Horror Reviews

Monday, May 18, 2009


Review by 42nd Street Pete

2008; Directed by Toby Williams Starring Shea Whigham, Paulo Costanzo, Jill Wagner and Rachel Kerbs Released by Magnet DVD.

Considering the pile of poop that is passed off for horror movies these days, this one was a real pleasure to watch. It’s a monster movie, a real fuckin monster movie with no CG rap or handicam nonsense. One location, four principle players, gore, shocks, and, for once, a credible storyline.

A gas station attendant is opening the place for the day when he is attacked by something furry and full of spikes. A couple is heading in that direction to camp out. Also headed in the same direction is an escaped con and his junkie girl friend. The two campers are taken hostage when the Con’s car breaks down. They run over some kind of animal and blow out a tire. The animal has spikes sticking out of it like one of those sea urchins. They was also a sign by the road saying that this is a government test area.

While changing the tire, the Con gets a splinter in his finger, hence the title. The “dead” animal comes to like and the Junkie Chic freaks out. They arrive at the gas station to find it’s deserted. The Junkie find the attendant in the rest room. He begs her to kill him. She runs back to the others, but is attacked by the attendant who “rips right through her”. The Con shoots the attendant who dies. They lock themselves in the place. The Junkie seems to still be alive. The Con drags her toward the door, but she morphs into something and attacks. Her hand breaks off and gets in the place. The boyfriend, who is a biologist, sees that it feeds on blood.

He thinks it’s a fungus type parasite that uses it victims as hosts to attack others. The dead girl’s bloody corpse hammers her head into the glass door, trying to get in. It becomes a nerve racking game of cat and mouse as the creature attacks and absorbs a lady cop who shows up. The splinter in the Con’s finger starts taking him over so an amputation is performed using a Stanley knife and a cinder block. I’m not going to reveal anything else as this has to be seen. A good plot, characters that you actually care about for a change, nasty effects, and overall, a great little film. I give it four stars easily.


Review by 42nd Street Pete

Directed by Pierre Morel Starring Liam Neeson, Famke Janssen and Maggie Grace

This one was a real surprise as the usually reserved Neeson is cast against type as an ex CIA operative searching for his daughter, who is kidnapped by white slavers while vacationing in Europe. Using every dirty trick he knows to locate her, Neeson ups the violence quota by demolishing anything and anyone in his path.

Albanian white slavers( real fuckin scumbags ) kidnap teenage tourists, hook them on drugs and put them in assembly line brothels. Neeson’s daughter and friend are “taken”. Neeson is informed that if he can’t find her in a certain amount of time, he will never see her again. Neeson outwits the law and the scumbags at every turn. Seems the head scumbags are well connected with the law. When the leader tells Neeson, that “it’s not personal, it’s business”, Neeson retorts by emptying a Glock into his twitching body.

Taken has its roots firmly planted in grindhouse exploitation. The crowd cheered Neeson as he cuts his way though an army of villains and bureaucrats. One of the better scenes has Neeson drive two iron spikes through the guy, who kidnapped his daughter, thighs and then attach jumper cables to them. He zaps him a few time then, after he gets what he wants, turns the juice on full blast and leaves the guy cooking. Neeson is a one man wrecking crew as he leaves a body count worthy of Charles Bronson. A must see.

Batbabe: the Dark Nightie

Review by 42nd Street Pete

Completely insane spoof of Batman, the Dark Night with Darian Caine as Batbabe. The Jerker, Rob Mandara, channeling Heath Ledger is completely insane as he’s hording all the porn in the city. It’s up to Batbabe to stop him. Someone on IMDB called this a “piece of excrement”, guess you can’t say shit on IMDB. Well, I’m here to tell ya that I thought it was funny. And I cameo in four roles, so whoever wrote that has no sense of humor and I get the distinct impression that he rubbed one out over Darian Caine.

Funny how these would be critics that write a blurb for Amazon or IMDB think they are the end all be all. It’s a spoof, stupid. This guy also trashed three or four other films by Bacchus. So this isn’t exactly Gone With the Wind, but Mandara’s Jerker had me laughing my ass off. This is a case of don’t believe everything you read. My attitude always has been see the film and judge it for yourself. Don’t take my word or any other critic’s word at face value because it’s just an opinion and opinions are like assholes, we all have them.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

DVD Review: Dark Shadows Bloopers

Review by Kristin Battestella

My father and uncle cringed when hoisting my heaviest trunk up my new condo’s steps, and my husband was downright appalled when he asked what was inside.

“My Dark Shadows tapes,” I told him.

All 42 taped off TV with their scribbled labels-some even with commercials! My mother was a fan growing up, so I saw reruns now and again as a child and spent most of my teen years thanking the Sci Fi Channel for airing the entire gothic soap series from beginning to end. My obsessions come and go, so I’ve never upgraded to MPI’s VHS series or the new DVD releases of Dan Curtis’ half hour daytime soap, which ran from 1966 to 1971. Every October, however, I get a hankering for Barnabas, Quentin, and that creepy theme music. Thus I rented Dark Shadows: Bloopers and Treasures.

Perhaps one of the most well known-if not THE most- known show ever for hokey production values, Dark Shadows episodes were taped live, with no time to correct mistakes, much less budget and technology of the day. Some of the bloopers presented are almost famous; the late Louis Edmunds as Roger Collins claiming, “Some of my incestors-incestors!-my ancestors are buried here.” There’s falling sets, name flubs, and just as many trick candles, cameramen, and boom mikes as there are cast members. Although some of the editing is poor, and a few of the mistakes presented are actually tough to spot. It would have been nice to have the segments divided and labeled or introduced by the cast. There’s no background music, but it’s neat that the goofs seemed to be grouped together by actor. Who’s the biggest culprit? I can’t tell you!

The music video segment opens and closes with some creepy highlight reels and poetry from Jonathan Frid as Barnabas Collins, but of course we have nearly all the musical segments from the show. Both incarnations of Pansy Faye and ‘I Wanna Dance For You’; Quentin’s theme and the lyrics to ‘Shadows of the Night’; even a very young Nancy Barrett grooving it up at The Blue Whale.

This compilation dates to 1991 and 1992, but Lara Parker looks quite old in her newer In Salem segment. The witch history, locations, and guests are very interesting and go hand in hand with Dark Shadows’ resident witch-who’s also pushing a new DS novel. Unfortunately, the sound and editing is poor and tough to hear.

At least there’s great fun to be had in the game show segment, although I’d never heard of The Generation Gap. (The clothes! The Hair!) Jonathan Frid’s heartthrob cheers from What’s My Line and Alex Stevens’ removal of his wolfman mask on the same show is a delight. Joan Bennett needed no introduction on Line, and it’s sad her prolific work is not known to today’s audiences. Yet it’s amazing that there’s still treats like this to be discovered from almost a fifty year old show.

The promos segment is a little misleading, however. This is Dark Shadows Bloopers after all, so the promos-which were promoting MPI video, conventions, and Dark Shadows books- are instead a reel of slip ups with Kathryn Leigh Scott, Lara Parker, and Jonathan Frid. Comedy Tonight turns the tables and presents Dark Shadows inquisitor Jerry Lacy as a vampire, and there’s even a commercial for Barnabas pillows. Alrighty then! There’s a separate section devoted to merchandise as well, including books by David Selby, and a very creepy trailer for the Dark Shadows audio dramas.

I was surprised to find this DVD widely available, although my VHS Dark Shadows Scariest Moments is just that, a VHS only. The menus and music are fun and user friendly, I like the jazzed up rendition of Quentin’s theme. Dark Shadows: Bloopers and Treasures is a must for fans young and old, but I don’t know its caliber as an introduction piece. Young folks might laugh and tune in or laugh and tune out. There’s plenty of DS material to be had for all: DVDs, books, even mouse pads from darkshadowsdvd.com. For some spooky fun, try Dark Shadows: Bloopers and Treasures one October night.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

DVD Review: Cursed

Review by Kristin Battestella

As if we needed another werewolf movie, Wes Craven’s 2005 wolf fest Cursed came and went at the box office. Plagued by actor pullouts, production problems, and script changes, the unrated edition of Cursed actually wasn’t that bad.

