May 31, 2012

100 YEARS OF FRANKENSTEIN

May 30, 2012

REVIEW: ABRAHAM LINCOLN VS. ZOMBIES


Someone fetch Lincoln his parcel. He’s got some ghoul heads to chop off.

Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies just might be the boldest move from The Asylum to date (though perhaps not as bold as their 9/11 movie, but, you know). The Asylum has received some pretty substantial hate over the years for their shameless direct-to-video rip-offs of big budget and theatrical horror remakes. (Depending on where the lawsuit stands, they may or may not currently have American Battleship on shelves while the “real” Battleship is currently sinking in theaters.) The Asylum’s defense of this tactic has always been that they were/are merely doing the same thing big Hollywood was doing – giving audiences a movie they’ve already seen, but with a similar sounding title.

Using that argument, there really is no excuse for Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies, their take on the bigger-budgeted Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer, hitting theaters soon. To rip off such an absurd concept and title…that goes above and beyond simply pointing and laughing at a major studio-produced remake. But so far they’ve somehow gotten away scot-free, and with this latest release they’ve added just one more film to their ever-growing archives. Their business model seems a successful one: their casts have gone from complete unknowns to recognizable actors who are either in on the joke or desperate for work.

With that said, Lincoln Vs. Zombies is the best film from The Asylum's hovering-somewhere-over-100-film archive. I’ve seen a lot of The Asylum’s films, and they’ve all left me in various levels of coma. But this one, however…it was pretty watchable. I don’t think I was left injured at all.


The title should more than clue you in what it's about, but the year is 1863, and we find Lincoln dealing not just with the confederacy, but a growing army of the undead. And he’s not the only one fighting the battle. Joining Lincoln are General Stonewall Jackson (leader of the confederate army), Pat Garret (infamous assassin of Billy the Kid) and even a very young and completely unnecessary Teddy Roosevelt, among others whose names the more learned of you should recognize.

When word reaches Lincoln that soldiers “infected” with some kind of disease are all over Fort Pulaski, eating faces and committing all sorts of zombtrocities, he dispatches a group of 12 men (with him at the helm) to visit the fort and see what’s the what. Well, they see what’s the what, all right. GHOULS. Wearing old-fashioned Civil War-era garb and huge bow ties.

As the 12 men begin to die off, one of them begins to doubt Lincoln’s tactics. He thinks the problem could be better taken care of. He’s an actor, you see…with a great big bushy mustache and a small, wooden Derringer. If you stayed awake for five minutes during your American history class, you can see where this is going.

Lincoln vs. Zombies is perfectly disposable entertainment. After seeing the promotional materials for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer (you know, the “real” Lincoln movie), I will say this: Bill Oberst Jr. plays a far more convincing Lincoln than that nine-year-old kid they found for the Tim Burton-produced film (although with The Asylum's proven relationship with genre legend Lance Henriksen, why the hell didn't they call him??). While he's forced to spit out some cheesy dialogue, his performance is rather straight forward and feels quite genuine. He approaches the "character" as if he were in a more legitimate project. It doesn't stray too far from all the other Lincolns we've seen over the years, but it shouldn't have to. Plus it’s genuinely fun seeing him lop off heads with his switchblade scythe, which impossibly fits into and disappears within the confines of his suit jacket as if we were in a cartoon. And I guess we are.

Some of LvsZ might make you groan. Even though the film’s concept is as subtle as a sledgehammer to a bucket of testicles, Lincoln handing young Roosevelt a shovel and telling him to “speak softly and carry a big stick,” or swinging a scythe at a ghoul head and bellowing “emancipate this!” is still obnoxiously on the nose. If your audience is groaning during a movie with this as your concept, you may have gone too far.

The zombie's make up effects are fairly simple, but effective. The gore effects are fun, if perhaps limited in scope. The gushing blood and flying heads are CGI, and there’s plenty of both.

The last act of the film is shot in the real Fort Pulaski, located in Savannah, and this touch of real history is appreciated, so I'll ignore the fact that the structure clearly showcases all two hundred of its years, and not the thirty it would have been at that time. And I can't say I blame them for not "touching up" any of their surroundings, as I'm sure such a thing would have been forbidden by the National Parks Service. It's a minor complaint, really, given the fort's beauty.

I will definitely say this: LvsZ doesn't end in a way that's indicative of the kind of film it is, or of the kinds of film The Asylum makes. In fact, it's a rather poignant ending that makes you look at the real-life assassination of Abraham Lincoln in a different way. It's certainly not the way I expected an otherwise silly and over-the-top film to end. I suppose there are folks out there who will lambaste the film's plot, calling it disrespectful to the memory of one of our country's greatest leaders, but the ending chosen allows Lincoln some dignity. Not bad for a movie that has something like 50 severed heads and some truly horrendous fake beards.

Sic semper Asylum.

