Monday, October 29, 2012

The Thing From Another World (1951) Review

The Thing From Another World poster
Director: Christian Nyby, Howard Hawks
Stars: Margaret Sheridan, Kenneth Tobey
Genre: Science Fiction, Horror

Released the same year as The Day the Earth Stood Still and When Worlds Collide, this film still manages to hold its own as some genuinely great '50s science fiction.

It was famously remade in 1982 by John Carpenter as The Thing. Oddly enough the remake actually stays truer to the novella they're both based on, Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell.

A group of scientists and the U.S. Air Force discover a giant UFO buried under some ice in Alaska. The try to melt it out but they end up blowing up the entire thing and turning it into dust! Wow, quite a way to avoid building an actually flying saucer for the film. However, the do find a creature frozen in the ice and they chip out a block of ice with the creature inside and drag it off back to their base.

There's a varying degree of characters in the film; you have the soldiers, the scientists, etc. And they are all in constant debate as to what should be done with the frozen creature. Scientists say they should examine and study it immediately, soldiers say they need to wait for orders. It kind of reminds me of how in Romero's Day of the Dead everyone was always in disagreement. Anyway, while all are busy arguing, the creature unfreezes! Then proceeds in hunting down and killing everyone.

The story is pretty slow-paced, taking its time to talk science and stuff, which is cool. I'm no scientist but all the science in here sounds believable enough, it never feel too ridiculous. The alien itself, though it looks very strangely humanoid, behaves in a manner that an alien species may very well behave with us: it kills us for food because, well, because it doesn't see us as intelligent life. "An intellectual carrot. The mind boggles."

The dialogue is pretty good, it gives a hectic and paranoid atmosphere. Though since all the characters are pretty much always talking over each other, there's really not much room for character development. Though the film tries with a kind of romance going on between two characters, but it pretty much fails, and they even tie the romance into the ending which is kind of a bummer. But the romance is pretty well done so I can't really complain.

Science vs. Military in The Thing From Another World

There's a lot of debate on who actually directed this. The film credits say it was directed by Christian Nyby and produced by Howard Hawks. But many people, including some of the cast, say it was Howard Hawks who actually did most, if not all, of the directing. The film certainly does have Hawks' excellent pacing. It's something that still to this day is a bit of a mystery.

[Spoilers in following paragraph:] The film's pacing and build-up are great. It takes a while before we actually get to see the alien. What the film did was have characters constantly opening and closing doors. Seriously, this film may have the record for door openings and closings. So it gets the viewer accustomed to opening doors, and it creates a sense of normalcy. But where does the monster first pop up? That's right, they open a door and bam, there's the monster. Quite effective, I must say.

The alien from The Thing From Another World

The monster itself is kind of cool. It's a very simple design and quite honestly isn't very alien, in the true sense of the word. He's also slow as hell and not very intimidating besides the fact that he's nearly invincible. I think a cooler monster design would have benefited the film greatly. After all, this is essentially just a monster movie.

All the acting is good. Margaret Sheridan is stunningly beautiful.

The alien set on fire in The Thing From Another World

The film has a cool atmosphere too. That snowy terror feeling that H.P. Lovecraft invented with At the Mountains of Madness, which this films seems to draw a bit of inspiration from.

I also feel like the warning right at the end greatly contributed to the UFO craze of the time. "Watch the skies, everywhere! Keep looking. Keep watching the skies!"

Scientists in Alaska discover a UFO in The Thing From Another World

Overall it's some great '50s sci-fi and very enjoyable. Perhaps not as good as John Carpenter's remake, but still fun. 

3.5/5 stars

Purchase The Thing From Another World on Amazon: DVD - Stream (Free) - VHS

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Atomic Cafe (1982) Review

The Atomic Cafe poster
Director: Jayne Loader, Kevin Rafferty, Pierce Rafferty
Genre: Documentary

This is very possibly the scariest film I have ever seen.

A compilation of propaganda shorts and instructionals from the "Atomic Age" during the Cold War in the '40s, '50s, and '60s. No commentary or celebrity input is needed for this documentary, the footage truly speaks for itself. 

The beginning of the film in particular is extremely chilling with footage of nuclear bomb victims, both alive and dead. Many people, when thinking of deaths due to bombings, never really understand just how haunting it truly is, no matter how many death counts you give them. But seeing the actual bodies or the forever scarred survivors, it helps put it into perspective just how chilling and disgusting it is. Of course no one can ever truly understand the pain as someone who experienced it, but it does provide some amount of insight.

The Atomic Cafe captures the Cold War paranoia of the time that many Americans were experiencing, if not all. Not only that but it also displays the enormous amount of propaganda from the U.S. government and the vast amount of blind patriotism that followed. It's quite disgusting, for me at least, to see the pure manipulation and murder that occurred and, sadly, still occurs. 

