Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Small Assassin by Ray Bradbury

****(out of four stars)

David and Alice Leiber are a happily married couple. For they have a baby on the way. But after Alice almost dies giving birth to her child, she develops a certain paranoia towards the child. Well, paranoia probably isn't the right word - it could be described as down right hatred for her child.

Alice believes that her new bundle of joy is trying to kill her. David remains optimistic and tries to help Alice through her ordeal. Could it be Postpartum depression? Is she just a paranoid mother? Or is the baby actually trying to kill her?

As the story goes on these questions remain. We're never really quite sure if the baby is a sadistic little killer or not. The plot almost seems impossible to fathom, but the way Bradbury writes, it keeps you thinking about the horrid possibility.

Alice remains cautious about the new born and actually has good reasons for her fear. The child doesn't sleep like a normal child usually does. The little one (jokingly named Lucifer in the story) is always red-faced and out of breath. At night she hears sounds in the hallway and has visions of the baby just staring at her and David as they sleep.

Doctor Jeffers thinks that she still harbors animosity towards the baby for her near fatal experience giving birth. Then, David starts to see little things that makes him think differently. Toys are deliberately left on top of the stairway. The baby cries constantly, causing Alice's health to decline. As Alice's paranoia worsens, David starts to think that she may be on to something.

Later, Alice is killed when she trips over a toy and falls to her death. David seeks the help of Doctor Jeffers who still finds the entire notion unbelievable. He says Alice's accident was just that... an accident. He gives David some pills, rendering him completely useless. He goes home, crawls into bed and sleeps. When Jeffers checks on him the next day, the gas is on in the house and David is dead. By the end of the story Jeffers is convinced that the baby is the killer.

This story may seem far fetched but it really makes you think. In the story, David brings up some interesting points while consulting with Doctor Jeffers. Could it be that an unborn child is resentful for being brought into a miserable world? What if the child has instincts that make him aware of his surroundings? What if he's born with all of this knowledge? You can call it a great imagination on Bradbury's part but as time goes on maybe evolution will answer these questions. Mammals adapt quickly after birth. Insects are born self-sufficient. Is it hard to believe that a child - maybe at least one in a billion - could have the same intuition?

The reason why I love Bradbury's works so much is because he truly makes you think about all possibilities. How many writers can make a new born child a killer and make it believable? This is just another reason why you should read this short story. These stories are as old as World War 2 and they're still much more effective than most of the stuff being printed today. Like the other stories I've reviewed from Bradbury, this one is taken from The October Country.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Bloody Murder (2000)

*(out of four stars)

I remember renting this flick back in the day. I don't know, something about the cover just intrigued me. Maybe it was the dude in the hockey mask, holding a chain saw that made me pick it up. My first reaction was probably "rip off", and let me tell you. That's exactly what this film is. Nevertheless, Blockbuster video got my money that night... bastards!!! I'm watching this movie for the second time, via Netflix. Shoot me!

I know that the saying "rip off" is universal and thrown around quite often, but holy cow, this movie takes the cake. Bloody Murder is derivative of Friday the 13th and it has a whodunit plot like Scream. The film was made in the late 90's when the whodunit angle was being used over and over and over again. Very, very redundant.

A few teenagers go out to a camp to help set up for the summer. Hmmm. Sound familiar? Meanwhile, a creepy old dude warns them time and time again about Trevor Moorehouse - the local serial killer/legend. Hmmm. Very, very original. I haven't seen that before. At the end of the film, there's a very unclimatic ending where it's finally revealed as to who is walking around in the hockey mask killing the pot smoking, love making, moronic teen.

Not only does this movie steal from the original Friday the 13th and Scream, but it practically rips off the entire Friday the 13 franchise. A girl is pushed off a boat (like in Jason Takes Manhattan) because she can't swim. And in a bit to try and be funny they name the one character Jason. Throughout the whole film you hear the same line, "where's Jason"? I guess it's supposed to be a homage, but it just makes the writing look worse than it already is.

This review is probably the laziest I've done so far. That's because this film's script, acting and overall effect is just unoriginal, uninspiring and lazy. According to IMDB, actress Jessica Morris stated that she hated the film. Too bad she brought nothing to the table either. I'm actually surprised that directer Ralph E. Portillo hasn't been sued.

I would say more but I got nothing...

Starring: Jessica Morris, Peter Guillemette and Patrick Cavanaugh

Directed by: Ralph E. Portillo

Written by: John R. Stevenson

88 min


Tuesday, August 16, 2011


***(out of four stars)

Sleepaway Camp
came out in 1983 - a time, very long ago when slasher movies were being made a dime a dozen. Well, actually, they're still being made, but the feeling and atmosphere are all but lost with most modern takes on the genre. There was just something about the 80's - the look, the acting, the cheesiness. It was all part of a great time for young, independent filmmaker's who had visions of young, sexy, and most often stupid teenagers being picked off one by one.

