Monday, 26 November 2012

Black Xmas

"Black Xmas" (2006, Glen Morgan, 2929 Productions, Dimension Films) is a brutal little Christmas slasher film set in a Sorority House. It's based on the 1974 Film "Black Christmas" which I've also got in this year's Christmas viewing pile and will get to soon. Honest!

Coming from the makers of "Final Destination" I was expecting a lot of gore and little plot. That's pretty much what we got, so I'm cool with that.

Basically, if you took "Halloween" and crossed it with "House on Sorority Row", lowered the budget and set it at Christmas, you'd pretty much have this film...

A bunch of pretty but not particularly relatable sorority sisters sit down for a nice bitchy Christmas night in with their sorority mother, when they suddenly find themselves being stalked and slaughtered one by one!

With a pretty standard plot (with some outlandish additions!) and generic characters, this film is hardly a ground breaking piece of cinema.... But it's a holiday slasher! What more do you want? It's gory and daft, and contains more red herrings than an Agatha Christie book!

If, like me, you are freaked out with eye-centred-gore, you may not enjoy this film, though. It's not afraid to overstep the 'eek' factor when it comes to the ol' eyeballs....

I saw that Michelle Trachtenberg was in this film and I like her.  I can't say it's a shining point in her career, but it's hardly terrible. Just your generic, blood soaked Christmas horror. If you are upset about them rehashing an older film and changing the plot, I can only offer this advice: go watch the original! Which is precisely what I plan to do later this week ;)

Nicely gory effects and a lot of on screen kills, this film is not very imaginative, but bloody and graphic with some seriously dubious policing and a lot of female cannon fodder for the killer. Oh, and cheesy Christmas ringtones!

 [Image: Dimension Films & 2929 Productions]


Sunday, 25 November 2012

Bride of The Monster

"Bride of The Monster" (1955, Ed Wood, Rolling M. Productions) is a typical Ed Wood sci-fi horror starring the late Bela Lugosi in his role as mad scientist, Dr. Eric Vornoff.

Vornoff is working on some dubious science with his large, mute assistant, Lobo (Tor Johnson). He intends to use his newly harnessed power to create a race of super-humans (of course!). He has already practised this theory on other creatures including the 'monster'; a giant octopus who Vornoff uses to guard his swamp by allowing it to eat passers by.

It isn't until a determined young reporter, Janet (Loretta Kind Hadler), gets herself caught by Vornoff during her snooping into the disappearances, that things become more interesting for the mad doctor as her fiancé and the local police get involved.

The good doctor's plan, naturally, is therefore to make Janet a superhuman so he can marry her!

A low budget effort (but virtually high budget for Wood's typical films) which struggled, as many Ed Wood ventures did, for funding. Wood is highly acclaimed for his terrible movies, and this film does not disappoint.

The octopus prop was from another film and was either rented or 'borrowed' for this feature. They couldn't get it working, so had to manually flail the limbs themselves when the creature was meant to be attacking them. This gives an awkward and slightly amusing effect as you see the poor actors trying in vain to look convincing! Although, its hilarity wears off quickly as each 'kill' scene goes on far too long.

The use of stock film for the creature and other scenes is laughingly added in an almost patchwork way, too. This is just amateurish and distracting, but I've come to expect this from Wood films, so...

A stereotypical story, with some unimaginative lines, this film is a black and white horror B-movie that is not scary or very engaging (unless, like me, you enjoy terrible movies!).

This was Lugosi's last speaking part and you feel he's just going through the motions with it, which he no doubt was, considering his advancing age and reducing health by this time.

One of Wood's better efforts, but that's hardly saying much! It's campy, schlocky and wooden. But sometimes that's precisely what you're looking for!

[Image: Rolling M. Productions]
That guy's totally being attacked by that terribly convincing rubber octopus! Yep...


Monday, 19 November 2012

Pet Sematary

"Pet Sematary" (1989, Mary Lambert, Paramount Pictures) is an excellent film based on the novel by Stephen King, about a cemetery which can bring the dead back to 'life'.

I saw this movie when I was 16 and I cried my eyes out at it! Seriously! And then I read the book this year (after finally getting over my fear of reading it) and guess what? Yep, I cried my eyes out all over again! On the bus to work at 6am, no less. Every day for a week! You can imagine what my colleagues were thinking!

