Director – Juno Mak
Cast – Anthony Chan, Siu-Ho Chin, Fat Chung, Kara Hui, Giselle Lam, Billy Lau, Hoi-Pang Lo, Richard Ng, Hee Ching Paw
Release Year – 2014
Reviewed by John of the Dead
It had been a really long time, over a year, since I had viewed an Asian horror film. I was once obsessed with these flicks because of a supernatural binge I went through, and I am glad to make a return to what feels like old times. Rigor Mortis is Juno Mak’s freshman horror film and a homage to Mr. Vampire, a comedic horror series from the 1980s. This is no horror comedy though. Instead we view an incredibly well-shot, truly atmospheric experience heavy in ghost and vampire horror.
In Rigor Mortis a public housing complex is thrown into supernatural chaos when Chin Siu-Ho (playing himself), a washed-up actor, commits suicide and exposes the evil entities lurking within the complex.
Lai-yin Leung and Philip Yung’s script immediately throws us into the sad, desperate, and suicidal life of Sui-Ho. Soon after moving in to the haunted room 2442, he hangs himself from the ceiling fan. Well, at least he attempted to. Channeling his abilities, Taoist exorcist Yau senses the presence of the ghosts triggered by Sui-Ho’s suicide and manages to cut the rope before the actor passes to the afterlife. This then begins a slightly wacky tale that delivers more elements of horror than I could have imagined. We learn that the complex is crawling with ghosts only seen by certain gifted tenants, but the death of Uncle Tung proves to be the catalyst for the most extreme horror.
Tung’s accidental death shocks his loving wife, and she makes good on her love and loyalty to him by hiring fellow tenant Gau, a warlock, to bring him back from the dead. Little does she know, she is taking on a task she is very much unprepared for. When the initial ritual fails, she propositions Gau for one of more extreme proportions, and a bouncing vampire is resurrected. It is the vampire’s “bouncing” that makes this a homage to Mr. Vampire, along with Mr. Vampire actor Chin Sui-Ho portraying himself. The writers include lots of horror and tons of martial arts action to keep the viewer engaged. At 105 minutes I never found myself bored or uninterested in what was going on, and I credit their engaging story as part of the reason behind that.
The other reason behind my enjoyment of this film is Juno Mak’s incredible direction. From the get-go he immerses us in incredible atmosphere heavy in gloom, shadows, desaturation of colors, and employment of awesome sets / locations. The cinematography is also incredible, making the most of scenes as simple as lighting a cigarette and using them to keep your attention. His execution of the horror is solid, and that is with much of the ghost action coming via CGI effects. I believe his atmosphere had much to do with making the CGI OK. The vampire carnage was great and Mak expertly executes Uncle Jung to be a daunting and pretty spooky antagonist. The “bouncing” from this vampire was actually scary and far from the comedic execution seen in the Mr. Vampire series (no, I’m not dogging Mr. Vampire). Then, throw in the great execution of the martial arts element and Mak shows he is a serious newcomer to the genre as a director. He made his start in the genre as an actor in Dream Home, and with Rigor Mortis as an indicator of Mak’s talent I look forward to his future work.
Overall, Rigor Mortis is a solid supernatural horror film from a freshman director who performs like an esteemed genre veteran. Check this out if you are seeking good Asian horror.
Director – Ridley Scott
Cast – Anthony Hopkins, Julianne Moore, Gary Oldman, Ray Liotta, Frankie Faison, Giancarlo Giannini, Francesca Neri, Zeljko Ivanek, Hazelle Goodman, David Andrews, Francis Guinan
Release Year – 2001
Reviewed by John of the Dead
The sequel to The Silence of the Lambs, it surprised me that Hannibal was released an entire decade later. Typically sequels are released with the original still fresh in our minds, but I suppose Anthony Hopkins was so darn good in his Oscar-winning performances that filmmakers thought they could cash in on him once again. This time, Hannibal gives Lecter much more screen time and continues the manhunt with a new lead portraying Clarive Starling. It was never going to be as good as its famed predecessor, but this effort is sure to please those who want more of Dr. Lecter’s charismatic mayhem.
With Hannibal Lecter living in exile, the once esteemed FBI Special Agent Clarice Starling is now treated as a disgrace after a colleague causes significant casualties in a botched raid. With the agency railroading her to save face, Dr. Lecter reaches out to Clarice, which in turn makes him a target for a powerful victim of his seeking vengeance.
