story that would otherwise make the pacing slow and redundant. This film is the classic tale of cat and mouse and does a good job with the suspense factor. Kudos to Mr. Spielberg for being (at the time) a hungry, fresh, and innovative filmmaker who knew what he wanted and dictated the screen and audience's emotions. It's definitely one film you should have in your library.

Starring: Dennis Weaver

Directed by Steven Spielberg

run time: 74 min


High Tension (2003)

*1/2 (out of four stars)

Marie and Alexia plan to spend the weekend at Alexia's parents house to study for some upcoming exams. All goes well, until the door bell rings in the middle of the night. What transpires next is a brutal blood soaked frenzy by an intruder who kills everyone in the house, (except Maria) then kidnaps Alexia. With everyone else dead, Marie follows the mad man in attempt to save her friend.

First of all let me say this. The movie had some really brutal moments. It had the blood, gore and suspense that many horror films lack. The killer maims the entire family, including the little boy. Some of the kills are really adequate for a film like this. I mean the blood just sprays all over the place. The killer even uses a dresser to decapitate the head of one of his victims. That's right. A fucking dresser. There's actually a lot going for this film. Until....

Yep, you've probably heard it from a dozen horror fans. The ending sucks. And although there are two crucial clues within the first five minutes of the film that gives the ending right to you, you'll want to turn it off at the very moment it's revealed. I'm really trying hard not to bash this film for many reasons. First, the acting is great and the characters are very believable. The intruder, (Philippe Nahon) is an awesome choice as the killer and does a great job with his efforts.

Second, the suspense is great! This movie really has you pulled in and does a great job of keeping you seated. The score that goes along with the film is impressive as well. It sets a mood that very few horror movies these days do. In other words there are some nail biting moments. That's why my nails are torn to shit right now.

But, it does fail in the end. It almost feels like you've been played for a fool the whole time. Quite frankly put, and I hate saying this, it makes you want to go to the filmmaker's house and demand your hour and a half back. Followed by a please don't make another film card, that you can throw in the M. Night Shyamalan category.

To end this on a good note, like I said, there is alot that this movie had going for it. Good kills, good thrills, but it just blew its load too early and without conviction. Some of the best tension sequences were thrown into this movie. It's gripping, it really is. With that said, it just feels like all of the scares were wasted. The climax doesn't pay off. In other words, a cheap ending.

Cast: Cecile De France, Maiween Le Besco and Philippe Nahon

Directed by: Alexandre Aja


Running time: 91 mins

Paranormal Activity (2007)

***(out of four stars)

When I first saw the trailer for this little known, very limited released movie I wasn't entirely sold. At first glance it looks like nothing more than a glorified episode of Paranormal State or Ghost hunters, but upon viewing it I felt the opposite. The movie doesn't open with the traditional credits like we're used to rather than just a little piece saying that the "footage was found" on, so forth.

The footage was shot by Micah Sloat, the boyfriend of Katie Featherston. You might want to know why Micah is following his pretty girlfriend around with the camera on her at all times. The reason: Katie has been experiencing paranormal activities in their new home. So Micah, with camera in hand, wants to document any activity he can. This of course is in the same style as the Blair witch project. The only difference is Katie is being chased by a demon. So it really doesn't matter if she leaves the house or not because eventually the demon will get her.

So right there we have the story in a nutshell.

This film is creepy in a way that there is no true escape for our lovely little Katie. Micah sets up the camera a night; whilst they sleep. As they sleep, we hear (and see) doors slamming, loud footsteps roaming around the house, and lights flickering and and off. Katie is often physically terrorized by the demon as well. At one point we see her being dragged out of bed by an invincible apparition, while in another she's become possessed and just stares at Micah for hours while he sleeps.

The visuals are pretty great and kind of save the film. Truth be told without the effects this movie would've been just another crappy episode of one of those ghost shows that I mentioned above. You know, with the "Oh my god! What was that noise?" Not ever revealing anything to the viewer. Alot of the scenes are without any edits so I give credit to the filmmakers for making the effects work without that little splash of editing magic that we normally see. And don't let me fail to mention that this film has no score and doesn't follow traditional formula. This makes it all the more genuine in its attempts to scare the crap out of you.

