December 13, 2009 28 comments

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Hatchet III – 7

Director – BJ McDonnell

Cast – Danielle Harris, Kane Hodder, Zach Galligan, Caroline Williams, Parry Shen, Robert Diago DoQui, Derek Mears, Cody Blue Snider, Rileah Vanderbilt, Sean Whalen, Jason Trost, Diane Ayala Goldner, John Michael Sudol

Release Year – 2014

Reviewed by John of the Dead

Director Adam Green broke onto the horror scene with 2006’s Kane Hodder-starring slasher epic, Hatchet, and it still remains as one of the best horror/slasher films of this millennium. He followed up with the almost equally awesome Hatchet II in 2010, and when I learned of Hatchet III I was beyond stoked to see how the legend of Victor Crowley would be put to rest. When word broke that Adam Green would not be directing the finale to the trilogy I was a bit disappointed and skeptical of what newcomer BJ McDonnell, Green’s longtime camera operator, would do with Green’s baby. After finally sitting through Hatchet III I am glad to say that while the execution is different than Green’s the experience is still just as gory, brutally awesome, and enjoyable as its predecessors.

After the events of Hatchet II a highly trained SWAT team is called in after the first responders are brutally massacred while trying to pick up the pieces of those brutally massacred the night before. With Marybeth locked in a cell and blamed for the massacre, the carnage continues until she learns the secret to ending the voodoo curse that empowers Victor Crowley. With one final battle left in her, she faces the monster that has been terrorizing Honey Island Swamp for decades.

Adam Green wrote this screenplay, and he ensures that the viewer will see probably the most gore of all three films. If I had to guess I would say that this film alone has more gory goodness than the first two flicks combined. The story literally begins with the very end of Hatchet II, which leaves Marybeth as the prime suspect for the gruesome slayings when she walks into the local sheriff’s office completely covered in blood and slinging a shotgun. Soon enough the sheriff, his deputies, and a SWAT team lead by the hardened Tyler Hawes (Derek Mears) arrive at the swamp to secure the scene and get to the bottom of what happened, and much to their disbelief they run into Victor Crowley. Not only has Marybeth repeatedly told them she killed him, but Victor Crowley is said to only be a legend – both are very wrong. The rest of the film plays off like the other flicks, with characters dying one by one in brutal fashion until the final fight between you-know-who and you-know-who. The dialogue is cheesy and I assume Green wanted it that way, leaving no issues with the story for me to balk at.

The story behind Green’s decision to tap BJ McDonnell as director is an admirable one. As a believer of giving someone a chance if they deserve it, he decided to give McDonnell the nod so that he could further his career. With the series since day one of the first film, the loyal McDonnell kept the film true to Crowley’s legacy – a legacy of bloody goodness. He hits hard with a great opening sequence heavy in the type of events that will compliment the film every few minutes or so once the first act is over and done with. Hatchet III stays true to the series motto of “NO CGI”, but I did notice the blood to be very different than the previous films. The first two entries used a blood mixture that was thick and very true to form, whereas this entry used a thinner mix that was much too watery and a bit unrealistic at times. This is not necessarily a fault, but something that I did notice right away. McDonnell’s direction is good, but it pales compared to Adam Green’s knack regarding cheese and gore. In other words, you can expect more of the same story-wise, but the direction/look/feel of the film will be different. The location is also different than the previous flicks, and you can tell. The first two were filmed in LA while this one was filmed in the bayous of Louisiana, just like the story’s setting.  While the setting will be more authentic, the atmosphere, lighting, and grainy ISO will not be as good as its predecessors. This also goes for the acting too. Harris, Hodder, and Perry Shen were great as Marybeth, Victory Crowley, and paramedic Andrew, but everyone else was lackluster. I did notice a unique choice in casting with the inclusion of Derek Mears as Tyler Hawes – the lead SWAT agent leading the charge against Victor Crowley. Kane Hodder is known throughout the genre as the “real” Jason Vorhees, having portrayed the character in Friday the 13th VI, VII, VIII, IX and X. Derek Mears is the last person to portray Jason, which he did in the Friday the 13th remake. Seeing these two giants battle face to face was a sweet idea that knowledgeable (AKA “nerdy”) fans of the genre are sure to appreciate.