Not only are there the typical clips you'd expect to see from a film like this, e.g., political speeches, propaganda shorts; there's also clips that bring us directly into the lives of Americans at the time, right into their homes. One example would be a simple, very short clip of a woman standing in an air force base staring at the camera and subtly dancing. Or just seeing young kids dressed in gas masks and radiation suits. It adds a suiting, creepy factor. 

The film is accompanied by some great atomic tunes of the time that help set the feel. In each tune we either hear paranoia, or blind patriotism, or communist hate. If there's ever been a soundtrack that fit a film perfectly, it's this one.

Though it may seem a bit cruel to say, this film actually has a fair amount of black comedy present. Aside from the terrifying parts of course. Old-timey cheese is automatically laughable, but there are also some dark humor moments. A line from an Army information film from the Cold War: "When not close enough to be killed, the atomic bomb is one of the most beautiful sights in the world." Sad, horrifying, and funny all at the same time (depending on your sense of humor of course). After all, The Village Voice does deem it as "a comic horror film" as seen on the poster. 

A boy wearing a gas mask during the Cold War in The Atomic Cafe

To me, this is a film that should be required viewing for just about everyone. Scary, insightful, thought provoking, funny. 

Some other documentaries dealing with atomic weapons that I have seen and can recommend are The War Game and Radio Bikini.

4.5/5 stars

Purchase The Atomic Cafe on Amazon: DVD - Stream - Or check out the DVD Collector's Edition

Saturday, October 27, 2012

American Mary (2012) Review

American Mary poster
Director: The Soska Sisters
Stars: Katharine Isabelle, Antonio Cupo, Tristan Risk
Genre: Horror, Black Comedy

The Soska Sister's second film and a major improvement over their previous work, Dead Hooker in a Trunk.

I've had interest in the film for a long time, but I ended up kind of forgetting about it for a while. I'm pretty sure there was an article on this film in Fangoria Magazine like a year ago. That's what introduced me to The Soska Sisters.

The film follows Mary, a surgical student who is also struggling financially. In her search for some extra cash she ends up at a strip club, but as one thing leads to another it's not what you might guess one would do at a strip club, instead she becomes a black market surgeon. Stitching people up who need sticking, modifying bodies that need modifying. There's a sort of rape and revenge sub-plot going on too that does tie into the main plot though.

The plot is pretty wonderful, kind of a crazy mash-up of films like I Spit on Your Grave, Eyes Without a Face, Re-Animator, The Awful Dr. Orloff. Has a bit of a Cronenberg feel to it too, only slightly though.

It's definitely an interesting plot that deals with many things of the time, i.e., extreme body modification, financial problems, the strive for "beauty". We also get a strong female lead, who is intelligent, sexy, strong, independent, and fucking crazy.

The script is actually very well written and all the dialogue is quality stuff. This is greatly thanks to the wonderful acting that was able to bring the script to life. Katharine Isabelle, who you may recognize from Ginger Snaps, plays Mary. She does an amazing job and really impressed me just how great of a job she does. She kind of reminded me of Zooey Deschanel, not only in appearance but in acting and speech. I'm fond of Deschanel but I dare say I think I like Katharine Isabelle even more.

Not only does the lead role do an amazing job but so does just about everyone else. And they all play a very odd variety of characters that almost feel like they were imagined by a macabre Charles Dickens; you have Tristan Risk playing a girl who altered her appearance to reflect a very bizarre looking Betty Boop; Paula Lindberg play Ruby Realgirl, and tries to make herself a real life Barbie doll, lack of nipples and vagina included (statement as to how far people will go to mimic what the media portrays to be beauty?); The Soska Sisters themselves that cameo as...well, as twisted twins.

Katharine Isabelle and The Soska Sisters in American Mary

There is a dark sense of humor to the film and can actually be quite funny at times, in a very subtle way but an obviously intentional one. This is greatly due to the lead character and her reactions to her situations.

Soundtrack is awesome, it goes for that light-hearted music during a dark scene thing, but it actually works really well here, though I'm not sure I can explain why.

Katharine Isabelle in American Mary

The horror here is definitely body horror, there's no jump scares or anything like that. It's not too scary, I mean obviously it's meant to be unsettling in its nature. The effects at times are really awesome, I'm talking top quality stuff here. Unfortunately there are a lot of cutaways and implied gore, which I wouldn't usually mind too much but being that this is a film that is about a surgeon it's a bit disappointing. There's also some stupid dream sequences but luckily they're not too prominent.

What effects were present were great though, and they should satisfy most. The only people I could see being actually unsettled are those who are not accustomed to the genre; but to veterans there's not much new here effects wise.

Tristan Risk in American Mary

For an independent feature the production quality is fantastic. Has a very big budget look, while maintaining that indie charm.

