Horror Reviews

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

DVD Review: Wolf Creek

Review by Kristin Battestella

We bought Wolf Creek not knowing anything about the film besides what the blurb on the back cover. 3 friends go exploring in the Australian outback, and bad things ensue. That’s good enough for me!

It took a few minutes adjusting to the Australian accents and dialogue, but the exotic locale is part of the film’s charm. (Close captioned subtitles that include birds chirping are not, but I digress.) Debut director Glenn McLean shoots some lovely Outback scenery and landscapes. His setup, attention to detail, and real characters give Wolf Creek that road trip coming of age feel. This mood and the fact that Wolf Creek is based on true events help the film achieve more than today’s other run of the mill slasher flicks.

When British vacationers Liz and Kristy (Cassandra Magrath, Kestie Morassi) set out to see the Wolf Creek Crater Park with Aussie friend Ben (Nathan Phillips) all seems fun. After the breathtaking experience of hiking the crater, the trio finds their car dead. Low and behold, the seemingly lovable Mick(John Jarratt) comes along and offers to help the stranded tourists. Of course, Mick has a penchant for automotive torture not seen since the likes of Leatherface and his chainsaw. All the horror clichés are here. You’re not supposed to follow the creepy Bushman in the middle of the Australian desert, just like you aren’t supposed to go down the into the dark basement. We know something bad awaits this group, but we are captivated and eagerly watch the doom unfold. Naturally I’ve never heard of any of these people, but the acting is spot on.

Two girls and one guy-they are all friends, but there’s naturally some sexual tension. In the opening scenes, all three party and have questionable encounters. They are real and complete people, and it is totally refreshing to see Mclean take the time to develop them as such. Somehow we expect all three to make it, and when they don’t, it’s heartbreaking. The audience knows it’s all a bad idea. You yell at the TV the whole time-telling Liz to find a damn weapon. You know they cannot possibly escape, but the sadistic fortress of Mick is enough to make you root for anyone. Get the heck out of there!

McLean writes, directs, and produces his debut here. He makes expert use of the Australian locales-yes for their stunning beauty, but also for their wildness and danger. Many parts of Australia remain unexplored, so indeed this true story of a sadistic Crocodile Dundee gone wild is absolutely believable. Like Hannibal Lector or even the real life Natalie Holloway mystery-I can suspect something like this happened to her. This reality is more terrifying then any pretend monster. I feel bad for the tourism authorities in Australia. If I ever go there I sure as heck won’t be straying from Sydney.

Wolf Creek scares the outback out of us just like Deliverance squealed us away from the south.I purchased the unrated DVD, so I am unsure where it differs from the limited theatrical release. I’m also not sure which version was screened at Sundance, where McLean was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize. I can imagine more gore and offensive language is added, but even then the obscenities aren’t extreme. These Aussies seem to use the f-bomb more than most, but I would too in their situation. Even Mick’s gore house isn’t loaded with excessive blood and body parts. Kristy wears enough blood and staggers just enough to imply bodily harm-and Mick’s talk of rubbers grimly sums that up for us. Just enough leftovers adorn his lair. With Wolf Creek, again it’s what you don’t see that makes it stand out and rise above.

Not for the faint of heart or children by any means, Wolf Creek is for fans of the beautiful and the horrid-if that makes any sense. If you can’t remember the last time you saw an intelligent horror film, then Wolf Creek is a must see.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

DVD Review: Pieces

Review by 42nd Street Pete

1981, Directed by Juan Piquer ( J P Simon) Starring Christopher George, Edmond Purdom, Linda Day George, Paul Smith and Jack Taylor. DVD by Grindhouse releasing.

Hot on the heels of their groundbreaking Cannibal Holocaust DVD comes a restored and remastered version of one of the sickest splatter films of the 80’s, Pieces. This was one of the last bloodbaths to play on 42nd Street. What it lacks in continuity, it more than makes up for in outrageous bloodletting.

A chainsaw wielding killer is decimating girls at a private school. The killer takes little souvenirs of his victims. Who is the killer? The hulking gardener? The Dean? A deranged student? Or maybe one of the girls? I’ll never tell.

This is a two disc set with some excellent extras. A shitload of trailers, liner notes by noted gorestorian Chas. Balum, great interviews with director Juan Piquer and Paul Smith. The Smith interview is worth the price of this set. It is one of the best that I have ever seen and Paul covers almost his entire career here. How he broke into the business in Exodus. How he fought in the Six Day War. He also covers how he was cast in Popeye, Dune, Midnight Express, Sonny Boy and many others.

This may be my pick for the best DVD release of 2008. It is a must have for many reasons. The transfer is excellent and it’s the uncensored version. Kudos to Grindhouse Releasing for this one.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Låt den rätte komma in (Let The Right One In)

Review by Ray Dowaliby

Directed By Tomas Alfredson

Visually stunning, eerie, emotional, bloody and better off left alone. These are my 2 cents.

I've heard quite a lot about John Ajvide Lindqvist's Vampire screenplay and thought that the film couldn't possibly live up to my own anticipation. I was sadly mistaken. Oskar has to deal with the daily ridicule an average outcast has to take on a daily basis in the hell we call the school system. Like most of us geeks he dreams of doing his tormentor in.

Then he meets Eli. We see the awakening in him and it just sucks you in from there. I don't want to give away any real story points but this is not True Blood or Twilight. This is a film that reminds me of Kubrick or even Cronenberg. Every frame is shot with intense subtlety, if there is such a thing. The pace is more in the vein of Kubrick with the stylization of Cronenberg, and the delivery from every actor in the film is more than convincing.