Overall, Hatchet III is a fun sure that is sure to please fans of the series. I personally feel it is the weakest of the bunch, but that by no means indicates that this is a bad film. The execution is different, but nonetheless the gore is heavy, Crowley kicks ass, and it’s 81 solid minutes of fun.

Rating: 7/10

…Additional Stills…

The Purge: Anarchy – 8

Director – James DeMonaco

Cast – Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo, Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez, Zoë Soul, Justina Machado, John Beasley, Jack Conley, Noel Gugliemi, Castulo Guerra, Michael K. Williams, Edwin Hodge, Keith Stanfield

Release Year – 2014

Reviewed by John of the Dead

I remember being very excited for The Purge last year because of its unique storyline concept and the inclusion of Ethan Hawke, who had just starred in the awesome Sinister. While giving us one of the most intriguing storylines of recent time, The Purge was a bit of a disappointment. Not bad but not great either, it harbored much potential that never surfaced. When I saw the trailer for The Purge: Anarchy I was the least bit interested in seeing it. The story seemed to abandon the horror element and instead focus more on action, and without a big name to star in the film I assumed it would be a direct-to-video release. Little did I know, Platinum Dunes and Universal Pictures had faith in writer/director James DeMonaco and gave him a wide release for this sequel. Had it not been for an invite from an attractive woman I would have passed on seeing this effort during its opening weekend, and I am very glad that I took this opportunity. The Purge: Anarchy not only brings forth good horror that I did not expect, but it expands on the Annual Purge concept and vastly surpasses its predecessor – making for one of the best horror films so far for 2014.

Set in Los Angeles, California on March 21, 2033, a police sergeant bent on avenging a haunting memory runs into two groups of people unfortunate enough to find themselves in the midst of the Annual Purge. The sergeant has a decision to make: ditch the people he just saved to kill the man who wronged him on the one night it would be legal, or save the innocent parties being hunted down by two groups of savage killers. Neither decision will bring him peace, so he does what anyone in his situation would do – both.

DeMonaco expands on his original story by incorporating more than just one family under conflict as well as bringing the chaos from inside the safety of one’s home to the streets of LA. We mainly follow the Sergeant and the decisions he is forced to make throughout the one night he is able to carry out a murder. He faces many ethical / moral decisions that will affect not only him but those who are relying on him for protection. The people who depend on him are not out “purging” but either suffered car trouble before getting home or were dragged out of their homes by a mysterious paramilitary force with a yet unknown agenda. This story continues to grow with the inclusion of government influence on the Annual Purge, as well as a growing militia movement aiming to fight back against a government that they claim uses the purge to weed out the poor and disenfranchised. I really enjoyed this militia element not only because I love defiance, but also because it reminds me much of society today and the growing movement in opposition of government surveillance and intervention into our personal lives. The Purge: Anarchy isn’t necessarily a film with a social statement or one with much social commentary, but it does make you think a bit and go along for the ride. I have seen some reviewers speak ill of the film because it was not as “smart” as it should be, but why “should” it be as smart as they expected? It was obviously not DeMonaco’s intent to produce a propaganda film. Instead, he gave us a story we can relate to thanks to current issues, but also an action-packed experience heavy in tension, violence, and horror. This tension is especially prevalent because there is a new threat at every corner. In the first film we followed the Sandin family as they barricaded themselves in their own home and tried desperately to fight off the intruders aiming to break in. In this film our protagonists are on the streets with nowhere to hide or bunker down, therefore they must constantly be on the move. This kept the experience a highly engaging one as there were very few moments where the protagonists could feel safe somewhere. Once again though, the story expands again with the inclusion of the wealthy class. In the first film the antagonists were of wealthy origin and looking for some excitement in their lives. With this film they learned that going out to purge was much too dangerous, so they instead hire mercenaries to bring people to them. The wealthy then auction off the chance to hunt those held captive in a closed off hunting grounds. This sequence was an incredible one that left me feeling as hopeless as the captives, but DeMonaco had all kinds of tricks up his sleeves to up the ante.  If I have any complaints to make about the writing it would be the way he wrote some of his characters.  The Sergeant was well-written, but everyone else paled in comparison and mainly served minimal purposes.  I really wish there would have been more of Carmelo, the leader of the resistance against the New Founding Fathers, but we only received him on a minimal level – leaving room for him to be developed in a later film.