But here is my main gripe:

Historical Figure + Monsters = a really cheap and stupid concept for a movie, regardless of who is producing it. I’m not in too big of a hurry to see the “real” Lincoln movie, but I will say this: its concept is so daringly stupid that it demands a certain kind of respect from the audience. Filmmakers rip off Halloween or Paranormal Activity over and over again, and no one (beyond their annoyance) can muster the enthusiasm to care. And they will continue to be ripped off from now until the end of time because their concepts are (now) very basic. But a former dead president re-imagined as an undead-killing vigilante, stupid as the concept may be, is "special," and as such it does feel a little cheap that it's been re-appropriated in a sort of "ha ha, we're first"-type move. (Although the more films out there bringing exposure to Abraham Lincoln, wildly inaccurate and ludicrous as they may be, the better. I say this because “these kids” today are so massively retarded that they thought Titanic was just a movie, and not based on something that actually happened, so here’s hoping they're aware Lincoln was, ya know, a real dude).

The Asylum’s films have been getting better…in terms of their production levels, cast, and even their ability to produce original (scream!) concepts. I hear they might even be prepping their first theatrical release.

If you're not familiar with The Asylum's repertoire, watch Lincoln vs. Zombies on streaming if you can, or make it a one-night rental from Redbox. If you consider yourself a fan of the mini (mini mini) studio, you'll have a good time with this one. It doesn't ask a lot of you, nor should you of it.


May 29, 2012

UNSUNG HORRORS: THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES

Every once in a while, a genuinely great horror movie—one that would rightfully be considered a classic, had it gotten more exposure and love at the box office—makes an appearance. It comes, no one notices, and it goes. But movies like this are important. They need to be treasured and remembered. If intelligent, original horror is supported, then that's what we'll begin to receive, in droves. We need to make these movies a part of the legendary genre we hold so dear. Because these are the unsung horrors. These are the movies that should have been successful, but were instead ignored. They should be rightfully praised for the freshness and intelligence and craft that they have contributed to our genre.

So, better late than never, we’re going to celebrate them now… one at a time.

Dir. Mark Pellington
2002
Sony
United States

I’m not entirely sure audiences knew what they were in for when The Mothman Prophecies hit theaters in the winter of 2002. Once marketing for the film was underway, the mythical (?) and titular antagonist of the film had effortlessly achieved a shape and rictus based on the title alone; audiences concocted in their mind a hulking and unnatural monster that was man-shaped, but sprouted wings and towered over even the tallest person who had claimed to see the monster with their own eyes. The opening weekend of The Mothman Prophecies followed, by less than five months, another horror film that featured a “similar” monster, insofar as the limited imaginations of audiences allowed. It was called “the Creeper,” from the very, very stupid Jeepers Creepers. I honestly believe audiences just weren’t ready for The Mothman Prophecies, which snuck into theaters under the guise of being a more traditional monster movie and was something else entirely.

John Klein (Richard Gere) is a reporter for The Washington Post. He lives in Georgetown with his incredibly gorgeous wife, Mary (Debra Messing). In addition to his role as a reporter, he casually appears on a national television show called “D.C. Review” to discuss politics, but it ain’t no thang. Despite his job and his hot wife, he’s pretty down to earth and not at all arrogant. Because of his career, the Kleins seem to be doing quite well, financially; especially since the film opens with the couple shopping for a new house. They share a good life, and their love is genuine.

But this life they’ve built together, and the future they dream of with infectious enthusiasm, all comes crashing down one cold night as the couple drives home after picking out their dream house. A flash of something murky with glowing red eyes flies at the car with immense speed and causes Mary to lose control. Her head cracks against the window with a sickening shattering of glass, and John immediately rushes her to the hospital, where she, seemingly delirious from the accident, says to John, “you didn’t see it, did you?” Assuming that she is in shock from the accident, he can only tell her no, and ask her what it is she thinks she saw. The question seems impossible to answer, and so she cannot, and tears fill her red, terrified eyes. John goes back to the scene of the accident to see if he can locate the “it” of which Mary speaks. He sees only some glowing red lights atop a construction barrier…and a v-shaped layer of burn residue on the car’s grill.

Mary soon passes away (on Christmas Eve no less); not from the accident, but from the incredibly rare brain tumor (called glioblastoma) growing inside her, and had only been discovered during routine hospital tests following the accident. A notebook found in her hotel room features frantic and hand-scrawled sketches of “angels,” as an orderly describes…but these drawings don’t look angelic at all. They show a dark figure with angry features and wings like a butterfly.


