Horror Reviews

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.