Now...I urge everyone interested to watch this film in it's original Swedish form. There is no need to miss this and wait for the American remake. This is a stand alone, incredible film. I'm not saying don't see the remake but support the original.

I give this film my highest rating and look forward to comparing the original with the remake. If J.J. Abrahms and Matt Reeves have a hand in it, well....I think it might have a chance.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

DVD Review: Disturbia

Review by Kristin Battestella

On the Memorial Day matinee whim, we took in the teen thriller Disturbia. Only a handful of folks were in the theater, and the show’s PG-13 rating had me thinking second thoughts. Can you make a quality horror film in this day and age without a solid amount of blood, gore, sex, and language? While not for the hard core creature feature enthusiast, Disturbia fits the bill for its targeted teen audience.

Troubled teen Kale (Shia LeBeouf) is still struggling with his father’s death one year after the fatal car accident. Teachers and even Mom Julie (Carrie Ann Moss) can’t seem to reach Kale, and after things get violent with his Spanish teacher, Kale is forced to spend his summer under house arrest-ankle bracelet and all. With no TV or video games, Kale has a tough time with his inbound status-until he begins observing his neighborhood. The ruthless tots on his block, the affair across the street, the new cutie Ashley (Sarah Roemer) next door- Kale and his best pal Ronnie (Aaron Yoo) begin to suspect lawn mowing neighbor Robert (David Morse) of being the serial killer on the news. When Robert takes an interested in his mom, Kale takes his voyeurism to the next level.

Two problems with Disturbia right off the bat. One, I really hope kids don’t try at home what they see in this movie. The high tech binoculars, camera set ups, internet instructions, etc. are not meant to be emulated, but must serve as the technical means for Kale’s plans. Second, the bi polar storyline works for and against Disturbia. On one hand, the film is an excellent coming of age story-even if it is the trouble teen, issues, yada yada cliché we’ve all seen before. But in addition to this very real and well played drama, we have Kale’s mission to find evidence against his psychotic neighbor. Which storyline is meant to dominate? If Director D.J. Caruso (Taking Lives) isn’t sure, how can the audience be?

Written by Christopher B. Landon and Carl Ellsworth, Disturbia spends most of its time on Kale’s coming to terms with his situation. The lengthy establishments in the beginning don’t feel like such, but not everything put down is fully explored either. In order to spy on Ashley, Kale must venture into his dead father’s office. We have one sad, reflective scene, but soon after Kale is timing his watch and bringing in the popcorn. It wouldn’t be so bad if we have character and development, then move on to the scary bits, but the two stories are interweaved together. Kale spies, Ashley wanders over, they spy, Kale and Ashley fight, Kale and Ronnie go to creepy neighbor’s house, Kale and Ashley make up…Oiy! If Disturbia was fifty percent boy meets girl then fifty percent save mom from killer perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad. Unfortunately, its not, and I’m unclear the point Caruso and company are trying to make. These storylines should have been two separate films. I mean, what really, do they have to do with each other?

Disturbia’s bright spot, however, is the cast. Carrie Ann Moss is somewhat wasted, and after such success in The Matrix I wonder why she took such a thankless role? Still her wit is on form, and the relationship with Kale works. I had no clue who he was before Disturbia but LeBeouf was everywhere at the theater, in the Transformers trailer and possibly the new Indiana Jones film. The chemistry with newcomer Sarah Roemer is there, and it was a pleasant change to see an Asian in the best friend role-even if the sidekick part is also thankless. Action veteran David Morse (The Rock, The Long Kiss Goodnight) is perfect as the murderous neighbor. Disturbia would be unwatchable if Robert was unbelievably played. Morse sells the mid life crisis charismatic psycho. Imagine what the cast could have done if they had a clear plot in mind.

The cast keeps each scene watchable, you like them and root for the positive outcome, but the pace of Disturbia is as uneven as its bipolar stories. We get a voyeuristic suspense scene with shades of Rear Window followed by a teen angst scene more like Can’t Hardly Wait. Deathly crimes with a crazy neighbor won’t wait for midnight confessions. Its unrealistic and jerks you out of what little rhythm is established.

Disturbia doesn’t have the gore young audiences have made popular with the likes of Saw or Hostel. Its the sets and looks that fit the mood of the film. Disturbia takes itself seriously, which makes it one step above Eerie, Indiana. Parents needn’t worry about dropping the kids off at the theater for this one, and maybe this would be a nice DVD to pick up for a family night in a few months. Unless you have a child prone to house arrest with nothing to do, Disturbia is a fine teen thriller. Young folks will take the action, babes, and chills for what its worth, but there’s little in Disturbia to disturb.

DVD Review: The Ninth Gate

Review by Kristin Battestella

I liked Pirates of The Caribbean- when I finally saw it. Although Johnny Depp was an eighties and nineties teen idol through vehicles like 21 Jump Street and Cry Baby, I am bemused to see his face on book bags, toys, even waffles in Captain Jack fame. Despite his recent family friendly pictures, Depp’s body of work lends itself to the macabre and dark with films like Sleepy Hollow, Edward Scissorhands, Corpse Bride and mature features such as Blow and From Hell. In 1999, the talented Mr. Depp starred in The Ninth Gate. Not for Pirate fans, indeed.

Oscar winning director Roman Polanski directs Depp as Nick Corso-a rare book dealer whose reputation precedes him. Corso is summoned by Boris Balkin (Frank Langella) to inspect his collection of rare books on the devil-in particular the Nine Gates of The Kingdom of Shadows. Only Three exist, and Balkin fears two are forgeries. He commissions Corso to go to Europe and compare the books-finances are no object.

