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December 13, 2009 28 comments

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Chemical Peel – 6

December 15, 2014 Leave a comment

Director – Hank Braxton

Cast – Natalie Victoria, Arielle Brachfeld, Stephanie Greco, Lacy Fisher, Lony’e Perrine, Leigh Davis, Ruben Pla, Eric Hailey, Kevin Anthony Brooks, Madeleine Pla

Release Year – 2014

Reviewed by John of the Dead

I knew very little about this flick going in. From the plot summary I could tell that this would employ a nowhere to run scenario, and that was all I needed to know. A weekend bachelorette party at a secluded cabin turns to chaos when a nearby train accident leaves the surrounding valley engulfed in a deadly mist. With nowhere to run and paranoia setting in, the women aren’t safe inside or outside of the cabin.

There are four credited writers to this story and that is usually a precursor for disaster. Aside from some mediocre dialogue I can say that the story doesn’t count as a disaster for me. Two of the actresses in the film also serve as writers, so teamwork is the theme here. Things start off fun, as one would expect for a bachelorette party, but by the 17 minute mark the first sign of horror hits. The women notice right away that something is wrong, as what was supposed to be a calm sunny weekend has been replaced with low-visibility fog. To make matters worse, the fog smells like bleach. Soon enough they learn the hard way that prolonged exposure to the elements will make ones flesh literally peel off their bones, hence the film’s title.

I am sad to say that there are no creatures lurking in the fog and this is strictly a disaster film where the horror stems from both the outbreak and the characters’ reaction to the conflict. I enjoyed watching the women go into survival mode and do their best to seal the home and keep the fog outside. Sealing the entire home is impossible, so time is of the essence and desperation kicks in when help does not come to their secluded area. We see the characters fight over decisions that must be made, like food rationing and :gasp: whether or not to let someone (and the fog) inside. There is plenty of tension written into the film and the writers do a good job of throwing in constant developments regarding the horror/fog. I was happy to see a good amount of deaths in the flick, and some of them were much gorier than I expected and drawn out to force the viewer to squirm in his/her seat. This story is not without its faults, but its biggest faults were budget related while the lesser ones, like poor dialogue at times, were story-related.

With a $20,000 (estimated) budget director Hank Braxtan did not have much to work with, but he definitely made the most of it. He sucked me in early on with a solid location that allowed me to envelop myself into the film and put myself in the same situations our characters were forced to endure. Even if a film isn’t that good, being immersed in it always makes for a more pleasing experience. The fog was believable and his execution of the deaths was pretty solid, and as mentioned earlier, they were drawn out to get the most extreme reaction from the viewer. Braxton employs live-action gore and delivers more and more of it as the horror increases, so if the dialogue bothers you then the goods should hopefully remove some of the sour taste.

Overall, Chemical Peel is alright. It’s not great and I won’t recommend it to anyone, but considering its budget it was better than it sure have been.

Rating: 6/10

Helix: Season One – 7

December 6, 2014 Leave a comment

Director – Brad Turner, Steven A. Adelson, Jeremiah S. Chechik, Duane Clark, Mike Rohl, Bradley Walsh, Jeffrey Reiner

Cast – Billy Campbell, Kyra Zagorsky, Jordan Hayes, Neil Napier, Hiroyuki Sanada, Mark Ghanimé, Meegwun Fairbrother, Luciana Carro, Chimwemwe Miller, Catherine Lemieux, Amber Goldfarb, Patrick Baby, Robert Naylor, Christian Jadah, Julian Casey, Alain Goulem, Alexandra Ordolis, Jeri Ryan, Vitali Makarov

Release Year – 2014

Reviewed by John of the Dead

I enjoy horror-themed television shows but have refrained from writing about them because it is not time-efficient for me to write about every episode. Writing about the season as a whole works much better for me, so that is what I will do.

Helix debuted in January of this year on the Syfy channel and combines two of my favorite elements: horror and biology. The storyline follows a team of scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who are sent to a research facility deep within the arctic to investigate the potential outbreak of a deadly disease. The lead scientist is Dr. Alan Farragut, a man who has traveled the world containing some of the world’s most dangerous viruses. With many qualified scientists employed at the center he questions why he of all people is assigned to head the case – then he learns that his estranged brother is an employee at the research center…and he has been infected as well. What the team assumes will be a simple task of containing the virus (an easy task given the location) and then destroying it proves to be a gross underestimation of the situation. Lies, deception, a shadowy corporation, and an ever-growing population of infected mutants stand in their way.

