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We Are What We Are – 7

October 16, 2014 Leave a comment

Director – Jim Mickle

Cast – Bill Sage, Ambyr Childers, Julia Garner, Jack Gore, Kelly McGillis, Wyatt Russell, Michael Parks, Nick Damici

Release Year – 2014

Reviewed by John of the Dead

Mexican horror film We Are What We Are made waves in America when it toured festivals in 2010 and was released VOD (Video On Demand) in 2011. In a day and age when good international horror films are often remade in the US, an American remake was delivered to us from one of the genre’s best filmmakers, Jim Mickle – the man behind Stake Land and Cold in July. What surprised me about this remake is its country of origin – Mexico. We see remakes of Spanish and Asian films often, but never Mexico. Do you want to know what did not surprise me, given it’s based on a good film and comes via Jim Mickle? I was not surprised at how good this film is.

A seemingly wholesome and benevolent family, the parkers have always kept to themselves, and for good reason. Behind closed doors, patriarch Frank rules his family with a rigorous fervor, determined to keep his ancestral customs intact at any cost. As a torrential rainstorm moves into the area, tragedy strikes and his daughters Iris and Rose are forced to assume responsibilities that extend beyond those of a typical family. As the unrelenting downpour continues to flood their small town, the local authorities begin to uncover clues that bring them closer to the secret that the Parkers have held closely for so many years. Written by Entertainment One

The story, written by Jim Mickle and actor Nick Damici, takes off in dramatic fashion as the Parker family suffers the sudden loss of one of their own. We are then introduced to the family, focusing on the three children, the eldest two girls and the youngest a boy, as they deal with their soon to be ever-growing troubles. Their father has been steadfast in keeping a long-standing family tradition that dates back to the 1700s…cannibalism. I don’t feel like I am spoiling anything in saying that. If you know anything about the film going into it then you’ll know that already, and if you don’t, then you do now. The rain is having a very negative effect on the family’s secret, and soon enough a grief-stricken father of a missing daughter, Dr. Barrow (Michael Parks), begins to piece the clues together. This effort is equally dramatic as it is horrific, with the horror stemming from Frank’s over bearance on his family and the actions he takes to keep their tradition alive. There character play was OK, with a few supporting actors filling very basic roles that did not blossom to full potential, like Deputy Anders. I expected to see better interaction between the Parker children, especially when you consider the horror they are going through. I would not say this is bad writing, it’s just simplistic and very basic at times.

Mickle’s direction is fantastic as usual, making the most of this dramatic story. From the get-go we are enveloped into his gloomy atmosphere, made possible with great locations and below zero exposure settings for the daytime scenes. The atmosphere is just as gloomy as the story is and I will always enjoy that in a film. Bill Sage does a tremendous job portraying Frank, and the ever-awesome Michael Parks is solid as Dr. Barrow. If you pay attention you will also notice co-writer Nick Damici portraying the town’s sheriff in what proved to be an under-used role like those I mentioned earlier. Mickle’s execution of the horror is fantastic, and I know this because he did not have to show much to shock me. There aren’t a ton of kills in this story, so the few kills we do see have to hit hard…and they do. He employs live gore, but even then this isn’t a very gory film – especially for a cannibal film. His expertise shows here, proving that Mickle is one of the genre’s top-tier directors.

Overall, We Are What We Are is a good dramatic horror film. It will come off a bit tame to those who expect a gory cannibal film, but the actions of the characters, along with great acting performances, make up for that.

Rating: 7/10

…Additional Stills…

The Lost Tribe – 3

October 13, 2014 Leave a comment

Director – Roel Reiné

Cast – Emily Baldoni, Nick Mennell, Marc Bacher, Brianna Brown, Hadley Fraser, Maxine Bahns, Ryan Alosio, Lance Henriksen

Release Year – 2010

Reviewed by John of the Dead

If you don’t know what the LULZ is I suggest you look it up because lulz is exactly what The Lost Tribe is. Ok so here is what happened: In 2009 a film titled The Forgotten Ones was completed. It was apparently so bad that the production crew decided they needed to remake the film as The Lost Tribe, with a new director, writer/script, and cast. So why am I laughing so hard at this film? That is because The Lost Tribe, a film that was supposed to live up to the original expectations not achieved with The Forgotten Ones, is even worse than the film it replaced. I don’t even want to imagine how this could have possibly happened, but it did. If the prior film was so bad then the filmmakers would just do the opposite in this case right? Well apparently not, and that is why The Lost Tribe is one of the biggest jokes in horror this millennium.

