December 13, 2009 28 comments

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Cursed – 5

Director – Wes Craven

Cast – Christina Ricci, Jesse Eisenberg, Portia de Rossi, Joshua Jackson, Milo Ventimiglia, Derek Mears, Jonny Acker, Eric Ladin, Mya, Shannon Elizabeth, Kristina Anapau, Daniel Edward Mora

Release Year – 2005

Reviewed by John of the Dead

In 2005 I was working as a projectionist for a local Cinemark movie theater. I remember Cursed playing there but despite my love for Craven’s films I never watched this effort in its entirety. I remembered certain scenes because I would peek in to make sure the film was running right, but with so many bad reviews I was not interested in coming in to see the full experience. Almost 10 years later I figured enough time has passed and I should finish off the last few Craven films I have passed over, so I gave Cursed a shot. Not only did I not know it starred a young Jesse Eisenberg, but it also features Bowling For Soup covering “Little Red Riding Hood” during the opening sequence. I learned a lot watching Cursed, but that is not enough to recommend this film to you.

When a werewolf in Los Angeles curses the lives of Jesse and Christin, the brother and sister learn they must kill their unknown attacker if they hope to keep from forever becoming werewolves too.

Craven and writer Kevin Williamson took a break after Scream 3, and Cursed was their return after a 5 years hiatus. The story is an OK one but it is not anything special. If anything this is a very basic flick that gives us the usual teen horror format and offers nothing new or even slightly original to the werewolf sub-genre. Now a story does not necessarily need to break new ground to be a good story, but this was just bland – plain and simple. The character play is cliché, with each protagonist and antagonist portrayed in highly predictable fashion, and while I don’t mind “cheese” – in fact I love it – this is not the type of horror cheese I find joy in. As far as the horror goes Williamson writes in a few kills and several chase sequences, but with some of the kills occurring offscreen the horror is unlikely to appease most genre vets.

Like most of Craven’s directing efforts he provides a good “feel” that just sucks you in, even if the story is a bit tame. His atmosphere is fantastic as usual, making every nighttime location a creepy one. His execution of the characters was decent, with nobody delivering a horrible performance but no one giving a solid one either. Everyone was just OK. I was however very disappointed with the use of the werewolf. With effects guru Rick Baker, AKA the man behind the effects in An American Werewolf in London, on set I expected to see some great werewolf action. Sadly, the werewolf was a disappointment. All of the good scenes were filmed with a CGI beast, and while I could understand some of the acrobatics being CGI I was saddened to see even basic scenes in the CGI format. Close-up simple scenes provided a live-action beast, but the biggest blasphemy involved the transformation scene. With Rick Baker in tow and Wes Craven behind the camera I figured we’d get the best transformation scene of this millennium, but instead I saw that I believe is the biggest disappointment – a CGI transformation. Maybe this was for budgetary reasons, or time constraints, but regardless…it was a damn shame.

Overall, Cursed is a mediocre run-of-the-mill teen werewolf film that offers nothing worth going out of your way to see. This is one of those “if it’s on I’ll watch it” films, and nothing more than that. With Wes Craven, Kevin Williamson, and Rick Baker on board I expected much better, especially the transformation.

Rating: 5/10

Tales from the Crypt: SE 2 EP 17: “My Brother’s Keeper” – 7

Director – Peter S. Seaman

Cast – Timothy Stack, Jonathan Stark, Jessica Harper, Ron Orbach, Valerie Bickford, John Kassir

Release Year – 1990

Reviewed by John of the Dead

This time “Tales from the Crypt” gives us a tale regarding something I can’t say I have seen in the genre: Siamese twins. Attached at the hip, the reckless boozehound Eddie is often at odds with his correct “square” brother Frank. When the opportunity to surgically separate them with a 50% possibility for success, Eddie has a hard time convincing Frank to sign on for the surgery. However, when a woman becomes involved in Frank’s life, a secret heavy in lies and deception is exposed…with fatal results.

The story comes from the writers behind Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and who later on wrote How the Grinch Stole Christmas as well as Shrek The Third. So, you should expect this episode to be a bit silly, but fun, and it is. The first two acts consist mostly of the brothers’ conflicting personalities ruining their chances with women, but ultimately it is their conjoined “situation” that keeps the women at bay. Frank’s refusal to sign off on the operation leaves Eddie with a plan: make Frank’s life miserable until he agrees, and he does a damn good job of that – ultimately leading to the episodes’ only murder. The execution is fun and despite not being too horrific the story is still an engaging one.

Overall, “My Brother’s Keeper” is an enjoyable episode that takes its time delivering the horror but thankfully pays off in the end.