Christina Ricci stars as Ellie, a Craig Kilborn executive who’s trying to balance work, her younger brother Jimmy (Jesse Eisenberg) and her on again off again flame Jake (Joshua Jackson). After a grotesque car accident and strange encounter with a dog like beast, the orphaned siblings develop super strength, keen senses, and an allergy to silver.

The acting isn’t that bad, but it’s to be expected, and nothing here will take home any Oscars. Cheesecake victims Shannon Elizabeth and Mya are fitting scream queens, and Judy Greer (Jawbreaker) is perfect as Ellie’s bitchy boss. Only Joshua Jackson seems out of place. I’ve never seen Dawson’s Creek, and Jackson’s good guy turn in Gossip only solidified my Mighty Ducks perceptions. His ambiguous portrayal of reformed entrepreneur playboy Jake does help the films werewolf guessing game. Is he a werewolf? Good? Bad? I only wish Jackson wasn’t so wooden or hokey.

Christina Ricci has had far better success moving forward from kid roles. After Mermaids and Addams Family Values, Ricci turned to mature films like Prozac Nation and has developed a cult following with macabre films like Sleepy Hollow. Even though she always seems to be playing the same character, Ricci sells Ellie well, it’s not a stretch to believe her as the serious, intelligent executive who turns sexy, sassy, and spunky with here werewolf problems and powers. Ricci and Eisenberg look like brother and sister, and they play off each other well. Director Craven smartly focuses the film on the siblings and establishes their troubles early on. Craven balances the seriousness and humor here well. Craig Kilborn does make his appearance, but a sway towards total humor would make Cursed too hokey.

Craven has lost a step with some uneven Nightmare on Elm Street sequels, but the behind the cameras renaissance man has produced several quiet gems, including the remake of his own The Hills Have Eyes. With all the trouble Cursed faced, Craven and final screenwriter Kevin Williamson have accomplished much. I’m operating from the unrated version, which seems to have more head chopping and a few extra moments of gore. The opening car wreck is impressive, and Craven smartly delays the werewolf’s big reveal until well into the film. Some directors become successful and forget their fans or underestimate their audiences. Not here. Craven appreciates his fans, even pays homage to his past with props from his earlier work decorating Cursed’s horror themed nightclub.

One very pleasant aspect of Cursed is the ending. Even though it didn’t fair well at the box office, Craven left no room for a sequel. Ellie’s story and the werewolf mysteries are resolved nice and pretty. We like Ellie and Jimmy-we’ve rooted for them, but I for one am glad there is a complete ending. No jump out monster or screaming before the fade to black ala I Know What You Did Last Summer. It’s quite refreshing in this day of franchises.

The unrated DVD of Cursed is now quite affordable. Naturally it has the standard behind the scenes material and features from Craven. I wouldn’t have paid the price of admission at the movies, but Cursed is ideal for a chilly Halloween movie night.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

DVD Review: Candyman

Review by Kristin Battestella

I picked up a used copy of 1992’s Candyman for my husband’s horror collection. Even though he hadn’t seen it, I was certain it was right up his alley. Indeed Candyman hasn’t lost its touch. Pre Urban Legends and Tales From the Hood, Candyman is still the film for urban horror.

Virginia Madsen (Sideways) stars as Helen, a Professor’s wife working on her own thesis. Her sleazy husband Trevor (Xander Berkley) belittles Helen’s research, so she sets out on her own to investigate Chicago’s own urban legend, Candyman. While photographing in the projects, Candyman (Tony Todd) appears to Helen. Her visions continue and gruesome murders follow Helen. Soon the authorities suspect Helen, and Trevor thinks she’s crazy.

I can list plenty of other projects with both Virginia Madsen and Tony Todd, but for me, their definitive film is Candyman. Madsen’s ideal as the intelligent, determined yet oblivious wife obsessed with Candyman. Likewise Tony Todd is at his utmost creepy and somehow alluring as the unjustly tormented former slave. Madsen’s Oscar nominated turn in Sideways is nowhere near as memorable as her role here. Her initial calling of Candyman in her bathroom mirror and her final triumphant scenes are cult gold.

After I first saw Candyman, for years I had dreams in which the fur clad and hook toting menace appeared. Todd’s trademark role and deep voice are that creepy, and like Bloody Mary, every kid has called Candyman five times in his bathroom mirror. Fans of gore and creative, bloody murders will no doubt enjoy Candyman. What little effects given are along the lines of fire, blood, and more blood. The violence, however, is not excessive. Integral to the story, many of the spooks in the film are carried out largely by the actors. Helen trips in the dark, dirty, messy projects we know it’s a place where real and fictious horrors can happen. When Helen enters a rank and bloody bathroom-is crap everywhere? Of course not. The audience, however, knows the smells through Madsen’s reaction and the director Bernard Rose’s swift pans.

One intriguing concept from Rose is the lack of those herky jerky Blair Witch style cuts and crazies. The scene of the crime is always fully panned, giving the audience a panoramic view. It’s almost like a three dimensional video game pulling the viewer in. Likewise, Rose moves the camera shots up and away, as if we were swooning like the characters onscreen. The camera work and gore doesn’t take away from Candyman like so many modern films that over do it and deter from the story with unrealistic effects. Clive Barker’s source story is allowed to shine.

Rose also makes use of some very beautiful and haunting urban artwork. Candyman graffiti appears throughout the film. Bees also play a significant part in the film, and this subtle attention to detail makes Candyman work. The families in the projects fear the legend of Candyman and the hooligans who commit crimes in his name-and the audience feels this fear. Like it or not, the racial statements in Candyman help the fear factor. Within the film, folks gasp at the thought of a white woman in the projects. When Helen is indeed attacked, through our collective mind we plant the seed for what the gangs, gang bangers, and hooks will do. Candyman isn’t real, but this film of racial violence and black legends fills the void left by the mainstream media and run of the mill horror standards.

Despite a very satisfactory ending, two sequels followed Candyman. Both 1996’s Candyman II: Farewell to the Flesh and Candyman III: Day of the Dead (1999) are worthy for fans who still can’t look in their bathroom mirrors. Lessened by the loss of Madsen, and direct to video styles for film three, The Candyman chills have continued into the 21st Century.

Candyman is for any fan of the macabre, but particularly those horror buffs tired of the formulaic scare. Intelligent fans, underground enthusiasts, minority audiences-who doesn’t Candyman appeal to? No matter how artistically displayed, the buckets of blood, a touch of nudity and sexual innuendo aren’t made for the young kids or squeamish prudes. Also be warned that Candyman features several brief scenes victimizing children and dogs. Several editions of Candyman and its sequels are available on DVD at affordable prices, or even a bargain VHS. But do avoid Candyman cut up on television. If you’ve got a fur coat and a hook, Candyman is your perfect urban horror movie and it’s great Halloween costume.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

DVD Review: Last House on the Beach

Review by 42nd Street Pete

1978 from Severin Films. Directed by Franco Prosperi. Starring Ray Lovelock, Florinda Bolkan, Sherry Buchanan, & Laura Trotter. Last House on the Left rippoff by the director of Mondo Cane. Real high on the cringe factor as three scumbags rob a bank, then hide out at a beach front house where a nun and five school girls are staying. One of crooks caves in the maids skull with an iron. Another of the guys tries to rape one of the girls and gets the business end of a rat tailed comb shoved into his groin.

The threesome torment and rape the girls. First the nun is raped. Then, one of the guys puts on make up and he and the guy who got stabbed double team one of the girls. The nun makes a deal with Aldo, the head douchebag. She’ll fix up the guy who got stabbed if they leave the girls alone. He agrees, but when one of the girls tries to escape, she is raped with a tree branch and left dead on the floor. Finally the nun gets the upper hand and she and the girls extract bloody revenge.

