December 13, 2009 28 comments

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Birth of the Living Dead – 7

September 19, 2014 Leave a comment

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.

Rating: 7/10

…Additional Stills…

That infamous forehead….

Doc of the Dead – 7

September 16, 2014 Leave a comment

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!

Rating: 7/10

…Additional Stills…

The Possession of Michael King – 6

September 13, 2014 Leave a comment

Director – David Jung

Cast – Shane Johnson, Ella Anderson, Cara Pifko

Release Year – 2014

Reviewed by John of the Dead

I had been hearing a lot about The Possession of Michael King lately and had to give it a watch to see what the fuss is all about. Staying away from trailers and reviews, I went into the film “blind” with few expectations and was pleasantly surprised by what I saw. I really liked the interesting approach to the possession and it provides fresh air to the convoluted demon possession sub-genre. This effort won’t win any awards and is not a flick you must rush to see, but in the end The Possession of Michael King is an experience fans of demon possession may appreciate.

Following the sudden tragic death of his wife, atheist Michael King decides to make a documentary dispelling the supernatural by taking taking those who use it to task. By allowing necromancers, demonologists, and occult practitioners to use their rituals on him, he hopes to capture their failures on film and prove them to be the frauds he believes they are. Unfortunately for Michael, he was wrong about the dark arts he partook in and an evil force is now taking him over. With time running out and a demonic entity that won’t let him go, we watch Michael’s desperate plight to defeat the evils he foolishly welcomed.

I really like this story because it brings a different perspective to the demonic possession element. Usually a completely innocent and unsuspecting person is possessed, but in this story the lead willingly opens the door to it – something I had never seen before. First-timer David Jung and his co-writer Tedi Sarafian kick things off with a slightly vengeful Michael who displays animosity towards psychics and their cohorts because he feels such belief in superstition lead to his wife’s death. A number of circumstances lead to her passing, but seeing a psychic took its toll on her. Michael’s desire to prove them wrong leads to him engaging in what an angelic person like myself would refer to as very risky behavior. He sincerely tries to have a number of demons enter his body, and low and behold…much to his surprise…he gets his wish. We see this occur about 25 minutes into the film but it remains subtle at first. Michael tries to find logical explanations behind his ever-growing ailments, like the screaming voices in his ears. At the 40 minute mark the horror starts to really manifest and it appears that Michael is in way over his head.

Before this the horror had consisted of mostly cheap jump scares that were largely illogical, like a quick splice of a possessed Michael well before he was ever possessed. Once the horror began to manifest halfway through the piece it never relented. The writers focused much of the horror on Michael himself and did not involve many other characters. His daughter and sister were slightly effected but most of Michael’s suffering involves only himself. When he finally comes to terms with what he has done we see him try every self remedy in the book. Spells and incantations do nothing to save him and we see a very different man from the beginning of the film. Now we have a believer who is living in extreme regret for what he has done. Much to my surprise there is no exorcism in the film. I can’t think of many possession films, especially one with “possession” in the title, that does not include the always-expected exorcism sequence at the end of the film. While Michael’s personal horror consumes the film I never really found it scary. It would be scary to be in his situation, but unless you can really envelop yourself in his character you won’t find many worthy scares despite plenty of “horror”. Because the horror depends so much on Michael and hardly involves anyone/anything else it is one-dimensional. I believe this lack of additional elements lead to the horror not being as effective as it could have been. The demons within him could have served a much bigger role, where their personalities and attributes are brought to screen, but for whatever reason they stayed hidden within Michael and served as lost potential.

David Jung also directs and I will say that he did very well for his freshman effort. This is not a devout POV “found footage” film and the perspective shifts from first to third often. The interesting storyline had me hooked early on and the scenes where Michael tries to become possessed are very engaging. Once the possession takes place we see Michael go through both physical and psychological changes and actor Shane Johnson handles the dramatics very well. Despite a 16 year career this seems to be his first leading role, and it is one that focuses heavily on him and hardly anyone else. With Michael also serving as his own antagonist I applaud Shane for a performance bringing his character from one extreme to the other. Jung’s execution of the horror is mostly positive but it did not hit as hard as I expected it to. With the horror solely based on Michael it lacked the multi-dimensional elements that would have made for increased, or at least more effective, horror for the viewer to enjoy.