[Spoilers in following paragraph:] Well, let's get to the ending. I was disappointed by it. I keep feeling like I missed something, but it seems that Mary just dies and that's it. I though Bloody Mary was a very memorable character and one of the best Horror characters we've had in a long time, and one of the best women of Horror ever. I thought this character could have gone a lot further than just this film. Besides that though, the ending isn't really satisfying. It's ending and nothing more. []

Katharine Isabelle in American Mary

American Mary is stylish, well-written, bloody, and hosted by a cast of characters that feel like they were imagined by a macabre Charles Dickens. There's not much bad about it, and though I wouldn't call it perfect or amazingly original, it's still very much worth watching and one of the best horror films I've watched this year, if not the best. The Soska Sisters are definitely talented and have my ticket purchase for any future films of their's. 

4/5 stars

Friday, October 26, 2012

Dead Hooker in a Trunk (2009) Review

Dead Hooker in a Trunk poster
Director: Jen & Sylvia Soska
Stars: Soska Sisters
Genre: Thriller, Comedy, Horror

The directorial debut from the Soska Sisters, and one with an extremely intriguing title at that. For those who don't know me, I'm the type of guy that watches films with titles like "Dead Hooker in a Trunk".

The plot follows fours friends, all nameless and all seemingly intentionally stereotypes (after all they are creditted as Badass, Geek, Druggie, and Goody Two Shoes), who suddenly discover that there is, in fact, a dead hooker in their trunk. Then, as you might expect based off their stereotypes, there is a fair amount of conflict as to how they should actually handle the situation. Shit gets crazy and there's a lot of weird stuff that happens.

Quite honestly the plot isn't anything special. It's muddled, silly, and, due to the writing, lacks a complete lack of logic. The characters are pretty poorly acted for the most part, expected from most films of this nature. The characters' continuity is also awful. One minute you have a girl calling the cops and the next she's dragging a dead body around.

There's also this weird back-story going on that's never fully developed, with the twins when they were young and killed there father. I just felt that that was a bit unnecessary.

I will say this: the second half of the film I found to be greatly better than the first. The second half just seems to do everything better.

I hated the soundtrack in the first half. It was this generic emo/metalcore stuff, which I'm sure must have been local bands. I'm all for local bands in films, I think it adds a layer of personality to a film, but here it's just bad. The second half of the film, however, actually has a soundtrack I quite enjoyed. 

Could be wrong here, but it seemed like very soothing music would play when a 'good' character is talking and much more loud, raw music would play when a 'bad' character was talking.

The dead hooker in the trunk in Dead Hooker in a Trunk

There were actually some cool scenes. I thoroughly enjoyed the scene with the power tool, or the scene where they show how the hooker died. And, of course, that awesome drop-kick part. Give me a movie with a drop-kick in it and I'll watch it. These scenes, the former two in particular, lead me to believe that the Soska Sisters do have potential.

Oh, and the religious character actually was kind of funny in the second half. He definitely went a bit crazy. Overall though it's not a very funny film; didn't get many laughs out of me.

Cinematography in here... amateur. I'm usually not a fan of films shot in digital. It can work fantastically sometimes (see Inland Empire, Lars Von Trier, Harmony Korine) but sometimes it can be really awful (see just about any found footage horror film). This film is somewhere in between the two extremes. It's not terrible. The camerawork is a bit annoying, with tons of close-ups that can get a bit headache-y.

There's a lot of shaking in the camerawork, with a kind of Dogma '95 feel. Doesn't really work here though. Dogma '95 is meant to have a film appear as close to reality as possible, but this film is just so over-the-top that I would have rather just seen some generally good cinematography. I'm sure a lot of this was due to budget limitations though, so I'll give them some slack.

A very awesome torture scene in Dead Hooker in a Trunk

There's somewhat of a religious overtone going on here. I'm not religious in any sense of the word so I kind of just zoned out on the symbolism and stuff. But that's a good thing. That's how you properly add religious themes to a film. It's there for those who want to look for it, but it's far from necessary for those who'd rather do without it. Isn't it nice when a film doesn't blatantly shove their morals down your throat? So, kudos in that regard.

The fight scenes were very realistic. As far as I could tell they were actually punching dudes in the head and stuff. Cool. There's enough blood and gore to satisfy and gorehounds, and it's pretty well done too. At times it can seem a bit silly though. For a very low budget film I must compliment their use of effects. 

The film is cheesy, but not necessarily in a good way. It's not funny cheesy or campy cheesy it's kind of just bad cheesy. It's a bit over the top but most of it is stuff we've seen before. Acting has a bit of a mumblecore feel, or I guess mumblegore in this case. I didn't find the acting to be anything special.

The Soska Sister, or the Twisted Sisters, in Dead Hooker in a Trunk

The Soska Sisters do have my interest though. And I may not have been too fond of their debut, but I'm looking forward to their future work. I can sense a very interesting style underneath it all and I'm anxious to see if it blossoms. Their second film, American Mary (2012), seems to be much more appealing and I will actually be going to see it tonight (as of this writing) and I'll have a review of it soon.