Two years pass. Klein remains isolated and melancholic, turning down offers from friends to be set up on dates. He smiles as he declines, pretending to be amused by the prospect instead of outright destroyed; his sadness is paramount. An impromptu late-night drive to prep for an interview with the Virginian governor begins Klein’s journey into the world of Indrid Cold, aka the mothman. It begins in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, where he meets Connie Mills (Laura Linney), a police sergeant, after a surreal “misunderstanding” at the home of a local named Gordon Smallwood (the always wonderful Will Patton.) You see, after Klein’s car broke down just outside Gordon’s house at 2:30 a.m., he knocked on the door to see about using their phone. He has a shotgun shoved in his face for his troubles and is forced into the bathroom (which is a somewhat creepy place to force a man you’ve captured, once you realize it would be the easiest place to clean...should someone get their head blown off). But instead of Gordon being the “bad guy,” he immediately calls Sgt. Mills and explains to her that Klein has apparently knocked on his door the past two nights, at the same time, asking to use the phone. Even though the audience and John know that’s not true, Gordon seems to believe it intensely. But how could that be? How can John have been in two places at once? How is it John impossibly traveled over 400 miles in just 90 minutes when ordinarily it would have taken six hours? How did he end up in damn-near Ohio when he was aiming for Richmond, Virginia? Just what the fuck is going on in Point Pleasant?

And so it begins.

John and Connie begin to compare notes. She explains that Point Pleasant has been plagued for the past month or so with weird sightings and complaints—of “mothlike” figures with “red eyes;” strange lights; phone calls filled with high-pitched electronic shrieks. After visiting one of the eyewitnesses, John sees burn residue on a nearby tree that matches what he saw on their car the night of Mary’s crash. And the witness descriptions of the figure itself seem to match Mary’s sketches beat for beat. Whatever’s going on in Point Pleasant has John’s full attention.

John and Gordon begin an uneasy friendship. They begin to depend on each other, trying to figure out this puzzle that the mothman has created. What is it? What does it want? Is it even real?

One night Gordon claims to see a reflection in his bathroom mirror that is not his own, and a howling voice coming out of his sink drain that says the same words over and over for an hour: “Do not be afraid. 99 will die. Denver 9.”

The next day they see the news report: a plane flying out of Denver, Concorde 9, has crashed, killing all 99 passengers on board.


For whatever reason the mothman seems to be warning people of impending disasters, which on the surface doesn’t seem to be something to fear. So then why is the mothman so haunting and strange? Why have people been left physically harmed from its presence?

John seeks out a man named Alexander Leek (a meta-pseudonym for John Keel, author of the book which inspired The Mothman Prophecies.) Leek is a paranoid, afraid, and unstable man. He’s aware of the mothman and of its repertoire. He explains that the mothman doesn't have one form; that it appears in certain ways to certain people based on their ability to perceive what they are seeing. He describes it as an advanced being, observing our lives from afar. John demands to know why the mothman doesn’t just come down and explain itself, and make clear what it wants. Leek responds, “You’re more advanced than a cockroach. Have you ever tried explaining yourself to one?”

The Mothman Prophecies, from the first minute to the last, is draped in an incredibly palpable feeling of eeriness. It doesn’t let up, even in the lightest moments of the film. And the mothman, though never clearly seen beyond quick flashes and fuzzy recollections, is a constant presence. He hovers outside every window, diving in and flying away. The camera moves fluidly to achieve this feeling, especially when swooping rapidly from behind John as he sits in a desolate park. John turns, sensing something behind him, but of course he sees nothing.

If you were to ask me who I felt were some of the most underrated modern directors of our time, Mark Pellington would be on that list. Many directors are accused of exhibiting only style over substance (Zack Snyder comes to mind, as do the Wachowsi Bros.), and while that may be also true of Pellington, that’s only because the man hasn’t been given enough chances to show what he’s got. His 1999 effort, Arlington Road, was an incredibly thrilling and effective look at terrorism on American soil. Following on the heels of the Oklahoma City bombing, which claimed 168 lives, it starred Jeff Bridges as a college professor who slowly begins to realize that his next-door neighbor (Tim Robbins) is a terrorist. It is a nerve-wracking and highly emotional film with a gangbusters performance from Bridges, and its bleak ending is especially powerful. While it wasn’t Pellington’s first effort behind the camera, it had been and probably remains his most high-profile film. Despite the so-so haul that Arlington took in at the box office (it barely recouped its budget), Pellington secured Mothman as his next gig. It would be a film that received so-so notices from critics as well as middling box office returns (though his direction would be praised by Roger Ebert, who lamented that his tremendous skills behind the camera had been wasted on a sub-par screenplay. Agree to disagree.).


While I haven’t seen Pellington’s dramedy starring Luke Wilson entitled Henry Poole is Here, his most recent film, I Melt With You, is a well-casted, drug-addled film about a group of forty-somethings who get together once a year and get completely wasted on every substance they can find. The film is infused with Pellington’s signature style, but the story of a forgotten suicide pact should have been more involving and less emotionally disconnected. The film is worth seeing, if only for Pellington’s very experimental approach. (For those of you with Netflix, it's currently on streaming.) In recent years he was attached to the English-language remake of El Orfanato (The Orphanage), though his last statement on the matter seemed to suggest that New Line has canned the project after taking too long on getting it started.