Overall, The Possession of Michael King offers a unique premise to the possession sub-genre, but is not the hard-hitting film it could have been. The story kept it a little too basic and never delivered on the scares. Jung’s direction is good, so this is not a complete waste, just don’t go in over-hyped.

Rating: 6/10

…Additional Stills…

Wer – 7

September 9, 2014 Leave a comment

Director – William Brent Bell

Cast – A.J. Cook, Simon Quarterman, Sebastian Roché, Vik Sahay, Brian Scott O’Connor, Camelia Maxim

Release Year – 2014

Reviewed by John of the Dead

I really like werewolf films because they provide polar opposites of the infected character, and most importantly, a transformation from man/woman to beast. Wer excited me because it involves a legal drama alongside the werewolf conflict, so I expected to be very intrigued by the story. While it did not include some the qualities I was hoping for I did enjoy Wer and the horror it provided.

Defense attorney Kate Moore takes on the case of Talan Gwynek – a large and quiet man charged with the brutal deaths of a family on vacation. As Kate tries desperately to prove his innocence, she and her team uncover a horrifying secret that proves his guilt instead.

Written by the same two writers behind the less than favorable films Stay Alive and The Devil Inside, I was impressed with their improved writing in this effort. The story begins much like a legal drama, with Kate, her investigator Eric, and her medical professional Gavin trying their best to attain information and understand what exactly happened the night of the murders. Law enforcement officials believe they have an open and shut case with the hideous Talan as their suspect, and funny as it be…they are right. After about 50 minutes of good development we finally see our first true solid horror, and from then on out the werewolf action takes over. Before this the most horror we received was a look at the mutilated victims at the morgue. Only 8 minutes later we receive the moment every werewolf fan anticipates: the transformation. Talan’s does not consist of a full transformation to a wolf though, as he keeps a lot of his human figure. While I do not prefer this I won’t balk at it. I see it as a matter of one’s own opinion and nothing more. The horror written into the film takes full control and provides more deaths than I could keep count of. If I had to guess I would say there are several dozen, so you know the story won’t be lacking in excitement.

Co-writer William Brent Bell directs the film, and I am glad to say that he has improved on the direction seen in Stay Alive and The Devil Inside. From the get-go I was hooked on the story and I credit his execution for that. The first half of the film is all development and Bell makes it as interesting as possible by executing it as more of a legal drama than a horror film. This changes when the horror kicks in, giving us the best of both the worlds the story offers. He achieves fair performances from his actors as well, but none of them stole the show. I definitely wanted better execution of Brian Scott O’Connor, who portrayed Talan / the werewolf, but he was just OK and not as menacing as he could have been. Aside from that the horror is pretty good thanks to lots of kills and plenty of blood. If you are looking for more than that, like real tension, you won’t find it here. The horror is brainless and you get to love it or hate it. I loved the number of kills and the brutality of them, but I hated seeing so much CGI gore. The werewolf transformation was also CGI. CGI has its place in modern horror, but it should be as far away from werewolf films as possible.

Overall, Wer gets a lot of things right and only suffers a few faults that make it less than stellar but still a worthy watch.

Rating: 7/10

Haunt – 5

September 8, 2014 Leave a comment

Director – Mac Carter

Cast – Jacki Weaver, Liana Liberato, Harrison Gilbertson, Ione Skye, Brian Wimmer, Danielle Chuchran, Ella Harris, Carl Hadra, Sebastian Michael Barr

Release Year – 2014

Reviewed by John of the Dead

I am a sucker for a lot of things, and haunted house films are one of the many. This is the sole reason behind why I gave Haunt a chance, and while this effort gave me nothing I haven’t seen before I still enjoyed it to an extent. The story follows the Asher family after the move into a home with a known haunted past. Soon after their arrival the oldest son, Evan, befriends their shy neighbor Sam, and together they try to uncover the secrets that plague the home, unwittingly unleashing the evil force that dwells within.