So, it's hard to recommend Dead Hooker in a Trunk. It's not great writing or plot and the first half is pretty awful. Things do pick up in the latter half of the film and manages to have its own charm. It wouldn't hurt to give it a watch, you'll definitely find some enjoyment in it. 

2/5 stars
+Second half of the film is highly watchable
+Some very, very awesome scenes
+Pretty good effects and gore
-Mediocre acting
-Amateur, and at times annoying, cinematography
-Meh plot & writing

Purchase Dead Hooker in a Trunk on Amazon: DVD - Stream

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Hands of Orlac (1924) Review

The Hands of Orlac poster
Director: Robert Wiene
Stars: Conrad Veidt
Genre: German Expressionism, Horror, Mystery

Directed by Robert Wiene, who also directed the much more popular Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. He does a great job with this film too, which has inspired many remakes and films since.

The story follows a pianist, Orlac, who is in a bad train wreck and has his hands badly injured, permanently preventing him from ever playing again. This is something Orlac cannot live with so the doctor preforms a hand transplant surgery. But, Orlac gets the hands of a recently executed murderer. Orlac then believes that these hands are cursed and that they are driving him to do terrible things.

It's a story that we've seen repeated many times since, not only in remakes (Mad Love, and the 1960 film of the same name) but has also inspired many films such as Hands of a Stranger, The Beast with Five Fingers, or The Hand. But this film itself was actually based on a novel by Maurice Renard.

The story is a bit slow paced and melodramatic, but there are plenty of plot twists added (as Wiene seems to love) to keep it interesting. A lot of the shots are very lengthy and could have probably been significantly shortened, but it's not too bad. The film takes its time, which is good if you have patience and a solid attention span.

The sets here aren't as artful and extravagant as the twisted and surreal sets of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, but they are still very impressive in their own way. The exteriors and interiors of every building give off a very Gothic feel, especially the home of Orlac's father. The scene with the wrecked train was very convincing as well.

The cinematography is excellent. There are a lot of shots here that are ahead of its time. From intentional unfocused shots, to a scene that was shot through flowers. Every scene is well put together. My favorite bit was when Orlac dreamed he was being punched by a giant hand. It's a very visually pleasing film, as all Expressionist films should be. I think the film's stills speak for themselves.

The giant hand punching a dreaming Orlac in The Hands of Orlac

The film undoubtedly has a very great atmosphere.  

The music compliments the film perfectly, rather than just being added on for the hell of it. At times it can build some very good tension and suspense.

Orlac gazes upon his monstrous hands

The acting here, though over the top as all silent films are, is very good. There is a lot of emotion portrayed on screen and can sometimes even be frightening. Veidt does a fabulous job. Orlac, though it's hard to call him the antagonist, is very scary, especially his hands, which makes sense due to the film's name. His hands are long and slender and are constantly bulging with veins. Orlac was played by Conrad Veidt, who also played Cesare in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

The ending was a bit unsatisfying. It was cheap and overly convenient...unrealistic even. It did good in one regard though: in showing us the psychological power that can change a man's reality.

Great set design and atmosphere in The Hands of Orlac

I can definitely recommend this film to just about anyone.

4/5 stars
+Great cinematography
+Great sets and atmosphere
+Complimentary music
+Emotional and engaging acting
-Very slow
-Unsatisfying ending

Purchase The Hands of Orlac on Amazon: DVD - Stream

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Phantom of the Opera (1925) Review

The Phantom of the Opera posterDirector: Rupert Julian
Stars: Lon Chaney, Mary Philbin, Norman Kerry
Genre: Horror

Universal's second Monster movie, after The Huncback of Notre Dame in 1923. Though The Phantom of the Opera borrows many elements used in Hunchback, I still feel Phantom is a much superior film in comparison.

A fairly truthful adaptation of Gaston Leroux's novel of the same name; it tells the story of a Phantom who lives in the dungeons of an opera house and haunts many who enter. He uses manipulative means to make a star of actress Christine, the woman he loves. Unfortunate for him, the love is not mutual, but the Phantom will not except no as an answer and will go to extremes to obtain, through force, her love and acceptance.

The sets here are beautiful. Perhaps not as epic as those seen in The Hunchback Notre Dame, but the sets here opt for a very creepy, Gothic feel. The opera house is magnificent, the dungeons are eerily Gothic, everything just looks real great.

There is some real great use of shadows in here, and frequent too. I would assume they were inspired by many German Expressionist films of the time, probably most heavily by Nosferatu's shadow usage.

The Phantom is creepy as hell with ghastly makeup and a great acting performance by Lon Chaney, who actually did the makeup himself. That face is just...terrifying. Some of the best makeup in film even to this day. 