Just by looking at the credited cast and filmmakers you would expect this to be a tremendous effort. It comes directed by Ridley Scott, who at the time was still reeling in praise for Gladiator. Co-writer Steven Zaillian adapted Shindler’s List – enough said. Lastly, the cast consists of Anthony Hopkins, Julianne Moore, Gary Oldman, and Ray Liotta. With names like these you would assume this would be an Oscar contender, but it’s not. In fact I would not even say this is the best in the series, as I enjoyed prequel Red Dragon more. While it may seem like I am dogging the film I promise you I am not, I just…expected better. I expected greatness and was instead treated to “good”.
The film takes off with Clarice Starling’s action-packed fail of a suspect apprehension. It’s not her fault, but the good ole boys she works will don’t mind watching a natural over-achiever, who happens to be female, fall from grace. Much of the first act focuses on Clarice’s troubles, but 24 minutes in we get our first look at the devil of her past, Hannibal. After reaching out to her with a perfume-laced letter, he appears via a surveillance video from a store in Italy. At the 30 minute mark he finally makes his on-screen appearance, when a police detective makes contact with him. To further trouble Clarice’s attempt to bring Hannibal to justice, the detective intrudes on the investigation so that he can claim the 3 million dollar reward for Lecter’s capture. All of this attention brings the eccentric Mason Verger into the game. Verger is a former victim / lover of Hannibal the Cannibal, and his grotesque physical appearance is proof of that. Verger wants his revenge and he will pay handsomely for it. There are so many different elements going on in this film, and they all lead to Lecter. Clarice, dealing with the consequences of Special Agent Paul Krendler’s accusations of wrongdoing, wants him captured the right way. The Italian Inspector, Rinaldo Pazzi, wants the reward money for himself, and Verger is in cahoots with the inspector to have Lecter assassinated by Verger’s hired goons. Despite of the extreme odds against him, Lecter is on top of his game and gives everyone one hell of a fight.
There is plenty of horror written into the film, and unlike The Silence of the Lambs, we get to experience Hannibal commit several murders first-hand. These are not tame murders either, but torturous slow deaths that ridicule the victim as much as they cause physical pain. This effort gives us more of the Hannibal the Cannibal spoken of earlier in the series, and I was glad to see what I had been missing. The horror, first present about half way into the film (58 minutes), never relents and continues until the film’s final sequence that will leave some of you shying away from the screen in disgust.
Director Ridley Scott did very well with this effort, although I feel that I have been hard on him. He directed some of the greatest films all time, including Alien – one of the best horror films ever, so naturally I expected him to exceed what Jonathan Demme did with The Silence of the Lambs. He did not, but he did expand on the horror and I believe that is what matters most. Live gore was employed during the kill sequences, which included a kill that left a victim’s innards exposed for screaming spectators to see. The kills are full-frontal and Scott, along with the film’s two writers, did not why away from the violence. You would expect good performances from the notable actors involved, and to no surprise their performances were top notch. Obviously Anthony Hopkins stole the show, with Gary Oldman stealing thunder from Julianne Moore. Ray Liotta’s role was miniscule but he did well at portraying an asshole. I enjoyed the atmosphere here but the 10-year difference displayed the difference in film quality. The graininess from The Silence of the Lambs is gone and we are instead treated to a crisper image. This may seem minimal, but it did have a direct effect on the atmosphere. Thankfully, Scott still delivered a moody, dark, shadowy feel that makes this especially fun to watch with the lights off, which you should already be doing anyway with horror films.
Overall, Hannibal is a solid sequel to one of the most notable horror films there is. While high expectations will most likely not be met, this effort makes up for any shortcomings with great horror, awesome performances, and an engaging story that comes very well written and directed.
Director – Kevin Smith
Cast – Michael Parks, Justin Long, Johnny Depp, Genesis Rodriguez, Haley Joel Osment
Release Year – 2014
Reviewed by John of the Dead
When a friend informed me that Kevin Smith had a new horror film debuting this year I was surprised. I never assumed that he would do more horror after his 2011 effort Red State, and I never thought he would ever do a film like Tusk. Because of a busy schedule I never gave Tusk the time of day before its release, so I went into this film “blind”. I did not watch a single trailer, nor did I read into the plot or read any articles about Tusk. Simply put, the only thing I knew going into this experience was that it starred Justin Long. I had NO IDEA that the incredible Michael Parks would “release his inner Kraken” (as Quentin Tarantino put it) on us, and I had no clue that Johnny Depp would join as a supporting actor. Oh, and I also had no clue that Tusk would be one of the greatest, and funniest, creature / body horror films I have ever seen.
