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Housebound – 5

November 20, 2014 Leave a comment

Director – Gerard Johnstone

Cast – Morgana O’Reilly, Rima Te Wiata, Glen-Paul Waru, Ross Harper, Cameron Rhodes, Ryan Lampp, Mick Innes, Bruce Hopkins

Release Year – 2014

Reviewed by John of the Dead

For the past few months I have been coming across nonstop praise for Housebound, a New Zealand horror/comedy, so I was admittedly pretty stoked when I finally rented the film on Amazon. It was a cold early afternoon and I figured a supernatural tale with a few good laughs would be my chicken soup for the soul, but I was wrong. Housebound is OK, but that is as good as it gets for me. Maybe I need to be from New Zealand to appreciate the film (although I did love Dead Alive), but this effort is far from the incredible horror/comedy genre fans are claiming it to be.

After her most recent run-in with the law, Kylie Bucknell is given a punishment worse than prison time – house arrest. Forced to live with her mother Miriam – a superstitious woman who claims to have had an encounter with a ghost in the home – Kylie brushes her off as a blabbermouth with nothing better to do than tell tall tales. However, when things begin to go bump in the night (AKA grab her)…she realizes her punishment just became even more severe.

By now, if you’ve been following me, you know that I love nowhere-to-run scenarios. Being forced to remain in a home against your will counts as such a scenario (for the most part), and I enjoyed that element of this story. Kylie is portrayed as the cliché pain in the ass who constantly scowls at everyone and is an utter waste of life. Of course, this is a comedy so the clichés are naturally more aggressive than if this were a serious effort. The first horror hits at the 23 minute mark, but don’t expect anything more than a cheap jump scare. We continue to see the horror show up here and there, but I was honestly disappointed at how tame and dull it was. The horror never manifested into an otherworldly presence and instead teased at a supernatural element that never surfaced. Instead, the horror derives from the actions of humans, which…in a ghost story…it just boring. At least this time it was. Also, much to my surprise, the film was not very funny either. There were a few moments where I laughed at a subtle joke, but in the end I felt the humor was always on that fine line between funny and serious, like a significant other who can’t be without you but can’t be with you either. For what it is worth, though, I did enjoy some of the colorful characters, with Miriam stealing the show. Her good-intentions are overwritten with comedic outcomes, whereas Kylie is that unlikable bitch who eventually opens up to the seriousness of her situation…while remaining an unlikable bitch.

First-time filmmaker Gerard Johnstone both writes and directs this effort, and I cannot say that his direction is much better than his writing. He sets up good atmosphere early on, but the home used is far from spooky. Typically, haunted homes will exhibit dark corners covered in shadows, creaky floors, etc., but that is not the case here. You do hear a few thuds and bumps, but they are hardly scary and sound more like me banging my head after watching a film from The Asylum. He DOES achieve good performances from some of his actors, with Rima Te Wiata making a name for herself as Miriam. Morgana O’Reilly did her job, which was obviously to be mediocre, but I can see her doing well with efforts that better suit her abilities. Earlier I mentioned that horror being tame /dull, and sadly so is the execution of the horror. There is a scene where an inanimate object exhibits some supernatural activity, and while a scene like that would normally scare me it proved to be a big disappointment. How someone can screw up such a scene is beyond me, but the execution of this scene and those related to it was downright poor. The rest of the horror is basic at best, with cheap scares and uneventful outcomes thanks to a lack of frontal cinematography. Housebound is in fact well-shot, and that may be why I managed to sit through the entire film without fidgeting, but when everything else is mediocre there is only so much good film quality can do for you.

Overall, Housebound is a letdown for me. I did not find it scary, which may be considered typical for a horror comedy, but I also did not find it funny either. Humor is subjective, but I have seen enough horror comedies to appreciate the sub-genre and know what makes it good/bad. From what I understand, most of those who loved the comedy in this effort hate horror comedies in general, so if you are that person then maybe this is for you. If not, then don’t believe the hype. If anything, watch this with an open mind and tell me if you agree or if I am just out of touch here.

Rating: 5/10

…Additional Stills…

Room 237 – 6

November 19, 2014 Leave a comment

Director – Rodney Ascher

Cast – Bill Blakemore, Geoffrey Cocks, Juli Kearns, John Fell Ryan, Jay Weidner

Release Year – 2013

Reviewed by John of the Dead

I first learned of Room 237 while checking out Top 10 lists for both 2012 and 2013. It made the 2012 lists due to its festival showings and the 2013 list for its limited theatrical release. The plot summary is as simple as it gets. This is a film focusing on different interpretations of apparent subliminal messages within Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. I am a big fan of documentaries within or associated with the horror genre, but I took my time getting to this effort because despite my positive review for it, I am not a big fan of The Shining. Expanding on my feelings towards The Shining would throw this review off topic, so if you are curious enough you can read my review for the film separately. Room 237 brings an interesting approach to the genre that I had yet to see regarding documentaries on select horror flicks, but its unconvincing material was a bit of a letdown for me.