The film's pacing is spot on, and there is quite a lot of build up before we actually see the Phantom's face. And when we do, boy is it spectacular. First we see only his shadow, then only his masked face, and then, finally, his unmasked face. His face is revealed with a swift grab of the mask, his eyes wide and terrifying; it honestly was pretty scary. It is said that when this film was released many people actually fainted in the theatre during this scene. One of the best unmasking scenes ever. 

Lon Chaney in The Phantom of the Opera

If you manage to get the right version (not the public domain one) the soundtrack is pretty damn awesome. 

My favorite scene, not only of this film but of film in general, is the Masquerade ball scene, which was actually the only scene shot in color. It's a chilling scene. The Phantom comes out in the middle of the ball dressed in one of the best Red Death costumes ever, with a horrifying skull mask. In fact, all the red robe scenes in here I'd consider to be my favorite parts, like when he was hanging from the statue and all was in black and white save for his red robe blowing in the wind.

Red Death in the Masquerade Ball scene in The Phantom of the Opera

A very important and impressive film not only to Universal Horror, but to the Horror genre in general. My favorite out of all the Universal silent films. Must watch. 

4.5/5 stars

Purchase The Phantom of the Opera on Amazon: Blu-Ray - DVD - Stream

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Paranormal Activity (2007) Review

Paranormal Activity poster
Director: Oren Peli
Stars: Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat
Genre: Found footage Horror

Where to start with this one...well let me be frank, it's a piece of shit. No, no, I know, I've heard all the reasons given by lovers of this and you know what? It's all shit. Shit. Shit. Shit.

It's about a couple who for whatever reason live in an enormous home with three bedrooms. The woman has apparently been haunted by demons or spirits or whatever since she was 8 years old. The boyfriend has a swell idea to record their lives constantly (and yes, there's the protesting of filming during sex from the women character, just like every other found footage film).

Through the boyfriend's recordings we see weird stuff occurring while they sleep. Like doors moving slightly or, get ready for this one, doors actually slamming shut all on their own! Then there's shadows and and powdered footprints, and everything you'd expect from a ghost movie, but wait! they're demons, not ghosts, as the film explains.

The problem is none of this even feels weird. It's a bit creepy, and sure it manages to scare you, but it's incredibly easy for a film like this to scare you. That's one of my main problems with found footage films; they're not creepy or atmospheric or even unsettling, they're just filled with obnoxious, cheap scares. Anyone can get scared from a door slamming shut or loud noises. 

Characters are annoying and unbelievable as a couple. Woman complains about the camera the entire time, man is just an idiot.

I mean, what does this film have going for it? Well crafted scares? No. Good story? No. Unique cinematography? No; at least when The Blair Witch Project did it they were a bit original. There is no merit in this film. It's an hour and a half of watching a couple get spooked out by doors and chandeliers and moving bed sheets. Most of the film is spent watching them sleep, using the same angle over and over again but never to its advantage.

This film is awful in nature, but there were still a few things that could have been improved on.

This image basically sums up the entirety of Paranormal Activity

The original ending was better than the shitty ending that was used once Paramount got their hands on it, but not by much. So yeah, you get a shitty ending and the last scene, which was supposed to be the "big scare," was even less scary than the rest of the film.

You know what would have been better? If this was made into a 10 minute short film and uploaded to YouTube. Quite honestly I'd rather watch Ghost Hunters (which essentially plays out the same way) or some other shitty paranormal investigation show like that, which television seems to be plagued with.

A boring, uninspired, talentless, cliched, or whatever other negative adjective you can think of. Not recommended. The film's slogan is "Don't see it alone!" Get rid of the word 'alone' and you've got yourself an accurate slogan.

1.5/5 stars

Purchase Paranormal Activity on Amazon (for whatever reason) : Blu-Ray - DVD - Stream

Monday, October 22, 2012

Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) Review

Creature from the Black Lagoon poster
Director: Jack Arnold
Stars: Richard Carlson, Julie Adams
Genre: Horror

Creature from the Black Lagoon was my favorite film as a kid. No seriously, I was obsessed with this film. I played it over and over again, and this film is one of the main reasons I became so fascinated with horror.

Unfortunately, after a few years of not watching this, when returning to it I wasn't too impressed.

It was Universal's most popular monster movie since the '30s, but quite honestly it's nowhere near as good as the Frankenstein or Dracula films. This feels way more like a cheesy B-movie, whereas the Universal Monster films of the '30s feel like genuinely good films.

I'd say the biggest downfall of Creature from the Black Lagoon is its script. It's just so badly written, and none of the characters are at all interesting. Of course there's the brainless, noncontributing, one-dimensional female character here, who is little more than stunning beautiful. None of the other characters are interesting, believable, memorable, or even likable. Except maybe the ship captain, he was kind of cool.

I had the pleasure of seeing this in 3-D at the cinema, which was quite a treat. There are some really beautiful scenes and camera shots, especially the underwater parts and the parts in the cave. 