The direction from DeMonaco also improved over the first film, and is solid as can be. His atmosphere is fantastic, keeping us on edge throughout the experience even before the Annual Purge begins. Executing the characters is another element he succeeded on, with Frank Grillo stealing the show as the Sergeant. Frank seems to have a knack for portraying badass characters efficient in violent tactics, as he also portrayed Brock Rumlow in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The adversaries chasing those he chose to protect were also portrayed in effective fashion, scaring us at times and providing lots of tension during their pursuits. As far as the kills go there are lots of them. To me the heavy kill count aids in keeping the viewer engaged, however because most are killed with guns don’t expect too much in the gore department. Victor Crowley chose not to purge this year.

Overall, The Purge: Anarchy is an awesome experience that I highly suggest you become a part of. It improves on its predecessor in multiple fashions, from the horror, tension, kills, and storyline. The writing is solid and so is DeMonaco’s direction, making him a solid filmmaker delivering clever ideas in the often convoluted horror genre.

Rating: 8/10

…Additional Stills…

Tales from the Crypt: SE 2 EP 15: “Mute Witness to Murder” – 6

Director – Jim Simpson

Cast – Richard Thomas, Patricia Clarkson, Reed Birney, Kristine Nielsen, Rose Weaver, John Kassir, Diane Peterson

Release Year – 1990

Reviewed by John of the Dead

This episode gives us a scenario that would truly be horrific to those in the position of Suzy, who while staring outside of her high-rise window witnesses a man brutally murder his wife in the adjacent building. The shock has left her speechless, and her husband Paul quickly calls on Dr. Task to save her. Little does he know, it was Dr. Task who committed the murder, and the doctor will do whatever it takes to make sure Suzy stays quiet.

This story from Nancy Doyne is an enjoyable one on the surface, but one that I felt lacked punch. I enjoyed the idea of Suzy being turned mute and not being able to tell her husband that the man he has entrusted with her care is also the man responsible for her situation, as well as a murder. We watch as Dr. Task keeps Paul in the dark while tormenting Suzy and delaying her progress, and aside from a few kills later on that is about all the story has to offer. To me it was pretty tame and felt like a shortened version of a crappy Lifetime Movie.

Overall, “Mute Witness to Murder” isn’t a bad episode, but it isn’t a very good one either. It is pretty tame and would maybe please those who are not devout fans of the series, but if I were you I would pass on this.

Rating: 6/10

Tales from the Crypt: SE 2 EP 14: “Lower Berth” – 6

Director – Kevin Yagher

Cast – Lewis Arquette, Stefan Gierasch, Mark Rolston, Jeff Yagher, John Kassir, Alexandra Prager

Release Year – 1990

Reviewed by John of the Dead

“Lower Berth” is a very unique episode because it goes into the inception of our favorite scream king, The Crypt Keeper. Enoch, a two-faced man, is an attraction at a traveling sideshow. When his handler teams him up with a 2,000 year old mummy, Enoch falls in love and their consummation results in none other than the Crypt Keeper himself.

This silly story comes from Fred Dekker, who is the man behind House, Night of the Creeps, The Monster Squad, and the best episode of the series’ first season, “And All Through The House”. He keeps things extremely simple and takes his time developing, which is a big reason behind the episode not achieving a higher rating. The story is a good one, but with less than 30 minutes to do your work we don’t see enough exciting elements until the very end of the piece. I was hoping to see a little Crypt Keeper running around and causing havoc, but that was not the case and I found it a bummer. Longtime effects guru Kevin Yagher directs this piece, and he does a good job of bringing out Dekker’s story. We are shown a compassionate Enoch living in an uncompassionate world, so when he finally finds love he finds purpose and we are left to feel for him. There is little in terms of gore and kills (more the story’s fault), but the effects used are good – as I would expect from a film directed by an FX veteran.

Overall, “Lower Berth” is cool because it shows the inception of The Crypt Keeper, but what could have been a truly epic story never happened.

