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The Taking of Deborah Logan – 7

October 29, 2014 Leave a comment

Director – Adam Robitel

Cast – Jill Larson, Anne Ramsay, Michelle Ang, Ryan Cutrona Anne Bedian, Brett Gentile, Jeremy DeCarlos, Tonya Bludsworth, Julianna Taylor

Release Year – 2014

Reviewed by John of the Dead

I first saw the initial trailer for this film on Facebook and was immediately hooked on seeing this. What left me hooked was the film’s unique premise involvong something I had not seen in the genre, or even the demonsub-genre, before – alzheimers / dementia. 2001 Maniacs actor Adam Robitel directs this effort, his first feature horror film, and alongside a co-written screenplay donning a few good jolts his execution makes this a worthy experience.

As part of her Ph.D program, Mia takes on the opportunity to film a senior woman’s battle with Alzheimer’s. When the woman begins to undergo strange and unexplainable symptoms her family begins to suspect that her problems are of a supernatural, not biological, origin.

The story begins with an intro from Mia where she declares her intent for this project. They quickly arrive at Deborah’s home and are welcomed by her daughter Sarah, who is only doing this because Mia is paying for this opportunity and Deborah’s medical bills have left the family strapped for cash. Deborah is a nice lady at first, although she is not very receptive to being filmed constantly in the “privacy” of her own home. Soon enough, the crew witnesses one of Deborah’s violent outbursts and gets a full-frontal view of the chaos Sarah must deal with on a daily basis. The spooks begin early, with a creepy scene appearing at the 16-minute mark and several more at the 22, 24, and 27 minute marks. This makes for one hell of a first act and a smart move by the writers to suck you in early. The second act shows us more of the medical aspect of Deborah’s condition, with doctors stumped over what is causing the terrible infections and rashes covering her body. Sure enough, the scares don’t stop, and we get the first truly solid scene 32 minutes into the film. I was quite impressed with the writing here, as this is a scare that you know is coming, yet the add-ons to the spook make it one that was more effective than it should have been. As the story builds Deborah’s outbursts continue, and revelations about her past arise. The horror then grows as locations move from the home to the hospital, and then another location where you will witness one of the creepiest scenes of 2014.

I enjoyed the horror seen here and that is about all the film has to offer. The characters involved serve as platforms for Deborah and contribute little to the film on their own. Is this a bad thing? Not really, because I did not notice it very much until after the film. I will say that this would have been a more fulfilling effort had there been characters I actually gave a damn about, but with the most important element, the horror, intact I won’t balk at this too much.

Robitel’s direction is great for a first-timer and is directly responsible for my enjoyment of the film. With not much more to offer than the horror itself he excelled in making this a creepier experience than expected. The atmosphere and sets used are fantastic, employing a home full of dark corners and shadows that would leave me in constant fear if I were to be looking for a missing Deborah in the middle of the night. Actress Jill Larson was an excellent choice as Deborah, giving a haunting performance even during scenes where she had no words, just a deathly stare. To my surprise Robitel relied on practical effects for the horror, including a certain snake-esque scare scene that literally left me in awe. On top of this his execution of the horror was fantastic. The scenes are drawn-out to force the viewer into a nervous state, and great POV cinematography leaves us face-to-face with the horror on many occasions.

Overall, The Taking of Deborah Logan is quite the achievement for first-timer Adam Robitel. He manages to deliver one of the better found-footage films of recent time, with an emphasis on good scares and solid atmosphere. The experience could have been better, as with every horror film out there, but if you are into the found-footage scene you should probably give this one a watch.

Rating: 7/10

…Additional Stills…

Invaders From Mars (1986) – 7

October 27, 2014 Leave a comment

Director – Tobe Hooper

Cast – Karen Black, Hunter Carson, Timothy Bottoms, Laraine Newman, James Karen, Bud Cort, Louise Fletcher, Eric Pierpoint, Christopher Allport

Release Year – 1986

Reviewed by John of the Dead

Famed genre director Tobe Hooper is known for several classics, including The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Poltergeist, and Salem’s Lot, as well as lesser-known cult favorites like The Funhouse. One film of his that has gone mostly under the radar is his 1986 film Invaders From Mars, which is a remake of the highly rated 1953 film of the same name. This marks my first time seeing the film, and I can say that I enjoyed it. In the 1980s John Carpenter struck gold remaking a 50s film (The Thing), and while Hooper’s redo failed to receive the same notoriety it still gave me what I wanted to see from one of the genre’s most notable directors.