Pellington’s direction in Mothman is the strongest of his career. He takes a not-so-traditional concept for a horror movie, steeping it in paranoia and mood, and drenches the film in bleak tones. Pale blues and stark whites litter the screen, and he shoves the bone-crunching harsh winter of Point Pleasant directly into your face. Cold weather has always been intrinsically more effective for a horror film (The Shining, The Thing), and the harsh winds and shorter days drive Point Pleasant citizens off the streets and into their houses, leaving the town at night seemingly deserted.

As mentioned previously, Pellington uses the camera to invoke the presence of mothman whenever appropriate. The camera doesn't move as it has in other films; it starts at ground level and hovers around people’s faces, as if constantly moving around to study them, before shooting off into the sky. It swoops in on John as he stares forlornly out a skywalk window, and before he is whisked away by a doctor, the camera moves just as quickly away again, as if taking off back into the night.

Eyewitness accounts of Indrid Cold are painted with swirling and red-tinted light, and each recollection of the encounter are simplistically but eerily effective. There are several sequences peppered throughout the film that pull you in and give you the chills, regardless if you’ve let the film take you where it had intended. The most effective sequence in the film has Klein alone in his dingy and dark motel room, and Indrid Cold calling him on the phone. Klein, for personal and obsessive reasons that have nothing to do with all he has learned, but everything to do with his deceased wife, refuses to believe Indrid is the mythical figure everyone in Point Pleasant seems to believe. And so Klein rushes around the room, testing Cold’s so-called omniscience:

Where is my watch?

 In your shoe...under the bed.

What’s in my hand?

Chaaaapstick.

[grabbing a book] Third line, page fifty one?

"A broken smile beneath her whispered wings."

They are things Indrid couldn’t possible know, but he somehow does. It’s one of my favorite scenes in any film, grippingly directed with feverish and chilly eeriness.


I have not read the book of the same name by John Keel, but I can assume that screenwriter Richard Hatem took what was most assuredly a "non-fiction" book and created a narrative, featuring characters we could follow in order to experience the strange goings-on of Point Pleasant. The events featured in the film allegedly took place during the 1960s, but were updated to present times for the 2002 film. From what I’ve learned about mothman from other sources (there is an exhaustive, almost three-hour documentary called Eyes of the Mothman, which tells you everything you’ve ever wanted to know), The Mothman Prophecies includes many of the events that were said to have taken place in Point Pleasant.

As for Richard Gere as an actor, I can’t say I’m either a supporter or a detractor. The film for which he received the highest accolades of his career, American Gigolo, was a film for which I could barely stay awake, and except for his wonderful and evolving performance in Primal Fear (his first on-screen pairing with Laura Linney), I haven’t exactly been the ideal demographic for his last decade of film roles. His performance in Mothman, however, is certainly worth praising. He plays a man so emotionally stricken by the death of his wife that he falls effortlessly into the hands of Indrid Cold, who uses Mary’s image to fuck with his mind. His performance is split right down the middle, maintaining his objectivity as an investigative journalist, but also allowing himself up be swept up into the town’s paranoia and outright fear of this mystical figure. Klein is emotionally invested in the town’s victimization as well as his own personal heartache, but at the same time he sees a mystery that needs to be solved, so much that he’s willing to abandon his position at The Washington Post. His obsession with the mothman fuels him and gives him purpose, because to him, it’s not just about finding out who this “man” is, but really finding out what he had to do with his wife’s death…if he even did. It’s an interesting conflict, in that we as the audience don’t know when the investigation stops being objective and starts becoming personal.


I love Laura Linney. I will always and forever love anything she does; she’s as beautiful as she is talented. While this isn’t her best role (for me personally, that would be the criminally under-seen You Can Count On Me), it’s certainly not a bad one. In this day and age, actors are woefully miscast for their roles, taking on characters for which they are not suited whatsoever (my personal favorite is Tara Reid as a paleontologist in the ludicrous Alone in the Dark), but Linney believably embodies a small-town citizen who knows all her people by name. In the film she is strong and intelligent, but never abandons the soft side that the audience as well as Klein depends on. Linney isn’t set up as the generic romantic interest…just a potential one. In the last act of the film, it’s clear that Linney cares for John. What’s unclear is the kind of companionship she is offering him. Is she there for him as a friend? Or more? The audience is never let in on that secret, but what we do know is it’s up to Klein to answer the phone.

Will Patton is among my favorite character actors, and his career has touched down in almost every genre: horror/thriller with fellow Unsung Horror Copycat and The Fourth Kind, action with Armageddon, and drama with Brooklyn’s Finest (again with Gere). His role here is quiet and understated, but extremely evocative of fear. He doesn’t just look afraid, he is afraid. He speaks in whispers, as if fearful that Indrid Cold will hear him and come looking for him.


The score by tomandandy is appropriately droning and moody. There's not much "musically" going on with their score, but that doesn't mean it's not an effective one. Every inch of the film is tinged with their electronic humming, brimming with psychedelic and unusual choices...and it all comes to a head at the bridge finale, where their pulse-pounding music makes the sequence ten times more powerful. (Seriously, if you don't have chills throughout this entire sequence, you're not alive.) 