Rating: 6/10

Lord of Tears – 6

Director – Lawrie Brewster

Cast – David Schofield, Alexandra Hulme, Euan Douglas, Jamie Scott Gordon

Release Year – 2014

Reviewed by John of the Dead

Lord of Tears is an indie horror film that has proved to be a sensation within the genre since its festival release date last October. As of now, the only way to get a hold of this piece is to purchase its amazing (and expensive) DVD from the film’s website, which comes with loads of extras – some you need and some you don’t. Still unavailable to the masses on a rental scale, this remains a highly sought after experience that I was finally able to become a part of. With one of the coolest looking and most unique villains I have seen in a long time, Lord of Tears is worthy of its hype. However, the amazing film I was hoping for never showed.

James Findlay is a simple man, a schoolteacher who as a child was tormented by recurring nightmares of a mysterious and disturbing entity known as the Owlman. Suspecting that these visions are tied to a dark incident he cannot remember, James returns to the home he grew up in to uncover the unsettling truth behind the Owlman, and fight for his life to endure the consequences of his actions.

Written by Sarah Daly, this story begins in the same manner as many others we have seen. James learns of his estranged mother’s passing, and as her lawyer executes her last will and testament James is handed a letter that his mother said must be urgently read. In it, she warns him to not return to their large mansion in the Scottish highlands. His parents removed him from the home, and their lives, for a reason, and it is for his own benefit that he never learns why. Amongst her belongings is a drawing he drew of a tall man with elongated arms and an owl’s head. This triggers strange memories from his childhood, and despite his mother’s warnings it does not take long before the location changes to the old mansion. Upon his arrival he meets an eloquent young woman named Eve Turner, who takes a liking to him that is soon reciprocated. About 29 minutes into the film we get our first glimpse of the owl man, but after that it is a long while before he reappears. James does suffer consistent flashbacks to horrific events that he still finds unexplainable, but the second act deals more with his relationship with Eve than his childhood horror. It was this second act that left me feeling like this film was not as good of a horror film as it could have been. Had more instances of horror occurred then this could possibly have been avoided, but I feel it is pretty obvious that the horror took a definitive back seat to the love story. It isn’t until 49 minutes into the film that we finally get a decent look at the Owlman, and 8 minutes later the story finally starts to kick into gear. We learn of the Owlman’s very interesting origin, and the scenes where he appears are both horrific and actually quite…beautiful. His dialogue is captivating and surreal, but if you are looking for solid Owlman action, such as a final fight between him and James, you won’t be given what you want.

Lawrie Brewster directs this piece, and from the get-go he lets you know that this will be a gothic piece. His atmosphere is incredible and the cinematography from Gavin Robertson provides the gloomy yet highly visceral film hue that makes this a visual treat. The acting performances from all involved are OK, with nobody really stealing the show and delivering a solid effort. If anyone does steal the show though, it’s the Owlman. His look is incredible, and while he is not the first to don an owl mask – a prize awarded to the killer in Michele Soavi’s 1987 giallo Stage Fright – the rest of his body is just as creepy. He looks as if Pumpkinhead put on a suit and an owl mask – something I should have thought of long ago. Brewster’s execution of the horror is fantastic, from the Owlman (who sadly did not get very physical) to the outside elements of horror that I won’t mention for spoilers’ sake. There are some decent chills but no scenes that were extreme. I won’t say that is a bad thing given this is an indie film with a low budget, but it sure is a shame to have such an awesome looking antagonist and him not give you goosebumps the way you want him to.

Overall, Lord of Tears is a film that gets a lot right but loses focus of the horror at times. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but with such an awesome antagonist and superb atmosphere/cinematography, you may find yourself a bit disappointed in the story not taking full advantage the good these filmmakers have to offer.

Rating: 6/10

…Additional Stills…

Torment – 5

Director – Jordan Barker

Cast – Katharine Isabelle, Robin Dunne, Peter DaCunha, Stephen McHattie, Noah Danby, Inessa Frantowski, Amy Forsyth, Bill Colgate, Adrienne Wilson

Release Year – 2014

Reviewed by John of the Dead

The first time I saw a trailer for Torment I made it a mission to see this film as soon as possible. With great recent slashers like Hatchet, You’re Next, and Stitches, I was hoping that Torment would add to the list and provide its own fresh taste to the sub-genre. With one of the best opening sequences I have seen all year, I thought this would be the case. The horror is intense at times and the looks/mannerisms of the killers are absolutely fantastic, but the fun stops there. Is it enough? That depends on who you ask. For me, as the runtime grew the film began to lose its spark and eventually hit the point of no return, where even a great ending (nor my favorite actress, Katherine Isabelle) could not save it.