Podcaster Wallace Bryton believes his chance to hit the big leagues has come when he accepts an offer to interview a mysterious eccentric gentleman named Howard Howe (Michael Parks). Wallace believes Howe’s grand seafaring tales will make up for what has been a lackluster trip to Canada, but the most awe-inducing tale is yet to come. Howard Howe is going to perfect his craft this time and accomplish the unthinkable – he is going to turn Wallace into a walrus. With little time to spare before Wallace is eating mackerel, his best friend Teddy (Haley Joel Osment), girlfriend Allison (Genesis Rodriguez), and disgraced inspector Guy Lapointe (Johnny Depp) embark on a hilarious trip that only fuels the ongoing insanity that is Tusk.
I go in “blind” when I can, and I must say that this instance proved to be the most fruitful. Whether you know what to expect or not, I don’t think anything can prepare you for what you see here. You can read about it all you want, but seeing really is believing. Kevin Smith has been on the podcast scene since 2007, and he brings his love to the big screen with Wallace Bryton. Bryton initially travels to Canada for a sleazy story hook involving a troubled kid, a move his girlfriend finds distasteful and unlike the “old Wallace” AKA the broke and unfunny loser doing stand-up at low-end bars. A chance opportunity lands Wallace in Howe’s home, and the first act lathers up the viewer to the charismatic presence emitted by Howard Howe. I admit that I was just as infatuated by the man as Wallace was, but obviously I left the experience without walrus tusks jammed into my maxillae.
Smith’s horror arrives briskly, but it takes its time. The transformation process is not an immediate one, and it will take several days time before Wallace can be transformed into a real walrus, and we watch as Howe patiently makes his dream come true. There is an obvious (and outlandish) reason behind Howe’s desire to craft a walrus from a human subject, and I will let you learn the reason when you watch the film. I thoroughly enjoyed watching this slow-burning horror as Wallace constantly awakes to new horrors involving a body that is becoming increasingly non-human. Then, all of a sudden, the horror took a backseat. When Teddy and Allison make their way to the Canadian authorities they are lead to Guy Lapointe. Lapointe is unlike any other character in the film, which is usually the case for a role sold by Johnny Depp. This boozing, binge-eating French Canadian has been on Howe’s tail way before Wallace was involved. He offers to help the desperate two, both his own benefit and theirs. Howard Howe owned the first act, and Guy Lapointe owned the second act with his persona, mannerisms, and surprisingly…his intellect. He works slow, and it leaves the impatient Teddy and Allison squirming in their seats, and thanks to good execution it leaves the viewer squirming as well. Normally I would balk at the horror taking the backseat to such a strong overbearance of comedy, but I loved what I saw here. I laughed aloud on numerous occasions, and much to my surprise my laughter was not limited to Lapointe. Teddy and Allison remained in minimal roles, yet they still managed to not wind up wasteful characters who were only written to take up screen time. When I finally saw the final stage of Wallace’s transformation I could not help but laugh. I am not sure if it was because of shock, or because of the insanity before me, but I laughed more than I expected I would. The story eventually took us from a long second act to an awfully short third act heavy in the action I had been waiting 80some minutes to see. The final 15 or so minutes expanded to horror to a broader horizon that turned slapstick-esque comedy to a heavy sense of dread, and then the end credits rolled. Of course, be sure and stick around for some additional fun during the credits.
Along with a great story comes great direction from Kevin Smith. I will say outrightly that this is a performance-driven film, with Michael Parks hooking us early on. Justin Long sold his role, but before you know it he withers away and Parks takes the lead. He was absolutely fantastic and remains one of the best actors I have ever seen. I am pleased to say that I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Parks at the 2014 Texas Frightmare Weekend convention in Dallas, Texas. I only wish I knew about Tusk back then. Anyway, Parks eventually gives way to Johnny Depp, who delivers one of the most unique performances of his career. Because I did not know he was in the film I did not catch him right away. Slowly but surely, though, I realized I was watching a guy who plays drunk men very well. My favorite scene in the entire film is a flashback scene where Lapointe and Howe met years prior. The scene was not only very well executed by Smith but Parks left me with my mouth wide open the entire time. I was in awe at how versatile he was, with his character exhibiting polarizing emotional extremes. It was interesting to see Haley Joel Osment return to the horror screen, and Genesis Rodriguez was her usually beautiful self but without the cliché Latina stereotypes. Smith’s execution of the acting and comedy was great, but I’m sure you want to know about the horror. Simply put, he sold me a film about a man being turned into a walrus, and it left me horrified. He gives us a full-frontal view to the terror Wallace is going through, and he wrote the horror to move at just the right increments. The moment we see what new bastardization of the human body Wallace has gone through is the very moment Wallace sees it, so we share the shock and horror with him. I loved this tactic. When the big moment finally arrives and we see the complete product Kevin Smith’s editing (which he did himself) and camerawork (James Laxton; Bad Milo, The Violent Kind) assured we would once again be shocked. He employs practical effects for everything, giving us live-action gore, plenty of rubber/latex, and walrus tusks. He executes Justin Long in such tremendous fashion that I was both laughing at him and pitying him at the same time. This conflict of emotions left me even more intrigued at what I was watching, which I believe is one of the greatest body horror films of all time.