Having watched this once in the theatre, I'd say that, that was the best format for this type of film. Don't waste your time trying to get the same effect on your ipod or small computer monitor. Trust me, watch it on something "big" where the sound is "full", this will enhance the visuals and overall experience.

Word to the wise. If you wake up and your girlfriend/wife is staring at you at around 3:15 in the morning, file for a divorce or throw her to the curb. She's probably possessed by a demon and eventually it will come back to haunt you.

Cast: Katie Featerston, Micah Sloat

Written and Directed by: Oren Peli


86 mins

The Night Flier

**(out of 4 stars)

I'm really starting to despise Hollywood's latest versions of vampires. Where the fuck did all the cool vampires go anyway? Does anyone remember vampires that actually scared the living shit out of you? I do. How about Max Schreck's "Count Orlok", in the infamous 1922 classic, Nosferatu? Or maybe one of my personal favorites, Radu the Vampire, from Subspecies. Yeah... those were vampires.

It seems that if you want to watch a good vampire flick you've got to dig around a little. Although I won't say there hasn't been any good vampire flicks made recently, I'll simply state that most of the vampire movies are disposable. You can take them or leave them. Choice is yours.

But I recently revisited a film that I saw some years ago. Now, I'm not saying that this film is the greatest of all vampire flicks, because... it's not. I'm just saying that at least with this one your getting your money's worth. If - of course- you share my same tastes in vampires. That is saying that vampires don't twinkle in the sunlight or climb trees like spider man. They hide in the dark, they ravage victims, they are nasty, rat-like creatures with a hunger for blood.

The Night Flier is based on a Stephen King short story with the same name.

A mysterious black plane, a Cessna Skymaster 337, is landing at quiet, isolated airports during the night killing vicims with vampire-like fashion. The throats of victims are literally being ripped out. There are no strong leads and very few witnesses.

Eventually, Richard Dees [Miguel Ferrer] a selfish and miserable reporter for the local tabloid, Inside view, is ask to follow the story. Richard follows some leads and interviews local witnesses and eventually embarks on a personal mission to find out the true identity of the Night Flier. The only thing we know about the Night Flier is his name: Dwight Reinfield.

Meanwhile, Katherine "Jimmy" Blair, a new and hungry reporter is also put on the story. Katherine and Richard but heads throughout most of the film. It appears that Richard isn't following the same advise he gave to Katherine. He tells her not to believe everything she publishes and not to publish what she believes. Richard becomes obsessed with the story and eventually all his questions are answered. In, what I might add, is a pretty good ending.

This film has good pacing. It tells a good story and doesn't drag on at any point. The plot is simple: it's a cat and mouse chase. The acting, by Miguel Ferrer is very well done. I feel this certain type of role was meant to be played by Miguel. You can almost tell that this role was natural to him and he is very convincing.

I feel the character of Jimmy played by Julie Entwisle is a little over acted in certain spots. In fact, most of them. She looks unnatural and seems to be fresh out of acting school. One certain scene takes place in a bar where Richard is giving her advise on the new job she is taking on. She seems to be jumping in spots; almost over emotional as if she doesn't quite know how to naturally react to her situation. Overall her acting really doesn't take anything away from the film, but if you're watching for it you'll see it.

The special effects are stellar - and practical - no bullshit CGI. Instead of two little vampire bites in the neck, we get the whole effect of a throat that has been ripped out. Down right violent and visceral! And with the vampire, Dwight Reinfeld, you don't get that pretty, sparkling, sexual beast hiding in the dark. You get a horrid vision of what this vampire really is; revolting and perverse.

All in all this was one hell of a vampire movie. Again, not the best, but at least it's a glimpse of what a true vampire is. The Night Flier is a movie for any fan of the vampire. If you're sick and tired of being sick and tired of the romantic kind of vampire movie then give this one a chance. Yeah, have your girlfriend come over so you both can neck while watching the Night Flier! Get it? I know, I know, shit joke but I tried.

Starring: Miguel Ferrer, Julie Entwisle, Dan Monahan and Michael H. Moss
Directed by: Mark Pavia
Run time: 93 min

Cujo - Book Review

**** out of four stars

I've seen the film a dozen times and read the book twice now. This simple little story gave me the creeps as a kid. Ever since, I've had a fear of St. Bernard dogs. Cujo makes Beethoven look like a cute, furry creature.