The film commences panning through Camp Arawak. The foliage in the back ground is beautiful and I commend the cinematographer already. The camp is run down and boarded up. With a flashback we see a man boating with two young children. Meanwhile, two teens are water skiing. There's a horrible accident and the man is killed, leaving the kids orphaned.

Eight years later, we're introduced to Angela(Felissa Rose) and her cousin, Ricky (Jonathon Tierston). They now live with an eccentric, spaced out Aunt who sends them off to summer camp. Angela is also a bit of a space cadet and Aunt Martha (Desiree Gould) hopes that Ricky and his friends will help her open up a bit.

From the get go, Angela doesn't seem to fit in with the rest of the camp goers. We follow her through the awkward circumstances that she faces as a young 13 year old. She's constantly teased and almost molested by Artie, (Owen Hughes) the sloppy, overweight cook. For most of the film's duration, it's all about Angela and her struggles at trying to fit in. Yes, Sleepaway Camp is technically a slasher, but it takes a bit of time before the bodies start piling up. There are slow moments that may be trying to build on character development. You could argue that. I don't look at this as a bad thing though. I like the softball game scene, I like the pranks and I like the overall feel of the camp environment.

This film has so many characters that for the most part it's hard to follow most of them. The main players are: an overbearing counselor named, Meg (Katherine Kamhi), her equally bitchy friend, Judy (Karen Fields) and a paranoid camp owner named, Mel (Mike Kellin). Mike Kellin seems to be the veteran actor and does have the chops to pull of some adequate acting.

Like most slasher films, the death scenes are what counts. In Sleepaway Camp, most of them are pretty tame. Writer/directer Robert Hiltzik said that the budget was low; it's not to difficult to tell when watching the film. But still, it does look like he invested every penny of the minimal budget wisely. For example, in one death scene, Judy is killed with a hot curling iron. From the wall we see the shadow of a pair of hands doing this. Again, it's not shown to us, but it's equally effective because we can at least hear the sizzle of flesh being burnt. And can I add that Judy deserves it! In another scene (not sure if it's a death because it's never touched upon) is when the cook, Artie is burned by scolding hot water. You can actually see the boils pumping out of his cheeks as he writhes in pain. The effects for that scene are really memorable and still makes my skin crawl to this day. Some of the other kills are forgettable. There's a scene where one of the young punks is taking a shit in a stall and the killer drops a bee hive into it. The bees literally eat away at the victim. It sounds cool, but doesn't work on screen. I feel they could've done better. A minimal complaint, but still, a complaint.

In the 1980's, slasher films for the most part, were without a doubt predictable. For me, slasher films are just fun. I'm not looking for some brilliant story as much as I'm looking for a great, fun classic to sit and watch with like minded individuals. However, with Sleepaway Camp, the ending is what really makes this film memorable. In fact, I could confidently say that it has one of the most bizarre endings in (possibly) horror cinema history. I can't recall the very first time I saw the ending, it was probably at a young age, but I have to imagine that it floored me.

Again, I feel that Robert Hiltzik really does a fine job with his direction. The acting is so-so, but you have to over look that. I'm not saying the acting is bad, but I'm not saying it's great either. For a film with a relatively young cast, he does a fine job. The story is effective and does shadow any other negative elements that present themselves. It does feel slow at times, but with this film, it works on different levels. I commend any director who makes something little into something big. That takes some talent. After listening to the audio commentary track, it feels like Robert had a great relationship with his cast. And many of them are still friends. How can you fail when you're doing something with so much passion?

I dare anyone to deny the complete originality that Sleepaway Camp harbors. It's just a one of a kind type of film. Even M. Night would be envious of this AWESOME twist ending. Maybe he should take notes.

Starring: Felissa Rose, Mike Kellin and Jonathon Tierston

Written and directed by: Robert Hiltzik

84 mins


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Tales from the Crypt Episode: Easel Kill Ya

****(out of four stars)

Easel Kill Ya is a Tales from the Crypt episode from the third season. The original air date was back in July of '91.

Tim Roth plays Jack Craig, a struggling painter with a questionable past. We learn that he once had some alcohol problems, yet seems to continue to struggle staying away from a drink. From the very start of the episode, we know that Jack isn't right in the head. It's in his demeanor and his eccentric behavior. He's certainly got some issues, and he's quite down on luck, having not sold a painting in over a year.