During his investigation, Corso questions the “dishy” Widow Telfer (Lena Olin). Her rich old husband sold her Nine Gates to Balkan one day before he killed himself, and Telfer even takes Corso to bed in her quest to reclaim the book. Corso’s life is threatened repeatedly, and after Corso meets with the other two owners of the Nine Gates, death follows. A mysterious woman (Emmanuelle Seigner) helps Corso and they solve the puzzles within the books’ engravings. When all nine of the original engravings-supposedly drawn by Lucifer- are united, the devil himself will appear.

The film opens brilliantly with the suicide of Mr. Telfer. It’s an odd way to start a film-to begin with death- but Polanski’s opener works. The opening credits and score by Wojciech Kilar (The Pianist, Bram Stoker’s Dracula) are equally haunting, and everything in the film truly progresses from this moment. Depp’s first scene as Corso is also delightful. He scams a family out of a rare book set, and thus Polanski and Depp instantly establish the lack of Corso’s innocence. Corso starts out as greedy, selfish, ambitious, but he soon becomes obsessed with the Nine Gates.

Depp’s mannerisms and dress also swiftly convey his duality and the duel nature of evil itself. He knows all the top European hotels, dresses fine, speaks French-there’s no doubt of Corso’s intelligence. He is however devious, an underbelly scam artist-when Corso’s only friend dies, Nick takes the hidden Nine Gates and leaves his friend strung up and dead. The three owners of the Nine Gates are incredibly wealthy and fortunate, and Polanski reiterates the idea that the devil is luxorius, tempting, enticing and you must sell your soul to obtain such powers. As Nick comes closer to the truth about the Nine Gates, Depp’s appearance changes. He gets dirty, wet, beat up. He wears broken glasses. His refined exterior is stripped away, and Corso’s true nature is revealed.

Some parts of The Ninth Gate are very heavy and dark. Depp’s quirky sarcasm, however, keeps the feel light. The film is set mostly in Europe, giving it that devilish, upscale feel. The use of foreign language is accurate-it’s nice to see a director that acknowledges not everyone everywhere speaks English. The locales are beautifully showcased, and this use of real locations reinforces the spooky possibilities of the film. The books and buildings are old, very old, ancient, ancient as evil.

For a relatively quiet foreign production, The Ninth Gate also boasts several well known supporting names. Frank Langella and Lena Olin are perfect as the rich, classy, aging gracefully socialites worshipping the devil. Each thinks his or her interpretation of the Nine Gates will summon the devil-some of the craziness they go to for their beliefs is a bit humorous, but Polanski and the old school actors expertly convey a level of real life creepiness. Both Balkin and Telfer point fingers at each other’s money and power, and the audience is left with the creepy notion that we must all play with fire, candles, orgies, and pentagrams to achieve success.

Barbara Jefford as the third Gates owner Barroness Kessler is the lone voice of relative reason. She warns Corso the devil isn’t child’s play, and she left the secret society surrounding the Nine Gates after the club degraded to sex, drugs, and rock n roll. Unfortunately, the Baroness-like the previous respectable owners of the Nine Gates before her-meets a bitter end.

Although the intelligence of the film is in its puzzles and performances, the action leaves something to be desired. The deaths are unique and impressive, but Depp’s not an action star-at least not here. This supports the idea that Corso is a bit of a slimeball, but it makes a few stunts seem somewhat silly. It’s ironic that Corso is the guy we’re rooting for. As naughty as he is, he’s the good guy compared to Balkin and Telfer. Corso appeals to the audience with intelligence and emotion and relatability-Nick is the closest one to a normal guy.

The engravings and picture puzzles in the film are also extremely smart, and they look authentic to the viewer. More than just the hidden pictures found in Highlights, Depp sniffs the paper and ruffles the pages-he takes the research approach to the Nine Gates. First time audiences will double take at the scenes featuring the sketches up close. The calculations in the book can only be appreciated with repeated viewings.

It took me several viewings to fully realize the mysterious woman helping Corso. Billed only as “The Girl”, Polanski cast his wife in the ambiguous part. Everywhere he goes, Corso spots the girl appearing and disappearing. Whose side is she on? Corso never has to tell her anything, yet she knows everything about the Nine Gates-and she wears odd socks. Corso names her Green Eyes, and what little special effects found in The Ninth Gate center around this woman. Pay attention to those eyes. The first time I saw The Ninth Gate, I thought the girl was an angel.

I don’t know much about Polanski’s exile due to his charges in the US. I didn’t make it through his Oscar winning turn for The Pianist, and off hand I can only recall Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown. From my limited examples, however, it seems as if Polanski is an actor’s director. Along with his Best Director Oscar, he brought a Best Actor performance from Adrian Brody for The Pianist, and since The Ninth Gate, Depp has gone on to an Oscar nomination himself.

The Ninth Gate benefits greatly from its source novel by Spanish writer Arturo Pérez-Reverte. All the movie’s smarts lead to a triple decker spiffy ending. Is it Telfer’s orgy that brings about the Prince of Darkness or Balkin’s fire and brimstone? The revelation discovered by Corso is unexpected, and it leaves the audience thinking about The Ninth Gate long after it’s over.

With an R rating, this DVD or video is not meant for children or the prudish. Although the film is thoroughly about the devil, The Ninth Gate is a tale about caution and evil, not like great yet indulgent films such as The Devil’s Advocate. Still, religious audiences may be offended by the ritualistic scenes and the nature of the Nine Gates book.

For macabre yet stylized film fans, The Ninth Gate is a must have with repeat viewings. Fortunately, the film is slightly foreign, a few years old, and just right for the bargain bin. Perfect for a devilishly good night at home.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Repo! The Genetic Opera

Review by Fallon

How much you're going to love Repo! The Genetic Opera might have something to do with how much you like Evanescence. Or if you're just willing to own up to all your guilty pleasures, without shame and remorse, and, if you go see Repo! with your friends, no conscience for their own enjoyment. That being said, of the five people I saw Repo! with, I was one of two that dug it.