Anyway, I can now watch the film without the aid of tissues. See, the story is so sad! And after reading King's explanation of his inspiration for the plot, I can see why it must have been a traumatic book for him to write! (Basically, he moved into the house pretty much described in the novel and almost lived the events of it! And being Stephen King, he drew on the aspect of the creepy little pet cemetery which was nearby).

A truly chilling tale, even for childless and free-living me, this film (and the novel, too), not only plays on the gory deaths, ghosts, 'zombies' and creepy woods, but also on the basic human instinct to protect the things and the ones we love. Can anyone really blame Louis for his actions?

Well, to cut a long story short, Louis Creed (Dale Midkiff) finds his idyllic life in the Maine countryside with his wife Rachel (Denise Crosby), daughter Ellie (Blaze Berdhall) and baby son Gage (Miko Hughes),  is turned upside down by a tragic accident. Accidentally given way too much inspiration by friendly and lonely old neighbour, Jud Crandall (Fred Gwynne - yes, Mr. Munster himself!), Louis sees there is only one solution to his terrible predicament! Of course, it will totally work out fine and no one will get hurt at all! Yup....

This film isn't long at only 98mins, and keeps your attention very well. Just like in the book, you begin to like some of the characters, and you enjoy the little happy family scenes. It lulls you in to a sense of happiness before it brings in the horror, and that's what makes the plot work. You experience the shock and the slow build up of dread with the characters almost in a 'real time' way.

Of course, there's some jolts to keep you interested along the way. Some brutal deaths, gory ghosts, scary babies and a pretty unfriendly cat to mention a few. This film had me upset as a teen, and I appreciate it for that. While it's not jump-out-of-your-seat scary, it's creepy and has some excellent gore scenes that still give me the shudders now!

Definitely one of the best King adaptations, he wrote the screenplay, and it shows! It follows the book's plot faithfully. The only thing I think I missed in comparison to the book is some of the character development. Louis isn't as rounded a character, and you don't get the lovely bonding scenes between the old man and young man. But I've never found a film that could convey as much as a good story can, and I think this film is fantastic! It's most certainly worth your time!

[Image: Paramount Pictures]

"Sometimes, dead is better!"


Saturday, 17 November 2012

Brain Dead

"Brain Dead" (1990, Adam Simon, Concorde, Charles Beaumont) is not to be confused with "Braindead", the zombie film from 1992 by Peter Jackson! This "Brain Dead" is more of a psychological brain trip.

A strange film, it stars Bill Pullman as Dr. Rex Martin, a neurosurgeon with a passion for brains and personalities, but not really for people themselves. He's studying causes of mental illness through brain analysis. It involves a lot of brains in jars and strange electric probes.

His good friend Jim Reston (Bill Paxton), a businessman for a large corporation called Eunice, manages to talk him into operating on a genius, John Halsey (Bud Cort), who has lost his mind and now resides in a mental asylum after murdering his family. Eunice want to retrieve some information from Halsey, or failing that, reduce Halsey to a state where he is unable to accidentally let this information slip; i.e. they want him brain dead.

It isn't until Martin begins to delve into the mind of Halsey that he begins to question his own mental state, which could result in dire consequences! From there on in the film goes from a 'mad scientist plot' to more of a 'descending into madness' plot, as we follow Martin on his trip from surety of reality, to questioning his very existence!

This film is very odd and dreamlike, keeping you kind of in a guessing state as you try to decipher what the hell is going on, but it has a fair amount of gruesome qualities and some seriously questionable medical practices! These include some open head surgery, brains in jars, murder, lobotomies, brutality in mental asylums, vintage insanity treatments and paraphernalia... There is enough to this film to keep it going as a 'horror' as well as a psychological thriller. Although the plot wanders a bit and it falls into the constantly waking from a dream trap which often plagues outlandish horror plots.

It comes from the mind of the writer from "The Twilight Zone", and this shows. But he'd been deceased for a while by the time this film was made, so you can't be sure how true to his script the finished product really was! Dated (it feels very 80s) and relatively low budget, this odd film really entertained me, however.

Pullman, Paxton and Cort really give a great performance as eccentric and slightly morally corrupt 'good' guy, cold hearted corporate puppet and completely screwy genius. Cort also appears sometimes as a sane man, giving his insane performance something to compare against. Which I enjoyed. The two Bills are excellent in their respective roles and really make this film watchable.