Like most television series you will be bombarded with dramatics, but they aren’t so bad here. The character relationships are set up for this, with the involvement of Alan’s brother, Peter, and his second in command, Michelle, being his ex wife who cheated on him with Peter. It sounds stupid because it is stupid, but as the series grew I quickly forgot about it as other character revelations surfaced. Eventually, you learn that quite a few of the show’s characters have ties to each other that existed way before they were brought together.

This outbreak is obviously the source of the horror, and I enjoyed how it was used. The research facility, which thanks to its location is not subject to any laws, was up to some shady research that was intended to expand beyond the confines of the most inhospitable land on Earth. Eventually the scientists wise up to this, but by that time it is too late. Aside from dealing with the private corporation behind the outbreak, they must deal with the repercussions of the outbreak: the infected. Unlike most infected films these days, those who contract the virus are not immediately “turned”. They suffer minimal effects at first, but when they reach the final stages they are maniacal beasts with an insatiable urge to infect more at all costs. I was glad to see the infected show up early on in the series, which allowed them to progress and adapt to keep things interesting. Of course, the location also makes for a nowhere-to-run scenario, so the tension is always high with the infected lurking within the ventilation ducts and pouncing on the unsuspecting.

The direction of the series is surprisingly solid for a Syfy channel creation. I was surprised to see fair acting from pretty much everyone involved, and even more surprised to see very little CGI during. If there was every CGI it was typically during overhead establishing shots of the research base – scenes that hardly matter if they are CGI. When it came to the horror we were treated to live-action effects and gore, which was never overly gory but gory enough for those fans of infected films who want to see some of the good stuff. More than anything though, what I really enjoyed about this series was the atmosphere and locations/sets. The research base easily sucked me in to what was going on, and it was equally creepy as it was captivating. I could be wrong, but it at least looked like the show had a pretty serious budget behind it, and it made for an enjoyable experience I will revisit when Season 2 premiers in January 2015.

Rating: 7/10

…Additional Stills…

Mercy – 5

December 4, 2014 Leave a comment

Director – Peter Cornwell

Cast – Chandler Riggs, Dylan McDermott, Frances O’Connor, Mark Duplass, Joel Courtney, Hana Hayes, Chris Browning, Shirley Knight

Release Year – 2014

Reviewed by John of the Dead

I have been under the influence of the supernatural bug lately and decided to give the fairly new Mercy a shot. Going into the film I did not know that it starred Chandler Riggs (of The Walking Dead fame) nor Dylan McDermott (of American Horror Story fame) as a supporting actor, so that was…”cool”. Anyway, for whatever reason (I guess my desire for a good spook) I went into this effort expecting an enjoyable outcome and was left underwhelmed. Mercy gets a few things right, but it never seems to find itself and is an unfocused mess in the end.

When his beloved grandmother falls ill, George (Chandler Riggs), his brother, and their single mother must now care for her and bear witness to the supernatural entity she has been harboring for decades.

The story starts off with a flashback of a significant event that will come to light at the end of the film. Then it settles into the plot where George and his brother are forced to join their mother in caring for their grandmother. Things turn awry about 8 minutes in when she begins to suffer some mental defects. George has always been close to her, so he is hit the hardest by this. While his family is trying to cope and deal with their new dilemma, George’s struggle to keep life for his grandmother as easy as possible is proving to be a futile effort as her condition worsens. Her condition is not naturally occurring though, despite her old age. There is some supernatural stuff going on, with the grandmother speaking in demonic tones at times, and it is obvious that a supernatural force is passing information to George for reasons yet to be known. It takes a really long time for the horror to develop, aside from his grandmother being in a terrible mental and physical state. When the horror finally does manifest itself it is not very good. We see a little demon action but it never hits hard. The horror felt cheap, generic, and was never the least bit scary. With such subtle horror you would hope that the rest of the story made up for it (although a horror film with cheap horror is doomed to fail), but that was not the case. I did not like that the story’s locations were timid and sub-par, with most of the film taking place within basic indoor settings. While not a requirement, a poorly executed story benefits from movement, but that simply did not happen. They never leave into the woods or anywhere else, there is no “chase” and the horror stays concentrated in one area. The horror is not the only sub-par element of the story – the characters were poorly written as well. Not once did I care for George and the struggle he faced trying to make the best of his grandmother’s dire situation, and poor writing execution is to blame for that. I also mentioned that Dylan McDermott has a supporting role in the film, but his role was hardly “support” – it was a waste of a character who did little to move the story.