While I can understand people not liking The Mothman Prophecies, I certainly can’t condone it. No, it’s not your typical rubber-suit monster streaking through town and punching off heads. It doesn’t swoop down from the skies and clutch a baby in its talons before disappearing into the night. Mothman’s presence is psychological. It takes the form of other people to get inside their heads. The human race is a rat in a maze, and the mothman gets its rocks off on providing us with information and seeing how we react. Yes, the mothman does warn of impending disasters, but we never get the sense it’s because of the goodness of its heart. It’s more that it wants to see if we’re smart enough to recognize the hints it leaves us; it wants to see what choices we make; it wants to see if the human race is worth the mark we're leaving on the universe.

Modern movie audiences don’t like ambiguous films, and even more, ambiguous endings. Sure, they love the film if it’s something like Inception, where people shoot guns and float around for hours at a time, because it’s provided all the thrills necessary for a typical mainstream film. But The Mothman Prophecies is a slow burn. It starts off as a slow burn, and except for the wonderful and heart-pumping bridge climax, it remains a slow burn. Most people just don’t have the patience for films that take their time, but for those that do, I’m confident that The Mothman Prophecies is a film that will remain effective for years to come.

May 28, 2012

IT BEGINS...

Naked Man Allegedly Eating Victim's Face Shot And Killed By Miami Police

One man is dead and another hospitalized after a bizarre assault off Miami's MacArthur Causeway reportedly forced a police officer to open fire.

City of Miami police say the incident began Saturday afternoon about 2 p.m. when an officer responded to reports of 2 men fighting in the bike path of the Biscayne Boulevard exit ramp, alongside the Miami Herald's parking garage. There, according to the Herald, the officer observed a naked man eating another man's face:
The officer...approached and saw that the naked man was actually chewing the other man's head, according to witnesses. The officer ordered the naked man to back away, and when he continued the assault, the officer shot him.
The attacker continued to eat the man, despite being shot, forcing the officer to continue firing. Witnesses said they heard at least a half dozen shots.
According to CBS Miami, police sources said the victim had "virtually no face" and was unrecognizable.

"[Officers] attempted to separate them, there was some sort of confrontation," Miami Police spokesman Willie Moreno told Local10.

Police said his victim was transported to Ryder Trauma Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital.

Officials have yet to identify the officer involved, the deceased, or the victim. The incident snarled traffic on the causeway for hours during busy Memorial Day weekend as multiple lanes of vehicles were routed around the crime scene.

 Source

May 26, 2012

REVIEW: EVIDENCE


Evidence is a wild ride. Completely unpredictable, and perhaps purposely misleading, it takes you in a direction you don't expect. While it does fall victim to some of the more usual found footage pitfalls, it's extremely rewarding to the viewer who sticks with it until the end.

The set up to Evidence is sinfully basic, so much to the point that it might even be offensive. Oh, what's that? Two guys and their girlfriends are going camping in the woods and one of them is going to film it because he wants to inexplicably document his friend's first camping trip? Mm, sounds like...the dullest documentary ever.

Our young cast ranges from sweet to abrasive, but never seem disingenuous. Is it easy to accept that the guy who runs the camera for the first act of the film is kind of a dick? Yes. Whether because that's a realistic attribute, or because the found footage sub-genre has successfully created that trope, it doesn't matter. He's a dick, and he only becomes more of a dick as the kids' camping trip ensues.


One, two, skip a few...once the thing stalking them in the woods makes an appearance, and once the kids begin running through the woods at night, you will roll your eyes. Because we've all been here before, haven't we? First with Blair Witch, and then with its many imitators, we've crossed this bridge. Sure, the fleeting glimpses the audience gets of the creature are cool. From what we can see it's an interesting design, but it's really not enough to sustain an entire film. What very misleadingly seems to be a tale of creature versus kids soon descends into a whole other kind of madness entirely.

There are certain things a movie can do that make me love it. Some of these I've mentioned before, such as surprising me when it sheds its surface-level meagerness and becomes something more. But I also love when a movie makes me feel like an asshole for dismissing it. I've seen many films for which I had high hopes, but only to give up once I was able to determine they were not going to provide me with what I had come for. And I gave up during Evidence. "This is what's happening?" I'd said. "How fucking boring."

Well...I'm an asshole. And that pleases me. I wish I could gush about how visceral and thrilling and FUN the last 15-20 minutes are, but that would completely ruin it for you. And for once the trailer (embedded below) barely scratches the surface of the more intense scenes of the film.

However (there's always a however), the film is not without its problems.