Florinda Bolkan is great in the lead as the nun. Lovelock is a convincing sadist and you despise him and his gang. An extra is an interview with Ray Lovelock, who is actually Italian. Franco Prosperi was one of the guys who created the phenomenon known as the “Mondo” movie. Mondo Cane, Africa Addido, and Farewell Uncle Tom are all part of his resume. Last House on the Beach was part of a slew of Italian ripoffs inspired by the granddaddy of sick flicks, Last House on the Left and each one was progressively grimmer than the original. The print is great and other extras include the German & Italian trailers.

DVD Review: Devil Hunter

Review by 42nd Street Pete

1980 from Severin Films. Directed by Jess Franco. Great print, but it's 89 minutes that seems like four hours. This film has all the low budget Franco charm: out of sync dubbing, cheezy gore, ample nudity, racism, & really bad acting. This film was on VHS, courtesy of the defunct Transworld as Mandingo Manhunter.

Shot on some island, or the Newark Botanical Gardens, we see an actress get kidnapped, interspersed with footage of natives sacrificing a girl to a huge , naked black guy, with bulging, bloodshot eyes. The actress is drugged & kidnapped for a 6 million dollar ransom. The black chic has her innards ripped out.

Peter( Al Cliver) is called in to deliver the ransom. The three kidnappers are like the 3 Stooges, actually the Stooges would be smarter than this band of jerk offs. One guy bitches that the “foliage” is creeping him out. Then why did you pick a jungle island? The actress, Ursula Fellner, is a willowy blonde that is half naked and chained up. She is abused through the entire film, just like she was in Sadomania. She is raped, standing up, by the lead bad guy, who’s gun is hanging between his legs during the rape. How phallic.

The natives, who look like they just left an 80’s disco, pray to a bulging eyed idol that looks like a Weirdo Model by Ed "Big daddy" Roth. Now there’s a dated reference. They point out that their jungle has been invaded by white folk. This riles up the big guy, who goes in search of the intruders. One is decapitated. In the close up of his “severed head” his neck has a pulse and his tongue is moving. The “blood” looks like a mixture of red food dye & honey. Blood is supposed to flow like water, not ooze like snot.

Peter arranges a swap, the money for the girl. This goes badly as a shoot out starts and one of the crook’s blonde girlfriend gets shot in the leg. The helicopter is about to explode. No smoke trail or anything. Now you see it, then there is a explosion. The actress has now been captured by the cannibals. Peter finds the kidnappers camp and the wounded woman. He chains her up, but she gets free and is killed by the big guy. After all of the minor characters are wiped out, Peter faces the big guy, who now has the actress, in a fight to the death on a cliff.

Not exactly a career highlight for Al Cliver as he fights a big, naked black guys, who junk seems to fill the camera in some scenes. Too many close ups of a big black dick & yam bag. This was the “restored” footage? Shoulda stayed lost if you ask me. The big guy gets tossed off the cliff, Al gets the girl and the natives trash the idol. End of story.

This film is best viewed with a bunch of friends, lots of liquor, and a bong. The only saving grace is the hot chics. Even the rape scene is boring. For Franco completests and insomniacs only. Extras are a new interview with Franco.

DVD Review: Quarantine

Review by 42nd Street Pete

First off, I hadn’t seen a film that sucked this bad in years. Here we have another shitty, palmcorded Clover Field clone that is a darkly shot, incoherent mess. You have to be a really crappy film maker to rely on this format, proving that anyone who got that $119.95 special from Best Buy is now a ‘Film Maker”.

This steaming pile of dog shit follow two news people following two paramedics. The woman of the team and “star” of the film, Jennifer Carpenter, is just a whiny, chickenshit bitch that you want to see die early on, but keeping this film mired down seems to be the key as she is around until the bitter end. A call to a run down apartment house has the team, including two cops, trapped in the building as the Government seals it up.

I’ll spare you the first hour of darkly lit, shaky palm corder bullshit and cut to the chase: Some bio terrorist is living there and has created a mutant strain of rabies. At this point I will refer my readers to Rabid 1977 and I Drink Your Blood 1971 which dealt with rabies and you could actually see what the hell was going on. You don’t identify with the characters, mainly because you can’t really see them and no one stands out. Everybody dies and everybody connected with this film should die also. People say that this could be the best horror film this year. If you expectations are that low, it probably is. The two big remakes, Friday the 13th, & Last House on the Left reportedly sucked, next up is the Elm Street & Halloween II remakes which will also suck. So if this is the bright spot & the “best horror film this year” it may be time for me to re evaluate my love of the genre and stick to what I like, old school films, instead of this idiotic, copycat dreck. That picture of the girl on the box says it all. The expression on her face looks like she’s being ass raped and after one viewing, the viewer will probably feel the same way.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

DVD Review: The Dark

Review by Kristin Battestella

In recent years, this new chick flick styled horror has sprung up. The Grudge, The Ring, Darkness, and The Dark. This 2005 British production adds a few new twists to the genre, but doesn’t take the next step in standing out amid such similar films.

After separating from her artist husband James (Sean Bean), Adelle (Maria Bello) travels to Wales with daughter Sarah (Sophie Stuckey) for a visit. Things have been tough between the ladies, but the Welsh countryside seems good for the reuniting family. The area is full of mysterious buildings, cult legends, and lovely beaches and cliffs. Unfortunately, Sarah vanishes on the beach. While James and local handyman Dafydd (Maurice Roeves) lead a massive search, Adelle discovers a strange girl named Ebril (Abigail Stone) now living in their home.

Okay, so the chick flick horror genre really began with Jamie Lee Curtis and Halloween, but this recent trend of chick horror always has the same key pieces: An American woman in a foreign country with a child somehow involved in said horror. The Dark brings a nice twist with its Welsh mythology, but there isn’t much time invested in this notion. Two scenes of the staple ‘talking to the old person who was there’ and the standard ‘lost journal/internet/microfilm’ montage set the intrigue but doesn’t take what makes The Dark unique far enough.

Maria Bello (A History of Violence, ER) is finely cast as the not so perfect mother on a quest to find her missing daughter. She’s the right style; a bit edgy, off her rocker, yet hip, blonde rocker chick. Bello does fine, and it’s a strong role for what is odd to say an ‘older maternal’ part as compared to a teeny sexy chick part. The Dark, however, is not going to make Maria Bello a movie star anytime soon. Nothing ill against her, but everyone does the foreign low budget horror flick at some point. The Dark isn’t bad, just meh. Naomi Watts, Sarah Michelle Gellar, aren’t they all the same?

Likewise I am curious why Sean Bean (The Lord of the Rings) took two so similar parts within a year. Silent Hill and The Dark are very much the same vein, and Bean plays the searching, protective father in both. Odd that he has come down to independent horror features after such success with The Fellowship of the Ring. However, after seeing him in so many villainous roles, it is nice to see the softer side of Bean. (My husband kept suspecting he was someone involved in the evil!) Still, I can’t help but chuckle during his scenes with Sophie Stuckey and Abigail Stone. Do these little girls know who he is? Were they afraid of him? Don’t they say to never work with kids or dogs?

There is no question, however, about the lovely locations in The Dark. The stunningly beautiful yet violent and creepy cliffs and oceans onscreen add to the parental fear of the leads. My goodness how do British people really live so close to these cliffs without fearing their kids are going to plummet? This realistic filming adds to the creepiness of the abattoir. Based upon the novel Sheep by Simon Maginn, the animals are also a bit freaky; Herds of sheep surrounding folks, looking at people and baa-ing. The Dark shows promise with these foreign and weird touches, but it’s not enough.