The movie is going to bring the snark, and that's what you have to accept. In fact, I might even pity someone who takes this movie seriously and loves it with zero irony. Regardless, let's start with the good. And the plot.

Set in the near-future, GeneCo has a monopoly on the organ transplant business. The only problem is people can't afford all the transplants they're buying. Here in comes GeneCo's Repo Man, to slice these bill-skipping degenerates up and reclaim their organs. On the peripheral is Shilo Wallace, a shut-in seventeen year old, and her father, the Repo Man himself (unbeknownst to her). On the GeneCo side of the story, we've got a power struggle as the GeneCo founder, Rotti Largo (Paul "the man" Sorvino) wonders which if his jackass children he should leave the company to – Luigi (Bill "ChopTop" Moseley), Pavi (Nivek "Skinny Puppy" Ogre) or Amber Sweet (Paris "Power Bitch/Sex Tape Extraordinaire" Hilton).

Now for the good.

You'll like the opening title sequence. And for that matter, the film's climax. The last thirty minutes of the movie really roll.

There is great gore. For a lot of horror fans, I think this could be enough to save the movie. That, and the undeniable originality of what director Darren Lynn Bousman has done here. Also, Terrance Zdunich, the Repo! writer, who also has a pretty sexy (or very sexy) role as the Grave Robber, has probably stepped up to be someone to watch for from now on.

Paris Hilton fucking KILLS in this movie. Personally, I love the "House of Wax," remake, find it perfectly campy, and think Paris would be genius to keep doing stuff in this niche. Bousman says he himself had skepticism even letting Paris read for the part, until he was totally slayed by her audition.

In fact, all the Largo siblings steal scenes. Moseley is expectedly awesome, but Nivek Ogre almost steals scenes out from under him. Check it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_6KvKajYenE.

Here's the bad. Please dwell, if you will, on the word "Opera" in this title. Nearly all of this film is in song, and nearly all of the songs sound the same. Some work, others – like Shilo's rebellion song against her dad, a real Avril Lavigne inspired number – are just the pits. I lost count of the times where the majority of the audience had their head in their hands at what seemed like pure embarrassment at either bad lyrics, bad scoring or off-beat acting.

I don't think there's any worth in saying Repo! fails at times from plain, old melodrama. That might be missing the movie's point. But something's off. Maybe it's the complete sincerity every character operates under, that make characters like Shilo, seem completely without wit. I'm willing to turn a blind eye and write off a lot of things as fun-bad, but Repo! can get so monotonous that it has forays into BAD-bad.

Everything being said, Repo! is the sort of horror-hybrid best suited for open minded fans. If your number one priority when watching a horror movie is to be a hard-on for movies from the 70s, then just accept this one isn't for you, and stay away. This isn't striving to impress the hardcore fan base with a misplaced legitimacy, or posturing as anything other than what it is. And what it is… is a musical. With a ton of blood, cyberpunk costumes, fresh story, and dark atmosphere. Guaranteed better than Sweeney Todd, but maybe not the cult movie you hoped for.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

DVD Review: Rob Zombie's Halloween

Review by Kristin Battestella

I’ve been mulling over my thoughts on Rob Zombie’s new Halloween remake for days. After finally taking in the horror update at the matinee, my feelings remain mixed. This version of Halloween is not for everyone.

A host of familiar faces appear for musician turned director Zombie’s fourth feature film. Zombie’s wife Sherrie Moon stars as Deborah Myers, a stripper struggling with a drunkard abusive man, slutty teen daughter, and young son Michael-who likes to torture small animals. After one too many taunts and insults, masked Mike kills the school bully and murders his family on Halloween. Psychologist Samuel Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) works with Mike Myers at a mental institution, but when he breaks free 15 years later, its up to Loomis to stop Mike from repeating his Halloween rampage- and finding his now grown baby sister Laurie (Scout-Taylor Compton).

Zombie’s remake both rises and falls on the actors involved. Moon is perfect as the do gooder stripper mom, and young Mike Myers actor Daeg Faerch is also stunning. His silent looks and creepy eyes sell the sociopathy of young Mike. The strength of the film is in its extended opening sequences. Unlike John Carpenter’s original 1978 Halloween, we have the time to explore what makes Mike do what he does, how it effects his mother and others around him.

I would have preferred the movie stay this way, but unfortunately we jump to teenage Laurie and her friends dying in gruesome, sexy ways. These boys and girls are a dime a dozen, and after the build up of unusual attachment to Mike Myers, the audience cares little for these expendable boobs. Compton cries, screams, and makes all the wrong moves for a horror movie. Not only is she a far cry from Jamie Lee Curtis, but this girl looks ugly when she wails.

The supporting cast helps give Halloween its edge more than the sex and nudity. Brad Dourif as Sheriff Lee Brackett and Danny Terjo as Orderly Cruz give a sense of credibility to the production, and perhaps Zombie should have again veered from the original film and brought more to these adults. Perhaps it would be intriguing to see how adults respond to the sex and death these teens put up with, how an adult would deal with the psycho killer. Sybil Danning and Dee Wallace are also used all too briefly in key scenes that are surprisingly well scripted.

Zombie veers none from the essential elements established in the original Halloween script penned by Carpenter and Debra Hill, yet the redressed ending leaves much to be desired. Where the extra Michael opening was oddly fascinating, I couldn’t wait for the Laurie versus Mike Myers ending to be over. Overlong, near constant screaming in dark dirty places, Zombie is certainly appealing to slasher fans of yore, but mainstream audiences won’t be impressed.