With his town under siege by alien invaders who have taken over the minds of his parents and others in authority over him, a young boy enlists the help of a school nurse and the U.S. Marines to send the enemy back where they came from.

As a fan of 80s horror there was little that could go wrong to keep me from digging this. I have not seen the original film so I cannot compare the two, and in a way that allows me to give a better, objective review. I say this because I have seen many reviews saying that it does not do justice to the original and should be skipped at all cost. If you are in my shoes and have not seen the original then pay them no attention. If you have, well, check it out anyway and form your own conclusion.

The writers behind Hooper’s previous film, Lifeforce, adapted the screenplay and gave us plenty to enjoy. Co-writer Dan O’Bannon is also known for writing Alien and The Return of the Living Dead, so there is talent in this writing duo. The story begins quickly, enveloping us into David’s childhood world. Six minutes into the film the alien spaceship lands nearby his home, and before you know it he has lost both of his parents – well, their minds have been lost. Slowly but surely those around him are also falling victim, forcing the young boy to do what he can to verify who is uninfected / who he can trust. There are a few scenes of horror here and there, but the film doesn’t get really good until the 39 minute mark where the alien creatures make their screen debut. Naturally things slow down during the second act, but the final 30 minutes are action-packed. With the military involved, things get crazy and those of you looking for some alien ass-kicking will get what you have been waiting for.

Tobe Hooper, very well in his prime, did a good job with his direction of the film. You don’t really notice it too much until the goods, AKA the aliens, show up on screen. He introduces them in epic fashion, creating good shock value that I was not expecting. I liked the comical look to them as well, and from what I understand the aliens in the original film were comical as well. Hooper relies on live-action effects for the creatures and the hilarious deaths they cause, but naturally don’t expect a gorefest in this PG film. Every other element was well-done, from the sets and atmosphere to the slightly cheesy acting performances, just keep in mind it is the aliens that seal the deal here.

Overall, Invaders From Mars is a fun experience that delivered the goods when it mattered most. I recommend that fans of Hooper’s work give this a watch, as well as those who enjoy alien invasion films.

Rating: 7/10

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Horns – 7

October 23, 2014 1 comment

Director – Alexandre Aja

Cast – Daniel Radcliffe, Juno Temple, Heather Graham, Joe Anderson, Max Minghella, Kathleen Quinlan, Sabrina Carpenter, Kelli Garner, David Morese, James Remar, Laine MacNeil, Mitchell Kummen, Dylan Schmid, Jared Ager-Foster, Erik McNamee

Release Year – 2014

Reviewed by John of the Dead

Horns is one of the most hyped horror films of 2014, and for three reasons. The first is it comes from director Alexandre Aja, who has been fantastic in his films High Tension, The Hills Have Eyes remake, Mirrors, and his previous film, Piranha 3D. I myself was excited to see Aja direct this because his last three films had been remakes, while this is just an adaptation. The second reason is it stars Daniel Radcliffe, of obvious Harry Potter fame. He did well in The Woman in Black, and I was surprised to see him return to the horror genre…and with an American accent. The third reason is the book the film is adapted from, also titled Horns, which debuted in 2010 to positive reviews and praise. Based on these three elements I was sure this would be a unique experience. Seeing the film head directly to VOD and not receive a wide theater relase disappointed me, but after viewing this film I can see how it would not appease to the masses. The hype was(still is) big, but don’t let that get to you because the hype exceeds the film. It’s still good though, with Aja’s direction solid, an engaging two-hour story, and Radcliffe delivering a solid performance, making Horns a fun film that I suggest you check out.

After the mysterious death of his first and only love, the aftermath leaves Ig Parrish with strange horns growing from his temples. Plagued by accusations that he had a role in her death, he uses his newly acquired powers to find and kill her killer.