When the newly married Cory and Sarah Morgan take Cory’s young son Liam out to their country home for some much needed family time, they are shocked to learn that someone has been squatting in their home. A policeman’s reassurance that the culprits won’t be back puts them at ease, but come nightfall he is proven wrong when a sadistic cult-like family returns to torment the Morgans.

The story comes from first-time writers Michael Foster and Thomas Pound, who give us the film’s first kill only 3 minute into the experience. This entire opening sequence is brutally awesome and left me hoping it would set the tone for the remainder of the film. When the Morgans show up to their home we are thrown for a loop when they find obvious evidence that someone was not only living there but bled there as well, leaving us a bit confused as to why there would be blood there when the opening scene took place elsewhere (this eventually made sense). There is some obvious family drama going on with the Morgans, and it appears that Michaels’ first wife, who is Liam’s mother, died somehow, and now Liam is apprehensive to the new mother figure in his life, Sarah. Things stay pretty tame until the 30 minute mark, which is when the next kill occurs and we finally get a good luck at the first of the culprits. This scene is absolutely iconic and continued the intensity felt during the opening sequence. The conflict is then amplified when it appears that Liam has gone missing, which means either he ran away (not good), or he was taken by the tormenters (even worse). With the onslaught in full effect the Morgans try desperately to survive the night and find Liam, which proves to be a near impossible task when they are captured and the apex of torment begins. While not a new idea anymore, I really enjoy when killers don animal masks. Sadly, these killers were not very enjoyable and did not benefit the film as much as they could have. Their dialogue (yeah, they talked) was poor and none of them were even slightly likable, and unfortunately I can also say the same for the Morgan family. With no one to root for nor a single character to move the viewer, you can see why the film achieved such a mediocre rating. This is a good concept wasted on poor execution of elements that were taken for granted.

Jordan Baker, who directed a surprisingly star-studded horror flick in 2006 titled The Marsh, improved on his direction with Torment. His execution at the get-go is downright amazing and he continues his excellence until about halfway through the film. He sets us up with perfect atmosphere that was essential in providing a creepy feel without showing anything to start. Each kill is amazing and his portrayal of the killers, especially the initial one, makes for one of the best scenes of horror I have seen in years. Live gore and practical effects prevail for these kill sequences, but Baker’s great execution of the horror does not stop there. I loved his use of sound, which was relevant through the film and not just during the scenes of horror. The initial pre-kill scares consisted of things going bump in the night, and these scenes were highly effective. If you pay close enough attention you can also hear the crickets chirping outside the home, which is a simple detail that was highly effective in that it reminded me of a home I lived in as a child. His atmosphere is also fantastic, and that is a result of him taking full advantage of the film’s low budget. Without the money for fancy lighting equipment he and his director of photography were forced to use only a handful of lights, which naturally made for a very spooky atmosphere heavy in shadows and darkness. Unfortunately this is the best Baker’s direction has to offer. The acting performances he achieved were OK, with Katharine Isabelle stealing the show but not like she did in American Mary. While I loved the mannerisms of his tormenters, I absolutely hated their voice acting performances. Not only was their dialogue poor to begin with, but the actors struggled at making their voices creepy and instead sounded like someone trying on a mask at a Halloween store then trying to scare their friends. These scenes had me with my head in my hands because there was so much potential to make these awesome looking killers seal the deal, but instead I was left with mediocrity until the end credits rolled.

Overall, Torment is a film that could have been something truly amazing but instead fell victim to poor execution after an amazing 1.5 acts. At first the horror is epic and some of the best I have seen in a while, but soon enough the horror is a waste. If you are a fan of slashers and want to give this a shot I say to go ahead, as you would probably enjoy what good it has to offer, but you have been warned of what will eventually happen.