Rated R for lots of language, sex, and nudity, Halloween offers little scares or gore. Zombie shoots odd angles and plays with light versus dark effects, but in a franchise where this is essentially the ninth film, there’s little to spook anyone. I suspect its more about what looks cool or sexy-even though I didn’t find anything particularly sexy either. It’s a horror movie. You do it, you’re done in! Our theater showing had about twenty people, and I wasn’t the only one voicing predictions or commenting how stupid the characters seemed.

Zombie should have taken Halloween more on the dark psyche established, instead the film deteriorates into fan boy sex and visuals. Certainly there’s an audience for that, but Halloween had more intelligent potential than just a slasher movie. Pity.

DVD Review: The Visitation

Review by Kristin Battestella

The cover looked cool and it was quasi religious-that’s how we came to purchase The Visitation. Edward Furlong and Kelly Lynch star in the 2006 Independent thriller from director Robby Henson and novelist Frank Peretti.

Martin Donovan stars as Travis, a minister who has lost his faith since his wife’s murder. Fellow minister Kyle (Randy Travis) encourages Travis to get involved when strange sightings around the quiet town of Antioch occur. Mysterious prophetic men appear and disappear, and new veterinarian in town Morgan (Kelly Lynch) is healed. Her rebellious son Michael (Noah Segan) quickly falls under this powerful spell after a freaky near fatal car accident. When Brandon Nichols (Edward Furlong) finally arrives in Antioch, all the women in town fall into his group. But to Travis and atheist Morgan, Brandon is not the messiah he appears to be.

It wasn’t Furlong’s ambiguous portrayal that spooked me, but his here and there again disciples are the freakiest things since Julian Sands in Warlock. They kill Travis’ dog only to resurrect it; they give words of wisdom around town-not the help the people of Antioch, but to sway them in Brandon Nichols’ favor. When the trio stake’s out Morgan’s home , the window apparitions are downright creepy. My bed is currently next to my window, so the thought of sadistic long haired demonic angels pacing a foot away from my head definitely gave me a few bad dreams. Well…okay nightmares so bad I woke up with my heart pounding. Not a lot of films can do that!

Edward Furlong’s acting as the second coming in The Visitation, however, leaves much to be desired. He’s good at being bad, but Furlong doesn’t sell the charismatic leader well. He’s known as a Hollywood bad boy, so right from the start we know Brandon’s up to no good. After his true intentions are revealed, Furlong does little to gain sympathy for his character. His acting hasn’t grown much beyond Terminator 2: Judgment Day, but director Henson (Thr3e) smartly focuses elsewhere. Furlong isn’t the star of the film, Travis Jordan is. We relate to his story far better, and Donovan (Weeds) shows his angst well. We know his vibe; because he thinks something is fishy, so do we. Likewise, we understand Kelly Lynch and Morgan’s struggle and doubts. Traditional fans or country enthusiasts might wish to tune in for Randy Travis. The crooner’s portrayal of the Billy Graham like Pentecostal leader in town is steadfast as the voice of reason in Antioch. His character is integral to the film, and perhaps there should be a touch more of him.

The convoluted story in The Visitation, however, does need some fine tuning. We receive Nichols’ back story a little too late, but it’s double tied and redundant. We are meant to sympathize with him, but the herky jerky abuse flashbacks don’t plant the seed well enough for us to imagine the horrors endured. It’s as if screenwriter Brian Godawa thought something on Nichols was needed, but I’m not so sure it was.

Initially I thought this was a horror movie, so I was surprised to find it online in a Christian catalogue. Henson’s movie is about the awesome, tempting, too good too be true power of the devil, the costs of said power, and the dark half of human nature that Satan needs. Looking all bad and Warlocked on the outside, The Visitation is really a very serious religious film about faith. The moral dilemmas in The Visitation are swift and complex. Morgan is the anti-Christian who is saved by the Bible given to her from Kyle Sherman. When Travis is tempted by Nichols in his cultish revival tent, it’s incredibly easy to give in. Everyone else has, but Travis holds fast to his supposedly lost faith. Even when he discovers his wife’s murder is directly involved with Nichols’ plan, Travis does the right thing. Brandon Nichols, unfortunately, puts his faith in Satan and his spooky angels.

I would also label The Exorcist as a quasi religious film like The Visitation. As is the case here, we witness the deceiving power of the Prince of Darkness. Both films are equal parts horror and religion. Where The Exorcist scares you witless, The Visitation wins on what you can’t see. Contemporary Christian teens will love the struggles in The Visitatio and perhaps its source novel. The mock crucifixions, however, are too frightening for kids or prudes. The point here is your religious choice. Could Nichols have chosen Christ over the Devil? The Visitation makes the audience think on this also. Can we?

With precious little effects and solid acting, Henson puts out a serious moral film just as much along the lines of Elmer Gantry and The Apostle as The Exorcist. Henson could have easily created an effects laden gory, all the stops out, wow is the devil show. Thankfully, he didn’t. The Visitation is for horror fans, religious groups, devout young adults, and all the skeptics alike. Regardless of where you’re coming from, The Visitation is worth the watch-and the nightmares.

Friday, November 7, 2008

DVD Review: The Hitcher

Review by Kristin Battestella

Who didn’t love to hate Sean Bean when the English actor first came onto the US radar in 1992’s Patriot Games? Following with another villainous turn in the initial Pierce Brosnan Bond flick Goldeneye (1995), it is no wonder American audiences didn’t begin to appreciate the versatile actor until Bean’s understated performance as the ill-fated Boromir in The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.