When their boat capsizes offshore a group of friends find themselves stranded on an uncharted island inhabited by an ancient tribe of humanoid creatures with a thirst to kill.

First-time writer Mark E. Davidson gave us a few right and a lot of wrongs. The story starts off OK, taking its time to develop and not delivering the first kill (an off-screen one) until 35 minutes into the experience. Our protagonist characters are all unlikable and I was glad to see them killed off, which is sometimes a good thing but usually a result of poor writing. Davidson does throw in a lot of kill scenes and I was happy for that, and he continued to keep the “horror” going with some tense chase sequences. The biggest fiasco regarding the story is the use of Gallo, who is portrayed by Lance Henriksen. Lance’s name is on the bill to sell the film but his character serves basically no purpose. We are teased with the possibility that he is going to show up and kick supreme ass, but instead he was wasted talent on a pathetic film.

Director Roel Reine gave us good atmosphere, a solid location, and decent looking creatures, but he offers nothing more than that. While sometimes visually appealing the actors are poorly executed and the same goes for the creatures. I liked their look and it had much potential, but their mannerisms and overdubbing were pretty bad at times. There also isn’t much as far as gore goes, leaving the horror to rely solely on his execution of the creatures, which again was decent at best.

Overall, The Lost Tribe is a laughable film and not just because of how bad it is, but because this was supposed to be an “improvement” over its failed predecessor. Instead it is much worse and I find that hilarious.

Rating: 3/10

13: Game of Death – 7

October 12, 2014 Leave a comment

Director – Chookiat Sakveerakul

Cast – Krissada Sukosol, Achita Sikamana, Sarunyu Wongkrachang, Nattapong Arunnate, Namfon Pakdee, Piyapan Choopech

Release Year – 2008

Reviewed by John of the Dead

I always wanted to see 13: Game of Death but could never get my hands on the DVD until Netflix came to the rescue. This is one of those situations where I saw the American redo, 13 Sins, before the original effort, and thankfully that did not have an impact on how I viewed this flick. With a highly engaging story that constantly builds in intensity, this Thai horror experience delivers a unique premise that I have seen used in horror films debuting today.

Pusit has never had a more horrible day of his life. He just lost his job, he is in serious debt, and his family is begging him for money. His despair suddenly put on hold though when he receives a mysterious phone call with a very tempting offer: complete 13 tasks and win 100 million Baht. Pusit sees no other option but to take the offer, initiating a game he will soon regret.

One could say that Saw kicked off the “do you want to play a game?” tactic, but in the case of 13: Game of Death the prize isn’t just surviving your hellish ordeal. The prize is money. I saw this used in the recent horror film Would You Rather, and because of mankind’s reluctance on monetary value I enjoy seeing people do stupid / dangerous things for a quick buck. The story takes off developing Pusit’s situation, and after 17 minutes of being exposed to his pathetic life he receives the phone call of a lifetime. 17 minutes after this he is doing the unfathomable for a few thousand Baht, but before long the stakes are raised to supreme levels and Pusit is now a wanted man. Watching him dig himself deeper and deeper into all sorts of legal trouble brings forth more tension than I expected, and with this being a horror film you can expect a few solid death scenes as well. I was hoping for an elaborate scheme behind the phone calls and the tasks Pusit was forced to accomplish, but the end revelation was a bit of a bummer for me. I won’t say it was a bad idea, it just did not appeal to me and was actually pretty damn outlandish.

“this shit ain’t right…”

Director Chookiat Sakveerakul does a good job of making this an exciting experience for the viewer. From the very moment that Pusit receives the first phone call he throws us into the same paranoia that our lead is faced with as he strives desperately to raise the money that would make the rest of his life a breeze. His camerawork makes this a more action-packed film that I imagined it would be and he delivers full-frontal execution of some pretty hard-to-watch scenes that put “Fear Factor” to shame. We don’t get too much as far as gore goes, and what gore we do receive is CGI, but nonetheless Sakveerakul finds ways to shock the viewer and that is why this flick has a positive reputation.