I suppose the biggest question is this: Is The Dark scary? First viewing; maybe. Bean and Bello fans will tune in for sure, but those made to jump moments are now so commonplace that the spooks don’t work. Television Director John Fawcett’s (Xena, Queer as Folk, Taken) jagged abattoir flashbacks, cliff plummets, and otherworldly Annwn hell-like filming make great strides and look very cool, but don’t top what’s already been done onscreen.

Outside of a few f-bombs, I don’t see why The Dark is rated R. The child torture scenes are mild compared to other films, and the blood and gore isn’t heavy. Maybe European audiences prefer the parental struggles and life versus death debates, but us Americans want Blood! Gore! Sex! And we want it Now!

The Dark does nothing wrong, in fact its foreign and mature takes add to the film, not detract. The Dark is good. I’ve watched it several times, I’d watch it again, and I recommended The Dark to my horror loving husband. Too many similar films and not enough umph unfortunately give The Dark a feeling of déjà vu and familiarity instead of nail biting horror.

Although the dvd only offers one extra-an alternate ending that isn’t too shocking-if you’re looking for a bit of weird and creepy, The Dark is an affordable show without too much commitment.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

DVD Review: Bram Stoker's Dracula

Review by Kristin Battestella

You know the story I’m sure. Bela Lugosi, the widow’s peak, creatures of the night! Even Leslie Nielson’s spoof Dracula: Dead and Loving It shares those cliché vampire stereotypes. In a hundred years of films, only one Dracula film affirms to the spirit of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel. In 1991 director and producer Francis Ford Coppola threw out the widow’s peak and presented the ambitious Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Gary Oldman (Batman Begins, Air Force One) stars as Dracula, the lovelorn count from Transylvania. After his first lawyer Renfield (Tom Waits) returns to England raving with madness, Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves) is dispatched to the Count. Dracula grows obsessed with Harker’s betrothed Mina (Winona Ryder, Beetlejuice), and after arriving in London, Dracula preys upon Mina’s friend Lucy Westerna (Sadie Frost, An Ideal Husband). Lucy’s suitors Lord Arthur (Cary Elwes), Quincy P. Morris (Billy Campbell) and Dr. Steward (Richard E. Grant) are helpless against her ailments. Suspecting something unnatural, Dr. Steward contacts his mentor, Abraham Van Helsing (Anthony Hopkins).

You’ll notice there’s a lot more characters than your garden variety Dracula picture. Coppola and screenwriter James V. Hart adhere as closely to Stoker’s novel as possible. Previous legal issues with the Stoker estate and stage productions forced dramatic changes and character combinations. Of the many actors, only Keanu Reeves seems out of place. Not far enough removed from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Reeves’ Tiger Beat persona did however appeal to teenage girls not likely to chance a period piece.

Despite her previous issues with Coppola, Ryder holds her own with Oscar winner Sir Anthony Hopkins. Today’s actors don’t really look the part when making costume pictures. Hopkins, of course, fits in with perfection, as does The Princess Bride veteran Cary Elwes. I can go one about the entire cast-there is something to be said when an entire production clicks together; Fine direction, acting, story, and sets.

Naturally, Coppola had sound source material. If you don’t like Stoker’s gothic, yet erotic and horrific Victorian novel, this film version is not for you. Some lines and scenes are word for word out of the book, and Coppola pays homage to the writing styles of the book by actually showing the characters typing, dictating, or composing the letters that tell the story. Outside of the love story bookends created by Coppola, I don’t think any motion picture has ever been so faithful to its book or origin- except for staple productions of A Christmas Carol.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula has its fair share of blood- blood and sultry vampire brides. While the film is not in itself all that scary, the ideas presented are dangerous and somewhat frightening. Coppola captures Stoker’s original intentions in the character of Van Helsing. Hopkins strikes the perfect balance between kinky eccentric and fearsome vampire undead hunter. His narrations on sex, blood, vampirism, and other beastly incarnations remind us that Stoker’s original tale wasn’t to glorify Dracula-unlike modern takes on vampires in film and literature.

Not only does Oscar winning costumes and sets show off Dracula, impressive effects also highlight Coppola’s production. Misty ships, werewolf transformations, and all those slithery Dracula moves fit seamlessly with the spooky subject matter. All the gruesome scenes and decapitations are on DVD-forget watching Bram Stoker’s Dracula on basic TV. Too much is edited from the film to be appreciated.

Lighting effects and music cues spotlight Dracula’s attention to detail. Dracula’s castle is perfectly shadowed with candlelight, and the gaslights and early technical wonders of London add to the period atmosphere. Likewise the film’s score ups the creepy ante. The haunting work by Wojciech Kilar (The Pianist) enters every scene at the right moment. When the audience hears Dracula’s particular theme, we know something naughty is about to happen. When I heard the closing song in its entirety on the DVD, I knew it was Annie Lennox. As with her Oscar winning vocal performance for Return of the King, Lennox’s unique vibrato tops Dracula.

Of course, Dracula’s length and pacing are its only strikes. The slow pace and more talking less action sequences make the picture seem longer than its two hours and fifteen minutes. The finish however, is fast paced, and Coppola resolves his time traveling love triangle bookends-his only deviation from Stoker’s work.

Not a family film by any means or for the eyes of the squeamish or prudish, Bram Stoker’s Dracula also might not be enjoyed by the traditional period piece audience. Although there is no outright sex in the film, Coppola’s illusions to the vampire bite as penetration, heavy petting and nudity from the vampire brides, a touch of homoerotic undertones, and one count of potential bestiality rape might be too much for fans of films like The Remains of the Day. Quirky Ryder fans will no doubt eat up Dracula, as will Hopkins and Oldman fans. Horror enthusiasts, romance lovers, and proprietors of all things goth can enjoy Dracula with each viewing. Several editions of the DVD are available-from affordable older copies to new anniversary editions with features. Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a must have in any budding horror fan’s library. You can’t be a definitive Dracula fan without it.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

DVD Review: The Amityville Horror (Remake)

Review by Kristin Battestella

I’m always weary of remakes. Until recently, I avoided the 2005 update of The Amityville Horror-I just liked the original too much to see it butchered into some new flash in the pan screamfest. Based on an actual Long Island murder and book controversy, director Andrew Douglas’ retelling deserves a chance from old school audiences.

Waiting alum Ryan Reynolds stars with Melissa George (Alias) as newlyweds George and Kathy Lutz. The couple pays a hefty sum for a to die for home in peaceful Amityville. Unfortunately, their dream home was the site of a gruesome murder the year before. The longer the family lives in the home, the more difficult their strained relationships become. Ghosts appear to Kathy’s daughter Chelsea (Chloe Moretz) and George moves into the basement-where voices tell him to harm his new wife and step son Michael (Jimmy Bennett).

I was impressed with Ryan Reynolds’ performance. After mostly hit or miss comedy roles such as Van Wilder and Just Friends, Reynolds toned up and grew a beard to enhance the creepy corruption of his character. Several key scenes with Jimmy Bennett are very near abuse and torture; Reynolds’ crazy demeanor and unkempt Manson look are absolutely believable. You have no doubt he means what he says and is physically capable of doing what the evil forces in the house want him to do.

After seeing Melissa George on the DVD extras, I was surprised to hear her natural Australian accent. Her American portrayal is spot on, and she is totally believable as the young wife and mother protecting her children. The behind the scenes features also detail a very complex scene involving little Chelsea on the rooftop. All the acting from the children is on form-not a whiny deterrence or humorous point as can happen in these modern horror flicks. They don’t look hokey, and in some scenes the kids genuinely look scared.

The setting, location, and the house itself are beautifully recreated here. This house is bigger than the original Amityville Horror sets, but this adds to Douglas’ spacious, encompassing, ominous feeling. Although one strike against the new production is the time period. The new script from screenwriter Scott Kosar (The Machinist) takes place in 1976, but several times I had to ask myself: this is the seventies, right? The hair, clothing, and props are more like the nineties revival of seventies style; the in vogue fashion for That 70’s Show. I am glad, however, that Douglas didn’t try and completely move the story and update everything to the present day. Forcing cell phones and computers into the mix takes away from the real spooky story.