The monster, or creature, himself is actually really awesome, which is probably why I loved it so much as a kid. The Gill-man, as I'll refer to him, is a very memorable creature indeed, and one of my favorite Universal Monsters, if not my favorite. The Gill-man costume is actually very believable and realistic. I'm not sure if it was rubber, I'd assume it was, but it was very awesome and convincing looking.

The Gill-man himself doesn't really do anything new. Typical monster actions. The film could serve as a metaphor for rebellious teenagers, as could almost all monster films. Monsters always want to get the girl and to be left alone by everyone else, but they're always unaccepted and hated due to their ugly appearance or differences. Doesn't that sum up teenage angst perfectly? May be another reason why I was so fond of this film as a child.

The gill-man carries Julie Adams in Creature from the Black Lagoon

There's some good pacing to the creature though. We only see glimpses of him, or just his hand, at first, until his face just swims into frame. That was pretty well done. Also, at first, which was kind of weird yet cool, his eyes are completely black. It isn't until later on in the film that we are shown his actual eyes, which made him even creepier.

The plot is actually pretty cool, maybe not delivered to its full potential, but it's still cool. It's about some scientists who discover an old fossil of a weird looking hand. They journey to the black lagoon to try and find the rest of the fossil but they are then trapped and killed off by the Creature.

The gill-man's hand in Creature from the Black Lagoon

It all takes place in a lagoon, so there's no cool Gothic castles or anything, but the setting manages to be creepy in its own respect. The forests surrounding the water are constantly lively with unsettling animal screeches and howls. The underwater scenes are probably the best parts, with the Creature making his way around. I feel like Jaws owes a lot to this film.

Creature from the Black Lagoon underwater shot

So though this is a very nostalgic and dear film to me, I really can't look past the awful script though. It's not even the cheesy type of bad that you can laugh at, it's just bad. Though there are a few parts that will make you giggle unintentionally.

Great monster, decent movie. 

3/5 stars
+Great monster
+Some good pacing
+A few memorable scenes
-Bad script/writing
-Boring characters
-Feels like a bad B-movie

Purchase Creature from the Black Lagoon on Amazon: Blu-Ray - DVD - Stream

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Day of the Dead (1985) Review

Day of the Dead poster
Director: George A. Romero
Stars: Lori Cardille, Terry Alexander, Joseph Pilato, Jarlath Conroy
Genre: Horror

The final film of Romero's original Trilogy of the Dead, which is, in my opinion, the greatest horror trilogy ever.

The film follows a group of survivors living in an underground Army base. We have a lot of different survivors here; the rugged military guys, the scientists, the mad scientist, the wise black man, and some alcoholic guy. This is perhaps what makes the film so good, the character variety.

As with all the original Romero zombie films, they're films not about the zombies, but rather about the people surrounded by them. In Day of the Dead we get to see how the situation would be handled by various people. We see how it would be handled militarily, scientifically, and even religiously. The military with their guns and aggressive nature with a seeming lack of logic. The scientists with their rationality and experiments but their sometimes questionable means. Or the two religious guys, who seemed to be somewhere in the middle.

We get to see the scientific angle most prominently, which is good because it is definitely the most interesting.   The experiments and tests they do on the zombies is actually quite fascinating. They even try, and somewhat succeed, in training and domesticating a zombie. We learn a lot more about zombies here than in the first two.

The zombies are much more humanized and easier to sympathize with here also. We see them being abused and I admittedly did feel a bit of sorrow for them. We also learn that they do in fact maintain their memories from their past live, which, obviously, makes them more human. It was a nice addition.

The zombies here look better than ever and are definitely the most graphic of the trilogy. The zombies don't just have painted faces like the last two, they have torn flesh and drooping faces. It's awesome. The makeup effects and gore are excellent, even better than the first two. Much compliments to Tom Savini, returning from Dawn of the Dead. There really are some pretty gruesome parts and chilling imagery. Awesome death scenes too. 

A zombie from Day of the Dead

In my opinion this one is more similar to Night of the Living Dead than Dawn was. Just like Night we have different parties constantly fighting each other in a power struggle and ultimately killing each other. Some of the scenes even reminded me of Night, like some of the shots when the zombies were hunched over eating flesh was very reminiscent of the basement scene in Night.

There are a few cheap jump scares in here, but nothing too much, and they actually kind of work well. There are some parts where it was only a brief dream, but this is okay because it's not just there to have some cheap scare and weird scene, it's actually used as a plot device and progresses the story along.

The characters are excellent and so is the character development and psychology. Almost every character is memorable; the scum bag leader, the guy who looks like Walter from the Big Lebowski, the madly zany scientist, even the zombies are more memorable and distinguished. The woman character here is much stronger and intelligent than the women in the previous entries. Which is definitely a welcomed addition.