Overall, Tusk is incredible. There are similar films out there, like The Human Centipede and American Mary, but just like those two films stand on their own, so does Tusk. Well-written and very well directed, you can’t go wrong watching this. You’ll either believe it’s just as awesome as I say it is or you’ll think it’s a piece of crap. Find out for yourself.
Director – Renny Harlin
Cast – Val Kilmer, LL Cool J, Christian Slater, Eion Bailey, Clifton Collins Jr., Will Kemp, Jonny Lee Miller, Patricia Velasquez
Release Year – 2005
Reviewed by John of the Dead
I saw this film in bits and pieces over the years but never took it seriously enough to give it a legitimate viewing. It looked cheesy and seemed to consist of the usual Hollywood nonsense, and because of my lack of interest in such antics I decided to play the movie as background music while I tried to fall asleep. Also, I assumed the film had little to do with horror and served mostly as a cheap thriller. Much to my surprise, Mindhunters was a poor choice as a film to snooze too because I was hooked from the get-go. Not only that, but it contained elements of horror I had not noticed in my previous scattered viewings. Never did I imagine I would say I liked the movie, but I liked Mindhunters.
Seven FBI agents and a police detective partake in a psychological profiling program on a deserted Naval island only to discover that they themselves have been profiled as part of a serial killer’s deadly game.
If you have an interest in serial killer films then this story should definitely interest you. Often times the authorities are pursuing a killer whose victims are not themselves so this tactic ups the ante and definitely secured my interest. Writer Wayne Kramer went on to write and direct the awesome Running Scared after this, so you know the guy has talent. The FBI agents and Detective Gabe Jensen (LL Cool J) are students of Jake Harris (Val Kilmer), a controversial criminal profiler said to be the best in the business. Their stay at the Naval island is to be the agents’ final test before selection to the esteemed rank they desire, and things go awry very quick. The first of the agents is killed 32 minutes into the film, and the initial kill is a shocker sure to wake you up. They are unsure if the kill is an intentional death or an accident, but they soon realize that something sinister is at hand. One by one the students are dropping like flies in awesomely violent fashion, leaving a very obvious question to be answered: “Who is doing the killing?”. It is obvious the murders took a lot of planning, and with Harris gone they are unable to tell if he went crazy for their final test or if one of the students is the culprit. Tensions flare between them and friendships deteriorate as everyone is a suspect until they meet their gruesome demise. The story keeps things interesting with deaths spaced out at just the right times, constant developments, and surprisingly good horror. The usual Hollywood clichés are there, like the students shooting things to make them work (a dangerous action in real life), but if you can look past that or enjoy it then you’ll be good.
Finnish director Renny Harlin directs, and if that name sounds familiar he got his break with A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master. He does well in setting up great gloomy atmosphere and the sets used for the island location, which take up the bulk of the film, are incredible. I felt immersed within the students and marveled at their living quarters, which is where most of the deaths occurred. I was also very impressed with the kills in this flick! For such a “Hollywood” film the kills were brutal, filmed in full-frontal fashion (no shying away), and most importantly…came mostly via live action effects. Had this film been done today with a different director I would expect lame CGI gore to the utmost. With Renny Harlin in charge he delivered on the horror in the way a guy behind one of the better Freddy Krueger films should. The acting performances were cheesy but that is expected with an action-oriented story involving Val Kilmer, Christian Slater, and LL Cool J. Both a horror and action director, Harlin executed both elements very well and is the biggest reason behind my enjoyment of a film I expected to laugh at.
Overall, Mindhunters is a sometimes cheesy but nonetheless awesome horror/thriller executed very well on what matters most. The story is a highly engaging one and with Harlin’s solid direction you can’t go wrong.
Director – Rob Kuhns
Cast – George A. Romero, Mark Harris, Gale Anne Hurd, Chiz Schultz, Larry Fessenden, Jason Zinoman, Christopher Cruz, Elvis Mitchell, Samuel D. Pollard, S. William Hinzman
Release Year – 2014
Reviewed by John of the Dead
Following Doc of the Dead I checked out another documentary involving zombies, this one titled Birth of the Living Dead. Focused solely on Night of the Living Dead and not zombies in general, this is a concentrated experience that delves not only into the filming of George A. Romero’s classic but also its lasting impact on society. At a brisk 76 minutes director Rob Kuhns employs Romero, Larry Fessenden, and a slew of others to tell the tale surrounding the quintessential zombie film that “started it all”.