Rookie director Douglas is quite fine. I could do without some of the herky jerky twisted evil imagery, but he answers the questions raised more with swift acting, tight action, and suspense that production tricks. In a lot of slasher flicks today, most of the boo moments can really be anticipated. Part of the fun in watching horror is predicting who will get axed when they go into the basement. Scream capitalized on this tongue in cheek aspect, but this Amityville gives you realistic scares where you least expect them. Most horror films are cut from the same cloth, but Douglas smartly uses that big house, chopping firewood, and lakeside location as the core of his emotional rollercoaster.

I liked The Amityville Horror, sure, but if Douglas and company try for a zillion other sequels, prequels, and remakes like the original franchise destroyed itself, I’d worry. Come one: Amityville 2: The Possession, Amityville 3D, Amityville: The Evil Escapes, The Amityville Curse, Amityville: It’s About Time, Amityville: A New Generation, and Amityville Dollhouse all mar the original film’s horrific visions. These downright bad sequels resorted to kinky gore and weak story connections. I hope that doesn’t happen to this psychological Amityville Horror. Douglas has a few essentially bloody scenes, but never loses sight that the plot is a family caught within a house’s evil.

The back story of the house’s possession is explained better here than in the Amityville 2: The Possession. Unfortunately it’s the documentary on the DVD that leaves me cold. Instead of a factual History Channel discussion or scientific analysis, the short fronts that old Sightings feeling. Old people saying “Oh! The house!”, a policeman contesting the family was crazy-they want you to decide the level of real haunt. At least the making of features and cast interviews are worthy.

The Amityville Horror probably shouldn’t take home any awards, and fans of the original might feel guilty or unable to let go of the 1979 classic. I do, however, urge those horror buffs to reconsider. Almost a homage instead of a disastrously cut remake, The Amityville Horror is an affordable DVD for your spooky movie night. Not recommended for children or the prudish, of course!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

DVD Review: A Nightmare on Elm Street

Review by Kristin Battestella

Yes, sure we all know of Freddy Krueger and the dozen of Nightmare on Elm Street sequels. Wes Craven’s 1984 slasher classic has spawned countless spoofs and imitation cut ‘em ups, but when was the last time you saw the original that started it all? Younger folks may not appreciate A Nightmare on Elm Street but there’s no time like the present for a horror introduction.

Robert Englund stars as Fred Krueger, a child killer who has returned from the grave by stalking teen’s dreams. Tina (Amanda Wyss) dreams she will die, and soon her friend Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) also dreams of death from Freddy. Their boyfriends Rod (Nick Corri) and Glen (Johnny Depp) are also on sleepless vigils, fearful of Freddy Krueger killing them in their sleep.

It’s a simple enough plot, but it is unusual and tough to explain without spoiling everything. At the time, Craven’s idea hadn’t been played to death. The thought of sleep, rest, dreams-the exact necessities for fighting evil- would be where our horrors come from gives the original Nightmare its edge. Even if you aren’t scared out of bed like you may have been twenty five years ago, the idea of sleep being the enemy is enough food for thought to keep you from dozing.

Writer and director Craven also confuses the viewer by blurring the line between dreams and reality in A Nightmare on Elm Street. A few transitions are obvious with time and repeated viewings, but you’re on the edge of your seat if you don’t know when Freddy may appear. Some of the boiler room sequences can still offer a jump or two. Again Craven uses smart sets like a dirty, dark, hot boiler room where numerous pains and dangers can come into play-contrasted with our teens’ upscale houses and cozy bedrooms. Where Freddy is concerned, all can be used to his advantage. Several eerie scenes will stay with you long after viewing, ad that creepy rhyming song still echoes in my mind decades after first hearing it. Whenever you want to be funny, spooky, morbid-just sing the first phrase: One, Two. Freddy’s coming for you….

Some of the effects for A Nightmare on Elm Street have not stood the test of time. On the other hand, some are still being copied today; the blood flow on the ceiling, that quicksand bed. The sequels had much to top, some areas they did, and others they didn’t. Technically Kruger isn’t the star of the film, Heather Langenkamp is. Craven smartly delays the introduction of Krueger and instead scares the teens with his creepy dream voice and nails on a chalkboard claw. The excellent early dream sequences twist and turn around the girls. ‘Tis better to show a person in fear than a monster of which we may or may not be afraid. Psychological impact far outweighs effects. Nancy’s parents take her to a doctor for tests. Is she crazy? All she wants is for someone to believe that Freddy is real. Langenkamp fits the role of the smart fighter teen perfectly. Not a bombshell, but not a nerd. Former fifties teen idol John Saxon has made a second career in slasher flicks like Hellmaster and From Dusk Till Dawn. The cast may seem unstellar or unimportant, but they help sell the idea that this clique could be yours. These could be your friends or honeys that Freddy’s after.

Two stand outs are of course Johnny Depp and Robert Englund. I still think of Englund as good lizard Willie in V before Elm, but look in stores now that it’s nearing Halloween. You still find Freddy masks, knives gloves, and even that ugly striped shirt. The tongue in cheek nature of his performance helps Englund keep Freddy scary. He enjoys what he’s doing-especially with girls who make the mistake of having sex in a horror movie. Englund actually has little onscreen time, but the seed is planted here for further developed throughout the film series. Likewise Johnny Depp shows his talent in his first movie. Sardonic lines, aloof yet precise looks, and a still cool final scene ensured Depp’s cult status before his recent macabre and Pirate work.

Subsequent films in the Nightmare on Elm Street series-namely Freddy’s Revenge, Dream Warriors, Freddy’s Dead, and Wes Craven’s New Nightmare have moments that touch the original, but none is as complete. Series fans and horror buffs will eat up every minute of course, but casual fans might not want to invest in the pricey collector’s set. A Nightmare on Elm Street and all its sequels are also available individually for an affordable price. I picked up the original for my honey, but thought he would find it dated and hokey. Not so! I wouldn’t say A Nightmare on Elm Street will be around as long as people have dreams, just nightmares.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

DVD Review: The Exorcist

Review by Kristin Battestella

I was born in 1981, so I missed the initial fear fest brought on by the 1973 thriller The Exorcist. Based on the novel by William Peter Blatty, film going audiences were terrorized in their seats, vomiting in the aisles, and fainting before the theater screens. Since then, The Exorcist has frightened a whole new generation-and then some.

The Exorcist stars Linda Blair as young Regan, a 13 year old girl who begins to act strangely after her and her actress mother Chris (Ellen Burstyn) move to Washington DC for a film shoot. Psychiatrists, other doctors, and specialists have no answer for Regan’s unrest. Freaky accidents, violence, and more disturbing behavior from Regan lead Chris to Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller). Even the troubled Priest is baffled by Regan’s ability to speak in ancient languages; the physical abuse on her body-including etchings from the inside of her stomach that says ‘Help me’; and of course the infamous, horrifying, and despicable masturbation with a crucifix.

Father Damien Brings in Father Lankester Merrin (Max Von Sydow), an elderly Priest who has fought this kind of evil before. Two prequels were even made detailing Merrin’s first encounter with the devil, but both miss the mark and cannot compare to the ultimate battle here. The Priests tie Regan to the bed and begin the Rites of Exorcism. Before the devil is contained, however, he pulls out all the stops, including taunting Father Damien With his dead mother’s words and the now oft parodied projectile vomit.

Despite our society’s desensitization, The Exorcist remains one of the most disturbing films ever made. I was a teenager when I saw the re-released edition with the additional footage. It was the middle of the day and clear as a bell outside, yet I was spooked for weeks afterward. The extra scenes on the DVD ‘The Version You’ve Never Seen’ include a creepy spiderwalk and more scenes of Father Merrin in Africa. Even after the numerous parodies and spoofs, the initial experience of viewing The Exorcist is tough to beat. After 4 sequels and prequels, several video releases and re-releases, how is it The Exorcist still scares the split pea soup out of us?