Dr. Logan, the mad scientist from Day of the Dead

This film is not without it's political statements, though maybe not as prominent as in the last two. Ultimately the film shows that lack of cooperation with one another will kill us faster than any apocalyptic scenario will.

The cast here is filled with unknowns (just the way I like my horror casts) and they do a pretty damned good acting job, which really do their characters justice. 

The soundtrack here is almost as awesome as it was in Dawn, if not as awesome. It compliments the film and helps build a superb atmosphere.

Some complain that the film is a bit slower paced, which I suppose is true, but it's not without good reason. The slower pace allows for great tension, character development, atmosphere building, and more, all while still managed to gave tons of killing and gore. Pretty impressive of you ask me.

Zombie arms tear through the wall in Day of the Dead

Day of the Dead is often viewed as a good film, but the weakest of the trilogy. I'd have to disagree with that and say that Day of the Dead is as good as its predecessors, if not better. Very much worth watching. 

4.5/5 stars

Purchase Day of the Dead on Amazon: Blu-Ray - DVD - VHS

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Dawn of the Dead (1978) Review

Dawn of the Dead poster
Director: George A. Romero
Stars: David Emge, Ken Foree
Genre: Horror

With George A. Romero directing, Dario Argento producing, Tom Savini doing the effects, and Goblin composing, Dawn of the Dead is a horror fan's dream come true.

Right from the start of the film we are thrown into a state of chaos, not a chaos of survival or zombie fighting, but a chaos of normal people arguing and yelling at each other and even fighting each other. Right away we see that the people are most likely to kill each other before the zombies even get a chance.

The plot follows four survivors who steal a helicopter and make their way towards a shopping mall, where they stock up and shelter themselves. They are constantly challenged and threatened by zombies, raiders, and even themselves. Can these four survive the zombie apocalypse? Well, watch the fucking movie and find out.

It's hard to make a sequel to Night of the Living Dead and have it live up to expectations, luckily Dawn of the Dead managed to do just that and then some. Night was a movie with a message, a statement, and a very powerful one at that. Dawn also has something to say. The first obvious statement is the fact that the entire film has zombies wandering around a shopping mall (of which were pretty new at the time), so there's the obvious satire of consumer culture and capitalism.

Eventually the four survivors barricade the zombies off and are pretty much entirely safe. They gather all the supplies they need and they even decorate their safe-house to make it appear as if it was a normal suburban home, with a kitchen and bedroom and whatnot, it actually looked pretty cozy. The girl was even pregnant. It was very clever the way Romero set this up. These people had access to the entire mall, virtually any material need was at their fingertips. But what happens? Once they're safe and have everything they could ever want, they become more miserable than they were before. "What have we done to ourselves?" the woman asks.

It's a very clever film, and it may seem that its message is very frank and blatant, but it is actually very well delivered and powerful nonetheless. 

Zombies roaming the mall in Dawn of the Dead

I can't really say time has done this film much justice, the zombies do sometimes look pretty funny, but Tom Savini (Friday the 13th, Creepshow, Day of the Dead) did a remarkable job with the makeup and effects, as he always does. There's plenty of gore and all of it looks very good. Savini also plays a small role as a biker, which is pretty fun to watch.

The film is actually fairly visually pleasing. Whereas Night had a very grainy, newsreel, paranoia/claustrophobic, realistic feel to it, Dawn has a very bright and colorful look, with very wide shots showing the vastness of their environment. It has a bit of that '70s feel to it, but it's just really colorful and its garishness really compliments well.

Machete through the head in Dawn of the Dead

Goblin did the wonderful soundtrack, who are most well-known for also doing the soundtracks to Dario Argento's Deep Red and Suspiria. As far as soundtracks go, this is as good as it gets. It's enjoyable to listen to, it adds tension and suspense in all the right places, it almost always reflects what is happening on screen. Just an overall superb soundtrack. 

This isn't really a scary film, some creepy parts, but there's not even any jump scares or anything, as was also the case with Night of the Living Dead. I like this. Because Romero's Living Dead films aren't about some external monster, they're about ourselves and the psychology of everyday people, and how they deal with the situation.

Many people list the acting as one of this film's flaws, which I don't completely agree with. It's nothing spectacular but I though all did a pretty good job with some pretty great acting in a few scenes.

Creepy bald zombie with glasses from Dawn of the Dead

It's always been hard for me to pick between Night and Dawn. They're both just so awesome and each have their own unique charm. It's definitely a tough choice, but both are highly enjoyable and probably the two best zombie films of all time.

A great look at apocalyptic effects on society and on individuals. A film that, like all Romero's original Living Dead films, not only did a great deal in progressing the genre, but also serves as inspiration for nearly every zombie film after it. Highly recommended. 