One night, while trying to paint, he gets into and argument with his neighbor who is playing his 80's metal way too loud. Jack accidentally knocks over a flower-pot that sits on his fire escape. The pot lands on the metal heads face, thus sending him airborne over the fire escape. The metal head lays in a pool of his own blood. Jack takes some Polaroids of the corpse and is inspired to paint it.

Wanting to make a profit from his painting, he ventures to an art studio owned by Malcolm Mayflower (William Atherton). Mayflower is interested in "morbid art" and immediately is obsessed with Jack's rendition of the dead metal head. He pays Jack a quick 2,000 for the painting and promises 20,000 for his next piece.

Jack's next "morbid art" will be inspired by the premeditated death of his landlady. She's pushed down a flight of stairs and a pair of shears pierces through her stomach. Jack immediately takes photos of his poor victim and begins to paint her. Once again he takes his art to Malcolm and once again he's paid greatly for it.

Sharon is Jack's love interest. Although Jack's paintings are a little odd, she finds him fascinating. They make love one evening, and right in the middle of the action, Jack sees Malcolm's face. He nearly crushes Malcolm's skull in with an alarm clock before realizing that the lovely Sharon is still beneath him. What a way to end the mood! Each character in this episode has equally disturbing issues, but when Sharon fails to leave the house after almost being bludgeoned by Jack, you know she's gotta be messed up.

Jack returns to Malcolm and tells him that the landlady "morbid artwork" is his final piece. Disappointed, Malcolm offers Jack 100,000 for his next art piece. Jack leaves Malcolm, not wanting to do any more art work.

Later, Sharon finds Polaroids of Jack's victims. If she were stupid enough to stick around after that, she'd deserve anything coming to her. She doesn't though, and she runs out of Jack's apartment, fearing for her life. As she runs, she's hit by a car. In the hospital Jack is informed that the best brain surgeon can fix his love. However, it won't come cheap and a whole lotta cash will be needed to perform such an operation. With Malcolm's proposition in mind, Jack heads out to find his next victim. He kills a man outside the hospital and paints an avant-gard style painting out of this victim. Malcolm is again very pleased with the latest piece and payday is rewarded to Jack, who then rushes back to the hospital. In the end, we learn that Jack killed the one surgeon that was set to do Sharon's surgery. In the final seconds of the episode, the cops find Jack a very credible suspect to the murder.

There are tons of great moments in this episode. As a whole it really shines. The performances are great; especially that of Tim Roth. I loved the story of the struggling artist who will do unspeakable acts for the sake of his art. Remember, Jack is desperate and broke. Desperate men (that are equally broke) can become dangerous men, as we've learned from this episode. The entire time I'm watching I'm also asking myself why wouldn't you just get a damn job? You must suffer for your art, no matter what it takes, and Jack Craig is no exception. But, like most of these morality tales, Jack ends up with the shitty end of the stick.

Starring: Tim Roth, William Atherton, Roya Megnot

Directed by: John Harrison

Written by: Larry Wilson

Original airdate: 7/17/91

Monday, August 8, 2011

Psycho II (1983)

***(out of four stars)
It's no surprise that the original Psycho had such an immense effect on American audiences back in 1960. That film changed the way we looked at horror films. With one of the greatest scenes in history (the infamous shower scene) how could you not consider that film to be the scariest that audiences seen up till that point? And yet it was heavily based on the real life Wisconsin cannibal killer, Ed Gein. With Robert Bloch penning the script, Hitch took the ball and ran with it. He made that film cheaply and totally stunned movie goers of that era. So, when you hear about a sequel what would your reaction be? Today, sequels are a dime a dozen, especially those uninspired "remakes" that litter theatres everywhere. How can you possibly match an original classic with a sequel that would come 22 years later?

The answer is simple: YOU DON'T!

However, with that being said, that does not mean that Psycho 2 is a bad film. In fact, I think it's a great sequel. The only thing that Psycho 2 may lack is actually not being as great as it's predecessor. But if you sit back and take in this film with an open mind, you'll see its genius.

After being institutionalized for the past 22 years, Norman Bates is released and deemed sane by the courts. But the sister of Marion Crane, (Norman's victim in the original) Lila Loomis, isn't ready for Norman to be released. She's out to make sure that he stays confined behind the walls of the mental institution. Lila is also the husband of Sam Loomis, who was also a character of the original.

Lila's protests fall on deaf ears. Norman is released and ready to try and lead a normal life. Upon his release he finds a job at the local diner as the chief's assistant and re-opens his infamous motel after firing Warren Toomey (Dennis Franz), who is the current, drug dealing manager. He befriends a waitress who also works at the diner named, Mary Samuels (Meg Tilly). She seems to be having trouble with her boyfriend and stays with Norman at his house.