Rating: 7/10

Tales from the Crypt: SE 2 EP 16: “Television Terror” – 8

Director – Charlie Picerni

Cast – Morton Downey Jr., Dorothy Parke, Peter Van Norden, John Kassir, Warren Burton, Michael Harris, Ami Rothschild, Candace Savalas, Jeannie Epper

Release Year – 1990

Reviewed by John of the Dead

This time Tales from the Crypt takes on a popular element of American entertainment: live television. Morton Downey Jr. stars as Horton Rivers, a shock television host/journalist who will do anything to get his struggling show out of its low-ratings status and into the big leagues. He decides to given an on-air tour of an eerie old house with a “haunted” past, but what he assumes will be another lollygag for ratings soon turns into the most frightening night of his life…and on live television.

“Television Terror” is one of the most engaging episodes of the second season. Morton Downey Jr. is incredible as Horton Rivers, and he lays on the sleaze in heavy doses. We witness Morton’s behind the scenes action and how he does not give a damn about the authenticity of his investigations, just so as long as the ratings are high. Before long he enters the home, which is apparently the scene of a grisly series of murders committed by an old woman who went crazy – killing the elderly tenants of her boarding home. At first the story is tame, with Horton trying his best to creatively entertain his viewers, but before long he runs into the trouble he was “looking” for. A series of paranormal events leave him and his cameraman in a literal fight for their lives, and all for the viewing pleasure that made this his most famous episode. The direction from long-time TV director Charlie Picerni is fantastic, giving us incredible atmosphere, an awesome performance from Morton Downey Jr., and solid horror that left me very satisfied.

Overall, “Television Terror” is one of the best Tales from the Crypt episodes and one that I highly suggest you watch.

Rating: 8/10

Black Rock – 3

Director – Katie Aselton

Cast – Katie Aselton, Lake Bell, Kate Bosworth, Will Bouvier, Jay Paulson, Anslem Richardson

Release Year – 2013

Reviewed by John of the Dead

When I first saw a trailer for Black Rock I just knew it would be a film with little substance, poor direction, cheap writing, and unbearable acting. Sure enough, after convincing myself to hit Play for the sole reason of getting the film off my queue I can see that every one of my predictions proved to be correct. This 83 minute waste may get a few things right here and there, but overall this is a poor experience you should stay away from – even if you enjoy Lifetime channel quality films.

Childhood friends Abby, Lou, and Sarah set aside their dramatic personal issues and reunite for a girls’ weekend on a remote island off the coast of Maine. Much to their surprise, three recently dishonorably discharged male soldiers inhabit what they thought would be a deserted island. All is well at first, but when one wrong move leaves a soldier dead the girls find themselves in a deadly fight to get off the island.

Drama is the name of the game when it comes to Black Rock. We witness the bickering between the girls as soon as they reach the island. The purpose of the trip is to rekindle their childhood friendships, but instead of being positive they return to their bickering ways early on. When they come across the three ex-soldiers, Derek, Henry, and Alex, there is a bit of tension at first but soon enough we see them getting along. It is when one of the soldiers makes a fatal mistake that they turn the tide on the girls and do their best to exact revenge. I liked the idea of this scenario taking place on a deserted island with nowhere to go, but that is the only thing I enjoyed about the film. We see the women forced to harden their personalities if they wish to survive the ordeal, and while that is sure to be inspiring to some on paper it was poorly executed here. The Descent is a great example of women facing insurmountable odds and countering them on their own – Black Rock is trash. The character play is poor and is not limited to just the women. The male antagonists are also poorly executed, although I expected them to be unlikable so it is less of a fiasco than the horribly written protagonists. If you can smell feminist undertones then you are of course right, and again I apply the same logic as my comparison to The Descent. The Descent did it right and Black Rock did it in horrible fashion.

You know what is equally as bad as the screenplay adapted by Mark Duplass based on Katie Aselton’s story – Katie Aselton’s direction. I enjoyed the island aspect and she used decent sets, but everything else is very poorly executed. The acting is cheesy, the execution of the tension is mediocre at best, and the fight/kill scenes are laughable. I am not making this up either. I laughed at some of these kill sequences and not for good reason. The fight scenes were even more terrible, with not only your typical poor decision-making, but absolutely ridiculous decision-making that belongs in a parody movie and not an effort taking itself as seriously as this one. I’ll give you one example before I roll out: a flying elbow drop from one of the female survivors. Had this been an elbow drop of Macho Man Randy Savage proportions I may have laughed in a different manner, but I laughed AT the movie, not with it.

Overall, Black Rock is a film that should never grace your screen and is a disgrace to other films that show gender-based horror in a positive light, like The Descent, American Mary, and Ginger Snaps.

Rating: 3/10

…Additional Stills…

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


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