The effects and props are quite low budget but effective and some of the 'surgery' scenes made me squirm. Although strange and trippy, I would definitely watch this again. It's in the same vain as "The Man With The Screaming Brain", but with less of the purposefully outrageous plot lines (not that this film isn't in its own way, outrageous! There's just no robots or rapping Russians.).

Worth a try, but prepare to be confused and find yourself second guessing your own thoughts on the story!


Thursday, 15 November 2012

The House by The Cemetery

"The House by The Cemetery" (1981, Lucio Fulci, Fulvia Film, Arrowdrome) is an infamous Italian Splatter film from the cult hero of late 70s - 80s low budget Italian gore, Fulci - a relatively under appreciated director, who also brought us "The Beyond" and "City of The Living Dead". Although Fulci's certainly no Romero, this flick is a favourite of mine because it's not your average haunted house story or your average zombie film! Also it was banned here in Britain for quite a long time and this is the first time I've managed to catch the full unedited version!

Not a complicated plot, (Fulci's films rarely were) and with very little twists, turns or much in the way of story telling, this film isn't about the story, it's about the ride through slow motion gore soaked scenes and tense, if badly dubbed, creepy children scenes.

When a colleague of Dr. Norman Boyle (Paolo Malco) named Dr. Peterson is found dead in his large, old house in Boston in a cemetery, Boyle is asked to reside there for a short while to continue the man's research. He relocates from New York to the country house with his wife, Lucy (cult Italian gore actress, Catriona MacColl) and their young, floppy haired son, Bob (Giovanni Frezzi) - Yes, Bob.

Before setting off, Bob is anxious, and believes that a little girl in a photograph is warning him to stay away.

But this is a horror film, so Bob's fears are dismissed instantly and the family move in. It isn't long, though, before they begin to regret their decision and Bob makes a new friend, Mae (Silvia Collatina).

I really enjoy this film. It's creepy in places, and although badly dubbed, and generally not the most exciting characters, the children in this film are damn creepy. There are hefty amounts of gore done with good old fashioned special effects, make up and props! Excellent!

Fulci loved his slow motion gore. It's like he wanted to make the audience slowly suffer through the death of the character as much as the character does! That, or he just really loved blood splatters in slow motion! There are quite a lot of violent deaths in this film, but nothing that would have you screaming nowadays, but there are unsettling and inventive scenes, certainly.

They also reveal the 'creature'. While this can often be a mistake in film, this film carries it off spectacularly, creating a grotesque and nightmarish villain of the piece which is reminiscent of something from Greek myth or "Silent Hill". They also don't reveal too much too early, however, and while the plot is not exactly complex or even very clever, the slow, nail biting chase scenes are effective because you don't quite know what's going on.

A real cult favourite with famous fans including Wednesday 13, this film is an excellent example of early 80s low budget Italian Splatters. Filmed entirely in English primarily by non-native speakers, it has an oddly dreamlike hue to it, a quality which I think masks the lack of epic storytelling very well, and creates a good playing field for the gore.

Another level of creep is added by an odd sub-story running in the background with a childish friendship, and the history of the house. Although not fully explored, and kind of clumsily done, some of these scenes are the most interesting non-gory scenes in the film.

Fulci has been condemned in the past for being misogynistic, and while his female characters are generally nothing but screaming gore fodder, he's not exaclty alone in the genre in this, and I don't tend to dwell much on it. Many horror ladies spend most of their scream...sorry, screen time panicking and getting hacked up :P

A good, gory 'what lurks in the basement?' kind of film that will keep you occupied, if not heavily taxed in the brain department!

[Image: Fulvia Film]


Tuesday, 6 November 2012


"Thinner" (1996, Tom Holland, Spelling Films International, Paramount Pictures, Lions Gate Entertainment) is an adaptation of the Stephen King book of the same name. It's a story with a not so hidden message: Be a nice person and don't piss off any gypsies!... Or else!

This film has suffered from a lot of criticism, but I watched it with an open mind and can't really understand the harshness of some people's views. Yes, it's a simple plot, and yes it features primarily unlikable characters, but is that really so worthy of a damning review? I think not. For a start, I rarely like a lot of characters in horror films... Like most people I always wind up rooting for the bad guy! However, in a film such as this there is no particular bad guy or good guy. Just people being all grey and in-betweenish. Some are dicks and some are cruel, and some don't deserve their fate and that's that. Maybe that's why some people don't like this film?

Billy Halleck (Robert John Burke) is a morbidly obese lawyer. His wife, Heidi (Lucinda Jenney), is trying to get him to lose weight, but he's just not very motivated: he likes his food, he likes his booze and he's got money, why bother losing weight?