Mary Samuels isn't what she appears to be and we later find out that she's the daughter of Lila Loomis. The two torment Norman, often calling him and disguising their voices as his beloved, deceased Mother. This is a sadistic attempt to drive Norman batty once again, securing him a permanent home at the loony bin. After a while, Mary starts to feel sympathy towards Norman and argues with her mother against her dastardly plans.

Both Anthony Perkins and Vera Miles return in this sequel. Perkins is spot on and this is probably the reason why his career never headed in a different direction. Perkins will always be remembered for his unforgettable portrayal of Norman Bates. We feel sorry for Norman, who at times, seems to be leading a normal life. He has paid his debt to society but never rises above his tortured past because society won't let him. And isn't that what Norman Bates really is: tortured? How could we not feel for a man, who knew no other love than that of his dead mother? A man that dressed in her clothing, talked to her as if she were still alive and nurtured her in declining health. The death of Mrs. Bates has always affected Norman. It festers in his mind and she lives vicariously through him.

It was said that Meg Tilly wasn't allowed to watch television as a child and was totally oblivious as to why Anthony Perkins had so much attention during the making of the Psycho 2. She had never seen Psycho. She made an innocent comment questioning why Perkins had had so much attention. Rumor has it that Perkins was deeply offended by her comment and didn't talk to her during the making of the film. He even wanted her replaced, even though filming was well under way with her in many of the scenes. Still, her character is pretty good for this film. And I think she does a fine job as Mary Samuels. Mary is a character of which that is surrounded by the evil doings of Norman. Her Aunt had been murdered in the shower and although this weighs heavily upon her, she shows mercy and sympathy for Norman.

Other recognizable faces are Dennis Franz, who plays the motel manager. He's offed by Mother rather quickly because of his sinful ways. Robert Loggia plays Dr. Bill Raymond, Norman's psychiatrist. It's a small role, but effective. Dr. Bill Raymond is responsible for Norman's release, yet still has an uneasy feeling about his patient.

Richard Franklin's direction is great. I love how he composes his shots. Especially those of Norman. Quite often, when Perkins is in a scene the camera is above him and tilted slightly, giving that feel of unease with the character. It's paced very well and builds on tension. Franklin tells a great story with his shots, just as Tom Holland tells a well paced story with his script.

And that does bring up another good point with the writing. We're really never sure what is going on. Norman seems fine. Is he doing the killing? Are Lila and Mary behind the visceral attacks? Has Mother cemented a place back in Norman's soul and thus making him a murderous lunatic? These questions keep you guessing. And in the final scene, yet another plot twist evolves.

In the final scene, Emma Spool (Claudia Bryar) knocks on the door while Norman is sitting at the dinner table. She tells Norman that she's actually his biological mother and that her sister, Mrs. Bates, actually adopted Norman while she was institutionalized. She claims that she was the one doing all the killing in an act to protect her son. Norman then hits her in the back of the head, killing her instantly. But why? If she is really Norman's mother, shouldn't he be content with having her in the flesh? It really doesn't matter because by the end we see that Norman has once again completely gone insane.

And I have to add that the final kill is brutal. That scene where he smacks Emma Spool over the head with the shovel still makes me cringe. In fact, most of the kill scenes are really great. My favorite is probable seeing Lila get a knife jammed down her throat. We get to see the blade enter and then protrude out of her neck. That reminds me of Lucio Fulci's House by the Cemetery where another victim meets that same demise.

When you watch this movie ask yourself if it lives up to the original. My opinion is that it does not. But that doesn't matter, because no film can out shine a classic like the original Psycho. (And I really don't think that is what the filmmakers were going for anyway.) It doesn't need to be better. That isn't the point. The film is effective as a sequel and continues with the Bates character. This film is really about Norman and what he's gone through. It's a story about a man who really tries to be civil, and to keep his heinous past behind him. But it is his past that continues to haunt him. He'll never be able to escape it. No matter how hard he tries.

Yes, Mrs. Bates' presence is still felt, but she is hardly the villain.

When Psycho 2 was released it garnished some financial success. It was received well by some critics. However, there were too many people who expected this film to be as magical as the original. When you have that mindset, you might as well not see the film and call it shit to begin with. If you take it in, and set aside that original, (I know it may be hard to do) then you'll find that this film stands just fine on its own merits. This is one of the best sequels to any classic that was ever made. My opinion may not matter to most, but that is what it is: an opinion. I say check it out.

Starring: Anthony Perkins, Meg Tilly and Vera Miles

Directed by: Richard Franklin

Written by: Tom Holland

113 mins