This is writer Keith Bunin’s first feature film screenplay, and he does a fair job piecing this story together. The story kicks off quickly, and by the 15 minute mark Ig has awoken to strange horns growing from his head. We are never told what exactly lead to the demonic attribute, but I would assume it had something to do with what he did at a candlelight vigil for his deceased girlfriend, where he was wrongfully chastised by those in attendance. He then begins to learn of the negative and positive attributes associated with his horns, and uses these to his advantage in piecing together what happened the night of Merrin’s murder. Bunin writes in plenty of conflict for Ig, which stems mostly from how those around him are treating him. He lives in a small town and that means he grew up peacefully with most of those who now see him as a monster. As he searches for her killer the conflict only increases, with lie upon lie slowly unraveling as each shocking revelation takes place. Ig is unaware that there is more to the story than simply finding out who killed Merrin, but he will soon learn just how over his head he is. With this being a two-hour effort it takes an engaging story, with solid direction, to keep the viewer glued to the screen. This was mostly the case, as the story also delved into the past tense with flashback scenes to Ig’s childhood. These scenes serve as background information at first, but by the end of the film the events of the past will surface and have a heavy effect on the final act. I did want more from the supporting characters and was disappointed at how some of them were used. Ig’s parents were pretty much worthless, and even his closest friends, which includes his brother, were used in a very basic fashion. The story overall is a cool one, but if you pay attention to the details you may feel a bit underwhelmed, as I did.

I have seen others refer to this film as a “gothic thriller” and for the most part I agree with that. I do consider this a horror film, but it did not include the amount of horror that I expected. Judging from the trailer I was anticipating Ig delivering some demon asskicking to those who wronged him, and while some of that did occur it was not on the level I had hoped for. We do see a few kills and they are both gory and dramatic, but don’t expect the usual Aja experience here – this is his most tame effort to date.

Aja’s direction does not suffer as a result of a tame story. From the get-go he immerses us into Ig’s world with awesome sets/locations and engaging cinematography from Frederick Elmes (Eraserhead, Blue Velvet). Horns is blessed with an abundance of good performances from the actors involved, with Radcliffe of course stealing the show with his American “accent” – a jaw-dropping rarity for most. The execution of the horror is good, although keep in mind that there isn’t as much horror as one would expect. When the horror does hit though it hits hard and Aja effectively delivers it in full-frontal fashion. There are even a few scenes that produce the awesome gore that Aja is known for. In fact, these scenes were so good I could not help but laugh…in shock.

Overall, Horns is a “cool” experience that won’t bring as much horror as genre fans want but is still a worthy watch in the end thanks to Aja’s direction. Check it out.

Rating: 7/10

…Additional Stills…

We Are What We Are – 7

October 16, 2014 Leave a comment

Director – Jim Mickle

Cast – Bill Sage, Ambyr Childers, Julia Garner, Jack Gore, Kelly McGillis, Wyatt Russell, Michael Parks, Nick Damici

Release Year – 2014

Reviewed by John of the Dead

Mexican horror film We Are What We Are made waves in America when it toured festivals in 2010 and was released VOD (Video On Demand) in 2011. In a day and age when good international horror films are often remade in the US, an American remake was delivered to us from one of the genre’s best filmmakers, Jim Mickle – the man behind Stake Land and Cold in July. What surprised me about this remake is its country of origin – Mexico. We see remakes of Spanish and Asian films often, but never Mexico. Do you want to know what did not surprise me, given it’s based on a good film and comes via Jim Mickle? I was not surprised at how good this film is.

A seemingly wholesome and benevolent family, the parkers have always kept to themselves, and for good reason. Behind closed doors, patriarch Frank rules his family with a rigorous fervor, determined to keep his ancestral customs intact at any cost. As a torrential rainstorm moves into the area, tragedy strikes and his daughters Iris and Rose are forced to assume responsibilities that extend beyond those of a typical family. As the unrelenting downpour continues to flood their small town, the local authorities begin to uncover clues that bring them closer to the secret that the Parkers have held closely for so many years. Written by Entertainment One

The story, written by Jim Mickle and actor Nick Damici, takes off in dramatic fashion as the Parker family suffers the sudden loss of one of their own. We are then introduced to the family, focusing on the three children, the eldest two girls and the youngest a boy, as they deal with their soon to be ever-growing troubles. Their father has been steadfast in keeping a long-standing family tradition that dates back to the 1700s…cannibalism. I don’t feel like I am spoiling anything in saying that. If you know anything about the film going into it then you’ll know that already, and if you don’t, then you do now. The rain is having a very negative effect on the family’s secret, and soon enough a grief-stricken father of a missing daughter, Dr. Barrow (Michael Parks), begins to piece the clues together. This effort is equally dramatic as it is horrific, with the horror stemming from Frank’s over bearance on his family and the actions he takes to keep their tradition alive. There character play was OK, with a few supporting actors filling very basic roles that did not blossom to full potential, like Deputy Anders. I expected to see better interaction between the Parker children, especially when you consider the horror they are going through. I would not say this is bad writing, it’s just simplistic and very basic at times.