The effects are cool, but nothing spectacular. The chills presented by director William Friedkin come from the psychological and sociological themes shown. Many of the early audiences had never heard foul language in a wide release, much less F-bombs from a 13 year old girl. Both the religious and demonic imagery presented are unique and frightening. Shocking as it is to see such blasphemous uses of Christian symbols, Friedkin showcases the devil as a living breathing evil force. This is both engrossing and terrifying. The Exorcist is enough to scare anyone straight from their malignant ways. Here a young, innocent little girl was possessed. Imagine the torment the devil could bring to those who deserve it. Exceptional makeup and an impressive performance from Blair solidify the movie’s insistence that the devil is real.

This is how horror films should be. Realistic in the scarys they portray-no matter how fantastic. If art imitates life, then The Exorcist is a photographic reminder of good versus evil and how careful we should be in our temptations. None of The Exorcist films are suitable for children, and I only recommend viewing for the most mature teens, otherwise the between the lines material is lost. The latest DVD release of The Exorcist has a few extras, but the film speaks for itself. Some of the sequels are worthy interpretations, especially The Exorcist III, based on Blatty’s own book sequel, Legion. If you’re seeking one of the best films ever made-not just thee most exceptional horror movie-The Exorcist is unbeatable.

Friday, January 30, 2009

DVD Review: House on Haunted Hill (Original)

Review by Kristin Battestella

Ah, ‘Tis the season for horror movie marathons, is it not? On tap for my black and white movie challenged man, House on Haunted Hill- the 1959 original mind you. Even if its slightly dated and not as scary as it used to be, this classic is a must see for any horror buff.

Master of horror Vincent Price stars as Frederick Loren- a bored millionaire throwing a party for his young, jealous, and greedy wife Annabelle (Carol Omhart)- complete with a haunted house, plenty of scotch, and revolvers in mini coffins as favors. Five guests are invited by Loren-although none have met the mysterious millionaire. Lance, the test pilot (Richard Long), Ruth the reporter (Julie Mitchum), The Doctor (Alan Marshal), Nora a sweet girl of course (Carolyn Craig), and the drunk owner of the house Watson Pritchard (Elisah Cook Jr.). These financially challenged guests must spend the night locked in the haunted house-those who survive until morning will walk away with $10,000.

While that’s hardly a lot of money today, and other aspects of the film have not stood the test of time, Vincent Price is near perfection. The husky voiced veteran of such horror classics as House of Usher, The Raven, The Pit and The Pendulum, and my favorite The Masque of Red Death-not to mention mainstream roles in The Ten Commandments and Laura-Price proves his worth here. The multifaceted actor chews up Loren and thoroughly enjoys the cheeky interplay between Loren and his fourth wife. Their introductory scene is full of jealously, love of money, and reminiscing about poison.

The rest of the cast is standard in its support. Sure some of the drama and hysterics is over the top now, but each actor fits his or her part perfectly. Lance the bravado pilot and Nora can really scream-but more importantly, they serve their purpose. A classic star like Jimmy Stewart or Cary Grant-they come with a preconceived notion of who they are and what their character must be about. With a cast of relative unknowns, director William Castle succeeds in reaching his audience. The party guests are indeed regular people who need Loren’s money-desperate people to endure this house for money. Average Joes like you and me. Although it is firmly placed in its fifties mentality, Castle and writer Robb White touches a timeless concept with House on Haunted Hill-greed. What would you do for $10,000?

Unfortunately, Castle’s promotional ideas for House on Haunted Hill were touch and go. Although the low budget film succeeded at the box office, the idea of skeletons zooming across the theater at selected parts of the film was technically difficult and got out of hand with audiences. The film’s bloody heads, dangling bodies, pools of acid, and the like are also bound to the movie making techniques of the time. Observant fans will spot the flying wires and proverbial smoke and mirrors in the film. At the wrong volume, the music and screaming-and there is a lot of screaming-can be a toe towards annoying as well.

Hokeyness aside, House on Haunted Hill still provides one or two heart pounding jump in your seat scares. The first time I saw House on Haunted Hill, it wasn’t a dark and stormy night. The lights were on and it wasn’t even near Halloween. I tuned in for Vincent Price, but I thought the opening was convoluted and slow. When the first BOO moment came, I was caught totally off guard. I’ve been hooked on this little film that could since.

In 1999, House on Haunted Hill was updated by director William Malone with gore, gore, and more gore. Castle’s original is just silly enough and clean enough for a spooky night in with the kids. The remake focuses more on the actual haunting and back story of the house, but its gear toward modern fan boys with short attention spans is fleeting at best.The updated House on Haunted Hill stars Geoffrey Rush as amusement monger Stephen Price and Famke Janssen as his greedy wife Evelyn. As in the original, the woefully wealthy couple needs to add spice to their relationship by holding a party-a party in a haunted house of course. Five unsuspecting guests are lured to the fiesta, and whoever survives the entire night at the house receives a one million dollar voucher-just to keep it real for today’s audiences. Writer Dick Beebe added a psycho insane asylum back story to the house, but the plot does little. Chopped up parts, naked women, and crazy experiments try to explain the house’s evil, but in truly frightening fashions- not knowing the how or why is better. Knowing the rather weak source of your evil can make things a bit…lame.

Contrary to Malone’s belief, my favorite part of the revived House on Haunted Hill is not the opening herky jerky, cut ‘em up flashbacks, nor the subsequent roller coaster ride and stunt casting of singer Lisa Loeb and Spike alum James Marsters. My individual creepy came midway through the film, when Price views crazy psychiatrist ghost Dr. Vannacutt (Jeffery Combs) on his TV monitors. The otherworldly, stop motion, unnatural movements are the best part of the film, and they only last a few seconds. The shock value of chopped heads and good old fashioned shock therapy treatments do nothing to scare modern audiences.

Chris Kattan has a few memorable scenes as the neurotic owner of the industrial and contemporary haunt. He plays the exact same funny man as always, but it’s intriguing to see the humor in a spooky setup. Although I doubt all the humor is intentional. So if the movie isn’t meant to be funny, and it isn’t scary-who is the film for? It is rare for any medium today to not have a strict marketing campaign. Vincent Price fans will not like this new House on Haunted Hill, and teeny bopper fans will quickly dismiss it for others in this new inferior slasher genre- Thirteen Ghosts immediately comes to mind. When I tried to tell a friend about this new House on Haunted Hill, she responded, “The one with Catherine Zeta-Jones?” Of course that’s The Haunting-another remake inferior to the original.

What makes films like the original House on Haunted Hill classics is the effects-bad effects or simply the lack there of. My favorite part of Price’s version involves an old lady. I swear she is riding a skateboard to create that ghostly walk ambiance. It’s a catch-22. The effects are hokey and often as bad as hell-which of course tunes out spoiled CGI viewers. However, since old time film making effects were so bad-the story, actors, and directing needed to hold their own. The remake, however, adds nothing but bad gore and bad gimmicks. If a film must be remade, the redo must adhere to all the original’s strengths and them some. The new House on Haunted Hill is only for die hard cheese fans.

In a day and age where a film has to be rated R to be good, its amazing to recall that films like the original House on Haunted Hill succeeded with little violence, bad props, and cheeky dialogue. Kids might get genuinely spooked, and boomers might remember their first viewing at that special drive-in. House on Haunted Hill is what it is, but its old B flick fashion should not be taken at face value. Castle’s little movie is for fans young and old who appreciate good film. Clearly something was done right-we’re still watching over forty years later.