Haunt begins in awesome fashion, with a flashback to the home’s initial haunting that started it all. Fast forward to present time and we are somewhat introduced to the protagonist characters, as well as the wife/mother of the family that preceded them – suffering a terrible demise. Before long Evan meets Sam, and he provides the comfort he lacks in moving to a new home. Sam her has own problems at home, and together they use the Asher house past to quench their frustration and curiosities. I enjoyed the horror we received, and that is due heavily to the film’s atmosphere. First-time director Mac Carter does a fantastic job setting a creepy mood heavy in shadows and low lighting. Before the scares occur you already feel the spooks approaching, with the only disappointment being that most of the scares are jump scares. I did highly enjoy the look of the ghosts and found them very creepy, ignoring the fact that they sometimes came via CGI. If I can ignore CGI when I normally balk at a film not using live effects then you know the direction is good. The rest of the film is so-so, with a mediocre story and decent execution of every other element involved, like acting, character development, etc. Carter’s execution of the horror is positive and should provide a few jolts, but the horror itself is one-dimensional and hardly enough to make this a good horror film.

Overall, Haunt gets things right when it comes to the horror, but the story holds it back. Had we been given more of this awesome horror than more faults could have been overcome, and while this is not a terrible film it definitely did not fully satisfy my expectations for a positive horror flick. If you have nothing else to watch and want to enjoy some good atmosphere then this may suffice, but only if you are low on other selections.

Rating: 6/10

…Additional Stills…

Leprechaun: Origins – 4

September 7, 2014 Leave a comment

Director – Zach Lipovsky

Cast – Stephanie Bennett, Andrew Dunbar, Melissa Roxburgh, Brendan Fletcher, Garry Chalk, Teach Grant, Bruce Blain, Adam Boys, Mary Black, Emilie Ullerup

Release Year – 2014

Reviewed by John of the Dead

The 1993 film Leprechaun remains one of my favorite horror films of all time. Sure it’s cheesy, but it’s fun too, and that is what matters most to me. When I first learned of Leprechaun: Origins I was intrigued because the Leprechaun series had yet to introduce a prequel, then I learned that the Origins flick had nothing to do with the Warwick Davis-starring series. Nonetheless, I hoped to enjoy this film and witness a killer Leprechaun from a different point of view, and while I received the latter I most definitely did not enjoy this effort. It’s nice to see something different, but it’s painful to watch a film as bad as Leprechaun: Origins.

Two couples backpacking through the beautiful Irish countryside unwittingly discover the gruesome secret a small town has harbored for decades, where one of Ireland’s most infamous legends proves to be a terrifying reality.

First-time writer Harris Wilkinson’s story kicks off quickly, with a few deaths during the opening sequence to set the tone. We follow the two couples as they innocently enter a small hospitable town that provides them with a cabin for the night – a kind gesture that soon proves to be of ill will. At the 27 minute mark the Leprechaun finally makes contact with our protagonists, causing havoc but not doing too much damage…yet. We learn that the town has been plagued by the Leprechaun for ages and they must provide sacrifices for it to feast on or the townsfolk will suffer the same fate. For a film with “Origins” in the title we really do not learn much about the origin of the Leprechaun, which is one big reason why you should not take this film seriously. At the 54 minute mark the horror picks up again and we finally start to see the good stuff – gore/kills. For the most part the story really does shy away from on-screen kills and it takes over an hour before the first full-frontal slaying takes place. If you are expecting a Leprechaun similar to the one in the Warwick Davis series you are definitely out of luck. This Leprechaun is more of a creature, and it does not speak at all. While the 1993 film is a fun flick this one takes itself seriously despite some very poor writing and direction. I was glad to see live gore during a few of the kills, including a spine-removal scene (ala Predator 2) that made for the best the flick had to offer. Do not be fooled by the film’s listed runtime. Whatever promotional material you come across will say that this is a 90 minute film, but it includes 12 minutes of end credits, giving you a 78 minute flick where the good stuff doesn’t really kick in until the third act, which is almost an hour in.