The direction from Peter Cornwell was OK, but it did not save the effort. Cornwell provided decent atmosphere during the indoor scenes, which were gloomy and appropriate for such a gritty supernatural tale. He gets decent performances from his actors, with Sherley Knight stealing the show as Mercy. Her character was put through a lot emotionally, mentally, and physically, and Knight handled the roller coaster well. Chandler Riggs was basic and nowhere near as good as he is on The Walking Dead, while Dylan McDermott was…Dylan McDermott. The execution of the horror was where the direction ultimately failed, giving us few scares and some crappy CGI during a wasted third act.

Overall, Mercy is a mediocre experience that I would not recommend to anyone. If you are curious to see Chandler Riggs and Dylan McDermott in a film then I understand that, but keep in mind that they will be poorly used.

Rating: 5/10

The Babadook – 8

December 2, 2014 Leave a comment

Director – Jennifer Kent

Cast – Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall, Tim Purcell, Barbara West

Release Year – 2014

Reviewed by John of the Dead

This low-budget Australian film has made waves across the genre since its Sundance debut in January of this year, and after much waiting it is finally available to the masses. Filmed on a very low budget that included crowd-funding via Kickstarter, Jennifer Kent’s (yes, a woman) debut horror film is this year’s greatest genre accomplishment. The Babadook excels in ways that 90% of other horror films do not – it legitimately scares the viewer. Refusing to rely on gore and cheap jump scares, this experience left me goosebump-riddled and in awe over what should be one of the genre’s spookiest antagonists.

Amelia, a single mother widowed after the violent death of her husband 6 years prior, has her hands full with her out of control son, Robbie. When he is not building makeshift weapons to fight monsters he is getting into serious trouble at school, but such antics become the least of Amelia’s worries when her son comes across a mysterious book titled “The Babadook”. As if things were not hectic enough, Robbie’s negative behavior grows in severity now that he believes The Babadook is lurking within their house. Robbie has pushed Amelia to her wit’s end, and little does she know…he’s telling the truth.

Jennifer Kent begins her story by setting us into the life that Amelia is forced to live. We learn right away that she lost her husband when he suffered an automobile accident while driving her to the hospital go give birth to their son Samuel. Since then, Amelia has remained a lonely soul with a dead-end job and a son who is an ever-growing problem in more ways than one. Soon enough the book turns up and Samuel’s insistence that The Babadook is real only increases the severity of the trouble he causes. With her life a wreck, Amelia is now susceptible to the demon’s (or whatever he is) influence, and 26 minutes into the film we get our first decent taste of horror. We continue to see the horror surface very 10 minutes or so, and it grows in intensity until you hear The Babadook speak and find yourself covered in goosebumps. After this the story took a turn that I was not expecting, focusing more on Amelia’s inner demons and not as much on the demon/Babadook itself, but that is not a complaint on my end. At the end of the film you will learn that the shift on focus was not really a shift in focus after all, as this is a story that deals with the consequences of living a life of grief and never recovering from it. I don’t want to go too into detail because it is possible that I could ruin some of the surprise and the payoff at the end of the film. If anything, just know that this story is so much more than the typical haunted house effort. It is a breath of fresh air.

Kent’s story is what makes this a unique watch, and it is her direction that makes it a scary one. She sucks us into her story early on by giving us a full-frontal take on what it is like to live in Amelia’s shoes. We are forced to deal with Samuel’s tantrums as well, and I guarantee that you will hate him as much as I did – which is exactly what Kent wanted. When the horror hits we are treated to simple spooks here and there, but at the 49 minute mark when we hear the Babadook’s voice I guarantee you I had goosebumps going up my legs – a rare occurrence reserved for the scariest of films. His voice was so simple yet highly effective and definitely my favorite moment of the film. There are other scares of equal quality, but given I watched this with my Sennheiser headphones his voice filled the perceived space around me as if he was actually there (hell…maybe he was). Kent’s atmosphere helped make these scares as great as they were, employing dark shadows and a spooky home that will prepare you for the scares that you won’t be able to beat.

Overall, The Babadook is an incredible accomplishment for Jennifer Kent and probably the best 2014 horror film I have seen so far.

Rating: 8/10

…Additional Stills…

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

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