Fortunately both House on Haunted Hills aren’t over the top in price range. Check the bargain bin at your local video store for the new colorized version of the original, check the budget collections at any department store, or browse the used for a copy of the 1999 release. Hill can be found in classic sets, individually, as a double feature-even budget DVD's with cartoon shorts like the good old days. Priced at $9.99 or under-$5 or less if you know where to look-my edition contains a Superman short and the John Carradine classic Bluebeard. Two for the price of one!

Skip the remake and go with the classic House on Haunted Hill. It appeals to everyone, and you can’t call yourself a horror film buff without it!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

DVD Review: The Skeleton Key

Review by Kristin Battestella

If it’s supposed to be scary, I’ll watch just about anything –even though I heard bad things about The Skeleton Key. The 2005 thriller stars Almost Famous alum Kate Hudson, but the initial $30 price tag was a bit much for a film widely regarded as a disappointment.

I did however like The Skeleton Key when I saw it on TV recently-it was a relatively low investment, of course. Not stellar, a few too many clichés, but I liked it. As if she could play nothing else and milking all her Oscar nominated glory, The Skeleton Key casts Hudson as Caroline, a former roadie trying to become a nurse. Since her father’s death, Caroline has moved from one elderly center to the next, trying to find closure. She takes a position caring for Ben (John Hurt), who has recently had a stroke. At first she butts heads with Ben’s wife Violet (Gena Rowlands), but Caroline fines shades of romance in New Orleans lawyer (Tom Uskali).

Naturally it was fascinating to see a film set in New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina, but the voodoo element has been done to death. I was unsure how a haunted New Orleans house movie would play out-a la The Others-but we never get to see, since Director Iain Softley resorts to digging up weird voodoo stereotypes. I know nothing about voodoo but what I’ve seen on Dark Shadows, and some of the clichés were obvious to me. Despite its PG-13 rating, I can see how The Skeleton Key must have offended the real Louisiana population.

The acting is just fine, but again we resort to Kate Hudson in skimpy clothes and talking about music. The Skeleton Key does a lot of resorting where it should be going forth. Gena Rowlands is perfect as the aging Southern belle Violet. You easily suspected she is up to no good from the beginning, but I never expected Violet’s end to come as it did. John Hurt-infamous for the scene in Alien- is also delightful as Ben. The stroke victim expertly says what he needs to through his eyes, actions, and struggles. One of the better sequences has the partially paralyzed Ben out on the roof top. Oiy!

Despite its clichés and redundancy, I was surprised by The Skeleton Key’s ending. Maybe because I was sick and out of it or not on my sharpest note, but writer Ehren Kruger’s twist ending may be just that. I suspect Kate Hudson accepted the role based on the end of the script alone. Good, but unhappy-the ending is slightly sinister. At the conclusion, Hudson sounds a lot like her mom Goldie Hawn. Her closing husky delivery completes the creepy.

I don’t recommend The Skeleton Key for prudes or people who otherwise might be offended religiously-although I’ve certain seen more offensive material. Nor would I say The Skeleton Key is a thinking man’s movie. I was interested enough to keep watching and guessing how things would play out, but rewatchability dips significantly once you know how the film ends.

The Skeleton Key- despite a swift resolution- is a relatively safe and formulaic piece for fans of safe movies. I even dare say it’s safe for mature tweens, maybe even 10 and up. Kate Hudson collectors will enjoy no doubt, but if you are seeking serious spooks, southern haunts, or voodoo mayhem, I can definitely recommend better. Fans are better off investing in a simple classic like Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte. Only die hard Kate Hudson lovers should pay full price for The Skeleton Key. Briefly intrigued audiences can tape it off TV.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

100 Tears

Review by Will Sanders

Those with Coulrophobia (exaggerated fear of clowns) need not to watch this film. 100 Tears is the story of two reporters, Mark (Joe Davison) and Jennifer (Georgia Chris), That are hell bent on finding a story that will take them to the big time. Their journey leads them straight into the path of the gruesome murders of The Teardrop Killer. While investigating the crime scenes and pretty much doing the Detective's jobs, they uncover that the killings are connected to Gurdy (a once harmless carnival clown turned psychopath).

There is no clowning around in this film. 100 Tears is a non-stop in your face gore fest extravaganza. The killing starts at the beginning and doesn't let you take a breath until the end. Marcus Koch (Director and the blood, sweat and tears of Oddtopsy FX) did an incredible job of keeping on course with the plot and still maintaining a bloodbath at ever turn. The thing that most horror films can't do today. In my opinion horror films today either bore you with to much dialogue or have a plotless film with a bunch of meaningless killing in it. I was impressed to see that Koch was able to find a happy medium between the two.

The second thing that stuck out in the film was the chemistry between Mark and Jennifer. Their characters continue to grow throughout the film. Davison was funny and sarcastic and Brown was witty and sincere. While only partners in the film, you definitely get the since that they strongly care for each other (Mark a little more than Jennifer).

The other characters were just as energetic, but I felt that there needed to be a little more explanation of the other carnie's role in the story. The film gave an outline back story but you can tell there was more participation from the rest of the carnival in what was happening. I guess for a full explanation, we can only hope for a sequel.

With all of that and a killer soundtrack that only excites and intensifies the film.
100 Tears exceeds your normal indie horror and competes with the big boys. I know this will not be the last we hear from Koch and Davison. If you did not get to see this in theaters or festivals earlier this year you will still get your chance. 100 Tears is being distributed SJW and Grindstone Entertainment. The 100 Tears DVD is due out nationwide by the end of this year and I am hoping to see some outtakes and behind the scenes footage in the home video release.

All in all, 100 Tears is a big top blood splattering attraction. Gurdy with his gigantic meat clever makes Pennywise look as harmless as Bozo the Clown. I highly recommend this film and I am glad to see a Killer Clown back in the spotlight once again.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Book Review: Eternal Vigilance By Gabrielle S. Faust

Review by Sara Jackson

Tynan awakens after a century of sleep. Breaking free of his tomb, he enters a city that was once familiar to him, but has now been devastated by an apocalyptic war that has raged as long as his slumber. With devastation all around him, Tynan seeks out his first victim, an adolescent brandishing an AK-47.

Before giving himself over to a century's worth of slumber, Tynan had been a philosopher among his fellow vampires, even building his own religion. After killing and draining the blood from an eight hundred year old vampire named Aidan, Tynan was socially exiled.

While exploring his surroundings, Tynan spots a beautiful girl, who leads him through the woods to his friend Seafra. They lead Tynan back to Seafra's house, where he is given a change of clothes. The next night, Seafra confronts Tynan about vanishing after being exiled. Seafra goes on to explain to Tynan about what's been happening in the hundred years that he's been asleep.

An underground cyber-movement called the Tyst had rewritten all military codes for every nation in the world and they pilphered the world's money into their own pockets. People fought bloody wars to regain control from the Tyst. But the Tyst gained the upper hand by making sure that every piece of technology was taken from the rebels. Those that fought against the Tyst's power are called the Phuree and they live outside the city. The Phuree are a people without technology, but are deeply rooted in magic. Even teaming up with a handful of vampires to try and bring down the Tyst.

Phelan, his maker and the other vampires later summon Tynan, to devise a plan to defeat the Tyst. In Tynan's journals lies the secret and evidence that he is the chosen one to defeat the Tyst. Tynan becomes enraged at being the chosen one, that he lunges at Phelan. But his blows are deflected and Tynan is seriously injured.

His fellow vampires take him to the Phuree camp, where he is given the blood of Nahalo, an ancient vampire, revered among the Phuree as some type of oracle. With his new found powers, Tynan must decide whether he will vanish again, or stay and defeat the Tyst, restoring power back to the people.

Gabrielle S. Faust's book is full of poetic imagery. She finds beauty in the shadows and the horror of a devastated civilization. Faust sheds new light on vampire culture, making them angels, instead of demons.

At times Faust's vampires seemed too closely related to Anne Rice's vampires. Tynan's long slumber and reawakening to a new world was reminiscent of Lestat's awakening in The Vampire Lestat. Tynan's inner struggle with killing resembled that of Louise's in Interview With the Vampire.