There are two kinds of found footage movies: one where people set out to capture on video exactly what it is that ends up killing them, and one where people bring a camera to their otherwise mundane excursion and happen to capture...well...the thing that kills them. Because this movie wallows in the latter, the only thing to initially maintain our interest is the kids themselves. We have no investigation into an urban legend, no inkling of any kind of what's running rampant in the woods. Because of that, we have no "hook." And since the kids are, at first, our only focal point, there are too many instances of them (the guys especially) veering off into unlikeable territory. This isn't necessarily a fault of the film - people are dicks in real life; I've met them, so have you - but once it gets to the point where you are begging the creature to burst from the woods and take off some heads, you wonder if that's exactly what the filmmakers wanted, or if they failed to restrain their actors accordingly.

Basically, if Heather from Blair Witch got on your nerves, make way for Ryan: King Dick.


Most of the film feels genuinely acted, but every once in a while a line of dialogue or snippet of a performance will feel very forced and scripted, and it can be momentarily distracting. One of the most offensive things I think a movie can do is have a character provide exposition by talking to him/herself. There's something cheap and lazy about it that doesn't sit well with me. While Evidence doesn't depend on this as a crutch, it does utilize it so a character can express how he/she is feeling, and what's supposed to be a real, captured-in-the-moment experience feels less so.

Like many other found footage movies, Evidence is at its most effecting and thrilling in the last act of the film, and while it's blocked and choreographed very well, our filmmakers may have gone a little overboard in post production. There are way, WAY too many instances of the camera momentarily freezing, blacking out, or going on the fritz as our characters flee from their stalkers. What was supposed to provoke a feeling of realism only serves to be an annoyance.

Evidence (written by Ryan McCoy, who also plays Ryan, and directed by Howie Askins) was completed in 2010 and made the film festival rounds in 2011. Some of the more popular horror sites deservedly lauded the film, which is how it caught my attention. Currently there are no plans for a North American release, but I hope it will be out sometime this year.

Fans of both the found footage sub-genre and the more visceral aspects of the recent Cabin in the Woods should give it a watch. Unlike Blair Witch and Paranormal Activity, Evidence does not believe in the less-is-more technique. As John Carpenter once said, if you have a cool looking monster, show the fucking thing. Evidence will show you things that will linger in your mind long after the credits roll.

May 23, 2012

REVIEW: THE RED HOUSE


"Every living person has their own Ox Head Woods.”

The Red House is about cancerous guilt. While it presumes to be about a mysterious abandoned house and of the potential evil that resides within, what The Red House is really about is guilt—unburied, unforgotten, and insurmountable.

Meg (the adorable Allene Roberts) lives on an isolated farm with the Morgans, Pete (Edward G. Robinson) and his sister, Ellen (Judith Anderson). The Morgans long ago adopted Meg after her parents had decided to pack up and move north. The circumstances as to why Meg never accompanied her parents, or how the Morgans came to adopt her, is never made clear, but Meg seems legitimately happy, so beyond her recognition of the adoption having taken place, she doesn’t feel the need to ask any questions. It is what it is.

*

One day a boy from her school named Nath (Lonnie McAllister) approaches her about possibly getting a job on the Morgan farm. Meg introduces him to Pete, who lost the use of one leg after taking a nasty fall in Ox Head Woods, and the agreement is forged: Nath is to come every day after school, do whatever needs to be done in the fields, and then walk the hour back home. One night, after it’s gotten a bit late, Nath off-handedly mentions that he’ll cut through Ox Head Woods to save time on his way home. Pete immediately begins to warn the boy of the woods, and of its reputation, and of the screams reputedly heard coming from what’s known as the red house. Nath waves off these claims and takes the short cut anyway…and hears the screams for himself. Terrified, he rushes back to the Morgan farm and tells them what he has heard.

And from there the mystery begins to grow. Just what is with the red house of Ox Head Woods? Why does Pete Morgan seem so terrified of it? And who is that man lurking in the woods with a rifle, trying to scare off anyone who gets too close to the red house? (Played by Rory Calhoun, who has the greatest hair I’ve ever seen.)

When most people hear the words “film noir,” they think of Sam Spade sitting behind a desk, or Orson Welles fleeing from his captors through city sewers. They think of directors like Fritz Lang or Howard Hawks. They think of fedoras and dark alleys and light filtering in through window blinds. And while I love classic noir, I love non-traditional noir even more—when it’s lifted and placed in a not-so-usual setting. And I love when the heart of  noir lies in darkness verging on horror.

*

The Red House was not a movie with which I was previously familiar, or even aware. But Edward G. Robinson remains one of the truly great character actors, most well known for his countless roles as crooked monsters during Warner Bros’ heyday of gangster pictures (perhaps the most famous being Little Caesar). Robinson’s depiction of any number of ruthless thugs gave birth to the classic “you dirty rat” line used in so many mafia parodies (even though he never once used that line). And sitting down to watch him portray not a gangster or thug, but a broken-down, paranoid, and terrified man, I have to say it was an interesting experience. It always is when the requisite tough guy gets to shed some tears and show off his broken side.