Director Zach Lipovsky breaks away from his TV-movie background but sadly gives us a film of poor TV-movie quality. I did enjoy his dark and gloomy atmosphere heavy in shadows and low-lighting, but everything else regarding his direction was either mediocre or sub-par. The look of the creature was OK but the execution of the beast was unfortunate. We are witness to POV filming from the creature’s point of view, which proves to be a poor decision, and his execution of the horror does not take full advantage of what his antagonist has to offer. I was glad to see live gore during the most important kill of the film, but with some of the other potentially positive ones coming via shitty CGI it was once again hard for me to take this film seriously.

Overall, Leprechaun: Origins has absolutely nothing to do with the notable series that gave Jennifer Aniston her start and birthed several outlandish sequels, but that is not a problem. The problem is the film is poorly written, executed to mediocrity, and just a waste of time / money.

Rating: 4/10

Evolver – 6

September 7, 2014 Leave a comment

Director – Mark Rosman

Cast – Ethan Embry, Cassidy Rae, Nassira Nicola, Chance Quinn, Cindy Pickett, John de Lancie, Paul Dooley, Tim Griffin

Release Year – 1995

Reviewed by John of the Dead

When I came across Evolver I thought it looked like some cheesy 90s fun and decided to give it a go. All I had to read was “killer robot” and I was hooked on the idea, hoping that it would be more than a movie aimed at a young audience. Evolver managed to somewhat deliver on the killer robot element but is ultimately a tame experience for a fan of films like Death Machine. This is by no means a bad film and it did provide the 90s fun element I was hoping for, but if you are looking for good excitement this is probably not for you.

When Kyle becomes the greatest Evolver player in the world, he receives the gift of a lifetime – his own Evolver robot. Straight of out of the popular virtual reality game, Kyle and his friends can now play the game in real life with a real life robot. Little do they know, the robot is a failed military experiment programmed to win at all costs, and the struggle for survival soon becomes reality.

Mark Rosman writes and directs this simple story, which gives us nothing new but then again with good execution the same old story can still be an enjoyable one. The story begins with Kyle’s obsession with the virtual reality game, in hopes that he will achieve the prize of owning his very own Evolver. Soon enough his wish comes true, and at the 20 minute mark we see our first pseudo-scene of horror, where the robot shows some animalistic qualities. 10 minutes later we have our first kill, and while it is a bit tame I am glad to say the kills grow in intensity. If you are looking for a film similar to Death Machine, like I was, you will be disappointed. This flick is pretty tame in all areas, with the most extreme kills coming off as mediocre ones compared to better efforts. There are also very few kills to enjoy, with most of the horror and carnage resulting in people hurt and not killed. Still, Evolver served as nostalgia for me and even included some funny scenes here and there, like when the robot snuck into the women’s high school locker room to peep at the girls.

Rosman’s direction is fair, however his direction was as tame as his story. It was fun to see a live-action robot delivering the horror and I applaud Rosman for making this happen in a convincing fashion. While the kills were written pretty tame I can say that they were executed about as well as they could have been, but don’t expect anything great. The acting performances are the usual 80s performances but it was cool to see a young Ethan Embry trying to outwit a robot programmed to become more and more intelligent as it learns about the world around it.

Overall, Evolver is an OK killer robot flick that lacks when it comes to the kills and subsequently…the horror. If you miss films from the 90s then there is a good chance you will enjoy this one, but don’t expect too much. This is nothing like Rosman’s previous horror film, one of the most recognizable slasher films of all time, The House on Sorority Row.

Rating: 6/10


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