Always popular overseas as Napoleonic hero Richard Sharpe in the British television series of the same name, Sean Bean’s most recent high profile American picture was this winter’s The Hitcher, a remake of the 1986 Rutger Hauer yarn about a psychotic hitchhiker who trails innocents and frames them for his crimes. Directed by famed music video helmsman Dave Meyers, The Hitcher boasts production support from mega action chairman Michael Bay (Armageddon, The Rock) and Matthew Cohan-who also fronted the edgy and popular remakes of The Amityville Horror and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (as well as the sci-fi flick The Island-also starring Bean). Unfortunately, The Hitcher failed to further shiver mid January movie going audiences. Incredibly short at under 1 hour 25 minutes, The Hitcher might have been over priced for theaters. Do however, look for the recent DVD release in your video store’s sale bin.

Now back to Sean Bean. Despite being a horror enthusiast, I wouldn’t have picked up The Hitcher for rising stars Sophia Bush or Zachary Knighton. Even cult favorite Neal McDonough (Star Trek: First Contact) was a pleasant surprise, but I won’t kid you-I bought The Hitcher for the 48 year old Bean. Once considered by fans as the most beloved Hauer film, The Hitcher now belongs to Sean Bean.

The Hitcher’s story begins when college cuties Grace Andrews (Bush) and Jim Halsey (Knighton) take off across the American Southwest for Spring Break-in a classic 442 no less. Unfortunately, after encountering seemingly pedestrian hitchhiker John Ryder (Bean), their lives quickly turn to carnage, terror, and high speed pursuit. Ryder initially attacks the couple, but they manage to escape him- only to find he has killed others and is framing them for his rampage. New Mexico State Police Lieutenant Eldridge (McDonough) pursues Grace and Jim-who look more and more like the killers with every turn.

I have to admit, I first though Sophia Bush to be one of President Bush’s daughters! Young starlets are so interchangeable in Hollywood today, and the B horror flick is often where new names perfect their death scene antics. The One Tree Hill star does hold her own here in the otherwise all male cast. Of course she looks the pretty for the part, but Bush carries an untraditional edge and non-blonde bimbo look that fits the ballsy chick here. Nothing against TV guester Zachary Knighton, but his performance was a dime a dozen. Screenwriter Eric Red was smart to turn this version’s focus on Grace-as opposed to the original’s hold on C. Thomas Howell’s Halsey. It’s 2007, yet Knighton’s look harkens back to the nineties grunge and skater style. I didn’t find it attractive then, and I certainly don’t believe this Jim will be the star of Spring Break any time soon. Whether it’s poor skill or by design, here Jim is a limp fish next to Bean’s Ryder.

While not exactly a sex symbol in the US in his day, Bean’s psycho turn here is nonetheless the most attractive thing in The Hitcher. Yes he’s older now, and well, he does have a big nose, but Bean’s command of these college kids is evident from the moment they almost hit him on the road. The complexity of Ryder-who is he? Where does he come from? What does he want?- is more interesting than seeing if Grace and Jim make it. It’s a horror flick-we know someone isn’t going to survive-but in some part of the back of your mind, you want that tawdry ending where Ryder walks off into the sunset to nab another wayward couple.

Although I expected the film to be billed as ‘And Sean Bean as The Hitcher’, he is rightfully given top billing, followed by Sophia Bush. He’s twice her age-old enough to be her father-yet Bean and Bush (hee) have some interesting chemistry onscreen. Maybe as a woman it’s the fear of rape, or perhaps its my one to many viewings of Bean in the steamy Lady Chatterley, but I was routing for physical action between these two for the duration. You can’t have a rugged, mean Bean and a short skirted Bush without some rough potential. Meyer does give the audience a fine balance of hints and foreplay and lots of f-bombed dialogue. Kudos also to whoever decided to give Sheffield born and bred Sean an American accent. Knowing his true and definitely British accent is being hidden here adds to Ryder’s creepiness. If even that isn’t true about Ryder, what else is there lying there, waiting?

While I haven’t seen the Rutger Hauer version of The Hitcher in some time, the 2007 version reminds me more of Stephen Spielberg’s early road rage classic Duel. Bean’s performance is akin to Duel’s crazy and dubious tractor trailer more so than Hauer. For myself, Blade Runner is the creepy Hauer flick and Ladyhawke is my favorite of his films. Hauer’s most iconic moment in The Hitcher, however, now belongs to Sean Bean. The ‘late model black thunderbird’ car chase and shoot ‘em up has even my honey rooting for villainous Bean.

I’m a bit tired of remakes and sequels, and it’s a double edged sword to know The Hitcher is in Matthew Cohan’s line of horror revisits. On one hand, the story is very familiar, but then again, Cohan and his team have seemed to perfect the art of maintaining the best of the original and infusing it with modern filmmaking. The visuals and creative deaths in this Hitcher could not have been done in the eighties. Lighting, however, seems to suffer for Meyer’s fast paced music video style. Sometimes The Hitcher is almost too dark to see anything. Sure maybe it adds to atmosphere or mood, but we want to watch the action in the creepy desert jailhouse. Equally jarring is Meyer’s cuts to outside action. Beautiful open desert shots have even the actors noticeably squinting.

Another place The Hitcher misses more than hits is its somewhat low body count. Indeed perhaps it is even too short for its own horror/car chase genre. Near the end of the film, I found myself missing ensemble horror road trip films- where one by one the nobodys and bimbos are picked off. It might have been interesting to see Grace and Jim with a buddy couple who meets their end courtesy of John Ryder-or perhaps that scenario could have put the film beyond believability. The Hitcher is also partially undone with its over simple dialogue. Some of it is really great-Eldridge’s hick cop banter and Ryder’s ambiguous one liners bring humor and food for thought, but our couple utters too many cries along the lines of ‘What does he want? Why is he doing this?’. Even the bullseye gem ‘I’ll be back in 15 minutes’ makes a cameo.