The “twist” ending, which is a term I lament using as it makes the resolution sound gimmicky and cornball, is pretty much perfect. It unmasks the villain, so to speak, and the mystery of the red house is finally unearthed. So, what on earth dwells within Ox Head Woods that scares Pete so much? Is it a wailing ghost? A mutated monster? Any one of those would have been disappointing to some degree, but for those who enjoy real, human drama, they will find the ending as satisfying as it is heartbreaking.

The Red House is a film that movie fans love to analyze, as they do with all noir, and some of the theories can get pretty...out there. (The Morgan brother and sister are having an incestuous affair! The red house represents the vagina!) Even Martin Scorsese has discussed the film in a past AFI program, but while I haven't seen this for myself, I can't imagine the "v" word ever comes into his assessment.

The direction by Delmer Daves, who is also responsible for the Humphrey Bogart-starring Dark Passage as well as the original 3:10 to Yuma (yes, the Bale/Crowe version was a remake), is quite beautiful. Despite being shot in black and white, he captures the beauty of the Morgan farm and the nearby town, full of swaying tree branches and lush foliage. Small-town, picturesque Americana is effortlessly captured, and if it were not for the dark secret metastasizing in the hearts of a few, it would seem like the ideal place to live. And alternately, Ox Head Woods is made to look ominous with only patches of darkness and the sounds of wind through those same lush trees...

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The recent DVD/Blu-Ray combo release by Film Chest (who previously brought you ZAAT! for some reason) is the definitive version of the film to own. Plagued for years by second-rate releases by companies specializing in public domain titles, the picture has never looked better. The fuzz is gone and replaced with incredibly smooth images—at some points even a little too smooth, giving the younger members of the cast almost doll-like appearances. A restoration comparison can be found among the special features, which showcases just how much work was done on this minor classic.

A commentary track by film author William Hare endeavors to be interesting and passionate, but too often falls into the trap of merely repeating what’s occurring on screen…and I’m not sure if this was just a fault of my person screener copy, but at times there seemed to be anywhere between a 5-10 second delay when Mr. Hare’s comments didn’t exactly match up with the on-screen action. However, Mr. Hare specializes in film noir from Hollywood’s golden age, so the commentary track contains some interesting information, if you can deal with some occasional “now the character is walking through the woods”-type comments.

A trailer for the film caps off the features.

Fans of film noir and Edward G. Robinson would be adding a gem to their collection with this pretty stellar release. Forget all those previous cheap and colorized versions. Film Chest has the last word here.


* Images courtesy of DVDBeaver.

May 14, 2012

REVIEW: DEATH & CREMATION

 

With the current issue of bullying going on within our schools, Death & Cremation is a relevant watch. While it’s not the first movie to be made about bullied teens taking revenge on their adversaries, it’s the first to be made following the rash of unfortunate suicides that have occurred over the last sixteen months. It’s certainly the first to feature a bullied teen taking his murderous cues from a local nutball who he happens to know has taken a few lives of his own. It’s this aspect that sets the film off from others of its ilk. A cinematic soul mate of sorts to Apt Pupil, Death & Cremation explores the very unusual relationship between a high school kid and a local mortician named Stanley.

Jarod (Frailty’s all-grown-up Jeremy Sumpter) is an oddball, Gothed-out high school student who just wants to be left alone. Life by day is rife with bullies and bitchy girls, and by night his prison-like trailer-home doesn’t allow for the type of privacy he would prefer. With his father gone (if dead or deadbeat, this is never explained), and his mother bringing home all manner of dorks to date, it’s safe to say that life sucks for Jarod. He’s an introverted student, prepared to plant himself down on the field and read during gym class while his fellow students participate. Naturally it’s this kind of behavior that causes several of the jocks to bully Jarod, throwing food and rocks at him throughout the day.


Stanley (Brad Dourif) doesn’t fare much better. Though a serial killer who at random bludgeons his victims to death, it’s clear he doesn’t receive much respect either. In fact, when a married couple comes into his funeral home to see about the possibility of embalming a recently diseased member of the family (to which Stanley declines, explaining he only cremates), their teen daughter calls him a fag for seemingly no reason. Coincidentally, this same girl was part of a gaggle of other jocks known for bulling Jarod. It doesn’t take long before Stanley visits the bitchy girl with a sledgehammer, and Jarod notices she has gone missing.

One day, when Jarod sets off to find himself an after-school job, he randomly wanders into Stanley’s funeral home to see about possible employment. Stanley very hesitantly agrees, and one day Jarod finds himself in the basement where unending shelves of unclaimed ashes sit abandoned and sees an urn off by itself with the initials L.W.—initials of the bullying girl recently reported missing.  Jarod puts two and two together, but he becomes neither horrified nor excited. But he does become Stanley’s friend.  Their friendship soon transcends that of one into mutual understanding…especially when Jarod begins to accumulate bodies of his own.