Overall, 13: Game of Death is a great Thai horror film I suggest you check out. In a perfect world you would see this before the American redo, but if that is not the case this is still a worthy experience you should be a part of.

Rating: 7/10

Galaxy of Terror – 6

October 12, 2014 Leave a comment

Director – Bruce D. Clark

Cast – Edward Albert, Erin Moran, Ray Walston, Bernard Behrens, Zalman King, Robert Englund, Taaffe O’Connell, Sig Haig, Grace Zabriskie, Jack Blessing

Release Year – 1981

Reviewed by John of the Dead

It was a late night. I had pizza, Gold Peak Sweat Tea (my favorite), and I was in search of a film to watch – one that would allow me to turn my brain off for a while and enjoy. I recently checked out the 1982 Alien “ripoff” Forbidden World and really enjoyed it, and because of that I decided to check out another early 80s flick produced by Roger Corman, Galaxy of Terror. When the last surviving member of the starship Remus is violently killed, the Quest and its crew are sent on a rescue mission to the barren planet Morganthus, only to find their innermost fears come to reality. If you want a zany story that bleeds pure 80s cheese, look no further than Galaxy of Terror.

The film’s writers never wrote another film after this flick, and I can see why. Now a cult classic, the film surely caused waves when it was released over 30 years ago and forever immortalized writers Marc Siegler and Bruce D. Clark. Their story takes off quick and soon lands our protagonists on Morganthus, a barren land containing the remnants of the starship Remus. Upon entering they come across the mangled bodies of the starships crew, and soon enough the crew of the Quest begin to suffer the same demise. It becomes apparent that there is a sinister reason behind some of the strange (and large) artifacts they find on Morganthus, and these objects contain the ability to project the crew’s fears to reality. The kills and deaths were mostly worthwhile, with some excelling more than others but all of them were enjoyable. While the majority of the story is engaging cheese I did find some faults in it. At times the story dragged and its zaniness failed to keep my interest, and that is the reason it did not achieve a higher rating.

Co-writer Bruce D. Clark also serves as the film’s director, and much like his writing accomplishments this marks the final film of his directing resume. Overall I enjoyed the direction and found it to be pretty fun, which came thanks to several elements. To start, I liked his atmosphere, which was a bit cheap and cheesy but came off very much like Alien. His execution of the horror was enjoyable as well and I was glad to see some decent gore at times. The effects were sweet and were critical in the amazement of one of the genre’s most iconic scenes: a violent death via a giant maggot. I was pleased to see future horror legends Robert Englund and Sig Haig acting in this piece, and while none of the actors deliver award-worthy performances they give us that cheesy fun we enjoy from these films.

Overall, Galaxy of Terror is a fun mess that provides lots of horror cheese. It does have its faults and would maybe be best served with some alcohol, but nonetheless this is one film I recommend all check out just for the sake of it.

Rating: 6/10

…Additional Stills…

Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy – 9

October 8, 2014 Leave a comment

Director – Daniel Farrands, Andrew Kasch

Cast – Heather Langenkamp, Wes Craven, Robert Englund, Robert Shaye, Lin Shaye, Jack Sholder, Johnny Depp, John Saxon, Mark Patton, Clu Gulager, Patricia Arquette, Renny Harlin, Alice Cooper, William Malone, Mick Garris, Tom McLoughlin, Patrick Lussier, Kane Hodder, Ronny Yu, and Jason Mewes

Release Year – 2010

Reviewed by John of the Dead

The Nightmare on Elm Street series is one of horror’s most notable franchises. That is thanks almost entirely to Robert Englund’s Freddy Krueger, who invaded the one place where we are completely vulnerable – our dreams. The series has had its ups and downs, but overall it still remains one of the best we have ever had. Also, it sparked the careers of several Hollywood notables, with the most famous being Johnny Depp (of course). When I came across this colossal documentary I was beyond excited to spend 240 minutes (yes, it’s 4 hours long) learning what made the series click – something you cannot learn from the films alone. With series creators Wes Craven, Robert Shay, and actor Robert Englund leading the way, Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy is an incredibly knowledgeable experience I highly suggest you check out.