Like I said, the approach to this documentary is pretty interesting. I have yet to see a doc looking into different theories behind what fans of the film believe to be subliminal messages. When I saw The Shining I assumed that most of the unique imagery in the Overlook Hotel had to serve a significant meaning, and in this effort you will see numerous interpretations of both large and small scenes. With the larger, more significant scenes I felt like some of the theories were believable. However, with the smaller scenes I had a hard time grasping why anyone would even spend the time/money filming the outlandish theories. There are times when the explanations come off very far-fetched, and for what it is worth, Kubrick’s longtime assistant Leon Vitali referred to the theories as “gibberish” and “without merit”.

Regardless of whether these theories will entertain you or not, the film itself is put together pretty well. It follows a simple outline and provides much more than footage from The Shining to “prove” its points. At times it does feel amateurish, like when one of the interviewees must step away from the microphone to quiet his crying child, so don’t expect an entirely serious effort. I give the filmmakers credit for piecing together a mostly-engaging experience that will surely appease those who are big fans of The Shining. Of course, I believe your enjoyment of the film will be highly influenced by how well you respond to the theories. If you buy into them you’ll think the film is genius. If you don’t, well, throw on Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy, Doc of the Dead, or Birth of the Living Dead for the win.

Overall, Room 237 is a decent effort that may quality as one of the more overrated genre films of recent day – again, depending on how much you buy into it.

Rating: 6/10

The Town That Dreaded Sundown (2014) – 7

November 17, 2014 Leave a comment

Director – Alfonso Gomez-Rejon

Cast – Addison Timlin, Veronica Cartwright, Anthony Anderson, Travis Tope, Joshua Leonard, Andy Abele, Gary Cole, Edward Herrmann, Ed Lauter, Denis O’Hare

Release Year – 2014

Reviewed by John of the Dead

I only learned of this effort a few months ago and it really took me by surprise. The 1976 film is one of the genre’s most iconic of slasher films, yet still unknown enough to be considered a “gem” in my eyes. Much like last year’s The Evil Dead, this effort was marketed as a remake / re-imaging but is actually a sequel that continues the storyline. TV director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (American Horror Story, Glee) makes his feature film debut with this effort, and he does a damn good job of delivering a solid modern-day slasher flick. With constant remakes / re-imagings / sequels of classic films you never know which ones will succeed and which ones will fail, and I am glad to say that The Town That Dreaded Sundown is a winner.

65 years have passed since a famed masked killer terrorized Texarkana in a series of crimes known as the “Moonlight Murders”, and much to the dismay of law enforcement and those citizens who remember…the murders have begun again. Is the original Phantom Killer back or is someone finishing his work? When a young high school girl survives his first attack she becomes the only solution to solving a story that has lasted the majority of a century, but not if the killer can finish what he started.

The story begins in awesome fashion, with a drive-in showing of the 1976 film leading to the first death and sighting of the killer about 6 minutes into the experience. I really enjoyed the use of the original film in this opening sequence and applaud writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa for employing this enjoyable tactic. This sequence introduces us to Jami, who survives the killer’s first attack and becomes the focus of the town’s fear and curiousity over the return of the Moonlight Murders. The kills continue, even without Jami’s involvement, giving us a different aspect than the usual slasher flick where the lead seems to always find oneself where trouble happens. If anything, though, the continuous murders remind Jami that the killer is still out there, and still hunting for her. The pacing of the kills was great, giving us constant action that leaves few stones unturned in its brutality and the killer’s copycat kills of the original Phantom. Aside from the kills and killer there is little that separates this from the typical slasher film, as it still comes with useless characters and borderline basic dialogue. This is not a bad thing though, as slasher fans have learned to appreciate such antics as part of the genre’s acquired template.

Alfonso Gomez-Rejon did a damn good job bringing this story to life, and he did so by sucking us in early with the awesome opening sequence. We see live gore and BRUTAL kills that reminded me of the tenacity seen in Tyler Mane and Rob Zombie’s portrayal of Michael Myers. What I mean by this is there are some scenes where the victim is stabbed at least a dozen times and Gomez-Rejon gives you front row seats to every blood-splattering puncture. His execution of the killer was great, from his creepy look (very much like the ’76 film) to his mannerisms during the kills, I found him a true joy to watch. Gomez-Rejon does well with his atmosphere, cinematography, and achieved mostly positive performances from the actors involved, but the true selling point of the film is the horror, namely the killer, and with that he was spot on.