Rating: 5/10

…Additional Stills…

Wolf Creek 2 – 8

Director – Greg Mclean

Cast – John Jarratt, Ryan Corr, Shannon Ashlyn, Philippe Klaus, Shane Connor, Ben Gerrard, Gerard Kennedy, Annie Byron

Release Year – 2014

Reviewed by John of the Dead

It was Christmas Day, year 2005, when I saw what is still one of the best films of last decade, Wolf Creek. Greg Mclean’s simple but highly effective debut film shocked the masses and gave us the best Aussie horror we had seen in our modern day. The years passed and he followed up with the enjoyable Rogue, a killer croc flick, but I never thought he would give us a follow up to the film that made his career. Typically, sequels debut while the effect of the first film is still relevant to the masses, which is usually two years at the most. It surprised me when I learned last year that Wolf Creek 2 was a go, as I was sure most viewers, including myself, had forgotten about the original film. Either way, I was excited to give this a watch and went in hoping that Mclean still had it in him to further the carnage caused by serial-killing pig hunter Mick Taylor, and that he did. Wolf Creek 2 takes its predecessor and does what sequels are supposed to do: make the series even better. Wolf Creek is the sincere effort that even non-horror critics loved, and Wolf Creek 2 is the monster movie we’ve been waiting for.

The outback is home to some of the most dangerous animals in the world, and the most dangerous of them is man – specifically, Mick Taylor. Once again, unwitting tourists become prey for the incognito killer who does not merely kill for food, but for euphoric pleasure.

Mclean kicks the film into high gear with a great slow-burning intro that ends in the same maniacal fashion that will continuously linger over the 106 minute experience. Teaming with a co-writer (actor Aaron Sterns) for the first time in his career, Mclean’s story will appear as more brash than brainy, but that is far from the case. After the opening sequence we follow a pair of naïve tourists looking for fun in the isolated outback, and we are lead to believe that these will be the protagonists we are to follow from there on out. WRONG. For the first act of the film the story treats its characters the way Feast did, where you are constantly thrown for a loop over who the lead protagonist will be…because they all keep dying. This tactic is fun and it keeps you focused on what is going on during the developmental phase. Once Taylor has his eyes finally set on a nemesis its all all-out brutal cat and mouse game for the remainder of the film. Instead of focusing mostly on one location like the first film did, this sequel takes us across the Outback. There are even times when the film feels like the Spielberg flick Duel, mixed in with Joyride, as they battle each other on the open road. Eventually things settle down and we see the inner workings of Taylor’s compound, and that is when the film really shines. I really enjoy it when a sequel does more than give us the same antics but also improves on the story and reveals more to the viewer, which Wolf Creek 2 does. Most importantly though, Mclean’s horror is absolutely incredible. The kills he wrote into the film are maniacal, brutal, and unforgiving. No one is left unscathed and everyone who comes across Taylor is killed in brutal fashion. Men, women, the elderly – NOBODY is safe from this man. With awesome kills, a great antagonist, and constant tension, this is a story that never drags and actually becomes even better when it slows down for the slow-burn scenes.

Mclean’s direction is absolutely incredible and he does the best job possible when it comes to bringing his story to life. Starting with the opening sequence he gives us a great preview of things to come, which mostly consists of brutal torment and gut-wrenching kills. The film’s atmosphere is fantastic, and excellent locations are used to give us the same solemn yet adventurous feelings the unwitting tourists exhibit. We receive great performances from our leads, with Ryan Corr delivering a breakout performance while John Jarratt solidifies Mick Taylor as one of the genre’s most maniacal killers. Despite all of this, Mclean’s greatest accomplishment is his execution of the kills. Each kill is shown with full-frontal direction, never skimping away or keeping the carnage offscreen. We only see live-action gore, and lots of it. From blood splatter to dismemberment / decapitation, everything is done with practical effects that do their job in leaving a lasting memory well after the end credits roll. With 3 solid horror films under his belt in 8 years, it is safe to say that Greg Mclean is one of the genre’s top modern filmmakers, and I hope he continues his great work.

Overall, Wolf Creek 2 is a damn good sequel to a damn good film. Greg Mclean gives us one of the best horror films I have seen in quite a while and possibly the best of 2014 so far. The horror is diabolical, the tension is ever-present, and as I mentioned…it’ll leave a lasting memory well after the end credits roll.

Rating: 8/10

…Additional Stills…


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