For those that crave vampire fiction with a dark soul, Gabrielle Faust delivers on all levels.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Isle of the Damned

Isle of the Damned (2008) is a laugh riot, if your sense of humor is as warped as mine. This film is a send up of just about every Italian cannibal ever made. Someone really did their homework as instead of phony American credits, we have phony Italian credits. Add bad dubbing, obvious wigs, a little too much sodomy, crazy characters, and extreme gore, you have a little something for the whole family.

PI, Jack Steele is hired by a fat slob to help him find the lost treasure of Marco Polo. Wasn’t he the guy who invented the Polo Shirt? Anyway they land on an island off the coast of Argentina. Steele, his side kick Billy, & the Fat Guy venture inland in search of treasure. Of course we are warned that this film was banned in over 492 countries and the Make Them Die Slowly type voice over warns us that this is real.

The threesome come across some cannibals cutting off a guy’s dick. He and a woman are tied up and another pregnant woman is caught by the cannibals and has a fetus ripped out and eaten. They might have been missionaries spreading the word of God. Now they are just entrees. Steele shoots a few cannibals and he and Billy drag the comatose woman through the jungle.

They come across a mansion owned by Alex Kincaid. Kincaid has a man servant, an ex ninja hitman, who has taken a vow of silence. This adds a little kung fu to the proceedings. Kincaid originally was looking for the treasure himself, but now he lives among the cannibals. In between all this, all the minor cast members are killed and eaten in various disgusting ways. If this wasn’t tongue in cheek, the gore would be just as hard to watch as a “real” Italian cannibal film.

Not to give anymore away, you have to see this one. If you’re a fan of that dreaded Italian cannibal sub genre, you owe it yourself to see this one. You can just sit there , taking bong hits, then pick out the scenes lifted from various films. Then you can revel in the castrations, mutilations, disembowelments, fetus bashing, ass raping, face ripping carnage.

Even the DVD box pushes the envelope stating that this is the “1980 cult classic”, released for the first time in North America. The opening credits also tell us that the director “fled the country” after the Argentine authorities seized the print of this film. All in all, a worthy homage to those classic cannibal films of yesteryear.

Queen of Black Magic

1979, from Mondo Macabra Starring Suzzanna.

If you want something different, a lot of stuff from Indonesia is becoming available. This had been available on an obscure VHS label, now it’s on DVD from a digital transfer from the original negative.

After a wedding ceremony goes wrong, the groom suspects black magic. He seeks out his ex lover and has her thrown off a cliff. She is rescued by a hermit/witch doctor who urges her to seek revenge. He teaches her black magic and she use spells to get diabolical revenge on the people who wronged her.

People are covered with boils, worms, snakes and other nasty shit. But something is amiss. The hermit is not all he seems to be, and has a revenge agenda all his own. Interesting film with a lot of exotic scenery. The SPFX are grotesque and amateurish, when compared to our home grown stuff, but then do you think you could get Linda Blair to put real worms in her mouth? Don’t think so, but in these type of films I have seen the actors barf up buckets of worms & bugs. Talk about art for arts sake!!

Suzzanna was a mainstay of these films and was the Indonesian Scream Queen in that country. Other films were Headless Terror, Snake Queen & White Crocodile Queen. Sadly, like quite a few other genre stars, she passed away in October of 2008. 2008 wasn’t a good year for any of us.

The Insatiable Iron Babe

2008, from Seduction Cinema Starring Jackie Stevens, Darian Caine, and Kerry Taylor Directed by John Bacchus

Returning to a tried & true formula, spoofing current blockbusters, Seduction Cinema presents their version of Iron Man. Horny Fark is a billionaire who owns Fark Industries, a high end sex toy company. While attending a sex toy expo in Bacchustan, she is captured by terrorist Abu Bu, and forced to construct a nuclear powered sex doll.

Fark escapes and builds a sex toy suit of armor with a laser bra, bullet proof panties, and long lasting batteries. Fark turns the tables on the terrorists, destroying everything they throw at her.

The film is pretty funny and has enough girl on girl scenes to stimulate the most jaded libido. Jackie Stevens is great in the titular role and makes me think she could go on to higher budget films, if given the opportunity. Look for yours truly in a cameo appearance. Definitely worth a look.

DVD Review: An American Haunting

Review by Kristin Battestella

Once again a horror movie was on tap for the evening. When in doubt, should you always go to the movies and see a horror film? Based on the title alone, We picked An American Haunting.

The introduction explained the film was based on actual events in Tennessee around 1820, but the action opens in 2006. The modern frame is a weak connection geared at today’s teens. I was not surprised to find out the movie is PG-13. Unfortunately, I don’t think you can make a quality horror movie today without an R rating.

It was pleasing to see Donald Sutherland and Sissy Spacek as John and Lucy Bell, but the rest of the cast is unremarkable. After a sour deal with a neighbor, John is overruled by the church. His injured neighbor curses John and his daughter Betsy (Rachel Hurd-Wood), and thereafter strange things accumulate on the Bell Estate. A vengeful spirit manifests, attacks Betsy, and ultimately claims the life of John.

As refreshing as it was to see a film set in the early 19th century, the story ran thin early. For America’s most famous haunting, and the only one responsible for a death, I certainly had never heard of The Bell Witch before, and I thought myself schooled in such things. I hoped to see everything explained since the main haunting wasn’t told in bits and pieces of herky jerky movie flashbacks, but the film closes with much to interpret.

The haunting itself is debatable. Is it the curse or a poltergeist manifested by Betsy herself? I lean towards the latter, but director Courtney Solomon focuses on repeat attacks instead of definitively explaining the spooks. The unfortunate side effect is that this makes the family look fairly stupid. Initially, it was quite fascinating to see early ghost hunters handle a entity without any technology to speak of. They shoot at a few wolves, candles blow out, the old house creaks. After the first two or three or five occurrences, however, why doesn’t the family at least attempt to leave the house? Betsy leaves her bedroom, but returns to it for more invisible string ups and smack downs. Professor Powell (James D’Arcy) is brought in to help Betsy, but he also has romantic interests in her. Hmm… One highlight of the film shows Betsy being taken away by the Professor and her older brother John Jr. (Thom Fell) in a dangerous carriage chase, but it looks like this was just a dream sequence. Instead the family sends another young girl into Betsy room to be attacked with her!

In the theater I suspected John Bell was responsible for his own terror. Several shots from Solomon hint at a more serious and inappropriately kinky relationship with his daughter. No one would blame Betsy if she subconsciously manifested this presence because of abuse from her father. When Betsy sees the spirit as a playful young girl, is it her own childlike innocence she is trying to recapture? Is Betsy just confused between choosing between two suitors? Does the idea of simple marriage and a home life not appeal to her? We just don’t know.

Was the poltergeist caused by abuse or merely puberty? Blood stains on Betsy’s sheets and John’s shirt –was it rape or a father unable to accept his daughter’s first menstruation? Solomon isn’t quite clear, and his 2006 bookend implies the whole area of Red River, Tennessee is temptation for incestuous dads. As I said, the modern echo raises more questions than gives answers. What is the significance of the attic? Are these people even related? Is it supposed to be the same house? Indeed I hope these basic questions ( and boy there is a lot of them!) were not left unanswered to make room for a sequel. Oiy!

As is the new tradition, I’m sure Courtney Solomon will present a Director’s Cut! Special Edition! or some such. If it’s filled with more of Betsy thrashing around and clawing the floor instead of character development or an alternate ending, I don’t know if I’d buy it.

An American Haunting is a misguided attempt at a classic historical haunting on film. Genre fans who can’t get enough will dig the old school suspense feel, but penny pinchers should wait for a DVD sale or television premiere. I’ve seen better than An American Haunting. If you’re itching for something spooky to do, read a gothic novel instead.