There is a lot to like in Death & Cremation. The handling of the material alone shows that director/co-writer Justin Steele took the concept seriously, although at some points it’s difficult to discern if certain set pieces were aiming for dark humor as opposed to merely mishandled. But these moments are few and far between. For most of the ride, it’s ghastly and gory, but unfortunately it never quite reaches that level of “touching” the film was going for. The main selling point of the film is between Stanley and Jarod. It’s among the most unorthodox friendship trope you’ll see in films like this, but it wasn’t given as much attention as it should have been. There’s never that “ah-ha!” moment where Stanley realizes that Jarod knows of his murderous lifestyle—the potential for an incredibly dramatic moment laid in waiting, but it just never came to fruition. The realization of Stanley’s serial killer life, and of Jarod’s complete acceptance of it, should have been one not just more present, but present in general. And so, because of this, the power of their relationship did not reach the heights it could have.


I love movies about uneasy alliances. Apt Pupil, as previously mentioned, comes to mind. Collateral as well, if we can jump genres for a moment. And I love movies where your “good” character and your “bad” character come together, and the good become corrupted and the bad find redemption. In Death & Cremation, Jarod becomes inspired by Stanley and he makes that choice to kill; alternatively, Stanley sympathizes with the boy and gives him a job as well as companionship, remembering how life was for him at that age.  It’s just a shame this wasn’t explored as much as it should have been.

But that’s not to say the movie is entirely a lost cause, because it’s not at all. Brad Dourif yet again proves that he’s up on that screen for a reason. And while he devolves to appearing less nonsense from time to time, roles like this and that of Doc Cochran in Deadwood showcase the man’s immense range and talent. While the material he is given doesn’t quite match his level talent, it sure is fun to see him kill people with baseball bats and sledgehammers. And he provides a number of emotionally satisfying scenes.

Additionally, a curiosity in the film is the allusion to Stanley’s sexuality, which is never quite explored. In the beginning sequence of the film when Stanley turns down the married couple’s request for a normal embalming service instead of a cremation, the father explains that his brother-in-law has recently died of AIDs. It is after this revelation, and after the family sees the lesions covering Stanley’s face, when the daughter calls him a fag. I suppose, with the family having experienced AIDs within their own family, they can see the warning signs. And despite the daughter’s offensive indication of AIDs being a gay disease, it somehow feels like this was included not to make us hate the daughter (which could have been accomplished with any number of put downs), but to actually provide some additional development for Stanley’s character. And later in the film, Stanley has nightmares about his childhood in which his father abused him on several occasions. Again, while nothing is ever provided in black and white, the abuse suffered by his father, the girl’s labeling, and his lesions point to him being a gay man slowly dying of AIDs….but there’s just one problem: beyond fleshing him out as a character, this never comes into play during the film. Stanley never wonders or confesses that the reason he’s decided to kill those he feels deserves it are because he knows he is dying, and he figures why not do some spring cleaning before he finally succumbs? And he never explains if he has targeted certain victims because of the disease slowly killing him. The "fact" that he's a gay man with AIDs is just kind of…there.
 

I’m glad to see Jeremy Sumpter still in the game. As you may have read in my Unsung Horror column entry for Frailty, I was impressed with him then for his ability to understand very complex themes that littered that film, but still provide a very realistic—if not the most realistic—reactive performance. In Death & Cremation, his role of Jarod doesn’t allow him to show a wide range of emotions—really every character in the film is pretty one-note—but I still believe him. The character he plays easily fits him, which may have been a service of his rather stable but non-showcase career. A more recognizable face may have derailed the role, but that would be a cheap explanation for why his role is effective. The bullied, miserable, and lonely Jarod isn’t exactly an unfamiliar teenager role, but he brings enough to the table that you believe him. His transformation from a brown-haired, “normal” kid into the black-haired, black-fingernailed Jarod helps him to disappear a little into the morose victim of everyday high school bullshit.

In spite of the shortcomings, I enjoyed Death & Cremation. As I previously mentioned, I always enjoy unorthodox and at-odds relationships, and I appreciated the occasional lapse into dark humor. Besides, Brad Dourif’s performance is reason enough to check it out, so all the rest is just a bonus, ain’t it?


May 9, 2012

BUY ME THIS: THE FOG T-SHIRT


It's time for me to unveil a new column here at The End of Summer: the Buy Me Something column. Each post will feature an item that I desperately want, but can't really defend paying for. That's where you come in.*

For this inaugural column's post, I present to you: Last Exit to Nowhere's tremendous t-shirt honoring Stevie Wayne's lighthouse radio station KAB Radio 1340. Novelty t-shirts for horror films are everywhere across the net, and they range from piss-poor to clever and well-done. Last Exit to Nowhere has an array of amazing t-shirts featuring some of our favorite horror films, but there's a problem: each shirt runs around $36, and because they are based in the UK, the shipping charges threaten to push the final total up around $50. I can't justify that much money for a shirt. I'm surprised most people can. But they've gotta be doing something right, as they're still in business and still releasing new designs.

Maybe one day when I am counting my millions I'll buy one of each shirt that Last Exit has to offer. For the time being, I'll just have to sigh and pay my gas bill instead...

Buy me this.

* I'm kidding. Or am I?