Overall, The Town That Dreaded Sundown is a success. This modern day spinoff is a rarity in that it moves the franchise in a positive way, and delivers horror reminiscent of the bar set by the famed original. Give this a watch if you enjoy slasher flicks / the original film.

Rating: 7/10

Dark Mountain – 4

November 13, 2014 Leave a comment

Director – Tara Anaïse

Cast – Ron Eagle D’Andre II, Adam Haley, Sage Howard

Release Year – 2014

Reviewed by John of the Dead

Dark Mountain is so bad that I completely forgot to write about it until now, two weeks after viewing it. I was in the mood for a found-footage film and I had seen nearly every good one available, so I had to settle for this mess. As the genre becomes saturated with this filmmaking style I have seen more and more fans wishing it would die. That had not been the case for me because I enjoyed quite a few of these films, but Dark Mountain is a prime example for the “found-footage needs to die” argument.

In March of 2011 three filmmakers embarked on a mission to document their search for the Lost Dutchman mine deep in the Superstition Mountains of Arizona. They never returned, their bodies were never found, but their camera was.

This marks the debut film of director / co-writer Tara Anaise, as well as co-writer Tamara Blaich. The story begins like most other found footage films, with the crew heading to their destination and interviewing the locals about the strange disappearances of those who have gone looking for the Lost Dutchman mine and never returned. It does not take long before they themselves are within the mountain range and following in the same steps as the ill-fated souls before them. We soon learn that the phenomena behind the Superstitions Mountains has to do with alien abductions, and we see the first proof of an alien presence 29 minutes in. As the filmmakers move deeper within the mountains they come across clues that indicate the previous fools who went missing are no longer alive, a fate they will soon experience themselves.

The story has decent action, but it never manifests to anything scary and does not show much for the viewer to enjoy. With such little enjoyable horror the experience worsens with its unlikable characters who do nothing to progress the film or provide solid conflict. Instead, they bicker, fight, and are poorly executed in both writing and direction. I really wanted more from the alien presence, but we are only teased with scenes that are pretty much pointless and never manifest into a full-frontal force.

Anaise’s direction is equally as poor as her writing, starting the film on a poor note with her attempts to provide a vintage feel. The flick is shown in a washed-out sepia tone that was more annoying than it should have been. This vintage wannabe effect also applies to the musical score, which was the equivalent to a terrible try-hard folk band that recorded their EP inside a port-a-potty. With the actors delivering the majority of the horror you would hope for good performances, but you will have to look elsewhere for that. But hey, at least the film looks like an Instagram video.

Overall, Dark Mountain isn’t really a disappointment because it was never meant to be good in the first place. Stay away from this one.

Rating: 4/10

Exists – 5

November 7, 2014 1 comment

Director – Eduardo Sanchez

Cast – Samuel Davis, Dora Madison Burge, Roger Edwards, Denise Williamson, Chris Osborn, Brian Steele

Release Year – 2014

Reviewed by John of the Dead

If you know the name Eduardo Sanchez there is a good chance that is because of him being half of the creative duo behind The Blair Witch Project. Since his breakthrough he has livered Altered, Seventh Moon, and Lovely Molly, as well as the positive “A Ride in the Park” segment of V/H/S/2. I will be honest and say that I am not a fan of Sanchez’s work. The only film of his that I like is his short in VHS 2, and he was a co-director/writer for it. Normally I would skip his newest film, Exists, but something sucked me into this one – Bigfoot. These days we are seeing a resurgence in films about the big hairy ape-man and most of them, aside from Willow Creek, have been terrible. Exists turns the bigfoot sub-genre on its head in both positive and negative fashions, making for one of the most action-packed yet still mediocre Bigfoot films.

A group of friends travel deep into the east Texas woods to party at an abandoned cabin, only to learn firsthand why the cabin and surrounding woods have been abandoned for so many years.