It has been said that with a mixture of drugs and alcohol, Stephen King remembers very little about actually writing this novel. Well, Mr. King, I think your best work came from when you were under the influence.

Cujo is the story of a St. Bernard who is infected with rabies after chasing a rabbit into a cave with rabid bats. Once the bats bite Cujo's nose he becomes infected and the onslaught starts. Mr. King does a fine job, when writing from the dogs point of view. He takes us into the mind of the animal as the disease slowly infects him. Once, a loving 180 pound dog, now turns into a killing machine, Cujo is one scary animal.

After killing Gary (local drunk) and Cujo's owner, Joe Camber, Cujo hides out in the shade... waiting to strike. Every pound of him is now a murderous monster.

Beyond the point of the story of Cujo lies another theme to the book. An adulterous marriage. Donna Trenton, whom fears getting older and living a mundane life, sets out to find some love on the side. Her lover, Steve Kemp, is a good looking tennis player and poet. After realizing that she has made the ultimate mistake and possibly ruining her marriage, Donna tries to break the relationship with Steve Kemp. When he is unsatisfied with her new look on life he writes a nasty note to Donna's husband, Vic Trenton. Now Donna's faithful, hardworking husband knows her dirty little secrets.

Vic works for an advertising agency and has to go away for two weeks to save the Sharp account. The Sharp account is a brand of cereal that has been under some criticism for kids getting sick after eating the product. So Vic and his best friend and partner Roger head to Boston to reclaim the account. Meanwhile, Donna's pinto isn't running that good and she is informed to take her car to Joe Camber's garage. Little does she know, that Mr. Camber is dead and his family is away in Connecticut.

When Donna drives her and her son Tad out to the garage the car dies and she is stranded there... with Cujo.

For days Donna and her son, Tad fight for their lives as Cujo, with his infectious rage, literally turns their car into a prison. Donna must fight to keep her and her son alive.

I loved this book. Possibly one of his finest works I've read so far. The story is simple and with the sub plots it makes for a great read. Stephen King does a fine job writing about a failing marriage hanging by the strings of love, faith and betrayal. It's also a story about the courage of a women in trouble with little to no hope for survival. The story bonds with each character and their circumstances. A very well written novel and a helluva story.

The ending of the book is much more depressing than that of the film. In the film, Donna Trenton kills the beast and successfully resuscitates her son. There's your happy ending. However, with the book, King doesn't give you a happy ending. No, instead he gives you a bleak ending that suits well with the story. Little Tad does not make it and now the Trenton's have to face their ultimate fears. Through all the turmoil that they've endured; it's now time to start fresh; without their son. Ironically, the marriage is saved, yet the heartbreak of losing a child still lingers.

If you're a Stephen King fan, you've probably read this book. If you haven't read the book, then I suggest you read it on my highest recommendation. It's a page turner and you'll appreciate it word by word.

The Majorettes

*1/2(out of 4 stars)

From the mind who brought you Night of the Living Dead and Midnight John Russo's screenplay for The Majorettes is exactly what you might or might not expect from an 80's slasher flick. A hooded figure - brandishing a knife - is picking off the high-school kids one by one. And although this film has it's moments; it falls short by a mile.

Let's start off with some of the characters, shall we. First, we've got Jeff, high school jock and star quarterback. He's hot to trot and is looking forward to possibly making pro. He and his girl are working hard to try and solve the mystery as to who may be killing their friends. Meanwhile, Mace and his group of devil worshiping, biker bad asses are causing all sorts of trouble. Then, there is Helga, a stay at home nurse accompanied by her mentally handicapped son, Roland. They're looking forward to an inheritance from Vicky, whom may be getting the nice chunk of a half million dollars once she turns 18. All the while, we've got a killer on the loose who is slashing the throats of his victims at random.

Beyond all of this, there really is no solid story. Most of the film has naked breast swaying to and fro, and most of the killings are throat slashing, which gets kind of boring. Most 80's slasher flicks work hard to come up with different inventive ways for characters to be offed, but not this one.

It's hard to say, but this film could be one of those, "it's so bad, it's good" movies. The acting is horrible and the editing needs tons of work. Yet, the cheese is grade "A". Quite frankly if you're a slasher nut you should give this movie a try. Although, if you don't want to waste time then skip it. I'd like to think that this movie wasn't intended to be scary, although it really tries hard to jump at you in certain parts. I'd watch this film again just for a good time. But if you're the kind who needs story and good acting, well, consider yourself warned!