Mickle’s direction is fantastic as usual, making the most of this dramatic story. From the get-go we are enveloped into his gloomy atmosphere, made possible with great locations and below zero exposure settings for the daytime scenes. The atmosphere is just as gloomy as the story is and I will always enjoy that in a film. Bill Sage does a tremendous job portraying Frank, and the ever-awesome Michael Parks is solid as Dr. Barrow. If you pay attention you will also notice co-writer Nick Damici portraying the town’s sheriff in what proved to be an under-used role like those I mentioned earlier. Mickle’s execution of the horror is fantastic, and I know this because he did not have to show much to shock me. There aren’t a ton of kills in this story, so the few kills we do see have to hit hard…and they do. He employs live gore, but even then this isn’t a very gory film – especially for a cannibal film. His expertise shows here, proving that Mickle is one of the genre’s top-tier directors.

Overall, We Are What We Are is a good dramatic horror film. It will come off a bit tame to those who expect a gory cannibal film, but the actions of the characters, along with great acting performances, make up for that.

Rating: 7/10

…Additional Stills…

The Lost Tribe – 3

October 13, 2014 Leave a comment

Director – Roel Reiné

Cast – Emily Baldoni, Nick Mennell, Marc Bacher, Brianna Brown, Hadley Fraser, Maxine Bahns, Ryan Alosio, Lance Henriksen

Release Year – 2010

Reviewed by John of the Dead

If you don’t know what the LULZ is I suggest you look it up because lulz is exactly what The Lost Tribe is. Ok so here is what happened: In 2009 a film titled The Forgotten Ones was completed. It was apparently so bad that the production crew decided they needed to remake the film as The Lost Tribe, with a new director, writer/script, and cast. So why am I laughing so hard at this film? That is because The Lost Tribe, a film that was supposed to live up to the original expectations not achieved with The Forgotten Ones, is even worse than the film it replaced. I don’t even want to imagine how this could have possibly happened, but it did. If the prior film was so bad then the filmmakers would just do the opposite in this case right? Well apparently not, and that is why The Lost Tribe is one of the biggest jokes in horror this millennium.

When their boat capsizes offshore a group of friends find themselves stranded on an uncharted island inhabited by an ancient tribe of humanoid creatures with a thirst to kill.

First-time writer Mark E. Davidson gave us a few right and a lot of wrongs. The story starts off OK, taking its time to develop and not delivering the first kill (an off-screen one) until 35 minutes into the experience. Our protagonist characters are all unlikable and I was glad to see them killed off, which is sometimes a good thing but usually a result of poor writing. Davidson does throw in a lot of kill scenes and I was happy for that, and he continued to keep the “horror” going with some tense chase sequences. The biggest fiasco regarding the story is the use of Gallo, who is portrayed by Lance Henriksen. Lance’s name is on the bill to sell the film but his character serves basically no purpose. We are teased with the possibility that he is going to show up and kick supreme ass, but instead he was wasted talent on a pathetic film.

Director Roel Reine gave us good atmosphere, a solid location, and decent looking creatures, but he offers nothing more than that. While sometimes visually appealing the actors are poorly executed and the same goes for the creatures. I liked their look and it had much potential, but their mannerisms and overdubbing were pretty bad at times. There also isn’t much as far as gore goes, leaving the horror to rely solely on his execution of the creatures, which again was decent at best.

Overall, The Lost Tribe is a laughable film and not just because of how bad it is, but because this was supposed to be an “improvement” over its failed predecessor. Instead it is much worse and I find that hilarious.

Rating: 3/10

13: Game of Death – 7

October 12, 2014 Leave a comment

Director – Chookiat Sakveerakul

Cast – Krissada Sukosol, Achita Sikamana, Sarunyu Wongkrachang, Nattapong Arunnate, Namfon Pakdee, Piyapan Choopech

Release Year – 2008

Reviewed by John of the Dead

I always wanted to see 13: Game of Death but could never get my hands on the DVD until Netflix came to the rescue. This is one of those situations where I saw the American redo, 13 Sins, before the original effort, and thankfully that did not have an impact on how I viewed this flick. With a highly engaging story that constantly builds in intensity, this Thai horror experience delivers a unique premise that I have seen used in horror films debuting today.

Pusit has never had a more horrible day of his life. He just lost his job, he is in serious debt, and his family is begging him for money. His despair suddenly put on hold though when he receives a mysterious phone call with a very tempting offer: complete 13 tasks and win 100 million Baht. Pusit sees no other option but to take the offer, initiating a game he will soon regret.