The film begins with Romero talking about his background and early days filming shorts and commercials for the Latent Image company. After a failed screenplay about set in medieval times he read Richard Matheson’s “I Am Legend”, an apocalyptic “vampire” story and the inspiration for what eventually became Night of the Living Dead was born. We see the immense collaboration that took place during filming, from cast and crew to the local townsfolk, everyone involved offered a selfless helping hand.
I really liked how Kuhn focused on the impact of the film as much as he did the production. In a sense Night of the Living Dead was an “eff you” to Hollywood and for a number of reasons – all delved into in the documentary. Romero and Fessenden contribute the most to the experience, with film historians and producers filling in with their take on the film’s accomplishments. Even if this is not your favorite zombie film, this effort is a worthy watch that will leave you appreciating Night and Romero for opening the door to what is the modern day zombie – a far cry from the somnambulist and voodoo slaves of the 1920s to 1940s.
Overall, Birth of the Dead is a must for those who enjoy the zombie sub-genre or want to learn more about what made it as iconic as it is today.
Director – Alexandre O. Philippe
Cast – Bruce Campbell, George A. Romero, Tom Savini, Simon Pegg, Sid Haig, Robert Kirkman, Stuart Gordon, Fran Kranz, Greg Nicotero, Judith O’Dea, John A. Russo
Release Year – 2014
Reviewed by John of the Dead
Zombies have become so commonplace with society today that I am not sure if I like their popularity or dislike it. It’s great to have awareness and money thrown into the sub-genre, but at the same time I’d be a liar if I said the sub-genre lost some of its edge now that “everyone” loves zombies. Nonetheless, filmmaker Alexandre O. Philippe, the man behind The People. vs. George Lucas, decided to put together a documentary about zombie culture, titled Doc of the Dead. Involving some of our favorite actors and filmmakers, this 81-minute experience is one of the best horror documentaries I have seen and a must-watch for those with any interest in zombies – from newb to veteran.
The film kicks off with the most lovely of hosts, horror icon / bafoon Bruce Campbell. Bruce, Simon Pegg, and Sid Haig all speak of what zombie culture has become today, and then the man who changed it all graces the screen. I’m sure you already know this, but that man is George. A. Romero. We go through a quick history lesson on how zombies became what they are today, starting with the somnambulist in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and the voodoo zombies in White Zombie and I Walked With A Zombie. Then came George Romero, who essentially gave us the zombies that we see today. Before him zombies were essentially slaves in one way or another, and he transformed the sub-genre by implementing a much scarier origin for the undead: plagues. Mankind has survived a lot of chaos throughout our time on Earth, and while wars have decimated populations there is no greater threat to our survival than plagues. So, George Romero combined plagues and the undead. Genius, right?
Romero has quite a bit of screen time and he speaks of the significance behind his three initial zombie films, Night / Dawn / Day of the Dead, and how each of their contributed their own social commentary to the viewer. The doc then moves into another highly enjoyable element of the zombie sub-genre: comedy. In the 1980s The Return of the Living Dead started a comedic phenomenon that still exists even up to this day. Other films are mentioned, like Re-Animator, The Evil Dead, Shaun of the Dead, and 28 Days Later, answering lots of the questions the films created. Bruce Campbell speaks on whether the Deadites are really zombies, and while Danny Boyle was nowhere to be found we have a few “experts” join in on the infected vs. zombie debate made famous by 28 Days Later. Of course, no modern zombie documentary would be complete without mentioning “The Walking Dead” and including creator Robert Kirkman, who allows us into his mind and shows us how he created the highly successful comic and TV show. Philippe stops at nothing to give us a documentary that touches on as many elements as it can, and he even touches on zombie porn, which is apparently a real thing. I had no clue, and I hope for your sake that was a surprise to you as well. While I recommend this film to all horror fans, and especially to the newbies so they can learn a thing or two, I really want you horror veterans to give this a shot. Why? Because many of the genre vets we know and love appear in this documentary. Bruce Campbell, George A. Romero, Tom Savini, Simon Pegg, Sid Haig, Robert Kirkman, Stuart Gordon, Fran Kranz, Greg Nicotero, Judith O’Dea, John A. Russo, and several other notables make their way into this film, and trust me, it’s great to hear what these people have to say about zombie culture.
Overall, Doc of the Dead is one of the most enjoyable horror documentaries I have seen. Whether you are a veteran of a newb to the sub-genre, this is an 81-minute experience you need to make yourself a part of. Check it out!