Directors Daniel Farrands and Andrew Kasch do a fantastic job of making this an engaging experience. The template is the usual simplistic documentary format, and execution sells the film to the viewer. I was amazed at how many notables were interviewed, including Heather Langenkamp (also the narrator), Wes Craven, Robert Englund, Robert Shaye, Lin Shaye, Jack Sholder, Johnny Depp, John Saxon, Mark Patton, Clu Gulager, Patricia Arquette, Renny Harlin, Alice Cooper, William Malone, Mick Garris, Tom McLoughlin, Patrick Lussier, Kane Hodder, Ronny Yu, and Jason Mewes, with this only being a FEW of those who appear. Of course, many more appear via archive footage that is consistently thrown in to substantiate someone’s claims about the series or filming.

Along with writer Timothy Hutson, each of the initial 7 films are broken down with cast and directors giving their take on the filming process and the impact of the film. On top of this, Freddy vs. Jason is also broken down, and once again the director (Ronny Yu) and cast members are on hand. To make things even greater, Kane Hodder, the most famous Jason Vorhees of all time, is interviewed about being passed over for Ken Kirzinger in the film. The awesomeness continues though, as even the short-lived TV show “Freddy’s Nightmares” is dissected by its creators. This effort debuted one week after the Nightmare on Elm Street remake was released, so it is not mentioned. Also, it was a waste.

Overall, Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy is a crucial film for those who love to learn more about the horror genre and want to use a documentary to do so. There is so much knowledge presented in this film and it would be a shame if you did not learn it for yourself.

Rating: 9/10

Annabelle – 6

October 7, 2014 Leave a comment

Director – John R. Leonetti

Cast – Ward Horton, Annabelle Wallis, Alfre Woodard, Tony Amendola, Kerry O’Malley, Brian Howe, Eric Ladin

Release Year – 2014

Reviewed by John of the Dead

The Conjuring is one if the best horror films this millennium and my #1 for 2013, and a good part of its allure is credited to its frightening opening sequence about a haunted doll named Annabelle. The fans wanted an Annabelle film and now we have one. Of course, I wanted it to be filmed by James Wan himself, and was a bit disappointed to see him only producing the effort. My concern grew when I saw that the director’s previous works included such lesser films as Mortal Kombat: Annihilation and The Butterfly Effect 2. So, while hoping for the best, I went into this experience knowing it had the potential to suck. As it turns out, the film does suck in some ways – like comparing it to The Conjuring – however it was scarier than I expected and that counts for something.

When John presents his wife Mia with a vintage doll she has sought after for years, her delight is soon replaced with an emotion nobody expected: fear. When their home is invaded by two members of a satanic cult, the doll becomes a conduit to the evil entity the invaders brought to this realm…and it sets its sights on Mia.

I was unsure whether a full-length story was possible with so little known about Annabelle (unless you have read The Demonologist) but writer Gary Dauberman somehow made it happen despite writing complete trash before this. The story takes its time developing, slowly but surely establishing how Annabelle came about. Once that has been established then the haunting begins almost immediately. As with most films involving inanimate objects, the horror is tame for at least the first half of the film, then the horror manifests. If you have come here to see the creepy doll get up and attack Nia then you will be disappointed. While I would have preferred such a doll we are instead shown a possessed doll who caused horror telekinetically until she literally lets her demons loose. Much of her harassment / attention is on Mia, and she uses the still recovering (mentally and physically) woman’s weaknesses to her benefit. She makes those around her question her sanity, and she instills a constant fear that her child will no longer be hers for long.

There are plenty of scares written into the story and much to my surprise a few of them actually scared me. These occasions resulted in goose bumps spreading down my legs, which is my litmus test for a good atmospheric spook. As I mentioned earlier, we don’t see Annabelle physically do anything. Instead, the horror comes off very Paranormal Activity-esque where things are going bump in the night and even during the day. The majority of the scares are basic but there were momentary sequences of brilliance where highly effective simplicity stole the show – like the elevator sequence.

Story-wise I do feel like there could have been more to Annabelle. Her being static was a bit tame and the story did not fully make up for that. Surely if you were to experience such a situation in real life it would be terrifying, but in this film it was a bit underwhelming. The lead characters were also less-than-favorable. I never found myself caring about what happened to them, which is a shame for a story like this and the type of haunting that took place. Thankfully, the supporting characters, like bookshop owner Evelyn and Father Perez helped make up for the lack of motivating characters.