One could say that Saw kicked off the “do you want to play a game?” tactic, but in the case of 13: Game of Death the prize isn’t just surviving your hellish ordeal. The prize is money. I saw this used in the recent horror film Would You Rather, and because of mankind’s reluctance on monetary value I enjoy seeing people do stupid / dangerous things for a quick buck. The story takes off developing Pusit’s situation, and after 17 minutes of being exposed to his pathetic life he receives the phone call of a lifetime. 17 minutes after this he is doing the unfathomable for a few thousand Baht, but before long the stakes are raised to supreme levels and Pusit is now a wanted man. Watching him dig himself deeper and deeper into all sorts of legal trouble brings forth more tension than I expected, and with this being a horror film you can expect a few solid death scenes as well. I was hoping for an elaborate scheme behind the phone calls and the tasks Pusit was forced to accomplish, but the end revelation was a bit of a bummer for me. I won’t say it was a bad idea, it just did not appeal to me and was actually pretty damn outlandish.

“this shit ain’t right…”

Director Chookiat Sakveerakul does a good job of making this an exciting experience for the viewer. From the very moment that Pusit receives the first phone call he throws us into the same paranoia that our lead is faced with as he strives desperately to raise the money that would make the rest of his life a breeze. His camerawork makes this a more action-packed film that I imagined it would be and he delivers full-frontal execution of some pretty hard-to-watch scenes that put “Fear Factor” to shame. We don’t get too much as far as gore goes, and what gore we do receive is CGI, but nonetheless Sakveerakul finds ways to shock the viewer and that is why this flick has a positive reputation.

Overall, 13: Game of Death is a great Thai horror film I suggest you check out. In a perfect world you would see this before the American redo, but if that is not the case this is still a worthy experience you should be a part of.

Rating: 7/10

Galaxy of Terror – 6

October 12, 2014 Leave a comment

Director – Bruce D. Clark

Cast – Edward Albert, Erin Moran, Ray Walston, Bernard Behrens, Zalman King, Robert Englund, Taaffe O’Connell, Sig Haig, Grace Zabriskie, Jack Blessing

Release Year – 1981

Reviewed by John of the Dead

It was a late night. I had pizza, Gold Peak Sweat Tea (my favorite), and I was in search of a film to watch – one that would allow me to turn my brain off for a while and enjoy. I recently checked out the 1982 Alien “ripoff” Forbidden World and really enjoyed it, and because of that I decided to check out another early 80s flick produced by Roger Corman, Galaxy of Terror. When the last surviving member of the starship Remus is violently killed, the Quest and its crew are sent on a rescue mission to the barren planet Morganthus, only to find their innermost fears come to reality. If you want a zany story that bleeds pure 80s cheese, look no further than Galaxy of Terror.

The film’s writers never wrote another film after this flick, and I can see why. Now a cult classic, the film surely caused waves when it was released over 30 years ago and forever immortalized writers Marc Siegler and Bruce D. Clark. Their story takes off quick and soon lands our protagonists on Morganthus, a barren land containing the remnants of the starship Remus. Upon entering they come across the mangled bodies of the starships crew, and soon enough the crew of the Quest begin to suffer the same demise. It becomes apparent that there is a sinister reason behind some of the strange (and large) artifacts they find on Morganthus, and these objects contain the ability to project the crew’s fears to reality. The kills and deaths were mostly worthwhile, with some excelling more than others but all of them were enjoyable. While the majority of the story is engaging cheese I did find some faults in it. At times the story dragged and its zaniness failed to keep my interest, and that is the reason it did not achieve a higher rating.

Co-writer Bruce D. Clark also serves as the film’s director, and much like his writing accomplishments this marks the final film of his directing resume. Overall I enjoyed the direction and found it to be pretty fun, which came thanks to several elements. To start, I liked his atmosphere, which was a bit cheap and cheesy but came off very much like Alien. His execution of the horror was enjoyable as well and I was glad to see some decent gore at times. The effects were sweet and were critical in the amazement of one of the genre’s most iconic scenes: a violent death via a giant maggot. I was pleased to see future horror legends Robert Englund and Sig Haig acting in this piece, and while none of the actors deliver award-worthy performances they give us that cheesy fun we enjoy from these films.

Overall, Galaxy of Terror is a fun mess that provides lots of horror cheese. It does have its faults and would maybe be best served with some alcohol, but nonetheless this is one film I recommend all check out just for the sake of it.

Rating: 6/10

…Additional Stills…

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