Although The Hitcher came and went in theaters, I expected the DVD release to have more features than it does. There’s an up close segment on Knighton and his definitive bloodfest scene, plus a detailed behind the scenes look with the complete cast and crew. For fans who want to know the ins and outs of all the car stunts-here it is. I was, however, disappointed with the deleted scenes and alternate ending. Outtakes would have been a real treat, but instead we get four different versions of how one hotel room scene could have gone down. Indeed deleted scenes are usually deleted for a reason, and the way that hotel room scene is finalized in the film is the superior outcome. The alternate ending was a little over the top for theaters-as the cover promised-but not nearly as extreme as it could have been. The highlight of the features for me was Sophia Bush confessing she was really afraid of Sean Bean!

If you don’t like spooks, cars, and gore, then The Hitcher is not for you. Are there scarier and more gory horror films out there? More serious and hard core action, high speed thrillers? Of course, but you can’t find solid acting and character complexity in Jason X. Perhaps what is the creepiest thing about The Hitcher is that this kind of road rage can happen and does happen. This film is a must see for Sean Bean fans or Sophia Bush lovers. Perhaps the question is not to purchase this DVD, but rather what would you do if one of the S.B.s was thumbing for a ride on your street?

DVD Review: Psycho

Review by Kristin Battestella

Everybody’s heard of Psycho-and like The Sixth Sense, even if you haven’t see it, most people nowadays know Psycho’s twist ending. Today’s visually desensitized young adults cannot fully appreciate Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 masterpiece even though it has become the grand daddy of slasher films. Oft emulated but never equaled, Psycho needs to be re watched with vigor anew.

Anthony Perkins stars in the Hitchcock thriller as Norman Bates, a quiet and lonely young man who befriends Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) while she spends the night at the Bates Motel. Wishing for a respectable life with her boyfriend Sam Loomis (John Gavin), Marion steals $40,000 from her boss and sets out for California. Following Marion’s trail is her sister Lila (Vera Miles) and Detective Milton Arbogast (Martin Balsam). All come to suspect Norman, the Bates Motel, and Norman’s mother- the innocent Mrs. Bates.

Under Hitchcock’s direction Anthony Perkins plays Norman Bates to the T. Forever typecast by Hollywood and fans alike-we still can’t separate Perkins from Bates. The actor himself was conflicted and confused sexually, and Perkins gives this genuine emotional conflict to Norman. The way he cleans up after his mother, stays on in an empty motel-we feel bad for Norman the moment we meet him. Likewise Janet Leigh plays the good girl gone bad. Even though Marion’s at odds with the law, we open the film in the middle of her situation. We see her plan and prepare, yet we want her to get away with it. When Lila and Sam come calling for Marion-we root for them as well. We care for each, fear for them or of them-the audience relates to each character, regardless of their standpoint in the spectrum.

No one is filler or miscast. Even though Vera Miles has played the tough cookie in films like The Searchers and other early television westerns, and Janet Leigh the sweet tart in Bye Bye Birdie- the women are perfect as sisters. Even though Sam is Marion’s lover, we see him more with Lila. The underlying chemistry between Miles and Loomis hints at something more. As simple as Psycho can look on screen, everything from the actors to the props is multitasking.

Oscar winner and suspense king Hitchcock intentionally made the film black and white-a cringe worthy concept to today’s effects happy filmmakers. Using the film crew from his television series Alfred Hitchcock Presents and good old fashioned film making ingenuity like chocolate syrup for blood, Hitch stuck to Psycho’s $1 million budget. There are no effects to speak off, just swift camera angles and perfected lighting techniques. Multiple actors were used to keep up the illusion of Mrs. Bates, and the attention to detail regarding costumes, props, and sets is top notch. Psycho perfectly captures the early sixties in every detail. The bullet bras, poofy dresses, even Norman’s taxidermy isn’t taken for granted. Those stuffed birds, of course, allude to something else.

Based on the book Psycho by Robert Bloch, Psycho benefits greatly from sound source material and screenplay work by Joseph Stefano. It’s intelligent, yet light at parts. Innocent yet dark, modern imitators don’t have the psychological complexities of Hitchcock’s work. Today, some may find the story slow, but the first hour sets up the unraveling yet totally explained and satisfying ending. After Psycho premiered in theaters, Hitchcock demanded no one be seated after the start of the film in order to preserve the suspense. Every word is timed perfectly onscreen, every shot, every scene says something-not a frame is wasted in Psycho.

Several scenes in Psycho are so iconic and oft imitated or parodied that audiences forget the original. Gus Van Sant’s 1998 inferior and useless homage remake of Psycho stars Vince Vaughn and Anne Heche. The color recreation is almost a frame for frame imitation of Hitch’s original. Can you name another film that has that kind of backward flattery? Psycho’s infamous shower scene is genius in its editing, illusions, and it did for the bathroom what Jaws did for ocean swimmers.

Psycho and its score by Bernard Herrmann are the best music marriage since Gone With The Wind. Composer of other Hitchcock scores as well as Citizen Cane and The Day The Earth Stood Still, Herrmann’s haunting strings aren’t a hum-able tune, yet everyone knows the theme when he or she hears it. Herrmann’s score fits Hitchcock’s layered suspense and sixties mood. Long after you’ve watched Psycho you hear those strings in the shower and in your sleep.