Starring: Kevin Kindlin, Terrie Godfrey, Mark V. Jevicky
Screenplay: John Russo
Dir: S. William Hintzman
Run Time: 92 mins

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Mutilator

**1/2 (out of four stars.)

Man, it's been a long time since I've last posted a film review. Truth is, I'm just being lazy. It's not that I haven't watched an abundance of films; I just haven't written about them. Since November I've shot a short film and I've completed principle photography for a commerical. So... this gives me a little slack... I guess. What I'm trying to say is that I'm not completely lazy.

I sat down last night and revisited 1985's The Mutilator. Buddy Cooper is responsible for this slasher and if you haven't seen it, well, I'm hoping this review will make you try and hunt it down. If anything, you'll find something enjoyable out of this flick.

All of the [slasher] elements and formulas are present in this film: You've got bad acting, paper thin plot and some decent gore. In my opinion, you can't ask for more! Buddy Cooper wrote and directed this film. Seeing the cover, any slasher kid would eat this up. It depicts four or five teens hanging from hooks. Looks of horror are on all their faces. Yes, The Mutilator is just one of those cheesy 80's slasher films that you have to take at face value.

The film starts out with a mother preparing a birthday cake. A young boy is playing with a gun, thus resulting in accidentally shooting his mother. When dad comes home (seconds later) he tries to exact revenge on the little brat. Luckily, the son runs off to safety, leaving dad to mourn his wife.

Now, years later, the young lad has grown into the character we are introduced to: Ed. Ed sits with some friends at a bar and gets a phone call from his father. Big Ed wants his young son to clean up his condo for the winter. Ed and his friends get the bright idea that perhaps cleaning the condo could also mean a party for the weekend.

Once they get to the house, it's obvious that others have been there. The house is littered with empty whiskey bottles. It's seems that Big Ed has trashed the place. As the teens' party commences, they eventually break up and find other sources of entertainment. Of course, this would mean SEX!

It's apparent as to who the killer is. This much is established early in the film. Obviously, it's Big Ed; the father. Seems that after years and years of drowning his sorrows in booze; he's finally lost his marbles. We see Big Ed in the garage of the condo. He lies silently in the dark, listening as the teens party above. He's also plagued with dreams of killing his own son. Oh the horror.

We sit through some awful dialogue and some equally bad acting. I would guess that none of the actors are veterans of their craft. But don't get to uptight; we're talking about a slasher film here.

Big Ed starts his onslaught and really lives up to the film's title. There are some graphic scenes of gore and I commend the film based on that. When you're watching a slasher you don't particularly pick out bad plot points; just as long as there's some gore involved. Give me some eye candy I say! Boobs and blood. Now that's a slasher.

Anyway, Big Ed kills the teens and hangs them on hooks in the garage of the condo. His killing is typical slasher fare: Machetes to the head, pick forks through the neck, a hook through one girl's vagina. Yeah, you read that right! Through the vagina. All around good effects for a cheap little slasher film from the 80's. Although poorly lit in some scenes, you'll appreciate the gore.

This film plays it straight all the way through. There are no real mysteries as to who the killer is and it's very predictable from start to finish. The ending is memorable though. After ravaging all the other teens, only Pam and young Ed are left. The two manage to get the upper hand on the killer and they're in the car and ready to go...

...but of course it doesn't start!

So now, Big Ed is on top of the car roof, trying to kill the remaining survivors. They back the car into a wall, severing the killer's legs. He's lying on the ground screaming when two police officers finally make it to the scene. In the final seconds, the killer emerges for that final jump scare and hacks off the officer's legs. Big Ed then dies laughing... literally.

Overall this is a film that you should watch. I know this review sounded a little like I was making fun of it, but honestly, it's just one of those rare, fun slashers. Grab a few friends, a few drinks, maybe some weed and a big bucket of popcorn. You'll definitely have a good time. Too me, it never gets old.

Cast: Matt Mitler, Ruth Martinez, Bill Hitchcock and Connie Rodgers

Written and Directed by: Buddy Cooper

Run time: 86 mins