Writer Jamie Nash, who had a hand in penning all of Sanchez’s non Blair films, wastes little time getting to the good stuff in Exists. During the opening sequence our protagonists incidentally make contact with a large animal while driving through the woods to the cabin, and after replaying the footage in slow motion we get our first look at the Bigfoot. I was thrown for a loop by this because with the extreme majority of Bigfoot films you don’t see the creature until at least halfway through the film, if you even see the creature at all. Nash continues this onslaught by giving us full-frontal Bigfoot action early on when he makes his first contact with the protagonists in the cabin, and from then on out it’s all Hell breaking loose. I can honestly say that this story has the most Bigfoot action I have ever seen, and that is both good and bad. If you are in this experience solely to see the creature lay waste to the humans then you may be in for a treat, but if you want more than that then the heavy emphasis on the creature may have a negative effect on you. The latter was the case for me, as I eventually found the use of Bigfoot to be very repetitive and even…boring. I was appreciative at first, but there was so much Bigfoot going on here that there was very little mystery to what was going on. It’s the equivalent of sleeping with someone on the first date and learning their entire life story while you wonder why you are even in that situation in the first place. On top of this, everything else surrounding the creature action was pretty tame and basic at best. The characters were unlikable an I found myself not caring who lived or died, and even the story’s slight twist towards the end of the film is one that you should have seen coming.

Sanchez’s direction does a decent job of bringing the story to life. The shock felt during the first scene where we see Bigfoot in the video playback filmed by one of the protagonists was great, but after that the shock value was gone. We did see a lot of tense Bigfoot action, but because of how predictable the constant barrage became the ability to shock the viewer was gone, as you can easily predict what will happen next. I was glad to see Sanchez take a full-frontal approach to showing Bigfoot, which included him chasing someone through the forest to him creeping outside the cabin. The look of Bigfoot was different and not what you would typically expect, yet I will let you be the judge of whether you like his look or not. I personally did not like his mannerisms nor physical abilities, namely his 40mph sprints through the dense east Texas forest. These scenes were just silly to me and the creature stopped being creepy when he started mimicking Usain Bolt. With mediocre characters come mediocre performances, so again, much like the story, there is very little to rely on besides Bigfoot himself, and in the end even he was portrayed in mediocre fashion.

Overall, Exists is a very basic experience despite it portraying Bigfoot in an unconventional light. You see lots of creature action, yet these filmmakers still found a way to deliver an experience that is neither good nor bad. Based on this I would take my time giving this a watch, and would suggest not paying $6.99 to rent it like I did.

Rating: 5/10

…Additional Stills…

Shadow of the Vampire – 7

November 5, 2014 Leave a comment

Director – E. Elias Merhige

Cast – Willem Dafoe, John Malkovich, Udo Kier,Cary Elwes, Catherine McCormack, Eddie Izzard, Ronan Vibert

Release Year – 2000

Reviewed by John of the Dead

Shadow of the Vampire is a film I would hear about every now and then but I never made an effort to give it a watch. It wasn’t until it became available on Netflix’s streaming service that I decided to give it a go. With a cast consisting of Willem Dafoe and John Malcovich I was intrigued to see how this would turn out, and I left pleased with what I saw. A bit light on the horror, Shadow of the Vampire is still a worthy horror film thanks to an engaging story stemming from one of the genre’s earliest films.

Director E.W.Murnau (Malkovich) is on a mission to create a vampire film that will leave him immortalized in horror lore. This vampire film will be known as…Nosferatu. Taking no chances bothering with anyone of lesser talent, Murnau hires the mysterious Max Shreck to portray the evil count Orlock. To the crew, Shreck is the prime example of a method actor. He will only appear at night, in character, and in full make-up. Little does the crew know, he is hardly a method actor. In fact, he isn’t even acting, and Murnau’s bargain with him will be costly.

I really dug this story because of Nosferatu’s significance in establishing the horror genre. The behind-the-scenes element made this story an engaging one that film buffs should be enveloped in. We mostly follow director Murnau as he tries to piece together his pinnacle film. He strikes gold when he brings forth the “actor” he hired to play Orlock, Max Shreck. Shreck’s “method actor” persona sounds like a gimmick to keep him within character, but really it is to keep him from killing everyone around him. Murnau tooka big risk hiring a real life vampire to portray the vampire in his film, but he is sure it will pay off. Shreck proves to be more of a hassle than Murnau expected, as he loses essential personnel to the old vamp who is becoming increasingly comfortable with doing whatever he wants.

The horror stems from the actions of Shreck, which include feasting on the unsuspecting crew and his persistent demands for “payment” for his work. To be honest, the horror IS there but it isn’t heavy. The horror is equally mixed with the drama caused by the Count and the effect it has on the shoot and director. There is a good amount of horror that does not involve the kills committed by Shreck, but merely his actions. He was written so simple yet so creepy, and much respect goes to writer Steven Katz for that.