Psycho’s undoing is its audience’s inability to forget and be surprised again. Today’s information hounds have been spoiled by sub par sequels like Psycho II (1983), Psycho III (1986) , and a prequel Psycho IV: The Beginning (1990). Unlike most low budget or obscure old flicks waiting to be rediscovered, the stalwart Psycho has never quite left the public eye. Despite previous acting prowess in Friendly Persuasion and Fear Strikes Out, Anthony Perkins will be forever associated with this role-Perkins played the alter ego Norman Bates nearly up until his death in 1992.

My VHS copy contains a short making of featurette. The set was fun, but Janet Leigh actually spent very little of the shoot with Perkins. Deeper documentaries on Hitchcock, Perkins, and the film are available and filled with trivia and antic dotes. Collectors should definitely upgrade to DVD for restored picture, sound, and additional documentaries and insights.

Deemed too gory, shocking, and risqué at the time, Psycho will not loose its iconic status-despite the popularity of gory, gimmicky, and quick fix films. Detailed, intelligent suspense thrillers will always have an audience. Psycho’s bonus is its duality-quiet, simplistic onscreen, yet complex and full of optical illusions.

I fear not only a lack of appreciation for fine horror films like Psycho, but also I wonder if modern teeny boppers and fans of bloody horror understand the nuances presented? While Psycho is gore free, the spooks might still scare kinds under 10. Truthfully anyone with a heart condition should avoid Psycho. If you’re new to classic films, old movies, or Alfred Hitchcock, Psycho is a must see. Study it and appreciate it thoroughly.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

DVD Review: Elvira's Haunted Hills

Review by Kristin Battestella

I may like many an obscure thing, but I’ve never had to explain to anyone who Elvira is. The buxom goth gal has made her cheeky presence know to audiences young and old for over twenty five years. Not just a relic of an over the top eighties heyday, the 2001 sequel Elvira’s Haunted Hills provides fun and scares to a modern audience.

Lost in the Carpathian mountains in 1851, Elvira (Cassandra Peterson) and her servant Zou Zou (Mary Jo Smith, Almost Perfect) hitch a ride with Dr. Bradley Bradley (Scott Atkinson) to the Castle Hellsubus. The creepy estate and its master, Lord Vladimere (Richard O’Brien) are trapped under the weight of the Hellsubus family curse. Tonight also happens to be the tenth anniversary of Elura Hellsubus’ death- and Vladimere’s first wife looks just like Elvira!

Naturally, the first thing you notice about Elvira’s Haunted Hills is the anachronistic style of Cassandra Peterson’s alter ego. It’s 1851 and yet Elvira’s still got the high hair, valley speech, and sexual innuendo that made her a cult favorite in 1983. Sometimes this doesn’t work, but the fun Peterson is having and the asides to the fourth wall allow the audience to laugh with Elvira because she can laugh at herself. This makes the viewer’s leap easy for the over the top characters of Dr. Bradley and Lady Ema Hellsubus (Mary Scheer, MadTV). Richard O’Brien (The Rocky Horror Picture Show) is above and beyond as well, but also very old fashioned and high styled like the Vincent Price classics of old.

Financed by Peterson’s own company and family and friends, Elvira’s Haunted Hills actually has some fine production values. The very informative behind the scenes feature on the DVD confesses director Sam Irvin’s (Dante’s Cove) love of the Roger Corman classics and the homage Haunted Hills is trying to reach. The castle set looks real enough and has that lofty, gothic style of its black and white predecessors. Some lines and sets are taken directly from The Pit and the Pendulum (1961) and The Tomb of Ligeia (1964) and the homages blend seamlessly with Elvira’s wit. She may be a valley ditz onscreen, but Peterson’s witty script and intelligent development of the character is what’s kept Elvira fresh all these years.

Haunted Hills was filmed on location in Romania, and many local cast and crew were employed. Although Peterson feared it would fail, one great dubbing gag allows for more humor and tribute to low budget Hollywood. Despite her busty persona and high slit skirt, Elvira’s Haunted Hills also has clever sexual quips and innuendos. The film’s PG-13 rating is poked at onscreen, and the mostly tame by today’s standards sex jokes won’t interfere with a tween or younger viewing.

Besides the equally funny Elvira: Mistress of the Dark (1988), there are many Elvira appearances. Some silly like I Love The 80s, but Elvira’s Macabre horror hosting gigs have also found their way to DVD-another great chance to introduce young folks to some great old time horror classics. If you have a macabre child in the making, Elvira’s Haunted Hills is a great way to give him (or her) something funny and something spooky that mature folks can enjoy, too.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

DVD Review: Killer Shrews/Giant Gila Monster Double Feature

Review by 42nd Street Pete

Normally I’d be hard pressed to put over a formerly black & white film that had been colorized. I was one of the fanboy assholes who dropped $30 on the colorized Night of the Living Dead ( from Turner) and wanted to stick pencils in his eyes after seeing “green” zombies.

The nice people at Legend Films sent me this DVD & a few others that they colorized. These are the same people who are colorizing the Ray Harryhausen classics, so if Ray trusted them with his work, I figured that it would be worth my time to check them out.

I was pleasantly surprised . The colorization was very good. It was like one of those old lobby cards coming to life. The shrews actually looked scarier in color. The prints used weren’t the best, but retain that grainy grindhouse look that adds to the ambiance.

Legend has colorized versions of Devil Bat, Bride of the Monster, Phantom Planet, Last Man on Earth, Creature from the Haunted Sea, and Phantom from Space. Based on this double feature, I’ll be checking these out real soon. If you already don’t have copies of Shrews & Gila Monster, this is the one you should check out. Car fans take note, you will really dog the hot rods in the Giant Gila Monster. They really stand out with the colorization.