Their daughter, Linda (Bethany Joy Lenz), is his pride and joy, and out of all the characters, he relates most casually to her. His wife is a bit of a moan, so I can't blame him for that! ;)

Billy has just won a case for a known criminal and gangster, Richie "The Hammer" Ginelli (Joe Mantegna - yes, the voice of Fat Tony from 'The Simpsons'!) - so you know he's due some bad karma!

Aside from being fat, lazy and with a dubious set of morals when it comes to his profession (but then again, he's a lawyer!), I didn't see him as too bad a guy, really. His mates on the other hand...

There is a gypsy carnival in town, which is causing a stir, particularly amongst the local Judge, Cary (John Horton) and Police Chief (Daniel von Bargen), who are prejudiced against the gypsies and sexist to the young gypsy girl, Gina (Kari Wührer).

When driving home one night, and while otherwise occupied... Billy accidentally runs over an elderly gypsy woman, killing her! He finds a way to get around that whole problematic law thing about cars and killing folk, however, which results in him being faced with the wrath of the Gypsy leader, Tadzu Lempke (Michael Constantine), who curses him.

Naturally, the curse begins quite positively, as Billy is still eating like a horse, but is losing weight. It isn't until he realises that the weight loss won't stop that he becomes worried!

I found this film entertaining, and although the 'twist' was quite obvious, this is more from having read a lot of Stephen King stories, rather than it being uninspired. The characters are unlikable because this is their purpose to the message. I was confused, though, as to whether there was a secondary hidden message about being content and a nicer person and being thin, hungry and devious.... But maybe I'm over thinking it.

The effects are good, and quite gruesome, but not in a particularly gory way (most of the time). In particular, the thin Billy stuff is quite shocking. It's all a bit schlocky, which I like, and for some reason I felt this film was from earlier than '96!

Not many Stephen King adaptations are done successfully, but I like this one. It's got a good simple plot, some angry gypsies, curses, revenge, brutal off-screen deaths, back-firing revenge attempts, gangsters, fat suits, car chases, skeletal people... What more do you want?

Give it a chance, even if you haven't read the book!

[Image: Spelling Films International, Paramount Pictures & Lions Gate Entertainment]

Sunday, 4 November 2012

The Ring (2002)

"The Ring" (2002, Gore Verbinski, Dreamworks Pictures) is the American remake of the 1998 Japanese film. Although I prefer the Japanese version and find it to have superior scares, this film is spooky and I highly recommend seeing it! I'm also thinking of trying to pick up an English translation of the book!

The basis of the plot: There is an urban legend of a VHS video tape which, if you see it, will kill you 7 days from first viewing. Some teenagers accidentally view it while in a cabin for the weekend, and soon all die off. Worried aunt, Rachel (Naomi Watts), of one of the deceased begins to investigate this phenomenon upon hearing of the legend and seeing the peculiarly timely deaths. She is also worried for her son, Aidan (David Dorfman), who was very close to his cousin.

In true horror movie form, and fairly reminiscent of "Candyman", Rachel watches the strange tape and then proceeds to show her ex-husband, Noah (Martin Henderson), and so on. Soon it's a race against time to try to solve the tape's origins and stop her impending death, while also experiencing the week-long haunting which comes with the sentence.

I enjoyed Naomi Watts' performance as the determined protagonist, as she slowly unravels the history of the tape and attempts to find a solution in order to help herself and others. She manages be both intense and strong without going into that annoying 'female lead' mode which involves a lot of screaming and hysterics.

Unlike Raimi, when he remade "The Grudge" some years later, Verbinski opted to take the story entirely out of Japan. I think both styles of remake have worked very well, and take nothing away from the story. But I do find "The Grudge" to be generally more scary, mainly because the ghost moves in a much more eerie manner than in this film, taking more styling from the Japanese originals.

The special effects are enjoyable, the tense scenes built up excellently and the enveloping story is good. There is a particular scene that I just can't watch again (I am a horse lover...)!

As I mentioned, I think the only reason this film just isn't as scary as the Japanese version is just the stylistic movements of the ghost girl, (Daveigh Chase), but the plot, acting and haunting scenes are good. And there are definitely scares to be had here, too! I especially enjoy the child actors in this film, who give a very convincing and unsettling performance.

[Image : Dreamworks Pictures]