Recommended for: Zombie fans, horror fans, fans of any cast or crew

4.5/5 stars

Predecessor: Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Sequel: Day of the Dead (1985)
Remake: Dawn of the Dead (2004)

Purchase Dawn of the Dead on Amazon: Blu-Ray - DVD 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Looper (2012) Review

Looper poster
Director: Rian Johnson
Stars: Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Paul Dano
Genre: Science Fiction, Thriller

EDIT: I re-watched it again in theaters (I didn't pay for the ticket) and it pretty much sucked. I don't know what I was thinking when I wrote this review. All the charm wore off on a second viewing and all the incosistincies and plot-holes became so much more obvious. Very average film. You can pretty much disregard the entire following review bellow, but there's still some truth in it. Maybe just read the bold text. Updated rating: 2.5 out of 5. 

I honestly thought I would hate this film. I don't know, it just seemed like more of the same typical science fiction we've been seeing in the last ten years, and it kind of is, but it's very well done. So, I did, for the most part, like it.

The film takes place in 2044. In 2074 time travel is invented and immediately outlawed, and the only people that have access to it are big time criminals. Apparently in 2074 it is extremely hard to dispose of a body (for reasons never stated) so instead criminals in 2074 use time travel to send people to 2044 and be killed and disposed of. The people who do these killings, in 2044, are called loopers.

After thirty years every looper is killed by the criminals (again the reasoning doesn't make much sense, but apparently it's to avoid association). So, every looper much eventually "close the loop" and has to kill their future selves.

If all that is a bit confusing then go watch the trailer or something.

One of the only real problems I have with the film are its plot-holes and inconsistencies. There are aplenty and probably some I even missed. I'll only mention a few. If you haven't seen the film you might as well skip the next paragraph or two. (1) Why do loopers have to kill themselves? Can't the criminal organization just send them to a different looper to be killed? Sure, they won't get their gold payment but I'd imagine it'd avoid a lot of problems, i.e., everything that happened in the film. (2) Why does the criminal organization have to kill them after thirty years anyway? They give a reason, but couldn't a looper just snitch on them before thirty years or leave a message for the police or something? (3) Where the hell are the police? All these killing and explosions and stuff and I didn't see a single fucking cop or even hear a mention of concern about the police.

If you can look past all the plot-holes and unanswered questions though, it's a real great film. The plot though, in theory, is pretty good.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Looper

I can't say all the characters were well developed, because they weren't. But one thing that was done well was the fact that the film has no clear antagonist. I mean, you can understand where all the characters are coming from. You get that Joseph Gordon-Levitt just wants his life back to normal, and Bruce Willis wants to be back with his wife, or that mother just wants to protect her son. They're all understandable, yet they all contradict each other and they can't all get what they want.

It wasn't a story of good versus evil (although the criminal organization was evil and essentially the reason behind it all, although that one guy, Abe, was pretty likable). So sure, it does have evil and it does have good, but it's not the focus. When it comes down to it it's a man fighting himself...literally. At times I was actually rooting for Bruce Willis, and at other times for JGL. So, I just think it's really cool how the film doesn't have a clear antagonist, or at least not a stereotypical one.

There's no character that you completely hate (except for Kid Blue). Though the main character (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) was kind of an asshole. He did, after all, allow his best friend to get killed just so he could keep his silver. I mean, talk about a d-bag. I wish they kind of dealt with the morality of it more.

The characters themselves were only decent though and never really fleshed out properly. And there was a brief romance going on, but fortunately it didn't last long.

Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Looper

Also, what the hell was with all that make-up on Joseph Gordon-Levitt? While watching I wasn't even sure if it was him or not.

There's some really stereotypical action parts though. Like Bruce Willis taking out an entire building of armed assassins with two P90s. But, he's Bruce Willis so I guess it makes sense.

The world is somewhat believable. We don't get to see much of it though, only bits and pieces, but what there is is pretty good. I found it kind of a let-down that half of the film takes place on a fucking farm house. For a film about cool futuristic stuff it's kind of odd that most of it took place on a farm.

I must compliment the sound in here. They really let you hear every noise that's happening. The soundtrack was good, but the sound work really complimented the film well. From car doors opening to paper being torn. It's just real neat.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Kid Blue in Looper

The second half of the film has some weird supernatural elements going on, but I didn't really mind. In my opinion the second half was nowhere near as good as the first. Mostly because it took place completely on a fucking farm.

A lot of people disliked the ending. I actually liked it. I won't spoil anything but I thought it worked. It managed to be powerful, thought-provoking, and, for me, satisfying.

Definitely one of the better sci-fi flicks of the year, and worth the watch.

Recommended for: fans of cast or director, fans of time travel films or sci-fi in general

4/5 stars
+More than just a story of Good vs. Evil
+Keeps you compelled and interested
+Solid ending
+Great use of sound
-Undeveloped characters
-Plot-holes and unanswered questions
-Could of better utilized the futuristic setting

Purchase Looper on Amazon: Blu-Ray - DVD 
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