Director John. R. Leonetti did a decent job bringing this story to life. In a perfect world James Wan would have directed this effort and given us the immensely creepy execution he delivered during the Annabelle scene in The Conjuring. I feel that Wan did have a hand in Leonetti’s execution during the film’s creepier scenes, and he definitely laid down his influence with the film’s musical score, which should remind you of those heard in The Conjuring and Insidious. The atmosphere is good and the locations used for the two homes our protagonists live in allowed me to envelop myself into the experience. I believe that this played a heavy role in the scenes that gave me goose bumps because I imagined myself hearing the noises and experiencing the terror Mia would go through. The execution of Annabelle is OK, but that’s about it – it’s really basic. In The Conjuring the mere sight of her left me in awe, whereas in her own full-length film a lot of potential went to waste.

Overall, Annabelle isn’t a bad film but it’s not a good experience either. Sure there are a few creepy scenes, but they had little to do with the doll, and the doll is the reason most of us are giving this effort a watch. If you scare easily then I can see you enjoying this. In my case I found more joy than I expected because I went in with low expectations. You should probably do the same.

Rating: 6/10

…Additional Stills…

Happy Camp – 4

October 7, 2014 Leave a comment

Director – Josh Anthony

Cast – Josh Anthony, Michael Barbuto, Ben Blenkle, Jessica Garvin, Teddy Gilmore, Shondale Seymour, Anne Taylor

Release Year – 2014

Reviewed by John of the Dead

This is one of those films that I go into blind, having not seen a trailer nor reading into the plot aside from a basic summary. I didn’t even know Drew Barrymore is an executive producer for the film. The poster looked cool and it had a decent rating on IMDb so I figured I had nothing to lose – at the worst it would be decent. Well, I was wrong. On the surface Happy Camp may look like an OK film, but when the end credits hit I had been left with a very mediocre experience.

Michael Tanner has lived a life of despair after the strange disappearance of his younger brother 20 years prior. With his girlfriend and a few friends serving as the film crew, Michael returns to the town where his brother was abducted, and with terrifying results.

Writers Josh Anthony, Michael Barbuto, and Anne Taylor, all actors in the film as well, kick things off with some horrific facts behind the rural town of Happy Camp. 625 people have gone missing from the area, with Michael’s brother disappearing in 1989. To this day Michael still suffers from nightmares associated with the incident, so his girlfriend comes up with a plan to help him face his demons – literally. Before long they arrive at Happy Camp and the locals are not happy about outsiders snooping around. The first bit of slight horror hits the screen at the 22-minute mark, but after that the horror subsides for a very long time. Instead, we are treated to conflict stemming from Michael’s strenuous psychological state as a result of his return to the source of his issues. This is the case until the 63-minute mark, which is pretty terrible when you consider that the film is only 73 minutes long. I did somewhat enjoy the horror from this point out, mostly because it involved Bigfoot. I had no clue the film’s antagonist would be the famed missing link, but then again I did little research on the film beforehand. Unlike other recent Bigfoot films, like the positive Willow Creek and the lame Lost Coast Tapes, we actually get a good look at Bigfoot here. While I applaud this, it was of course too little and too late.

Writer and actor Josh Anthony also directs the film, and his direction is only slightly better than his screenplay. He sets an OK mood and achieves decent performances from his actors but that is as good as his direction gets. The tension is rarely present and the few jolts provided are tame and lead nowhere. When the goods finally do hit, the horror does little to take control of the mess the previous 63 minutes left us with. The final ten minutes consist of a poorly crafted CGI Bigfoot that may leave some of you laughing at how terrible he looks. Despite this, I will give props to the filmmakers for at least giving some Bigfoot action, which can’t be said for the films I mentioned in the paragraph above. We see most of the film’s kills during these final 10 minutes, and they were decent at best. There is little gore and the kills aren’t very shocking, but that should not surprise you given how basic this flick is.

Overall, Happy Camp is a disappointment no matter how you look at this. If you look at this as a Bigfoot film it has a poor payoff, and if you look at this as a general horror film it still has a weak payoff. If you want Bigfoot I still recommend you watch Willow Creek or one of the classics like The Legend of Boggy Creek.

Rating: 4/10

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