The casting of Malkovich and Dafoe was a great move in making this a success. While they boths ell their roles it is Dafoe who steals the show. His Oscar-nominated performance is incredible and I applaud director E. Elias Merhige for executing Dafoe to perfection. He look alone is haunting, but his simple mannerisms were creepy and highly effective. I was also pleased to see actor Udo Kier in the film, portraying the film’s producer Albin Grau. Both he, Malkovich, and Cary Ewles did well in their roles, which were of course overshadowed by Dafoe. While Merhige did well executing Shreck he also succeeded in his direction of the kills. They came off in the same vein as those seen in the original 1922 classic, and I was glad that he and the writer went this route instead of modernizing the kill scenes. Because of this you should not expect much in gore, but really, it would be silly expect gore in a film associated with a classic vampire tale.

Overall, Shadow of the Vampire is a good film with an interesting storyline thanks to its association with a horror classic. Willem Dafoe’s performance alone is enough to warrant a viewing, and it should remain one of the greatest in horror history.

Rating: 7/10

…Additional Stills…

The Taking of Deborah Logan – 7

October 29, 2014 Leave a comment

Director – Adam Robitel

Cast – Jill Larson, Anne Ramsay, Michelle Ang, Ryan Cutrona Anne Bedian, Brett Gentile, Jeremy DeCarlos, Tonya Bludsworth, Julianna Taylor

Release Year – 2014

Reviewed by John of the Dead

I first saw the initial trailer for this film on Facebook and was immediately hooked on seeing this. What left me hooked was the film’s unique premise involvong something I had not seen in the genre, or even the demonsub-genre, before – alzheimers / dementia. 2001 Maniacs actor Adam Robitel directs this effort, his first feature horror film, and alongside a co-written screenplay donning a few good jolts his execution makes this a worthy experience.

As part of her Ph.D program, Mia takes on the opportunity to film a senior woman’s battle with Alzheimer’s. When the woman begins to undergo strange and unexplainable symptoms her family begins to suspect that her problems are of a supernatural, not biological, origin.

The story begins with an intro from Mia where she declares her intent for this project. They quickly arrive at Deborah’s home and are welcomed by her daughter Sarah, who is only doing this because Mia is paying for this opportunity and Deborah’s medical bills have left the family strapped for cash. Deborah is a nice lady at first, although she is not very receptive to being filmed constantly in the “privacy” of her own home. Soon enough, the crew witnesses one of Deborah’s violent outbursts and gets a full-frontal view of the chaos Sarah must deal with on a daily basis. The spooks begin early, with a creepy scene appearing at the 16-minute mark and several more at the 22, 24, and 27 minute marks. This makes for one hell of a first act and a smart move by the writers to suck you in early. The second act shows us more of the medical aspect of Deborah’s condition, with doctors stumped over what is causing the terrible infections and rashes covering her body. Sure enough, the scares don’t stop, and we get the first truly solid scene 32 minutes into the film. I was quite impressed with the writing here, as this is a scare that you know is coming, yet the add-ons to the spook make it one that was more effective than it should have been. As the story builds Deborah’s outbursts continue, and revelations about her past arise. The horror then grows as locations move from the home to the hospital, and then another location where you will witness one of the creepiest scenes of 2014.

I enjoyed the horror seen here and that is about all the film has to offer. The characters involved serve as platforms for Deborah and contribute little to the film on their own. Is this a bad thing? Not really, because I did not notice it very much until after the film. I will say that this would have been a more fulfilling effort had there been characters I actually gave a damn about, but with the most important element, the horror, intact I won’t balk at this too much.

Robitel’s direction is great for a first-timer and is directly responsible for my enjoyment of the film. With not much more to offer than the horror itself he excelled in making this a creepier experience than expected. The atmosphere and sets used are fantastic, employing a home full of dark corners and shadows that would leave me in constant fear if I were to be looking for a missing Deborah in the middle of the night. Actress Jill Larson was an excellent choice as Deborah, giving a haunting performance even during scenes where she had no words, just a deathly stare. To my surprise Robitel relied on practical effects for the horror, including a certain snake-esque scare scene that literally left me in awe. On top of this his execution of the horror was fantastic. The scenes are drawn-out to force the viewer into a nervous state, and great POV cinematography leaves us face-to-face with the horror on many occasions.

Overall, The Taking of Deborah Logan is quite the achievement for first-timer Adam Robitel. He manages to deliver one of the better found-footage films of recent time, with an emphasis on good scares and solid atmosphere. The experience could have been better, as with every horror film out there, but if you are into the found-footage scene you should probably give this one a watch.

Rating: 7/10

…Additional Stills…

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